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Obama administration essentially puts ITT Technical Institute out of business

[ 29 ] August 26, 2016 |


The Obama administration took steps Thursday that could effectively force the closure of one of the nation’s largest for-profit college chains, banning ITT Technical Institute from enrolling new students who receive federal aid.

ITT, which has about 43,000 students nationwide, is facing accusations from its accreditor of chronic mismanagement of its finances and using questionable recruiting tactics. The company is also under investigation by state and federal authorities.

The Education Department said Thursday it had lost faith that ITT would survive the scrutiny and banned its schools from accepting new students that receive federal loans and grants to pay for the school’s tuition. Such aid provided 68% of the company’s $850 million in revenue last year.

While ITT can continue to collect aid from current students, without a future source of revenue the company would almost surely be forced to close many, if not all, of its campuses, analysts said. Private lenders have largely stopped making loans to students at for-profit schools since the recession. . . .

The move is part of a broader crackdown by the Obama administration on the for-profit college industry, which officials have accused of using deceptive marketing to enroll vulnerable students who go thousands of dollars into debt for low-quality educations.

Last year, Corinthian Colleges Inc., another major for-profit chain, liquidated in bankruptcy after the Education Department banned it from receiving federal aid amid allegations of inflating the career outcomes of graduates. Corinthian officials denied the allegations.

“Millions of dollars in taxpayer money and tens of thousands of students are in jeopardy,” Ted Mitchell, the Education Department’s undersecretary, said in a call with reporters about the move against ITT. “We have both a legal and ethical responsibility to strengthen safeguards in accordance with the public’s trust.”

The government would likely be forced to absorb losses on student loans if ITT closes under a federal law that relieves students of the obligation to repay their loans under such circumstances.

Many former ITT students have also applied to a federal program that forgives debt if they can prove their schools used illegal recruiting tactics, such as running advertisements with misleading statistics on the career success of graduates. The government has forgiven $171 million in student debt owed by former Corinthian students.

It’s also nice to see that Obama’s DOE has some appropriately cynically-minded regulators:

The Education Department also prohibited ITT from giving raises, bonuses or severance payments to its executives. Agency officials say that under federal law, it can impose executive-compensation limits on companies like ITT that enter contracts with the department to receive federal aid.

Oh the humanity! If the Free Enterprise System stands for anything, it’s for the principle that Emergency Golden Parachutes should be funded by the public. In fact I believe that’s actually in the Constitution, somewhere towards the back. (Leave to a socialist to trample on these sacred tenets).

Luckily this kind of thing obviously has nothing whatsoever to do with law schools:

It’s a mere formality. Every five years, the Department of Education renews the ABA’s power to accredit law schools. The June 2016 session before a DOE advisory committee (NACIQI) was supposed to be just another step in the rubber-stamping process. The NACIQI staff had recommended approval. The committee’s three-day session contemplated action on a dozen other accrediting bodies, ranging from the American Psychological Association to the American Theological Schools. Sandwiched between acupuncture and health education, the agenda contemplated an hour for the ABA.

What could go wrong?

For the next several hours, the ABA Section of Legal Education was much to its evident surprise subjected to the — well-deserved — regulatory equivalent of a root canal:

The ABA’s culture of self-interest and insularity has now created a bigger mess. Some NACIQI members favored the “nuclear” option: recommending denial of the ABA’s accrediting authority altogether. The committee opted to send a “clear message” through less draconian means.

The final recommendation was to give the ABA a 12-month period during which it would have no power to accredit new law schools. Thereafter, the ABA would report its progress in addressing the committee’s concerns, including the massive debt that students are incurring at law schools with poor JD-required placement rates.

As one member put it, “It is great to collect data, but they don’t have any standard on placement. What’s the point of collecting data if you can’t…use the data to help the students and protect the students…”

Another member summarized the committee’s view of the ABA: “This feels like an Agency that is out of step with a crisis in its profession, out of step with the changes in higher ed, and out of step with the plight of the students that are going through the law schools.”

The day of reckoning may not be at hand, but it’s getting closer.

See also Deborah Merritt, who provides a link to a complete transcript of the meeting for the S&M crowd.


A hero for our time

[ 43 ] August 25, 2016 |


Tales from the New Gilded Age, Part Infinity:

America is the only developed nation that lets drugmakers set their own prices on life-saving medications. One of the great things about this liberty-maximizing approach is that it gives pharmaceutical entrepreneurs the incentive to innovate.

And few entrepreneurs have done more to disrupt the provision of life-saving drugs than Mylan CEO Heather Bresch. In 2007, Bresch added EpiPen to Mylan’s portfolio. At that time, the emergency epinephrine-injector pens sold at an average wholesale price of $57.

Now, EpiPens aren’t a new, sexy drug. They’ve been around for more than four decades. And, traditionally, drugmakers have been reluctant to drastically raise the price of the penlike devices because so many American children rely on EpiPens to protect against fatal allergic reactions.

But where less daring executives saw an obstacle, Bresch saw an opportunity: If some people rely on EpiPens just to survive, surely they’d be willing to pay more to access them. After all, isn’t $57 a disgustingly low price to put on the value of a human life? . . .

Over the course of nine years, Bresch gradually brought the price of EpiPens in line with their true worth. To do that, she thought outside the box and made sure to use every tool at her disposal — including her familial connections on Capitol Hill. In 2012 and 2013, Mylan spent $4 million lobbying Congress to pass the 2013 School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act, which encouraged schools across the country to stock up on her product. The act was passed by the House and Senate (where Bresch’s father, Joe Manchin, works) and was signed into law by President Obama.

In total, Bresch raised the price of EpiPens by over 400 percent, to an average wholesale value of $317.82. That helped Mylan triple its stock price, from $13.29 in 2007 to $47.59 in 2016.

But that’s not all: Bresch also found time to disrupt her company’s tax burden by officially “relocating” it to the low-tax Netherlands, even as the company maintains most of its offices in Pittsburgh.

By itself, that record would make Bresch a great entrepreneur. But what makes her a true hero is what she chose to do with her company’s increased profitability. You see, for Bresch, making it easier for poor kids to die from allergy attacks is about something a lot bigger than herself. That’s why she chose to take a huge bite out of America’s gender pay gap by increasing her own salary from $2,453,456 in 2007 to $18,931,068 in 2016 — an increase of 671 percent!

Still, as impressive as Bresch’s accomplishments are, it’s important to remember that they’re only possible because of the system we all created together. And if that doesn’t make you proud to be American, then maybe you should “relocate” to the Netherlands, too!

Texting while driving

[ 165 ] August 25, 2016 |


I see people texting while driving constantly. A couple of months ago I was a passenger in a car that got rear-ended by a driver who was in the midst of posting an update to her Facebook page.

Three years ago, AT&T approached Werner Herzog about making a few short public service messages about texting and driving. The great director delved into the topic and decided that crafting an effective message required a documentary film:

“Originally I was supposed to do four spots, 30 seconds long, but I immediately said these deep emotions, this inner landscape can only be shown if you have more time. You have to know the persons. You have to allow silences, for example, deep silences of great suffering.”

The result is a powerful and harrowing film that’s difficult to watch, but which really ought to be seen by anyone who drives and texts, even if they have never done so at the same time.

Just a little dab of racialism

[ 118 ] August 23, 2016 |


In the Age of Trump the line for “real racism” keeps getting moved, to the point where if somebody isn’t wearing a white robe and a pointy hat and screaming the N word in front of burning cross, then suggesting any sort of racist motivation or subtext or insensitivity is just PC censoring etcetera etcicero.

Still, here’s the lede for a NYT piece on the surprising presence of post-neolithic foodways in Tucson:

There are food deserts, those urban neighborhoods where finding healthful food is nearly impossible, and then there is Tucson.

When the rain comes down hard on a hot summer afternoon here, locals start acting like Cindy Lou Who on Christmas morning. They turn their faces to the sky and celebrate with prickly pear margaritas. When you get only 12 inches of rain a year, every drop matters.

Coaxing a vibrant food culture from this land of heat and cactuses an hour’s drive north of the Mexican border seems an exhausting and impossible quest. But it’s never a good idea to underestimate a desert rat. Tucson, it turns out, is a muscular food town.

What is this I don’t even . . .

Call me a hyper-sensitive Person of Mexican Heritage, but I kinda doubt the Times would, for instance, write a piece on the foodie scene in Stockholm that would lead off with the observation that it’s hard to coax a vibrant food culture out of a land where the soil is locked into plow-repelling permafrost and fresh vegetables are only available three and a half weeks a year.

Not to mention the tortured metaphors and generally horrible writing. Editors anyone?

CNN Green Party Town Hall focuses on whether Barack Obama is an Uncle Tom

[ 75 ] August 22, 2016 |

uncle tom's cabin

Jill Stein’s vice presidential running mate, Ajamu Baraka, defended his decision to call President Barack Obama an “Uncle Tom president,” saying he “stands by” his choice to use the racially charged slur he’s used to describe America’s first black president.

The moment came Wednesday night during CNN’s Green Party town hall, when moderator Chris Cuomo asked Baraka why he has used the term “Uncle Tom” to criticize Obama’s presidency.

“There are legitimate arguments to be made,” Cuomo said about Obama’s presidency. “But you called him an Uncle Tom. Now that’s a little bit different than making legitimate arguments.”

But Baraka defended using the slur — a term defined by Merriam-Webster’s dictionary as a black person “overeager to win the approval of whites” — by saying he used it while speaking to a “specialized audience who understood the context and reason why I framed it in that way.”

Cuomo, however, wasn’t having that argument. . .

“Is there any good context?” Cuomo asked Baraka of the term.

“What I wanted to do was basically to tell people who had this hope in Barack Obama, that if we were concerned and serious about how we could displace white power, we had to demystify the policies and the positions of this individual,” Baraka said. “So that was how it got framed, to shock people into a more critical look at this individual, and that’s how I did it, and I stand by that.”

Cuomo then turned to Stein to ask whether she agrees with her running mate’s decision to use a slur against Obama.

Stein did not disavow Baraka’s response, giving a vague answer with buzzwords.

“I am so grateful that we have an opportunity to go beyond sound bites,” Stein said. “And I understand Ajamu’s passion, his frustration and his struggle. And I also understand his transcendence and the way in which this is a challenge to us all right now — to both feel the passion of our struggle but also to be capable of transcending it and connecting with each other, healing our wounds and forging a bigger vision and a bigger community.”

She went on to say that she’s “worked with Ajamu for years” and that she has “never heard him use derogatory language.”

A couple of things:

(1) It’s hard to overstate what a marginal presence the Green Party is in US politics at present. At the presidential level, Stein got 0.36% of the vote in 2012 — about a third as much as the Libertarian Party; the gap between the Greens and the Libertarians was bigger than the gap, in the other direction, between the Greens and the Constitution Party, which I don’t imagine is going to be featured in any prime time Town Hall meetings on CNN any time soon.

And the party’s essential irrelevance at the presidential level is replicated at pretty much every level of American politics above a volunteer city commission here or there. Which naturally raises the question of why Stein et. al. merit as much media coverage as they’re getting.

(2) This is a candidate for the most irrelevant observation of the year, practically speaking, but it’s not quite clear that Ajamu Baraka is actually eligible, constitutionally speaking, to become vice president.

Jill Stein, the presumptive Green Party nominee, just named her vice presidential running mate–Ajamu Baraka, a Chicago native and human rights activist who now lives in Atlanta.

But quite recently, Mr. Baraka lived in Colombia. A 2015 blog entry on his site describes him as someone who lives in Cali, Colombia. And other media mentions around that time mention him as someone from Colombia.

The eligibility concern relates his residency at that time. (Recall that vice presidents must be not be ineligible for the office of president.) Article II provides among other qualifications that a candidate must be “fourteen Years a resident within the United States.”

There is some evidence, but certainly not unanimous, that these fourteen years must be accumulated consecutively prior to securing office. But there is some evidence that the requirement can be met cumulatively, over the total course of one’s life prior to securing the office.

Additionally, there is the question of what “resident” means. Does living for a stretch of time in Colombia mean one is no longer a “resident” of the United States? It may well mean something like domicile, and a temporary, even extended, presence in another country would not thwart such residency. (James Ho succinctly summarizes some of these views here.)

In short, there is probably good evidence that Mr. Baraka was a resident fourteen years consecutively, and even if he wasn’t, that the Constitution permits such residence to be acquired cumulatively. But in the event one concludes that the Constitution requires consecutive residency and that his time in Colombia broke up that residency, then Mr. Baraka would be ineligible.

The odds that this will ever matter to anyone are roughly the same as the odds of Donald Trump winning the Nobel Prize in physics next year, but it’s yet another odd little reminder of what a mess the Constitution’s presidential eligibility requirements are.

Separating art from its creators

[ 243 ] August 19, 2016 |


I don’t have any substantive comment about the Nate Parker controversy, but I did want to flag this interesting reaction from Roxane Gay:

We’ve long had to face that bad men can create good art. Some people have no problem separating the creation from the creator. I am not one of those people, nor do I want to be. I recognize that people are complex and cannot be solely defined by their worst deeds, but I can no longer watch “The Cosby Show,” for example, without thinking of the numerous sexual assault accusations against Bill Cosby. Suddenly, his jokes are far less funny.

I cannot separate the art and the artist, just as I cannot separate my blackness and my continuing desire for more representation of the black experience in film from my womanhood, my feminism, my own history of sexual violence, my humanity.

“The Birth of a Nation” is being billed as an important movie — something we must see, a story that demands to be heard. I have not yet seen the movie, and now I won’t. Just as I cannot compartmentalize the various markers of my identity, I cannot value a movie, no matter how good or “important” it might be, over the dignity of a woman whose story should be seen as just as important, a woman who is no longer alive to speak for herself, or benefit from any measure of justice. No amount of empathy could make that possible.

This response is the opposite of my own (which isn’t a criticism of it, just an observation). That Roman Polanski raped a 13-year-old girl doesn’t affect my experience when I watch Chinatown. Maybe this is in part because a film, at least of that sort, is a highly collaborative work, meaning that Robert Towne and Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway and many others contributed to its creation in ways that collectively were just as if not more important than Polanski’s contribution. (By contrast, I don’t think I could even read let alone admire Lolita if Nabokov himself had been a child rapist).

Or maybe this is just a rationalization for a kind of aesthetic selfishness. Anyway, I’m looking forward to The Birth of a Nation.

Infilaw school transitions from normal villainy to cartoonish super-villainy

[ 99 ] August 19, 2016 |


The ABA, which is finally under serious fire from federal regulators for rubber-stamping a seemingly endless cavalcade of crazily expensive new law schools with horrible admissions and bar passage statistics, is on the verge of actually putting some teeth into its bar passage requirements.

If adopted, the new rules would require 75% of a school’s graduates who take the bar to pass it within two years of graduation. When I wrote about this a few months ago, some incredibly cynical and mean-spirited commenters noted that a school could tweak its stats by paying graduates not to take the bar, or even better yet just flunking out students right before they were set to graduate.

Not surprisingly, the Infilaw schools — the 9th circle of the law school scam — are becoming visionary thought leaders in this field. Here’s an email that Dean Shirley Mays of Arizona Summit just sent to the school’s third-year (!) students:

I strongly encourage each of you to take the pre-bar prep class. It will help prepare you to take the bar exam. The pre-bar prep class will have as a final a mock bar exam which will contribute significantly to your grade. Taking the mock bar exam will afford you the opportunity to receive feedback about your strengths and areas of improvement going into the bar exam. It also will give you a taste of what you will experience two months after graduation as you prepare for the February or July 2017 bar exam.

To facilitate taking the pre-bar prep class, we will offer the class from 0 – 4 credits. Thus, for example, if taking the class will shift you from part-time to full-time status, take the class for 0 credits and you can take the class for free. Kudos to those of you who already have taken the initiative and added this class to your schedule. If you would like to take the class for fewer than 4 credits, we will send instructions on how to do so prior to the add/drop period.

Please note, effective with the May 2017 graduates, even though taking the class is not a requirement, a passing score on a mock bar exam will be a graduation requirement. We will share these specifics in a subsequent email early next week.

Warm regards,

Dean Mays

Note, this brand new and very substantial requirement for graduation (and thus for eligibility to take the bar), has been imposed on people who are a week away from starting their final year of law school, at an institution that has already charged them nearly $90,000 in tuition, and is about to charge them $45,000 more.

Yet given the complete cratering of the school’s bar passage rates and the impending possibility of the ABA imposing real standards, this sort of grift on steroids is only to be expected.

Will thinkfluence for food

[ 28 ] August 19, 2016 |


The University of California, Berkeley, paid $200,000 to consultants to improve the national and international image of Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, who announced Tuesday that he was stepping down, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. The contracts with a primary consultant and a subcontractor were for the companies to “‘increase exposure and awareness’ of Dirks’s vision for higher education, elevate the chancellor ‘as a key thought leader,’ and ‘form key partnerships’ so that potential donors would understand his philosophy,” the article said.

Dirks hired Williamsworks, a Seattle consulting firm, and their subcontractor, Rosshirt, to seek out high-profile speaking engagements and partnerships that would “improve the Chancellor’s strategic profile both nationally and internationally,” according to a contract obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle.

Question: If I get the university to spend $200K to wrangle me a bunch of “high-profile” (aka high-paid) speaking engagements, do I still get to keep the money generated by my oratorical talents? Asking for a friend.

Also, I’m still very unclear as to what exactly a university chancellor’s day to day job is, as opposed to being a thought leader and visionary, which are tasks we here at LGM perform in our spare time and practically for free yo.

Donald Trump’s campaign is basically a RSS feed of Russian disinformation and white supremacist sites

[ 229 ] August 18, 2016 |

white pride

This is not hyperbole:

On Sunday’s CNN State of the Union show, now deposed Trump chief Paul Manafort told Jake Tapper that “You had — you had the NATO base in Turkey being under attack by terrorists. You had a number of things that were appropriate to this campaign, were part of what Mr. Trump has been talking about.”

Only this didn’t happen.

Now, spouting nonsense on a Sunday show is nothing new. But this was a certain kind of nonsense, as a sharp-eyed Hayes Brown from Buzzfeed noted. This ‘story’, albeit fake, got a huge amount of push from Russia Today and the Russian alt-propaganda network Sputnik News that I wrote about yesterday. Now if you wanted to be really ungenerous you might say Manafort was getting his talking points from someone at least east of Kiev or more plausibly that he reads a lot of Russian propaganda websites. But as Brown notes, it wasn’t just RT and Sputnik. Their stories were also “passed along on Twitter by accounts that are both pro-Trump and pro-Russian.”

Maybe it’s just that he’s awash in the Trumpite, white nationalist world where pro-Russian propaganda (specifically propaganda from Russia’s various state-backed English language propaganda networks) has become ubiquitous and he picked it up there. What’s notable is that this bit of misinformation germinated in a Russian propaganda mill and ended up on Manafort’s lips on CNN. The precise pathway it took from origination to final destination is fascinating but in some ways beside the point.

And then there’s this fascinating little development:

GOP nominee Donald Trump attacked his Democratic opponent’s stance on immigration and refugees by comparing her to the chancellor of Germany. “Hillary Clinton wants to be America’s Angela Merkel,” he said.

He fired off two press releases that same day calling Clinton “America’s Merkel,” and took to Twitter to warn of the dangers of #AmericasMerkel. . .

The line of attack “baffled” political analysts, who wondered why Trump would possibly think referencing a largely-unknown European leader would help him win votes in the United States. A Pew survey last year found that “Germany is not on the radar of many Americans,” with more than a third reporting “no opinion” of Merkel at all.

But there is at least one group of Americans well familiar with Merkel, her immigration policies, and her connections to Hillary Clinton: white supremacists.

To white nationalist communities that fervently support Trump, Merkel has been a popular villain. Sites like the Daily Stormer, the White Genocide Project, American Renaissance, and The White Resister have posted constantly about her since the Syrian refugee crisis began escalating earlier this year. They have accused her of making a “deliberate attempt to turn Germany from a majority White country into a minority White country.” They have called her a “crazy childless bitch,” “Anti-White Traitor,” and “patron saint of terrorists.” They have asked in articles about her, “Why would you allow a woman to run a country, unless you were doing it as a joke?”

In fact, Trump’s new line about Clinton wanting to become “America’s Merkel” can be found almost verbatim in these white supremacist forums. “If Hillary takes power she will be to America what Merkel is to Germany,” a member of Stormfront wrote in March. “Hillary Clinton is America’s Angela Merkel,” wrote a commenter on American Renaissance in April.

Heidi Beirich, who investigates and tracks white nationalist groups for Southern Poverty Law Center, told ThinkProgress that Trump “seems to be parroting the hate sites” and speaking to their concerns.

“There is no question that the people who call him their ‘glorious leader’ know exactly what he’s talking about,” she said. “That is the audience that is concerned about this issue. Merkel is hated by Trump’s white supremacist supporters, and she and Clinton are seen in the same light.”

Read both pieces. Trump is going to lose, and lose badly, but he is merely a symptom of a much bigger problem, which is that there’s a good chance the GOP becomes an explicitly ethno-nationalist party before it either flies apart, or just sags like a heavy load into electoral oblivion.

Math problem

[ 88 ] August 17, 2016 |


Somebody who is better at mathematical extrapolation than your average pseudo-lawyer may want to tackle this one:

Suppose a law school charged $30,644 in tuition in 2010.

Suppose that school is charging $50,790 this fall.

Suppose that this school received 4,922 applications for admission in 2010.

Suppose this school received 1,222 applications for admission last fall.

Assuming these trends hold, in what year will the school receive a single application, and what will tuition be at that point?

TIA xoxo

My old school

[ 74 ] August 16, 2016 |

becker and fagen

Leo Botstein has been, among many other things, president of Bard College for the past four decades. This profile, published in the New Yorker a couple of years ago, describes Botstein as being extremely good at raising money but even better at spending it:

Botstein has built Bard in his own polymath image. (In addition to his duties as president, he is a historian and a busy orchestral conductor; he has led the American Symphony Orchestra for more than twenty years.) He is celebrated for his grand schemes and the rich donors they attract. Though he has raised more than a billion dollars during his tenure, the college’s finances remain precarious. Bard has lacked both a large body of wealthy alumni and a developed infrastructure for soliciting their donations. One of Botstein’s daughters has joked that he should consider renting out the campus for weddings in the summer. “There are lots of very good things going for Bard,” David Schwab, a chairman emeritus of the board of trustees, told me. “Money is not one of them.”

Where is all that money going? From a 2014 piece:

Moody’s Investors Service recently downgraded Bard’s bond rating three notches, a sign of what the firm sees as long-term risks. Its analysts also raised delicate but larger questions about Bard’s future without Botstein, who said he’s not going anywhere, and his longtime chief financial officer.

Bard, located about 100 miles outside of Manhattan, is unusual among colleges. It operates its undergraduate program largely without an endowment and plows much of its money – from donors and tuition – into educational and cultural offerings in five states and five countries.

Botstein, who has led Bard since 1975, dismissed Moody’s criticism and called questions about Bard’s finances a “terrible distraction.”

“When you have bond raters peering over your life’s work, it’s like hanging a painting in front of semi-blind people,” he said. “You could be in real trouble.”

Botstein – a world class fund-raiser and Renaissance man – has expanded Bard and its mission. There’s a top-notch conservatory building, college campuses in Eastern Europe and on the West Bank and partnerships with public school systems in New York and New Orleans.

These are expensive projects, often with little revenue generating potential. But Botstein would rather spend what money he has on education than squirrel it away, unused. He said Bard is an “educational cause” rather than “some retirement portfolio’s safe pension investment.”

Anyway, our renaissance polymath has now turned his attention to American higher education as a whole, with a piece in Money magazine that argues the government should simply forgive all $1.3 trillion in outstanding federal student loan debt, and then set up a loan forgiveness program for new borrowers:

Once having wiped out existing debt—as an investment in our nation’s human capital—we need a new loan program for current and future students. It should include a structured forgiveness provision. As an incentive to recruit our best talent into public service, loan holders who work in key public sector fields, from teaching to law enforcement, should receive a forgiveness benefit. After 20 years of being a public school teacher, for example, one’s debt should be marked down to zero.

This is such a brilliant and paradigm-shattering idea that President/Maestro/Prof. Botstein will be excited to learn that somebody has already thought of it: specifically, the United States federal government, which actually instituted a much more generous version of Botstein’s proposal, featuring complete forgiveness after ten years rather than 20, back in 2007.

Reminder: this guy has been president of a kind of famous American institution of higher learning for 41 years. In other words, he’s not opining on whether Ted Williams was a better hitter than Babe Ruth, or whether it’s acceptable to make a Martini with vodka. You would think the basic finances of American higher education would be right in his professional wheelhouse — or at least that he would have a worshipful flunky or three Google the subject before casting his analytic pearls before swine.

A Wharton man

[ 218 ] August 15, 2016 |


Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton. Do not think that I am very much impressed by that as a boxing title, but it meant a lot to Cohn. He cared nothing for boxing, in fact he disliked it, but he learned it painfully and thoroughly to counteract the feeling of inferiority and shyness he had felt on being treated as a Jew at Princeton. There was a certain inner comfort in knowing he could knock down anybody who was snooty to him, although, being very shy and a thoroughly nice boy, he never fought except in the gym. He was Spider Kelly’s star pupil. Spider Kelly taught all his young gentlemen to box like featherweights, no matter whether they weighed one hundred and five or two hundred and five pounds. But it seemed to fit Cohn. He was really very fast. He was so good that Spider promptly overmatched him and got his nose permanently flattened. This increased Cohn’s distaste for boxing, but it gave him a certain satisfaction of some strange sort, and it certainly improved his nose. In his last year at Princeton he read too much and took to wearing spectacles. I never met any one of his class who remembered him. They did not even remember that he was middleweight boxing champion.

The Sun Also Rises

“Still — I was married in the middle of June,” Daisy remembered, “Louisville in June! Somebody fainted. Who was it fainted, Tom?”

“Biloxi,” he answered shortly.

“A man named Biloxi. ‘blocks’ Biloxi, and he made boxes — that’s a fact — and he was from Biloxi, Tennessee.”

“They carried him into my house,” appended Jordan, “because we lived just two doors from the church. And he stayed three weeks, until Daddy told him he had to get out. The day after he left Daddy died.” After a moment she added as if she might have sounded irreverent, “There wasn’t any connection.”

“I used to know a Bill Biloxi from Memphis,” I remarked.

“That was his cousin. I knew his whole family history before he left. He gave me an aluminum putter that I use to-day.”

The music had died down as the ceremony began and now a long cheer floated in at the window, followed by intermittent cries of “Yea-ea-ea!” and finally by a burst of jazz as the dancing began.

“We’re getting old,” said Daisy. “If we were young we’d rise and dance.”

“Remember Biloxi,” Jordan warned her. “Where’d you know him, Tom?”

“Biloxi?” He concentrated with an effort. “I didn’t know him. He was a friend of Daisy’s.”

“He was not,” she denied. “I’d never seen him before. He came down in the private car.”

“Well, he said he knew you. He said he was raised in Louisville. Asa Bird brought him around at the last minute and asked if we had room for him.”

Jordan smiled.

“He was probably bumming his way home. He told me he was president of your class at Yale.”

Tom and I looked at each other blankly.


“First place, we didn’t have any president ——”

Gatsby’s foot beat a short, restless tattoo and Tom eyed him suddenly.

“By the way, Mr. Gatsby, I understand you’re an Oxford man.”

“Not exactly.”

“Oh, yes, I understand you went to Oxford.”

“Yes — I went there.”

A pause. Then Tom’s voice, incredulous and insulting: “You must have gone there about the time Biloxi went to New Haven.”

Another pause. A waiter knocked and came in with crushed mint and ice but, the silence was unbroken by his “thank you” and the soft closing of the door. This tremendous detail was to be cleared up at last.

“I told you I went there,” said Gatsby.

“I heard you, but I’d like to know when.”

“It was in nineteen-nineteen, I only stayed five months. That’s why I can’t really call myself an Oxford man.”
Tom glanced around to see if we mirrored his unbelief. But we were all looking at Gatsby.

The Great Gatsby

But for Trump, the ultimate insult came at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. “Everybody wanted me to make a keynote speech,” Trump told me. “People were writing me thousands of letters and emails, all going crazy.” Yet despite the pleading of these vast letter-writing multitudes, the Romney campaign turned him down. Trump was indignant. “What, I wouldn’t say the right thing?” he told me. “Hey, I went to the Wharton School of Finance. I did great.” Anyway, as consolation, the campaign said he could produce a short video to show at the convention — but in the end, even that got scuttled. . .

“Somehow, when you go to Wharton, you don’t go back,” Trump told a biographer in 2005. “It’s not a knock on Queens … [but] you go to a school like that, and you do well at the school, and you know, somehow you want to break out of that mold. I think it brought me into a different world.”

The rough-edged rich kid from Jamaica Estates had spent his teens swaggering his way through high school at an upstate military academy. But at Waspy, well-mannered Wharton, Trump’s shtick didn’t have the same winning effect. When, one day shortly after transferring to the school, he stood up in a business class and cockily declared his intention to become “the king of New York real estate,” his classmates reacted with snickers and eye-rolling. . .

“You know, in Palm Beach there’s an in-crowd and an out-crowd and no matter how much money he has, he will never be a part of Palm Beach’s inner circle,” socialite Marlene Rathgeb told the Miami Herald in 1986, adding, “The fact that Trump is Jewish and because he’s nouveau riche turns a lot of people off.” When a rumor circulated that he’d been denied membership to the exclusive Bath & Tennis Club, Trump furiously disputed the claim, insisting even decades later, “I can get in if I wanted to. If I wanted to, I can get anything. I’m the king of Palm Beach.”

When the whole nasty ordeal was finally over and Mar-a-Lago was his, Trump looked endlessly for ways to take revenge on his stuck-up neighbors. He had DJs blast music loud enough for all the “stuffy cocksuckers” in town to hear. In 2006, he installed an 80-foot flagpole in brazen defiance of local zoning ordinances, and then left it up for six months — a towering middle finger to the Palm Beach pooh-bahs who were heaping fines on him.

The last quote is from this very interesting portrait of Trump. Also interesting is the authorial/editorial choice to let the Palm Beach social gatekeeper’s identification of Trump as Jewish go uncorrected.

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