Monday, May 11, 2015

Cruising the Web

Oh, boo hoo! Michelle Obama used the occasion of a graduation speech at Tuskegee University to talk about all she's suffered as the first African American First Lady. People have criticized her and, of course, such criticism has been racist in tone and origin. I bet Hillary Clinton and Nancy Reagan could tell her something about how some First Ladies receive an inordinate amount of criticism that has nothing to do with race. And then she had the gall to segue from talking about herself and all that she has supposedly suffered to what the Tuskegee Airmen faced.
Obama said she and her husband, the president of the United States and arguably the most powerful man in the world, have faced “frustrating” racism, which is “a heavy burden to carry.”

“We’ve both felt the sting of those daily slights throughout our entire lives,” she griped.

Obama additionally observed that the Tuskegee Airmen, the legendary regiment of black World War II pilots, faced degrading racial insults but overcame the racial mistreatment to achieve heroism.

The first lady urged Tuskegee University graduates never “to succumb to feelings of despair and anger.”
Just like her husband, any commemoration of a historical achievement comes with a lot of talking about themselves.

Democrats' hopes for regaining the House rely on courts overturning majority-minority congressional districts. What irony.

CNN looks at something I've been wondering about - what do black police officers in Baltimore think about the current situation there. And how is the police department going to keep such officers or recruit new ones? Who would want to be a Baltimore police officer?
Throughout their careers, they've both had to navigate the tensions between their profession and their community. Marcus recalled an encounter he had in a courthouse with a black woman whose son was on trial for trying to murder him. She saw Marcus during a break and told him he was a traitor to his people. He said his response to her is what he's repeated many times in similar situations:

"Don't you think I get tired of coming to work and all I'm arresting is black guys?"

Both men said they were shocked by the riots. So were other police officers. They're hearing rumors that a lot of rookie and veteran cops are planning to quit because of the beatings they took during the riots. Some officers are still hospitalized and others required reconstructive surgery because of the injuries they suffered at the hands of rioters.

Yet Marcus said he met some black residents who thanked him for stopping the looting and protecting the few stores they have in their community.

"There are a lot of good people still in this city that we still have to look out for," Marcus said.

Chelsea Clinton is now fair game. As well she should be. She is now a political figure.
Mrs Clinton campaigns in populist fashion against America's upper echelons, but as Bill Clinton said this week when quizzed about his $500,000-a-pop speaker fees, “we gotta pay our bills” and Chelsea, married to a Goldman Sachs alum turned hedge fund manager, apparently does too.

Until she quit last year, NBC News paid Miss Clinton $600,000-a-year for a handful of utterly lousy television reports that caused the Washington Post's television critic to describe her (accurately) as “one of the most boring people of her era”.

Chelsea feigns naivety about why corporations and governments throw vast sums at her parents, and yet she must know that third-rate trainee television reporters don't receive that kind of money, unless they happen to be called Clinton.

She has played the game herself too long to fail to understand the rules, and the electorate knows it It might still feel mean and gratuitous to beat up on Chelsea - and Republican strategists might decide against it for that reason - but the fact is Chelsea is no longer the young woman who moved the needle positively for her mother in 2008.

Chelsea has moved on these past eight years and - like the rest of Clinton machine - she comes with baggage now, too.
Republican politicians should still stay away from talking about her unless she gets more actively involved in campaigning for her mother. But ridiculing her by comics, pundits, and bloggers is totally fair.

James Freeman reviews Peter Schweizer's Clinton Cash and reveals some other stories about Clinton corruption that hadn't made the news.
In one chapter, there’s Clinton foreign-policy adviser Joseph Wilson joining a company known for striking deals with Sudanese warlords. Then along comes Stephen Dattels, another Canadian investor whose foundation’s donation also was not disclosed by Team Clinton, getting help from the State Department in 2009 for a mining venture in Bangladesh, according to a cable posted on WikiLeaks. And there’s Swedish mining magnate Lukas Lundin, whose organization pledged $100 million to a Clinton Foundation initiative in 2007. Mr. Schweizer reports that the Lundin operation in the Democratic Republic of Congo remained highly profitable thanks in part to the fact that Secretary Clinton implemented none of the key reforms in a 2006 law to promote Congolese democracy that she backed as a senator.

Another high-dollar Clinton Foundation donor, Saudi sheik Mohammed al-Amoudi, derived much of his wealth “from his close relationship with Ethiopia’s repressive government,” writes Mr. Schweizer. And even though State Department staff determined that Ethiopia failed to meet the transparency requirements of a country receiving U.S. aid, Mrs. Clinton granted a waiver.

Not all the benefits of African engagement went to Clinton friends. Some went directly to the Clintons. According to the book, “In his first eight years on the global lecture circuit, Bill had never been paid to speak in Nigeria. But once Hillary was appointed secretary of state, he booked two of his top three highest-paid speeches ever by traveling to Nigeria, pulling in a whopping $700,000 each.”

Far to the northeast, another group was also suddenly eager to hear wise words from the former president. Mr. Schweizer could find no evidence that the royals in the United Arab Emirates had ever paid for a Clinton speech before 2011. But that year the Obama administration designated U.A.E. shipping companies for economic sanctions for doing business with Iran. And just one day before the U.A.E.’s foreign minister met with Hillary Clinton in the U.S. that year, Mr. Clinton was in Abu Dhabi receiving $500,000 for a speech.
When they were in the White House, they were raking in money for their own political campaigns or the Democratic Party. Once they left they were devoted to filling their own pockets. And her position as Secretary of State greatly facilitated that project. Imagine what Bill could earn if she were sitting in the Oval Office.

One liberal moans that Matt Drudge has become the "second most influential man in America."

Eugene Volokh examines the desire of some at the University of Minnesota to complain about flyers for a symposium on the Charlie Hebdo murders because they depicted the post-murder cover with a picture of Mohammed saying "Je suis Charlie" and the word "Censored" stamped across it. Volokh explains why this is not harassment despite what the complainers want to say.
Of course, whatever limits on “harassment of an individual based on their identity” might be (a complicated question, partly because “harassment” is so ill-defined), here there was no harassment of an individual. The flyer didn’t call people’s homes to leave offensive messages. The flyer didn’t follow anyone, calling them names. The flyer didn’t even mention any faculty, staff member or student whom it was criticizing by name (though most such criticism would indeed be protected free speech).

Rather, the flyer contained an image that some individuals find offensive because of their religion. If that is enough to trigger an investigation — on the theory that any speech offensive to individuals of certain religious groups may be “harassment of an individual based on their identity” — then something is very badly wrong in the EOAA.

Indeed, even speech that intentionally “disparag[es]” “faith[s]” is exactly the sort of thing that universities should host, alongside speech that defends people’s faiths, or that disparages or defends political, moral or scientific beliefs. (The Establishment Clause has been read as prohibiting governments, including public universities, from taking official stances on theology or on the merits of various religions, but it most certainly does not prohibit panels on religious topics, or panels that discuss controversies or current events that involve religious belief, including in ways that disparage or praise certain beliefs.) Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, atheism, feminism, socialism, capitalism, nihilism, existentialism — all of these (and much more) are proper subjects for academic discussion and critique, no matter who might find it “personally offensive and hurtful.”

It is true that even quoted blasphemy, as in the event flyer, is “disrespect[ful],” in the following way: It communicates to members of a certain religion, “We do not feel ourselves bound to respect your demands about what we should or should not say.” And “respect” here means both “abide by” and “express respect for.”

But this particular kind of disrespect is the very essence of academic freedom — the judgment that no religious group can set the terms for what can or cannot be said or shown.

As you might expect, Mark Steyn is mighty troubled by the cry from so many in the media blaming Pamela Geller for the assassination attempt at her Draw Mohammed gathering.
The Washington Post offered the celebrated headline "Event Organizer Offers No Apology After Thwarted Attack In Texas", while the Associated Press went with "Pamela Geller says she has no regrets about Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest that ended in 2 deaths". The media "narrative" of the last week is that some Zionist temptress was walking down the street in Garland in a too short skirt and hoisted it to reveal her Mohammed thong - oops, my apologies, her Prophet Mohammed thong (PBUH) - and thereby inflamed two otherwise law-abiding ISIS supporters peacefully minding their own business.

It'll be a long time before you see "Washington Post Offers No Apology for Attacking Target of Thwarted Attack" or "AP Says It Has No Regrets After Blaming The Victim". The respectable class in the American media share the same goal as the Islamic fanatics: They want to silence Pam Geller. To be sure, they have a mild disagreement about the means to that end - although even then you get the feeling, as with Garry Trudeau and those dozens of PEN novelists' reaction to Charlie Hebdo, that the "narrative" wouldn't change very much if the jihad boys had got luckier and Pam, Geert Wilders, Robert Spencer and a dozen others were all piled up in the Garland morgue.

If the American press were not so lazy and parochial, they would understand that this was the third Islamic attack on free speech this year - first, Charlie Hebdo in Paris; second, the Lars Vilks event in Copenhagen; and now Texas. The difference in the corpse count is easily explained by a look at the video of the Paris gunmen, or the bullet holes they put in the police car. The French and Texan attackers supposedly had the same kind of weapons, although one should always treat American media reports with a high degree of skepticism when it comes to early identification of "assault weapons" and "AK47s". Nonetheless, from this reconstruction, it seems clear that the key distinction between the two attacks is that in Paris they knew how to use their guns and in Garland they didn't. So a very cool 60-year-old local cop with nothing but his service pistol advanced under fire and took down two guys whose heavier firepower managed only to put a bullet in an unarmed security guard's foot.

The Charlie Hebdo killers had received effective training overseas - as thousands of ISIS recruits with western passports are getting right now. What if the Garland gunmen had been as good as the Paris gunmen? Surely that would be a more interesting question for the somnolent American media than whether some lippy Jewess was asking for it.
Steyn has been writing about this trend since 2009 with his book, Lights Out: Islam, Free Speech And The Twilight Of The West. Sadly, so much of what he was complaining about back then is even more true today. Step by step, we are abandoning our freedoms out of fear of insulting one favored group or another.
In Copenhagen, in Paris, in Garland, what's more important than the cartoons and the attacks is the reaction of all the polite, respectable people in society, which for a decade now has told those who do not accept the messy, fractious liberties of free peoples that we don't really believe in them, either, and we're happy to give them up - quietly, furtively, incrementally, remorselessly - in hopes of a quiet life. Because a small Danish newspaper found itself abandoned and alone, Charlie Hebdo jumped in to support them. Because the Charlie Hebdo artists and writers died abandoned and alone, Pamela Geller jumped in to support them. By refusing to share the risk, we are increasing the risk. It's not Pamela Geller who emboldens Islamic fanatics, it's all the nice types - the ones Salman Rushdie calls the But Brigade. You've heard them a zillion times this last week: "Of course, I'm personally, passionately, absolutely committed to free speech. But..."

Free speech is necessary to free society for all the stuff after the "but", after the "however". There's no fine line between "free speech" and "hate speech": Free speech is hate speech; it's for the speech you hate - and for all your speech that the other guy hates. If you don't have free speech, then you can't have an honest discussion. All you can do is what those stunted moronic boobs in Paris and Copenhagen and Garland did: grab a gun and open fire. What Miliband and Cotler propose will, if enacted, reduce us all to the level of the inarticulate halfwits who think the only dispositive argument is "Allahu Akbar".

Alas, we have raised a generation of But boys. Ever since those ridiculous Washington Post and AP headlines, I've been thinking about the fellows who write and sub-edit and headline and approve such things - and never see the problem with it. Why would they? If you're under a certain age, you accept instinctively that free speech is subordinate to other considerations: If you've been raised in the "safe space" of American universities, you take it as read that on gays and climate change and transgendered bathrooms and all kinds of other issues it's perfectly normal to eliminate free speech and demand only the party line. So what's the big deal about letting Muslims cut themselves in on a little of that action?

Why would you expect people who see nothing wrong with destroying a mom'n'pop bakery over its antipathy to gay wedding cakes to have any philosophical commitment to diversity of opinion? And once you no longer have any philosophical commitment to it it's easy to see it the way Miliband and Cotler do - as a rusty cog in the societal machinery that can be shaved and sliced millimeter by millimeter.

Kirsten Powers is out today with a book on a similar subject, The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech. Ironically, even though she is a self-professed liberal, I suspect her audience for this book will be conservatives. Peter Berkowitz reviews the book and her message. It is indeed a strange state of affairs when support for freedom of speech has come to be perceived as a tenet of conservatism rather than a treasured American ideal.
The danger today is that defense of freedom of speech is becoming the preserve of conservatives—and thus stamped as a partisan issue. This is bad for both right and left.

Notwithstanding high-minded and compelling conservative arguments on behalf of unfettered exchange of opinion, the fact remains that as a despised minority in the media and the academy, conservatives have a partisan interest in vindicating the principle of freedom of speech. Meanwhile, the identification of freedom of speech with conservatism encourages the conceit among those on the left that liberty of thought and discussion is a negotiable luxury, if not an outright and insufferable impediment to progress.

The crude political calculation that in a liberal democracy one's side will not always control the levers of government power should be enough to persuade citizens of all stripes that the proper response to contrary opinion is not government regulation but joining issue. More sophisticated considerations—that the encounter with opposing points of view exposes unexamined assumptions and errors, enlarges the moral imagination, and in America gives civic expression to the founding belief in the dignity of the individual—should be, along with the crude political calculation, rigorously taught at universities.

In fact, as Powers shows, the opposite is happening. "Campuses across the United States have become ground zero for silencing free speech,” she writes. She immerses readers in the gory details about the institutional mechanisms and Orwellian ideas that universities have crafted to police speech. These include the promulgation of speech codes intended to outlaw the expression of opinion that students or faculty find hurtful; the restriction of unfettered speech to small, carefully demarcated "free speech zones"; the demand for "trigger warnings" on courses, syllabi, and reading materials that might conceivably be emotionally disturbing; encouragement of the idea that "micro-aggressions"—what earlier generations referred to as irritations and annoyances—are both pervasive and debilitating; the shouting down and disinviting of distinguished lecturers who offend campus orthodoxy; and the redefinition of moral and political disagreement as a form of “violence.”

Far from drawing the public's attention to our universities’ war on free speech, the media aid and abet it. To be sure, as Powers points out, the press is having trouble preserving its own freedom. Obama has minimized direct contact with political journalists. The Obama Justice Department has harassed, investigated, and prosecuted reporters; it secretly seized phone records and emails of Fox News reporter James Rosen and phone logs of Associated Press editors and reporters. And, according to a report by former Washington Post executive editor Leonard Downie, the Obama administration launched a "war on leaks and other efforts to control information" that has constituted "the most aggressive" attack on press freedom since Watergate.

Nevertheless, most of the elite media—overwhelmingly left liberal—have largely neglected to cover the left's crusade against free speech. Operating out of newsrooms, as Powers observes, in which "there is nobody to push back on their biases," reporters seem unable to detect anything amiss on campuses, in the media, and in the political arena where, after all, the draconian regulation of speech is intended to serve avowedly left-wing causes.

An increasingly illiberal left, according to Powers, has found a ruthless ally in an increasingly illiberal feminism. To oppose abortion, or to suggest that owners of family businesses should not be required by law to subsidize their employees' purchase of a narrow range of birth control options to which the owners object on religious grounds, or to insist that the accused in campus sexual assault cases be accorded fundamental due process rights is, illiberal feminists declare, to wage “war” on women and to advocate positions that have no place in polite conversation or public debate.

From feminism to the media to the professoriate to the West Wing, the illiberal left has been empowered to curtail freedom of speech by the transformation of liberal education—whose classic purpose was to emancipate the mind and promote toleration—into a means for reproducing progressive dogma and inculcating intolerance of alternative points of view. Because Kirsten Powers is right—our colleges and universities have become ground zero in the fight for freedom of speech—the restoration of free speech depends on the restoration of liberal education.

While the New York Times terms Pamela Geller's exercise in drawing Mohammed, Derek Hunter reminds us how the Times had quite a different reaction to Christians who protested the movie "The Last Temptation of Christ."
The editorial entitled “Satanism in Hollywood,” contain the following paragraph:
Those offended by such works certainly have the right to condemn, to shun and to picket. But in a free Republic, where church and state are wisely divorced, critics have no sanction for censorship. It says something about the persistence of Pharisaism (''rigid observance of external forms of religion without genuine piety'') that some of the loudest voices denouncing distribution, like Patrick Buchanan, also trumpet their devotion to free speech and free markets.
Principle, it would seem, is not a constant to the “old gray lady.”

When taxpayers subsidized “Piss Christ,” the “art” consisting of a picture of a crucifix in a jar of urine, angry Christians were not only brushed off by the Times, the “artist” was praised and defended. “It is hard to believe that anyone whose faith is searching and secure would not be grateful for what Mr. Serrano has done,” the Times wrote.

While it seems like a long journey from defending attacks on religion when that religion is Christianity to explaining the perspective of those who would murder because their religion was “insulted,” it’s really not. The institution that described “Piss Christ” as “This religious emblem enveloped in a dreamy golden haze...” is the same one that wrote, “As for the Garland event, to pretend that it was motivated by anything other than hate is simply hogwash.”

To pretend The New York Times is motivated by anything is other than selective hate is, well, something much stronger than hogwash.

And now we have a presidential candidate who has launched her campaign with a pledge to cut back on the freedom of political speech. Former FEC chairman Donald F. McGahn reminds us that the Citizens United decision which has the left so upset arose out of the desire of a corporation to buy ads advertising a DVD criticizing ... Hillary Clinton.
Despite the hyperbole surrounding Citizens United, the justices were actually debating a simple issue: Whether a movie critical of then-Sen. Hillary Clinton could be aired on pay-per-view television. Under the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002, such activity was banned within 30 days of a primary election. The justices struck down this prohibition, ruling that “the First Amendment protects political speech.” Chief Justice John Roberts was even more blunt, arguing that such bans subvert “the vibrant public discourse that is at the foundation of our democracy.”

There was a time when most Americans agreed with this logic. The American Founding was partially triggered by the Stamp Act, which squelched speech by mandating that publications possess a stamp purchased from the British government. Following the Revolution and the ratification of the Constitution, the first Congress wisely passed the First Amendment to prevent politicians from banning speech that criticizes officeholders. Throughout American history, this constitutional guarantee of free speech has been the bulwark of the country’s experiment in self-government.

Yet this consensus disappeared following Citizens United. The Democratic Party’s leadership, fearing the electoral losses that ultimately came to pass, called for a crusade to undo the Supreme Court’s decision. Their holy war found its fullest expression in the demand for a constitutional amendment that would, in essence, repeal the First Amendment.

Hillary Clinton is now on board this campaign, based on her recent pledge to “fix” our political system “even if that takes a constitutional amendment.” For a hint of what her proposed amendment might look like, consider the measure then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) brought to the Senate floor last year. The so-called Udall Amendment—introduced by Sen. Tom Udall (D., N.M.), co-sponsored by 48 other Democratic senators, and ultimately supported by 54 senators, but no Republicans—was designed to reverse Citizens United.

The amendment—which was filibustered in the Senate in September—promises to “advance the fundamental principle of political equality for all” and “protect the integrity of the legislative electoral process.” In reality, it would give politicians unlimited authority to stifle the speech of their political opponents.

As with most campaign-finance reform measures, the Udall Amendment’s goal is to get money out of politics. It seeks to accomplish this by allowing Congress to regulate and limit how “candidates and others” raise and spend money.

Yet free speech is toothless without money—especially when it concerns elections and public policy. It is necessary to print campaign mailers, organize phone banks, air television and radio ads, build websites and pay for a thousand other things.

By giving legislators authority to regulate the money that finances this speech, politicians would only succeed in making it harder for Americans to make their voices heard in the political process. The American Civil Liberties Union argued in a 2014 letter to Congress that the Udall Amendment would “lead directly to government censorship of political speech.” The ACLU also warned that it would “fundamentally ‘break’ the constitution and endanger civil rights and civil liberties for generations.”

It isn’t hard to see how. The Obama administration admitted in 2010 that its position in Citizens United would empower the government to ban books, ads and anything else that contains a political message that regulators and politicians don’t like. The only limit the Udall Amendment placed on Congress is that any campaign-finance law must be “reasonable.” This led Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) to remark in a 2014 Senate subcommittee hearing on the amendment that “I am not content to have . . . free speech rights protected by the reasonableness of members of Congress, Republicans or Democrats.”
How far have liberals come.
Before she goes down in history as the first presidential candidate to make gutting the First Amendment a central part of her platform, Mrs. Clinton might want to remember the liberal heroes of yesteryear who defended free speech. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. was right when he declared in 1919 that “the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market.”

Justice Louis Brandeis was also right in 1927 when he called for “more speech, not enforced silence” in America’s political debates. And so was Sen. Ted Kennedy, who 80 years later declared that “we have never amended the Bill of Rights, and now is not the time to start.”

It’s a shame that the Democratic Party’s de facto presidential candidate has abandoned this wisdom.
Sadly, Kirsten Powers seems to be one of the few liberals left who recognizes the necessity to protect freedom of speech.

British columnist Janet Daley connects the demonization of conservative views to why the polling was so wrong in the British election. She posits that the "shy Tory" argument explains why such a large percentage of poll respondents on the eve of the election said they hadn't made up their minds, but then went and voted for the Conservatives.
Somehow we have arrived at a point where the conscientiously held beliefs and values of the majority of the population have become a matter for secret shame. The desire to do as well as you can in life, to develop your potential and expect to be rewarded for it, to provide your family with the greatest possible opportunity for self-improvement and to do that on your own without being dependent on the state – these are the assumptions that seem to have become so unacceptable that identifying with them is beyond the pale, or at least so socially outrageous that it is not worth the ignominy of admitting to them.

The Left has so dominated the conversation and so noisily traduced the “petit bourgeois” values that guide the lives of what used to be called the “respectable working class” that, ironically, it is only the most socially confident who can openly embrace them. The very people whom Labour needs to attract (and which it did attract when it had re-invented itself as New Labour) are once again being bullied into hiding their true attitudes and opinions.

So they prevaricate and evade when asked how they will vote because they are intimidated by the condemnation of the Left-wing mob, or else they just are not self-assured enough to make the moral case (even in their own minds) for their choice. But when they reach the sacred solitude of the voting booth, they do what they know must be done for the sake of their own futures, and that of their families, and even of those the Left insists are being disadvantaged – because they genuinely believe that dependency is a bad thing and that self-determination is a social good.

In the end, what does the Left (and its army of media friends) accomplish by all this activist pressure on public opinion? In a circle of mutually congratulatory agreement, the liberal establishment may demonise the social attitudes of the majority until they are blue in the face. They may succeed – as indeed they obviously have – in making ordinary people afraid to utter their real views. But there is a dreadful price to be paid: if you browbeat people into withdrawing from the debate, then you will never know how robust their convictions are – until it is too late and you have catastrophically lost an election, or staked your professional credibility on unsound predictions.
As a teacher, I'm often in groups where I'm probably one of the only or few conservatives. I've noticed for a long time how people in these groups seem to assume that everyone is a liberal and also despises conservatives. People will speak out quite openly making fun of conservative ideology and Republicans without any thought that there might be people who hold those beliefs or voted for those politicians in the audience. It's just assumed that, if you're a teacher, you're a Democrat. I've never once heard a conservative speak up in such a setting. In effect, we're "shy Tories." Discussing this phenomenon with my daughters, we were trying to imagine a setting in which the attitudes would be reversed - perhaps a NRA convention or a gathering of evangelical Christians. Maybe the military. Any other suggestions? And do any of my readers experience the same thing I experience of being in a crowd of professionals where it is just assumed that everyone is a liberal or where liberals feel quite comfortable deriding conservatives as if it were irrelevant or inconceivable that anyone there could actually be, gasp, a conservative?

The recent decision from the Illinois State Supreme Court that the state cannot modify state employee pensions is quite troubling. Ordinarily, conservatives would respect the sanctity of contracts, yet, as the WSJ writes, the "Constitution is not a suicide pact -- except maybe in Illinois.
The law isn’t that simple, and the practical damage will be great. State pensions are underfunded by $111 billion—a 500% increase from 1995 and up 75% in the past five years. About one in four state tax dollars already finances pensions, which is more than Illinois spends on education. Yet the court accuses politicians of shortchanging pensions.

Politicians are to blame for the state’s fiscal woes, but mainly because they colluded with unions to promise unsustainable benefits in return for political support. Less than 40% of the increase in the state’s unfunded liability since 1995 is due to inadequate payments. The rest is due mainly to benefit growth and faulty actuarial assumptions such as investment rate of return.

The 2013 reforms at issue capped salaries of current workers that are used to calculate pensions at $110,600 (with a carve-out for collectively bargained increases) and raised the retirement age for workers in their 20s to the ripe, old age of 60. Compounded 3% annual cost-of-living increases were also tweaked for younger workers, a modification that courts in nearly every other state have upheld.

In toto, the changes were projected to shave a mere $20 billion off Illinois unfunded liability. Pension payments would still constitute nearly 20% of the state budget.

This is legally relevant because the U.S. Supreme Court in 1934 ruled that states can invoke their police powers to impair contracts in an emergency. The High Court has since established a balancing test that requires judges to consider whether state contractual impairments are substantial, serve an important public purpose and can be achieved through less drastic means.

Yet the Illinois court blows right through this judicial standard. Based on its prior rulings, the court opines that “neither the legislature nor any executive or judicial officer may disregard the provisions of the constitution even in case of a great emergency” or “for economic reasons.”

If pensions can be modified, the court opines, then “no rights or property would be safe from the State. Today it is nullification of the right to retirement benefits. Tomorrow it could be renunciation of the duty to repay State obligations. Eventually, investment capital could be seized.” This irony of this slippery-slope fallacy is that by shielding pensions the Illinois judges are making it more likely that the state will renege on debt or other obligations.
What is left for Illinois to do? Raise taxes so that every viable business that can do so will leave the state? And who is going to buy any Illinois bonds? They were already pretty worthless and now they're even more so. This is what unionizing public employees has wrought.

Mary Anastasia O'Grady explains how the Clintons worked the angles to make money for themselves and their friends out of the tragic circumstances in Haiti.
Within two weeks of Haiti’s January 2010 earthquake, the word had already gone out from the State Department that Bill Clinton would be in charge of U.S. reconstruction efforts. “That means,” one individual told me and I reported in a Jan. 25, 2010 column, “if you don’t have Clinton connections, you won’t be in the game.”

The “game,” as my source called it, meant securing hundreds of millions of dollars in no-bid contracts from the State Department’s U.S. Agency for International Development and grants from multilateral institutions like the InterAmerican Development Bank, which gets the bulk of its funding from the U.S.

The Clintons deny that Bill’s power over State’s purse was used to secure donations to the Clinton Foundation. But at least two contributors who gave more than $1 million as I described in a March 9 column, including the InterAmerican Development Bank, benefited from U.S. earthquake aid.

There’s a lot that didn’t get done. In the north of the country, the Clinton-proposed Caracol Industrial Park was supposed to feature some 40 buildings for apparel assembly supporting up to 65,000 jobs. It remains a mystery why there are still only three buildings in full operation and only 5,000 jobs, despite plenty of tenant interest.

Haitians are reluctant to criticize the Clintons publicly because of their power. “No one wants to be on the wrong side of the next president of the United States,” one Haitian told me during a visit I made to the country in December.

It seems that the Clinton camp has already picked out their leading vice presidential candidate -- Julian Castro.
That leaves Julian Castro at the top of the list. He, too, brings the bloom of youth: At just 40 years old, he’s also highly accomplished — a two-term mayor of San Antonio (Democrats are making a play for Texas in 2016) and, most recently, President Obama’s pick to be secretary of housing and urban development.

Interestingly, the Castro brothers — twins born to a single mother whose own mother had come across the Mexican border as a 6-year-old orphan — don’t speak Spanish. That means at least three Republicans in the race — Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Marco Rubio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — will be the Spanish speakers, but not Mr. Castro.

Mr. Castro brings a slew of desirables. He has declared that “Joaquin and I got into Stanford [University] because of affirmative action,” even though he said he scored just 1,210 on my SATs, “which was lower than the median matriculating student.” Mrs. Clinton is planning to push affirmative action as a key campaign issue.

More, the Castro brothers are a rags-to-riches story — but always with the help of government, another key tenet of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign. And Julian Castro has pushed gay issues throughout his career, an issue dear to Mrs. Clinton.
Of course, why should an accomplishment-free Hillary Clinton running on identity politics not choose a man whose biography also relies on identity politics rather than accomplishments? His problem is that being Mayor of San Antonio is a very weak position.
Unlike the strong-mayor governments of Chicago or New York, San Antonio's government is led by a city manager, which is appointed by the City Council. The city charter invests in the city manager the authority to "execute the laws and administer the government of the city."

Serving in the comparatively ceremonial role of mayor, Castro largely inherited the major urban accomplishment of his administration: the Museum Reach expansion of the San Antonio Riverwalk, which was completed the same month Castro was elected. This is an achievement in which San Antonio's mayor did play a major role. Mayor Phil Hardberger, who beat Castro for office in 2005 and was re-elected for a second term in 2007, has received credit for pushing the City Council to finally adopt the long-planned expansion. Hardberger left office with an 86 percent approval rating.
Perhaps he'll accomplish so much as head of HUD that it won't matter what he did or didn't do in San Antonio, but when is the last time you read about accomplishment at HUD?

How rich. Ruth Marcus says that pundits wouldn't be taking Carly Fiorina seriously if she weren't a woman. So what does that say about Hillary Clinton?

Harvard Law School professor chastises Democrats defending Hillary and Bill Clinton by saying that there is no evidence to prove their guilt. He contrasts that defense of the Clintons to Democrats' yelps of criticism for the Citizens United decision because it has led to super PACS and the appearance of corruption and money in politics.
Yet all this, the Clintons and their defenders insist, is not corruption because Schweizer has provided no smoking gun. He has offered “no evidence” of a quid pro quo trade.

Welcome to Wonderland: Were the alleged influencers the Koch brothers, with the same kind of pattern charged against them — their channeling support to Republican representatives, those representatives in turn acting in a way that reflected the desires of the Kochs — there would be no doubt that Democrats would rally to attack that influence as Exhibit No. 1 in the case against the corruption of Washington. But apparently now those loyal to the Democratic presidential front-runner will have to be more careful in their criticism. Apparently now the party line must be: Even if someone benefited personally, and enormously, and even if there is a repeated series of victories for those exercising their influence, there’s no corruption unless Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. would see it as corruption — meaning again, no corruption unless a quid pro quo.

Democrats need to think carefully about whether this is really a principle they want to defend — while they insist that we need to amend the Constitution to ban independent contributions and expenditures as corrupt even if no quid pro quo is shown.
Kevin Williamson comments on Lessig's column and the comparison between money spent to influence the Clintons and money spent by super PACs.
Progressives, stewed as they are in self-righteousness and convinced as they are that what presents itself as a good-faith policy disagreement is in reality barely concealed villainy, believe that their own champions are sufficiently pure of heart and so well-illuminated by the light of pure reason that they can effectively do no wrong, while their conservative rivals are so enslaved by greed and hatred that they can do no good; thus the transmutative power of partisanship makes virtue into vice when it lights upon a Republican.

I do not think that Professor Lessig is being entirely fair when he writes: “For five justices on the court, ‘corruption’ means ‘quid pro quo’—a bribe, or an exchange of a favor for influence.” There is a difference between corruption writ large and legally actionable corruption, and the focus on quid pro quo corruption predates the Roberts majority by some centuries: Bribery is one of two offenses specifically identified in the Constitution as grounds for impeachment, the other being treason; the public-corruption laws passed in the late 18th century were mainly concerned with bribery, particularly of customs officers and judges, etc.

This is not nit-picking—without quid pro quo as a bright line dividing criminal corruption from the inevitable moral ickiness of democratic processes, there is no obvious principle to prevent the unlimited criminalization of politics.

For Professor Lessig and others who worry about the purportedly corrupting influence of private political spending, the challenge is to define “corruption” broadly enough to cover the things they dislike—things that were regulated or banned prior to Citizens United—but not so broadly as to complicate things of which they approve, such as the (fairly obviously corrupt) symbiosis between the Democratic party and public-sector labor unions.

The broadest conception of public corruption is this: A public official behaves in a corrupt manner when he is motivated mainly by self-interest rather than by a sincere concern for the public interest. As students of public-choice economics—and people with eyes—cannot help but understand, a definition of “corruption” that in fact captures the majority of corruption properly understood would be paralyzing for any liberal and democratic form of government, because public officials, being human beings of the ordinary variety rather than godlings, act out of self-interest almost all of the time.

If, for example, a Democratic bag-man had offered American insurance companies a few dozen pallets of hundred-dollar bills in exchange for their supporting the so-called Affordable Care Act, that would seem to us obvious corruption, and it would indeed meet the quid pro quo criterion. But if the Democrats write the law in such a way as to ensure not millions but billions of dollars worth of benefits for those same insurance companies to buy their support—which is, in fact, what happened—can we call that a crime? The difference between corruption and political compromise is not always obvious, and it need not be obvious if we take a mature view of the limitations of public institutions and understand that we are not governed by philosopher-kings. Human beings do not cease to be self-interested after winning an election, being appointed to public office, or securing a job in a government bureaucracy.

The Clinton-Koch comparison, though useful as Professor Lessig presents it, is defective in that the standards we apply to the secretary of the state probably should not be the standards we apply to private citizens who are attempting to influence public policy and making no secret of the fact.

With that in mind, the question presented by independent expenditures and the like is not: “What is corruption?” or even “What is legally actionable corruption?” It is: “What ought to be understood as legally actionable corruption in the context of private citizens spending money for the purpose of adding their voices and views to the political discourse?” (Let us keep in mind that the specific question in Citizens United was whether it should be a federal offense to show a film critical of Hillary Rodham Clinton without government permission.) The Supreme Court keeps repeating the same answer: So long as we have a First Amendment, the line of demarcation is quid pro quo bribery, not ickiness. The question of whether Mrs. Clinton has behaved in a corrupt fashion (short version: yes) is separate from the question of whether Mrs. Clinton has behaved in a criminal fashion (short answer: You’d need an honest DOJ to find out; good luck with that).

F. A. Hayek, whose 116th birthday would have been yesterday, insisted: “If we wish to preserve a free society, it is essential that we recognize that the desirability of a particular object is not sufficient justification for the use of coercion.” I do not believe that our political system would be at all improved by the absence from our discourse of private citizens and institutions, and the money they spend; but even if I did believe that, I would have a very difficult time believing that the desirability of that particular object was sufficient justification for the use of coercion. Nor is it clear that there would be any natural principle of limitation if we accepted Professor Lessig’s position, which would open the door to the wholesale criminalization of ordinary politics.

What Professor Lessig et al. present as an argument for limitations on political advocacy is much more persuasive as an argument for limited government: Moral corruption is an inevitable feature of the political process, which is one of the reasons why we should exercise political force only in those areas in which it is actually necessary, i.e. for the provision of strictly defined public goods such as national defense and law enforcement.

What does a story like this do for the debates over banning abortions after a certain time period whether 22 or 24 weeks?
A small number of very premature babies are surviving earlier outside the womb than doctors once thought possible, a new study has documented, raising questions about how aggressively they should be treated and posing implications for the debate about abortion.

The study, of thousands of premature births, found that a tiny minority of babies born at 22 weeks who were medically treated survived with few health problems, although the vast majority died or suffered serious health issues. Leading medical groups had already been discussing whether to lower the consensus on the age of viability, now cited by most medical experts as 24 weeks.

The Supreme Court has said that states must allow abortion if a fetus is not viable outside the womb, and changing that standard could therefore raise questions about when abortion is legal.