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David Frum wants to know why a gift to the Clinton Foundation isn’t a bribe to the current Secretary of State

[ 144 ] February 19, 2015 |

Ah the charms of Twitter-level analysis:

In what way were gifts to Clinton Foundation not a gigantic bribe to a serving Secretary of State & highly likely future president?

. . . oh wait, this has already been topped in this 24-hour cycle’s race for most ridiculous statement by a Prominent Conservative:

Rudy Giuliani went straight for the jugular Wednesday night during a private group dinner here featuring Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker by openly questioning whether President Barack Obama “loves America.”

The former New York mayor, speaking in front of the 2016 Republican presidential contender and about 60 right-leaning business executives and conservative media types, directly challenged Obama’s patriotism, discussing what he called weak foreign policy decisions and questionable public remarks when confronting terrorists.

“I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America,” Giuliani said during the dinner at the 21 Club, a former Prohibition-era speakeasy in midtown Manhattan. “He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.”

With Walker sitting just a few seats away, Giuliani continued by saying that “with all our flaws we’re the most exceptional country in the world. I’m looking for a presidential candidate who can express that, do that and carry it out.”

The day is young.

Game of Thrones podcast: Season 1, Episode 10 — “Fire and Blood”

[ 2 ] February 19, 2015 |

Two podcasts in two days? Aren’t you lucky?

Here are the links Steven discusses in this podcast:

  • Bran VII (Bran’s dream and the Kings of Winter)
  • Sansa VI (the final deconstruction, Joffrey the childish psychopath, what if she pushed him)
  • Catelyn XI (the King in the North)
  • Tyrion IX (the Lannister position after the Battle of the Camps, Tyrion made acting Hand)
  • Dany IX (the case against Mirri Maz Dur, waking the dragon, the prophecy)
  • Jon IX (Jon’s choice, Mormont’s critique of fantasy)
  • Dany X (the music of dragons)


[ 26 ] February 19, 2015 |

As I have urged for some time, President Obama will be naming the Pullman site a national monument today. This is a great thing for those who are interested in remembering both American labor history and African-American history. There is such great potential for this site. It is home of the classic 1894 Pullman strike as well as the amazing union the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters which, led by A. Philip Randolph, became one of the most important civil rights and labor rights organizations in the United States during the 1930s and 1940s.

Obama will also be declaring a Japanese internment camp site in Hawaii and a beautiful canyon in Colorado national monuments as well. Very glad for both of these as well, although the Japanese-American experience is in fact more than just concentration camp sites, of which multiple already have federally protected status.

Please Drive Carefully

[ 16 ] February 18, 2015 |


Rita Hayworth gives up her car bumpers to support the war effort in World War II.

Think Local!

[ 14 ] February 18, 2015 |

Why won’t Obama just let local cops do their job, especially when they seem to understand their job as the enforcement of a nasty system of racial inequality?

The Justice Department is preparing to bring a lawsuit against the Ferguson, Missouri, police department over a pattern of racially discriminatory tactics used by officers, if the police department does not agree to make changes on its own, sources tell CNN.

Attorney General Eric Holder said this week he expects to announce the results of the department’s investigation of the shooting death of Michael Brown and a broader probe of the Ferguson Police Department before he leaves office in the coming weeks.

So This is How Far We’ve Fallen

[ 55 ] February 18, 2015 |

Classes at the University of Kentucky have now been cancelled four out of five days this week.

It’s the first time in over a decade that classes have been cancelled two days in a row. Frankly, there’s no way that President Mitt Romney would have allowed this on his watch.

What the Trans-Pacific Partnership Is Really About

[ 6 ] February 18, 2015 |

Robert Reich understands that the Trans-Pacific Partnership really isn’t about trade, which is already very free and open. It’s about corporate control over the world:

Recent trade agreements have been wins for big corporations and Wall Street, along with their executives and major shareholders. They get better access to foreign markets and billions of consumers.

They also get better protection for their intellectual property — patents, trademarks, and copyrights. And for their overseas factories, equipment, and financial assets.

But those deals haven’t been wins for most Americans.

The fact is, trade agreements are no longer really about trade. Worldwide tariffs are already low. Big American corporations no longer make many products in the United States for export abroad.

The biggest things big American corporations sell overseas are ideas, designs, franchises, brands, engineering solutions, instructions, and software.

And thus the TPP really is about intellectual copyright, patents, and trademarks. It’s also about ensuring the global race to the bottom and increasing the profits for the 1 percent at the expense of the rest of world. It’s unfortunate that President Obama actually believes this is a good thing. Hopefully, enough Republicans just don’t want to give Obama any victory at all that this doesn’t pass Congress. Corporations don’t need more power over our lives.

Israel Is Not Only Acted Upon. It Acts Upon Others

[ 94 ] February 18, 2015 |

Peter Beinart’s article bemoaning what has become of Elie Wiesel and his blind defense of right-wing Israeli policy toward the Middle East is right on the money.

But the deeper problem with Wiesel’s letter is the one Hertzberg identified three decades ago: Wiesel is acutely, and understandably, sensitive to the harm Jews suffer. Yet he is largely blind to the harm Jews cause. In his open letter, Wiesel notes that the Iranian threat is particularly vivid now because Jews will soon celebrate Purim, when they read about “a wicked man in Persia named Haman” who tried to “annihilate, murder and destroy the Jews.” But on Purim Jews also read about what happens after Haman’s fall from power, when Persia’s Jews “with the stroke of the sword, and slaughter, and destruction… slew of their foes seventy and five thousand.”

If the Book of Esther offers a haunting warning of the violence Jews can suffer, why does it not also warn us of the violence Jews can inflict? And if Wiesel is so alarmed by threats of nuclear annihilation, why does he keep embracing his former patron Sheldon Adelson, who in 2013 urged the United States to drop an “atomic weapon” in the Iranian desert, and then, if the Iranians don’t halt their nuclear program, drop one “in the middle of Tehran” so the Iranians are “wiped out.”

This tendency to whitewash Jewish behavior is a feature of Wiesel’s previous statements on Israel too. In 2010, when the Obama and Netanyahu governments tussled over settlement growth in East Jerusalem, Wiesel wrote a public letter celebrating Jewish control over Jerusalem because “for the first time in history, Jews, Christians and Muslims all may freely worship at their shrines. And, contrary to certain media reports, Jews, Christians and Muslims ARE allowed to build their homes anywhere in the city.”

Wiesel’s motivations for believing the best about Jewish control of the holy city may have been commendable. But his claims were blatantly untrue. In a detailed rebuttal, Daniel Seidemann, a lawyer specializing in Jerusalem land claims, noted that one-third of East Jerusalem and almost all of West Jerusalem is “state land,” available for residence only to Israeli citizens and Diaspora Jews eligible to become Israeli citizens. And since the “Palestinians of East Jerusalem, with rare exception, are in neither of these categories…Wiesel may purchase a home anywhere in East or West Jerusalem, [but] a Palestinian cannot.” Seidemann also dismantled Wiesel’s claims about religious access, noting that, “due to Israeli restrictions, today it is easier for a Palestinian Christian living just south of Jerusalem in Bethlehem to worship in Washington’s National Cathedral than to pray in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Today a Muslim living in Turkey has a better chance of getting to Jerusalem to pray at the Old City’s Al-Aqsa mosque than a Muslim living a few miles away in Ramallah.”

Again and again, Wiesel takes refuge in the Israel of his imagination, using it to block out the painful reckoning that might come from scrutinizing Israel as it actually is. “I can’t believe that Israeli soldiers murdered people or shot children. It just can’t be,” Wiesel said in 2010. But these are not questions of faith. Israel is a decent country composed of decent young men and women who, in the West Bank, are obliged to police people who lack basic rights. And in such circumstances, decent people do indecent things. “We are making the lives of millions unbearable,” declares one former Shin Bet head, Carmi Gillon, in the film “The Gatekeepers.” In the West Bank, Israel has become “a brutal occupation force,” notes another, Avraham Shalom. A third, Yuval Diskin, calls the occupation a “colonial regime.” These men don’t hate Israel; they have dedicated their lives to protecting it. But unlike Wiesel, they are discussing the real Israel, not the one they have constructed in their minds.

Really, it’s just sad to see a once heroic and great person fall into such reflexive defense of injustice.

Oh. Goody.

[ 98 ] February 18, 2015 |

If you liked George W. Bush’s foreign policy, you’ll probably love Jeb’s.

And this stuff matters. Reading this thread, I remain amazed by all the people who still think that Bush II’s decision to invade Iraq is a puzzle that requires some triple-bank-shot explanation. Political gains and securing an oil supply and financial self-interest may have had a marginal effect in some cases, but really the simplest explanation is by far the most plausible: we invaded Iraq because the persons most responsible for foreign policy in the Bush administration had long favored much more use of military force in general and the invasion of Iraq in particular. Getting most of the same gang back together is a really horrible idea.

The Law of Unintended Environmental Consequences, Part Gazillion

[ 7 ] February 18, 2015 |

Who could have guessed the promoting invasive species would have negative impacts?

It startled her. She jumped, let out a yelp, and took off down a hall. Wilde wasn’t running for her life; she was amazed by a discovery. She had uncovered a bacteria, one with a powerful toxin that attacked waterfowl, hiding on the underside of an aquatic leaf that grows nearly everywhere in the United States, including the Chesapeake Bay.

After 20 years of testing determined that the bacteria had never before been recorded, and the brain lesions it cause had never before been found before that night in 1994, Wilde recently gave her discovery a name: Aetokthonos hydrillicola. The Greek word means “eagle killer” for its ability to quickly kill the birds of prey. It’s the latest threat to a raptor that is starting to flourish after being removed from the endangered species list.

Across the South, near reservoirs full of invasive plants from Asia called hydrilla, eagles have been stricken by this bacteria, which goes straight to their brains. Eagles prey on American coots, which dine almost exclusively on hydrilla.

Before now, reservoirs that serve up a buffet of this plant were considered beneficial because they helped fuel the annual migration of coots from Canada to Florida and beyond, while also feeding eagles. But now the reservoirs are “death traps,” said Wilde, an assistant professor at the University of Georgia whose study of the topic was recently published in the journal Phytotaxa. In Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina, coots, shorebirds, ducks and eagles are dying by the dozens from the incurable lesions.

“We’re attracting them to places where they’re going to die, and that’s not a good thing,” Wilde said.

I’m sure Republicans will be quite favorably to relisting the bald eagle under the Endangered Species Act so I feel great that this will turn out well.

Culture Wars and Studying History (I)

[ 96 ] February 18, 2015 |

Oklahoma is moving to reject Advanced Placement U.S. History curriculum because it doesn’t believe the new standards say that America is awesome enough:

State Rep. Dan Fisher (R) introduced a bill at the beginning of the month that keeps the state from funding AP U.S. History unless the College Board changes the curriculum. The bill also orders the state Department of Education to establish a U.S. History program that would replace the AP course.

Since the College Board released a new course framework for U.S. history in October 2012, conservative backlash against the course has grown significantly. The Republican National Committee condemned the course and its “consistently negative view of American history” in August. Numerous states and school districts have now taken action to denounce the exam.

Fisher said Monday that the AP U.S. History course emphasizes “what is bad about America” and complained that the framework eliminated the concept of “American exceptionalism,” according to the Tulsa World.

The House Common Education Committee voted for the bill 11-4, with all Republicans voting for the legislation and all Democrats voting against it.

During the hearing on the bill, state lawmakers also questioned the legality of all AP courses, comparing them to Common Core, which Oklahoma has repealed. According to the Tulsa World, lawmakers were concerned that College Board courses could be seen as an effort to create a national curriculum.

Given that conservatives (or for that matter most university administrations) see the study of history as basically irrelevant for education in the 21st century, the real point of it (for conservatives at least) is as a cudgel in the culture wars that have centered history education over and over again in recent years. Thus emphasizing Native Americans or Japanese internment or labor unions takes away from the need to learn about the awesomeness of Ronald Reagan, how Joe McCarthy was right, and how Martin Luther King would have opposed affirmative action because he had a dream.

Part II of this short series on Culture Wars and Studying History will come later tonight if I can get some work done. It concerns a bizarre essay by a very famous U.S. historian.

Don LeDuc, superstar

[ 34 ] February 18, 2015 |

Wolfcastle: The film is just me in front of a brick wall for an hour and a half. It cost $80 million.
Jay Sherman: How do you sleep at night?
Wolfcastle: On top of a pile of money, with many beautiful ladies.

If law school scamming were a slam dunk competition, this would be Western Michigan Thomas Cooley Law Dean Don LeDuc’s entry in the competition:

LeDuc, who got paid $1.9 million by the school between 2011 and 2013, and who did such a superb job handling the institution during this time that it only had to fire 59% of its full-time faculty last August, has launched an intellectual assault on the pernicious and deeply unscientific notion that LSAT scores could be used as predictors of future bar passage rates:

Is the use of an LSAT score for any purpose other than law school admissions proper?

Unequivocally, no. The LSAC’s cautionary policies say “[t]he LSAT was designed to serve admissions functions only. It has not been validated for any other purpose.” How much clearer can it be?

Jimmy: Dean LeDuc, I have a crazy friend who says that low LSAT scores correlate with low bar passage rates. Is he crazy?

Dean LeDuc: No Jimmy, just ignorant!

Those asserting that an individual will be unable or unlikely to pass a bar examination because that person’s LSAT score is below a certain level should be held to account. The LSAC has declared that the LSAT has not been validated as a predictor of future bar results. Anyone claiming that there is a relationship between an LSAT score and bar passage should be called to account and required to provide supporting evidence. And the burden should be on the person making the assertion, since the LSAC cautionary policy has already established that the LSAT has not been validated for that purpose.

Hey kids, let’s do a Scientific Study of this extremely complex issue.

First, let us select two law schools at random. Let us compare the bar passage performance of the graduates of the nation’s second-ranked law school with that of graduates of the tenth-best school in the land:

Because the scientific method requires controlling for confounding variables, such as the relative difficulty of the bar examination in different states, we will use bar passage rates of graduates in the two states (New York and California) in which a statistically significant number of graduates of the two schools took the bar between 2011 and 2013:

Yale: 427 takers, 403 passed (94.3793911007258%)

Thomas Cooley: 330 takers, 138 passed (41.818181818181%)

Do these rates correlate with the LSAT scores of the graduates? This is a more difficult question to answer, as we must use the 25th, 50th and 75th percentile LSAT scores of matriculants at the two schools as a proxy for the LSAT scores of the individual bar examinees, which are unknown.

Cooley matriculants in the classes of 2008-10 had LSAT scores of 144, 146, and 150 at the cut points. These scores represent the 23rd, the 30th, and the 44th percentile of test takers respectively.

Yale matriculants in those classes had LSAT scores of 170, 173, and 176, representing the 98th, 99th, and 99.6th percentiles.

While it is true these numbers are suggestive of some sort of correlation between LSAT scores and bar passage rates, the Scientific Method requires considering alternative hypotheses.

For instance, we know nothing about the LSAT scores of matriculants above the 75th and below the 25th percentiles at the two schools. It is statistically possible that the Cooley graduates who took the New York and California bar examinations had LSAT scores that were higher than the Yale graduates who sat for those bars (the Cooley graduates who took those examinations represent less than 25% of the school’s graduates in those years).

It is also possible that Yale Law School is nothing but a straightforward three-year bar review course, while Cooley students fill up their time taking seminars on what the text of the 1964 Civil Rights Act would have looked like if it had been drafted by Schopenhauer and Jay-Z, after they had spent three weeks in a Mexico City hotel room drinking some cheap crap called choco and reading Finnegans Wake while listening to the White Album, which is to say that the pedagogic methods employed at the two schools could well explain all of the difference in bar passage rates, because as everyone should have learned in Statistics 101, correlation is not causation.

Teach the controversy!

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