Thank You, Joichi Ito!

#9: Epstein has legs.

When veteran tech writer Xeni Jardin said we should focus on Jeffrey Epstein's victims, I thought it was a recipe to kill off the scandal of the century. I was so wrong. What Jardin meant wasn’t a lawyer-led sympathy-fest but an avenging agenda that focused on Epstein's accomplices and rehabilitators in the science/tech starplex. The result has been a welcome revival in journalistic interest in the scandal, with the shaming of the MIT Media Lab for taking Epstein's money (and being all deceptive about it). Media Lab Director Joichi Ito has resigned from his post and from the 3,572 corporate boards on which he served (including the New York Times). Some other big names now have some explaining to do. Did Bill Gates really let Epstein direct his MIT contributions, as some of the MIT emails claim? If so, for heaven's sake, why? Gates denies it. On the other hand, he apparently visited Epstein's New York palace the previous year and took a ride on Epstein's jet to Palm Beach. Does he meet with every grasping half-billionaire who “‘aggressively’ … bombards him with calls and contacts.” … Similar questions for investor/art collector Leon Black (who also shows up in the MIT emails) … And why did Linked-In billionaire Reid Hoffman defend the Epstein gang at MIT, acting like a "bouncer" against qualmish in-house moralists like Anand Giridharadas? Hoffman certainly didn't need Epstein's money, or Joichi Ito's blessing.

These are big names. Now we're getting somewhere.

If the scalp-collecting press starts going after anyone who took Epstein's money or let him direct their money or got massages or more from his girls or otherwise got sucked into his sordid world -- well, it becomes almost impossible not to ask what the whole enterprise was about, including how Epstein got his money in the first place. I have no idea -- or rather many ideas. You don't amass half a billion dollars just by being a pervy science groupie. ....

P.S.: The new fallback answer to this ur-question from Wall Street seems to be that Epstein got his money through blackmail. It was only blackmail! Really. That’s all! Maybe it was. But if you’re a total paranoid -- and I am -- you have to wonder if that blackmail could also be put to other, political uses. And by whom? ... Maybe focus three other big names: Bill Clinton, George Mitchell, Ehud Barak ...


Pre-Review: New York Times’ Binyamin Appelbaum has a new book out, blaming economists’ thinking for allowing the rise of money inequality. He writes:

Accounts of the rise of inequality often take a fatalistic view. The problem is described as a natural consequence of capitalism, or it is blamed on forces, like globalization or technological change, that are beyond the direct control of policymakers. But much of the fault lies in ourselves, in our collective decision to embrace policies that prioritized efficiency and encouraged the concentration of wealth,… Reducing inequality should be a primary goal of public policy.

As one who takes a fatalistic view, I look forward to reading Appelbaum’s opus with skepticism. Yes, the decision to open up the U.S. to Chinese competition (and mass immigration) is our own. But it’s one thing to think we can reverse or temper those initiatives enough to raise incomes for the American workers at the bottom who haven’t been seeing the benefits of globalism. It’s another to think we can reverse income inequality generally, including bringing down the top ranges — enough to make a big difference, anyway. There’s an ideological need among Democrats to think the general trend toward income inequality is the product of insidious, reversible, mainly Republican policies, not something inherent in the development of our capitalism. But is that true? I’ve argued (here) that the numbers don’t add up — the idea that taxing and redistributing and training is going to put the Gini coefficient back in the bottle is a fantasy. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it — unless Appelbaum can make a convincing case it’s not so. Will report back. ….


My friend Steve Waldman (writing on Facebook) shares a common thought -- that all the hurdles we place on illegal immigration actually yield a crop of desirable new citizens:

Ideally we'd focus on letting in only immigrants who have certain characteristics. They would need to be passionate about being in America (I'm less interested in the PhDs who intend to return to their country). They would need to have an ambitious drive to succeed, an intense work ethic and maybe a desire for democracy. (Perhaps they're from countries that don't have many rights). Ingenuity, persistence, and courage would be a plus. The problem is you can't really design a written test to assess such merit-based qualities. It's almost as is if you'd have to develop some sort of obstacle course. Make them travel many miles by foot. Make them have to swim rivers. Make them spend a big portion of their life savings to come here. That way we'd attract only those who want it so much that they'd make the effort even if there's a chance they'll get sent back. Is there some way of designing a merit-based system that would attract only those people? I don't know. I'm drawing a blank.

He's half-joking, but making a serious point — and there's a lot of truth in this paragraph. You can't live in Southern California, to name one place, without coming to respect and appreciate what are presumably illegal Latino workers (it's your contractors' job to ask 'em!). Some of that clearly has to do with the initiative and discipline it took for them to wind up working here. [Never mind the Social Security identity theft, which has real victims. Chalk that up to ingenuity.]

But it's not as devastating a point as Waldman seems to think. There are two problems: 1) It's essentially an endorsement of the status quo -- that is, it requires illegal immigration to remain illegal in order to provide all the hurdles for illegals to jump over. In other words, it requires hypocrisy. If you make the path for illegals easier -- maybe a matter of right! -- well, then you lose its "obstacle course" features, and you’ll start getting people who don't have the drive to swim rivers but are quite happy to waltz in on an ACLU-approved royal road. 2) More important, the goal of immigration policy is not simply to attract good people who would make good Americans. There are a lot of good people on the planet who would make good Americans. It's also to preserve what we value in American society. Specifically, we want to preserve an economy and culture in which everyone, even high school dropouts, even the unschooled and unschoolable, can find a job in which, if they stick to it, they can earn enough to live a life of respect and equal citizenship. That's impossible if we toss the bottom 10% of the American work force onto the junk heap, GE style, because we'd rather hire Waldman's scrappy obstacle jumpers (as most employers would). We’re not GE. We have to bring everyone along ...

Annoying word of the week: “Trope”! This has to be the word most overused by a generation of college students (my generation’s was “paradigm”). What does it mean? As best I can tell, it means “I’d say ‘schtick’ but I want an A on this paper.” In political discourse, it’s become a way to avoid actually making your case. Instead of accusing someone of anti-Semitism and proving it, you can accuse them of using an ‘anti-Semitic trope,’ which is close enough for horseshoes and today’s papers. So Trump says, in effect, if Jews support Israel they should support him. Obviously, lots of Jews support Israel. Trump would like their votes. But because Trump said they’re being “disloyal” to Israel if they don’t support his party, he “invoked the anti-Semitic trope of dual loyalty.” Well, the “trope” is there — and that might be bad, even anti-Semitic, if he were charging Jews with being disloyal to the U.S. But he’s not. He’s not even flipping the trope, which would be to say Jews are more loyal to the U.S. than to Israel. He doesn’t seem to think there’s a big conflict there at all. Still, it’s, you know, a trope! Looks like a trope, anyway. (What do Trump’s critics make of Lion Feuchtwanger’s Jew Suss, the movie version of which I saw recently. It’s all about a man steeped in Jewish tradition who’s good with numbers and torn because he’s the real power behind a non-Jewish ruler? Trope gridlock! But the opposite of anti-Semitic.)

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