Monday, January 19, 2015

Cruising the Web

Eugene Volokh explains the dangers of what he calls, "censorship envy."
One reason I broadly oppose governmental restrictions on the expression of ideas — even obviously bad, dangerous, and offensive ideas — is the phenomenon I call “censorship envy”: The common reaction that, “If my neighbor gets to ban speech he reviles, why shouldn’t I get to do the same?”

To offer one example, say Congress and the states pass a constitutional amendment allowing a ban on flag burning. It seems to me quite likely, and psychologically understandable, that this will push for greater moves to ban other speech, such as display of the Confederate flag. Such a misplaced desire for equality of repression is a powerful mental force, and it’s one way in which narrow speech restrictions can end up leading to broader ones.

But beyond this, even if the envy doesn’t lead to broader speech restrictions, that itself is dangerous to society. Say (as is likely) that, even if an anti-flagburning amendment passes, any move to similarly ban the Confederate flag fails. Display of the Confederate flag will then likely rankle people even more, creating more offense and more division.

Right now, when people — mostly blacks, I suspect — are deeply offended by what they see as a symbol of racism and slavery, the legal system can powerfully tell them: “Yes, you must endure this speech that you find so offensive, but others must endure offensive speech, too. Many people hate flag burning as much as you hate the Confederate flag, but the Constitution says we all have to live with being offended: We must fight the speech we hate through argument, not through suppression.”

Yet what would we say when flag burning is banned but other offensive symbols are allowed? “We in the majority get to suppress symbols we hate, but you in the minority don’t”? “Our hatred of flag burning is reasonable but your hatred of the Confederate flag is unreasonable”?
Volokh applies this logic to European bans on supposed "hate speech" or bans on Holocaust denial or praise of terrorists. Soon each group is trying to trump other groups in their demands for protection against being offended. It's much easier and better to let it all out there in the free marketplace of ideas. James Taranto argues the same point about hate speech.
Bien-pensant liberals would love to see America censor hate speech. They have done so in domains under their control, notably college campuses, and four liberal justices dissented from R.A.V. v. St. Paul (by contrast, Brandenburg was a unanimous decision of the Warren court).

In a turgid essay for, self-described “human rights activist” Tanya Cohen denounces America for its First Amendment tradition. After an earlier article on the subject, she complains, she received “a hostile reaction” from Americans and “universally positive” ones from readers elsewhere. “I honestly believe that it’s because the concept of human rights is just so utterly alien to most people in the US.”

“That sounds like hatred to me,” observes a reader of this column who sent us the Cohen link. Which brings us back to the allegations of a “double standard” on which the Times reported—and to which the editorial also alludes. Under European hate-speech laws, the Times observes, “an Internet service provider might well have taken down satirical cartoons of the kind Charlie Hebdo published” on the theory that they constitute hate speech against Muslims. (We pause here to savor the irony, verging on hypocrisy, of the Times’s own refusal to show the Charlie cartoons, purportedly in deference to Muslim sensibilities.)

The trouble with policing hate speech is that without double standards there are no standards at all. As a practical matter, what defines hate speech is not the feeling that motivates the speaker, which can be policed only through totalitarian means if at all. It is, rather, the offense taken by the listener. The best definition of hate speech is “speech I hate”—the opposite of an objective standard.

Jazz Shaw relays how silly university policies against sexual violence have gotten as one college expelled an autistic man for mistakenly kissing the top of a young woman's head because he mistook her for a friend of his. The woman wasn't upset and refused to file a complaint, but the college administrators were so afraid of what the Obama Justice Department might do that they went ahead and expelled him. We're seeing how the absence of common sense that has long pervaded elementary and secondary school administrators with their zero tolerance policies than cause them to suspend small children for simply drawing pictures of a gun have now extended to the university level.

Along with many, Kevin Williamson ridicules the idea of John Kerry conducting foreign policy using hugs and James Taylor.
The spectacle of the Obama administration’s dispatching Secretary of State John Kerry to “share a big hug with Paris” as James Taylor — who still exists — crooned “You’ve Got a Friend” is the perfect objective correlative for American decline: The pathetic self-regard of John Kerry and James Taylor’s Baby Boomers meets the cynical, self-serving, going-through-the-motions style of Barack Obama’s Generation X as disenchanted Millennials in parental basements across the fruited plains no doubt injured their thumbs typing “WTF?” It is the substitution of celebrity for power, of sentiment for analysis, of sloppy gesture for clear-headed commitment.

We’re responding to barbarism from the 7th century with soft rock from the 1970s.

The GOP nomination fight is shaping up to being a battle of the new against the old. Watch for some of the old guys trying to persuade us that they have that new car smell.

Salena Zito argues that South Carolina wouldn't be a lock for any of the potential candidates.

This about sums up much of Obama's presidency, but is especially true now: "In the face of irrelevance, Obama buys attention with other people's money"
Having now lost both houses of Congress, Obama has lost the platform from which he can set the agenda. Soon, his party will choose a new leader to move forward, and he will be a thing of the past. This means Obama must now go to greater lengths than before in order to assert his relevance and keep the attention of a weary public.

To that end, his proposals are now beginning to match the worst stereotype of liberal policymaking — a stereotype often unfairly applied, but which certainly fits now. Obama's ideas are getting more expensive and more generous with other people's money, because that's what he believes it will take to keep the public's attention.

Obama's two most recent policy proposals — federally funded community college and paid sick and maternity leave — fit this populist model well. Each offers something that appears to be free, while attempting to hide the very real costs from the public.

Obama's college plan is not as promising politically — it is too hard to hide its $60 billion price tag. But his plan for maternity leave should have Republicans losing sleep at night. Unlike the Democrats' previous pitch to women, which mostly aimed to mobilize single women by obsessing over contraception and abortion, this plan is is designed to appeal to married women, a Republican voting bloc.

Nine in ten American businesses provide paid sick leave, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. But only 12 percent currently offer paid maternity leave, beyond the benefits available through state and employer short-term disability programs. The basic economic case against mandated paid leave is that businesses are ultimately concerned with the total cost of compensation for their employees. If the government forces them to offer benefits, then they'll just reduce salaries to keep the cost of compensation constant.

Ramesh Ponnuru refutes five myths about Mitt Romney's run in 2012. That may all be correct, but George Will argues persuasively why the GOP needs a different candidate in 2016.
If it seemed likely that the Republican field of candidates for 2016 would be unimpressive, this would provide a rationale for Romney redux. But markets work, and the U.S. electoral system is a reasonably well-functioning political market, with low barriers to entry for new products.

For all the flaws of a nominating process that begins with the Obnoxiously Entitled Four (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, with 4 percent of the nation’s population), those states do not require immediate substantial financial muscle, and they reward retail campaigning, so lesser-known and underfunded candidates can break through. Furthermore, campaign finance laws designed to limit competition are, fortunately, porous enough to allow a few wealthy contributors to enable marginal candidates to be heard. These are among the reasons the Republicans’ 2016 field will have more plausible aspirants than any nomination contest since the party’s first presidential campaign in 1856.

America does not have one presidential election every four years, it has 51 — in the states and the District of Columbia. A Romney candidacy, drawing on his network of financial supporters and other activists, might make sense if the GOP were anemic in the states. But Republicans as of this week control 31 governorships, including those in seven of the 10 most populous states (Florida, Texas, Illinois, Michigan, North Carolina, Georgia and Ohio — all but California, Pennsylvania and New York). Republicans control 68 of the 98 partisan state legislative chambers. (Nebraska’s unicameral legislature is chosen in nonpartisan elections.) In 23 states, with 251 electoral votes, Republicans control the governor’s office and the legislature. (Democrats have such control in only seven states.) Republicans have their most state legislative seats since the 1920s.

So why does the Census Department spend almost a billion dollars a year in years when it isn't conducting a census? And does it have anything to do with corruption already found in certain sections of the Census Bureau?

Don't believe everything the media tell you about the rosy economic picture today.

There is something sweetly ironic about Hollywood, whose denizens love to accuse others of racism, being accused themselves of racism.

Michael Barone explains how we're back to encouraging the same wrong-headed policies that led to the housing bubble in the first place.
Could it happen again? Wallison points out that government regulators are once again reducing the credit standards for mortgage seekers. The argument, as in the 1990s and 2000s, is that traditional standards are misleading and unduly prevent low-income and minority households from buying homes.

Fannie and Freddie are now purchasing the large majority of mortgages and announced last month they would buy mortgages with only 3 percent down payments. The qualified mortgage standards laid down by HUD and other regulators in October allowed for mortgages with zero down payments.

That sounds like a recipe for another housing bubble — and for mass foreclosures, which hurt the policies’ intended beneficiaries — and perhaps for another financial crisis as well.

Larry Sabato assesses the chances of Harry Reid winning reelection in 2016. He's won narrowly in five consecutive races. But he might well have lost in 2010 if the Republicans had had a better candidate. That's what it all comes down to in the end. He's vulnerable, but not if the Republicans nominate an ill-prepared, weak candidate who blows it.

Rather unsurprising how pro-Islam protests lead to people being killed in fires set in churches and bars.

Ah, Eric Holder does something I approve of.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Friday barred local and state police from using federal law to seize cash, cars and other property without warrants or criminal charges.

Holder’s action represents the most sweeping check on police power to confiscate personal property since the seizures began three decades ago as part of the war on drugs.

Since 2008, thousands of local and state police agencies have made more than 55,000 seizures of cash and property worth $3 billion under a civil asset forfeiture program at the Justice Department called Equitable Sharing.
Some local governments have been shamefully using this program to fund their departments and confiscate any property they can possibly connect to drug selling, even seizing a family's home if their child was selling pot.

What will happen to college admissions if this is not stopped?
A group of Stanford students have discovered a way to access their own confidential admissions files — including comments by admissions officers, criticisms of their applications, and information about how their status as minorities, athletes, or legacies affected their applications.
The staff of an anonymous Stanford publication called The Fountain Hopper is encouraging thousands of students at Stanford and other universities nationwide to request their own files, potentially cracking open the secretive and controversial world of elite colleges admissions.
And imagine how such information might lead to a whole lot more cases like this.
If you go to, you'll find yourself on a page that says this: Were You Denied Admission to Harvard? It may be because you're the wrong race. says the same thing about the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. And there's a third one called, for the University of Wisconsin-Madison. All three of these websites prominently feature Asian-Americans on their pages, looking either deep in thought, or a little sad — two have their heads resting pensively on their chins.

And these websites all seek people who think they were wrongly denied from those universities.

The sites are the brainchildren of Edward Blum and his advocacy group, The Project for Fair Representation. Blum previously backed Fisher v. Texas, an affirmative action case that was brought before the Supreme Court in 2012. In that case, Abigail Fisher, a white woman, claimed she was denied admission to the school, while lesser-qualified blacks and Latinos got in because of affirmative action. (The Supreme Court sent the case back to a lower court for further review, and it's still making its way through the appeals process.)

Blum's three sites preceded two new lawsuits this week, one against UNC and another against Harvard. This time, the cases are more forcefully making the argument that affirmative action policies don't just hurt whites; they also hurt Asian-Americans, maybe even more so.
Universities will scurry to find a way to end the loophole that allows students to access their files - perhaps forcing them to sign a waiver for their entire application before it will be reviewed. They can't allow the curtain to be pulled back on how admissions decisions are really being made.

Well this is just nonsense. Elizabeth Warren claims, "I'll always be an outsider." Someone who came up through the ranks of Harvard's faculty is not an outsider.

Elizabeth Scalia notes this lovely irony. Performances of The Vagina Monologues are being cancelled because it excludes "women without vaginas."