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Clowns to Left of Me, Jokers to the Right

[ 39 ] August 21, 2015 |


Corbyn_935826c

The current leadership contest for the Labour Party is demonstrating two of its purported weaknesses: narcissism and disorganisation. A lot of this was unavoidable. The bulk of the current party as is came of political age post-1994, so the entrenched power structure, down to local councillors, have a certain set of ideological, strategic, and tactical expectations, and a common accepted narrative. Anybody who teaches Thomas Kuhn would immediately recognise the relevance of this quote:

Normal science, the activity in which most scientists inevitably spend most all their time, is predicated on the assumption that the scientific community knows what the world is like. Normal science often suppresses fundamental novelties because they are necessarily subversive of its basic commitments. As a puzzle-solving activity, normal science does not aim at novelties of fact or theory and, when successful, finds none.

In search of a Kuhnian paradigm shift is the unexpected surge of support for Jeremy Corbyn. This, too, comes with a common narrative of sorts (if less unified or tidy): one of distrust for the “normal” politicians, established party structures, and a messianic, near cultish belief in their saviour, quite similar to Erik’s take on the support of Bernie Sanders: “Good take on the problem with Bernie Sanders: the cult of personality his fans are erecting around him that make any criticism an attack on their hero.

The results of this clash are distasteful and unhelpful. A large segment of the status quo patronise Corbyn and his support as childish, amateur, and lacking in a basic understanding of electoral politics, perhaps best illustrated by Paul Blanchard’s shrill article:

The people who are joining right now are not living in the real world – or in many cases they’re just too young to understand how the real world will inevitably impact their future. They are desperate to indulge their fantasies of a utopian socialist state; and many really do believe that it’s actually possible to create it in the 21st Century. Jeremy Corbyn resonates with people who don’t want to govern. They just want to protest . . . So where do Labour people like me go from here? If Corbyn becomes the leader then I’ll have to think about resigning my membership.

Likewise, many insurgents respond by branding any who disagrees a Tory and nurture a deep, distrust of any extant party structures, including the local party. They proudly display their ballots as ranking only one candidate, because not one of the other three can possibly conform to their precise ideological purity. Under the alternative vote electoral system, we are allowed to rank order our candidates on the ballot below (which is not mine), and it seems short sighted to me to not utilise the electoral system to its fullest:

labballot

Ultimately, this clash is understandable, combining ideology with the possibility of a Kunhian paradigm shift. However, some of the damage being caused was clearly avoidable. Last Friday, I discussed how Labour has created a problem in the way it has defined the eligible electorate for the 2015 leadership contest. One must be a full member for a year before being allowed a vote in candidate selection for parliament or council in one’s own Constituency Labour Party. Yet, in the first truly democratic election of party leader, all one needs to do is spend three quid as a registered “supporter” of the party before the deadline of 12 August, with voting to commence three days later. My main concern in the post last week concerned how a poorly conceived system could create the appearance of illegitimacy in the outcome, especially if the winner is Jeremy Corbyn perceived to be riding a surge of support on the backs of Three Quid Tories. However, Labour’s attempt to filter or, face it, purge these rolls has created a public relations problem, and is viewed by many Corbyn supports as an explicit attempt to limit their electoral effectiveness. Indeed, it might even have created a legal problem.

Ultimately, the Labour Party is right to prevent those who openly campaigned against it in the previous election, or stood as candidates against Labour, from voting in the leadership contest. However, there is a profound lack of clarity and transparency in the process, and it’s being conducted on an ad-hoc basis on a shoestring which allows for considerable error, and error that will be publicised. Creating a truly democratic election for party leader has some merit, yes, but this should have been limited to full party members, not just anybody with £3. In choosing the latter, the party should have a) chatted with some political scientists about the ideological shape of the electorate in primary elections, and b) created clear, transparent rules for who can, and who can not, vote. It apparently didn’t effectively do the former, and clearly not the latter, so finds itself stunned that Corbyn is leading in most polls, and that a minor public relations disaster is in the making.

Regardless who wins the election, I’ll happily remain a member of the Labour Party (yes, even if Liz Kendall wins), for all its faults, and put in the same amount of work campaigning for Labour at the upcoming local elections in May as I have done the previous two years.

After all, I am pretty sure that they’re still going to let me vote in this thing.

Winnowing in 2016

[ 66 ] August 21, 2015 |

trumpnewbox

Interesting point by Bernstein:

The first test for the announced candidates has arrived. Perry’s campaign, we learned Monday night, is broke and has stopped paying staffers. As of now, however, the team is pledging to carry on, in part because Perry’s super-PAC still has plenty of money. Politico also suggests that Rand Paul and Rick Santorum are hanging on partly because of super-PACs.

If the normal winnowing doesn’t happen in this cycle, that’s a big deal. It could undercut the party’s influence over who gets the nomination. Typically, only candidates with significant support and little strong opposition among party actors have a realistic chance of winning. Party influence depends on stable, predictable rules and practices, and if this has changed — if, for example, most of the 17 Republican candidates remain in the race well into the caucuses and primaries — then almost anything could happen.

I also agree that we should be careful before assuming that super-PACS will substantially alter the winnowing process in primaries. (In Perry’s case specifically, I’d be very surprised if he was still around for Iowa.) But at a minimum, the larger amounts of money sloshing around have to effect how the invisible primary plays out.

And, of course, Trump — independently financed, and with no real roots within the Republican Party — is sui generis. He can stay in and probably attract at least some support for as long as he wants. I still don’t think there’s any chance he can win the nomination, but his presence will still affect the process.

Wolves in California!

[ 129 ] August 20, 2015 |

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Cue the right wing freakout in California that the wolves are going to eat our children.*

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has photographic evidence of five gray wolf pups and two adults in Northern California.

After trail cameras recorded a lone canid in May and July, CDFW deployed additional cameras, one of which took multiple photos showing five pups, which appear to be a few months old and others showing individual adults. Because of the proximity to the original camera locations, it is likely the adult previously photographed in May and July is associated with the group of pups.

“This news is exciting for California,” said Charlton H. Bonham, CDFW Director. “We knew wolves would eventually return home to the state and it appears now is the time.”

Big wildlife news. A wolf a few years ago was the first to cross into western Oregon and then into northern California since they were extirpated. That wolf has now been joined by a female and a pack has established itself in southwestern Oregon. Now California joins the ranks of states that again has wolves.

*I was at a conference on wolves at New Mexico State University in around 2005 and a woman from a ranching family actually claimed this would happen and we’d be sorry for supporting wolves. And yes that image is real.

Ban Private Drones

[ 185 ] August 20, 2015 |

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Will it take a plane crash that kills 200 people to lead to a crackdown against privately owned drones? Or are drones the new gun, with their use “personal freedom” no matter what the cost?

At 8:51 a.m., a white drone startled the pilot of a JetBlue flight, appearing off its left wing moments before it landed at Los Angeles International Airport. Five hours later, a quadcopter whizzed underneath an Allegiant Air flight as it approached the same runway. Elsewhere in California, pilots of light aircraft reported narrowly dodging drones in San Jose and La Verne.

In Washington, a Cessna pilot reported a drone cruising at 1,500 feet in highly restricted airspace over the nation’s capital, forcing the U.S. military to scramble fighter jets as a precaution. In Louisville, a silver-and-white drone almost collided with a training aircraft. In Chicago, United Airlines Flight 970 reported seeing a drone pass by at an altitude of 3,500 feet.

All told, 12 episodes were recorded Sunday of small drones interfering with airplanes or coming too close to airports, including other incidents in New Mexico, Texas, Illinois, Florida and North Carolina, according to previously undisclosed reports filed with the Federal Aviation Administration.

Before last year, close encounters with rogue drones were unheard of. But as a result of a sales boom, small, largely unregulated remote-control aircraft are clogging U.S. airspace, snarling air traffic and giving the FAA fits.

That was Sunday. It’s only a matter of time, and not a very long amount of time, before these private drones lead to a real tragedy. They are too big of a public safety hazard for people to own as toys, hazards that will only become more extreme as the technology improves. And while you could say that they should just be banned from areas around airports, remember that aircraft flies a lot of places and these drones could take a down a fire fighting plane or a news helicopter easily.

And in case anyone wants to hear a scary story, when I flew back to Austin after defending my dissertation, my plane struck a flock of geese. It was just like the Hudson except no river to land in. We made an emergency landing in Albuquerque. A couple of birds killed an engine and put a hole in the wing. It doesn’t take much at those speeds to kill people.

College endowments and “affordability”

[ 39 ] August 20, 2015 |

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Following up on yesterday’s post regarding a proposal that rich universities such as Yale should be required to spend more of their endowments, in part to make college more affordable, it’s worth noting that going to Yale College costs its students essentially nothing.

Average debt at graduation for 2013 Yale grads: $2,081

Eastern Connecticut State on the other hand . . .

Average debt at graduation for 2013 ECSU grads: $22,040

Which school is more “affordable?” Well Yale’s cost of attendance for 2012-13 was $59,320, of which $42,300 was tuition. ECSU, by contrast, had a total COA of $23,395, of which $8,911 represented in-state tuition (it’s safe to assume the vast majority of the school’s students are paying the in-state rate).

How can this be? The answer is twofold: a whole lot of kids from really rich families go to Yale, and those that come from middle class backgrounds (in HYP land, “middle class” means a household income in the low six figures), or the (very) occasional kid who somehow manages to get in despite growing up in abject poverty, i.e., a family income of less than $60,000, pay either massively discounted tuition, or — in the case of our $60,000 Jude the Obscure — no tuition or room and board.

As to how exactly Yale affords the beneficence it bestows upon the lower orders, the following graph is instructive:

Endowments III

The problem with proposals to force colleges to use endowment funds to make higher ed more affordable is that the vast majority of institutions of higher education in the US have no endowment to speak of. Even the 95th percentile institutional endowment on the graph above (Connecticut College — it’s like rain on your wedding day) is a mere $278,000,000, i.e., barely more than one percent of the Smaug-like hoard that has piled up in New Haven over the years.

Over the past few decades, a handful of schools have acquired wealth uncountable — at this moment there are probably ten American universities with endowments of at least ten billion dollars — while a few dozen others have gotten enough money in their endowments to fund a significant percentage of their operations. But the 90% to 95% to 98% of schools outside the magic circle have gotten close to bupkis. This pattern is reminiscent of something else in the American economy, which in turn may bear some causal relation to these various developments.

Duggar and Cheater Shaming

[ 34 ] August 20, 2015 |

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I pretty much agree with everything about Amanda Marcotte’s discussion of the Ashley Madison hack and Josh Duggar. Like her, I felt really icky about the whole thing since, while it’s not easy to feel bad for people who cheat on their partners, why should this be public information? It should not. On the other hand, there’s Josh Duggar and for him, it’s totally different.

But cheating is about violating a deeply personal agreement between two people. If the person you’re with doesn’t care if you sleep with other people, it’s not cheating. It’s all about an agreement that you decide between yourselves, and like all such agreements, the only people who should care what you do are people who your behavior directly affects. It’s not the business of the world at large.

Unless you’re Josh Duggar, of course. Or anyone else who fights publicly to use government interference to mess with the private sexual choices of consenting adults. If you fight for the government to limit or ban gay people’s marriages or women’s reproductive choices, then your sex life is our business. If only there were a way to do a targeted search of Ashley Madison data for that, while leaving everyone else alone.

Margaret Sanger, Eugenics, and Abortion

[ 70 ] August 20, 2015 |

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Imani Gandy has a very useful run down of Margaret Sanger’s complicated racial, sexual, and medical politics, politics that the right are simplifying and lying about in order to attack Planned Parenthood as a scheme to eliminate black people through abortion. It’s long but allow me to just quote a couple of choice parts:

It is true that Sanger was a proponent of eugenics, and pro-choice advocates do themselves no favors by attempting to whitewash this fact and paint Sanger as some infallible feminist hero. Sanger was passionate about contraception—perhaps to a fault—and her fervor about promoting her birth control agenda led her to align herself with eugenicists, along with racists and an assortment of people of questionable character.

But it is simply untrue that Margaret Sanger wanted to exterminate the Black race. This is a flat-out lie. Yet it is one that is repeated ad nauseum, both by anti-choice activists and the politicians who support them, most recently Ben Carson.

In propagating this lie, anti-choicers infantilize Black women and strip them of their agency: They portray Margaret Sanger’s birth control agenda as something that was done to Black women, rather than something in which Black women and much of the Black community as a whole enthusiastically participated.

W. E. B. Du Bois, who was one of the first Black leaders to publicly support birth control and who worked closely with Sanger to advocate for it, even serving on the board of a clinic that Sanger opened up in Harlem, criticized the wider birth control movement because of its failure to address Black people’s needs as well.

It was this failure that gave birth to the sinister-sounding Negro Project.

Due to segregation policies in the South, the birth control clinics that opened in the 1930s were for white women only. Sanger wanted to change that. She sought to open clinics in the South staffed by Black doctors and nurses, and to educate Black women about contraception. In 1939, after she had been named honorary chairman of the board of Birth Control Federation of America (the precursor to Planned Parenthood), Sanger launched the Negro Project. The Federation’s Division of Negro Services, a national advisory council, which included prominent Black leaders like Du Bois, Mary McLeod Bethune, E. Franklin Frazier, Walter White, and Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, worked to manage the Negro Project.

The Negro Project had nothing to do with some nefarious plot to exterminate Black people or to “sterilize unknowing Black women,” as claimed by BlackGenocide.org—which is a widely read website seemingly dedicated to spreading false information about Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood. Rather, the Negro Project was a concerted effort by Sanger and Black community leaders to bring birth control to the South in a way that would assuage the deep-seated fears of Black birth control opponents like Marcus Garvey, who believed that the use of birth control in the Black community was tantamount to Black genocide.

….

Yes, she believed that the “reckless breeding” of the “feebleminded” was “the greatest biological menace to the future of civilization.” Yes, she believed that Americans were “paying for and even submitting to the dictates of an ever-increasing, unceasingly spawning class of human beings who never should have been born at all.” Yes she believed that “morons” should be forcibly sterilized to ensure that they could not breed. She also believed that these “morons” could not be trusted to properly use birth control. Frankly, Sanger was far more ableist than she was racist.

But she was also a product of her time. The terms “moron,” “imbecile,” and “idiot” were all medical classifications back then. And eugenics—the theory that intelligence and other traits are genetically predetermined—was very popular at the turn of the century. The concern that “inferior stock” was reproducing at a faster rate than “superior stock,” was widespread. Inferior stock included anyone not viewed as a descendant of good breeding: Black people, immigrants, mentally and physically disabled people, the poor, criminals, and the “feebleminded.”

It may seem bizarre and Orwellian to us now, but that was the United States in which Sanger lived. And given the enthusiasm with which ordinary Americans embraced eugenics, it is no surprise that Sanger eventually joined up with them.

Sanger didn’t begin her campaign for birth control as a eugenicist, though. She started out as a relatively hardcore feminist. She believed that women had the right to sexual gratification and the right to choose when to become mothers.

“No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her own body. No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother.” Those are Sanger’s own words.

But feminists at the time disapproved of Sanger’s insistence on women’s rights to sexual gratification. They largely believed that Sanger’s views were unchaste and immoral, and that a woman’s place was in the home, serving her husband and being virtuous. (Not unlike many anti-choicers today who believe that if you are unwilling to deal with an unplanned pregnancy, or as they like to call it “the consequences of sex,” then you should just abstain—forever, if necessary.)

In other words, all of this is extraordinarily complicated. Yes, there were black eugenicists. Yes, eugenics was widespread throughout basically all of American elite society during the early 20th century. Yes, that meant that scientific racism was popular and was shared by Sanger. No, it does not mean that Sanger was looking to exterminate the black race. No, it does not mean that Planned Parenthood is racist today. Yes, it means that history is really complex. No, it does not mean that conservatives will have any interest in telling the truth about this complexity.

Front Page Rape Fantasies and the American Prison

[ 52 ] August 20, 2015 |

Fishkill Correctional Facility_0

Evidently, spokesman even Subway doesn’t deserve Jared Fogle is a very bad person who has committed crimes that merit substantial prison time. Nonetheless, using your newspaper’s front page to express your wishes that he gets raped in prison is depraved.

It’s this kind of cavalier attitude toward the physical security of prisoners that leads to abuses like this:

On the evening of April 21 in Building 21 at the Fishkill Correctional Facility, Samuel Harrell, an inmate with a history of erratic behavior linked to bipolar disorder, packed his bags and announced he was going home, though he still had several years left to serve on his drug sentence.

Not long after, he got into a confrontation with corrections officers, was thrown to the floor and was handcuffed. As many as 20 officers — including members of a group known around the prison as the Beat Up Squad — repeatedly kicked and punched Mr. Harrell, who is black, with some of them shouting racial slurs, according to more than a dozen inmate witnesses. “Like he was a trampoline, they were jumping on him,” said Edwin Pearson, an inmate who watched from a nearby bathroom.

Mr. Harrell was then thrown or dragged down a staircase, according to the inmates’ accounts. One inmate reported seeing him lying on the landing, “bent in an impossible position.”

“His eyes were open,” the inmate wrote, “but they weren’t looking at anything.”

Corrections officers called for an ambulance, but according to medical records, the officers mentioned nothing about a physical encounter. Rather, the records showed, they told the ambulance crew that Mr. Harrell probably had an overdose of K2, a synthetic marijuana.

He was taken to St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital and at 10:19 p.m. was pronounced dead.

No member of the Beat Up Squad has faced any sanction for this. Maybe the New York Post can make a witless joke about it.

This Day in Labor History: August 20, 1866

[ 8 ] August 20, 2015 |

On August 20, 1866, the National Labor Union, the first labor union federation in U.S. history, demanded Congress implement a national 8-hour day. It led to a partial and fleeting success, but the NLU story is an important moment in American labor history as it represents an early response to the onslaught of capitalism upon workers who suddenly found a class-based system developing in what was promised to be a white man’s democracy.

The trade union movement had roots early in American history but had never really taken off, in part because the system of American employment was still in the pre-Civil War years by and large artisan and farmer based. Where you did see large concentrations of industry, unions formed such as in the Lowell mills. But the nation was changing rapidly in 1866. The capitalist revolution of the Civil War was beginning to be felt by workers. Factories were growing and money was increasingly concentrated in the hands of the few. Long hours, low pay, and dangerous working conditions in factories, railroad yards, and mines were becoming part of the everyday experience for workers.

Unions began to develop in these industries, but there was no national federation to organize and guide them. That’s what the National Labor Union intended to do. Founded at a Baltimore conference in 1866, it was a precursor to the Knights of Labor and American Federation of Labor. It wanted to bring together all of the current unions in its umbrella and take a political and bargaining approach to solving problems, as opposed to striking which was quite controversial even among workers at this time. It favored arbitration as its preferred labor action. It also wanted a Labor Party to challenge both the Republicans and the Democrats.

The NLU’s leader William Sylvis was an interesting individual. In 1846, at the age of 18, Sylvis became an iron molder, which was someone who poured hot slag into wooden patterns to shape the final product. This was hard, tough, dangerous work. He soon became active in Philadelphia’s union movement and was elected secretary of his local in 1857. In 1859, Sylvis called for a convention of all the iron moulders locals around the nation. He was elected president of what became the National Union of Iron Molders. He spent the Civil War building the union where he instituted a number of innovations, including creating the first ever national strike fund, through mandatory dues payments by members. Sylvis was also a major supporter of unions of female workers, particularly Kate Mullaney’s Collar Laundry Union. Sylvis would later invite Mullaney into a leadership role within the NLU, making her the nation’s first female union executive.

Sylvis-William

William Sylvis

The NLU did invite all workers, including farmers into the organization. But as would be the case with the AFL, its core membership was the skilled building trades. Also like the rest of the labor movement of the time, the NLU held white supremacy as a central guiding point. It was segregated and while there was a black chapter, it was ineffective and small. Sylvis actually opposed this segregation; although he supported Stephen Douglas in the 1860 election, he believed that all workers had the same issues and would have preferred one integrated organization. It took years of fighting recalcitrant unionists to even allowed the Colored National Labor Union to exist alongside the NLU. The federation also called for the exclusion of Chinese workers from the United States, which would eventually be the first legislative victory for the American labor movement in history.

The major legislative aim for the NLU was the passage of the 8-hour day. As capitalism developed, the 8-hour day would become the ultimate goal for much of the American labor movement. It was the call to arms for the Knights of Labor in the 1880s, so much so that the Knights basically lost control of its exploding membership by 1886. Union after union would call for this over the next decades and it was not achieved nationally until the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, and even then only partially.

Amazingly the NLU actually achieved an early victory on the 8-hour day when in 1868, the government created the 8-hour day for federal employees. But this was a very limited win as most of the government agencies then reduced wages to go along with it, which was very much not what the NLU wanted. When President Grant ordered departments to stop reducing wages, most just ignored him and he did not press the issue. Ultimately, little concrete benefit came of the 8-hour day announcement.

Frustrations with the federal employee 8-hour day and loopholes in laws in New York and California that made similar statues unworkable combined with the growing concern in the post-Civil War period about monetary policy to turn the NLU in a starkly political direction. It focused its energy on electoral politics and monetary reform, specifically the issuance of greenbacks, as well as providing public land for settlers as opposed to the huge land grants given to railroads as an incentive to build transcontinental lines. This did not exactly excite workers. Many locals believed in “pure and simple unionism” that kept workers out of politics. Thus the NLU became increasingly divided as it prioritized politics over workers’ concerns. While Sylvis claimed the NLU had 600,000 members, he was exaggerating significantly. At its peak, it might have had 300,000. That number declined as the 1860s became the 1870s. Sylvis dying in 1869 at the age of 41 helped speed the decline as the federation lost its guiding light. The NLU dissolved in 1874 after its membership plummeted in the Panic of 1873.

So ultimately, we should see Sylvis and the NLU as an important ancestor of both the Knights of Labor and the AFL. The NLU was an early attempt for workers to collectively find ways out of the inequality arising during and after the Civil War and for all its limitations, was probably more successful than any other organization before the AFL.

This is the 155th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

Against Arctic Drilling

[ 23 ] August 20, 2015 |

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As Rebecca Leber observes, Clinton’s break from the Obama administration is good policy and good politics:

The environmental group 350 Action, among Clinton’s harshest critics on climate issues, offered rare praise Tuesday for Clinton’s leadership—while noting she still hasn’t taken a concrete position on the group’s top target, the Keystone XL pipeline.

“This is a hugely encouraging sign from Hillary Clinton, and it’s in no small part thanks to activists in Seattle, Portland, and around the country who’ve placed their bodies on the line to put Arctic drilling and the broader issue of climate change on the political map,” 350 Action spokesperson Karthik Ganapathy emailed the New Republic. “It’s not easy to stand up to Big Oil, nor to break with a sitting President from within your party—so Secretary Clinton deserves real credit for that.”

In some ways, a candidate’s position on Arctic drilling is more consequential than the Keystone XL pipeline. President Barack Obama’s final decision on the proposed pipeline is expected to come soon, whereas the next president will set the agenda for offshore drilling, including in the Arctic. According to federal estimates, the U.S. Arctic contains 30 billion barrels of undiscovered oil: the equivalent of running the Keystone XL pipeline at full capacity for 75 years, even if you count the added carbon emissions from tar sands oil, according to Natural Resources Defense Council Arctic Director Neil Lawrence. If Keystone is ever built, the State Department has put the pipeline’s lifespan at roughly 50 years.

An Integrated System of Abuse

[ 75 ] August 19, 2015 |
Pearl harbour.png

“Pearl Harbor” by USN – Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Great post from Jill Filipovic on Twitchy:

Twitchy may be one of the most powerful political platforms online, but its role as an organized harassment tool is almost never discussed. Founded in 2012 by conservative blogger Michelle Malkin, the site has half a dozen editors who troll Twitter for content to post; each post consists of a tweet or series of tweets along with some brief and often outraged commentary. Malkin sold Twitchy to Salem Media, a for-profit Christian company in 2013, but the religiosity of its new owners has not shifted its acidic content. (Malkin and several current Twitchy editors did not respond to multiple emails requesting comment, and Salem Media did not return emails and phone calls requesting comment)…

While Twitchy’s content is tweet aggregation, its purpose seems to be filling insatiable reader rage. Many of the tweets posted to Twitchy are put on there seemingly for the express purpose of demonstrating how stupid or evil Twitchy believes the tweeter to be (although the site occasionally posts tweets from allies, cheering them on for shutting down enemies). The Twitchy team embeds the tweets into the posts, making it easy for their users to click through and engage with the tweeter directly.

And “engage” they do.

Erik, of course, felt the brunt of Twitchy harassment back in the day. The existence, and clear purpose, of Twitchy is one of the reasons why I struggle to take seriously the hand-wringing of Decent Liberals about how the PC folks with the Black Lives Matter and the Humorless Feminism are going to ruin everything by creating a Backlash. Twitter has already been weaponized; while self-restraint is often a virtue, there’s nothing that liberals and leftists can do to un-weaponize it. There is no pending backlash that could be avoided by telling the feminists and minorities to be quiet, because the “backlash” isn’t a counter-attack; it’s a pre-emptive strike.

Charity begins at Yale

[ 90 ] August 19, 2015 |

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Vic Fleischer has a piece in the NYT arguing for a federal law that would require non-profit higher ed institutions to spend at least 8% of their endowments every year (the usual percentage spent is 4% to 4.5%, and it’s often based on several-year average of the endowment principal, so when endowments are going up rapidly, as they have been recently, the actual percentage spent of the current endowment total can be far lower).

This hoarding behavior is especially obnoxious, given where a lot of the money that is spent ends up going:

Who do you think received more cash from Yale’s endowment last year: Yale students, or the private equity fund managers hired to invest the university’s money?

It’s not even close.

Last year, Yale paid about $480 million to private equity fund managers as compensation — about $137 million in annual management fees, and another $343 million in performance fees, also known as carried interest — to manage about $8 billion, one-third of Yale’s endowment.

I am but a simple country faux-lawyer, largely untutored in the ways of high finance, but this seems like a truly fantastic ripoff of what one of its former presidents called the best finishing school on Long Island Sound. Yale paid six percent of that portion of its endowment managed by the Masters of the Universe to said Masters, for their priceless 480 million dollars-worth of wisdom?

How could whatever marginal investment value the wizards of hedge fundery provided over, say, a dart board, justify this kind of fee structure? The answer is . . . look over there, a new student center!

Kenneth C. Griffin, a hedge fund manager, gave Harvard $150 million in 2014. In May of this year, Stephen A. Schwarzman, the chairman and co-founder of the private equity giant Black-stone, pledged $150 million to Yale toward a new student center. John A. Paulson, another hedge fund manager, topped them both when he gave Harvard $400 million in June.

While nobody has suggested that quid pro quos were involved in these cases, these gifts high-light the symbiotic relationship between university endowments and the world of hedge funds and private equity funds.

“Symbiotic” is a polite word, but I can think of another biological metaphor which might more accurately capture the increasingly intimate relationship between elite universities and the .001%.

. . . Howard, in comments:

This kind of behavior at colleges, foundations, and other non-profits, is one of the great case examples of the interlocking nature of the one-percenters. There quite literally is no case at all to be made for the fees paid to hedge fund and private equity managers: after-fee returns can easily be shown to lag a simple s+p 500 index fund over any meaningful time increment.

And yet, institution after institution goes right ahead because no one questions it: everyone – the board, the administration, the money managers themselves – is complicit and paid off in one way or another, as Donald Trump is only too happy to remind us.

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