Subscribe via RSS Feed

Category: General

The Smug Style in American Leftism

[ 290 ] May 12, 2016 |


Freddie tries to horn in on Emmett Rensin’s racket:

As I said the last time we encountered this kind of assertion, name one liberal of any significant prominence or influence who thinks that “people who are not like them deserve suffering.” Rensin still hasn’t. And deBoer hasn’t either. He cites Jeet Heer’s twitter feed, which as you note if you scrawl down says absolutely nothing remotely resembling this. In a blog post, he cites Paul Krugman, who says…absolutely nothing remotely resembling this, and two other writers who say absolutely nothing resembling this. deBoer’s readings go well beyond uncharitable to outright dishonesty. If you read his own post carefully, you’ll note that he effectively concedes that he doesn’t have the goods:

More, I am here asking that we consider whether we want to adopt the basic logic of conservatism: that some people’s distress is deserved and thus safely ignored. Because that is the inevitable consequence of thinking like Krugman.

Krugman and the other writers, do make the point — which deBoer does not contest — that Trump’s support is largely a product of white supremacy. What he absolutely does not say is that poor white people with white supremacist beliefs “deserve to suffer.” deBoer has to smuggle in an assertion that this is an “inevitable” logical outgrowth of the arguments of Krugman et al. The first problem with this assertion is that it is risible, anti-intellectual nonsense on its face — there’s no logical contradiction in observing that white supremacy is driving a lot of Trump’s support and supporting policies that help many Trump voters. And the second problem is that, in practice, Krugman et al. do in fact support policies that will help (inter alia) economically suffering Trump supporters in West Virginia — increased wealth transfers, access to health care, infrastructure spending that would increase access to decent jobs, etc. etc. The idea that honestly analyzing the basis for Trump’s support entails a desire to punish Trump supporters just could not be more wrong.

I conclude with one of the less self-aware sentences ever written:

Nor did I get interested in politics for the righteous thrill of lording it over the wrong.

This from a man who believes this believes that the left should simply absent itself from electoral politics — leading inevitably to Republican governments that really would inflict devastation on the economically suffering, including economically suffering Trump voters — until a party nominates a presidential candidate who publicly agrees with Freddie deBoer about everything. Projection is a hell of a drug.


Do You Miss Jon Stewart?

[ 78 ] May 11, 2016 |

I didn’t, really. I liked him a whole lot, but sometimes his shtick and mugging for the camera wore on me. But I sure like this Jon Stewart:

Hedge Funds and Charter Schools

[ 37 ] May 11, 2016 |


This is an excellent report on how hedge fund managers have been behind the charter school movement since the very beginning. Now they are buying school board seats by overwhelming cities with campaign donations that competitors who oppose charter schools can’t begin to match. From the very beginning, the hedge fund managers have seen Barack Obama has an ally. He has definitely confirmed their faith in him.

The hedge fund industry and the charter movement are almost inextricably entangled. Executives see charter-school expansion as vital to the future of public education, relying on a model of competition. They see testing as essential to accountability. And they often look at teacher unions with unvarnished distaste. Several hedge fund managers have launched their own charter-school chains. You’d be hard-pressed to find a hedge fund guy who doesn’t sit on a charter-school board.

Consider Whitney Tilson. Straight out of Harvard, Tilson deferred a consulting job in Boston to become one of Teach For America’s first employees in 1989. Ten years later, he started his own hedge fund in New York. Soon after that, Teach For America founder Wendy Kopp took him on a visit to a charter school in the South Bronx. It was an electrifying experience for him. “It was so clearly different and so impactful,” Tilson says. “Such a place of joy, but also rigor.”

The school was one of two original Knowledge Is Power Program schools—better known as KIPP—which has since grown into a prominent charter network with nearly 200 schools in 20 states plus the District of Columbia, serving almost 70,000 students, predominately low-income and of color.

But back then, charter schools were still a rather unfamiliar novelty to most people. Tilson, however, was convinced that they were the future of education. He started dragging all his friends, most of whom were hedge fund investors, from Wall Street up to the South Bronx to see the KIPP school. “KIPP was used as a converter for hedge fund guys,” Tilson says. “It went viral.”

Many critics of the corporate education-reform movement are quick to accuse proponents of seeking to cash in on the privatization of one of the United States’ last public goods. And while there certainly are those in ed-reform circles who stand to benefit from a windfall of new education technology, testing, and curriculum services, hedge funders by and large do not fit that stereotype. Theirs is more of an ideological and philanthropic crusade, rather than a crude profit-seeking venture.

As Tilson explains it, hedge fund managers almost exclusively come from well-off backgrounds and got the best educations in the world. “I personally never knew what the situation was like for families forced to attend their local school in the South Bronx, or Brooklyn,” Tilson says. “I didn’t know of anyone who dropped out of high school or college—much less that there were high schools where half the students dropped off.”

And of course rather than blame poverty, he blamed unions, which the charter school movement has declared war upon.

The Free Trade Consensus

[ 53 ] May 11, 2016 |


Above: More beneficiaries of free trade

David Dayen argues that the free trade consensus is dead.

Speaking on Monday at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman made a familiar argument. The Obama administration has used trade agreements to reshape globalization in the best way, he said. We’ve put labor and environmental standards at the core of the deals, he claimed, and we’ve created a level playing field for U.S. workers.

Froman’s timing was unfortunate. The same day, documents leaked by Greenpeace Netherlands revealed that U.S. negotiators working on a trade deal with the European Union have actually been pressuring their trading partners to lower those same standards.

This distance between Froman’s words and the contradictory reality is at the heart of the disintegration of the global trade consensus. The 2016 presidential election has focused heavily on trade agreements, and the leading basher of them is now the Republican nominee for president. We’re seeing something similar on the Democratic side: You can argue that Hillary Clinton has not moved on any major issue as much as she has moved on trade agreements, publicly opposing a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement she enthusiastically promoted as secretary of state.

In short, the center of gravity holding together a policy framework that prioritizes corporate dominance over democratic governance has collapsed. And this week’s leak is another nail in the free-trade coffin.

The claims that meaningful labor and environmental standards are in these agreements is patently absurd. First, labor and environmental groups played no role in writing the standards. Second, we’ve already seen the Obama administration change Malaysia’s human rights ranking so that it could join the TPP just after the discovery of human remains from a camp of trafficked workers. Third, there’s no way for labor or environmental groups to access the Investor State Dispute Settlement courts that will enforce the TPP or other agreements. The language seems utterly meaningless except as a sop to domestic groups to reduce opposition. That the U.S is pushing European nations to lower their standards in the TTIP, as Dayen details, just goes to show how awful the Obama administration has been on trade.

The U.S. negotiators complained about the European ban on animal testing in cosmetics, calling it an “irreconcilable” difference that would cripple market access. They proposed pre-empting restrictions Europe maintains on genetically modified organisms, euphemistically referring to them as “products of modern agricultural technology.” They sought a dispute-mechanism process for food safety and pesticides that would outsource decision-making to a UN organization, where corporate executives often sit on the national delegations and where rulings have typically been more lax than those from the EU.

The documents also show that the U.S. wants to change the entire EU rulemaking process. In a chapter entitled “Regulatory Cooperation,” U.S. negotiators proposed that the EU inform American companies of planned regulations in advance, giving them an opportunity to influence the rules. They want the EU to limit regulations to those least burdensome to business, and seek out “alternatives to achieve the appropriate level of protection” without a new rule. They would require the EU to take into account the trade effects of regulations; that means that if regulations banning a hazardous chemical would stop a corporation from selling a product containing it in the EU, the European Parliament would have to give those market considerations as much weight as safeguarding public health before approving the rule.

The regulatory proposal would also add layers of bureaucracy and detailed “impact assessments”—the kinds of cost-benefit analysis Washington habitually uses to stop regulations cold. In fact, just a few weeks ago the Obama administration argued against including a cost-benefit analysis in determining whether financial institutions posed a systemic risk to the economy—because it’s too subjective, burdensome, and biased in favor of corporations. Now its trade negotiators want to mandate the same analysis for Europe.

A “science and risk” provision is even more explicit: No prohibitions on products should be implemented, the U.S. demands, without scientific proof that the products are harmful, rather than as a precautionary measure. This is a higher regulatory burden than current EU practice, and would result in overturning several of its laws.

This is just utterly indefensible. It’s outrageous. And it’s a reminder that the biggest obstacle to global justice is the U.S. government. The unwillingness of the American government to pass ILO recommendations on labor rights has long been a major problem in the global injustice of labor exploitation, for instance.

I’m not sure I’d go as far as Dayen and say the trade consensus is dead. Certainly Clinton’s move to the left on the TPP, as least publicly, is significant. What Trump’s bluster actually means is harder to gauge and hopefully we never actually know. But certainly there is a real pushback against these pro-corporate deals that hurt American workers without actually delivering greater justice to other nations.

However, Marshall Steinbaum notes one significant reason that to think that the free trade consensus is dying, if not dead. That’s because the defenders of free trade like Zack Beauchamp are no longer even pretending that globalization actually helps American workers. They have rhetorically retreated into calling free trade a moral crusade to help the world’s poor, while ignoring all the exploitation on the ground that does not have to happen.

In response, a raft of recent articles has come to the defense of globalization, but not on the grounds that we might expect—namely, that the tradeoff thesis is wrong. These include works by Zack Beauchamp, Brian Doherty, Jordan Weissmann, Noah Smith, James Pethokoukis, Annie Lowrey, and Charles Kenny. Globalization may indeed be a zero-sum game, these writers say, but it is one we are morally compelled to play—by perpetuating current trade policy—in order to help the global poor. Milanović himself has strenuously protested reading his work in this way.

The timing of these articles is obviously tied to the U.S. presidential primary, but also more obliquely to a recent research paper by David Autor, David Dorn, and Gordon Hanson documenting the devastating effect that opening up trade with China had on the labor markets where competition with Chinese imports was fiercest. The work of Autor, Dorn, and Hanson only amplifies disappointment at globalization’s failed promise to improve the domestic economy, even if—so the story was supposed to have gone—it cost some jobs at home in the short run. In this sense, their research lags the politics: dissatisfaction with trade and with globalization more generally has driven a populist upsurge—perhaps most concretely in the rise of both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, foreshadowed by the Occupy movement. The many elite pundits who scorned the dire predictions of trade liberalization’s opponents in the 1990s have to admit globalization has failed to produce the promised prosperity at home.

But the answer is not to justify globalization by looking to gains made elsewhere. The tradeoff thesis does not stand up to scrutiny, and defending globalization by its success abroad seems doomed to failure. Indeed, it is important to note what a profound rhetorical retreat it amounts to. For decades, the policy-making establishment assured the public that the gains from globalization at home would outweigh the losses, and the winners would compensate the losers. It is hard to make that case now. Hence the retreat to grounding the argument for free capital mobility in the gains to the world’s poor.

Steinbaum goes on to talk about capital mobility, not competition with the world’s poor, is the greatest threat to the working class in wealthy countries. And then he closes with something that is absolutely true:

Politicians responsible to the public cannot sell the idea that the domestic middle class must suffer, to the benefit of foreigners. The tradeoff idea instead serves the folk mythology of an elite class of economic policy consensus–enforcers, who push policies that enrich the already wealthy. Democracy is supposed to operate as a natural check to bring the elite policy-making consensus in line with popular opinion and interest; playing the domestic middle class against a foreign one is one of many ways to keep that from happening. Asking which ought to suffer to benefit the other distracts attention from the real issue: their joint exploitation at the hands of globally mobile capital.

There’s a reason that people like Beauchamp and others don’t articulate an agenda for the American working class, which is that they don’t really care. They actively defend a system of global capitalism that has pitted the working classes of the world against each other, with corporations having figured out how to avoid national legal regimes and workers stuck within their own national legal regimes without access to the new international legal framework. From a political perspective, you cannot justify the export of working class jobs. This is at the core of the populist rise in 2016. Only elites like Beauchamp and Yglesias really believe that globalized capitalism is an unvarnished good in 2016 and that’s because they benefit from it. But most Americans don’t and they are sick of being asked to sacrifice for the rest of the world. That most of the world outside of global business elites is not actually benefiting from the sacrifice does not help the claims of Beauchamp and the like.

Textualism Is Not A Theory of Constitutional Interpretation

[ 150 ] May 11, 2016 |


I’ve been planning to do a post about judicial review and the implications of legal realism to so I don’t have to keep repeating things that perennially come up in comments threads. In the meantime, I’ll address some lower-hanging fruit — namely, the idea that one side in disputes over constitutional meaning can be meaningfully labelled “textualist.” Combining two comments from Sebastian H:

This thread makes all those discussions about how textualists don’t understand the huge importance of stare decisis to a living constitutionalist order look a little bit silly…No, the stare decisis critique of modern textualist theories is a legitimate critique–far more so than the typical critiques. It is about law as a system, rather than a single point of reference. The problem with the approach of this thread is that it undermines all of the common law/system defenses of living constitutionalism which are essentially the only strong defenses that it has.

To state the obvious, “textualism” is abjectly useless as an interpretative method for the vast majority of constitutional cases of any interest. It’s not that the text of the Constitution doesn’t resolve some issues. It certainly does dispositively resolve questions like “is Mark Zuckerberg eligible to run for president in 2016?” or “Does Wyoming get the same number of Senators as California?” But of course you don’t need any kind of grand theory to resolve questions like this, which is why questions like this don’t end up in the Supreme Court. Everyone is a “textualist” when the text of the Constitution does not leave any meaningful room for dispute. Here, too, we can see the not-very-subtle self-aggrandizement in the self-application of the “textualist” label: “I am following the text of the Constitution and you are ignoring it.” It’s just nonsense.

On the questions that are actually in enough dispute to end up at the Supreme Court, however, “textualism” brings absolutely nothing to the table. We can read the text and see that it prohibits “cruel and unusual punishments” and “unreasonable searches and seizures” and abridgments of the “privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States” and guarantees the “due process of law.” What do these deliberately broad and abstract phrases tell us about how to apply them to concrete cases of enough interest to reach a federal appellate court? Absolutely nothing, needless to say. (The framers of the 14th Amendment nearly universally understood that which judge was doing the interpreting was far more important than the precise wording of a constitutional provision, creating a serious meta-problem for “textualists” who also call themselves “originalists” where questions concerning the 14th Amendment are concerned.) Judicial review involves discretionary choices made my judges; it’s just that some people admit it and some don’t.

I would also note that there is one live constitutional controversy to which the text of the Constitution provides a nearly definitive answer: whether the 11th Amendment bars suits against state governments without the consent of the state by citizens of that state. The answer the text provides is “it doesn’t” — Hans v. Lousiana and its Rehnquist Court progeny are an example of cases that a liberal Court should find were wrong the day they were decided, are still wrong, and should be overruled. Most people who call themselves “textualists,” however, insist that it does, which should tell us something about “textualism.” Many “textualists” also call themselves “originalists.” I’ll leave that for the next post, but the tl; dr is that 1)orignialsm is unattractive as a normative theory; 2)in the vast majority of interesting constitutional disputes it does not provide determinate answers, because different levels of abstraction and the ambiguities of historical evidence provide multiple answers to most questions; and 3)in the rare cases where “originalism” seems to provide a definitive answer in practice “originalist” judges don’t feel constrained to apply it anyway.

With respect to stare decisis, it’s crucial to distinguish between the vertical and horizontal application of precedents. Obviously, lower courts applying the precedents of higher courts in good faith is an important part of the judicial system, and not doing it is bad judicial practice (with the understanding that there are always going to be marginal cases where there is good faith disagreement about what a precedent requires in a particular case.) In terms of the Supreme Court dealing with its own precedents, virtually everyone agrees with Tushnet in principle. That is, there are some precedents that should be overruled (whether explicitly or sub silentio — I think the former is almost always preferable), there are some precedents that should be narrowed but aren’t worth overruling even if a majority would have decided them differently in the first instance, and some precedents that should be upheld. Courts have to be able to correct what they see as their mistakes in constitutional cases; the only question is when they should do it. And, like determining the meaning of the cruel and unusual clause, this inevitably entails judicial discretion.

…as a couple of commenters noted, Shelby County is another excellent example of “textualists” refusing to apply the text even in a rare case where the text would appear to foreclose the argument made by the majority. As with the “sovereign immunity” cases, the text was trumped by a structuralist argument inferred from the text — “the equal sovereign dignitude of the states.” And while I have no problem with structuralist arguments in principle this is of course a really, really bad one.

Some Quick Pop Culture Notes: Amy Schumer, “Crimson Peak,” Etc.

[ 46 ] May 11, 2016 |

  • Amy Schumer got off to a weak start this year with a huge huge huge squandered opportunity. I’ve always wanted to conduct a thought experiment here at LGM by asking our commentariat to imagine a “World’s Most Interesting Man” commercial with the genders reversed. Well, you don’t have to imagine it anymore because “Inside Amy Schumer” did it for you with decidedly mixed results.  The only way for this sketch to work would have been to have the satire parallel the original commercial almost entirely. That is, to show Amy–looking cool and cute and awesome– doing all this amazing stuff in her youth (which they did) and then to show her–still looking awesome in a Helen Mirren kind of way–surrounded by handsome men half her age. The joke would come in there–in that they would immediately leave…not give her the time of day. That’s the joke: we don’t find older women sexy. And we sure as hell don’t find women interesting outside their ability to inspire boners. But the show instead stopped the parallel in her old age–making Amy look tacky and weird…and then went off on some weird tangent about retirement homes. It was a sketch that started with such promise and a chance to really skewer a double standard but it kind of just petered out in a way that completely obscured any kind of keen observation about that double standard. The show has since redeemed itself, and the third episode of the season is one of the strongest shows to date, with hilarious riffs on men who have sex with their nannies, the lack of meaty roles for Oscar-caliber actresses, and flipping the script on fantasy football (where men find out that football players are tracking their moves, judging their every action, from returning an item to a store to asking people to join LinkedIn.) If the show keeps heading this direction, this is going to be an amazing season.
  • I recently got a chance to watch “Crimson Peak.” It’s a movie I’d love to recommend because it’s directed by acclaimed director Guillermo Del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”) and it’s gorgeous to look at. But unless you’re me, that’s not going to be enough to hold you. It was easy for me to sit there for an hour and half glorying in the film’s stunning sets and costumes, but I don’t think a movie can skate on that alone and still be considered a quality one. If you go into “Crimson Peak” expecting horror you’ll be sorely disappointed. I’m the biggest chicken on the planet and I was yawning at its attempts to scare me. And insofar as its a thriller as well as a horror film, it telegraphs its big reveals so vividly that there is absolutely no suspense. Trust me, you will figure out what’s going on 20 minutes into the film. The script is not particularly good. The acting is fine. That being said, I think it’s one of the most luscious eye candy films I’ve ever seen, so if you’re into that sort of thing, give it a watch. The show’s sets (it mostly takes place in a dilapidated mansion…beautiful in its decrepitude…you know what I’m talking about) are sumptuous I may actually watch it again some day. But that’s me. I don’t expect it will be you.
  • Rob Zombie doesn’t have much use for babymen who disparage Baby Metal.
  • My latest–“Panic at the Coronation”– is up here.

Stonewall National Monument

[ 23 ] May 11, 2016 |


In the last year of the Obama administration, expect to see a large number of new national park sites named, largely national monuments since the president can do this unilaterally (other forms of National Park System status have to be approved by Congress). This has become a standard way for Democratic presidents to seal their legacy back to the Carter administration. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come with proper funding to the NPS, which is horrendously underfunded, leading to the need to start selling corporate naming rights. That’s what an anti-government Congress and an $11 billion maintenance backlog will do, not to mention the increased need to spend money trying to erase graffiti left by idiots showing off.

Anyway, protecting public spaces is a great thing and one thing that makes the United States different than most if not all other nations is that telling historical stories about our nation is part of the national park mission. Moreover, those stories have moved on from protecting Civil War battlefields to telling very difficult stories through these government sponsored sites, such as the Sand Creek Massacre. Other stories are the inspirational stories of social movements that sometimes are still controversial today. A couple of weeks ago, Obama created the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument, which is the building in Washington that was the offices of Alice Paul and the National Women’s Party. That’s cool, even though Paul and the NWP was horrible on basically every single issue after 1920, including working with corporations to oppose labor legislation both intended specifically to help women and labor legislation intended to protect all workers. Obviously, the park will focus on the fight for women’s suffrage, which is fine. Maybe someday those other stories can be told.

Obama is also about to create a national park site out of Stonewall, the New York bar where resistance to police violence started up the modern gay rights movement.

On the same day that the Justice Department and the state of North Carolina filed dueling lawsuits over whether transgender Americans have the right to access the restroom facilities of their choice, administration officials took a step toward designating the first national monument commemorating the gay-rights movement.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and National Park Service director Jonathan Jarvis joined New York officials Monday night in Greenwich Village to get public feedback on whether to make Stonewall Inn, the site of a 1969 public uprising after a police raid on a bar frequented by gay men, into a national park. Roughly 250 people attended, according to participants, all of whom endorsed the idea.

‘‘Do I hear unanimous support?’’ Jarvis asked at the end of the meeting, according to several attendees. The crowd called out in response, ‘‘Yes!’’

Even better, Franklin Graham has the sads.

To Franklin Graham, the evangelical leader, such a monument seems to be courting spiritual disaster for the nation. In a Facebook post on Friday morning, Graham wrote to his 3.6 million followers: “That’s unbelievable. War heroes deserve a monument, our nation’s founding fathers deserve a monument, people who have helped to make America strong deserve a monument — but a monument to sin? … I can’t believe how far our country has digressed. I hope that the president will reconsider. Flaunting sin is a dangerous move.”


Obama has really worked hard to make the National Park System look like America.

Obama has already designated or expanded 23 national monuments — more than any previous president. Most significant, perhaps, is how many of those sites have recognized the history of women, blacks, Latinos and Asian-Americans.

“They’ve done an outstanding job in terms of diversifying the park system in their relatively short time in office,” said Kristen Brengel, vice president of government affairs at the National Parks Conservation Association. “It’s been great to watch.”

Obama designated the César Chávez National Monument in October 2012 at the California site where the civil rights activist lived and led the United Farm Workers union. He named the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument in Maryland in March 2013.

In February 2015, the president designated both the Pullman National Monument in Chicago, an important site in African-American and labor history, and Hawaii’s Honouliuli National Monument, which recognizes a World War II-era camp where people of Japanese ancestry were incarcerated.

And just last month, he designated the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument in Washington D.C., calling it “a monument to a fight not just for women’s equality but, ultimately, for equality for everybody.”

There are more excellent sites that I would argue for as well. To the linked list, I’d add the site of the Triangle Fire. Really, any perusal of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Most Endangered Places list for each year suggests interesting possibilities. I particularly hope Obama chooses to create a site or two that tells the Asian-American experience outside of just the Japanese internment camps.

Today in Gun Culture

[ 77 ] May 11, 2016 |


If just everyone was armed, all the gun owners, security guards, and police would use their guns responsibly:

A Mississippi security guard is facing charges after he shot a man suspected of pocketing a candy bar, WAPT reports.

Alvin Gardner was allegedly seen on surveillance camera stuffing a Snickers bar in his pocket and leaving a store without paying for it. The store security guard, Bennie Montgomery, followed him out of the store and fired “warning shots.”

But Montgomery struck Gardner in the back of his right thigh.

“You can’t just discharge a firearm at a fleeing suspect. You can’t do that,” Canton Police Chief Otha Brown said. “The security guard should have known that when the suspect ran out the store, the threat was over. There was no need to discharge a firearm.”

Montgomery has been charged with aggravated assault, WAPT reports.

Seems like someone’s Second Amendment rights are being violated here! If you can’t shoot someone over a candy bar, soon those criminals will be invading our homes and kidnapping our children!

Today In Highly Principled Libertarianism

[ 51 ] May 11, 2016 |


This New York Times profile starts out like a puff piece written by one of the Maoists who edit the Styles and Real Estate sections:

“I want to be first on Success,” said Carl Barney, standing up from the breakfast table after a final sip of tea at Deer Valley, a luxury resort with a view of Utah’s mountainous rooftop.

Mr. Barney, who had arrived in the dining room wearing his custom-made orange ski boots, was referring to the trail named Success, with its early-morning blanket of freshly groomed, untouched snow.

He could just as easily have been referring to himself.

Mr. Barney, who turns 75 on Monday, arrived in the United States in the 1960s as a jobless British immigrant and went on to amass a fortune running for-profit colleges. All the while, he was guided by the heroic entrepreneurial creed of Ayn Rand, a champion of unalloyed selfishness and remorseless capitalism.

“She taught me how to live,” Mr. Barney said.

He credits Rand’s brand of antigovernment libertarianism, hard-nosed rationality and unapologetic self-interest with helping him realize his own American dream — an achievement he sells to the students at his schools. But his inspiring story is not without contradictions.

Personally, I find “a Randroid got obscenely wealthy bilking desperate students and the American taxpayers” to be the antithesis of an “inspiring story.” But, as the twist at the end of the last sentence above suggests, Cohen does go on to point out the obvious:

Mr. Barney, who opposes government-backed loans and grants on principle, has made his fortune in a business that is almost wholly dependent on them. His students borrow heavily to pay for their studies in hope of replicating Mr. Barney’s up-by-the-bootstraps success, but often find themselves dropping out and burdened with loans. And while he invokes a rigorous Rand-inspired ethical code of fair dealing, he is in an industry with a history pockmarked by fraud and abuse.

Congress, state prosecutors and federal regulators have opened investigations into numerous schools — including some of Mr. Barney’s — saying that they have misled students, leaving them deeply in debt without providing the training and job placements that would enable them to pay it off.

The troubles in for-profit higher education have fed a mountain of student-loan debt, totaling $1.3 trillion. The sector enrolled 10.4 percent of students but received 19.3 percent of federal aid, according to the latest figures from the Education Department. The prospect of a taxpayer bailout for defrauded students could run into the billions of dollars depending on eligibility rules.

Sure, his diploma mills would all close instantly if the federal government stopped guaranteeing the loan money students need to attend them, but that doesn’t change the fact that Barney is a rugged individualist who totally pulled himself up by his bootstraps!

Late Night Caribbean Blegging

[ 47 ] May 10, 2016 |

So it’s late, nothing of import is happening. Well, I guess Bernie won the most anti-Obama state in the nation, but I guess it’s not that important. Anyway, a set of questions from my well-traveled readers. This summer is not going to lead to a lengthy vacation. If there is an out-of-nation trip, it’s going to be a week in the Caribbean in late June-early July. Given the wife’s Spanish-speaking nation proclivities, that’s likely to be the Dominican Republic. That would be cool, but given that she also has beach-loving proclivities that I don’t share, it’s also probably likely to be a beach in that nation, possibly the whole Punta Cana thing. I guess I can live with this. But some questions.

1) If you’ve been to the DR, what do you recommend in terms of beaches? And do you recommend non-DR trips in the region and if so, why?

2) Is Punta Cana really the only quality beach area in the DR? Are there other options? Understand that a first-rate beach is necessary, at least for a few days.

3) Are there beaches in the area that can be combined with something else to do that I would like, i.e., pretty much anything that’s not sitting on a beach?

4) What is the value between the all-inclusive and not all-inclusive? In my mind, all-inclusive means “pay a lot of extra money for third rate food” but maybe I am wrong.

5) Are there specific hotels you all recommend? And if so, why?

6) What else? I am not used to traveling in this manner. I’d rather stay in a hut in the mountains for $5 a night. But alas, that is not going to happen. So any advice is much, much appreciated because I feel like I don’t really know what I’m doing here.

Andrew Carnegie: Tycoon Medievalism

[ 87 ] May 10, 2016 |


Something that drives me really crazy is when people today cite Andrew Carnegie as a good capitalist because he gave away a bunch of money to build libraries. People saw through this at the time. Approximately half of Pennsylvania towns he offered libraries to rejected them because they didn’t want his blood money. Carnegie was an awful person who used his philanthropy to justify his own rapacious and murderous behavior. We should be able to see through this today and look at him as some model for the wealthy of the present. We should also know more about him. This is a good short piece on Carnegie and Gilded Age philanthropy:

Kathleen Davis calls the philosophy behind his philanthropy “tycoon medievalism.” There was something feudalistic and paternalistic in Carnegie, but also something new in the way he redistributed wealth extracted from the earth and from laborers, thousands of them children, towards his own lasting fame. Davis argues that he “institutionalized philanthropy and thereby established an impersonal, self-perpetuating mechanism for redistributing capital into symbolic capital.” The famous music hall, the many libraries, the continuing work of the Foundation, the symbolic capital, all have done a remarkable job of obscuring the man’s ruthless accumulation of economic capital and, of course, political power.

Carnegie believed that sharing wealth through wages was foolish, since it would be wasted on “indulgence of appetite,” not the perpetuation of the race. In “The Gospel of Wealth” (1889) Carnegie wrote, “While the law of [of competition] may sometimes be hard for the individual, it is best for the race.” He meant, of course, the white Anglo-Saxon race. It was the mission of men like himself to direct the progress of the race by spending for them as he saw fit. Money on the poor in either wages or charity was wasted, but monuments with his name on them showed his beneficence and guiding hand.

Davis argues that Carnegie’s wealth allowed him to perpetuate his self-serving beliefs and the bogus racial science of the day. She reminds us that this kind of philanthropy is a profoundly undemocratic form of social restructuring. Carnegie avowed that economic inequality was necessary and good for the world as he saw it. The fact that inequality is a root cause of authoritarianism wouldn’t have bothered him, since he was at the top of the heap.

What a role model.

Doctors without Boundaries

[ 91 ] May 10, 2016 |

Lindy West has thousands of doctors. None of them are actual doctors.

You may remember telling me this before, but I love Lindy West. Yes, I know she writes terrific articles on being fat, on being feminist, on being fat and feminist, as well as popular culture; but honestly the reason I love Lindy West is because she’s on twitter…and she’s really really really funny. So it’s always with a heavy heart that I check her timeline because amidst all the fun and frivolity there is always a horde of twitter doctors telling Lindy West that they’re very concerned about her health. It’s amusing to me because it’s just a ruse to avoid saying “You make my boner deflate because you’re fat.” And because you’re not going to solve the obesity epidemic by yelling at Lindy West on twitter.

Page 10 of 1,502« First...89101112...203040...Last »