Well played!

Just Senator Warren letting the panicky fat cats create her campaign ads for free:

Have they ever been this afraid of Senator Shouty McWaggyfinger?








Another One Bites The Dust: Joi Ito, MIT, and Jeffrey Epstein

I haven’t said anything here about events at my home institution, MIT around the news that Joi Ito, the director of the ‘tute’s Media Lab had taken donations for the lab and cash for investments under his control from Jeffrey Epstein — after his conviction for various forms of the sexual predation of girls and very young women.

That’s for two reasons: for one, a sprint through the first week of the semester and a simultaneous dash through the second submission draft of a book manuscript (completed just this afternoon), and for the other a desire to pursue my concerns with MIT faculty officers and the administration before saying anything in public.

I haven’t done that yet, but Ronan Farrow’s devastating report for The New Yorker, published last night, has made the conversations I thought I might have moot, while opening up new questions to be pursued going forward.

Here’s a sample of Farrow’s reporting:

The financial entanglement revealed in the documents goes well beyond what has been described in public statements by M.I.T. and by Ito…

The documents and sources suggest that there was more to the story. They show that the lab was aware of Epstein’s history—in 2008, Epstein pleaded guilty to state charges of solicitation of prostitution and procurement of minors for prostitution—and of his disqualified status as a donor. They also show that Ito and other lab employees took numerous steps to keep Epstein’s name from being associated with the donations he made or solicited. On Ito’s calendar, which typically listed the full names of participants in meetings, Epstein was identified only by his initials. Epstein’s direct contributions to the lab were recorded as anonymous. In September, 2014, Ito wrote to Epstein soliciting a cash infusion to fund a certain researcher, asking, “Could you re-up/top-off with another $100K so we can extend his contract another year?” Epstein replied, “yes.” Forwarding the response to a member of his staff, Ito wrote, “Make sure this gets accounted for as anonymous.” Peter Cohen, the M.I.T. Media Lab’s Director of Development and Strategy at the time, reiterated, “Jeffrey money, needs to be anonymous. Thanks.”

In the wake of that story Ito has now resigned as director and professor of the practice at MIT. He has also quit the boards of the MacArthur Foundation and The New York Times, with, I’m sure, more to drop.

Much of Farrow’s reporting reveals a director and members of his staff gone rogue.  MIT’s central fund raising apparatus had already listed Epstein as a disqualified donor, meaning the Institute and its members weren’t supposed to seek or accept funds from him, and Ito and his team consciously worked to circumvent that restriction.

That’s good for MIT and its central leadership: it shows that the major donors people had already reached the right conclusion about reputation-washing for Epstein and had, they thought, shut it down. Still, though it looks like internal safeguards were in place, I’ve still got some questions.

For example:  how could a major center at MIT evade reporting on donors? What is the process for such reporting?  Was the policy subverted by Ito and the Media Lab? Was it ineffective, failing to ask the right questions? Was there any active failure on the part of the central administration office overseeing fund raising by the Media Lab (and other autonomous self-governing regions w/in MIT)?

Additionally, the fact that Ito raised funds both for the center he ran and his private business bugs me.  MIT has a pretty relaxed policy on outside professional activities by its faculty and other members, but there is both required disclosure (I and every faculty member has to file an OPA report every year) and an explicit conflict of interest policy that is supposed to be more rigorous for senior people like directors of centers and labs.  Did he report his business activities, including soliciting investments? Did any of his actions violate MIT’s COI policy? Were such violations included in whatever disclosures he did make? If so, how did they slip by? If not, what needs to happen, if anything, to prevent such COI?

We may get some answers.  After earlier announcing that the investigation into Ito’s relationship with Epstein would be internal, and intended to discover lessons for the future, the Institute’s president, Rafael Reif sent out an all-comers email that reads in part:

Because the accusations in the story are extremely serious, they demand an immediate, thorough and independent investigation. This morning, I asked MIT’s General Counsel to engage a prominent law firm to design and conduct this process. I expect the firm to conduct this review as swiftly as possible…

That’s good; I hope the investigators get as broad a brief as they need. It’s important to establish who knew and did what when, both inside the Media Lab and in the reporting chain within central administration. And when I say “important,” I don’t mean just in a retributive justice sense.

MIT has come a long way in the last fifty years, and the last twenty, to transform itself from an almost all-male institution to one in which women can flourish.  For the last several years, roughly half of MIT’s incoming undergraduate classes have been women.  Since 2000, MIT has put into place several affirmative policies to improve recruitment, retention and the opportunities open to women faculty.  And every year we welcome another five or six hundred female teenagers to campus.

The willing, eager association with a convicted sexual predator and the willingness of senior and very  high profile MIT figures to trade reputation-gilding for cash says something loud and clear to those newest young women at MIT, and to everyone else here as well.  That’s the message that has to be unwritten — more, it needs to be condemned by word and action.

Last…this has been something of an inside baseball kind of post, but as Anand Giridharadas (@anandwrites) has been aruing, it’s a crash course in the reality of a supra-national rich boys club that owes allegiance to no nation or institution.  Epstein was protected and rewarded by his ability to associate with high profile people and organizations — a protection purchased with cold cash, not any contribution of ideas or intellect.  He was a sexual criminal, so it’s easy to see how this charmed circle dynamic is malign.

But the same dynamic protects bad ideas, distortion of work, the exercise of unmerited power in all kinds of domains, as very rich individuals choose what they want to pay for (and what the polities they control or overwhelmingly influence should pursue). And, as Giridharadas has emphasized over and over again (and not just him, of course) those .01 percenters are loyal to the Republic of Wealth, and not the United States, or MIT or whatever.

It’s easy (as well as obviously right) to condemn Epstein and those he suborned.  But he’s far from the only problem.

Open thread.








Smart Money, Scared Money. Plus, Bonus Tikka

First the reward (no sing-for-your-supper spiritual joylessness here!).

Here’s one fat cat that is Warren-curious:

 

Tikka has views on the e-book vs. book-books debate. E-books…nah.

Yup. Books it is!

(I find myself more and more on the opposite side of this divide; I spend more than half of my reading time on my Kindle these days.  But Tikka’s most definitely old school.)

Now to money.  Got my email update from Krugthulu today (Paul and I are like that, I tell you!).  While he notes, in effect, that the bond market and its economist watchers have correctly predicted eleven of the last three recessions, there’s no way to construe what’s happening in with US debt in any comforting fashion:

So the slump in long-term yields since last fall, from a peak of 3.2 percent to just 1.63 percent this morning, says that investors have grown drastically less sanguine about the economy. Long-term rates are now notably lower than short-term rates — and this kind of “yield curve inversion” has in the past consistently been the precursor to recession…

Why the long faces?

Krugman offers a few reasons why bond folks might be running scared.

For one, the ginormous, “self-financing” tax cut has failed; it hasn’t come close to stimulating enough economic activity to avoid blowing a hole in the deficit.

Trade wars, so easy to win, turn out to be a predictable idiocy, not just costly in themselves, but as they foment uncertainty, a deterrent to capital investment.  And last, he notes, economic troubles elsewhere, especially Europe, are beginning to affect us.

What might all this mean? Well, maybe a recession, maybe not:

The truth is that nobody is very good at calling turning points in the economy, and calling a recession before it’s really obvious in the data is much more likely to get you declared a Chicken Little than hailed as a prophet. (Believe me, I know all about it.) But the bond market, which doesn’t worry about such things, is looking remarkably grim.

And if the smart money here is also the correct money then, as Krugman writes…

I leave the possible political implications as an exercise for all of you.

Bonus Krugman — four key paragraphs from today’s column “Useful Idiots and Trumpist Billionaires”:

More to the point, Trumpism is about much more than tax cuts: It’s an attempt to end the rule of law and impose an authoritarian, white nationalist regime. And even billionaires should be terrified about what their lives will be like if that attempt succeeds.








Money Kills

I believe I hold anti-vaxxers in the same regard I do gun-worshippers.  It’s all ok until you put someone else at risk…which you do all the time.

What triggered this latest outburst of dismay and disdain? This Washington Post report on a new front in billionaire fuckery:

A wealthy Manhattan couple has emerged as significant financiers of the anti-vaccine movement, contributing more than $3 million in recent years to groups that stoke fears about immunizations online and at live events — including two forums this year at the epicenter of measles outbreaks in New York’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.

Of course the folks at the epicenter of this malicious nonsense are hedge fund MOTUs:

Hedge fund manager and philanthropist Bernard Selz and his wife, Lisa, have long donated to organizations focused on the arts, culture, education and the environment. But seven years ago, their private foundation embraced a very different cause: groups that question the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.

I don’t know what it is about the thrill of ultra-successful rent seeking, but somehow that much money gained so incommensurately with effort or social utility seems to convince those dancing in its golden shower that they are absolutely suited and even obligated to set the terms of social life for all of us. Which means they get to kill folks with impunity.

And I do mean kill, as in blood on their hands; in this case, often that of children.

Nine At least two reportable vaccine preventable deaths in the US in 2017, the last year for which I could easily find CDC data. Add to that the suffering (and expense) of all the non-fatal cases of vaccine-preventable diseases, including the record-breaking number of cases of measles in 2019 – 1044 as of June 13, more than any year since 1992, and thus the most since measles was briefly and optimistically declared eradicated from the US in 2000.

Oh those halcyon and innocent days when we thought that folks would rejoice at being released from a once epidemic reaper of children!

Why are these reckless rich pukes doing this? No one seems to know:

How the Selzes came to support anti-vaccine ideas is unknown, but their financial impact has been enormous. Their money has gone to a handful of determined individuals who have played an outsize role in spreading doubt and misinformation about vaccines and the diseases they prevent. The groups’ false claims linking vaccines to autism and other ailments, while downplaying the risks of measles, have led growing numbers of parents to shun the shots.

There is an increasingly direct line between such funding and the actual harm produced by anti-vax propaganda:

The Selz Foundation provides roughly three-fourths of the funding for the Informed Consent Action Network, a three-year-old charity that describes its mission as promoting drug and vaccine safety and parental choice in vaccine decisions.

Lisa Selz serves as the group’s president, but its public face and chief executive is Del Bigtree, a former daytime television show producer who draws big crowds to public events. Bigtree has no medical credentials but holds himself out as an expert on vaccine safety and promotes the idea that government officials have colluded with the pharmaceutical industry to cover up grievous harms from the drugs. In recent weeks, Bigtree has headlined forums in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn and Rockland County, N.Y., both areas confronting large measles outbreaks.

And here’s the quote that made me think Sing Sing is too comfortable for such folks:

“They should be allowed to have the measles if they want the measles,” Bigtree told reporters outside the Brooklyn meeting on June 4. “It’s crazy that there’s this level of intensity around a trivial childhood illness.”

I used to think we needed confiscatory estate taxes so that, for example, the Koch brothers would have had to go out and actually earn some scratch before they got to buy the US judiciary.  I still think that’s a necessary corrective to wealth inequality, but I’m now wondering if a pre-mortem levy might be necessary if we’re ever going to recapture the public space from the depredations the wealth-makes-me-smart crowd.

Oh, and one more thing: adults need vaccines too.  I realize I haven’t asked my PCP if I’m up to date in my last couple of check ups, and plan to correct that omission STAT. Free advice, worth what you paid for it…

Image:  attr. to Philippe de Champaigne, Portrait of a Dead Child, c. 1650.








Sunday Evening Hate-Read Open Thread: SALT in Our Wounds


 
It’s a big club, and you ain’t in it.” — George Carlin

In the Washington Post (which should know better by now), “Anthony Scaramucci was fired from the Trump White House after 11 days. Now, he’s convening A-listers for bipartisan healing”:

Scaramucci, fired from the White House in 2017 after a disastrous 11-day tenure, convened a parade of other jettisoned Trump administration figures, including Chris Christie, Jeff Sessions, Corey Lewandowski and, most remarkably, Gen. John F. Kelly, the former White House chief of staff who axed him.

They mingled in the Bellagio meeting rooms with Obama-era figures such as Jarrett, former national security adviser Susan E. Rice, former CIA director David Petraeus and Adm. William McRaven, the former Special Operations chief who orchestrated the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

Scaramucci appeared onstage with Kelly, in their first public appearance together since the firing, to talk about their newfound friendship. Then he sat beside Jarrett for another panel, in which they discussed topics including climate change and gun control and agreed as much as they disagreed.

“I think what they are trying to tell us is that it’s okay to be together,” said Robert Wolf, the Fox News commentator who moderated the discussion. “It’s okay to respectfully disagree. And it’s okay to agree on things we should agree on.”

Many in the crowd of nearly 2,000 investors, hedge fund managers and entrepreneurs applauded that kind of political diversity…

Discussions ranged from the future of private equity to business opportunities in the cannabis industry to how artificial intelligence is changing investing.

But permeating much of the conference was the lament that political dysfunction in Washington was bogging down economic opportunities in the real world…

The Daily Beast, which has a better nose for the difference between business and bullshit — “The Mooch’s Hedge-Fund Festival Where MAGA Has-Beens Are Great Again”:

In the past, SALT has drawn big names on both political and cultural planes, counting Joe Biden, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, as well as Al Pacino, Kobe Bryant and will.i.am among its guests. One night over drinks, a 10-year SALT veteran whose chest hair burst from his Hawaiian shirt, boasted it had been “the greatest hedge fund conference in the country.”

But the line-up this year reflected the degree to which Donald Trump has become the center of the cultural solar system, around which everything and everyone else orbits. Instead of titans of finance and bigwigs of industry, the conference was dominated by former Trump officials—fired and resigned: #MAGA hangers-on like TPUSA founder Charlie Kirk and almost-Federal Reserve Board appointee Stephen Moore; and an assortment of other miscellaneous politicos, like former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele and Democratic presidential contender Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI). The whole thing was MC’d, of course, by the archetypal ex-Trump official: The Mooch…
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