Puerto Rico leads the way!

The people of Puerto Rico have set up a guillotine in front of the governor’s mansion.

Excellent. Unfortunately, it’s only symbolic.

That would be a good message to send to the Republican in Washington DC, too.

Cry more, Cantwell

The neo-Nazi Chris Cantwell has been arrested again for making threats over state lines, which is rather interesting from a free speech point of view. They’re just words, right? First amendment! Free speech! Mere words can’t hurt people.

Then we see the words.

Cantwell allegedly pressured someone to give up what’s described in the indictment as “personal identifying information” about a man known by the “on-line pseudonym ‘VM.’”

“So if you don’t want me to come and f*ck your wife in front of your kids, then you should make yourself scarce,” Cantwell allegedly wrote in a June 16 message. “Give me Vic, it’s your only out.”

Last July, Cantwell allegedly used Telegram to threaten a lawyer suing him over his actions in Charlottesville, calling the woman anti-Semitic slurs and claiming that he and his followers “would have a lot of fucking fun with her.”

Well. That’s certainly repulsive, and marks Cantwell as a terrible and unpleasant person. We don’t arrest people for their personality.

However, it’s also an attempt to compel someone to do something against their will, or Cantwell will commit vile criminal acts. If I got a threat like that, I’d be asking the police to provide protection; I’d also have to spend money and time upgrading my home security.

It seems that words have power after all, and that “free speech” isn’t carte blanche to say whatever you want after all. Now if only the absolutists could figure that out.

More travel bans…WHY?

Our preznit has announced placing more travel bans on various countries. Why, I don’t know. What does this accomplish for us? I was just talking to an Ethiopian student who is concerned about our restrictive policies, and isn’t sure he can stay in the country. But we get the cream of the crop from other countries — people who enrich our culture, who contribute to our economy, who help build international ties…and Trump thinks this is bad?

In particular, he has announced new restrictions in travel from Nigeria, home of one of the largest, best educated, most prosperous populations on the continent. We have Nigerian students here, and they are an asset to our community. What possible reason could Trump have for punishing them?

Nigeria, the most high-profile country under consideration, has particularly come under focus from the White House. With Nigeria accounting for the third highest number of US visa overstays in 2018, the Trump administration has become tougher on Africa’s largest economy.

After indefinitely suspending its visa interview waiver for Nigerian applicants (the waiver allowed frequent travelers renew their visa without going through in-person interviews each time), the US also raised visa application fees for Nigerians by including additional “reciprocity fees” ranging from $80 to $303 depending on the class of visa. And even though the Nigerian government immediately slashed visa application fees for American applicants in a bid to get the US to reverse its price increase, the reciprocity fees remain in place. The clampdown measures have resulted in Nigeria recording the largest global drop-off in visitors to the US.

There is no reason. Our government is simply insane.

Watch the planet breathe

This is a dramatic video of arctic ice growing and shrinking.

It was presented at Davos, as if those rich assholes matter. We should spend less effort trying to persuade the wealthy to do the right thing, and more effort stripping the wealthy of their power. Let’s make the rich irrelevant!

Now I’m beginning to question my support for Elizabeth Warren

The New York Times editorial board has published their endorsement for the Democratic party nomination, and it’s two candidates, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar. This makes no sense. We don’t get to vote for two candidates, but only one, and the problem with the Democrats right now is that they have a too-crowded field. The only way to interpret this is that the NYT wants people to split their vote in a winner-takes-all system and disrupt the process even more, effectively handing the election over to Trump.

Also, it’s clear in the write-up that they really hate and fear Bernie Sanders. Their two choices are Amy Klobuchar, because she’s as moderate as they come, and Elizabeth Warren. They promote Warren because they see all the excitement and good ideas are coming from the left, not the center, and so they are acknowledging Warren is the lesser of two evils (from their perspective) in the battle with Sanders, but they don’t want her to get too cocky or too successful either, so they balance her with a spoiler, Amy Klobuchar.

It’s a cowardly, divisive endorsement from a conservative newspaper, calculated to create more confusion than clarity. It is also effective at making me question my choices, because Warren has been my #1 preference so far, but jeez, if she has the endorsement of such a chickenshit establishment paper that hates Sanders, maybe I should join my wife in voting for Bernie in the Minnesota primary.

A few words from Martin Luther King Jr.

We have moved from the era of civil rights to the era of human rights, an era where we are called upon to raise certain basic questions about the whole society. We have been in a reform movement… But after Selma and the voting rights bill, we moved into a new era, which must be the era of revolution. We must recognize that we can’t solve our problem now until there is a radical redistribution of economic and political power… this means a revolution of values and other things. We must see now that the evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism are all tied together… you can’t really get rid of one without getting rid of the others… the whole structure of American life must be changed. America is a hypocritical nation and [we] must put [our] own house in order.

Why Jonathan Chait always makes me twitch

I don’t read Chait enough to diagnose why I don’t care for him — his vaguely liberal views always make me too queasy to think hard enough about what he’s saying, which is a good warning sign. But Alex Pareene does read him carefully and gets specific about what’s annoying. It’s not just that he’s always complaining about “free speech” on campus and how colleges are starting to wise up to the conservative scam of booking controversial assholes, it’s that he always favors avoiding calling out the bad guys.

In the course of defending his piece on Twitter, he has effectively made it clear that he thinks it’s inappropriate to label any person or cause “white supremacist” unless the targets of the label have openly embraced it. He has suggested that a political tendency can’t be “white supremacist” without vocal anti-Semitism, which is silly in the American context—as Ali Gharib points out, Judah P. Benjamin, perhaps the most prominent Jewish politician in the country at that time, served in Confederate President Jefferson Davis’s cabinet. Chait has argued that Rep. Steve King, who has explicitly argued that “somebody else’s babies” pose a “demographic” threat to “our civilization,” is merely “edging closer” to white supremacy.

So I’m safe from criticism by Chait if I make Nazi salutes, advocate putting brown people into camps, sloganeer about white genocide, and quote The Bell Curve to say that some races are inferior, as long as I don’t say, “I’m a white supremacist”? Good to know. I wouldn’t want to get on Chait’s bad side.

Something that is well-known to people who’ve read Chait for years, but may not be apparent to those who just think of him as a standard-issue center-left pundit who is sort of clueless about race, is that he is engaged in a pretty specific political project: Ensuring that you and people like you don’t gain control of his party.

I say “you” because his conception of the left almost certainly includes you. He is not merely against Jill Stein voters and unreconstructed Trotskyites and Quaker pacifists. He means basically anyone to the left of Bill Clinton in 1996. If you support a less militaristic foreign policy, if you believe the Democratic Party should do more to dismantle structural racism and create a more equitable distribution of wealth, if you think Steve fucking King is a white supremacist, Chait is opposed to you nearly as staunchly as he is opposed to Paul Ryan.

I’m not one of those people who has read Chait for years, so it’s good to have that flaw pinned down in the dissecting tray for me. But is Pareene right? I want to see Chait’s own words. So he quotes him defending Joe Lieberman in 2006. Joe Lieberman! Jesus.

In the end, though, I can’t quite root for Lieberman to lose his primary. What’s holding me back is that the anti-Lieberman campaign has come to stand for much more than Lieberman’s sins. It’s a test of strength for the new breed of left-wing activists who are flexing their muscles within the party. These are exactly the sorts of fanatics who tore the party apart in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They think in simple slogans and refuse to tolerate any ideological dissent. Moreover, since their anti-Lieberman jihad is seen as stemming from his pro-war stance, the practical effect of toppling Lieberman would be to intimidate other hawkish Democrats and encourage more primary challengers against them.

This is Chaitism distilled: They may be right—about Joe Lieberman, about the Iraq War, about the racism of the conservative movement—but they are right for the wrong reasons, and we cannot let them gain a foothold.

Yeesh. At least now I can go back to not reading Jonathan Chait with a clear conscience.

Holy crap, MIT!

The Epstein fallout continues. MIT is thoroughly scolded by the Boston Globe editorial staff.

Heads have rolled; new rules have been promised. But what led MIT to accept the donations of sex criminal Jeffrey Epstein is about much more than bad apples or bad fundraising criteria: It’s a reflection of a culture that has strayed from basic values and that’s long overdue for a reckoning.

The report that MIT released Friday showed the Institute took $750,000 in donations from Epstein after he was convicted as a sex offender in Florida in 2008 (and $100,000 before that) as well as hosted the late financier on campus nine times between 2013 and 2017. The investigation of the donations, led by the law firm Goodwin Proctor at the behest of the MIT corporation, showed that in addition to two faculty members who solicited the post-conviction gifts — former MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito and mechanical engineering professor Seth Lloyd — three university vice-presidents, R. Gregory Morgan, Jeffrey Newton, and Israel Ruiz, were aware of Epstein’s donations, his reputation, and his 2008 conviction for soliciting a child for prostitution, and yet approved taking his money and keeping it a secret anyway.

We’ve already seen Joi Ito go down in flames — he knew exactly what he was doing, and he lied to cover up the money coming into his lab. I’d heard of Seth Lloyd, but had no idea until know what a corrupt SOB he was. Lloyd was an associate of Brockman’s Edge group, which is beginning to look like a red flag.

Mano has covered the Lloyd story well, and it’s written up in Nature.

It’s hard to comprehend how consciously devious he was.

He received $225,000 in research grants, and shockingly, a $60,000 personal gift from Epstein. This is unheard of, as far as I know. Grant awards do not come with big ol’ piles of money to the awardee; not once in my career have I profited from a grant in any way. That money is supposed to go through the institution, and be managed and regulated by that institution.

Then he kept the money secret.

“Professor Lloyd knew that donations from Epstein would be controversial and that MIT might reject them,” the report concluded. “We conclude that, in concert with Epstein, he purposefully decided not to alert the Institute to Epstein’s criminal record, choosing instead to allow mid-level administrators to process the donations without any formal discussion or diligence concerning Epstein.”

Wow. Unimaginable. The last big grant I received was administered by our grants office, I didn’t see a penny of it, and every purchase request was overseen by an administrator who would double-check whether it was allowed under the terms of the grant. Heck, even the little in-house grants I’ve received are policed strictly by administrators, which is right and proper. It is not the PI’s money!

Lloyd even tried to justify his actions to his classes!

In her op-ed, Graham said that Lloyd opened his initial class, by asking, “How many of you have heard of Jeffrey Epstein?” and then diving into an explanation of why he decided to visit Epstein in prison and accept funds from him after he had been convicted of having sex with minors. He told students he had consulted important women in his life, his mother and wife, before taking the funds. “There was no information that couldn’t have been sent in an optional email to the class. This was a power play, pure and simple,” Graham wrote of Lloyd’s lecture.

In other words, Lloyd knew that accepting the money was wrong, that the association with Epstein was unconscionable, so he had to make a guilty rationalization to his students. This is another alien experience to me — I’ve never felt the need to explain to a class that “I did X, and I know it looks really, really bad, and it got me entangled with criminals, but…”.

That Boston Globe editorial may not have gone far enough. It’s true that MIT has “a culture that has strayed from basic values”, but let’s not let the faculty off the hook. They hired a bunch of cowboys, turned ’em loose with little oversight, and are now shocked to learn that they were a bunch of sleazy rustlers.

I wonder if MIT will now start enforcing the rules, and how many of their big names with big egos will complain?

The least the president of MIT can do right now is resign. Lloyd should be fired.

Democracy dies in a pile of money

In a Washington Post op-ed, John Ellis opines on who he thinks ought to be the Democratic presidential nominee. This is John Ellis.

Worked at Fox Business Network and Fox News on business and financial news “content,” programming and strategy. Worked at Dow Jones on WSJ CEO Council News Items, a newsletter that went out to the WSJ’s CEO Council and to a wide network of “influencers” in government, media, finance, entertainment, etc. Worked on business projects for Rupert Murdoch from 2016 through 2018.

Do you think he might be giving good advice? Perhaps he might have the best interests of Democrats at heart?

A short summary of his opinion piece: Bernie Sanders is a “nightmare”, and he’s going to lose to Trump, as is everyone except for one shining knight: Michael Bloomberg. And why is Bloomberg so good?

He’s rich.

If Democrats nominate anyone besides Bloomberg, they will be outspent in the general election by 2 to 1 or even 3 to 1. If they nominate Bloomberg, he will outspend Trump at least 5 to 1 and dramatically improve the party’s chances of winning seats at every level of governance.

Holy hell. The presidency is for sale, and rather than electing a candidate who might fight for campaign finance reform, we’re supposed to bow to the wind and find the richest man we can to run the country, because he is so wealthy.

Fuck off, John Ellis. You’re going on my list of smug lackeys to oligarchs who need to be lined up against a wall.

Something’s rotten in North Carolina

Recently, the University of North Carolina paid a Confederate group to take possession of a Confederate monument, a deal that stank like a garbage dump. They paid $2.6 million to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a shady low-rent outfit of good ol’ boys who existed only to promote racism, which made it even stankier. Now the SCV has been further exposed — they’re a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization which is prohibited from meddling in politics, and guess what they’ve been doing? Meddling in politics, of course.

For years, the pro-Confederate group that the UNC System dealt $2.6 million has been violating federal tax laws, operating a political action committee in violation of its tax-exempt status and facilitating political donations through illegal means, according to numerous individual first-hand accounts, a slew of internal communications provided to The Daily Tar Heel and multiple expert legal opinions.

The North Carolina Division Sons of Confederate Veterans Inc. struck a pair of backdoor deals last November with UNC System Board of Governors members. A predetermined lawsuit and settlement gave the group Silent Sam and $2.5 million in UNC System money for the Confederate monument’s “preservation and benefit.” A week previous, the system paid $74,999 to the SCV for an agreement to limit its display of Confederate symbolism on UNC System property.

When I say low-rent, I mean it. SCV has $100 membership dues, and their process is rather irregular. The dues are paid to an individual who cashes the checks and doles out payments with little in the way of documentation.

“We tend to have the cigar box in the gun safe approach,” Starnes wrote. “So the checks are made out to the Captain, ie, Bill Starnes, so they can be cashed.”

They’ve got enough members that the organization’s income gets up into the range of tens of thousands of dollars, and UNC just plopped a couple of million dollars into Bill Starnes’ lap. This is nuts. It represents considerable fiduciary irresponsibility on the part of UNC — why are they paying all this money out to a fringe group with little financial oversight? — and suggests that there’s an even deeper layer of corruption in the UNC system that hasn’t been fully exposed yet.

I can’t even imagine my university dropping a few mil on some radical group to perform a dubious “service” for us. Heads would roll. Our students would rage at the wasteful use of their tuition dollars.