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You Didn’t Build That Extremely Tacky Thing

[ 7 ] September 3, 2015 |


If you’d like to be extremely rich, being born extremely rich is highly useful:

“It takes brains to make millions,” according to the slogan of Donald Trump’s board game. “It takes Trump to make billions.” It appears that’s truer than Trump himself might like to admit. A new analysis suggests that Trump would’ve been a billionaire even if he’d never had a career in real estate, and had instead thrown his father’s inheritance into a index fund that tracked the market. His wealth, in other words, isn’t because of his brains. It’s because he’s a Trump.

In an outstanding piece for National Journal, reporter S.V. Dáte notes that in 1974, the real estate empire of Trump’s father, Fred, was worth about $200 million. Trump is one of five siblings, making his stake at that time worth about $40 million. If someone were to invest $40 million in a S&P 500 index in August 1974, reinvest all dividends, not cash out and have to pay capital gains, and pay nothing in investment fees, he’d wind up with about $3.4 billion come August 2015, according to Don’t Quit Your Day Job’s handy S&P calculator. If one factors in dividend taxes and a fee of 0.15 percent — which is triple Vanguard’s actual fee for an exchange-traded S&P 500 fund — the total only falls to $2.3 billion.

It’s hard to nail down Trump’s precise net worth, but Bloomberg currently puts it at $2.9 billion, while Forbes puts it at $4 billion. So he’s worth about as much as he would’ve been if he had taken $40 million from his dad and thrown it into an index fund.

In all fairness, I am compelled to observe that Trump has come out against the carried interest loophole, one of the most indefensible parts of the United States Code.

Area Commenter Places Unwarranted Faith in Lanny Davis

[ 36 ] September 2, 2015 |

Beloved commenter Denverite did not believe that the recent email Lanny Davis sent to Hillary Clinton revealing him a a particularly pathetic drooling lickspittle was real. To his credit, he offered to put a championship bet on the Blue Jays or Seahwaks on my behalf if they turned out to be real. Well, how about that Josh Donaldson?

For future reference, anybody considering making a Lanny Davis wager should understand this: if a story about him sounds too good to be true, it’s probably true. It might be generally sound policy to distrust stories that seem a little too on-the-nose, but Lanny is never not on the nose. He’s a character written by Aaron Sorkin to represent a morally repugnant D.C. kiss-ass but then rejected for inclusion in The Newsroom because he’s too broadly conceived and his dialogue isn’t credible. We veteran Lanny Davis watchers would never make this mistake.

Things to Name After William McKinley

[ 81 ] September 2, 2015 |


Many fine suggestions here, but I think this is the best one:

Americans everywhere have “Jedi Fever,” with the beloved space movie franchise finally returning to cinemas later this year. William McKinley, a political “star” who loved “wars,” seems like a natural fit for the series. Just imagine the darkened theater, the eager audience, and, finally, over that famous fanfare, the large yellow words: Star Wars Episode VIII: William McKinley.

Let’s get this done. The movie could be 90 minutes of rare tapes of McKinley reading reports of the Interstate Commerce Commission, which would be considerably less boring than The Phantom Menace.

“State Officials Interposing Themselves Between Individuals and Their Rights is Deep in Our Heritage”

[ 213 ] September 2, 2015 |

Kim Davis, Kentucky county clerk firmly committed to the principle that marriage is between a woman and a man, and then another man, and then another man, and then another man*, continues to defy court orders on behalf of that most sacred of all rights, the right to refuse to do your job while still getting paid. Kentucky’s candidate for governor supports the ability of state officials to deny the rights of the state’s citizens based on their arbitrary whims:

A Kentucky clerk who is refusing to grant marriage licenses to gay couples is set to become an issue in the state’s gubernatorial race, as the leading Republican and Democratic candidates take opposing views of her actions.

“I absolutely support her willingness to stand on her First Amendment rights,” said GOP Kentucky gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin on a national conference call, according to The Courier-Journal. “Without any question I support her.”

I’m sure he would feel the same way if state officials started withholding their services to him on the grounds that his economic views were inconsistent with the Sermon on the Mount.

Part of me feels some sympathy for Davis, who’s clearly being used by cynical conservative litigators. Then I see the casual contempt with which she treats the citizens whose rights she is denying, and my sympathy pretty much vanishes.

*It may seem like cheap shot to bring up her serial marriages, but I don’t think it is. The tendency to be more rigorous about enforcing biblical principles when they impose burdens on others than when they impose burdens on you is one of the many reasons we don’t want state officials selectively applying the law according to their own “principles.”

Things Bad Organizations Do, Part 1

[ 57 ] September 1, 2015 |

2012 NFL Draft - First Round

The Oakland Raiders have determined that the greatest athletic talent to emerge in American sports since Joba Chamberlain is not one of the 75 best players on their roster:

Out on the field, in uniform this summer, he was just No. 33.

He was just a guy in a sea of players, some great ones, many certain to make the 53-man roster, and others just trying to hang on. No. 33 was lumped with that last group.

He looked like a small, ordinary running back. He struggled to show much vision, cutting ability and burst. Those are all things essential for a great running back, and often reserved for those taken very high in the draft.

Trent Richardson just wasn’t that guy in Oakland. He deserved to be cut in the round of 75 as he was Tuesday, because he was just a guy.

The only thing newsworthy in Oakland about his release was the Raiders were silly enough to give him $600,000 in guaranteed money this spring.

There are some valuable lessons here. First of all, in modern football you should not burn a top 3 draft choice on a running back because you think that you can identify the kind of once-in-a-generation talent that could even conceivably justify investing an elite pick on a running back ex ante, because you can’t. You should especially not trade additional picks for the privilege of doing so. You should not trade a first round pick to acquire a running back after 17 replacement-level games, because, I dunno, somebody bet Ryan Grigson that anybody could put up decent numbers running behind the Indianapolis offensive line and he needed the money? And — while this is less damaging, of course — you should not offer $600 grand in guaranteed money for a running back after 3 seasons of sub-sub-replacement level play at a position where it’s not terribly difficult to find perfectly adequate players. You’re welcome!


[ 281 ] September 1, 2015 |


Ruth Marcus has an exciting HOT TAKE on the prospect of a white guy with Hillary Clinton’s views making a late, half-assed challenge to Hillary Clinton. The exciting twist: Joe Biden could run as a one-termer, and therefore ignore those pesky “voters” and cut deals with the Republicans! I find this prospect less than exciting:

The most serious problem with Marcus’ analysis is the idea that if Biden preemptively declared himself a lame duck he “wouldn’t have to worry about satisfying constituencies.” A president always has to worry about this, at least to the extent that he wants to accomplish anything. Contemporary presidents, by definition, lead national coalitions and all presidents need collaboration with Congress to get legislation passed, to staff the legislative and executive branches, etc.

For that matter, it’s not true that Biden wouldn’t have to worry about re-election; presumably he would care who wins the White House in 2020, and the popularity of the incumbent is certainly pertinent to this result. If Biden genuinely didn’t care about the next election, this would in itself be a disqualifying factor.

One suspects that what Marcus really has in mind is the possibility that a one-term Biden would be in a better position to fight the one constituency she opposes: the strong majority of the public that is against Social Security cuts. I have no idea if a one-term Biden would be more likely to reach a substantively and politically disastrous “Grand Bargain” to cut Social Security, but if so that’s another reason to oppose his candidacy.

…see also Traister.

West Point Also Apparently a Fifth Column in the War on Terror

[ 56 ] September 1, 2015 |


You may remember William C. Bradford for such articles as “there are too many academics who disagree with me, please arbitrarily detain and execute 40 of them,I am not a crackpot.” He has now resigned from West Point, and apparently he’s not just a crank but a serial liar about his credentials:

Bradford had represented himself in academic papers as an “assistant professor” at the Defense Department-run National Defense University. But he was not a professor there, nor even a staff employee, according to NDU representatives. He is said to have worked for a Waynesboro, Virginia-based translations and business consultant, Translang, which had a contract with the university.

Before referring further comment to an attorney, Beatrice Boutros, Translang’s president, told the Guardian Bradford was not an employee of NDU.

Bradford has had a checkered academic career. In 2004, he quit a job teaching at the Indiana University School of Law after allegations emerged that he had exaggerated his military service, portraying himself inaccurately as a Gulf War veteran, an infantryman and a recipient of the prestigious Silver Star, an award for gallantry in action.

The army provided Bradford’s releasable service history to the Guardian on Monday. Bradford was commissioned into the army as a second lieutenant – the same rank West Point cadets hold upon commissioning – in 1995 and served the majority of his six-year service in military intelligence in the army reserve. He neither deployed nor earned any awards.

In 2005, the Guardian has learned, Bradford took a visiting professorship at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, teaching property law. A former student who wished to remain anonymous said Bradford’s behavior included “doing push-ups in class [and] making students stand and give answers in a military-like manner”.

Bradford, the former student said, ended up leaving his class – and ultimately the college – without grading the final exam.

The story behind his getting the West Point job would also be interesting.

“Aside from Carolyn, my four children, and my immediate family, I consider you to be the best friend and the best person I have met in my long life”

[ 47 ] September 1, 2015 |


The Hillary Clinton email “scandal” is a whole lot of nothing. But there are limits to how mad I can be about it, because at least it gave us this. Nobody can do greasy kiss-ass like Lanny Davis.

The “Repugnant Conclusion” Is Aptly Described

[ 246 ] August 31, 2015 |


I don’t have strong feelings about whether it was right for Vox to pull the essay it commissioned from Torbjörn Tännsjö about the “repugnant conclusion.” As a freelancer, I’m inclined to think that when you ask for something you shouldn’t then reject it because it was what you asked for.

On the other hand, as to whether Matthews or Klein is right about the merits of the essay…let me say that is unpersuasive in the extreme. Perhaps the fact that the core premises (we can know that most people are happy, people have an obligation to potentially make themselves significantly less happy out of an obligation to unborn people even when the ongoing existence of the human race is not an issue, etc.) remain begged questions is unavoidable in a brief essay. Presumably his scholarly work deals with these questions in more detail, although I would be shocked if he defended his assumptions convincingly.

But I don’t think he can get a pass for one particular elephant in the room. Klein mentions the issue of reproductive freedom. Tännsjö’s argument does seem to imply that it is immoral to abort a healthy fetus, although it doesn’t necessarily require that abortion be criminalized. But this is only the beginning of the gender equity problems. Pregnancy — even when a pregnant woman has access to decent medical care — cares substantial health risks and imposes substantial discomforts. Moreover, these burdens are not equally distributed. Only people with female reproductive organs can become pregnant; all but a vanishingly small minority of people who get pregnant identify as women. And because women are a historically subordinated class, they generally bear a disproportionate amount of the burdens of childcare as well as bearing the burdens of pregnancy. A claim that there is a moral duty to have as many children as possible entails massive gender inequities.

How does Tännsjö deal with this obvious objection? He doesn’t. At all. Indeed, the essay keeps saying “I” and “we” in the context of having children when the person who will get pregnant is in fact a “she.” And, needless to say, the fact that Tännsjö does not have to bear the health risks and discomforts of pregnancy makes it much easier for him to ignore them entirely when arguing that women have an obligation to maximize their reproductive output. Even in a short essay, to entirely ignore issues of gender equity in this context is, how shall I put this, repugnant.


But the other issue was that the piece was commissioned when we were looking to launch a new section for unusual, provocative arguments. That section, for various reasons, didn’t launch (though maybe we’ll revisit it someday!), and so we didn’t have a place to put this piece where it felt to me like it would make editorial sense.

Whether or not they should have published it having commissioned it — and I’m inclined to think that Klein’s editorial judgment was sound — Tännsjö’s essay is a good illustration of why the idea of publishing “provocative” arguments for the contrarian sake of it should remain dead and buried.

Our Army Corps of Engineers Problem

[ 33 ] August 31, 2015 |

As Michael Grunwald observes, Katrina was a man-made disaster, and there are likely to be more where that came from:

In his speech today in New Orleans for the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, President Obama described the storm as a natural event that became a manmade disaster, thanks to a sluggish government response to a city with rampant economic inequality.

It was a manmade disaster, all right. But the government wasn’t just slow to respond to the tragedy. It directly created the tragedy. New Orleans wasn’t drowned by poverty or climate change or the laggards at the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It was drowned by bad government engineering and bad government priorities about water resources. If its floodwalls hadn’t collapsed, FEMA’s tardiness wouldn’t have been such a big deal.

A decade later, the engineering problems have been addressed with a new state-of-the-art flood protection system around the city, and the Big Easy is much safer. The president was right to highlight the city’s impressive physical and economic recovery today, as well as the persistent challenges faced by low-income African-Americans in the Lower Ninth Ward where he spoke. But it should not be forgotten that Washington’s skewed priorities left the Lower Ninth underwater—and those priorities are still out of whack.

The United States still has a dysfunctional water resources agency, the same Army Corps of Engineers whose mistakes helped kill more than 1,800 Americans ten years ago, and no real water resources policy beyond the whims of the politically savvy Army Corps and its doting patrons in Congress. So while New Orleans is better prepared for a Katrina-type storm, the nation remains vulnerable to Katrina-type failures.

More links here.

“We Need To Build Three Walls. Mexico, Canada, and…the, uh, What’s the Third One There?”

[ 161 ] August 30, 2015 |

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

I’ve been resistant to the idea that Scott Walker was the Rick Perry of 2016. And I suppose it’s nearly impossible to be that bad, and with Jeb!’s campaign leaking at least as furiously I wouldn’t even say he can’t win the nomination. But it’s becoming increasingly hard to deny the wisdom in djw’s analysis. The desperate attempt to out-Trump Trump by appealing to the non-existent Republican constituency terrified by Canadian immigrants would seem to be pretty clear evidence that he has no particular idea what he’s doing.

…Roy is also off the bus:

some very smart thoughts about Walker’s parochialism problem, which Dana also raises in comments.

Weekend Links

[ 123 ] August 29, 2015 |

I got bumped from a scheduled appearance on Australian Public Radio, but I will survive.  Some readin':

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