Friday, January 06, 2017

Cruising the Web

In light of the horrific video of the four Chicago black teenagers torturing the mentally disabled white young man while videotaping and posting their crime on line and the ensuing debate over whether or not this should classify as a hate crime, Eugene Volokh has a valuable tutorial on what the hate crime law is in Illinois. For example, I hadn't realized that the law focuses on why the attacker(s) selected the victim not necessarily on "hate."
The focus, then, isn’t on “hate.” For instance, if a thief selects a physically disabled victim simply because he thinks it’s less likely that the victim will fight back, that too is covered as a hate crime under Illinois law. Likewise, if someone thinks that the police will be less interested in investigating a robbery against a victim from a particular group, selects the victim just because of that (“it’s nothing personal”) and then injures the victim in the course of the robbery, that too would qualify as a hate crime.
And the fact that they used racial epithets in their attacks doesn't necessarily mean that the crime is a hate crime, but may indeed be evidence that it was. Volokh also points out that there may be federal charges in this crime because it was broadcast online and involved a knife that implies interstate commerce.
Federal law covers race-based hate crimes generally (on the theory that such crimes perpetuate the “badges and incidents of slavery,” and therefore Congress has the power to punish such crimes under the 13th Amendment) but disability-based hate crimes only when they relate in certain ways to interstate or foreign commerce. If the facts as described in the news story are correct, it’s possible — though I’m not sure — that the live-streaming of the video of the attack would be seen as “affect[ing] interstate or foreign commerce,” and would thus trigger the federal statute. Likewise if the attackers used a dangerous weapon, such as the knife mentioned in the story, “that has traveled in interstate or foreign commerce.” (emphasis in original)
It's well worth reading Volokh's explanation of what determines whether a crime is a hate crime. However, I've always thought that we shouldn't have to have this debate about crimes trying to judge the intent of a criminal. Whether or not this was a so-called hate crime, this was a terrible action and it shouldn't matter so much what these teens' intent was, but what their actions were. If someone murders another person, whether it was because of the person's race or to rob the person, there is still a dead victim whose murder should be adjudicated whatever the motive was. One victim's murder shouldn't rate a harsher penalty than another's simply based on the motivation of the murderer.

The WSJ editorializes on this story and the demands to treat it as a hate crime.
A young Chicago man with special needs was tied up, gagged and tortured in a beating live-streamed on Facebook. The social-media horror might have been enough to make the national news. But the story has now gained more traction because the four charged in the attack—two men and two women—are black, the victim is white, and so the smell of “hate crime” is in the air.

In addition to individual charges ranging from burglary and kidnapping to possession of a stolen van, the four were formally charged on Thursday under the hate-crime statute. And the circumstances and video sure fit the accepted definition. The attackers are all one race and the victim another, and the video shows the victim lying in the corner as someone shouts “F— Donald Trump” and “F— white people.”

These facts are leading some of our conservative friends to crow in satisfaction that the perpetrators of hate crimes are not limited to white male Republicans. But this way of thinking underscores the divisiveness of the whole idea of hate crimes. Not least of the drama in this case was whether the four would be charged with a hate crime—because everyone knows that this is as much a political as a criminal decision. Which in turn determines who gets to use the crime to advance a political narrative.

Yet it makes little difference to the victim who beat him. In the same way, would it be any improvement if Dylann Roof had murdered those innocent black churchgoers in South Carolina for their money? Put it another way: In Chicago in 2016, 762 people were murdered, the overwhelming majority of them black. Very few made national news.

Years ago Thomas Sowell noted that “it took centuries of struggle and people putting their lives on the line to get rid of the idea that a crime against ‘A’ should be treated differently than the same crime committed against ‘B.”’ As the attention on this Chicago beating shows, the hate-crime label tends to diminish the actual crime while promoting different standards of justice for different victims.

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Thomas Ascik reports
on a disturbing federal district court decision in Wisconsin.
A federal district court is attempting to nullify the results of the last four elections in Wisconsin by declaring that the state legislature does not have enough Democrats. “Political gerrymandering” by the Republican-controlled state legislature, the court has concluded, has caused such an unfair result in favor of Republicans in the state legislature as to constitute a violation of the Equal Protection Clause—a conclusion that the Supreme Court has never reached.
Read the rest for the history of how the Supreme Court has approached political gerrymandering cases. Seeing as I am teaching apportionment, redistricting, and gerrymandering this week in my AP Government classes, I found this all very interesting, yet quite disheartening that a federal court would step in and all on its own decide when a legislature's redistricting map is unconstitutional because the court thinks that more Democrats should have been elected even though the Supreme Court hasn't been able to figure out a standard to decide when a gerrymandering is too partisan.
The court concluded that the districting plan drawn up by the Republican-controlled legislature had created a voter “efficiency gap” and had caused the Democrats to have “wasted votes” in districts that they won too handily. The court held the Democrats could have used those votes to be more competitive in other districts, and the court was precise in stating the harm caused: there was a “pro-Republican efficiency gap” of 13 state house seats in 2012 and 10 state house seats in 2014. The court attributes almost no significance to the fact that the Republicans won control of the state legislature in the 2010 elections, not the 2012 or 2014 elections, under a redistricting plan put into effect by the court itself.
There is no allegation that the Wisconsin legislature violated any principle recognized by the Supreme Court. All that the court had was an judgment that the election results should have turned out differently.
In other words, Wisconsin blamelessly configured its voting districts but was blamed anyway for failing a duty that it did not know existed. In this era of Big Data, in which every precinct (in every state) has statistics on the exact number of registered Democrats and Republicans, it seems that the result is a foregone conclusion: “efficiency gap” proportional representation.

In measuring statewide “wasted votes” for state legislative offices, the efficiency gap does not take into account that voters do not vote statewide. They vote for individual candidates in individual districts. Nor do they necessarily vote by party. In presidential elections, for instance, candidates Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump have all been candidates who attracted crossover voters. As for the statewide voting for governor in what the court thinks is Democratic Wisconsin, Republican Scott Walker has won that vote three times in this decade. In district-based elections that they win overwhelmingly, the Republicans have “wasted votes” as well. And should not the large number of independent voters be figured into the calculations?

Jon Gabriel has fun ridiculing Obama's self-congratulations about how wildly successful his eight years of presidency have been.
In less than a decade, he fixed the economy, delivered health care, united Americans, granted peace to the world, and healed the planet itself. My name is Obamandias, President of Presidents; Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

You gotta hand it to the guy: He’s not encumbered with excess humility.

Obama credited himself with “the longest streak of job creation on record” but forgot to mention all those would-be workers who were downgraded to part-time or left the workforce altogether.

“Today, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, another 20 million American adults know the financial security and peace of mind that comes with health insurance,” the president boasted. Meanwhile, Americans have lost their doctors, watched their costs soar as services drop, and insurers flee the marketplace.

But the greatest communicator of our age was only warming up. “Over the past eight years, no foreign terrorist organization has successfully planned and executed an attack on our homeland.” Where to begin? Perhaps with Fort Hood, the Boston Marathon, San Bernardino, or Orlando, but who’s counting?

Obama even takes credit for gay marriage despite strongly opposing it to get elected. Nice to see he finally agrees with fringe radicals like Dick Cheney and the Koch brothers who endorsed it for years.

Over nearly 2,000 words and more than a dozen graphs, Obama presents a Potemkin America that stands astride the globe, citizens dance arm in arm, and paychecks fall from the sky. But this is a standard tactic of the progressive left — insisting that politicians can fix all ills and how horrible things were before their guiding hand.

And when the facts make the administration look bad, why not just lie about the facts?
President Barack Obama did not perform a u-turn over his 'red line' warning to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad about the use of chemical weapons in Syria, secretary of state John Kerry has claimed.

Kerry told a news conference that Obama did not backtrack on the 2012 ultimatum to Assad against using his stockpile of chemical weapons against rebels or civilians.

He described claims to the contrary as an 'unfair perception' which hit the nation's credibility....

He said Obama ultimately opted for a better solution: a diplomatic deal that enabled Syria to give up its declared chemical weapon stockpiles.
Kerry said: 'The bottom line is, folks, the president never retracted his intent to (use force), he just got rid of the need to do it by embracing a different approach that got all the weapons out.'

He said the negotiated response was more effective than military action because there was no guarantee airstrikes could have accomplished the same thing.

Kerry acknowledged that people far and wide saw the sequence of events as Obama backing down. And he said that view damaged America's effectiveness.

He said: 'I will acknowledge to you absolutely, I heard it all over the place. The perception hurt, yes. The perception hurt.'
Of course, Kerry is ignoring Syria's use of chemical weapons after the deal that supposedly persuaded Assad to give up his chemical weapons.
A woman and two children have been killed and dozens injured in an alleged chlorine gas attack in Aleppo, doctors have said, as experts warned that the frequent use of chemical weapons in Syria risked normalising war crimes.

There have been dozens of attacks with chlorine gas since Syria officially agreed to give up its weapons stockpile following a 2013 sarin gas assault on a Damascus suburb, rights groups and doctors on the ground said.

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Ilya Somin recommends
a stronger commitment to federalism to diminish partisan animosity.
Today, the federal government has control over and extraordinarily wide range of issues, everything from health care to drug prohibition, to light bulbs and toilet flows. By decentralizing more power to the state and local level, or to the private sector, we can reduce the number of issues on which a one-size-fits-all decision has to be made. There will be less need to make painful compromises and concessions if each side can get their own way in their own state, locality, or private planned community.

We can also take steps to make mobility easier, so that people unhappy with their current jurisdiction have greater opportunity to “vote with their feet” for more congenial alternatives. Such foot voting need not and should not result in complete partisan segregation. Many people, myself included, have preferences that don’t fit neatly along a standard left-right or red-blue continuum. But the combination of decentralization and opportunities for foot voting can result in greater freedom and happiness for a wide range of people with divergent preferences.

A political family that doesn’t have to do so much together can be a happier family with fewer dangerous zero-sum conflicts. It may not be quite like a successful marriage. But perhaps a less intimate form of political relationship is precisely what we need. People who are too different to be good spouses might nonetheless make good friends or relatives – as long as they don’t have to do too many things together. Uncle Red and Cousin Blue might be a lot more likable if you didn’t have to worry about them controlling too many aspects of your life.

Victor Davis Hanson ponders
all the troubling foreign policy issues and conflicts that John Kerry has not spoken out on for 70 minutes as he did trying to defend the administration's policies on Israel.
Why does the world — including now the U.S. — single out liberal and lawful Israel but refrain from chastising truly illiberal countries?

Kerry has never sermonized for so long about his plan to solve the Syrian crisis that has led to some 500,000 deaths or the vast migrant crisis that has nearly wrecked the European Union.

No one in this administration has shown as much anger about the many thousands who have been killed and jailed in the Castro brothers’ Cuba, much less about the current Stone Age conditions in Venezuela or the nightmarish government of President Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, an ally nation.

President Obama did not champion the cause of the oppressed during the Green Revolution of 2009 in Iran. Did Kerry and Obama become so outraged after Russia occupied South Ossetia, Crimea, and eastern Ukraine?

Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power was never so impassioned over the borders of Chinese-occupied Tibet, or over Turkish-occupied Northern Cyprus.

In terms of harkening back to the Palestinian “refugee” crisis that started in the late 1940s, no one talks today in similar fashion about the Jews who survived the Holocaust and walked home, only to find that their houses in Eastern Europe were gone or occupied by others. Much less do we recall the 11 million German civilians who were ethnically cleansed from Eastern Europe in 1945 by the Soviets and their imposed Communist governments. Certainly, there are not still “refugee” camps outside Dresden for those persons displaced from East Prussia 70 years ago.

More recently, few nations at the U.N. faulted the Kuwaiti government for the expulsion of 200,000 Palestinians after the liberation of Kuwait by coalition forces in 1991….

Yet on nearly every issue -- from "settlements" to human rights to the status of women -- U.N. members that routinely violate human rights target a liberal Israel.

When President Obama entered office, among his first acts were to give an interview with the Saudi-owned news outlet Al Arabiya championing his outreach to the mostly non-democratic Islamic world and to blast democratic Israel on "settlements."
And Obama hasn't changed his attitude toward Israel since those early days of his administration.

So much for the Democrats' demanding a slow confirmation process for Trump's cabinet nominees.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s conference has scheduled six Cabinet-level confirmations hearings for next Wednesday, Jan. 11, the same day the chamber will likely slog through an all-night vote-a-rama on a budget and the president-elect will give his first press conference in six months.

It’s a disastrous schedule for Senate Democrats.

Republicans insist their intention is not to obscure the confirmation hearings for cabinet nominees amid a flurry of political activity. But the net result will likely be too many events for comprehensive news coverage — and it may tank Senate Democrats’ long-planned strategy to systematically attack Trump’s cabinet and wound the Republican Party.
Schumer is very, very disappointed with Mitch McConnell's ignoring his pleas to only have a couple of confirmation hearings a week so they could pile on individual nominees and demonize them while winning the media news cycle. And they're whining that some senators will have to attend two separate hearings. Have you ever watched such hearings. Few, if any, senators attend all of the hearing. They come in and ask their tendentious questions and then leave. They have aides to sit there and take note of anything worthwhile. Oh, and holding multiple hearings on one day isn't all that unprecedented.
There has only been one other time that the Senate held confirmation hearings for six Cabinet-level nominees on a single day, according to the Congressional Research Service. That jam-packed day was Jan. 18, 2001, when the GOP-led Senate hosted George W. Bush’s picks to lead the Justice, Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Energy, Veterans Affairs and Interior Departments.

And as many as seven of Barack Obama’s nominees got confirmation hearings on a single day during his 2009 transition, although they weren’t all Cabinet officials.
The Democrats are complaining that they haven't received the tax returns and FBI background checks for some of the nominees. Again, that isn't all that uncommon.
McConnell made similar requests as minority leader during the first months of Barack Obama’s presidency. In a previously-undisclosed letter obtained by POLITICO, McConnell wrote to then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in February 2009, asking for both the FBI and the OGE process to be finished before committee chairmen scheduled a hearing. That request came after Republicans cooperated with the Democratic majority to tee up confirmation votes for seven of Obama’s nominees on Inauguration Day 2009.
Hmmm. Three guesses as to who undisclosed that letter to Politico.

For those senators complaining about not being able to attend the entire hearing. Thom Tillis has some advice.
“It’s called separation of powers and a DVR.”
And North Carolina's other senator also is unmoved by the Democrats' complaints.
Burr said. “I’ve got other confirmations that day. You know, when you got 1270 confirmations to go through, you haven’t got a lot of time to do it.”

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These are two stories about European ineptitude in preventative policing against terror attacks. It only takes one mistake for a terrorist to get through and succeed in his murderous goal. It seems that, at least in Belgium and Germany, the police are making more than that one mistake.

Belgian police had their opportunities to arrest those terrorists responsible for attacks in Paris and Brussels.
Belgian police had numerous chances to unmask the Islamic State terror cell that later carried out the Paris and Brussels attacks, according to a confidential report prepared for Belgium’s Parliament. They muffed every one.

In early 2015, Brussels police stopped a car driven by Brahim Abdeslam, later one of the Paris attackers, and arrested him for drug possession. At the time, Brahim was on a terror watch list. He carried a booklet about “parental consent for the Jihad.” Police found a USB thumb drive hidden behind his car radio.

He was let go after brief questioning. Authorities failed to analyze the thumb drive or other electronics seized after the drug stop from an apartment Brahim shared with his younger brother, also involved in the attacks, Salah Abdeslam. Another unnoticed detail: The email address the suspect supplied,, was a fake.

The incident, details of which haven’t been previously reported, is outlined in the parliamentary report prepared by Comité P, a watchdog agency of former police and judicial officials auditing the work of Belgian police in the wake of the twin attacks. The 82-page report, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, was finalized in September and hasn’t been made public.

European police have foiled many would-be terrorists in recent years. In many of the major attacks that did occur, the terrorists’ radical leanings were well known to police, who failed to halt them in time....

The Belgian report reveals that police had information before the Paris and Brussels attacks that showed the Abdeslam brothers had relationships with other terror suspects; that Brahim wasn’t questioned after multiple interactions with law enforcement even though he was on a terror watch list; and that police didn’t follow up when Salah changed his social-media profile picture to the ISIS flag.

The Comité P report, along with other official documents and interviews with Belgian officials, reveals the extent to which Belgian authorities bungled the investigation of the ISIS cell by ignoring informant tips, failing to heed alerts from other countries and poorly coordinating between law-enforcement branches.
Read the whole thing. It's so very depressing to see how many times they had information and opportunities to catch these guys and prevent the murder of 162 people in both Paris and Brussels.

We're also finding out how German officials
knew about Anis Amri, the man responsible for the attack on a Berlin Christmas gathering, and ignored the information they had.
Top federal and regional security officials met seven times to discuss the potential danger posed by Tunisian migrant Anis Amri in the year before he attacked a Berlin Christmas market, the latest revelation in a string of mishaps that failed to prevent the attack.

The new details, disclosed by security officials at a regional parliamentary hearing Thursday, suggest that German security and intelligence authorities miscalculated the immediate threat that Amri presented. Despite extensive surveillance, efforts to detain him repeatedly faltered because police and prosecutors believed they didn’t have evidence that would stand up in court, the officials said.

The emerging affair is raising questions about the ability of Germany, which was struck four times by Islamist terrorists last year, to prevent future attacks. It is also increasing pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel amid accusations that her decision to accept hundreds of thousands of mostly Muslim migrants in 2015 might have put the country at risk.
These stories seem so much more horrifying than the 9/11 Commission report since here the authorities had specific information about specific individuals and failed to act. Europeans have good reason to be both furious and heartbroken at their government's ineptitude.

So much for predictions.
Contrary to predictions, Britain’s economy post-Brexit has been shown to be thriving, with business activity hitting a 17-month high last month.

Britain’s economy grew by 2.2 per cent last year, which is more than six other leading nations including the US, Germany and Japan.

The findings, produced by analyst firm IHS Markit, indicate Brexit has had a positive impact on the economy, thereby embarrassing economists who predicted damning consequences of Britain’s departure from the crumbling bloc.

Andrew Haldane, chief economist at the Bank of England, admitted forecasts were wrong and that “the data has surprised to the upside.”