Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Cruising the Web

Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt have an excellent article in The Atlantic, "The Coddling of the American Mind." They examine how political correctness has led to the whole movement to eradicate anything from college that might serve as a supposed trigger warning or microaggression. As they amply demonstrate, this is the exact wrong approach to take to helping students become independent and critical thinkers. Instead it is training students to be victims and to think that anything that might be the slightest bit offensive to anyone no matter how twisted the interpretation might be should be forbidden. Not only is this movement damaging students' critical thinking abilities, but it is also damaging their emotional and cognitive abilities. Even if someone might have some sort of PTSD reaction to a word that reminds them of a painful memory, college might be just the sort of safe place to learn to deal with that word. Rather than avoiding Ovid's Metamorphoses because a Roman god's attack on a nymph might trigger flashbacks to an actual attack, the student can use this experience to learn to deal with that memory.
Students who call for trigger warnings may be correct that some of their peers are harboring memories of trauma that could be reactivated by course readings. But they are wrong to try to prevent such reactivations. Students with PTSD should of course get treatment, but they should not try to avoid normal life, with its many opportunities for habituation. Classroom discussions are safe places to be exposed to incidental reminders of trauma (such as the word violate). A discussion of violence is unlikely to be followed by actual violence, so it is a good way to help students change the associations that are causing them discomfort. And they’d better get their habituation done in college, because the world beyond college will be far less willing to accommodate requests for trigger warnings and opt-outs.

The expansive use of trigger warnings may also foster unhealthy mental habits in the vastly larger group of students who do not suffer from PTSD or other anxiety disorders. People acquire their fears not just from their own past experiences, but from social learning as well. If everyone around you acts as though something is dangerous—elevators, certain neighborhoods, novels depicting racism—then you are at risk of acquiring that fear too. The psychiatrist Sarah Roff pointed this out last year in an online article for The Chronicle of Higher Education. “One of my biggest concerns about trigger warnings,” Roff wrote, “is that they will apply not just to those who have experienced trauma, but to all students, creating an atmosphere in which they are encouraged to believe that there is something dangerous or damaging about discussing difficult aspects of our history.”
This is an excellent essay. One reason why I found the discussion so heartening was because of how I heard about it. Last year, after school, a group of students and I had been discussing trigger warnings and several students thought they sounded like a good idea. After all, why risk offending someone. One of the students who was most vocal in his support of the idea, sent me an email today with the link to this article and said that reading it had definitely changed his mind. Even if I couldn't persuade that student, I was heartened to see that his mind was not yet completely closed and that these arguments were persuasive to him.

Recently, at a faculty meeting, we had been talking about the weaknesses that helicopter parents might create for their children. The trigger warning/microaggression movement is another step into overprotecting students so that they can't grow up into mature and independent adults. Any adult today can think of countless examples of how much more coddled children are today than when we were younger. It's a pernicious trend.

James Taranto links to an essay in the New Yorker arguing that the United States Constitution is nutty to have such broad free speech and gun rights protected in the Bill of Rights. Taranto marvels at how far the left has come from the way it used to support free speech.
One further similarity between the First and Second amendments is that these days the political left is relatively hostile to both. That’s long been true of the Second but is a relatively recent development with regard to the First. Although we were not reading the New Yorker in 1987—when, as now, it was America’s leading forum of middlebrow left-liberalism—we feel fairly confident in saying an article like this would not have appeared there then.

In those days, by and large, liberals were the “speech nuts,” and they reacted with outrage when conservatives argued that free expression had in some respects gone too far. In a 1971 law-review article, Robert Bork described pornography as “a problem of pollution of the moral and aesthetic atmosphere precisely analogous to smoke pollution.” The left pilloried him for that during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings in 1987. By 2013, as we noted at the time, no less than the New York Times editorial page was demanding federal action against “polluting” speech (though not pornography).

On a lighter note, this Onion article cracked me up and seemed fitting since my school begins this week.
New Statewide Education Standards Require Teachers To Forever Change Lives Of 30% Of Students

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One whistleblower from the State Department has come forward to talk about how Clinton aides were cleansing the documents on Benghazi before they were to be turned over.
According to former Deputy Assistant Secretary Raymond Maxwell, the after-hours session took place over a weekend in a basement operations-type center at State Department headquarters in Washington, D.C. This is the first time Maxwell has publicly come forward with the story.

At the time, Maxwell was a leader in the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, which was charged with collecting emails and documents relevant to the Benghazi probe.

“I was not invited to that after-hours endeavor, but I heard about it and decided to check it out on a Sunday afternoon,” Maxwell says.

He didn’t know it then, but Maxwell would ultimately become one of four State Department officials singled out for discipline—he says scapegoated—then later cleared for devastating security lapses leading up to the attacks. Four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, were murdered during the Benghazi attacks.
Read the rest.

And now we learn that there was indeed "top secret" material on Hillary's server. And these are just two emails from the 40 examined by the IG and we don't know how many emails weren't turned over.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s emails contained “top secret” material, the government’s top spy watchdog said Tuesday, revealing that the messages were even more sensitive than previously disclosed.

I. Charles McCullough III, the inspector general for the intelligence community, said he has concluded two of Mrs. Clinton’s emails met the standard of “top secret/SCI level,” while other messages are still being scrutinized to see how secret they should have been.
Doesn't that mean that Hillary lied to us when she told us that there wasn't any classified material on her server? Who could imagine that Hillary would ever lie to the American people?

And now she has finally turned her server over to the Justice Department. They also got the USB thumb drives that her lawyer has been holding with copies of her work-related emails.
On Tuesday, Clinton attorney David Kendall gave to the Justice Department three thumb drives containing copies of work-related emails sent to and from her personal email addresses via her private server.

Kendall gave the thumb drives, containing copies of roughly 30,000 emails, to the FBI after the agency determined he could not remain in possession of the classified information contained in some of the emails, according to a U.S. official briefed on the matter who was not authorized to speak publicly. The State Department previously had said it was comfortable with Kendall keeping the emails at his Washington law office.
David Kendall has never had top secret clearance, but he was the one Hillary had go through her emails and pull out the work-related messages to give the State Department. He then kept copies of what he pulled. Of course, we don't know which emails he destroyed. And he was such a loyal lawyer that he never informed his client that he shouldn't be going through her emails with the possibility that it might contain information he did not have the clearance to view.
As for Kendall, it seems to me that he should have told his client straight away that he couldn’t review any material containing classified information or, indeed, any sort of sensitive information that is supposed to be held confidential by government employees. And given his inability to know which items contained such information, he should have declined to review any of the documents.

Having failed to do so, the question is whether Kendall and/or his colleagues reviewed such material. For example, did they review the four documents (out of 40 that the government has now scrutinized) that have been deemed classified? How about the two that are “top secret”? If so, that’s a matter of serious, and perhaps criminal, concern.

I doubt that these concerns have only just surfaced at the Department of Justice. It’s likely that voices there have been saying for some time that Kendall ought not to be in possession of Clinton’s emails and that they should be turned over forthwith.

Why did the government wait so long to make this demand? Has it, like Team Clinton, decided that it has run out of options?

Remember that this all started because of Hillary's paranoid desire to avoid transparency so that her messages wouldn't be available to any future critics. Keeping to the law was secondary.

And now she is waking up to the news that Bernie is beating her in New Hampshire. Joe Biden must be salivating about getting into this race.

This is very scary, yet not so surprising.
China's cyber spies have accessed the private emails of "many" top Obama administration officials, according to a senior U.S. intelligence official and a top secret document obtained by NBC News, and have been doing so since at least April 2010.

The email grab -- first codenamed "Dancing Panda" by U.S. officials, and then "Legion Amethyst" -- was detected in April 2010, according to a top secret NSA briefing from 2014. The intrusion into personal emails was still active at the time of the briefing and, according to the senior official, is still going on.

In 2011, Google disclosed that the private gmail accounts of some U.S. officials had been compromised, but the briefing shows that private email accounts from other providers were compromised as well.

The government email accounts assigned to the officials, however, were not hacked because they are more secure, says the senior U.S. intelligence official.

The senior official says the private emails of "all top national security and trade officials" were targeted.

The Chinese also harvested the email address books of targeted officials, according to the document, reconstructing and then "exploiting the(ir) social networks" by sending malware to their friends and colleagues.

The time period overlaps with Hillary Clinton's use of a private email account while Secretary of State from Jan. 21, 2009 to Feb. 1, 2013. The names and ranks of the officials whose emails were actually grabbed, however, were not disclosed in the NSA briefing nor by the intelligence official.
And then there is the present Secretary of State's words of pessimism.

Hmmm. That doesn't sound like such good news for Mrs. Clinton's defense of her private email server, does it?
Secretary of State John Kerry says "it is very likely" that China and Russia are reading his emails.

Kerry's remark was in response to a question by "CBS Evening News" anchor Scott Pelley during a wide-ranging interview set to air Tuesday evening.

"It is very likely. It is not ... outside the realm of possibility and we know they have attacked a number of American interests over the course of the last few days," said Kerry. "It's very possible ... and I certainly write things with that awareness."

Yet more deceptions from the Obama administration on the Iran deal.
In a new report, MEMRI (the Middle East Media Research Institute) reveals that, according to Iranian officials, the Obama administration initiated secret negotiations with Iran not after the 2013 election of President Hassan Rouhani, but rather in 2011 when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was still Iran’s president.

That means the administration did not wait to reach out until Iran was governed by Rouhani, the purportedly “pragmatic” moderate the Obama administration contrasts with Iranian “hardliners” who supposedly oppose the Iran deal. It reached out when Ahmadinejad, an unapologetic “Death to America, death to Israel” hardliner, was running Iran’s government.

To be clear, these distinctions are nonsensical. In Iran, the president is not in charge; the president is subordinate to the nation’s sharia jurists, the chief of whom is “supreme leader” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. As I observed last week, Khamenei is a hardliner through and through. So is Rouhani — a protégé of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of Iran’s jihadist regime. Rouhani, a close friend and adviser of Khamenei, has been a staunch advocate of Iran’s nuclear program and a leader in crushing dissident protests. There is no meaningful difference between Iran in the Ahamdinejad era and in the Rouhani era.

Nevertheless, the Obama administration promoted the fiction that the election of Rouhani — who would not have been permitted to run had Khamenei objected — marked a hopeful Iranian turn toward moderation. This, we were to believe, was a worthy justification for engaging in direct negotiations with the regime on its nuclear program.

Obama is upset that Jews aren't being nicer to him.
“It’s my birthday and I’m going to be blunt,” Obama told the Jewish leaders meeting with him. When they complained that, “Words have consequences, and when they come from official sources, they can be even more dangerous,” he was unapologetic.

“If you guys would back down, I would back down from some of the things I’m doing,” he warned.

By that he meant that if they stopped objecting to the Iran deal, he would stop accusing critics of his nuclear sellout to Iran of being money-grubbing warmongers.

Obama complained, “It's been a really busy day. You'd think they'd be nicer to me on my birthday.”

Hillary Clinton wants to do for college education what Obamacare has done for health care.
Today, Hillary Clinton is touting her plan for Obamacare-izing higher education. Competing Democratic presidential candidates Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders have already proposed essentially socializing college straight up. Clinton’s proposal, like Obamacare, is also collectivist and unjustified wealth redistribution, but with a more complicated, less direct, crony capitalist flavor. In other words, it’s not direct socialism, but it might as well be....

So more income redistribution and more federal micromanagement—because, clearly, central planners know better how to manage college costs than colleges and families. Topped off, of course, by (what else?) playing self-appointed Robin Hood against people who earn lots less money than she does. Envy and greed are our society’s favorite sins, after all.
Of course, Clinton's plan has no relationship to what is actually driving college costs.
In other words, there ain’t nothing politicians can do to fix this sucker.

Let’s breeze through why this is. In the first place, research has shown two major drivers for college costs that directly result from federal meddling. The first is that spending other people’s money makes colleges and students more reckless with it. We call this “moral hazard,” and it’s one reason forcible wealth distribution doesn’t actually benefit individuals or society. A recent Federal Reserve study showing college tuition increases 55 to 65 cents for every dollar in federal “aid” is only the latest to demonstrate this reality.

Another exhibit of this reality is that colleges accept students who simply are not prepared for actual college work. They do this because kids can get taxpayers’ money for college with little to no proof they deserve the money by having produced an exemplary academic record. Once they enter college, these kids realize they’re not prepared, and drop out, leaving them with debt and wasted time and the college with taxpayers’ money.
And, of course, Hillary ignores the role of government in increasing college costs.
Think about that everpresent education weasel word, “accountability.” To whom should colleges be accountable for delivering a good education? Clinton’s proposal assumes it should be to the collective, represented, of course, by the federal government. No. Colleges should be accountable to their students. These are the young people shelling out time and money for what they hope will benefit them. Yes, a college education can benefit society, but its prime benefits accrue to the individual, as Clinton’s fact sheet even underlines, noting that college grads, on average, earn $570,000 more in their lifetimes than do high-school grads.

Milton Friedman made this point in his seminal essay,”The Role of Government in Education“: “vocational or professional education has no neighborhood effects of the kind attributed above to general education. It is a form of investment in human capital precisely analogous to investment in machinery, buildings, or other forms of nonhuman capital. Its function is to raise the economic productivity of the human being. If it does so, the individual is rewarded in a free enterprise society by receiving a higher return for his services than he would otherwise be able to command.” His broader argument, throughout the paper, is that it is unjust to force taxpayers to subsidize training destined to increase individuals’ take-home pay....

If government forces everyone to pay for job training, more people who are not good candidates for it will pursue it anyway because they’re not paying the bill. This ultimately drives down the quality of the training and forces everyone to pay for other people’s bad decisions.

That’s precisely what Clinton’s plan, and our current higher-education system, do. College is a bit like the lottery. Kids for whom it’s a good risk really make bank: they get the degree and a higher lifetime income. Kids for whom it’s not really get screwed: they come out with crushing debt and often no degree. The problem with these “free college” plans or their Republican incarnation as tuition welfare is that they assume everyone will benefit equally from a college education. This simply isn’t true. Different people have different aptitudes and interests. So what socialized college amounts to is a tax on the poor to subsidize the rich.
The WSJ explains how Clinton wants to use taxpayer money to buy off young voters. This is the Democratic modus operandi. We've seen how this has worked at the state and local level when Democrats promised benefits to union workers and now the cities are going broke trying to pay those pensions. But hey, it helped them win elections at the time so why worry about future fiscal disasters.

George Pataki actually had a great tweet about Hillary's plan.
And Scott Walker did a good job zinging Hillary after she attacked him for his education policies in Wisconsin.
I bet that $275,000 line is going to come back again and again to bite Hillary when she talks about her education plan. (Link via Guy Benson.)

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Ted Cruz has a question for Hillary Clinton.
“Over the last six-and-a-half years, the rich have gotten richer and hard-working men and women across America have seen their lives get harder and harder,” Cruz said during an exclusive interview with The Federalist on his campaign bus. “The people who have been hurt the most are the most vulnerable. Young people, Hispanics, African-Americans, single moms.”

“We’ve seen for two terms now the big government policies you and Barack Obama advocate don’t work,” Cruz said before getting to the ultimate question for Hillary. “Why should anyone believe a third term of the same failed policies would produce anything different?”

You'd think that the man running on how smart he is and how he graduated from the Wharton School of Finance would understand that money is fungible. I'm just a lowly high school teacher, but I get it.

Take the test - Who said it: Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton?

So why do news networks allow Donald Trump to literally phone it in rather than appear on camera?
Why would Trump phone in when he was in New York City over the weekend and could have pretty easily gotten to a camera?
Why would the networks let Trump call in by phone when TV shows exist specifically to, you know, show people on camera?
We can't answer the first one, though we can point out Trump had a lot of media hits over the weekend, including an interview with The Washington Post. Perhaps it's just easier.

As for the second, the answer appears to basically boil down to this: Because Trump is Trump. He's the political newsmaker of the moment, bar none, and as such, he gets to set the terms of how he'll make news.

A network source involved in setting up one of Trump's Sunday media appearances -- speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter candidly -- said the network would prefer to have Trump on camera, but if the only way to get him is by phone, then that would simply have to do. Better to have the news in a less-than-desired format than to not have the news at all.

And as long as everyone else is granting phone interviews, there is both pressure to and an excuse built-in to make an exception.
I'd say that he's phoning it in so he can have a cheat sheet of notes, but it doesn't seem that he's using any notes on public policy when he appears on these shows. He just seems to make the same riff each time: there's a problem; our government officials are stupid; Trump can fix it because he's so smart.

Trump would rather attack Republicans than Hillary.
In an interview Tuesday morning on Fox & Friends, Trump twice went out of his way to criticize his competition. In the first instance, he took a question about his standing in polls and turned it into a blistering–and highly inaccurate–attack on Wisconsin governor Scott Walker. And in the second, Trump bypassed an opportunity to hit back at criticism from Hillary Clinton and chose instead to turn his answer into a shot at Jeb Bush.
Has he said much at all to knock Hillary? Isn't the big selling point for Trump supporters is that they think he's take the fight to today's politicians? Shouldn't that include his likely opponent if he got the nomination?

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Jonah Goldberg explains about how the Democrats are facing difficulties uniting the different branches of their coalition.
The Democratic Party has always had internal conflicts. Franklin D. Roosevelt's coalition contained socialist Jews and blacks and Southern segregationists. That coalition held for 20 years after his presidency. But the Obama coalition seems to be fraying while he's still in office, and none of his presumptive heirs have the charisma or skills to repair or sustain the coalition.

Sanders has charm, but the Jewish socialist transplant from Brooklyn has spent his political life in a state that has only 7,500 blacks. He lacks the vocabulary to appeal beyond the white left. Meanwhile, the black left, an indispensable voting bloc, has no standard-bearer in the primaries and is clearly angry about it.

Clinton's most comfortable in the role of elitist technocrat, which is great for fundraising from Wall Street and wooing Beltway journalists, but it's not so useful for wooing voters in a populist environment. Thanks to her husband, she still has goodwill among African Americans. But she lacks the charisma, passion or personal story to excite either the black left or the white left. The woman who left the White House "dead broke" makes five times the average American's annual income per speech.

Michael Brendan Dougherty ponders how the debate benefited Carly Fiorina and Marco Rubio because, not only did they shine, but they are not yet at the point when other politicians will attack them. So they can float beneath the surface while the political world agitates over Trump. I liked this reference to John Kasich.
Campaign consultants take as Gospel the notion that attacking another candidate at this stage is a suicide mission. No one wants to see a pretty face punched just after being introduced to it. To attack either of these candidates now would be like attacking a protagonist in the first act of a film; it would reveal the attacker as the villain in the story.

That's how you get John Kasich, the Republican candidate most admired by people not planning to vote Republican, trying to explain to Fox News' debate audience that Donald Trump and his supporters need to be understood, not dismissed and ridiculed. It was as if Kasich was reading his stage directions from a consultant.
I had just been thinking that Kasich was the Republican candidate most likely to appeal to Democrats. Since the debate, I've had three separate conversations with friends who are Democrats and they all said that the one person they really liked from Thursday's debate was John Kasich. I wasn't sure how much that was because of his actions on Medicaid or his answer on gay marriage. But Republican voters might want to decide if they're willing to support a Republican who is popular in Ohio and who can bring in some swing voters. I always liked Kasich back when he was the chairman of the House Budget Committee and demonstrating how it was possible to balance the budget, an achievement for which Bill Clinton likes to take credit, but I'd give more credit to Kasich. As I've listened to him this year, he does strike me as having that air of sanctimony and superiority to the average Republican voter that I sensed in Jon Huntsman. Jeb Bush has a bit of that attitude in him and it's very off-putting.

Bret Stephens argues that, if Obama were more certain of the benefits of his Iranian deal, he wouldn't have to demonize the deal's opponents. As Stephens points out, the administration doesn't have a good track record with its statements of certitude.
Much has now been written on the merits and demerits of the Iran deal. Not enough has been said about the bald certitude of its principal sponsor, or the naked condescending disdain with which he treats his opponents. Mr. Obama has the swagger of a man who never seems to have encountered a contrary point of view he respected, or come to grips with the limits of his own intelligence, or figured out that facile arguments tend to be weak ones, if for no other reason than that the world is a complicated place, information is never complete and truth is rarely more than partial.

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth,” says Mike Tyson, who knows whereof he speaks. Mr. Obama talks about his Iran deal the way Howard Cosell talked about a fight.

One might have thought that, by now, the president and his advisers would be chastened by experience. Al Qaeda is “on a path to defeat” (2012). Bashar Assad’s “days are numbered” (2011). “If you like your current insurance, you can keep that insurance. Period, end of story” (2009). Russia and the U.S. “are not simply resetting our relationship but also broadening it” (2010). Yemen is an example of a counterterrorist strategy “we have successfully pursued . . . for years” (2014).

And so on—a record of prediction as striking for the boldness of its initial claims as it is for the consistency of its failures. Doesn’t Mr. Obama get this? Haven’t his advisers figured out that they have a credibility issue?

Apparently not. Apparently, the president figures that the politics work better when he projects Olympian confidence about his diplomacy than when he acknowledges some measure of uncertainty. Apparently, he thinks it’s wiser to tar opponents of the deal as partisans or idiots or paid stooges than to engage them as sincere, thoughtful people who came to their own conclusions. Apparently, he thinks there’s nothing amiss in suggesting that the only thing standing between the present moment and the broad, sunlit uplands of a denuclearized Iran is the Jewish state and its warmongering Beltway lobbyists.