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UIUC Reaches Peak Gibberish

[ 42 ] September 11, 2014 |

Shorter verbatim Phyllis Wise: “People are mixing up this individual personnel issue with the whole question of freedom of speech and academic freedom.”

This really says it all, doesn’t? “I believe in principles, so long as they never have to apply in individual cases. Especially if the development office is involved.” Joe Freeman Britt should have thought of this. “People are mixing up this individual criminal case with the whole question of due process and Maryland v. Brady and whether it’s appropriate to execute innocent people.”

And yet, it makes sense in its own perverse way. Salaita’s firing obviously cannot be squared with basic principles of academic freedom, even if UIUC can establish that it acted within its formal legal authority. Some UIUC apologists are willing to come out and say that academic freedom is just a racket and firing someone for their political views is perfectly OK, but Wise can’t say that either. So we’re left with pure distilled 100 proof nonsense.

…As expected, the vote goes 8-1 against Salaita. I have no idea how strong Salaita’s case will be under Illinois law, but if the lawsuit gets to discovery it will be interesting indeed.

And the Adam Bellow Award For Regrettable Beneficiary of Nepotism Goes To…

[ 33 ] September 11, 2014 |

COO of what is sadly right now New York’s most talented baseball team, Jeff Wilpon.

Allegations only, yes, although credible ones. One thing about growing up in a bubble of wealth is that it can apparently cause you to act like a busybody sexist relative to your employees:

“He frequently humiliated Castergine in front of others by, among other things, pretending to see if she had an engagement ring on her finger,” it says. The lawsuit also alleges that Wilpon told a meeting “of the team’s all-male senior executives” that he was “morally opposed” to Castergine’s pregnancy, and told Castergine that her boyfriend should propose if he wanted his girlfriend to get a raise.

Your female employees I should specify. If Wilpon is universally appalled by employees engaging in extramarital sexual relations, I would suggest that he probably inherited the wrong line of work.

What Halbig Troofers Are Trying to Do

[ 169 ] September 10, 2014 |

Chait on the political dynamics of the ACA:

In Kentucky, Mitch McConnell — who had vowed publicly and privately to “repeal this monstrosity” — was asked whether he would repeal the insurance exchange in his own state, and replied with word salad (“I think that’s unconnected to my comments about the overall question here”). When asked about repealing his state’s Medicaid expansion, he replied, “I don’t know that it will be taken away from them.”

Unpopular Pennsylvania Republican Governor Tom Corbett recently agreed to accept Medicaid expansion. Four more Republican governors — in Tennessee, Utah, Indiana, and Wyoming — have taken steps toward following suit. In Washington, the river of attacks against Obamacare issuing from Republicans has slowed to a trickle. (The number of Congressional news releases attacking the law has fallen by 75 percent this summer from last.) The Weekly Standard’s Jeffrey Anderson is warning darkly of an “anti-repeal wing” within the party. “Root and branch repeal is starting to look more like twig and leaf,” concedes Reason’s Peter Suderman.


The Republican crusade against Obamacare is not ending; rather, it is shrinking and mutating. The party base will demand a presidential nominee who promises to repeal the hated law, just as it did in 2012. But the next Republican candidate will be running in an environment where repealing the law would create millions and millions of now-identifiable victims. Since the start of the year, Obamacare has gone from a weakness Republicans were salivating at the chance to exploit to an issue they no longer want to talk about. Two years from now, matters could be worse still.

The desperation of the Halbig troofers is, in this sense, rational; the more the ACA is entrenched, and the more beneficiaries it has, the harder it is to get rid off.

Which makes it a good time to make clear what the troofers — not to mention the Republicans who won’t take the Medicaid expansion — are trying to accomplish:

In a five month span, however, two things changed that offered Jenn a new chance at life. The first was a double lung transplant. On August 29, 2013, Jenn received two new lungs that were free of cystic fibrosis. Not long thereafter, she drew her first breath as an adult from lungs that were not constantly filling up with choking mucus. Although Jenn will be on anti-rejection drugs for the rest of her life, she can now speak on the phone again. Her husband Eder can touch her face again or kiss her cheek again without triggering a fit of coughing. Jenn is not confined to a hospital anymore. She lifts kettlebells instead.

The second change came on the first day of 2014 when the most important provisions of the Affordable Care Act took full effect. That meant that, for the first time in her life, Jenn knew that, no matter what happened, she would have health insurance. For Jenn, Obamacare means that insurers must cover her, despite her expensive preexisting condition. And it means that she is not facing a death sentence if she is unable to obtain health insurance through her own job or her husband’s.

Except for the fact that a group of lawyers are trying to take this certainty away from her. Last July, two Republican judges on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit voted to defund much of the Affordable Care Act, including provisions which ensure that Jenn’s insurance is affordable. Moreover, although the full DC Circuit recently withdrew this decision and announced that it would rehear the case before a much larger panel of 13 judges, the plaintiffs in this lawsuit have not exactly hidden their desire to get this case before the conservative Roberts Court where four justices already voted once to repeal Obamacare. If the justices ultimately take this case, which is known as Halbig v. Burwell, and if one more of them agrees that Obamacare should be defunded, that could trigger a death spiral that could collapse the law’s health insurance marketplace in much of the country.

Five men in Washington could sentence Jenn to the same uncertainty she endured before the Affordable Care Act. They could potentially sentence her to die.


On January 1, 2014, Jennifer Causor woke for the first time knowing that, no matter what direction her health turned, she would at least live without fear that she would not be able to afford treatment. She shared that certainty with millions of Americans who once feared that each trip to the doctor would bring a choice between death and bankruptcy.

Eight days before next Christmas, a lawyer will walk into a courtroom, approach a podium, and stand before 13 judges of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. He will then open his mouth, and in a calm, lawyerly manner, ask those judges to take from Jenn the certainty Obamacare has given her.

Freedom! And for that matter, the same thing applies to people who would have forgone the passage of health care reform until it was possible to pass the Single Payer and a Pony Act of 4545.

Lillian Gobitas Klose

[ 16 ] September 10, 2014 |


Minersville School District v. Gobitis was one of the darker days in Supreme Court history. The Court upheld a mandatory flag salute statute that caused Gobitas to be expelled when she refused to comply. The opinion was authored by Felix Frankfurter, who on the Court was sort of the liberal equivalent of Scalia. At times, he seemed to revel in the fact that his opinions would produce bad consequences, even if they contradicted his principles and even if there was pertinent constitutional language that would seem to permit a favorable application.  And in this case, the bad consequences were immediate and severe: Jehovah’s Witnesses were subjected to a wave of not only school expulsions but violence. Fortunately, the Supreme Court quickly corrected its error, with several justices (although not Frankfurter) changing their votes. This produced one of the most famous passages in the United States Reports, from Justice Jackson’s majority opinion:

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.

Of course, where many contemporary universities are concerned, this needs to be amended with “one exception occurs to us: when unorthodox opinions upset the development office.”


[ 19 ] September 9, 2014 |

Pretty impressive performance, considering.  I’m not sure what the upside is — obviously, a more coordinated opposition campaign would have generated more action from the incumbent — but in a world of competent pundits nobody would talk about Cuomo as a viable national candidate ever again.

Also, as a corrective to people who like lazy “Liberal NYC versus the conservative ‘upstate’” narratives, note that Teachout won every eastern county north of Orange County to the Adirondacks, generally by large margins, but Cuomo slaughtered her in New York City.

Salaita: The Derp Never Stops

[ 177 ] September 9, 2014 |

I don’t have the heart to say much about this Louis Liebovich op-ed; every argument in it is so feeble that even linking to it seems like an act of cruelty.  Most of it consists of “if things were different, they wouldn’t be the same” non-sequiturs.  Yes, if the hiring process involved picking one person at random and not looking into their record, this would be problematic.  Yes, if Salaita had somehow managed to never teach a student who supported Israeli policy, his teaching evaluations would be less meaningful. In the absence of any actual evidence that these things are true, the hypotheticals are also entirely irrelevant, and his evidence-free attack on the professionalism of the department and the school’s administration is a disgrace.

Still, I would have let this go without the following remarkable paragraph:

What was it about an English professor at Virginia Tech, who is not a Native American, that made him the choice for a tenured position with a salary of $85,000? What kind of research has he completed? How many books and articles has he published? Who were the other candidates, if there were other candidates, and why was he more qualified than the others?

Whoa, what was that?

who is not a Native American

Seriously, someone launching a volley of unwarranted attacks on the professionalism and competence of other academics is suggesting that one has to be Native American to teach in an American Indian Studies department? I just…wow. (Should I be barred from teaching American government because I was born in Canada? Should I be barred from teaching constitutional law because I never served on the Supreme Court?) I’ll be charitable and just assume Liebovich is arguing in bad faith here. As for the rest, I’ll defer to the committee of experts whose judgment I have no basis for second-guessing over someone with nothing to offer but a bunch of weaselly rhetorical questions with no factual basis.

Liebovich also asserts without argument that Salaita has tweeted “anti-Semitic remarks.” This brings us to Liel Leibovitz, who has…well, not exactly a response to critics of his first post on the subject as some words that give the vague appearance of a response:

And, for the most part, Salaita’s defenders have spent the past week engaging in linguistic acrobatics that may be the stuff of legend in undergraduate semiotics classes but that are intellectually and morally worthless once they engage with the world at large, where words still sometimes have meanings and are treated as more than playthings to be molded and reshaped according to the most au courant theory. (For a particularly fine example of tongue twisting and tortured logic, see the unimprovably named essay “Clownish conflation of ascription and achievement constitutes calumny,” a missive whose very title says a thing or two about the clarity of its author’s vision).

I could just note that the closest Leibovitz comes to an actual response to a lengthy, carefully argued response to his argument is to go “neener-neener” at the title and drop the mic. But I do think that the verbiage he uses to evade a substantive argument is also instructive. It seems to be a random assemblage of words taken from a 90s culture-war essay draft Roger Kimball rejected as being too lazy and cliched.

Look, you don’t need semiotics or deconstruction or Robert Mapplethorpe or Piss Christ or any other “au courant” theory to see that Leibovitz’s implication of anti-Semitism is not supported by the tweets in question. You just need an old-fashioned, minimally honest effort to understand what he’s trying to say. First of all, it’s not absolutely impossible that someone who tweeted things like “[t]hat particular look has been used to dehumanize Jews for many centuries, to nefarious ends” and “I believe that Jewish and Arab children are equal in the eyes of God. Equal rights for everybody, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, etc.” is an anti-Semite, but it seems highly unlikely. And even with respect to the isolated tweet in question, Leibovitz’s reading (“something that doesn’t exist has gone from horrible to honorable”) makes absolutely no sense even in itself, while the alternative reading does. (In this sense, my comparison of Leibovitz’s reading to the Halbig troofers is unfair — to the troofers. At least their reading makes sense if you make the mistake of focusing solely on the isolated passage.) Putting the tweet in context makes it obvious that he was arguing that the conflation of criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism was undermining the very real and very bad latter thing, not that anti-Semitism is imaginary. Salaita has tweeted things one can object to on multiple grounds, but as for evidence that he’s an anti-Semite (a crucial question if we’re going to throw academic freedom out the window), his critics have nothing.

Despite the more intelligent language, the rest of his argument has all the same problems as Liebovich’s. I have no idea if Leibovitz is right about the one book (a collection of essays written for a general audience, and hence not the first place you’d start if examining only one if his works) he criticizes. Again, I see no reason not to defer to the committee of actual experts who examined his entire record versus other candidates over a non-expert who has already reached a pre-determined conclusion examining one of his books.

And the attempted boundary-policing of other fields — “other titles that have absolutely nothing to do with the Sioux or the Seminoles” — is silly even as a pretext. First of all, I’m not inclined to think that it’s up to scholars of American politics, video games, or anything else to determine what constitutes content relevant to the field of Native American Studies. And more importantly, even if I did feel strongly about what the content qualifications should be, it seems obvious that the appropriate remedy is for the administration to make its case before the fact or at least during the actual hiring process, not to yank a job offer after the new hire and spouse have resigned their positions and been scheduled to teach classes. But needless to say nobody really opposes Salaita because they think he’s not qualified; they oppose him because they disagree with his substantive views. Which is fine — I even agree the criticisms in some cases — but this cannot be a firable offense if academic freedom means anything.

I’ll conclude with these thoughts from Corey Robin:

[I]t takes a long time to familiarize yourself with a literature and a field, to understand its debates, its ins and outs. I deeply resent it when someone thinks they can just dive-bomb into a discussion I’m a part of without having done some background work of his (and it is, almost always, a dude) own: not because I have a fetish for expertise or academic authority but because I respect the work of intellectual labor, the amount of dedication, effort, and stamina that is required to truly understand and master a set of arguments. I respect people who’ve done the work—and expect that respect in turn. That some academics, who have no background or demonstrated record in Salaita’s field (indeed, can’t even bother to figure out what his field of expertise actually is), think they can now just hunt around his books and articles in order to draw fatal conclusions about his talents shows a profound disrespect for our collective enterprise. Indeed, a profound disrespect for themselves.

If They Didn’t Know, It’s Because They Didn’t Want to Know

[ 129 ] September 9, 2014 |

Sally Jenkins:

That Goodell is an unduly vain commissioner, and a self-serving one with his eye on some further prize, has always been obvious. That he obfuscates and evades on tough issues unless they are convenient for him, that his convictions are highly selective and so is his enforcement, has never been more apparent. On Monday morning, with the surfacing of that video, Goodell’s nature became totally clear. The NFL claims in a statement that no one in the league office had previously seen the tape. That is almost surely not the truth, unless the NFL wanted it that way. This is a league that works with Homeland Security, confers with the Drug Enforcement Agency, collaborates with law enforcement and has its own highly equipped and secretive private security arm. You’re telling me it couldn’t get a hold of a grainy tape from an Atlantic City casino elevator? But TMZ could?

If NFL executives and Baltimore Ravens staff had never seen that tape before, there are only two reasons: willful blindness, and the determination to maintain plausible deniability. Two NFL analysts with reputations for impeccable sources, Peter King of Sports Illustrated and Chris Mortensen of ESPN, were told months ago the league had to have seen the tape. Ray Rice’s own attorney had a copy of it. It simply defies belief that league and team officials couldn’t have seen it if they wanted to.

Magary on why your commissioner sucks:

But we don’t need that evidence when common sense can fill in the gaps. The NFL had every chance to look at the tape ages ago. There was NO good reason to deliberately avoid it. Consider:

  • Roger Goodell really likes suspending players, as a way of consolidating power in his office.
  • Roger Goodell really likes making STRONG statements, as a way of ginning up good public relations.
  • Anyone investigating the incident is going to want to see the tape in order to to nail down every last detail.
  • The tape was bound to surface at some point anyway. Lots of people had seen it. Lots of people had talked to people who’d seen it. A random Deadspin tipster, emailing us shortly after the arrest, knew what was on the tape, down to the detail—confirmed today by the AP—that Palmer had spit on Rice.
  • Legally speaking, nothing good can come from avoiding the tape.
  • You could probably guess what was on the tape, given that the other tape shows Ray Rice dragging his unconscious fiancée out into the casino lobby.

Now, Roger Goodell is a big stupid meathead of a guy, but even he isn’t stupid enough to say, “Hey, let’s be shady and bury this thing forever just to protect Ray Rice MWAHAHAHAHAHA.” No way, man. They saw the tape. Of course they saw the tape. They knew what was on there, and they heard Janay Rice state her case in person with her hubby and Goodell and four other high-ranking league and Ravens assholes right there, and they thought, sure, two games sounds all right. And that logic filtered through the league office, down to the Ravens, out to national media hand puppets like Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen, and it hardened into the conventional wisdom. Everything is easily explained if you accept that these are all a bunch of stupid men who think very much alike.

As of right now, the NFL is doing everything in its power to make you believe that it would never be so insensitive, but it’s failing miserably. No lifetime suspension or display of league righteousness will make up for the glaring lack of anger over the past few months. There was no good reason not to watch that tape. They saw it, and they thought little of it, and now they’re praying you don’t notice.

In conclusion, let’s move right along and drive a dumptruck of taxpayer money up to Dan Snyder’s house! To replace a stadium that’s not 20 years old!

…and, yes, it’s worth noting that multiple well-connected not only said that the NFL had seen the contents of the tape, but the league sources accurately described its contents at the time.  The NFL saw the tape; saying otherwise is just a massive intelligence-insulting operation.

How Innocent People Get Railroaded

[ 73 ] September 9, 2014 |

The prosecutor responsible for the grotesque miscarriage of justice Paul mentioned last week is exactly what you’d expect:

“Well, let’s say, if I was a bully, he is a pussy. How about that?” the elder Mr. Britt said. “I think Johnson Britt has been hanging around too much with the wine and cheese crowd.”
Continue reading the main story

Of last week’s ruling, which was spurred by a North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission investigation and supported by the younger Mr. Britt, he added: “I thought the D.A. just threw up his hands and capitulated, and the judge didn’t have any choice but to do what he did. No question about it, absolutely they are guilty.”

But at least he kept the community safe, right? What about the VICTIM’s civil rights?

Nonetheless, the McCollum and Brown case seems destined to become the signature one of Joe Freeman Britt’s tenure. And to critics, especially the current district attorney, it was remarkable what was overlooked: any pursuit of Roscoe Artis as a suspect.

Mr. Artis, who had already served prison time and committed violent sexual assaults, lived next to the soybean field in tiny Red Springs, where the victim was discovered. Investigators found a cigarette there which, at trial in 1984, Joe Freeman Britt implied belonged to one of the killers.

Mr. Artis confessed to and was found guilty of raping and killing another teenage girl in similar circumstances four weeks after — and a short distance from — the murder Mr. McCollum and Mr. Brown were charged with. He remains in prison. There is no sign that investigators or prosecutors pursued the theory that he might have killed both girls.

“What are the chances of this similar, if not same, crime occurring in this small town, and there not being a connection?” said Johnson Britt. “How could they not make this connection? The same prosecutor handled both trials, 90 days apart. I’m still dismayed.”

Oh. Why, I’m beginning to think the public safety value of framing innocent people has been overrated.

Over to you, Arthur:

“We have learned the lesson of history, ancient and modern, that a system of criminal law enforcement which comes to depend on the “confession” will, in the long run, be less reliable and more subject to abuses than a system which depends on extrinsic evidence independently secured through skillful investigation.”

– Goldberg, J., Escobedo v. Illinois.

That Green Lantern Won’t Raise Itself!

[ 16 ] September 8, 2014 |

Shorter some random Fox News hack: “If only Mitt Romney had won, we wouldn’t have had all these domestic violence problems over the years, either.”

…BREAKING: Fox & Friends will always be the stupidest show in the history of television. 

Gerrymandering in Pennsylvania and Maryland

[ 60 ] September 8, 2014 |

Evidently, as long as states have to produce compact, contiguous districts the House will be have a Republican tilt, and hence the role of gerrymandering in creating the GOP’s lock on the House is overrated. But having said that, as Weigel says the difference between a Republican-gerrymandered state and a Democratic-gerrymandered one can be highly consequential.

Let Us Remember the Most Important Part of the Story: He Didn’t Smoke Pot

[ 118 ] September 8, 2014 |

What merits a two-game suspension to from the NFL.  But, as the team would still remind us, this kind of thing entails mutual responsibility: for one person to punch someone in the face requires another person to be punched in the face, so really everyone has a role in the “incident.”

Relatedly, some classic Peter King hackery. 

…to be fair and balanced, it must be noted that we have no evidence that Ray Rice ever committed a real offense of seriousness like selling his NCAA jerseys, threatening the country’s most precious resource, its Noble Ideals of Amateurism.


There are three possible explanations here. The first is that every single reporter who said the NFL had seen the video was lying. This seems unlikely, since they were all telling the same lie, both for public consumption and in their off-the-record talks with us.

The second is that the NFL was lying to all of the top football reporters back then about having seen the video, in some attempt to smear Janay Palmer.

The third is that the NFL is lying now about not having seen the video—that league officials saw what everyone has now seen, for whatever reason actually found it exculpatory, and are now making false claims to protect the league’s image. This interpretation is supported by an employee of the Revel, the Atlantic City casino where the fight took place. He tells TMZ that the NFL saw the footage before disciplining Rice.

Whatever the case, it’s almost certain that the NFL lied at some stage here, and that the league played a handful of its most loyal reporters in the process, suborning them into a smear campaign against a victim of domestic violence.


The Mixed Legacy of Joan Rivers

[ 64 ] September 7, 2014 |

Really good piece. 

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