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Archive for October, 2015

Hope…

[ 19 ] October 31, 2015 |

…everyone is having a safe and HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!

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And It Begins

[ 95 ] October 31, 2015 |

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I don’t think this is going to be an isolated choice:

One of the wealthiest and most influential Republican donors in the country is throwing his support to Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a decision that could swing millions of dollars in contributions behind Mr. Rubio at a critical point in the Republican nominating battle.

The decision by the donor, Paul Singer, a billionaire New York investor, is a signal victory for Mr. Rubio in his battle with his rival Jeb Bush for the affections of major Republican patrons and the party’s business wing.

It comes as a major blow to Mr. Bush, who is seeing his once vigorous campaign imperiled by doubts among supporters, and whose early dominance of the race was driven by his financial muscle. Mr. Bush and several other candidates, including Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, had competed fiercely for Mr. Singer’s blessing.

Eventually, a lot of money was going to be funneled to the actual politician acceptable to party elites who emerged as the most viable alternative to Trump and Carson. With Walker out and Jeb¯\_(ツ)_/¯ only formally not out, that person is Rubio. His fundraising is about to get a major boost, even though party elites seem lukewarm toward him ex ante.

Erik Visits an American Grave (IV)

[ 63 ] October 31, 2015 |

I was driving through northwestern Connecticut yesterday. It was utterly lovely, with the leaves changing. An ideal bucolic American landscape. Among the nice places I drove through was the town of Sharon, near the New York border. But as I drove through, a horrible smell arose from the bowels of the Earth. Was this awful smell a mine or a mill? Was it an entryport to Hades? No. It was the rotting putrescent corpse of one of the worst human beings to ever foul the land of this fine nation, William F. Buckley.

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There’s barely any point in documenting Buckley’s many crimes against decency and humanity. But why not go ahead anyway.

Buckley himself had developed two arguments against civil rights, both of which were little more than disguised racism, both of which led the line at National Review. The first emerged early in his career. Since the 1950s, Buckley had argued that civil rights should be opposed not because black people were biologically inferior to white people, but because they were not yet “civilized” enough to take part in democratic government. Or, as Buckley put it in 1959, “There are no scientific grounds for assuming congenital Negro disabilities. The problem is not biological, but cultural and educational.”

This “lack of civilization” argument has a long pedigree dating back to the country’s earliest thinkers on the subject, including Thomas Jefferson. Even some black leaders, like Booker T. Washington, expounded on the idea, if with different motives. In the 1950s and 1960s, the argument pushed Buckley in surprising directions. After repeated questioning, he was sometimes forced to admit that, in his view, all uneducated people, black, white, brown, red, or yellow, should not be allowed to vote if they didn’t pass some sort of competency test. This was an undemocratic stance to say the least, but at least it was consistent with his idea that only “civilized” people should rule.

As he pushed this line of thought in the pages of National Review, Buckley argued that no one knew what levels of education should be mandatory to participate in a democracy better than local arbiters. Thus, for Buckley, the federal government had no business declaring equal access when it couldn’t differentiate between uneducated black people in Alabama and black graduates of Harvard. The federal government should butt out; states should decide. If Massachusetts wanted to limit the franchise based on an IQ test, that should be its prerogative.

Of course, no one in Massachusetts was advocating restrictions on voting rights for uneducated white people, and thus Buckley’s argument displayed a willful ignorance about the abuses that had taken place throughout the South during the previous one hundred years, when literacy tests, poll taxes, and grandfather clauses kept the vast majority of black people from voting. Nevertheless, Buckley relied on this states’ rights argument for much the rest of his life. Buckley’s reaction to Brown, for example, was that it was “one of the most brazen acts of judicial usurpation in our history, patently counter to the intent of the Constitution, shoddy and illegal in analysis, and invalid in sociology.” He later added, “Support for the Southern position rests not at all on the question of whether Negro and White children should, in fact, study geography side by side, but on whether a central or a local authority should make that decision.”

He didn’t stop there. In 1957, Buckley wrote National Review’s most infamous editorial, entitled “Why the South Must Prevail.” Is the white community in the South, he asked, “entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically?” His answer was crystal clear: “The sobering answer is Yes—the White community is so entitled because for the time being, it is the advanced race.” Buckley cited unfounded statistics demonstrating the superiority of white over black, and concluded that, “it is more important for any community, anywhere in the world, to affirm and live by civilized standards, than to bow to the demands of the numerical majority.” He added definitively: “the claims of civilization supersede those of universal suffrage.”

And what method should be used to enforce the maintenance of “civilized standards”? According to Buckley, it should be a no-holds-barred defense, even including violence. “Sometimes,” he wrote, “it becomes impossible to assert the will of a minority, in which case it must give way, and the society will regress; sometimes the numerical [white] minority cannot prevail except by violence: then it must determine whether the prevalence of its will is worth the terrible price of violence.”

In other words, it was up to the white community to decide when violence was appropriate. Through its White Citizens’ Councils, the resurgence of the Klan, and the general refusal to prosecute crimes committed against black Southerners, by the 1960s the white South had made its decision. And rather than condemn it, Buckley stayed the course. In 1958, National Review printed a cutting article on the black politician Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., entitled, “The Jig Is Up.” Buckley professed not to know the racial connotations of the word “jig.” In his 1959 book, Up From Liberalism, Buckley responded to an African nationalist, saying, “Your people, sir, are not ready to rule themselves. Democracy, to be successful, must be practiced by politically mature people among whom there is a consensus on the meaning of life within their society.” In his next breath, Buckley turned to American civil rights leaders, saying, “In the South, the white community is entitled to put forward a claim to prevail politically because, for the time being anyway, the leaders of American civilization are white—as one would certainly expect given their preternatural advantages, of tradition, training, and economic status.”

Then there was Buckley’s position on apartheid:

In 1985, William F. Buckley, founder and editor of National Review, wrote a column defending — or, to put it more accurately, expressing — his sympathy for the Apartheid government of South Africa. Buckley wandered through a series of points that would embarrass his successors today, most notably his opinion that Nelson Mandela belongs in jail. Most interesting, Buckley argued not only that the South African government served the strategic interests of American foreign policy, and that Mandela was a dangerous radical, but that South Africa should not dismantle Apartheid:

President Botha of South Africa is incontestably right in saying in effect that he was not elected leader of his government in order to preside over the liquidation of the South Africa he was elected to govern. Critics are perfectly free to contend that his election does not suit our political criteria. But having admitted that his government does not do so, it hardly makes sense to criticize him for proceeding on the basis of his (misbegotten) criteria. If you criticize somebody for being mean to his mother, don’t be surprised if he goes on to be mean to his mother.

Buckley’s logic here, while circular, is also completely airtight. You can’t blame a white South African president for continuing a policy of white supremacy. He was elected by whites! If the whites-only electorate wanted to dismantle white supremacy, it would have chosen somebody else. So there. Buckley does allow that the principle of white supremacy may be “misbegotten,” but later in the column he explains that it’s not entirely wrong, either. (“One-man one-vote is a fanatical abstraction of self government that not even the United States tolerates institutionally,” Buckley argues, citing the malapportionment of the Senate.)

How did Buckley think we should deal with Vietnam?

The pity is that we are saving our tactical nuclear weapons for melodramatic use, for use, presumably, at the apocalypse towards which we may very well be headed in the long term. Take, for instance, the discussion of the use of tactical nuclear weapons in the defense of Khesanh. By this time, so much attention has been given to the plight of Khesanh that to use these weapons, for the first time in military history, in the defense of Khesanh, suggests a mood of total desperation, perhaps even of panic. That interpretation feeds on itself, even as a bear market is said to justify itself.

The time to introduce the use of tactical nuclear arms was a long time ago, in a perfectly routine way, then there was not a suspicion of immediate crisis, of panic. In 1964, Senator Goldwater was burned in oil not even for advocating the use of low-yield atomic bombs for defoliation, but for reporting that the plan was under consideration by the Pentagon. Everyone got so worked up at the idea, that nobody thought to ask the question: Why not? The use of limited atomic bombs for purely military operations is many times easier to defend on the morality scale than one slit throat of a civilian for terrorism’s sake…

Did you ever care what Buckley had to say about The Beatles?

The Beatles are not merely awful; I would consider it sacrilegious to say anything less than that they are god awful. They are so unbelievably horribly, so appallingly unmusical, so dogmatically insensitive to the magic of the art that they qualify as crowned heads of anti-music, even as the imposter popes went down in history as “anti-popes.”

I could go on and delineate his positions on Joe McCarthy, the women’s movement, hippies, etc. But I can’t deal with this anymore. I think I will go shoot some heroin in my veins instead.

William F. Buckley is buried in the St. Bernard Cemetery in Sharon, Connecticut.

Halloween Candy, Brought to You by Child Labor

[ 17 ] October 31, 2015 |

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On this Halloween, it’s worth asking whether the candy you are eating or handing out was produced in part by child labor.

It’s particularly troubling as a parent to know that there are now more than 2 million children harvesting cocoa in West Africa alone, according to a recent report by Tulane University — and most of those kids are doing hazardous work. And sugar isn’t any sweeter. According to the US Department of Labor, either child labour or forced labour is used to produce sugar and farm sugar cane in 17 of the world’s countries. A lot of the Halloween candy Canadian kids are consuming may contain child labour, we just don’t know for sure.

As a World Vision employee, I’ve seen the pictures and read the accounts of child labourers working on cocoa and sugar plantations in some of the world’s poorest countries. I’m familiar with the toxic pesticides to which many of these kids are exposed each day, without any safety equipment. I’m acutely aware of the machetes they swing for eight or ten hours a day to harvest cocoa pods, often on an empty stomach.

Talk about a razor blade in an apple. Imagine a machete on a bare hand or foot.

Additional information on child labor in cacao is available here and here. On child labor in the global sugar trade, see here and here.

Will the Trans Pacific Partnership Empower Polluters to Sue the United States?

[ 4 ] October 31, 2015 |

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Joseph Stiglitz has enormous concerns over the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Primary among them is the Investor-State Dispute Settlement courts that can allow polluters to sue nations for instituting new labor, environmental, or consumer safety standards that undermine corporate profit.

Exactly. It’s a little bit more graphic, because they had the picture of what it did to your lungs. It worked. People started—you know, stopped smoking. Not everybody, but smoking was reduced. Under the provisions of this, TPP-like provision, Philip Morris can sue Uruguay for the loss of their expected profits as result of the regulation. In other words, the view is, they have the right to kill people, and if you want to take away that right, you have to pay them not to kill.

Now, we carved—that provision was carved out, but all the other areas were left in. So they were talking about climate change regulation. We know we’re going to need regulations to restrict the emissions of carbon. But under these provisions, corporations can sue the government, including the American government, by the way, so it’s all the governments in the TPP can be sued for the loss of profits as a result of the regulations that restrict their ability to emit carbon emissions that lead to global warming. If this provision had been in place when we had discovered that asbestos was bad for your health—you know, under the current provisions, asbestos manufacturers have to pay for the damage that they’re doing. They pay billions and billions of dollars. If the TPP had been in place, we would have to pay the asbestos manufacturers for not killing us. It’s outrageous.

As Stiglitz states here, the TPP is barely about trade at all. It’s an international corporate-rights document. Even if you support the current system of free trade and the global race to the bottom, you should still oppose the TPP. Companies can already move around the globe almost at will. Giving away our rights to create safe, clean, and dignified lives for our citizens and granting huge intellectual property rights for pharmaceutical companies that will keep affordable medicine out of the hands of the world’s citizens are terrible policies on top of the continued destruction of the American middle class. It’s an unconscionable deal.

Beating dead horses in American legal academic history (an apparently infinite series)

[ 39 ] October 31, 2015 |

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Florida Coastal’s dean has sent a letter to the New York Times, claiming that last Sunday’s editorial regarding the general scamminess of for-profit law schools in particular, and bad law schools in general was “demonstrably false.” It’s a revealing fact about institutions like FCSL that even a letter like this, which you would think would be drafted with some care to avoid misrepresentations, is full of flat-out lies. For example:

The vast majority of our students do pass the bar. The ultimate pass rate for our students is 93%.

This statement couldn’t possibly be close to being true, because nothing like 93% of FCSL students ever even take the bar, let alone pass it. The academic attrition rate at the school is usually higher than 7%, and often much higher, which means of course that considerably less than 93% of FCSL students eventually become eligible to try to pass a bar exam. This isn’t merely a semantic point: until a couple of years ago, the school would flunk out a significant percentage of their matrics, thus leaving them with heavy debt loads (a single year’s COA is $65,000) and nothing else to show for their trouble. In this way the school could admit large numbers of students with very poor entrance credentials, while still protecting its bar passage rate. (In the past couple of years it seems to have abandoned this approach, instead going to a de facto open enrollment system while flunking out relatively few students. This is already having a catastrophic effect on the school’s bar passage rate, which is practically certain to fall even more than it already has).

In addition, the school’s two most recent graduating classes had first-time bar passage rates of 58% and 59%, which ensures that the eventual bar passage rate of the graduates (not the students) from those matriculating classes will have vastly lower eventual bar passage rates than the supposed 93% rate quoted in the letter (it would be interesting to see how that number was calculated).

On the other hand, a defensible statement on the dean’s part would have been, “While it’s true the recent bar passage rate of our graduates has been very bad, it hasn’t been atrocious, like that of the graduates of our sister Infilaw outfits Charlotte (47%), and Arizona Summit (30.6%).”

Moving right along:

Florida Coastal is a for-profit school. That means we do not have the benefit of taxpayer dollars to fund our students’ education. Yes, their debt load is higher but that is because taxpayers are not paying for our students’ education.

What does it mean for FCSL not “have the benefit of taxpayer dollars to fund” their operations? If it means not getting subsidies from the state legislature, the vast majority of law students (nearly 70%) attend law schools that don’t receive any such subsidies. If it means no tax dollars are finding their way into FCSL’s coffers, that’s not merely a false assertion, but the precise opposite of the truth. FCSL is almost wholly funded by tax dollars, in the form of federal educational loans. If such no-limit/no-doc loans were cut off the school would be closed overnight, as indeed it ought to be.

The continuing adventures of OLDMAN CAT

[ 28 ] October 31, 2015 |

OLDMAN CAT: HALLOWEEN!

SEK: Cats don’t wear costumes.

OLDMAN CAT: Do too.

SEK: That’s not a costume.

OLDMAN CAT: Is too.

SEK: That’s a shrimp shell on your neck.

OLDMAN CAT: CALL US BATTLE PRAWN.

SEK: That’s not a thing.

OLDMAN CAT: BATTLE PRAWN.

SEK: Do I even want to ask about the trash can?

OLDMAN CAT: IT IS DEFEATED.

The Torquemada of the Republican Science Inquisition

[ 41 ] October 30, 2015 |

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Above: Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX)

If the Republican war on science is going to have its lead inquisitor, it will be Lamar Smith. And indeed, the House Science Committee is far worse than the Benghazi Committee in its actual effects on the world.

Breaking the conspiracy of silence

[ 19 ] October 30, 2015 |

Carson, a black man, said in response to a question at Wednesday night’s Republican presidential debate that it was “total propaganda” to suggest he (who as we previously reported, is an African-American) had a relationship with Mannatech Inc. (race unknown), which claims to cure autism and cancer with its products and settled a $7 million false advertising lawsuit. National Review’s Jim Geraghty, who reported on the candidate’s ties to Mannatech earlier this year, called black person Carson’s claim that he wasn’t involved with the company a “bald-faced lie.”

The audience loudly booed CNBC moderator Carl Quintanilla when he asked Carson (who remains African-American according to the latest reports) whether his ties to the company “speak to your vetting process or judgement in any way.” “See, they know,” Carson said negroishly, implying the question was off-base.

If that seems ante-racial to you, you’re the real you-know-what.

Grantland, R.I.P.

[ 66 ] October 30, 2015 |

Not shocking news, but still highly regrettable. I had thought that ESPN might keep it going just to show that they didn’t need Simmons, but since the ridiculously petty editing of the NFL podcast and the ensuing boycott, it was pretty clear that the site was (to invoke Erik’s favorite songwriter) just waiting around to die.

The lesson of Grantland is a simple one. While discussions of sites tend to focus on questions of site philosophy (“is data journalism any good?” being the obvious recent perennial), fundamentally if you find and develop talent they will do good work. I shared the basic ex ante skepticism of people like Lund and Scocca — I didn’t really understand what Simmons was trying to do. But this didn’t matter because Simmons had a really, really good eye for talent and he didn’t try to force anybody into his voice. The flagship writers for the major American sports — Barnwell, Keri, Lowe — are the gold standard, every one a home run. The primary NHL writers, Baker and McIndoe, are not quite as analytically cutting-edge as the aforementioned but are excellent just the same. He buried the hatchet with Charlie Pierce to all of our benefit. The pop culture side was a little bit more hit-or-miss, but there was still a formidable array of talent: Morris, Lambert, Pappademas, Browne, Greenwald, Serrano, and I could go on. As Jeb also conceded, whatever the theory it worked in practice.

And also credit Simmons with the good sense to abandon initial plans when they didn’t work, most notably the famous writers he initially planned to build the site around. Gladwell and Eggers ended up having pretty much nothing to do with the site. Klosterman was largely shuttled to NBA podcasts after his widely and justly derided Merrill Garbus essay. He knew what was working and what wasn’t.

Sure, the editor’s vision matters at the margin. The site had more coverage of pro wrestling and third-rate action movies than I might otherwise prefer. But Simmons knew talent when he saw it, and I have to give him credit for using his clout to protect a highly accomplished loss leader. Most of these writers will find a good home — the sports ones presumably at ESPN while their contracts are in force — but when a an excellent journalistic enterprise with good jobs shuts down, it’s a sad day.

Senators say US government shouldn’t be funding worthless degrees from bottom-feeding law schools

[ 62 ] October 30, 2015 |

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Law schools just made some new enemies. This week, lawmakers from both parties sharply criticized U.S. law schools for leaving students with overwhelming debt and degrees that may not get them jobs. . . .

On Monday, Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) blamed the government’s generous loan programs for encouraging troubled law schools to hike prices. In 2006, Congress made new federal loans available to graduate students, allowing them to take out as much debt as they want in order to finance their education.

“Now that we’ve taken the cap off what you can borrow for graduate courses, they have decided they are going to just charge to the heavens in terms of tuition for worthless, worthless law school degrees” said Durbin, at a Congressional meeting on student debt this week, referring to for-profit law schools.

Michael Simkovic is very offended by the failure to recognize that the hordes of matrics with 2.3 GPAs and 9th percentile LSAT scores flooding into the Infilaw schools will be on average one million dollars richer (discounted to present value) on the day they graduate, because even though a huge percentage of them will never practice law, employers will gladly pay a steep premium to hire a graduate of a for-profit law school with an open enrollment policy.

Of course Simkovic is literally paid by LSAC and the lender collectively owned by almost all ABA law schools to crank out articles demonstrating by theology and geometry that it’s a great idea to go $200,000 into debt to attend a school where 70% of graduates fail the bar on their first try, even though the school is paying the most hopeless cases not to take it, so his scholarly conclusions should probably be taken with a pillar of salt.

God damn you, Jonah, for making it so easy

[ 140 ] October 30, 2015 |

Goldberg was ejecting words on the Internet again, I couldn’t not respond.

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