Monday, June 01, 2015

Cruising the Web

Thank you for all the good wishes for our quiz bowl team. We had a lovely time and faced some tough competition. My school, Raleigh Charter High School, ended up coming in 53rd out of 272 schools. Congratulations to Arcadia High School from Southern California for winning it all.

Having spent the past few days in Chicago, I was surprised to see that the Denny Hastert indictment was bigger news than the firing of Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau and the advancement of the Black Hawks to the NHL Finals. It's a sad and disturbing story. If he truly was molesting a young man or more than one whom he taught or coached, he violated a valuable trust that I, as a teacher, hold very dear. But that is not what he's getting prosecuted for. He's being charged with violating laws regulating withdrawals from his own bank account. Columbia Law School professor writes,
The specific charges against Hastert involve “structured withdrawals,” Hastert is alleged to have taken down a series of transfers from financial institutions all just under the ten thousand dollar reporting threshold, allegedly to evade reporting them to the government. As an add on, Hastert is accused of having lied to federal investigators when questioned about these withdrawals.

These reporting requirements, first adopted in 1970 and recently expanded in the USA Patriot Act—a notable legislative accomplishment, ironically, of Dennis Hastert—were designed to furnish tools for law enforcement in combatting money laundering and drug trafficking. Are the feds saying that Hastert is a money launderer or a drug trafficker? No. What exactly was wrong with his unreported withdrawals? There is a strong suggestion of improper purpose, but the indictment is sparing with the facts....

Having bank reporting requirement makes good sense—it makes life tough for drug dealers and money launderers. They can be charged for drug dealing and money laundering. But to make a violation of the reporting requirement itself the crime that is charged? That’s a stretch. Moreover, it points to just the sort of prosecution against which we should be on guard. America’s greatest modern prosecutor, Robert Jackson, reminded prosecutors that they should always be investigating crimes and not people. The latter may be common, but it is inherently an abuse of prosecutorial power. But so far this case looks disturbingly like the search for a crime in the pursuit of Denny Hastert.
We seem to have set up a system in which a person has a lot of trouble using his own money to pay off a blackmailer. Why is that a federal concern? It seems that we're seeing a law that was established for a good person being stretched to cover actions that it wasn't created for. I hold no brief for Denny Hastert, but I am concerned with laws being extended past the purpose for which they were passed. Alan Dershowitz is similarly concerned.
"Paying hush money is not illegal," Dershowitz said. "He didn't want anybody to know about it, so he took money out in small amounts and the banks wouldn't report it. That is not within the heartland of what this statute was intended to cover – and then to have an indictment which essentially reveals that which Hastert was trying to conceal puts the government in the position of essentially being part of the blackmail – and it's just not right."

Dershowitz called the case "an abusive prosecutorial discretion" for using the structuring statute "to try to go after somebody who was trying to solve a rather personal problem...."

And, he predicted, the feds won't win this one.

Another law that is being stretched beyond recognition is Title IX. Professor Laura Kipnis describes what has happened at Northwestern after she dared to criticize the trend for "safe spaces" to protect college students from ideas with which they disagree. Her essay, "Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe" has led to a Title IX investigation into her own writings.
The reality is that the more colleges devote themselves to creating “safe spaces”—that new watchword—for students, the more dangerous those campuses become for professors. It’s astounding how aggressive students’ assertions of vulnerability have gotten in the past few years. Emotional discomfort is regarded as equivalent to material injury, and all injuries have to be remediated.

Most academics I know—this includes feminists, progressives, minorities, and those who identify as gay or queer—now live in fear of some classroom incident spiraling into professional disaster. After the essay appeared, I was deluged with emails from professors applauding what I’d written because they were too frightened to say such things publicly themselves. My inbox became a clearinghouse for reports about student accusations and sensitivities, and the collective terror of sparking them, especially when it comes to the dreaded subject of trigger warnings, since pretty much anything might be a “trigger” to someone, given the new climate of emotional peril on campuses. . . .

A tenured professor on my campus wrote about lying awake at night worrying that some stray remark of hers might lead to student complaints, social-media campaigns, eventual job loss, and her being unable to support her child. I’d thought she was exaggerating, but that was before I learned about the Title IX complaints against me.

Jonathan Chait worries about how far political correctness has moved on campus so that professors can no longer express themselves freely without fearing legal investigations.
Several months ago, Northwestern professor Laura Kipnis wrote a column for the Chronicle of Higher Education protesting what she saw as her school’s excessive regulation of sexual conduct. Outraged students petitioned the school administration to issue “a swift, official condemnation of the sentiments expressed by Professor Kipnis in her inflammatory article and we demand that in the future, this sort of response comes automatically.” Students bearing the petition marched to the school administration carrying mattresses, the new symbol of the campus anti-rape movement. Now, Kipnis reports, the University has undertaken a Title IX investigation against her on the basis of her column and a subsequent tweet about it.

Title IX is a provision of federal law dealing with gender discrimination on campus, which has expanded to the point that it can now be the basis for a complaint against the publication of an opinion column and a related tweet. Kipniss’s story provides another marker in the ongoing resurgence of political correctness. As I define it (which is not the same way as many others define it), p.c. is an ideological system that justifies and undertakes severe restrictions on the discourse around race and gender.

The basis for the ideology is the belief that race and gender inequality both undergird nearly every major political question, and that they lie almost entirely beyond dispute. Relatedly, it assumes that people, especially students, are extraordinarily vulnerable to trauma, that pointed debate about race and gender (among other things) can set off this trauma, and that the ability to be “safe” from any such trauma is a primary right. Adherents of this ideology tend to view the distinction between actions and expression, which is a lynchpin of liberal thought, with skepticism. Of course, free speech theorists have always recognized extreme circumstances in which speech can become action (shouting “fire” in a crowded theater, fighting words, blackmail, etc.), but p.c. ideologists collapse the distinction into virtual nonexistence, at least on matters of identity.

So Rand Paul is claiming victory in stopping the passage of the elements of the Patriot Act that allowed the bulk NSA data collection. However, I hadn't realized that there were other provisions of the Patriot Act also blocked by Paul and his allies.
Also expiring was a "roving wiretap" rule that allows the government to file one application to spy on multiple phone lines owned by the same suspect. And there was a provision that allows the government to ask the secretive FISA courts for warrants to spy on "lone wolf" terrorists that are not associated with any known government or terrorist group.
What is the objection to roving wiretaps? In this age of disposable phones, it just seems like good sense. And why shouldn't investigations of suspected "lone wolf" be subject to the FISA courts? I just don't understand it.

And I do find it darkly amusing that we had to have this last minute drama over renewing the Patriot Act just to accommodate congressmen having a week vacation for Memorial Day. They could have stayed in town and actually done their jobs.

Charles Krauthammer wrote on Friday to explain why so many doctors are leaving the profession.
As one of them wrote, “My colleagues who have already left practice all say they still love patient care, being a doctor. They just couldn’t stand everything else.” By which he meant “a never-ending attack on the profession from government, insurance companies, and lawyers . . . progressively intrusive and usually unproductive rules and regulations,” topped by an electronic health records (EHR) mandate that produces nothing more than “billing and legal documents” — and degraded medicine.

I hear this everywhere. Virtually every doctor and doctors’ group I speak to cites the same litany, with particular bitterness about the EHR mandate. As another classmate wrote, “The introduction of the electronic medical record into our office has created so much more need for documentation that I can only see about three-quarters of the patients I could before, and has prompted me to seriously consider leaving for the first time.”
When the EHR mandate was first discussed, it seemed like such a common-sensical project. My doctors all take their notes on computers during my appointments. I really had no concept of what would be involved with mandating that all their records be electronically maintained. And I would bet that President Obama also had no idea. But just ponder these facts.
That’s just the beginning of the losses. Consider the myriad small practices that, facing ruinous transition costs in equipment, software, training and time, have closed shop, gone bankrupt or been swallowed by some larger entity.

This hardly stays the long arm of the health-care police, however. As of Jan. 1, 2015, if you haven’t gone electronic, your Medicare payments will be cut, by 1 percent this year, rising to 3 percent (potentially 5 percent) in subsequent years.

Then there is the toll on doctors’ time and patient care. One study in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine found that emergency-room doctors spend 43 percent of their time entering electronic records information, 28 percent with patients. Another study found that family-practice physicians spend on average 48 minutes a day just entering clinical data.

Forget the numbers. Think just of your own doctor’s visits, of how much less listening, examining, even eye contact goes on, given the need for scrolling, clicking and box checking.

The geniuses who rammed this through undoubtedly thought they were rationalizing health care. After all, banking went electronic. Why not medicine?

Because banks deal with nothing but data. They don’t listen to your heart or examine your groin. Clicking boxes on an endless electronic form turns the patient into a data machine and cancels out the subtlety of a doctor’s unique feel and judgment.

Why did all this happen? Because liberals in a hurry refuse to trust the self-interested wisdom of individual practitioners, who were already adopting EHR on their own, but gradually, organically, as the technology became ripe and the costs tolerable. Instead, Washington picked a date out of a hat and decreed: Digital by 2015.

As with other such arbitrary arrogance, the results are not pretty. EHR is health care’s Solyndra. Many, no doubt, feasted nicely on the $27 billion, but the rest is waste: money squandered, patients neglected, good physicians demoralized.

Like my old classmates who signed up for patient care — which they still love — and now do data entry.
How many times have we heard the same story about government interference in the economy exacerbating problems instead of solving the ones they were purportedly designed to ameliorate? Sadly, we never learn and the solutions proposed all seem to involve more government and thus, more problems.

Daniel Hannan, a British member of the EU for the Conservative Party, has an excellent essay commemorating the 800-year anniversary of Magna Carta which happens this year. His point is that the rights we celebrate today stem from that document, not because these are universal rights, but because institutions grew up to protect those rights. And that was certainly not inevitable. He also persuasively argues that it was America that truly valued the Magna Carta and helped give it meaning.
Eight hundred years is a long wait. We British have, by any measure, been slow to recognize what we have. Americans, by contrast, have always been keenly aware of the document, referring to it respectfully as the Magna Carta.

Why? Largely because of who the first Americans were. Magna Carta was reissued several times throughout the 14th and 15th centuries, as successive Parliaments asserted their prerogatives, but it receded from public consciousness under the Tudors, whose dynasty ended with the death of Elizabeth I in 1603.

In the early 17th century, members of Parliament revived Magna Carta as a weapon in their quarrels with the autocratic Stuart monarchs. Opposition to the Crown was led by the brilliant lawyer Edward Coke (pronounced Cook), who drafted the first Virginia Charter in 1606. Coke’s argument was that the king was sidelining Parliament, and so unbalancing the “ancient constitution” of which Magna Carta was the supreme expression.

The early settlers arrived while these rows were at their height and carried the mania for Magna Carta to their new homes. As early as 1637, Maryland sought permission to incorporate Magna Carta into its basic law, and the first edition of the Great Charter was published on American soil in 1687 by William Penn, who explained that it was what made Englishmen unique: “In France, and other nations, the mere will of the Prince is Law, his word takes off any man’s head, imposeth taxes, or seizes any man’s estate, when, how and as often as he lists; But in England, each man hath a fixed Fundamental Right born with him, as to freedom of his person and property in his estate, which he cannot be deprived of, but either by his consent, or some crime, for which the law has imposed such a penalty or forfeiture.”

There was a divergence between English and American conceptions of Magna Carta. In the Old World, it was thought of, above all, as a guarantor of parliamentary supremacy; in the New World, it was already coming to be seen as something that stood above both Crown and Parliament. This difference was to have vast consequences in the 1770s....

And indeed, Magna Carta conceives rights in negative terms, as guarantees against state coercion. No one can put you in prison or seize your property or mistreat you other than by due process. This essentially negative conception of freedom is worth clinging to in an age that likes to redefine rights as entitlements—the right to affordable health care, the right to be forgotten and so on.

It is worth stressing, too, that Magna Carta conceived freedom and property as two expressions of the same principle. The whole document can be read as a lengthy promise that the goods of a free citizen will not be arbitrarily confiscated by someone higher up the social scale.

I somehow doubt that the country is waiting for Martin O'Malley. He's going to have a hard time escaping his record in Baltimore and Maryland which, as the WSJ writes, is not a good one.
The otherwise proud progressive has mostly refrained from talking publicly about Baltimore and Maryland. Who can blame him? Unemployment in Baltimore is 8.1%, and the city’s population has declined by about 35,000 since 1999. The median household income of blacks is about half that of whites, even as Mr. O’Malley campaigns against inequality.

He plans to run to Hillary Clinton’s left, and on Saturday he bemoaned “a growing injustice in our country today.” Yet his party has controlled the White House for seven years, and he governed Maryland like a progressive lab experiment. He claimed he could balance the budget merely by soaking the rich, but during his eight years as Governor he raised 40 some taxes, or $3 billion a year, and blew out spending by a third.

Nearly all of his tax hikes other than his millionaire’s tax (which expired in 2011) and corporate income tax increase (to 8.25% from 7%) hit the rich and lower-income voters alike. In 2007 he raised the sales tax to 6% from 5% and doubled the tax on cigarettes to $2 a pack. In 2011 he jacked up the tax on alcohol by 50%.

These were followed by a “flush tax” and “rain tax” on homeowners to finance sewage system improvements and environmental clean-up of the Chesapeake Bay—necessary in part because the Governor raided $1.2 billion from special funds for environmental restoration. He also swiped hundreds of millions from the transportation trust fund—and then raised gas taxes to compensate for the shortfall.

The Tax Foundation ranks Maryland’s business tax climate among the 10 worst in the country, which might appeal to some liberal voters. Yet Republican Gov. Larry Hogan defeated Mr. O’Malley’s lieutenant Anthony Brown last fall by turning the race into a referendum on their economic record.

Between 2011 and 2013, Maryland recorded the third slowest economic growth in the country after Alaska and Louisiana, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. As Mr. Hogan noted, Maryland has lost 31,000 residents, 6,500 small businesses and 10 of its 13 Fortune 500 companies since 2007. Virginia’s border counties have essentially become refugee camps for Maryland taxpayers.

Mr. Hogan’s victory was especially impressive because Democrats outnumber Republicans in Maryland by two to one. Mr. Brown and Democrats also spent five times as much as his Republican opponent. Yet swaths of disgusted independents and Democratic moderates crossed over and gave Mr. Hogan a 20-point victory in Baltimore County.
How dismal is the Democratic Party that Clinton, O'Malley, and Bernie Sanders are all they seem to be able to dome up with for their nominee.

Harry Enten of 538 is even less impressed with O'Malley's chances.
The people who know him best don’t like him. O’Malley is starting way down in the polls, and he’s not well known. And we have evidence that more O’Malley exposure doesn’t equal more O’Malley support. He earned just 3 percent (compared to Clinton’s 63 percent) in a poll of Democratic voters in Maryland conducted in October by The Washington Post and the University of Maryland.

If this strikes you as a surprisingly low percentage for a two-term Maryland governor and former mayor of the state’s most populous city, it should. It speaks to the fact that O’Malley was unpopular enough in deep-blue Maryland that by the end of his second term, Republican Larry Hogan came out of nowhere to defeat O’Malley’s lieutenant governor in the 2014 governor’s race.
Maybe he's just running for a TV show on MSNBC, just as that is the accusation against no-hope GOP candidates. Enten looks at the popularity of other candidates in their home states. Most of them are more popular at home than nationally. Yet some are quite unpopular in their home states.

Even Salon is pretty disgusted with Hillary Clinton.
Among all the rivers of money that have flowed to the Clinton family, one seems to raise the biggest national security questions of all: the stream of cash that came from 20 foreign governments who relied on weapons export approvals from Hillary Clinton’s State Department.

Federal law designates the secretary of state as “responsible for the continuous supervision and general direction of sales” of arms, military hardware and services to foreign countries. In practice, that meant that Clinton was charged with rejecting or approving weapons deals — and when it came to Clinton Foundation donors, Hillary Clinton’s State Department did a whole lot of approving.

While Clinton was secretary of state, her department approved $165 billion worth of commercial arms sales to Clinton Foundation donors. That figure from Clinton’s three full fiscal years in office is almost double the value of arms sales to those countries during the same period of President George W. Bush’s second term.

The Clinton-led State Department also authorized $151 billion of separate Pentagon-brokered deals for 16 of the countries that gave to the Clinton Foundation. That was a 143 percent increase in completed sales to those nations over the same time frame during the Bush administration. The 143 percent increase in U.S. arms sales to Clinton Foundation donors compares to an 80 percent increase in such sales to all countries over the same time period.

American military contractors and their affiliates that donated to the Clinton Foundation — and in some cases, helped finance speaking fees to Bill Clinton — also got in on the action. Those firms and their subsidiaries were listed as contractors in $163 billion worth of arms deals authorized by the Clinton State Department.

Under a directive signed by President Clinton in 1995, the State Department is supposed to take foreign governments’ human rights records into account when reviewing arms deals. Yet, Hillary Clinton’s State Department increased approvals of such deals to Clinton Foundation donors that her own agency was sharply criticizing for systematic human rights abuses.

As just one of many examples, in its 2011 Human Rights Report, Clinton’s State Department slammed Algeria’s government for imposing “restrictions on freedom of assembly and association,” tolerating “arbitrary killing,” “widespread corruption” and a “lack of judicial independence.”

That year, the Algerian government donated $500,000 to the Clinton Foundation and the next year Clinton’s State Department approved a one-year 70 percent increase in military export authorizations to the country. The jump included authorizations for almost 50,000 items classified as “toxicological agents, including chemical agents, biological agents and associated equipment.” The State Department had not authorized the export of any of such items to Algeria the year before.