Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Cruising the Web

David Brooks looks at several statistics comparing today's students to those of previous years and notes that modern students are much more interested in going to college to get training that they hope will lead to a job rather than going to college to develop a meaningful philosophy of life compared to students of 1966. Well, 1966 was not the country's peak of rational thinking among college students and the economy was such that there were jobs waiting for students when they graduated regardless of the courses they took in college. I went to school in the 1970s and I remembered thinking that I would take advantage of that experience to study simply what interested me and worry about getting a job later. So when people asked me what sort of job I hoped to get with a Master's degree in Slavic linguistics, I remember thinking what a materialistic question that was. Now I can't figure out why I was so blithe about getting a job. When I was at UCLA for grad school, there was a big debate about getting rid of the journalism major because that seemed to authorities to be too much devoted to training people for a career and that wasn't what the university should be doing. People just laugh when I tell them that today. It is so funny from both the view expressed by the university and by the idea that college courses are what is needed to train a journalist. Now when my high school students ask me advice about college, my advice concerns how they should focus on building a resume that will make them interesting to an employer, not that they should use the opportunity to develop a "meaningful philosophy of life," whatever that is and however college courses could lead someone to that goal.

Politico checks in with the White House press corps to get their views on a variety of questions of what it is like to cover the White House. Their reaction to the Obama administration calling itself "the most transparent administration in history" is quite amusing. Their cynicism about this administration's relations with the press leads to Jim Geraghty's comments about how the media are willing to endlessly give them the benefit of the doubt. He points to all sorts of members of the MSM who admit that they think that the administration is clearly misleading or, as Jake Tapper says, dissembling, obfuscating, and often, you know, insulting” to the American public. They have earned lots of fact-checking corrections and even earned the "Lie of the Year." But they still get cut slack on every new statement.
You would think this repeated mendacity, on topics ranging from keeping doctors to red lines, would add up; that the media would greet White House statements with increasing skepticism. You might think the coverage would characterize White House statements as assertions, not proven facts. The White House shifts to “trust us” quite a bit. Trust us, we’ve held everyone in our government responsible for security in Benghazi accountable. Trust us, we’ve determined why no rescue effort was launched. Trust us, we’ve turned over all relevant documents to congressional investigators. Trust us, all of the false information we told the public after the attack stemmed from a series of innocent mistakes and miscommunications.

Instead, we live in a world that feels as if someone has picked up our national Etch-a-Sketch and shaken it on a regular basis. After getting caught in a lie, the administration goes to work the next day and deals with a press corps as credulous as the day before. We’re living in a world where the villagers never wise up about the boy who cried “wolf!”
This leads Geraghty to comment on Jay Carney's prevarications on how much they've cooperated with Congressional investigations into Benghazi, but now are considering not cooperating with the House's new special committee devoted to investigating the attacks and the administration's reactions.
When you’ve been caught lying to the American public about life-and-death matters so often, you don’t get to decide which congressional investigations are legitimate and which ones aren’t. You have forfeited the benefit of the doubt. If it’s really that illegitimate, or a fishing expedition, the American people will let Congress know in November.

The notion of checks and balances in the Constitution is not dependent upon each branch’s opinion of the legitimacy of the questions of the other. Nixon didn’t think highly of Congress, either. You don’t get to ignore the Supreme Court if you don’t think their decision was “legitimate.”
Oh, and on Carney's claim of full cooperation, here is one example of the kind of "sensitive, but unclassified" email that the administration is withholding form the public and Congress because they think that discussions of a media strategy should be privileged information.

Jonah Goldberg is concerned about the trends we're seeing of policing thought crime.
He reminds us of the Red Scare that swept the country in 1919 to 1920.
In 1920, a bond salesman walked into Joseph Yenowsky's Waterbury, Conn., clothing store. Yenowsky was a tough sell. During their lengthy conversation, Yenowsky told the salesman he thought Vladimir Lenin, the Russian Bolshevik leader, was "the brainiest man" in the world. The bond salesmen turned Yenowsky in to the police for sedition. Yenowsky got six months in jail under a Connecticut statute.

This was hardly an isolated incident during the so-called "Red Scare" of the World War I era. In Syracuse, three activists were arrested for circulating fliers protesting the conditions of America's political prisoners. The subversive flier quoted the First Amendment. They got 18 months in prison. In Washington, D.C., a man refused to stand for the The Star-Spangled Banner. A furious sailor shot the "disloyal" man three times in the back. When the man fell, the Washington Post reported, "the crowd burst into cheering and handclapping." An Indiana jury deliberated for two minutes before it acquitted a man of murdering an immigrant who'd said "To Hell with the United States."

A number of conditions were necessary for this totalitarian fever that gripped America. The law -- state, federal and local -- was arrayed against any free speech deemed "un-American." But so were the people. There was a broad consensus that there was a real threat posed to the U.S. from abroad – and from within – in the form of Bolsheviks, anarchists and disloyal immigrants or "hyphenated Americans" (e.g. German-Americans or Irish-Americans). Woodrow Wilson's administration fueled this climate. Wilson himself proclaimed that "Any man who carries a hyphen about with him carries a dagger that he is ready to plunge into the vitals of this Republic whenever he gets ready."

It's valuable to remember all of this for several reasons. First, it's good to know such things can happen here ("even" under the leadership of liberals and progressives). Also, it's good to understand that things have been worse than they are today. There's a tendency to think our government has only become more intrusive and censorial than ever. That's simply untrue. Last, we should be wary of thought-crime panics.
People aren't being arrested or expelled from the country today. But there are attempts to drum people out of public life if they don't think and express the proper, approved thoughts.
In Washington, Democrats increasingly resort to charges of racism or sexism whenever they hear ideas they don't like. Democratic House leaders Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Steny Hoyer have dubbed critics of Obamacare "simply un-American." Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid insists the libertarian Koch brothers are "un-American." President Obama himself has a knack for suggesting that he cares about America while his opponents don't. He also likes to suggest the time for debate is over on the issues where he's made up his mind.

Defenders of the thought-crime crackdown will fairly insist today is different from things in Yenowsky's day. Fighting bigotry is an obvious good, unlike the crackdown on domestic radicals. Yes and no. Sure, fighting bigotry is right and good, but so is defending the United States from those who would do it harm. The test isn't in the motives but in the methods. Today, it is a kind of evil-thinking not to be part of the war on evil thinking. And so the cause of tolerance demands evermore intolerance.
In my state, Republican Speaker of the State House, Thom Tillis, has won the nomination to oppose Kay Hagan in the November election. This was notable because he surpassed the 40% threshold to avoid a runoff despite facing a tea party opponent backed by Rand Paul and a pastor backed by Mike Huckabee. Though it is rather puzzling why Rand Paul should have opposed Tillis. My feeling is that Tillis won the nomination outright by pointing out that Harry Reid's PAC was running misleading ads against him in order to bring about his own sort of Operation Chaos among Republicans in North Carolina. Once people started talking about how Democrats were trying to force a runoff or gain a weaker candidate against Hagan, Tillis's poll numbers within the state primary electorate began to climb. And the millions spent by American Crossroads and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce didn't hurt in getting across that message while simultaneously bashing Kay Hagan.

The Democrats are seeking to amend the First Amendment.

Charlie Cook warns Democrats and the media not to ignore the reality of how bad things look for the Democrats in this year's elections.

The Keystone pipeline is ruining Mark Udall's week.

Just what you think about on Mother's Day, how you can help Michelle Obama.

This is fun: "15 texts babies wish they could send."