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Gene Wilder, RIP

[ 54 ] August 29, 2016 |

Big loss, although not unexpected.

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[SL]: Great tribute from Roy.

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Both Sides Do It, An Eternally Recurring Series

[ 116 ] August 29, 2016 |

Yes, Hillary Clinton making Anthony Weiner the CEO of her campaign showed very poor judgment. Can’t dispute that logic.

Good Luck With That

[ 107 ] August 29, 2016 |

IFWT_Andy-Reid-Kool-Aid-3

The Denver Broncos have named as their starting quarterback someone who, if he fully retained his NCAA production levels, would be a replacement-level NFL starter at best. The fact that there is, as far as I can tell, no contemporary precedent for someone as mediocre in peonage ball as Siemian becoming a viable starter (Tom Brady, a once-in-multiple generation development story, was a lot better in college adjusted for context) doesn’t make it impossible. But it does mean that the decision should be considered excellent news for the Kansas City Chiefs. Although, in fairness, I’m sure the Broncos will get a huge haul for Mark Sanchez.

In other NFL news, I have finally fulfilled my lifelong ambition of making it into Why Your Team Sucks. I can’t find the original comment, but if he’s still lurking thanks to Joe From Lovell for inspiring the joke.

Two Front

[ 17 ] August 29, 2016 |
Janus1.JPG

By Loudon dodd – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7404342

My latest at the National Interest ponders the possibility of a two-front war:

The United States discarded its oft-misunderstood “two war” doctrine, intended as a template for providing the means to fight two regional wars simultaneously, late last decade. Designed to deter North Korea from launching a war while the United States was involved in fighting against Iran or Iraq (or vice versa,) the idea helped give form to the Department of Defense’s procurement, logistical and basing strategies in the post–Cold War, when the United States no longer needed to face down the Soviet threat. The United States backed away from the doctrine because of changes in the international system, including the rising power of China and the proliferation of highly effective terrorist networks.

But what if the United States had to fight two wars today, and not against states like North Korea and Iran? What if China and Russia sufficiently coordinated with one another to engage in simultaneous hostilities in the Pacific and in Europe?

Only Donald J. Trump Can Protect the Sacred Bonds of Matrimony

[ 111 ] August 29, 2016 |
Marla Maples and Donald Trump during "The Will Rogers Follies" Gala - May 16, 1991 at Palace Theater in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)

Marla Maples and Donald Trump during “The Will Rogers Follies” Gala – May 16, 1991 at Palace Theater in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)

Apparently the latest round of internet interaction from Carlos Danger was the last straw for Huma Abedin. The Republican nominee for president has some thoughts on the subject:

“Huma is making a very wise decision. I know Anthony Weiner well, and she will be far better off without him,” Mr. Trump said in a statement.

“I only worry for the country in that Hillary Clinton was careless and negligent in allowing Weiner to have such close proximity to highly classified information,” he continued. “Who knows what he learned and who he told? It’s just another example of Hillary Clinton’s bad judgment. It is possible that our country and its security have been greatly compromised by this.”

Yes, we cannot have a president who has an adviser whose husband virtually cheats on her — what does that say about her judgment? Rather, we need a president who openly boasted about his affairs while married to his first two wives.

I am looking forward to the first pundit who spent years arguing that it was highly disturbing that Abedin didn’t leave Weiner who finds it highly disturbing that she left him, and either way it says something very bad about Hillary Clinton because something.

Are TRIGGER WARNINGS and SAFE SPACES Destroying Free Speech? (Spoiler: No.)

[ 161 ] August 29, 2016 |

635973704823610467775588141_Safe-Space-Sticker-e1406320631580Above: Why Do These Monsters Hate Free Speech?

The University of Chicago “safe spaces” letter does have one virtue: it’s produced some excellent writing debunking the dense web of strawpersons and urban legends and random anecdotes that seem to be pervasive in discussions of these issues. Mark Tushnet on trigger warnings:

That, I think, is what discussions of trigger warnings should be about – whether pedagogic choices made in a different era, with a different set of students with different values and known backgrounds from those today, should be adhered to. An example: I can imagine – because I think I did it many years ago – referring in a class discussion of Everson v. Board of Education to Justice Jackson’s dissenting reference to Lord Byron’s description in Don Juan of Julia, but I certainly wouldn’t do so today; the pedagogic benefit, which is minor, is clearly outweighed by the interference the reference would cause, particularly because there are many other ways of making Jackson’s point.

Instructors use trigger warnings, when they do so in a sensible manner, to maximize their pedagogic effectiveness as instructors: They want to include material whose content might distract students who weren’t prepared for it, and hope that the warning will be enough to reduce the distraction to a level where the substantive point can still be made. These choices are bound up with a lot of other pedagogic judgments – Can one make the substantive point by using other material? Will giving the trigger warning itself distract students, as they wonder, with respect to each item up for discussion, whether that was what the trigger warning was about? So, it’s quite silly to say, as the University of Chicago letter did, that the University “does not support” giving trigger warnings. At the very least, instructors should have the freedom to make a responsible decision that giving a trigger warning will, in the circumstances, enhance pedagogic effectiveness. If the University doesn’t support their doing so, it doesn’t care about good teaching.

Tushnet on “safe spaces”:

The widely noted University of Chicago letter to freshman is, I’m afraid – with due respect to my friends there – basically quite stupid (in the words that have attracted the most attention). The phrasings are either transparently false or so vague as to obstruct rather than facilitate clear thinking about the issues the letter purports to address.

Quoting: “We do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe’ spaces where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.” That’s either false or an indication that people should think carefully about sending their children to the University. Consider some examples: A war veteran is assigned a dormitory room with a roommate who is aggressively anti-the-war-in-which-the veteran-served. Almost every evening the roommate seeks to engage the veteran in a conversation about the injustice of the war and of specific incidents during it. The veteran goes to the appropriate university authorities and asks to be assigned a different roommate, saying, “I’m perfectly happy to engage in a discussion of the war in a military history class, a philosophy class on justice in wartime, and in many other places. But in the evening I just want to kick back and relax, and study for my classes. My room, in short, should be a safe space with respect to conversations about the war.” I think the university might well be irresponsible if its only response were, “Grown-ups have to learn how to work out for themselves the resolution of these kinds of disputes.” (That’s the “think carefully about sending your kids to the University” prong.) And, in my view, it wouldn’t be acting badly if it reassigned either the veteran or the roommate to another dormitory room, thereby “condon[ing] the creation of [an] intellectual ‘safe space'” for the veteran. (That’s the “it’s false” prong.)

Henry Farrell on “safe spaces”:

What this all suggests is that questions of preserving academic freedom and academic diversity are more complicated than the University of Chicago’s rather self-congratulatory letter to incoming students would suggest. Lohmann’s fundamental point (and I really hope the book emerges, so that these ideas get the airing they deserve) is that successful universities – surely including the University of Chicago – are congeries of safe spaces that factions of scholars have carved out to protect themselves from their intellectual enemies. More concretely – the University of Chicago has both a very well recognized economics department and a very well recognized sociology department. There is furthermore some overlap in the topics that they study. Yet the professors in these two departments protect themselves from each other – they do not, for example, vote on each other’s tenure decisions. They furthermore have quite different notions (though again, perhaps with some overlap) of what constitutes legitimate and appropriate research. In real life, academics only are able to exercise academic freedom because they have safe spaces that they can be free in.

Thinking about universities in this way doesn’t provide obvious answers to student demands for safe spaces, some of which seem to me to be legitimate, some not (I also suspect that the media has an interest in hyping up the most ridiculous seeming claims because the weird social connections between the American elite and a very small number of colleges mean that this stuff gets an audience – but that’s another matter for a different post). What it does though, is to make clear that universities’ and professors’ own notions (myself included) of what makes for legitimate inquiry, academic freedom etc, and what doesn’t are themselves contested, and the products of social processes that don’t always look particularly good when they’re subjected to sustained inquiry.

Obviously, any useful pedagogical tool can be misused or implemented in a manner inconsistent with academic freedom (although it’s striking how few random anecdotes people whinging about trigger warnings have come up with — we’re still hearing, for example, about the dumb Oberlin policy from 2014 which was never actually implemented.)  Some student requests and reasonable and some are not. But this idea that coming out against BIG POLITICALLY CORRECT in this way is taking some kind of bold stance is very silly. As Tushnet observes at the first link, we’re already seeing the two-step of terrific triviality in which it is said that the most natural reading of the phrase “do not support so-called trigger warnings” — i.e. that the administration opposes the use of trigger warnings even if it can’t forbid them — is wrong, and actually all that the letter meant is that they aren’t required. Which is 1)not what the letter says and 2)if so, it’s not clear who disagrees, but anyway. It’s also striking how quickly supporters of the letter start bringing up things — such as “Yale students failed to show proper deference to Erika Christakis’s authori-tah” — that do not in fact have anything to do with “trigger warnings” but do suggest that it’s a problem when students object to how administrators exercise their authority. I’m reminded of the movement a couple years ago to suggest that America’s elites have an inalienable right to get five-figure paydays to deliver banalities to a captive audience free of any objections on the part of the campus community.

Orville Redenbacher Stocks Skyrocketing!

[ 34 ] August 29, 2016 |

hot-buttered-popcorn

No one really knows what Donald Trump will say about immigration these days? It shifts by the hour. A campaign based around hate of Mexicans from a candidate who really just doesn’t care about anything but self-promotion realizes that he is going down to a historic defeat based in part of this rhetoric. So he sort of changes it. Then changes back. Then to some other incoherent position. All of this has done nothing to help Trump. But it has made his strong supporter Ann Coulter very, very sad.

Coulter’s problem is that on the very week she’s unveiled her immigration-themed defense of Trumpism, Trump himself has begun jettisoning it. On Wednesday night, he admitted that it’s “very, very hard” to deport all the undocumented immigrants in the country and implied that he would be open to some people being allowed to stay legally without becoming citizens, provided they pay back taxes. Suddenly, Trump is flirting with an immigration policy that resembles that of every other Republican who ran for president. Which makes Coulter look like a dupe. On Thursday on his show, Rush Limbaugh had a hearty laugh at her expense.

So far, Coulter has responded in contradictory ways. She’s fired off tweets attacking Trump’s immigration shift. But she’s also downplayed it.

Maybe Coulter, like the other high-profile supporters Trump has burned, will accept her humiliation and resort to defending Trump no matter what he says. Her incentives, however, are different. Unlike most of the folks who appear on television supporting Trump, she has an independent brand. And it’s built on white nationalism. Trump may win votes by moderating his stance on immigration. But that’s not how Coulter sells books.

Coulter also needs an explanation for Trump’s likely defeat, an explanation that will preserve her ability to claim that America’s silent majority believes the things she does. By emphasizing Trump’s immigration flip-flop, Coulter could argue that this issue cost him the white votes he needed to win.

All of this has made Rush Limbaugh laugh at Coulter.

“Poor Ann!” he continued to laugh. “Oh, my God, she’s got this book In Trump We Trust, and in it she says the only thing, the only thing that could cause Trump any trouble whatsoever is if he flip-flops on immigration, goes amnesty. It looks like he’s getting close to it, and she’s just beside herself with this. I mean, what timing.”

“I don’t see a lot of people preparing to abandon Trump over this,” he said later in the program. “Maybe Coulter. Who knows what she’s gonna do. I mean, her book hits, and it’s just had the rug pulled out from under it.”

Watching various Republican hatemongers and hacks go at each other’s throats has been one of the highlights of this election cycle.

The Democratic Bench

[ 195 ] August 29, 2016 |
Former Governor TedStrickland at the Athletic Club of Columbus 136 E Broad St on August 6, 2013 speaking on Climate Change. (Columbus Dispatch photo by Tom Dodge)

Former Governor TedStrickland at the Athletic Club of Columbus 136 E Broad St on August 6, 2013 speaking on Climate Change. (Columbus Dispatch photo by Tom Dodge)

This piece is pretty pessimistic about downballot Democrats and its hard to disagree.

“The bench is not apparent right now,” said David Axelrod, the chief strategist for Mr. Obama’s presidential campaigns. “There are some impressive young leaders, but who among them is the next presidential nominee I can’t answer. A lot of them are not there yet.”

“Democrats have done a poor job, and I take my share of responsibility here, in not being as focused as Republicans have on building at the grass roots,” Mr. Axelrod said. “Look what the G.O.P. and their related agents have done with legislative and City Council and school board races. They are building capacity, and Democrats have paid the cost.”

Many promising young Democrats in the House have been frustrated by the reluctance of Representative Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader, and her aging deputies to step aside and let new members ascend to leadership — one of the few rewards for a minority party in the House. “I was on the recruitment committee, and a lot of candidates decided to take a pass,” said Representative Karen Bass, Democrat of California. She added, “There are people who are new to Congress and have a difficult situation because they are not going to be there for 20 years.”

Some simply leave. “I was one of the few Democrats not to support Nancy Pelosi for leader,” said Representative Gwen Graham, Democrat of Florida, who is retiring after one term and planning to run for governor. “We need new voices.” Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, once considered a potential House speaker, is running for the Senate.

Democratic ranks have also been decimated in state governments across the nation, where new leaders tend to plant roots for future higher office.

After the 2008 elections, Democrats controlled 62 of the 99 state legislatures; today, Republicans control 68 chambers, according to Governing magazine. Over the same time period, the number of Democrats in governor’s mansions fell from 28 to 18. In both cases, Republican control is now at or near historic highs.

There are a number of issues here. Frankly, Democrats should be crushing Republicans in Senate races this year and while it’s clear they will make gains, I think it’s fairly safe to say that as a whole, the party is underperforming given what is happening in the presidential race. Ted Strickland has been a disaster in Ohio. Katie McGinty is the definition of meh. Patrick Murphy is very shaky and Alan Grayson is a clown, leaving no good Florida options. Grassley could be vulnerable in the right environment, but Patty Judge hasn’t done anything and is not exactly the young, dynamic candidate who might push him out. If the Democrats do win the Senate, it’s quite likely because Evan Bayh decided to parachute into the race. I’m sure that will do nothing for his nonexistent ego.

But of course this extends beyond the Senate. The fundamental problem is still that Democrats didn’t show up in the 2010 elections, allowing Republicans to game the states through gerrymandering. There are fewer Democrats to build a strong reputation. And they exist now in the minority, meaning they don’t have many accomplishments to run on. Plus, Democrats simply don’t pay much attention to lower-level races. The emphasis on the presidency is a lot higher among Democrats than Republicans. Given Hillary is blowing out Trump, you’d think we’d see more of a shift to the states and while that may happen more after Labor Day, it sure hasn’t yet. Democrats seem to believe more in electing the national leader and thinking that person will solve problems, which they can’t without downballot races. This may be because Democrats are more grassroots and Republicans have the corporate support that know how to leverage power at the lower levels. And with the general abandonment of Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy, when you have an election like this, the Democrats are unable to run even halfway credible candidates against many House or state legislature members who might be vulnerable all of a sudden.

I did however wonder about this prognostication:

“Democrats are going to have their own Tea Party moment in 2018,” said Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor and Senate analyst for The Cook Political Report. “I don’t think they are going to put up with the party dictating who their candidates are.”

I could see this going either way. Will the Sanders movement spawn a bunch of progressive candidates ready to take on established Democrats in primaries and launch grassroots efforts to knock them out? I don’t really know. I suppose it’s possible. It would also take a whole lot of organizing after the November election, which the base has not been good at doing in the last several years. I think also misinterprets the Democratic base, which is not so much loud college educated white liberals, but African-Americans and Latinos. So in some districts, yes, I think it’s quite likely you see some of this, but in the core of the Democratic districts, I am a lot more skeptical.

Grifters Gonna Grift

[ 37 ] August 29, 2016 |
Clark Stanley's Snake Oil Liniment.png

Clark Stanley’s Snake Oil Liniment, True Life in the Far West, 200 page pamphlet, illus., Worcester, Massachusetts, c. 1905, 23 x 14.8 cm., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47338529

It will surprise no one to learn that the Big Scam is begetting small scams:

At a glance, the two websites look virtually indistinguishable. Both feature a photo of Donald Trump, in a suit and red tie, in front of a giant American flag. Both seemingly offer a chance for two to win dinner with Donald Trump.
One is at donaldjtrump.com; the other is at dinnerwithtrump.org.
Story Continued Below

The first belongs to Trump’s campaign. The second is a scheme run by Ian Hawes, a 25-year-old Maryland man who has no affiliation with Trump or his campaign and who has preyed on more than 20,000 unsuspecting donors, collecting more than $1 million in the process.

I get that there’s an inclination to point and laugh, and I also appreciate that on the Ledgers of Historical Justice, it’s better that this money ends up in the hands of a small-time grifter than of the big-time grifter. Still, it’s a shame that people can apparently get away with effectively stealing the money of Trump’s least savvy, least well-off fans.

The Poverty Industry

[ 19 ] August 29, 2016 |

Egon_Schiele_600

I have a review of Daniel Hatcher’s The Poverty Industry: The Exploitation of America’s Most Vulnerable Citizens up at the Boston Review. Hatcher explores the utter outrage of how states and corporations combine to essentially steal public money that should go to foster children, nursing home residents, and other vulnerable people. It’s quite infuriating and I was happy to be able to write about it.

A leading corporate perpetrator of the poverty industry, in Hatcher’s telling, is MAXIMUS. Founded in 1975, the company works with governments around the globe as a private contractor for government aid programs. The company was found guilty of intentionally creating incorrect Medicaid claims while in a revenue maximization contract with the District of Columbia, and had to pay a $30 million federal fine in 2007. Yet its methods are so intensely profitable—for both states and itself—that it continues to win more state contracts. Hatcher uncovered MAXIMUS emails to Maryland officials in which it warned that the state was losing out by not pocketing more money intended for poor children; in the same email, it offered to help in that process.

Companies that arose in the military-industrial complex, including Northrup Grumman and Lockheed Martin, are now helping to create the poverty-industrial complex by going into this profitable revenue maximization business themselves. These companies make money if they can remove children from welfare rolls. A whistleblower lawsuit revealed that WellCare—a company that had already paid a $10 million fine for defrauding Florida’s Medicaid and Healthy Kids programs, and that has acknowledged illegal campaign finance contributions—held a celebratory dinner after removing 425 babies from state welfare rolls, lessening its financial responsibility and increasing corporate profits. WellCare had to pay a $137.5 million settlement to the Justice Department to settle that lawsuit.

As Hatcher explains, there are a number of ways for states to make money off of foster children. For example, the state can declare them disabled and therefore eligible for Social Security benefits. The state then names itself their trustees and gets to keep the money. Hatcher argues that the same is true for children receiving veterans’ benefits. For example, a guardian state can manufacture ways to increase the administrative costs of managing and dispersing benefits so that it can add those charges to the federal government’s tab. It may also seek to place children in its care with foster families rather than find a relative who can care for the child because it then profits from continuing to administer benefits for the child. It might put children in its care on prescription drugs to sedate their behavior so it can reduce staffing costs and charge for the medicines, even if their behavior can be managed without sedation. Tragically, states often treat vulnerable children in their care as cash machines.

Poverty contractors regularly act of their own accord even when the state has no vested interest, as with child support cases. Cases of unpaid child support arise overwhelmingly from dire poverty: most in arrears are destitute fathers who simply cannot afford to pay, and most claimants are destitute mothers who cannot afford to go without their payments. The Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement reports that over one-quarter of child support debt—$28.5 billion—is owed to the government. But states do not make a tremendous amount of money from child support via their entitlement to a portion of the money owed. That is because the cost of administering child support collection is often more than the amount the state saves from children who no longer need state support. Thus, it makes no financial sense for the state to pursue restitution. Although the amounts companies will collect per case are also small, the poverty companies, like debt collection companies, have a business model of relentlessly pursuing even tiny debts, so they prosecute delinquent fathers, absorbing much of the collected money.

Children are not the only victims of such schemes. States routinely use nursing homes as funding sources or opportunities for budget slashing. A popular strategy is to sedate relatively healthy elderly patients in order to reduce staffing costs. At one Connecticut nursing home, two-thirds of residents were found to be under the influence of antipsychotic drugs despite having no condition that warranted their use. An Indiana company, Health and Hospital Corporation, used revenue maximization strategy to take over formerly public nursing homes. Ten of the seventeen homes HHC purchased in 2003 fared worse on state report card scores by 2010, several of which were also on the federal government’s list of “most poorly performing homes.”

States also outsource probation services and court fine collections, juvenile detention centers, and hospice care—usually with similarly extortionary results.

Is it too early to start drinking?

Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument

[ 28 ] August 29, 2016 |

01_hawaii_monument_papahanaumokuakea.adapt.1190.1

To mark the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary, Barack Obama vastly expanded the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, which was originally created by George W. Bush to claim he had done something for conservation. This is now the largest piece of conserved territory on the planet, now over 582,000 square miles of ocean.

Papahānaumokuākea is a sanctuary for endangered species, including blue whales, short-tailed albatrosses, sea turtles, and the last Hawaiian monk seals. It contains some of the world’s northernmost and healthiest coral reefs, considered among the most likely to survive in an ocean warmed by climate change. The seamounts and sunken islands of its deeper waters are inhabited by more than 7,000 species, including the oldest animals on Earth—black corals that have lived for more than 4,000 years.

In all, a quarter of the creatures living in the monument are found nowhere else. Many more have not yet been identified—such as a ghostly little white octopus, recently discovered, that scientists have dubbed Casper.

It’s certainly true that it’s politically easier to create an oceanic monument (although awfully hard to police I’d guess so I’m curious how successful keeping big commercial fishing boats out of there will be) than a land monument. And thus it’s basically impossible to visit, although a visit to Midway could be pretty cool for the war stuff. But that’s OK. As the oceans change rapidly between climate change and overfishing, keeping some parts of it as pristine as possible is certainly a good thing. Of course, even at 582,000 square miles, many fish will swim right out of them.

Marine biologist Sylvia Earle, a National Geographic explorer-in-residence, said Obama’s announcement buoys hope that the United States can lead the way to a global network of marine-protected areas large enough to save and restore the oceans. These “blue parks,” as Earle calls them, “are not a luxury – a place to go and have a good time,” she said. “Resilience to climate change is dependent upon having significant areas of natural protection—for biodiversity and for all the things that hold the planet steady. This is vitally important to protect our life-support system.”

I guess I’m a bit skeptical about this globally because of a) resources to police fishing over vast areas and b) the impact of climate change and ocean acidification to wipe out most species. But why not try? It’s certainly a good idea if nothing else.

The Further Adventures of Jill Stein, SUPERGENIUS

[ 62 ] August 28, 2016 |

simpsons_2905971a

Jill Stein has finally come out with a statement on the key issue of the day: the killing of Harmabe the Gorilla by the Cincinnati Zoo back in May.

Critical issues here! I love that whatever Jill Stein decides to say is official Green Party policy. What makes this all the more weird is that she backdated the statement to read June 1. Why? Earlier today, this statement did not say June 1. Then people started mocking it. So someone added a date of June 1.

Maybe Stein just wants to be offered the VP slot for the Harambe campaign.

This is a truly competent individual here. Please let the left do better in 2020.

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