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It’s Always About Profits

[ 22 ] August 18, 2014 |

Since the murder of Michael Brown by Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson, shares of Taser International have risen 25 percent. Given that the company makes tasers and body cameras for police, it’s not totally clear to me which is driving the jump. Both probably. For the capitalists, it doesn’t matter. The company profits on police violence and on regulating police violence. Hard to find a better example of capitalism.

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What’s wrong with white people?

[ 57 ] August 18, 2014 |

“Fully 65% of African Americans say the police have gone too far in responding to the shooting’s aftermath. Whites are divided: 33% say the police have gone too far, 32% say the police response has been about right, while 35% offer no response.

Whites also are nearly three times as likely as blacks to express at least a fair amount of confidence in the investigations into the shooting. About half of whites (52%) say they have a great deal or fair amount of confidence in the investigations, compared with just 18% of blacks.”

More here.

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Faux Outrage over the Poor Owning Technology

[ 48 ] August 18, 2014 |

In other words, people who whine that the poor have cell phones instead of their proper role of starving or that those “choosing” to have something like a cell phone rather than health insurance are the undeserving poor are idiots. Because these often aren’t actually choices and even if they are, what the hell is it to you that people make the choices that improve their lives in ways they see fit with their limited resources?

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Cooley Law School changes name, fires a lot of its faculty and staff

[ 18 ] August 18, 2014 |

The Thomas M. Cooley School of Law is now officially Western Michigan University Cooley Law School.

In an awkward bit of timing, the school announced its name change the day before reports appeared in the media that the school was laying off a large chunk of its faculty and staff:

Sources in Lansing who are being laid off say the cuts are deep, upwards of 50 percent, according to one. Another said the impact could be as high as 70 percent. A Cooley spokesman disputed the amount, but said he did not have numbers.

“We have non-disparagement and confidentiality clauses upon which our severance packages hinge so I cannot say anything on the record and very little off the record other than to confirm that the cuts to faculty and staff are significant and I am among those in that category,” shared one faculty member, who spoke under condition of anonymity. “Plus I am really, really pissed.”

The source continued: “I was notified last week. My last day is August 31 … I honestly don’t know if they are done. If enrollment continues to decline then maybe not.”

Cooley’s JD enrollment has fallen from just under 4,000 (!) three years ago, to around 2,300 last fall, and seems likely to be lower this fall. On the other hand, the school’s FY2012 tax disclosures showed it clearing a $12.6 million profit enjoying excess revenues of $12.6 million over operating expenses of $108.5 million, and that the school’s net assets increased from $81.6 million to $118.6 million between July of 2009 and July of 2012. That was two years ago now, and it seems certain Cooley’s current balance sheet is not as robust, but the apparently radical nature of these faculty and staff cuts raises some interesting questions (I’ll have more to say in another post about the possibility that some law schools are exploiting the contraction in law school applicants for the purpose of eliminating expensive and/or troublesome faculty).

Anyway, it’s unfortunate that a respectable state university like WMU has agreed — no doubt for valuable consideration as lawyers say — to allow its name to be slapped on Cooley’s letterhead. The agreement between the two institutions appears to be essentially a legal and verbal fiction:

This is an affiliation between Cooley and WMU, not a merger of them. Thus, the affiliation does not change the governance of either institution by its respective board. The institutions remain autonomous.

Cooley remains a private, independent, non-profit, 501(c)(3) educational corporation. It is not a public or taxpayer-supported institution. . . The affiliation will not involve an exchange of funds or financial support, although as the relationship builds the institutions might enter into subsequent agreements, for example relating to the use of the other’s facilities.

Of course a name change is a time-honored marketing tactic when demand for a product is waning, as Prof. Stringer Bell, holder of the University of West Baltimore Distinguished Chair in Law and Economics, explores in a lecture below, via the Socratic method:

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Zombie Self-Serving Bullshit

[ 15 ] August 18, 2014 |

I see the Seattle Times op-ed page is still pushing abject nonsense about the estate tax.


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Right Target, Wrong Tools

[ 54 ] August 18, 2014 |

Rick Perry is awful, but the indictment against him is a joke.

In the file marked “the real scandal is what’s legal,” here’s an excellent primer on Perry’s cronyism.

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Remember How Nixon’s Price Controls Destroyed the Democratic Party?

[ 75 ] August 18, 2014 |

Thomas Frank has another in his “why doesn’t Obama use his unilateral authority to cause the Republican Party to spontaneously combust” series up:

President Obama is in the doldrums. He has run out of ideas, and out of gas. His strongest supporters are in the grip of a morbid fatalism. There is nothing the president can do any longer, they sigh, because of the intransigent Republicans in the House of Representatives. The great days of the Obama presidency are behind us, everyone seems to believe, and the most this once-promising president can do now are hold convenings and issue small-bore executive orders while awaiting a round of midterm elections that are likely to go against him. Oh, woe is he.


There is also still an opportunity for momentous, headline-making, consensus-shattering deeds. Each of the following three ideas would move the country in the direction Obama has always maintained he wanted to move us—toward accountability, away from inequality, toward a healthy middle class. And each of them is sufficiently big that it might make a difference this fall.

I know! If Obama was actually willing to do something, he could take major executive action to address, say climate change. Or discrimination against gays and lesbians. Or immigration reform. Or maybe he shouldn’t bother, since something has changed in 2009 and for some reason these issues are all now at best of minor interest to progressives, just like massively expanding health insurance coverage for the poor.

Frank’s three proposed ideas aren’t bad ones, even if the framing is silly. More aggressive prosecution of financial fraud, sure, although I don’t think getting convictions upheld under actually existing federal statutes and actually existing federal courts is quite the slam dunk Frank suggests. More aggressive antitrust enforcement, quite possibly, although I’m pretty dubious about returning to Johnson-era standards. I’m not sure that bringing expensive litigation to, say, block the merger of the 3rd and 8th biggest shoe companies in the country is the best use of scarce prosecutorial resources. And while this could have benefit consumers I see no evidence that it would meaningfully reduce inequality — small businesses aren’t notable for providing better pay. Increasing college tuition is a serious problem, and Obama perhaps should be doing more, but much of the proposed action here is vague or unworkable. (I’ve written before about my puzzlement with the tendency of some leftier-than-thous to fetishize Nixon’s wage and price controls, but what seems most salient here is that the latter didn’t actually work.)

Whatever the merits of these ideas, however, I do know that 1)taking action on them would not meaningfully affect the outcome midterm elections, and 2)would not cause the Republican coalition to collapse. If bold executive action on important issues was what was necessary to win midterm elections, all of the actions Frank ignores would already be sufficient. I really have no idea why the value of pretending otherwise is supposed to be.

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Varieties of Academic Boycott

[ 29 ] August 18, 2014 |

Michael Dorf, in his follow-up post on the University of Illinois’s violation of academic freedom:

As Brian Leiter notes, there is a move afoot to boycott the University of Illinois in response to its un-hiring of Salaita. I dislike academic boycotts generally, and I think it especially odd to boycott an academic institution on free speech grounds. Better, it seems to me, to try to persuade (rather than coerce) the University to correct its error.

Since I signed the statement put forward by members of my discipline, I thought I should clarify exactly what this boycott entails. This is the statement in its entirety:

Dear Chancellor Wise: we the undersigned will not visit the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus until Professor Salaita is reinstated to the position offered him by the faculty and which he had accepted in good faith.

This can be fairly described as a boycott, but I don’t believe that it in any way conflicts with the principles of free speech and academic freedom at stake in this case. Nobody is under any obligation to accept a speaking invitation as an individual, and declining to appear on campus would often mean forgoing honoraria; the costs are not solely offloaded on the other party. This seems like a form of speech and persuasion to me.

Some form of academic boycotts do, I think, conflict with academic freedom. If the statement suggested that UI U-C scholars should be denied invitations to campus, or blacklisted from conferences, or have similar sanctions imposed, I would not have considered signing it. I can’t speak for the statements of other disciplines, but the political science statement is very narrowly drawn and I think it is clearly consistent with principles of academic freedom.

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Russia and The Nation

[ 55 ] August 17, 2014 |

And finally, a word on the domestic politics of Russian engagement within the United States. Please read the previous post for a sense of where I’m coming from with respect to US relations with Russia; it provides context useful for this argument.

Read more…

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Sunday Book Review: Limits of Partnership

[ 23 ] August 17, 2014 |

Angela Stent’s The Limits of Partnership traces the development of US-Russian relationship from the end of the Cold War until the present day (or at least, until just before the latest Ukraine crisis).  Limits of Partnership lays a fair degree of blame on both sides for the ongoing problems in the relationship, but also identifies the intractable areas, explains why they’re intractable, and considers the deftness of the diplomacy in this context.

Stent worked on Russia policy for both the Clinton and Bush administrations, and has a long career of specialization in the area.  She lays out the serial “resets” that the United States and Russia have pursued since the end of the Cold War.  All of these resets have, to some degree, been productive, but all have eventually collapsed under the weight on misperception and momentum. In particular, she suggests that Americans have consistently failed to appreciate the importance of core Russian security interests to Russian diplomatic behavior, just as Russians have failed to appreciate the multifaceted nature of American diplomacy. The Americans fail to understand what the Russians find important, while the Russians consistently overestimate their own importance to Washington.

Stent argues that partisan politics have played a relatively minor role in the United States with respect to Russia policy.  While the opposition party has often maintained a highly critical stance, in practice the policy undertaken by the four administrations has fallen into a very similar set of ruts, with essentially the same high and low points. She points out, for example, that the Bush administration had very high hopes for relations with Russia, believing that Putin could and would prove a useful partner and ally in the wake of September 11.

Stent also contends that US presidents have consistently over-personalized their interactions with their Russian counterparts.  Bill Clinton developed a strong relationship with Boris Yeltsin, a relationship that prevented him from fully appreciating Yeltsin’s faults, or the weak position that Yeltsin occupied at home.  George W. Bush famously believed that he could deal productively with Vladimir Putin based on the strength of their developing friendship.  Barack Obama tried developing a similar relationship with Dmitry Medvedev, although that one crashed and burned as Medvedev’s real position in the Russian policy hierarchy became clear. These personal relationship became counter-productive as the divergence of Russian and American interests pushed the countries into conflict over key issues.  Policymakers on both sides came to view setbacks not merely through the lens of international behavior, but also as personal affronts.

Stent doesn’t fault the foreign policy decision-making of either the United States or Russia for the friction.  Rather, she explains how each country decided to treat the relationship, based on its own set of logics (logics that were often opaque to the other side).  This is a remarkably even-handed account, in the best kind of way; it explains how each side has understood the serial breakdowns, and explains how the misperceptions on either side have allowed them to happen.

And the biggest obstacle to US-Russia comity has, since the end of the Cold War, been the security of Russia’s near abroad. Policymakers in the Kremlin believe that the United States should recognize its right to unilaterally intervene in Russia’s neighbors through economic and military means, and its right to ensure that governments friendly to Russia come to power, and stay in power.  Russia’s concern about its near abroad stems not simply from fear of NATO invasion, but also from fear of revolutionary “contagion” that might destabilize or overturn the Russian government along the same lines as the colored revolutions. This has led to a great deal of confusion on the American part. Bush never fully understand the importance of missile defense to the Russians, in part because he conceived of missile defense in primarily domestic, rather than international, terms.  Similarly, while the Obama administration never had quite the rosy appraisal of Russia that characterized the early Bush years, it did overstate the potential gains from the reset, and was not well prepared for managing relations when conflict inevitably emerged.

The neocons, with their relentlessly grim appraisal of the prospect of US-Russian cooperation, occupy an interesting position. It’s not quite correct to say that Cheney was “right” about Russia, but he (and those close to him) did recognize the basic incompatibility of the Bush and Putin views of international affairs.  This made them much more realistic about the prospects for long-term collaboration, although it should also be noted that the Cheney-ites were willing to leave money on the table with respect to short-term, transactional agreements with Moscow.  It’s only right to say that Russia is a “geopolitical foe” of the United States is we accept as given certain US interests in playing a role in Russia’s near abroad.  On a whole host of issues, Russia and the United States can collaborate productively in ways that the neoconservative approach forecloses.

With this is mind, it’s difficult not to sympathize with the Russian government, and even Vladimir Putin.  From his point of view, the United States consistently violated the unspoken agreements it had come to with Russia regarding the management of Russia’s near abroad, even as Moscow took costly steps to demonstrate its support of Washington. Putin, in other words, has ample reason to believe that his, and Russia’s, grievances are legitimate. The Russian foreign policy establishment believes that it has been betrayed, and the assessment isn’t absurd, given the way that Washington has struggle with developing and communicating its own approach to the post-Soviet space.

Part of the problem is that Washington has, since the end of the Cold War, approached Russia policy on several mutually-contradictory tracks.  On one track, it has sought to accord Moscow with respect by listening to Russia’s voice on major matters.  On another, it has attempted to achieve recognizable gains on a series of issues of interest to both countries, such as non-proliferation and counter-terror. And on yet another, it has attempted to detach several states in the Soviet sphere from Moscow’s orbit, an activity to which Moscow reacts with anger and fury, and takes far more seriously than the other two tracks. In part because of the bureaucratic structure of American foreign policy, the parallel development of these policies aren’t always obvious. The United States government is not well-equipped to recognize and respect Russia’s sphere of influence, a problem exacerbated by domestic ethnic lobbies, as well as the periodically eager diplomatic entreaties of Russia’s neighbors.

The broader problem is that there’s no sustainable solution as long as Russia’s neighbors have independent governments.  Understandably, Russia’s neighbors are reluctant to accept quasi-permanent subjugation to Moscow’s interests.  They appreciate that NATO membership can insulate them from Moscow (there’s little question in my mind that the Baltics would suffer ceaseless economic and political interference if they remained outside the NATO umbrella).  At the same time, a strong Moscow never has an interest in allowing free or fair elections in its neighbors, because such elections might bring to power pro-Western governments that (even if they fail to join NATO) might try to escape Moscow’s orbit.

And so Russia’s neighbors have a) good reason to seek US support, and b) a compelling moral case that the United States should support them. It is difficult, in this context, for Washington to supply a blanket guarantee to Russia that it will not entertain such entreaties, and it’s become even more difficult for Russia to believe the bland assurances that the United States offers about respecting Russian security interests.  This is a fundamental, enduring conflict, and it’s not obvious that any sort of “grand bargain” can resolve it.

Stent is clear, however, that the United States and Russia have accomplished a great deal over the past two decades, despite these differences.  On non-proliferation (both bilateral and global multilateral), economic governance, terrorism, Iran, and a range of other issues, US-Russian collaboration has borne fruit.  Indeed, Stent points out that Putin has facilitated the central economic objectives of the United States with respect to Russia, which involve the security of US investments, the security of Russian energy production, and the full entry of Russia to the global system of economic governance.

For my part, I think it’s entirely sensible to recognize that Russia views its near abroad as a core security interest, and that Moscow will react poorly to what it perceives as US inroads into that area.  In many cases, a practical appreciation of this should forestall US action; the US was right not to intervene in the South Ossetia War, and has (by and large) pursued a reasonable course of action with respect to limiting its support for Ukrainian military activity.  The US shouldn’t even consider fighting a war against Russia in order to save Donetsk and Luhansk, neither of which are worth the bones of a single Pennsylvanian grenadier.

This view is not, however, incompatible with an appreciation that Moscow seeks the political, economic, and social domination of its neighbors, and that given a free hand it will exercise this domination through a variety of violent, anti-democratic means.  “Recognizing Russian security interests” means not recognizing the right Russia’s neighbors to chart their own path.  At certain times, it may be possible to “peel off” certain of Russia’s neighbors and grant them (through NATO) what amounts to immunity from Russian interference.  Another way of phrasing is that Russia’s security interest are real, and should have an impact on the practical application of foreign policy, but they’re also morally and ethically abhorrent, and the United States has no particular responsibility to respect them beyond what the practical demands.

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Today’s Drug Warrior Nonsense

[ 58 ] August 17, 2014 |

I’m generally a fan of Tyler Kepner, but yikes this is a really bad argument:

Alas, Steinbrenner acknowledged that Rodriguez would be back next season. No surprise there: Teams tend not to cut players to whom they owe $61 million for the next three years.

“I know my brother-in-law ran into him in the city, says he looks good, he’s fit,” Steinbrenner said. “You know Alex is a hard worker; Alex will be ready. We just have to go from there, see how he does and how he responds to playing every day in spring training.”

Rodriguez is a hard worker? Oh, please. His repeated reliance on performance-enhancing drugs shatters that myth. But this is the kind of nonsense we will hear, again and again, when Rodriguez takes over this team’s air space next spring.

This comes after a defense of the completely indefensible penalty given to A-Rod, natch. Being “insufferable” is apparently suffucient cause for imposing a punishment of more than three times what the collective bargaining agreement properly calls for.

Anyway, if you hate the use of PEDs in sports that’s your privilege, but the idea that because ARod took PEDs he’s therefore not a hard worker is absolutely absurd. Nobody becomes a 4.0 WAR player at age 35 by sitting on the couch eating Ho-Hos. This fallacy, though, I think is why so many sportswriters are completely freaked out by steroids in ways they aren’t freaked out by other forms of cheating (or, in the case of baseball players who used PEDs before the testing and punishment regime was collectively bargained, “cheating.”) They seem to believe that you can just take a pill or a shot and are magically transformed into a far better athlete. But that’s not how it works, at all. Indeed, perhaps the most important reason PEDs enhance performance is that they allow athletes to heal more quickly and hence train harder. They might enhance bang for the workout buck as well, but at the top level they’re not going to do anything for you if you’re not working extremely hard. The idea that one of the greatest athletes to play any American professional sport is a lazy bum because he took PEDs is silly and insulting.

If Kepner thinks that PED users are lazy, I would invite him to try to ride three legs of the Tour de France in successive days and then phone up Lance Armstrong and tell him he’s not a hard worker.

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Academic Freedom For Me…

[ 104 ] August 16, 2014 |

You will be unsurprised that Glenn Reynolds has no problem with academics being fired for the political content of their Twitter feeds:

A FACULTY CANDIDATE WHO TALKED ABOUT BLACK PEOPLE THIS WAY WOULD BE UNEMPLOYABLE ANYWHERE. SAY IT ABOUT JEWS, THOUGH, AND IT’S CONTROVERSIAL. “Yet ad hominem attacks are also a BDS strategy that serves to silence opponents. Many faculty who believe the university made the right decision about Salaita are now unwilling to say so publicly.” BDS people have made clear by their actions that they are nasty antisemites who deserve no respect.

First of all, let us once again dispense with the silly idea that Salaitia was a mere “candidate,” despite having agreed to an offer and been scheduled to teach classes.  By this logic, he could have been teaching for a month and not been hired.  The trustee approval is pro forma; he was treated by the university as an employee, which he was.  The idea that he wasn’t fired is such vacuous formalism it would embarrass proponents of the Hilbig litigation.  He was fired.

So let’s consider another hypothetical.  What if someone said “something like that” about, say, Palestinians?  I happen to have a test case handy:

Note here that Reynolds isn’t talking about Hamas, or Palestinian terrorists; he’s talking about Palestinans as a group. The evidence alleging anti-Semitism in Salaita’s tweets is far more ambiguous. (Indeed, I don’t think they constitute evidence that Salaita is anti-Semitic at all, although some of the tweets are hateful and indefensible even if they are not anti-Semitic.) It is being asserted that Salaita retweeting a tweet saying that a reporter’s story — not the reporter, the story — should have ended at the “point of a shiv” is a firable offense. Reynolds has called for the literal, not metaphorical, murder of Iranian nuclear scientists.

My position at the time of the latter incident is that Reynolds could not be fired for his statements based on the principles of academic freedom, and that applies to his new disgusting tweets as well. Reynolds himself, however, is happy to benefit from these protections but does not want them extended to people he disagrees with, which is a disgrace.

…in comments, IB refers us to this excellent post from Michael Dorf:

Some​ supporters of the university’s decision point to the often-important distinction between firing and not hiring. Academic freedom, they point out, is mostly a matter of contract law, and because Salaita had not yet been formally hired by the University of Illinois, he was not entitled to the same protection as someone who was already a member of the faculty.

But that view appears to be false as a matter of contract law. Like many other states, Illinois law offers protection to people who, in reasonable reliance on an offer that falls short of a fully enforceable contract, take actions to their detriment. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed this principle of “promissory estoppel” as recently as 2009, in the case of Newton Tractor Sales v. Kubota Tractor Corp.

Salaita has an almost-classic case of promissory estoppel. He was told by Illinois that trustee approval was essentially a rubber stamp, and in reliance on that representation he resigned from his prior position on the faculty of Virginia Tech.

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