Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Monday, May 2, 2016

Minions Of A Lesser God

 
Haaaail to Thee, Our Market Free
Destroyer of De-Moc-Ra-Cy!!

Megan McArdle quotes:
“In one year,” wrote Warren Meyer in 2015, “I literally spent more personal time on compliance with a single regulatory issue -- implementing increasingly detailed and draconian procedures so I could prove to the State of California that my employees were not working over their 30-minute lunch breaks -- than I did thinking about expanding the business or getting new contracts.”
Meyer is the owner of a company that runs campgrounds and other recreational facilities on public lands under contract from the government. It doesn’t seem like regulatory compliance should be eating up so much of his time; he is not producing toxic chemicals, operating a nuclear facility, or engaged in risky financial transactions that might have the side effect of sending our economy into a tailspin. He’s just renting people places to pitch a tent or park an RV, or selling them sundries. Nonetheless, the government keeps piling on the micromanagement lest some employee, somewhere, miss a lunch break.
That poor man! He--let's call him "Pops" Campground for short- is just running his little bit of heaven on earth, a company that rents out space for tents and RVs and sells the families ice cream and fishing bait. But instead of calling his small business Bide-A-Wee or Camp Rollin' Thunder, Meyer calls it Recreation Resource Management.

Recreation Resource Management contracts Public-Private Partnerships for state and national parks; RRM takes over all park services and gives back a percentage to the government. It manages parks in at least a dozen states.
We manage many different types of recreation properties under many different arrangements with government bodies. However, the most common arrangement is for Recreation Resource Management to operate a revenue-producing property under a type of concession agreement or commercial lease.
In these contracts, Recreation Resource Management is responsible for all aspects of managing the property, generally putting in place on site employees and managers. RRM performs maintenance and cleaning work for the property, and is responsible for most normal operating expenses, from insurance to marketing to utilities to regular maintenance. In return, RRM collects all revenues from the property, paying the government an agreed-upon percentage of the revenues as a fee. Typically, these contracts will specify the scope and quality standards of the work to be performed, the operating hours and days, the maximum fee rates, and, of course, the agreed-upon revenue share to government.
The government privatized the running of some state and national Parks and awarded some contracts to Meyer's company, Recreation Resource Management, a very large company with very comprehensive services. "Pops" is not running a campground, he's running PPPs that hopes to operate parks everywhere.
This type of contract structure has a number of advantages over typical flat fee or cost plus outsourcing contracts:  
◾Government expenses are capped – since there are none!  
◾The private operator, such as RRM, can work to improve both expense levels and revenue generation at the property.  
◾Our incentives are well-aligned with the agency’s — to make money, we have to keep the public satisfied so they will come back in the future.  
◾The contracts are not subject to year-to-year appropriations processes. No money to pay facility expenses or the private contractor has to be budgeted each year  
The concession arrangement, however, is not always the most appropriate. For example  
◾Some parks, such as most city parks, simply cannot realistically charge a user fee. In this case, contracts tend to take the form of fixed cost or time and material contracts for park operations services  
◾As states close parks, they are increasingly turning to non-profits to take over parks. We are working on several different approaches to bringing our expertise and experience to these non-profits
Their efforts evidently were successful.
Recreation Resource Management: This is a Notice of Intent to make an award to the H.J. Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment. For the development of biologically meaningful performace measures for fish, wild and plant resources that can be applied across the landscape to ascertain the status and trend of fish, wildlife and plant resources within a state to ensure these resources are receiving adequate protection and fulfill the Bureau's mission to provide these resources for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations
and
Applicants Eligible for this Grant  
Nonprofits having a 501(c)(3) status with the IRS, other than institutions of higher education
In due time they undoubtedly will be successful in enclosing all city parks and charging a fee as well.

Perhaps one reason why "Pops" Campground is so successful is because he is not just the owner.
In addition to being president of Recreation Resource Management, Warren Meyer is also President of the National Forest Recreation Association and a board member of the California State Parks Hospitality Association, both trade groups of concessionaires. He is the author of the website ParkPPP.com and conducted the first national conference on using public-private recreation partnerships to keep public parks open.
He's also a lobbyist for the industry!

But wait! That's not all!

Warren Meyer is the author of the web-site climate-skeptic.com, a site he originally started to help report climate developments in layman’s terms, particularly the science of the skeptic’s position. Warren has a degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering from Princeton University, where his studies focused on the control and stability of dynamic systems, issues at the very heart of the climate debate. He also has extensive experience with forecasting of dynamic and complex systems, with an MBA from Harvard University and years of experience with planning and forecasting at several Fortune 50 companies.
Currently Warren runs a company called Recreation Resource Management, based in Phoenix, whose business is the private management of public parks and recreation. His company has been in the news of late for offering to reopen at least 6 closed Arizona State Parks under private management and remove the need for public subsidies of these parks.
"Pops" Campground is a Princeton aerospace engineer with a Haaavard MBA. And the man who depends on gasoline automobiles for his livelihood is a climate change skeptic, who would have thought? But "Pops" thought the whole thing out very carefully and Forbes was happy to print his argument against it. You will be relieved to see that warming not only is not happening, but the opposite might actually be occurring!

You might think that all of these little personality quirks would put him in simpatico with libertarians and you'd be right. From the RRM site:



Heh, and we haven't even gotten to the post yet.

Megan McArdle:
I know what you’re going to say: Employees should have lunch breaks! My answer is “Yes, but.…” Yes, but putting the government in charge of ensuring that they get them, and forcing companies to document their compliance, has real costs. They add up.
You should be able to eat lunch but let's not go crazy here. If God intended for your owner to fill out paperwork He wouldn't have invented sandwiches, nay, nor the pocket to put them in.  It might inconvenience your boss to fill out paperwork so just dunk under the counter and eat your bread and cheese when the ticket line is short.

We can plainly see McArdle doesn't believe the government has the right to regulate businesses. How dare they take charge of ensuring businesses give lunch breaks to their employees? That right should only belong to the man who promised to "improve... expense levels." Employees are one of, if not the, largest expenses of a company and we are well accustomed to seeing minimum wage employees forced to work at will and whim, work overtime without additional pay, and work at lunch time and break time. Like Ross Douthat, if something doesn't fit McArdle's worldview she ignores it.
An economy with but one regulation -- employees must be allowed a 30-minute lunch break, and each company has to document that it has been taken -- would probably not find this much of a drag on growth. But multiply those regulations by thousands, by millions, and you start to have a problem.
 Millions of regulations! Billions! How do so many companies manage to make millions and billions of dollars? It's a terrible puzzle, for we know that businesses are so delicate that if any were to raise wages they would immediately fail.
A new working paper from the Mercatus Center attempts to document the cumulative cost of all these regulations. It finds that the growth of regulation between 1977 and 2012 has shaved about 0.8 percent off the rate of growth, costing the nation a total of $4 trillion worth of GDP.

Of course they did. The Mercatus Center, ladies and gentlemen:
The Mercatus Center, part of George Mason University, is one of the best-funded think tanks in the United States. It is listed as "sister organization" to the Institute for Humane Studies. Mercatus describes its mission as "to generate knowledge and understanding of the institutions that affect the freedom to prosper, and to find sustainable solutions that overcome the barriers preventing individuals from living free, prosperous, and peaceful lives."
The Mercatus Center was founded and is funded by the Koch Family Foundations. According to financial records, the Koch family has contributed more than thirty million dollars to George Mason, much of which has gone to the Mercatus Center, a nonprofit organization. Democratic strategist Rob Stein described the Mercatus Center as "ground zero for deregulation policy in Washington.”
The Mercatus Center has engaged in campaigns involving deregulation, especially environmental deregulation. According to The Guardian in 2010, it "now fills the role once played by the economics department at Chicago University as the originator of extreme neoliberal ideas."[2] During the George W. Bush administration's campaign to reduce government regulation, the Wall Street Journal reported, "14 of the 23 rules the White House chose for its "hit list" to eliminate or modify were Mercatus entries -- a record that flabbergasted Washington lobbying heavyweights."
The Wall Street Journal has called the Mercatus Center “the most important think tank you’ve never heard of."
McArdle does not make a disclaimer because at this point, nobody cares. She couldn't sand-blast her reputation clean.
Stories like Meyer’s are the tangible face of the economic theory. As is the fact that in the annual small business survey by the National Federation of Independent Business, taxes and government red tape are far and away the biggest issues that business owners cite as their most important problems. Forty-three percent of those surveyed cited one of the two as their top issue.
That matters, and not just because of business owners’ headaches. The burden of regulation is not distributed symmetrically. It falls heaviest on firms that deal with dangerous substances, yes. But it also falls most heavily on smaller businesses, which cannot afford staffs of pricey compliance specialists to make sure that their desk chairs meet the new California workplace seating requirements. This may help explain why the number of firms is falling, and markets are consolidating.


You know what's next! Let's take a little look at that National Federation of Independent Business.
From CNN:
The National Federation of Independent Business is one of the most influential small-business advocacy groups in the country. They battle against government regulation, higher taxes and, perhaps most famously, Obamacare. And they do it all as the self-described "voice of small business."
But it turns out that the champions of Main Street America got more money last year from a group backed by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch than any other single source.
NFIB and its affiliated groups received $2.5 million from Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, a conservative advocacy group with deep ties to the Koch empire. Of the five men that sit on the group's board, four are current or former employees of Koch companies and one is a friend of Charles Koch's.
Freedom Partners gave the NFIB $1.5 million last year, the biggest single contribution the federation received, according to tax records. The Koch-backed group gave three other NFIB-affiliated group another $1 million, making Freedom Partners among the top two biggest contributors to those groups, records show.
The big-money donations are raising questions about whose agenda NFIB is serving, that of mom-and-pop businesses or the captains of big industry.
Lisa Gilbert of the government watchdog group Public Citizen said the NFIB is "taking the name of small business in vain."
"The idea that Koch brothers money in some way is going to help small businesses is laughable," Gilbert said. "What they're buying is the ability to help set the agenda."
And that agenda has included taking the lead on the lawsuit challenging Obamacare (NFIB v. Sebelius) that went to the U.S. Supreme Court. They also opposed increasing income tax rates on people making $250,000 or more, even though the vast majority of small businesses aren't affected by the rate hike.
NFIB spokeswoman Jean Card said the organization brings in the bulk of its revenue, about $86 million, from dues its 350,000 members pay. Members, she said, set the group's agenda.
Any suggestion to the contrary, is "simply not true."
"We do what our members tell us to do. We've been doing it since 1943," she said.
...
This isn't the first time NFIB has taken money from big corporate interests. In 2011, NFIB took $850,000 from the nation's top insurance industry trade group as part of a campaign to repeal a key Obamacare tax. The back-channel transfer by America's Health Insurance Plans to the NFIB allowed insurers to fund a much more politically popular ally in the fight against a tax on health care premiums.

Also, too:
The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) is a powerhouse lobbying group (reporting $100 million in revenue in 2013)[1] that purports to represent small businesses, emphasizing the claim that they are "NOT a voice for big business."[2] However, the group has been shown to lobby on issues that favor large corporate interests and run counter to the interests of small businesses.[3][4] News reports have also found that NFIB, which tells the IRS it is a "non-partisan" service organization, engages in partisan politics, and receives millions in hidden contributions.
Small business owners run the gamut politically. For instance, 33 percent identify as Republicans, 32 percent as Democrats, and 29 percent as Independent.[5] However, NFIB accepted a $3.7 million gift in 2010, and a further $1.4 million in 2012, from Crossroads GPS, a group affiliated with Republican political operative Karl Rove that overwhelmingly endorses and financially supports Republican candidates.[6][7] NFIB also received $1.5 million in 2012 from Freedom Partners, a behind-the-scenes organization that has been described as the "Koch brothers' secret bank," according to tax documents.[8]
Other notable contributions publicly disclosed by the donor include $135,783 in 2012 from the Center to Protect Patients Rights, a secretive organization now known as American Encore with intimate ties to the Koch brothers.[9] The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which has given to a wide range of conservative groups including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), has also provided financial support to NFIB.[10][11][12][13]
Again, no disclaimer. The other link leads to a Marginal Revolution post and the study which do not say that regulation is causing the fall, but instead say changing laws and mergers and acquisitions probably are; profits are up.

So far (in one post!) we have heard from a climate skeptic (not Koch as far as we know!), some Koch guys, some more Koch guys, and a Koch guy. By "Koch guy" I mean a person whose career has benefitted substantially from being one of the little Minions that get trickle-down paychecks from the Despicable Koches.

Even within those businesses, the burden will tend to be disproportionately concentrated. Employment conditions are heavily regulated, so firms that employ a lot of workers to get a given level of output will have more regulatory overhead. And firms that employ a lot of low-wage labor get hit from every direction: Businesses like fast food and retail tend to have thin profit margins, so they don’t have a lot of room to absorb the extra cost, and they also can’t really cut wages to reflect the higher cost of labor, because they’re already operating at or close to the statutory minimums. A consulting firm that has five employees, on the other hand, will probably have a higher compliance cost per employee, but also much more room in pricing and profit margins to absorb that cost.
How much does this matter? Well, if you want to camp at Meyer’s rec sites, but can’t afford to pay Hilton prices to do so, it probably matters to you a lot.
This is just one of many dishonesties. If you don't eliminate regulations, you'll be charged Hilton prices for a campsite. McArdle does not tell us how Hilton can afford to have nice rooms and lots of employees when "Pops" Campground cannot, but that's just one of those mysteries of the universe.
But it also matters to the rest of us, because when you add that burden up, it potentially has big effects:
1.Regulations can knock the lowest-skilled workers out of the labor force, at which point they’ll struggle to get a better job. It’s fashionable to say that these are terrible jobs anyway: hard labor and they don’t pay enough, so who cares? But those jobs are where people learn the basics of work: showing up on time, being nice to the customer, attending to every detail, and so forth. The regulatory burden is effectively a cost wedge between the amount you pay your worker, and the amount it costs you to employ them; the bigger that wedge, the more likely it is that some people simply won’t be able to find employment. The result is a great human capital loss to the economy, and the devastation of unemployment.
Here McArdle pretends that low wage jobs are only taken temporarily by teenagers and "urban" people who need to learn how to act properly among "not-urban" people and adults.
2.Small businesses are vital to the economy.2 They’re sort of like the engine oil that lubricates the economy, because a lot of things aren’t profitable at a larger scale. For example, a few years back, I interviewed the owner of a wire basket maker in Baltimore, who was making racks for a car manufacturer to store their parts in on the assembly line. These were a cog in a great industrial enterprise, but he was turning them out in tiny batches -- six at a time, or a dozen. That sort of job simply wouldn’t be profitable for a major manufacturer, because the cost of retooling a big assembly line, and the bureaucratic controls needed to run a large firm, would eat all the profit margin. An owner-operator of a smaller business has a lot more flexibility, and the cushion provided by that flexibility is absolutely necessary.
I know that the first thing I want to do when I am around dangerous machinery is eliminate regulation. Flexibility is so necessary, unless you are a worker whose back is crushed by a badly maintained workspace and sloppy adherence to safety rules.
3.Regulations can make it unprofitable for small businesses to grow. Let’s say your firm has room to scale, and might even become a big business someday. That’s great! But now we run into the problem of small business carveouts. A lot of laws, including Obamacare, have them, so that politicians can claim their policy won’t affect small firms. The problem is that when you hit one of the thresholds, there is an absurdly high marginal cost to hiring the next employee, or taking in the next dollar of revenue. That can retard growth, which is not something the U.S. can currently spare.
This will indeed be a terrible burden. Perhaps they should wait until they have to hire twenty workers and can handle bigger orders and make lots more money.
All of these costs have to be carefully weighed against the benefits of regulations -- and not just on a regulation-by-regulation basis, as is currently done, if such cost-benefit analysis is done at all. Each hour of a firm’s time that is sucked up by compliance is an hour that is not spent growing the firm, improving the product, better serving the customer. And as the number of the hours so spent increases, and the number of precious hours spent on growth and operations shrinks, each added hour we take is more costly to both the business and to the rest of us. With labor markets lackluster and growth underwhelming, that’s a cost that none of us can well afford.
For the want of a timecard the hour was lost, for the want of the hour the firm was lost, for the want of the firm the economy was lost, for want of the economy the nation was lost, and all for the want of the manila punch card. Sob!

And now our sad tale of Koch Minion woe comes to an end, except for two notes from McArdle:
1.My grandfather, who owned a gas station, saw his regulatory burden mount steadily between the time he bought it in 1940, and the time he died in 2004, to the point where it consumed an outsize share of both his time and his emotional energy -- and occasionally dropped surprise six-figure bills on him for newly imposed compliance rules, which is not a sum that most small business owners tend to have lying around in their underground vault.
One of those burdens was removing lead from gasoline. We know what McArdle would choose if it came down to making more money or spewing lead poison all over America.
2.There’s a lot of talk about how many jobs are provided by small businesses. This is somewhat exaggerated. Small businesses have a lot of churn, for various reasons. Most net new jobs are provided by a small number of high-growth companies, a fact which I’ve heard interpreted as saying that we don’t really need to worry about small businesses, only high-growth startups. Except that small businesses are a vital part of the economy for reasons beyond quantity of jobs added.
Why would a job that saw you as nothing but lost revenue have churn??

Friday, April 29, 2016

Ross Douthat: Bubble Boy



Ross Douthat goes for a swim.


Ron Suskind:

The aide [Karl Rove] said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." ... "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."


There's a problem with creating your own reality. To sustain that fiction you must immerse yourself in your fantasy world until you risk being unable to leave it for a less satisfying reality. In your head, for example, you can tell yourself that you are part of a governing class, born and bred to excellence the way God and nature intended, one of the superior men who do the difficult but necessary job of thinking and telling everyone else what to do.

Your ideology is designed around this desire and is enclosed by it. Anything outside the bubble that will pierce it is ignored, denied,  or elaborately rationalized. Anything inside the bubble is strictly monitored for potential to ruin the bubble as well.

Your reality is now your prison, and Ross Douthat's alternate reality is the size of Alcatraz.
Donald Trump isn’t the Republican nominee — yet. The people of Indiana still get a say in the matter. The people of California will still have a chance to restore a semblance of order to the universe. Carly Fiorina will get a chance to prove that it takes a female running mate to stop a male chauvinist pig.
Douthat pretends Cruz might win and his choice of a running mate is clever tactics, not useless showmanship. Fiorina will stop nobody; Trump will insult her, scoff at her, and mock her failure at business. Believe me, there's a lot you can do with someone who pretends to be adept at economics and business but has a track record of failure. Cruz is a House of Horrors so unpopular that he has fewer supporters than Dennis Hastert.

Douthat is less than convincing when standing up to the male chauvinist pigs of the world. (A term I haven't heard in a very long time. Does Douthat even know it's 2016 and not 1976? Is he just parroting what his parents told him when he was a kid?) The only difference between Trump's view of women and Douthat's view of women is that Trump appears to like having sex with them while Mr. "Chunky Reese Witherspoon" Douthat does not. Otherwise they both see women as not-people, whose lives are subject to their whims and prejudices.
But if Trump falls short, it’s going to be a matter of inches, of a handful of delegates denying him the prize. It won’t just be too close for comfort; it will be too close for those of us who predicted that he couldn’t get there to claim vindication. Our pretense to real sagacity has crumbled; only luck and randomness can save “it won’t be Trump” punditry now.

When none of his predictions come true, Douthat will forget he ever said them. Trump needs 250 delegates to reach 1237. Cruz needs 675. There are 583 delegates remaining. Fiorina will fade away. Again. The liberal-ish woman will have to stop the male chauvinist pig, as usual.

We know why Douthat didn't present the numbers: He wanted to pretend the count is neck-to-neck, and so he could say that he was right about Trump when he was wrong about Trump. Maintaining private realities is expensive. Pundits' first priority, always, is to keep the welfare flowing, so first Douthat says he was right and then he says they all were not wise about Trump.
So it’s time to start reckoning with what we got wrong. The best place to start isn’t with the Republican Party’s leaders — the opportunists, the cowards, the sleepwalkers — but with its voters, and the once-reasonable assumptions about voter psychology that Trump seems to have disproved.
THOSE people are opportunists, cowards, and sleepwalkers, not Douthat, who is right even when he is wrong. As driftglass has pointed out about David Brooks so many times, the pundits must maintain an elaborate charade in which they are not lackeys of the Republican Party's leaders. Douthat must pretend that he and his brethren did not stoke the voters' anger and give them a constant parade of scapegoats while impoverishing them, or push policies that ended up harming their followers and the country.

There are also certain factors that Douthat must omit altogether to maintain the fantasy. Douthat can't discuss Citizens United because the elite wanted nearly unlimited money in politics. For the same reason Douthat can't talk about the suffering (and insufferable) conservative voters who turned to Trump when they realized that their party had no intention of living up to its promises to improve their deteriorating economic situation.

One such assumption, that voters follow the signals sent by party elites and officeholders, is the basis of the famous “party decides” thesis in political science, which was invoked early and often to explain why Trump couldn’t possibly end up as the Republican nominee.
Republican voters were obedient to authority in the past but are not now. Douthat does not explain why because he cannot let himself see the causes. The Republican elite deliberately destroyed their followers' unquestioning loyalty by impoverishing them, the party split between two different forces, confusing their followers, and the elite demanded that the followers stop trusting elites. Douthat can't admit that his leaders are grifters and his fellow followers are bigots so he can't let himself see any sign of the grift or the bigotry.
While his progress has undercut that thesis, it hasn’t been fully disproved, since the “party decides” conceit doesn’t tell us about what happens when the party simply can’t decide.
The Republican party has been throwing up a clown car's worth of nominees for a long time. The party decided and its choices were rejected one by one. This one's too soft. This one's too hard. This one's too soft in the head. On and on, until you end up with a Romney or Trump because everyone else was a failure and time is running out.

Whether you look at endorsements or fund-raising or any other metric, that’s what happened this time: Once Jeb Bush turned out to be a bust, the party elite never managed to coalesce around an alternative (as of right now, only four United States senators have explicitly endorsed Ted Cruz), leaving their voters as sheep without a shepherd, free to roam into strange pastures if they so desired.


Voters are sheep. You heard it here first! But something else is missing here. What happened to the elite's choice, Marco Rubio? Oh yes, he flamed out as well. The sheep baaa'd and found him wanting.

Douthat goes on to tell us that primary voters are relatively knowledgeable, interested voters and therefore won't vote for people outside their party or nominees who can't win.
(yip yip yip)  
Until Donald Trump blew this model up. Yes, Trump has adopted conservative positions on various issues, but he’s done so in a transparently cynical fashion, constantly signaling that he doesn’t really believe in or understand the stance that he’s taking, constantly suggesting a willingness to bargain any principle away. Except for immigration hawks, practically every ideological faction in the party regards Trump with mistrust, disgust, suspicion, fear. Pro-lifers, foreign-policy hawks, the Club for Growth, libertarians — nobody thinks Trump is really on their side. And yet he’s winning anyway.  
Douthat is treating all this as some kind of academic exercise. Under what conditions did Trumpism flourish? Use examples.
Or at least he’s winning a plurality. So perhaps Trumpism can be understood as a coup by the G.O.P.’s ideologically flexible minority against the conservative movement’s litmus tests; indeed to some extent that’s clearly what’s been happening.
But you would have expected such a coup to be carried out in the name of electability, and Trump doesn’t clear that threshold either. Instead his general-election numbers and favorability ratings are so flagrantly terrible that he’d probably put a raft of red states in play. In other word, he’s untrustworthy and unelectable — a combination that you’d normally expect engaged partisans to consider and reject. And yet he’s winning anyway.
Douthat pretends the voters are not indulging in spiteful revenge on their leaders and are not racist, sexist, anti-Semitic or fascist.
But here the model isn’t completely broken, because a majority of Republican voters don’t actually believe that Trump faces long odds, don’t agree that he’s less electable than Cruz or Kasich (or Rubio or whomever further back). Instead, since last fall Republican voters have consistently told pollsters that they think Trump is the candidate most likely to win in November. So the party’s voters are choosing electability — as they see it — over ideology; they’re just in the grip of a strong delusion about Trump’s actual chances against Hillary Clinton.
Douthat is still pretending this election is about anything but the followers throwing out the bums that have disappointed them and voting for the noisy man who tells them what they want to hear, the way they want to hear it.
The reason for this delusion might be the key unresolved question of Trump’s strange ascent. Is it the fruit of Trump’s unparalleled media domination — does he seem more electable than all his rivals because he’s always on TV? Is it a case of his victor’s image carrying all before it — if you win enough primary contests, even with 35 percent of the vote, people assume that your winning streak can be extended into November? Is this just how a personality cult rooted in identity politics works — people believe in the Great Leader’s capacity to crush their tribe’s enemies and disregard all contrary evidence?
Douthat must pretend that Trump's rise is inexplicable and that personality cults are unfamiliar to Bush voters, or attributions of greatness in their leaders, or the desire for their leaders to crush their enemies.
Or is it somehow the pundits’ doing? Did the misplaced certainty that Trump couldn’t win the nomination create an impression that all projections are bunk, that he’ll always prove his doubters wrong?
Whatever the explanation, we’re very close to Republican voters giving him the chance to do just that.
Yes, "whatever the reason," the Republicans are probably going to nominate Trump, and Ross Douthat will never, ever admit his role in Trump's rise. So many lies, so much pretense, such an elaborate framework of deceit, and all to keep alive Douthat's power and wealth fantasy.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Ross Douthat: If He Can't Be Cool He'll Be In Control



After he wrote the post I discussed earlier, Ross Douthat wrote a response to his critics.

Why Is Reaction Taboo?
Remember, Douthat is trying to bring back a racist, sexist, authoritarian era, with some fascism thrown in for variety. His problem here is separating the bad aspects of authoritarianism from the good. Unfortunately there are no good aspects of authoritarianism; anything done under its mantle can also be done without it, although force makes everything easier for the ruling class, of course. Therefore his anti-#NeverReform project is doomed to fail, just as his #NeverTrump project was doomed to fail.
My Sunday column on reactionary thought — its sins, its strengths, its notable absence from the upper reaches of our official intelligentsia — was an attempt to tackle a subject that doesn’t really lend itself it to adequate treatment in eight hundred words. So let me try to tease out some of the issues latent in the piece.
Poor, dumb Ross.

His first mistake, the one that shapes all others, is considering himself as the intelligentsia. He and all his elite brethren are not the best and brightest, they are the most suitable and most servile. They make up or pass on theories developed to hide the fact that their only goal is maintaining and increasing their power and wealth or the power and wealth of their employers.

Ross Douthat is not a Big Thinker. Neither is David Brooks. Or Megan McArdle. Or Matthew Yglesias. Or fresh young thing Caroline Zelikow. They are marginal thinkers with rich relatives or patrons, but they always support the right people in their destructive causes.

First, more than a few readers interpreted the column as simply blaming a kind of academic-left conspiracy for the absence of serious reactionary thought in America. I can see why it read that way, and to clarify I don’t think that’s exactly the right way to think about it.
In other words, readers correctly stated Douthat blamed liberals for conservatives' actions but Douthat doesn't want people to correct him.
Contemporary academic groupthink certainly illustrates the absence of the reactionary imagination, and it plays some causal role in keeping reactionary ideas taboo or marginal.
"Reactionary": Racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, fascist. By Douthat's own admission.

But there’s a chicken-and-egg issue here, because you could also argue that reaction effectively discredited itself between, say 1930 and 1965 — or between the Reichstag Fire and the Edmund Pettus Bridge, if you prefer — in a way that eviscerated its position morally and made its intellectual exile inevitable. (The Second Vatican Council has a place in that generational story as well, since it was widely seen as the last bastion of Western reaction giving up the ghost.)
Nothing discredits anti-Semitism like the Reichstag. Fortunately Selma eradicated racism, however. So what's the big problem with a racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, fascist party when all those nasty things ended long ago? What you have left is the right sort of reform: Authoritarianism without exploitation, racism, sexism, fascism, and anti-Semitism. In other words, nothing.

That's not what Douthat sees. He sees women willingly subservient to men and their gods. Poof! No more men holding down women because women hold themselves down. The same with African-Americans, the poor, and whoever else they scapegoat.

The fetus-humpers have their Roe v. Wade and the Jesus-humpers have their Vatican II, which opened 17 years before Douthat was born. And Douthat wasn't even raised Catholic! "“Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man,” said Aristotle, but Douthat never had that formative experience in the Church. Douthat would very much like the Church to be all-powerful and infallible; his complaints about Pope Francis' words on modern families make that perfectly clear. But the Church would also have to be frozen in time like a bug in amber, to never change--and inevitably be left behind by most people as it became less and less relevant to peoples' lives. The Pope is wiser than Douthat and wishes his living Church to change and grow, not become a zombie husk.

So no, Western Civilization did not end with Vatican II, and Douthat only makes himself look weak and frightened when he says it does. Like Rod Dreher, civilization must be crumbling or tragedy will strike; nobody will buy their cures for fixing it. Although it is a little amusing to see Douthat basically blame the Church for his own racism, sexism, and authoritarianism.

If the Church is infallible, Ross is infallible because all he has to do is parrot the Church and he'll be right and an authority, a Leader. If the Church changes, especially if Ross doesn't like the change, where does that leave him? If the Church becomes less racist, sexist, or authoritarian, how does he gain? The pope is just not thinking this through.
It’s not a coincidence, in this reading of intellectual trends, that the one philosophical school within hailing distance of reaction that’s persisted in the modern university is the school of Leo Strauss, a German-Jewish emigre whose critique of liberalism was explicitly and very personally anti-fascist, whose favored pre-modern thinkers were pre-Catholic, and whose disciples have generally cast themselves as liberalism’s wise protectors rather than its subversive foes. (Not that this saved Strauss from being linked, via Carl Schmitt, to the Nazis during the anti-Straussian frenzy of the Bush era …) The Straussian experience suggests that deep critiques of modernity can claim some territory (though not that much) in the liberal academy; they just need to be sufficiently distanced from racism and anti-Semitism and unfortunately most reactionary ideas and traditions simply aren’t.
And this is the corrupt heart of authoritarianism. It is nothing but the desire to have power over others. People who feel they have no power will do anything to alleviate that fear or desire. People who have power will do anything to maintain it. The only way to get people to submit (because death is always an alternative) is to persuade them to submit. The best way to do that is to tell people to raise their children from birth to submit to authority. It is very easy; the parent withholds love and approval in return for obedience instead of giving the child unconditional love. Their parents did it and it's the only way they know to raise a child. The child becomes an adult with the pattern of obedience to authority engraved in his or her mind and it becomes his gut response to fear and need.
Now of course you can turn this around and ask, well, if reaction was discredited by Hitler and Bull Connor, by race hatred and Jew hatred, why wasn’t left-wing radicalism discredited by Stalin and Mao and Pol Pot? If this is all about moral credibility and the company you keep, why did so many prominent historians and literary critics get to keep on calling themselves Marxists after every Marxist-Leninist regime committed mass murder on an epic scale? Why are Kipling’s politics or Eliot’s or Pound’s or even Heidegger’s considered so much more “problematic” and all-discrediting than the Stalinist strain in so much left-wing historiography and philosophy and criticism and art?
I know you are but what am I?

Douthat repeats his plea from his earlier post; if liberal academics can be Marxists, why can't conservative academics be racist, sexist, anti-Semitic and fascist? The question reveals a lot about Douthat and it's all ugly.

The New York Times. Power, prestige, privilege. And it's not nearly enough for Douthat. He wants to be able to hate and control and punish as well.

Nice job, Elite. Your front man is a petty little nebbish who whines about being unable to publically force people to submit to his authority without everyone calling him a hateful bigot.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Deadwood

Let's clear out some Megan McArdle deadwood, working backwards:

 Go Ahead, Make Your Own Cronut:

I’ve never braved the line at Dominique Ansel Bakery in New York to buy a Cronut. My interest in doughnuts is low; my interest in lengthy lines, nonexistent.
She slept on the streets of New York for an iPhone for chrissake. Lying to yourself is not a sign of mental health.

Anyway, McArdle is all for new businesses copying other businesses' ideas because, " It would be hard to copyright a list of ingredients when a tiny change, such as adding a pinch of this or that, would effectively define it as a new recipe." And "competitors have to expend a great deal of time and money producing a facsimile of your product." Case closed; go ahead and set up a Dunking Doughnuts.

I am tempted to set up a website called Meghan McArdle's Asymmetrical Information at Blomberg and see if she protests.


Social Security or Savings? Um. Try a Little of Both If we raise Social Security taxes, producers will Go Galt.
"...[H]high earners in high-tax coastal states could be subjected to tax rates that have distorting economic effects on their output, as they decide it’s just not worth it to become a high-earning professional, or to put in those extra hours at the business.
And we would use up all the money.
It would also represent just about all of our remaining power to tax high incomes, devoted to a single program which is by no means our biggest fiscal problem.

The Neal Gabler article got a lot of press and as McArdle was able to turn an anonymous tip about Edmund Andrews into five minutes of internet fame, she couldn't resist commenting as well.

Shorter Parents Are Bankrupting Themselves to Look Adequate: It's up to the individual to give up and accept his new poverty and teach his children to be accustomed to their new class, instead of insisting on becoming competition for the people who have already sold their souls to get to the top.


Shorter Dining Out on Empty Virtue: People don't want to eat responsibly, they just want everyone to think they eat responsibly. Thus truth in food labeling is silly.


You heard her, America. It's up to you to protect businesses and the obscenely wealthy from the poor.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Ross Douthat and the Pursuit Of Cool

 
The master race.


Ross Douthat is trying to imagine a world in which conservatism isn't a sick joke. He is unsuccessful.
OVER the last year, America’s professional intelligentsia has been placed under the microscope in several interesting ways. First, a group of prominent social psychologists released a paper quantifying and criticizing their field’s overwhelming left-wing tilt. Then Jonathan Haidt, one of the paper’s co-authors, highlighted research showing that the entire American academy has become more left-wing since the 1990s. Then finally a new book by two conservative political scientists, “Passing on the Right: Conservative Professors in the Progressive University,” offered a portrait of how right-wing academics make their way in a left-wing milieu. (The answer: very carefully, and more carefully than in the past.)
Haidt is a perfect example of a "libertarian" academic. He interprets his data through his prejudices and preconceived notions about liberals. But conservatives are always at a disadvantage because they are usually supporting false theories. It tends to put one at a disadvantage in academia. Douthat uses questionable Haidt to prove liberals are increasingly left-wing. He doesn't look at the primaries, where Clinton, the by-far-less-left candidate, is expected to win. Douthat does what conservatives usually do, attempt to pass off ideology as data-based fact, using cherry-picked partisan scientists to support their slanted views.
Meanwhile, over the same period, there has been a spate of media attention for the online movement known as “neoreaction,” which in its highbrow form offers a monarchist critique of egalitarianism and mass democracy, and in its popular form is mostly racist pro-Trump Twitter accounts and anti-P.C. provocateurs.
On the left we have liberal academics. On the right we have racist boobs who want to have sex with robots or pretend they can become Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man.
I suspect these two phenomena are connected — the official intelligentsia’s permanent and increasing leftward tilt, and the appeal of explicitly reactionary ideas to a strange crew of online autodidacts.
I suspect Ross Douthat is a man of marginal intelligence, but I have ample proof. This is one of the right's pet theories; the right is so horribly right because the left pushed them there by being so horribly left. Unless they grossly exaggerate the left's tilt, they have no argument. Obviously that never stops them.
For its opportunistic fans, neoreaction just offers a pretentious justification for white male chauvinism and Trump worship. But the void that it aspires to fill is real: In American intellectual life there isn’t a far-right answer to tenured radicalism, or a genuinely reactionary style.
Actually there is, but as Douthat is about to acknowledge, it's a very ugly style as well.
Our intelligentsia obviously does have a conservative wing, mostly clustered in think tanks rather than on campuses. But little of this conservatism really deserves the name reaction. What liberals attack as “reactionary” on the American right is usually just a nostalgia for the proudly modern United States of the Eisenhower or Reagan eras — the effective equivalent of liberal nostalgia for the golden age of labor unions. A truly reactionary vision has to reject more than just the Great Society or Roe v. Wade; it has to cut deeper, to the very roots of the modern liberal order.
Such as the Enlightenment, the eternal Satan in conservatives' Garden of Eden. The entire idea of progress and equality must be eradicated. The right, as Douthat demonstrates here, reject the greater equality between worker and boss, which spread prosperity instead of concentrating it into a few hands, and are nostalgic for all that was bad about that era: white male supremacy. The Reagan era helped eradicate economic equality so naturally they are nostalgic for every bit of that halcyon time.
Such deep critiques of our society abound in academia; they’re just almost all on the left. A few true reactionaries haunt the political philosophy departments at Catholic universities and publish in paleoconservative journals. But mostly the academy has Marxists but not Falangists, Jacobins but not Jacobites, sexual and economic and ecological utopians but hardly ever a throne-and-altar Joseph de Maistre acolyte. And almost no academic who writes on, say, Thomas Carlyle or T. S. Eliot or Rudyard Kipling would admit to any sympathy for their politics.
That's because they're fascists and racists. This is the kind of intelligentsia Douthat wants, because what he really wants is to restore white male Christian supremacy. This is something that nobody will acknowledge in Polite Society. Douthat should have been tarred and feathered and ran out of town on a rail but here he is in The New York Times preaching Dominionism to cronut-eating "sophisticates."

But what can one do when the world is divided into liberals and neoreactionsists? The racist, sexist, fascist scum want to be admired, respected, put into the Koch Toilet Paper Seat Of Learning and paid lots and lots of lovely money. Just like liberal academics!

So far the conservative intelligentsia have a slight problem persuading anyone to take racism, sexism and fascism to heart. They have determined that the best method of persuasion is as follows:

1. Announce they have an idea.
2. Admit it's a stupid, racist, sexist, fascist idea.
3. Tell you that you should believe them anyway because Fairies.
Which is, in a sense, entirely understandable: Those politics were frequently racist and anti-Semitic, the reactionary style gave aid and comfort not only to fascism but to Hitler, and in the American context the closest thing to a reactionary order was the slave-owning aristocracy of the South. From the perspective of the mainstream left, much reactionary thought should be taboo; from the perspective of the sensible center, the absence of far-right equivalents of Michel Foucault or Slavoj Zizek probably seems like no great loss.
Yes, it is a problem when your "reactionary style" on the right is little more than racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, and fascism. In fact, you might start to wonder why Douthat is looking for a reactionary right to counter-balance the reactionary left. They do not seem to be nice people and will not help his cause, which is a theocracy in which Ross Douthat, a white (very), male (by default), Christian (theoretically), straight (also by default) person is the pinnacle of humanity.
But while reactionary thought is prone to real wickedness, it also contains real insights. (As, for the record, does Slavoj Zizek — I think.) Reactionary assumptions about human nature — the intractability of tribe and culture, the fragility of order, the evils that come in with capital-P Progress, the inevitable return of hierarchy, the ease of intellectual and aesthetic decline, the poverty of modern substitutes for family and patria and religion — are not always vindicated. But sometimes? Yes, sometimes. Often? Maybe even often.
What a pathetic desire. It's both contemptible and horribly sad. I can't imagine what it would be like to have returning to a racist, sexist, anti-Semitic past (with a little fascism thrown in) as your most heart-felt desire.

The "inevitable return of hierarchy": an authoritarian division of people by class, sex, race, and ideology--with Ross "Fucking" Douthat on top, naturally. "The ease of intellectual and aesthetic decline": an art world designed by Thomas Kincaide and an intellectual world designed by its most mediocre minds. "The poverty of modern substitutes for family and patria and religion": (Partial) freedom from male control over sexuality, the (partial) equality of the sexes instead of being suppressed and held down in a pink ghetto, the freedom to worship or not as one sees fit. He's a sad little man.

But there's a strange irony in this mental masturbation. (Naughty touch, Ross!) Douthat used to live in that Utopia; he went to an exclusive prep school, although he complained it was not exclusive enough. Still, it was massively hierarchical, with one's family, religion and country determining one's place in the hierarchy. It should have been Heaven but instead it was his Hell.

For even when Ross "Fucking" Douthat lived in the best of all possible worlds, he was still low man on the totem pole. He wasn't popular with the ladies or the guys, and never became a Leader of Men. When he went on to Harvard it was even worse because his expectations were higher. Because Harvard! But no, Douthat was once again rejected by all the cool kids and it didn't matter that he had the right bona fides because there was always someone whose fides were a lot more bona.

So even if God descended from Heaven and bestowed his Holy Grace in the form of Infinite Cool upon Ross "Fucking" Douthat,  Ross Douthat would still be the least of cool men and still be excluded from the top echelon of Cool.

But if Infinite Cool depended on your religion and how loudly you proclaim your religiosity, Ross would be the coolest. If people who are turned off by sexual independence are raised to the Cool Leadership, Ross would leave those good-looking, richer, better-connected Cool Leaders in the dust. And if Ross kept shouting Family! Family! Family!, maybe people will forget that Ross was raised by the wrong sort of people, people who failed at being liberal but became very good at being conservative and still did not have the Grace to send their only son and (half) heir to a prep school that would have certainly gained him admittance to the better clubs. If only....

But no matter where you go, there you are.















Pale, clumsy, and plain. Smart, but not smart enough. White male, but not male enough to lead others. Christian, but not charismatic enough to pass as a Patriarch. Just not good enough in this world of woe. So he wants to change the world. He wants to tear down the old order and create a new one in which he'll rise to the top--against all logic, history, or biology. He will never get what he wants but he doesn't mind destroying a bunch of lives while he tries.

Both liberalism and conservatism can incorporate some of these insights. But both have an optimism that blinds them to inconvenient truths. The liberal sees that conservatives were foolish to imagine Iraq remade as a democracy; the conservative sees that liberals were foolish to imagine Europe remade as a post-national utopia with its borders open to the Muslim world. But only the reactionary sees both.
 Iraq-as-democracy was what, the third? fourth? rationalization for invading Iraq. Douthat must squeeze the truth until it fits into his narrative. Liberals did not imagine any Utopias, no matter what any elite says. The elites told their followers that the lesser of two evils is the best of all possible worlds and the followers mostly believed them. By now Douthat is strangling the truth to get it to fit.
Is there a way to make room for the reactionary mind in our intellectual life, though, without making room for racialist obsessions and fantasies of enlightened despotism? So far the evidence from neoreaction is not exactly encouraging.
Yet its strange viral appeal is also evidence that ideas can’t be permanently repressed when something in them still seems true.
There are a lot of things that are not repressed on the internet. I suggest Douthat should not look for them, to spare his virgin eyes. Meanwhile, no, we are not going to usher in Douthat's Utopia of Me with welcome arms. Or, to spare the man, a soft handshake.

Maybe one answer is to avoid systemization, to welcome a reactionary style that’s artistic, aphoristic and religious, while rejecting the idea of a reactionary blueprint for our politics. From Eliot and Waugh and Kipling to Michel Houellebecq, there’s a reactionary canon waiting to be celebrated as such, rather than just read through a lens of grudging aesthetic respect but ideological disapproval.
I'd love to see those banners. Celebrate our racist past! Bow before your God! Know your place!
A phrase from the right-wing Colombian philosopher Nicolás Gómez Davila
You have to be kidding me. Doesn't Douthat realize anyone can google his dropped names and see exactly how appalling they are?
could serve as such a movement’s mission statement. His goal, he wrote, was not a comprehensive political schema but a “reactionary patchwork.” Which might be the best way for reaction to become something genuinely new: to offer itself, not as ideological rival to liberalism and conservatism, but as a vision as strange and motley as reality itself.
That's vague enough to get a book out of it, although Douthat will have a lot of competition in that market. There's no end of people who write about their desire to go back to a time of white supremacy.

I bet none of them would think Douthat is cool either.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

It's Not Just Great, It's Uber!

I wonder how Megan McArdle feels now that she knows Uber will turn her data over to the state if it is requested. Uber released a transparency report and says it released data on 12 million riders to law enforcement and regulators. They gave data about "trips, trip requests, pickup and dropoff areas, fares, vehicles, and drivers." Of course McArdle has nothing to worry about but she's more than a little paranoid about the government's tentacles wrapping themselves around her and smothering her with its road repairs, airplane inspections, and clean water.

Since nobody can do anything ever, there's nothing McArdle can do about it. If Uber were to change its policies, drivers would lose their jobs and she doesn't want that. And she has nothing to worry about because she doesn't do anything wrong. She's not using stolen credit cards or committing fraud and nobody will subpoena her information, one presumes. She's not one of those libertarian hipsters that buy herbs that are not yet legal in DC. Nobody cares how many times she visits bars or where those bars are.

Since corporations are people, we would never want to stifle their free speech by forbidding them from releasing data.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Two Degrees Of Separation

 
Photo credit: from tengrain

Where's the world's tiniest violin when you need it?


Let's dispose of this one quickly so I can get back to earlier stupidities.

Ms. "What conflict of interest?" McArdle spoke up in support of yet another Koch-suckled think tank; it seems that for no reason, the Virgin Islands told the CEI that they weren't going to put up with CEI's lies anymore because people are getting hurt and VI wanted to see CEI's phone so it could read everything CEI said about Global Warming in the locker room when the coach was in her office. Megan is besties with CEI so of course she's all upset about The Betrayal.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute is getting subpoenaed by the attorney general of the U.S. Virgin Islands to cough up its communications regarding climate change. The scope of the subpoena is quite broad, covering the period from 1997 to 2007, and includes, according to CEI, “a decade’s worth of communications, emails, statements, drafts, and other documents regarding CEI’s work on climate change and energy policy, including private donor information.”
My first reaction to this news was “Um, wut?” CEI has long denied humans' role in global warming, and I have fairly substantial disagreements with CEI on the issue. However, when last I checked, it was not a criminal matter to disagree with me. It’s a pity, I grant you, but there it is; the law’s the law.
(I pause to note, in the interests of full disclosure, that before we met, my husband briefly worked for CEI as a junior employee. We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.)
McArdle proves her impartiality by linking to the CEI and not an actual news source. That is interesting because:
So if the only support for your positions comes from movement think tanks (plus maybe a few marginal academics), your position is probably extremely weak. Indeed, if someone from the other side were pulling the same trick, you would be the first to notice this. Independent studies commissioned by think tanks are especially suspect. You can't check their calculations, and survey design is easily manipulable to get the answer you want.
That's why I rarely grab, say, a Heritage or CEI study on the minimum wage and offer that as evidence for my claims. As it happens, on this issue I broadly agree with them. But even if I were willing to vouch for their numbers, it's pointless, because no one who disagrees with me would accept them. So I go to the BLS, the Census Bureau, the CBO, the JEC, the GAO, or an academic study instead. In cases where I can check some of their numbers, I'll use it as a secondary source. But it's never my primary source for a policy position.
And that is interesting because most of her ideas regarding climate change seem to come from Jonathan Adler.
Last week, when I was all over the Heartland fakes, people demanded to know why I don't post more about the problem of global warming, if I'm all in favor of a carbon tax and all. That's a somewhat complicated answer, so bear with me.
The first reason I don't post a lot is that I'm not an expert, and I'm not planning to become one. I've basically outsourced my opinion on the science to people like Jonathan Adler, Ron Bailey, and Pat Michaels of Cato--all of whom concede that anthropogenic global warming is real, though they may contest the likely extent, or desired remedies.
If they say the planet is warming, then I trust that this is very likely to be true--not just because I like them, but because if you've convinced leading libertarians that humans are contributing to global warming, you've convinced me.
Yet another interesting fact is that McArdle guest hosted a post by Jonathan Adler that laid out his views on global warming. Adler said he believed in global warming but... and the buts were so numerous they added up to doing nothing but minimizing concern about global warming. McArdle's view are nearly identical. McArdle might not link to CEI papers but she links to the guy that writes some of them.

CEI is a notorious climate denial factory. The CEI has been funded in part by EXXON Mobile, Texaco, Amoco, and the pipeline-owning Koch brothers, and is heavily involved in climate change denial.
Over the last few weeks, separate months-long reporting projects by the nonprofit InsideClimate News and by a collaborating team from Columbia University and the Los Angeles Times have revealed new information about what the energy company knew about climate change and when it knew it. The reports state that starting as early as 1977—more than a decade before former NASA scientist James Hansen’s famous Senate testimony that first brought widespread public attention to climate change—scientists at Exxon had discovered their product contributed to the problem in a big way, and hid the results from public view.
Sen. Sanders sent a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Tuesday citing the reports and calling for a federal investigation. At issue is whether Exxon and other oil companies may have worked together for decades to deliberately mislead the public of the dangers posed by climate change and fossil fuel burning.
“These reports, if true, raise serious allegations of a misinformation campaign that may have caused public harm similar to the tobacco industry’s actions,” Sanders wrote. “Based on available public information, it appears that Exxon knew its product was causing harm to the public, and spent millions of dollars to obfuscate the facts in the public discourse.”
The two journalistic teams used internal company documents dating back to the late 1970s as well as interviews with former employees to show that while Exxon’s own scientists were at the forefront of scientific understanding of the potentially severe impacts of global warming—performing some of the original research, in many cases—its executives chose to fund a public relations campaign to play down the connection to human activities. The Times story focuses on how the company used this scientific knowledge to plan its activities in the Arctic, including to measure the impact of melting permafrost on its pipelines.

So McArdle is telling us that the CEI are climate denialists with whom she disagrees and rarely links but she agrees completely with CEI's Johnathan Adler, to whom she has repeatedly linked and even promoted his work. Adler claims to believe in anthropomorphic global warming while actually undercutting it and McArdle does the same, both saying that nobody can do anything ever. Except strengthen property laws and reduce regulations, of course.

And last but not least, P. Suderman, boy Koch-fed veal, worked at CEI, which cannot possibly affect his wife's viewpoint in any way. It's unlikely she would want to defend her husband's former employer to minimize the damage to his reputation from working at a climate denial chop shop.

If P. Suderman had a paper route as a child I would look for the Koch signature on his check.

Peter Suderman served as CEI's Assistant Editorial Director and Technology Analyst until March 2007, during which time he grew the position to incorporate his talent for multimedia editing and production. He is now living in New York City, writing film reviews for National Review Online, and continues to write regularly on technology, media, and culture.

Peter also serves as Associate Editor of Doublethink, the quarterly print magazine of the America's Future Foundation. He recieved a degree in English with a minor in Film Studies from the University of North Florida, where he worked as an editor and columnist at The UNF Spinnaker. His writing has appeared in The Washington Times, The Washington Examiner, National Review Online, Reason, The American Spectator, AFF Brainwash, and other publications.

Heh. "Doublethink." Two English majors with no training in health care policy (or health care or policies) are writing about it for online magazines and making a small fortune doing it. Our elite meritocracy at work.

Speaking of the law, why on earth is CEI getting subpoenaed? The attorney general, Claude Earl Walker, explains: “We are committed to ensuring a fair and transparent market where consumers can make informed choices about what they buy and from whom. If ExxonMobil has tried to cloud their judgment, we are determined to hold the company accountable.”  
That wasn't much of an explanation. It doesn't mention any law that ExxonMobil may have broken. It is also borderline delusional, if Walker believes that ExxonMobil’s statements or non-statements about climate change during the period 1997 to 2007 appreciably affected consumer propensity to stop at a Mobil station, rather than tootling down the road to Shell or Chevron, or giving up their car in favor of walking to work.
That quote wasn't in McArdle's first link so she had to have looked around to find it. It is very odd that she did not link [to the charges]*. I can only surmise she did not because a link would have ruined her little story, something we often see. Perhaps she did not want to be nominated for a "McLazy" twice in one weekend.

Somewhere she must have seen the actual charges against CEI, which are violation of the RICO act; obtaining money under false pretenses. I seriously doubt McLazy read the subpoena but she must have seen some account of the charges. Ordinarily it would go without saying that a journalist would find out what the charge was as a necessary part of her article but this is McArdle so journalism standards are completely optional.

Let's pause for a second and Marvel at the massive stupidity of her response to the subpoena. Yesterday I tried out 3D glasses for the iphone. At one point I was surrounded by superheroes. Iron Man stood right in front of me. The Hulk sailed through the air over my shoulder. It was incredible; a total immersion experience. A Megan McArdle post is just like that. When you are in McArdle's head you are bombarded with insultingly deliberate stupidity. Massive logic holes open up at your feet. Ideas and facts sail over your head. Ideology wraps around you. You're not skillful enough to manipulate any of the images or play the game but that's okay because when people die you can just reboot the game and your lies and mistakes disappear and you get to start anew.

ExxonMobil conspired to hide evidence of climate change that they themselves gathered. One of the wingnut welfare factories they funded was CEI. Evidence of climate change would lead to action on climate change (hypothetically) and oil companies would lose money. Billions, maybe. McMoron continues her habit of libeling people she doesn't like and branches off into gaslighting.

It's delusional to think Exxon paid CEI to obfuscate about climate change because telling people about global warming would not make them walk instead of drive and finding out Exxon hid data will not make people stop buying their gas. Therefore AG Walker is delusional and McArdle's all "um, whut?" about the great big noisy fuss over nothingburger.
State attorneys general including Walker held a press conference last week to talk about the investigation of ExxonMobil and explain their theory of the case. And yet, there sort of wasn’t a theory of the case. They spent a lot of time talking about global warming, and how bad it was, and how much they disliked fossil fuel companies. They threw the word “fraud” around a lot. But the more they talked about it, the more it became clear that what they meant by “fraud” was “advocating for policies that the attorneys general disagreed with.”

 
Actually, they mean "having engaged or engaging in conduct misrepresenting its knowledge of the likelihood that its products and activities have contributed and are continuing to contribute to Climate Change in order to defraud the government of the Unites States Virgin Islands and consumers in the Virgin Islands" in violation of laws forbidding obtaining money by false pretenses and conspiring to obtain money by false pretenses. Fraud is not merely a policy that the attorneys general disagree with. McArdle avoids discussing facts so she can better defraud consumers by conspiring to obtain money by false pretenses; that is, pretending to be an impartial, knowledgeable journalist whose job is to inform her readership.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman gave the game away when he explained that they would be pursuing completely different theories in different jurisdictions -- some under pension laws, some consumer protection, some securities fraud. It is traditional, when a crime has actually been committed, to first establish that a crime has occurred, and then identify a perpetrator. When prosecutors start running that process backwards, it’s a pretty good sign that you’re looking at prosecutorial power run amok.
Tell that to Eliot Ness. But McArdle's purpose is to gin up indignation about lying scum of the earth poor, beleaguered CEI, not tell the truth. Or even the whole story. As far as we know she hasn't even found out what the charge is.
And that approaches certainty when attorneys general start sending subpoenas to think tanks that ExxonMobil might have supported. What exactly would the subpoena prove? That ExxonMobil supported opinions about climate change? That the opinions tended to be congruent with its own interests? That this opinion might have been wrong, and if so, might have encouraged wrong beliefs in others? This is a description of, roughly, every person or organization in the history of the world, not excluding attorneys general. It’s also not illegal. Especially since, as the New York Times points out, “the company published extensive research over decades that largely lined up with mainstream climatology.” This isn’t preventing consumers from buying into a Ponzi scheme; it’s an attempt to criminalize advocacy.
By carefully being "unaware" of the facts, she can pretend they are not being accused of hiding data. Incredibly, she uses the fact that Exxon found evidence supporting man-made climate change decades ago to exonerate them.  And she accuses the government of stifling constitutional rights and criminalizing advocacy. Of course.
I support action on climate change for the same reason I buy homeowner’s, life and disability insurance: because the potential for catastrophe is large. But that doesn’t mean I’m entitled to drive people who disagree with me from the public square. Climate activists have an unfortunate tendency to try to do just that, trying to brand dissenters as the equivalent of Holocaust deniers.
Dissenters have successfully held off action for four decades. We have already gone over the 2 degree tipping point. We might have sealed our own doom, far, far earlier than we thought probable. We might have sentenced our children's children to suffering and early death. It is all so big and horrifying that we can't even talk about it. These climate deniers will kill millions. Maybe all of us. We are damned by our own greed and willful blindness.

And here comes Miss Megan McArdle to support them in their murder and treason. Lying, deceiving, omitting, obfuscating, just like always.

What does she care? She won't have any kids and when P. Suderman realizes that his McArdle stock is going down while his Hot Intern stock is rising and shorts her, she won't care a bit about his little kiddies. In the mean time she is rich and slightly drunk and very happy.

It's an understandable impulse. It seems easier to shut down dissenters than to persuade people to stop consuming lots and lots of energy-intensive goods and services.
Bite me.
But history has had lots and lots of existentially important debates. If you thought that only the One True Church could save everyone from Hell, the Reformation was the most existentially important debate in human history. If you thought that Communist fifth columnists were plotting to turn the U.S. into Soviet Russia, that was also pretty existentially important. We eventually realized that it was much better to have arguments like these with words, rather than try to suppress one side of them by force of law.
Is she sure she believes in climate change? Because none of those things are real.
Unfortunately those who wield the law forget that lesson, and we get cases like the CEI subpoena, intended to silence debate by hounding one side. The attorney general doesn't even need to have the law on his side; the process itself can be the punishment, as victims are forced to spend immense amounts on legal fees, and immense time and money on complying with investigations. (And if the law were on the attorney general's side in a case like this, then that’s a terrible law, and it should be overturned.)
I think a lot of prosecutors would be very unhappy if you got rid of the RICO act and a lot of mobsters would be very happy.

McArdle has once again hit her sweet spot, where she is prominent enough to make a boat-load of money but not prominent enough to be held responsible for her own words. She can insinuate the CEI is being hounded by a probably illegal and definitely unconstitutional vendetta for the sake of AG's pet projects and suffer no repercussions.
Prosecutors know the damage they can do even when they don't have a leg to stand on. The threat of investigation can coerce settlements even in weak cases.
The enemies of the Competitive Enterprise Institute and ExxonMobil should hold their applause. In a liberal democracy, every guerrilla tactic your side invents will eventually be used against you. Imagine a coalition of Republican attorneys general announcing an investigation of companies that have threatened state boycotts over gay-rights issues, and you may get a sense of why this is not such a good precedent to set.
She's concern-trolling our planet's death.

If Republican attorneys general want to boycott states that grant civil rights to gays they are free to knock themselves out. They would rather have money, however, so it's a deliberately stupid threat in a deliberately stupid post by a deliberately stupid pundit.

*corrected "charges" for "quote"