Monday, January 16, 2017

Cruising the Web

David Harsanyi writes to refute the idea, put out by many liberals that the Republicans today are extreme. It's a common accusation, but it ignores that many of the positions held by Republicans are held by a great many Americans.
Republicans have been wildly successful winning elections recently — more than 1,000-plus seats in state and national races since Obama took office — arguing exactly what [Jamelle} Bouie claims is fanaticism. These policies might not be popular at the Golden Globes Awards, but they are by definition mainstream....

As far as I can tell, a lot of these congressmen are pushing traditional market-based ideas and tax cuts that aren’t always popular, but fall well within the parameters of American political discourse. The GOP wants to overturn an unpopular law that wasn’t even functioning before 2011. Some of us wish Republicans would be radical and truly reform Medicaid and create private options in Medicare and Social Security. Certainly, doing so would be no more “extreme” than reforming the entire health-care system with a slew of coercive and unprecedented mandates....

The GOP base has embraced constitutionalism and nationalism, both outlooks well within American political tradition. Since the Tea Party erupted on the heels of the liberal shift in 2008 (and in a reaction to George W. Bush), there are certainly more conservatives in Congress, which means the positions have become more mainstream. Gridlock might simply reflect a widening of cultural, ideological, and regional differences, rather than the rise of especially obstinate Republican extremists.

When you treat politics as the wellspring of morality, watching your reforms being overturned is a pretty grim sight, I imagine. So it’s understandable that you would want to both normalize your own position and label the opposition out touch and beyond the mainstream. But this political tactic hasn’t been working out that well for Democrats, because it’s simply not true.

The silliest story this past week has been about the painting that was hung in a hall of Congress in June as part of an art competition. It has become controversial because it depicts a policeman as a pig. So Republican and Democratic members of Congress have engaged in a ludicrous back-and-forth taking the painting down and putting it up again. Now the painting is going to be removed under the authority of the Architect of the Capitol. I agree that the painting's depiction of the policeman is offensive and should not have been chosen to win the contest. But it was and it's hung there for over six months without a problem. After spending years deriding the tender snowflakes on college campuses who freak out because someone has said something that they find offensive, do members of Congress have to demand a safe space for the halls of Congress? Jonathan Adler writes about this silly controversy.
On Thursday, someone placed a “Blue Lives Matter” flag on the wall above the painting. Whether or not such an impromptu display is allowed under the Capitol’s rules, this is a much more appropriate response than stealing the painting from the wall or otherwise seeking to have it removed. Displaying the Blue Lives Matter flag is a way to express disapproval of the painting’s message and endorse a counter-message. It is, in short, responding to potentially offensive speech with more speech. It is exactly what conservatives (and others) tell college students to do when they are confronted by speech that offends them, whether it’s an art installation or a speech by an Internet provocateur.
Let me reiterate that I understand why some people find this painting to be particularly offensive, and I have no problem with members of Congress or others expressing that point of view. Insofar as some believe police officers often get a bum rap — in Ferguson or elsewhere — they should explain why this is so. They should not seek to censor or suppress the messages with which they disagree.
Have all the issues facing our country been resolved that members of Congress have the time and energy for this silly tit-for-tat over a kid's painting that few had noticed for months? Just because people were expressing outrage on the internet doesn't mean that we have to make a federal case out it.

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Lindsey Graham's questioning of the president of NAACP as to the value of their ratings of senators was quite well done. Graham went through their ratings of the members of the Judiciary Committee. And wouldn't you be surprised to learn that all the Republicans had very low ratings and all the Democrats had 100% except for one obviously racist senator who only had a 96%. Basically Graham challenged the NAACP guy to argue that all the Republicans were racist instead of just opponents of measures that the NAACP supports.

George Will writes about eh case that the Supreme Court will hear this week about whether or not the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's power under the so-called "disparagement clause" allows it to deny trademark protection to "immoral, deceptive or scandalous" trademarks. The office has determined that "Slants" is an insulting name for a band made up of Asian musicians. But why should this obscure office get to decide what is offensive and what isn't?
Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor, one of The Slants’ lawyers and a blogger for The Post, correctly says that the band’s name is expressive speech. The Asian Americans of The Slants agree. They say they adopted this name “to take on these stereotypes that people have about us, like the slanted eyes, and own them.”

The Patent and Trademark Office applies the disparagement clause by assessing “what message the referenced group takes from the applicant’s [trade]mark in the context of the applicant’s use” and denies registration “only if the message received is a negative one.” The office, which has denied trademark protection for The Slants, has given it to a band named N.W.A. which stands for (a version of the n-word) Wit Attitudes.

The office’s decisions are unpredictable because they depend on the agency speculating about what might be the feelings of others in hypothetical circumstances. This vague and arbitrarily enforced law, if such it can be called, chills speech by encouraging blandness.
Perhaps the result of this case will impact the name of the Washington Redskins which the Patent and Trademark Office finds offensive.
The office last earned the nation’s attention, if not its approbation, in 2014, when it denied protection to the name of the Washington Redskins, in spite of polls showing that 90 percent of Native Americans were not offended by the name and only 18 percent of “nonwhite football fans” favored changing it. Now the office sees a national problem in provocative, naughty, childish or tasteless band names. By doing this, the Patent and Trademark Office encourages something of which there already is an annoying surfeit — the belief that speech should be regulated hither and yon in order to preserve the serenity of those Americans who are most easily upset.

The WSJ defends Betsy DeVos as she prepares for her confirmation hearings on Tuesday. The Democrats are so beholden to teachers' unions that they are up in arms about DeVos because she has dared to support school reform policies.
Liberals claim that Mrs. DeVos, wife of former Amway president Dick DeVos, is unqualified to lead the Education Department because she’s never been a teacher.

Yet the same crowd howls that bankers shouldn’t be regulating banks. Which is it? Managing a bureaucracy isn’t like running a classroom, though both require a steely resolve. Most Education secretaries have been former teachers or school superintendents—not that student test scores are better for it.

Perhaps Mrs. DeVos’s most important qualification is that she has the courage of her convictions. Progressives are willing to brook billionaires who use their wealth to expand government or augment their political influence. Hyatt heiress Penny Pritzker, whose family is a major Democratic patron, served as President Obama’s Commerce secretary. But a conservative who’s dedicated her private fortune to liberating poor kids trapped in lousy public schools? The horror!

The DeVoses have donated tens of millions of dollars to charity including a children’s hospital in Michigan and an international art competition in Grand Rapids. They’ve also given to Christian organizations, which the left cites as evidence of concealed bigotry. Yet education has been their main philanthropic cause.
The unions and the Democrats plus their willing allies in the media have resorted to mischaracterizing the results of the Michigan charter school.
Unions claim Michigan charters are inferior to the state’s public schools and that 80% are run for profit.

These claims are spurious. Detroit charters are low performing—only 19% of students are proficient in English—but they’re better than the alternative. Charter students in Detroit on average score 60% more proficient on state tests than kids attending the city’s traditional public schools. Eighteen of the top 25 schools in Detroit are charters while 23 of the bottom 25 are traditional schools.

Two studies from Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (2013, 2015) found that students attending Michigan charters gained on average an additional two months of learning every year over their traditional school counterparts. Charter school students in Detroit gained three months.

Eighty-percent of Michigan charters utilize a private education service provider. Yet only about half are operated by a for-profit entity, and almost all of these are mom-and-pop businesses run by Michigan residents. While unions have fought to keep failing public schools open, Mrs. DeVos backed a 2009 law allowing the state to close public schools—charters included—that scored in the bottom 5% of the state for three consecutive years. Only seven of the 54 schools with two strikes in the past two years were charters.
They'd rather lie about how students are doing in Michigan's schools so they can block a reform that have been helping students. What they don't want are more charter schools that don't have to have a closed shop hiring only unionized teachers.
The real reason unions fear Mrs. DeVos is that she’s a rare reformer who has defeated them politically. Prior to being tapped by Mr. Trump, she chaired the American Federation for Children (AFC), which has helped elect hundreds of legislators across the country who support private school choice. Last year AFC and its affiliate groups spent $5 million on elections compared to the teachers unions’ $138 million. Yet 108 of the 121 candidates AFC supported won their races.

AFC has built a broad coalition that includes black and Latino Democrats, undercutting the union conceit that vouchers are a GOP plot to destroy public schools. In 2000 four states had private-school choice programs with 29,000 kids. Today, 25 states have vouchers, tax-credit scholarships or education-savings accounts benefitting more than 400,000 students.
...Yet their nasty campaign reeks of political desperation. You know progressives have lost their moral bearings when they save their most ferocious assault for a woman who wants to provide poor children with the education they need to succeed in America.

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Charles C. W. Cooke exposes
the faulty rhetoric of Barack Obama when the President talks about change.
When, as he did on Monday, the president tells his audiences “to believe . . . not in my ability to bring about change, but in yours,” he is not being ecumenical or descriptive, but proprietorial and ungenerous. For better or for worse, Donald Trump also represents “change,” and, for many of his fans, he promises “hope” to boot. For better or for worse, the Republican Congress is gearing up for transformation. As secretary of education, Betsy DeVos is set to shake things up. But that’s not what Obama is talking about, is it?

Cynical as it may be, Obama’s trick is a clever one, for it has allowed him to cast even his most reactionary instincts as downright futuristic, and to portray the critics of his agenda as the enemies of progress per se. On the question of, say, entitlement reform, this president has been an unabashed champion of the status quo, whereas Paul Ryan is a radical and a reformer. That, though, doesn’t fit into Obama’s model. That’s bad change, and bad change must by rights be conservative. Nod as he might to the sanctity of democratic control, there has always been something of the millenarian about Barack Obama. Properly understood, politics is the process by which free people work out their civic differences without resorting to arms. In his rhetoric, Obama implies otherwise: There’s a path toward History, he is fond of contending, and he is walking straight down the middle line.

Such obstinate Whiggism can yield perplexing results. Throughout Monday evening, Obama uttered platitudes that, to any neutral observer, could quite easily have applied to Donald Trump. “You know,” the president said, “that constant change has been America’s hallmark; that it’s not something to fear but something to embrace.” Oh, really? Then should we expect him to lobby for the repeal of the ACA and the amendment of the National Labor Relations Act? “Change,” he added, “only happens when ordinary people get involved and they get engaged and they come together to demand it.” But what of Trump’s supporters, who did exactly that, or of the millions upon millions who voted for a Republican Congress? If, as Obama claims, he “still believes” in the capacity of political movements to bring about real reform, he should be Bill Mitchell’s best friend.

Jonah Goldberg notices another one of Obama's annoying tropes.
He spoke again of Congress being “dysfunctional” in the abstract, but what he surely meant is that Congress isn’t working properly when it declines to do what he wants it to do. Hence the insinuation that disagreement with his views on climate change is contrary to the “spirit” of America and the Enlightenment. He called for a “new social compact” that was indistinguishable from his legislative agenda and insisted that the essence of democracy is the commitment “that we rise or fall as one.”

That is not the spirit of democracy at all; it’s the spirit of the “tribalism” and “nationalism” he’s come to disparage. But that has always been the spirit of Obamaism. When people agree with him, that’s democracy working. When democracy rejects his counsel, that’s the bitter Bible-clingers rejecting the better angel of his nature.

I always enjoy reading Eugene Volokh's explainers of some legal issue that has made its way into the news. Here he discusses whether BuzzFeed could be sued for libel for publishing the dossier on Donald Trump and what the Russians supposedly have on him. As Volokh, says it's quite complicated and there are some precedents that are limited in their reach. One precedent from the California Supreme Court rests on whether BuzzFeed got their copy of the dossier delivered to them in hard copy or whether it was sent them via the internet. Apparently, the California Supreme Court has ruled that libelous material delivered through an "interactive computer service" wouldn't be subject to libel, but the same material delivered in person or through the regular mail would be. What a crazy law.

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At SB Nation, Charlotte Wilder writes that the New England Patriots have a "Trump problem" because both Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have expressed support and friendship for Donald Trump. Wilder points out how liberal Massachusetts and all New England is and how Hillary Clinton trounced Donald Trump in Massachusetts. She argues that, even though Brady and Belichick are practically deities in the region, their support of Trump is just a step too far. She's talked to her friends and they just can't watch or cheer for the Patriots any more. People have written her letters and sent messages on Facebook about how disappointed they are with Brady and Belichick. That may well be. The internet seems to be filled with people who want to comment on how the statements from celebrities about a politician they dislike has turned them against the team.

Well, welcome to the world of conservatives. We've been enduring celebrities deriding politicians we support since Reagan. They've ridiculed political positions that conservatives support and poured out their support for politicians like the Clintons and Barack Obama whom we dislike. If I weren't to enjoy entertainment from actors, athletes, or musicians with whom I disagree, I'd have very little entertainment to enjoy. I've been a Patriots fan for a couple of years, but I don't particularly like Donald Trump either. But I'm not going to change my support for the team because of the political views of the coach and quarterback. In general, I'd prefer that celebrities kept their political views to themselves, but that's their right. And it's my right to ignore their views.

Somehow, I don't think that the Patriots will have trouble selling out Gillette Stadium on Saturday to play the Steelers for the AFC championship. And I bet the ratings for the game won't suffer a bit. I'm guessing that most fans want to enjoy sports without having to think about politics. If only the media would let us do so.