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A little story about talking about race and racism

[ 129 ] January 13, 2017 |

A sports message board on which I’ve hung out for 20 years now has gradually degenerated into a place where people post as least as much about politics as about sports.  The site has become badly split between right and left wingers (in the context of a sports message board a left winger is somebody who doesn’t want to abolish capital gains taxes), and the right wingers are feeling very frisky these days.

One thing the right wing posters absolutely despise is being called racists, which of course none of them are (just ask them).  In fact they love to point out that “PC” accusations of racism, demands for safe spaces and transgender rights, etc.– you know the drill — are what got Trump elected president, and even though Trump is pretty awful he’s still better than that crook Hillary.  One of these people posted this after Joe Biden got the Presidential Medal of Freedom:


Growing up, I used to think Martin was the brain behind their act Lewis showed up for shooting and clowned in front of the camera, Actually it was other way around Lewis was the brain and Martin was a derelict.

People think Obama was the brain and Biden was just clowning. Actually Biden was the brain behind the presidency. He worked with Dem special interest groups an pollsters and set the agenda for Obama’s presidency. Obama’s role was to give soaring speeches using teleprompters and then go play golf.

Biden totally deserved the medal he received yesterday. He has been the de facto President.

I don’t know anything about Martin & Lewis so I have no idea whether what this guy is saying about them has any basis in reality, but the claim about Obama and Biden is of course comically absurd, based on all available evidence.

I admire Joe Biden as a politician, but nothing in either his academic record (he finished near the bottom of his class at Delaware and Syracuse as an undergrad and law student respectively) or, more pertinently, his very long public career has ever given anyone the impression that he is some sort of heavy lifter, intellectually speaking.

Both academically and professionally, the contrast with Obama’s resume couldn’t appear to be greater.  Of  course to your standard right winger none of this apparent evidence is real, because Obama’s sterling academic record is a product of Affirmative Action, and his books were written by Bill Ayers, and he just reads a teleprompter and then goes to play golf while the Svengali behind the whole business does the hard work of governance.  (I will admit that picking Joe Biden, of all people, as the brains behind the operation, seems innovative, but the rest of of the narrative about the shiftless black man who has cheated his way through life so that he can crash a country club sport in his copious spare time is standard right wing rhetorical fare).

Now what interests me about this is the contrast between the incredibly obvious racism that fuels this narrative, and especially something like the bizarre elevation of Joe Biden to behind the scenes mastermind status, and the ferocity with which the people who believe and repeat this narrative deny — quite sincerely, to all appearances — any racist motivation for their beliefs.

If I were to sum up in eight words the social forces that have led to the fact that Donald Trump will be president of the United States a week from today, those words would be: racists don’t like to be told they’re racists.




Top Five

[ 294 ] January 12, 2017 |

Top Five is a potentially ongoing new feature here at LGM.*  Instead of beginning with something more obviously topical, such as Top Five Fascist Dictators, or Top Five Stolen Elections, let us turn today to the calmer and more lyrical waters of Top Five Songs About Adultery.

(1)  Billy Paul, Me and Mrs. Jones

(2) Dolly Parton, Jolene

(3) Amazing Rhythm Aces, Third Rate Romance

(4) Steely Dan, Dirty Work

(5) Cheri Knight, If Wishes Were Horses


*H/T Nick Hornby

People worry about kids playing with guns, and teenagers watching violent videos; we are scared that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands, of songs about broken hearts and rejection and pain and misery and loss. The unhappiest people I know, romantically speaking, are the ones who like pop music the most; and I don’t know whether pop music has caused this unhappiness, but I do know that they’ve been listening to the sad songs longer than they’ve been living the unhappy lives.

The cops are also in your head

[ 101 ] January 11, 2017 |

I am his Highess’ dog at Kew;

Pray tell me, Sir, whose dog are you?

Epigram engraved on the collar of a dog which Alexander Pope gave to Frederick, Prince of Wales.


Recently,  a law firm sent a couple of letters to my administrative superiors.  The second one is below:


(202) 628-7401

902 Prince Street

Alexandria, Virginia 22314

(202) 628-7400

\August 16, 2016

Via FedEx and E-Mail

Confidential Settlement Communication

James Anaya

Dean and Charles Inglis Thomson Professor

The University of Colorado School of Law

401 UCB

2450 Kittredge Loop Road

Wolf Law Building, Office 323C

Boulder, CO 80309

Dear Dean Anaya:

We are counsel to The InfiLaw System, the parent company of Florida Coastal School of Law and Arizona Summit Law School. My clients were the principal subjects of two articles authored by Professor Paul Campos and published in The Atlantic in September 2014 and October 2015, entitled The Law School Scam and The Law School Scam Continues. My clients are also apparently the target of ongoing investigations by Mr. Campos.

We request a meeting with you (and the University’s counsel if you wish) regarding disturbing information that has recently come to light regarding unethical, unprofessional, and potentially unlawful conduct by Mr. Campos during his ongoing investigation of my clients.

We sent a similar letter to your predecessor, Dean Weiser, in May (see attached).

Please let me know if you are willing to meet and, if so, your availability to meet during the next several weeks. We look forward to your prompt response.

Very truly yours,

Thomas A. Clare

The purpose of this sort of thing is about as subtle as a firing squad: to shut me up via legal intimidation tactics.

These letters give the recipients no clues regarding exactly what sorts of “unethical, unprofessional, and potentially unlawful” things I’ve been doing.  There’s a good reason for this, since these claims are simply lies.  But of course my bosses don’t know that, and Infilaw and Sterling Partners know that I know that my bosses don’t know that, so they’re hoping that causing me some degree of hassle at my job will get me to STFU as the kids say.

Ever since I started critiquing the economic and pedagogic structure of law school six years ago, various people inside the legal academy have been trying to get me fired, so this latest little missive is not exactly a shock. And indeed such efforts make good economic sense, from a strictly utilitarian point of view.  Law school tuition revenues are down by around $1.3 billion per year since the law school reform movement really got going in 2011 or so.  Of course my work is probably responsible for only a small part of this series of unfortunate fiscal events, but even a small part of $1.3 billion per year can add up to some real money.  (For example, Charlotte Law School, one of the prime targets of the Atlantic piece referenced above by Thomas A. Clare, Esq., seems on the verge of imminent collapse).

Now by itself the professional fate of one law professor doesn’t add up to a hill of beans in this crazy world, and indeed at the moment the crisis of the American law school, or even of American higher education in general, seems considerably less momentous than it did even a few months ago.  But we must all cultivate our gardens, or so I have read.

Speaking of which, someone close to me sent me an email this morning, expressing concern about my writing on this blog.   “You trust that there is freedom of expression and that such freedom entails immunity or invulnerability. What you write is kept written and the political winds may change and you may be sorry. Be cautious.”  This was written by someone who has first-hand experience of life under a fascist regime, so for that and other reasons I take their words seriously.   And I would be lying if I were to deny that, over the past two months, it hasn’t occurred to me that public political dissent could become vastly more dangerous in the months and years ahead.  (I’ve reassured myself and those closest to me that there would be several thousand names ahead of mine on any list of enemies of the state who would first be silenced, pour encourager les autres).

Both of these little events are in their own way examples of how dissent is most readily and easily quashed via “encouraging” self-censorship.  We can only guess how often these tactics work.  And of course the most subtle and invidious tactics of all are those ubiquitous social strategies that produce the kinds of academics and journalist who never even consider the possibility of engaging in any sort of dissent that could ruffle the placid waters upon which their brilliant careers continue to float.

Because if there’s one thing you can say about Nazi Germany

[ 68 ] January 11, 2017 |

. . . it’s that Hitler’s intelligence services allowed and even encouraged the publication of scandalous claims about the Fuhrer:


Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to “leak” into the public. One last shot at me.Are we living in Nazi Germany?

This idiot is going to be president of the United States in eight days.

Trump “not aware” that he is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Vladimir Putin and the Russian Federation

[ 112 ] January 11, 2017 |






As an “American citizen” regardless of political party, Conway said, “we should be concerned that intelligence officials leak to the press and won’t go and tell the president-elect or the president of the United States himself now, Mr. Obama, what the information is. They’d rather go tell the press.”

At that point, Meyers cut her off, saying, “But the report was about them going to the president.” When she pushed back, he added, “I believe it said they did brief him on it.”

The first sentence of CNN’s report reads, “Classified documents presented last week to President Obama and President-elect Trump included allegations that Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump, multiple US officials with direct knowledge of the briefings tell CNN.”

“He has said he’s not aware of that,” Conway replied of her boss, to which Meyers said, “That concerns me.”


Bishop to King 7

[ 129 ] January 9, 2017 |

Trump has criticized: Republicans, Democrats, the Pope, US elections, CIA, FBI, NATO, Meryl Streep. Trump hasn’t criticized: Vladimir Putin.


[ 90 ] January 8, 2017 |

For all you PC types who claim America is a “racist” country, check out these apples:

In August, officers were called to [Santiago’s] home but had no cause for arrest, Tolley said. In October they were called about allegations of strangulation and domestic violence, but again “no probable cause was established for arrest”.

On 7 November, Tolley said, Santiago arrived at the Anchorage police station to tell officers he was “having terroristic thoughts and believed he was being influenced by Isis”.

He also spoke about manipulation by an “intelligence agency”, Tolley said, and had a loaded magazine on his person. He left a firearm in his car, along with his newborn child.

Tolley said police called the FBI, which found no links to terrorism, and that Santiago was admitted into a mental health facility. On 8 December, by which point Santiago was outside the facility, his weapon was released back to him.

It’s nice to know that a person of color* can be suffering from a full-blown paranoid psychosis, and our federal law enforcement agencies will still give him his guns back right quick, once they’ve established he has “no links to terrorism.”  (Other than the whole “these voices in my head are telling me to commit terrorism” thing, apparently.]

*Offer may not be available to black people, Muslims, and women. Check with your local authorities.

Donald Trump’s latest fun-filled 24 hours of tweeting

[ 56 ] January 6, 2017 |
  1. being a movie star-and that was season 1 compared to season 14. Now compare him to my season 1. But who cares, he supported Kasich & Hillary

  2. Wow, the ratings are in and Arnold Schwarzenegger got “swamped” (or destroyed) by comparison to the ratings machine, DJT. So much for….

  3. Hopefully, all supporters, and those who want to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will go to D.C. on January 20th. It will be a GREAT SHOW!

  4. and knew they were in big trouble – which is why they cancelled their big fireworks at the last minute.THEY SAW A MOVEMENT LIKE NEVER BEFORE

  5. Hillary and the Dems were never going to beat the PASSION of my voters. They saw what was happening in the last two weeks before the……

  6. The dishonest media does not report that any money spent on building the Great Wall (for sake of speed), will be paid back by Mexico later!

  7. So how and why are they so sure about hacking if they never even requested an examination of the computer servers? What is going on?

  8. The Democratic National Committee would not allow the FBI to study or see its computer info after it was supposedly hacked by Russia……

  9. How did NBC get “an exclusive look into the top secret report he (Obama) was presented?” Who gave them this report and why? Politics!

  10. Toyota Motor said will build a new plant in Baja, Mexico, to build Corolla cars for U.S. NO WAY! Build plant in U.S. or pay big border tax.

This all reminds me vaguely of Nassim Taleb’s argument in The Black Swan that social science is basically useless because the most important events are by their nature neither predictable nor foreseeable.

What would happen if a major political party engaged in obstructionism toward a new presidential administration from Day One?

[ 20 ] January 6, 2017 |

That is a Deep Thought raised in this New York Times piece, which is focused on the controversy at Talladega College, a tiny, very poor (it doesn’t have the extra $60,000 it needs to pay for this “honor”), historically black institution, which agreed to send its new band to perform in the inauguration:

And beyond Talladega, the controversies raise tough questions for Mr. Trump’s most ardent critics as his presidency dawns: What is the proper response to a president as polarizing as Mr. Trump? Should the office of the president be honored, no matter who fills it? Or should there be four years of pure rejection and defiance?

And if Mr. Trump’s opponents refuse to participate in his presidency, can critics on the right do the same thing to some other president-elect in the future?

I rate this question “troubling.”

*Doesn’t The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints hate Trump?  What’s up with sending their band? (I assume the Barzini family is forcing the Rockettes to perform so that’s less mysterious).

Grab them by the wallet

[ 290 ] January 4, 2017 |

A particularly asinine “debate” has broken out regarding Simon & Schuster’s sacred constitutional right to pursue the profit motive at the expense of any regard for human decency (This noble principle is normally referred to as “the free market,” and criticizing any aspect of it is very triggering for Real Americans, so watch yourself and your neighbor too).

Here’s a vigorous defense of that principle from eventheliberal Josh Barro:

Wait, so now we’re attacking publishing houses for publishing books by people we disagree with?

Milo is awful and I’m sure his book will be stupid. But pressuring publishing houses toward viewpoint restriction leads somewhere bad.

Barro is aware that this isn’t a first amendment issue, since nobody is suggesting that the government should prohibit Milo from publishing his dreck with whoever is willing to associate themselves with him in exchange for money.  But he’s apparently taking the view that Simon & Schuster should engage in no viewpoint restriction whatever, beyond the (obviously considerable) viewpoint restrictions inherent in pursuing profit to the exclusion of all other considerations.

He’s also arguing for the principle that it’s inherently wrong to criticize S&S for following this maxim, since criticizing publishers for pursuing profit to the exclusion of all other considerations  “leads somewhere bad.”

Barro’s position, in short, is that it would be wrong to criticize any publisher for publishing any book because of the book’s content, because doing so would have worse consequences than publishing that book, no matter what the book contained or argued for or caused.

That obviously intelligent and well-informed people can take such a view is, I suggest, a symptom of considerable cultural and intellectual decadence, as opposed to merely an individual cognitive failing.

As for Milo himself, I’m reminded of an observation in Orwell’s essay on Salvador Dali:

The two qualities that Dali unquestionably possesses are a gift for drawing and an atrocious egoism. ‘At seven’, he says in the first paragraph of his book, ‘I wanted to be Napoleon. And my ambition has been growing steadily ever since.’ This is worded in a deliberately startling way, but no doubt it is substantially true. Such feelings are common enough. ‘I knew I was a genius’, somebody once said to me, ‘long before I knew what I was going to be a genius about.’ And suppose that you have nothing in you except your egoism and a dexterity that goes no higher than the elbow; suppose that your real gift is for a detailed, academic, representational style of drawing, your real métier to be an illustrator of scientific textbooks. How then do you become Napoleon?

There is always one escape: into wickedness. Always do the thing that will shock and wound people. At five, throw a little boy off a bridge, strike an old doctor across the face with a whip and break his spectacles — or, at any rate, dream about doing such things. Twenty years later, gouge the eyes out of dead donkeys with a pair of scissors. Along those lines you can always feel yourself original. And after all, it pays! It is much less dangerous than crime. Making all allowance for the probable suppressions in Dali’s autobiography, it is clear that he had not had to suffer for his eccentricities as he would have done in an earlier age. He grew up into the corrupt world of the nineteen-twenties, when sophistication was immensely widespread and every European capital swarmed with aristocrats and rentiers who had given up sport and politics and taken to patronising the arts. If you threw dead donkeys at people, they threw money back. A phobia for grasshoppers — which a few decades back would merely have provoked a snigger — was now an interesting ‘complex’ which could be profitably exploited. And when that particular world collapsed before the German Army, America was waiting. You could even top it all up with religious conversion, moving at one hop and without a shadow of repentance from the fashionable salons of Paris to Abraham’s bosom.

This is not to suggest that Milo possesses anything resembling Dali’s actual talent.  As Orwell notes, Dali “is an exhibitionist and a careerist, but he is not a fraud. He has fifty times more talent than most of the people who would denounce his morals and jeer at his paintings.” But the psychological type, and the pecuniary motives it creates, are easily recognizable in both cases.

Returning to the merits of the current controversy, it’s apparently necessary to point out that people who do morally disgusting things for money should be criticized for doing so, especially when this kind of pimp-whore relationship isn’t a product of any economic desperation, but rather of simple unvarnished greed on the one hand, and furious attention-seeking narcissism in the other.


Should the Clintons and Jimmy Carter attend the Trump inauguration?

[ 352 ] January 3, 2017 |

I realize Bush the Elder isn’t in the best of health but I suspect he would be there under different circumstances. Seems like Jimmy Carter could pull the health card very easily if he were so inclined. Apparently he isn’t:


Washington (CNN)Former President Bill Clinton and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton will attend President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration later this month, aides to both Clintons told CNN on Tuesday.

Former President George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush will also attend, the 43rd president’s office said in a statement Tuesday.
“President and Mrs. George W. Bush will attend the 58th Presidential Inauguration Ceremony on January 20, 2017, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.,” the statement read. “They are pleased to be able to witness the peaceful transfer of power — a hallmark of American democracy — and swearing-in of President Trump and Vice President Pence.”
Previously, Jimmy Carter was the only former commander in chief who had publicly said he would attend Trump’s inauguration. Bush’s father, President George H.W. Bush, will not be attending due to his health, a spokesman has told CNN.
Former presidents traditionally attend the ceremonial transfer of power at the US Capitol.
Despite being a fellow Republican, Bush did not vote for Trump on Election Day, a decision Trump later deemed “sad.” Bush’s father voted for Hillary Clinton, according to sources.

As for the Clintons I haven’t thought this through, and in an unprecedented development will therefore not comment on their choices in the matter.  But don’t let that stop anybody else (Seriously I’m very interested in what people think about this.  It’s obviously crucial not to legitimate or normalize Trump any more than absolutely necessary, so that means drawing various sometimes hard to draw lines).



The real Latin American invasion

[ 52 ] January 2, 2017 |

Paul Krugman points out some similarities between Donald Trump and various despots from Central Asian spinoffs of the Soviet system.   His points are all valid, but the column is an indirect reminder to me of a question I’ve been mulling over for awhile now: why has so comparatively little attention been given to the remarkable extent to which the Trump phenomenon appears to represent the development of a Norteamericano version of a classic Latin American caudillo?

It’s not as if this has escaped notice altogether:  This Foreign Affairs article from May does a nice job of locating Trump within a historical arc that features such figures as Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna,  Rafael Trujillo, Juan Peron, and, more recently, Carlos Menem, Alberto Fujimori, Hugo Chavez, and Rafael Correa, among many others.  Mexico’s greatest living essayist, Enrique Krauze, published this cautionary piece in Slate a few weeks before the election.

Nevertheless for every article pointing out the many ways in which Trump and Trumpism signal the emergence of a northern version of the classic caudillo, there must be dozens of pieces invoking various transatlantic figures and their associated political movements, from Mussolini and Berlusconi in Italy, to Putin and other post-Soviet figures, to You Know Who himself.

This, I think, is a reflection of the lamentable extent to which both elite and mainstream political discourse in the United States continues to basically ignore Latin America, even in situations in which the salience of Latin American history to the contemporary North American situation should be overwhelmingly obvious.

The classic Caudillo is a charismatic populist, who attacks the existing political and economic establishment with what might be called trans-ideological enthusiasm.  He claims that he and he alone has the ability to solve the nation’s problems, and to be the voice of the dispossessed.  He bullies his opponents, he persecutes any media who do not grovel before him, he boasts of his supposed sexual prowess, he has a narcissistic and therefore unquenchable thirst for public adulation, he is openly contemptuous of formal legal restraints, and he talks constantly of restoring the nation to its former grandeur.  To bolster his political base he uses the latest social media to speak as directly as possible to his followers, cutting out traditional forms of governmental and journalistic intermediation.  And he loves to make lots of absurd and expensive promises, often in the form of spectacularly ridiculous government projects, many of which are designed to keep out or expel contaminating and subversive foreign influences.

All of this raises the question of how Trump has managed to smuggle (unconsciously, no doubt, as the odds Trump knows what the word caudillo means are about as good as the chances of the Raiders winning the Super Bowl next month) this formerly Spanish-speaking strain of authoritarianism across the nation’s apparently poorly guarded ideological border.

I suspect the answer has to much to do with the extent that the United States economy is coming to resemble many a Latin American breeding ground for narcissistic despots.  In terms of relative levels of economic inequality, the U.S. now looks much more like Latin America than Europe, and the trend is only getting stronger.  As Omar Encarnacion notes:

In classic caudillista fashion, Trump has been quick to exploit the anger of those whose economic livelihoods have been upended by declining incomes, especially the white working class. He has bashed “the establishment” for neglecting “the little guy” and promised to bring back jobs outsourced to China and Mexico by forcing American companies such as Apple to produce their goods at home and by renegotiating international trade agreements. Trump has also displayed a penchant for demagoguery that few caudillos, past and present, could match. Central to Trump’s plan to “make America great again” is to build a wall from the Pacific Coast to the Gulf of Mexico that would keep “rapists, drug dealers, and criminals” from entering the United States; to impose a moratorium on Muslims entering the United States; to allow torture as a weapon in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS); and to “open up” libel laws that would allow for the prosecution of journalists who criticize public figures such as himself. In pushing for these policies, Trump, like many caudillos, has capitalized upon his status as a political outsider. This status, Trump argues, best allows him to blow up the current political system and to replace it with something that would work for everyone, but especially for those feeling left behind.

Of course there are vast differences between the United States and the Latin American countries in which caudillismo has flourished, but if there’s anything the last year should have taught us is that banking on the supposed health and resilience of American political and cultural institutions is looking like an increasingly shaky bet.

All of which is to say that, especially now, it would benefit us all to pay much more attention to both the history and the present circumstances of our various southern neighbors.


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