Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Cruising the Web

Hugh Hewitt, who knows whereof he speaks from his own personal experiences, writes to explain why we should not be eager to have another special prosecutor to investigate Russia's interference in the 2016 election. Democrats should be careful because any special prosecutor might be given a very broad brief as to what to look at. The Republicans would make sure of it. Hewitt has some suggestions:
But any special prosecutor appointed to look into the alleged “Russian connection” should also be given a scope of inquiry that includes the handing of the investigation into Clinton’s server, the slow-walking of document delivery to the Congress and the courts concerning Clinton’s administration of the State Department as well as alleged Obama administration leaks of classified information from the first campaign debate forward. I think the abuses at the IRS clearly have a nexus to shenanigans in 2016, so you can even add that to the list of appropriate subjects for the special prosecutor. (Everything is alleged, including Team Trump ties to Russia, until proven or abandoned.)

I've read a lot of criticism of the GOP's proposed health care bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. The criticism from the Right focuses on how the bill still includes subsidies for the poor in the form of tax credits and doesn't do all the things that conservatives would like to see done to reform the health care system. It seems that many of these criticisms ignore the reality of how the Congressional Republicans are trying to use the reconciliation process to get through as much as possible with only 51 Senate votes. They can't repeal all of Obamacare without 60 votes. They don't have those 60 votes. So the GOP has to do what they can through reconciliation which needs only 51 votes in the Senate. There are rules to how reconciliation can be used and so some reforms, such as making health insurance available across state lines, can't be done through reconciliation. And the GOP just can't go too far in withdrawing from a major entitlement and harm those who have benefited from some of Obamacare's provisions. So much of this criticism seems to be grounded in a "let's make the perfect the enemy of the good" sort of attitude. Sure, it's not ideal, but then the situation isn't ideal. The WSJ has a good editorial explaining how the plan isn't perfect, but it's a very decent compromise within the parameters of the reconciliation process.
Opening this critical legislative campaign is a test of how well Republicans can manage political and economic reality. The House bill is a center-right compromise that works off a status quo that has accumulated for years, and its architects know they can’t design a health-care system de novo. The bill has flaws that come from accommodating what the votes in Congress will allow. Still, if this passes, it will be a major achievement, and real progress.

Though the individual insurance market dominates the debate, the House’s Medicaid reform might be more important. This safety-net program originally meant for poor women, children and the disabled has morphed into general insurance for working-age, able-bodied adults above the poverty level, despite its low-quality care and price controls.

The House would convert Medicaid’s funding formula from an open-ended entitlement into block grants to states. The amount would be determined by per capita enrollment and grow with medical inflation. States would thus have a reason to set priorities and retarget Medicaid on the truly needy.

The GOP envisions giving Governors more regulatory power to run their own programs, and this flexibility would be accompanied by a new $100 billion “stability fund” for use in the post-ObamaCare transition. We’ll have a fuller treatment of the Medicaid overhaul in the coming days, but this is the most meaningful modernization of the program since it was created in 1965.

The House transition lasts three years, until 2020, which underscores one of the downsides of using the budget “reconciliation” process. This procedure allows legislation to pass with merely 51 Senate votes but it comes with arcane rules and limitations such as reducing the deficit. Delaying some reforms is one side effect, and the GOP Governors who could take the most advantage of more flexibility might not be around in 2020.

Another unfortunate artifact of reconciliation is delaying the repeal of ObamaCare’s tax hikes until 2018. The bill gets rid of nearly all of them, from the medical device tax to the health insurance tax to the 3.8-percentage point Medicare payroll tax on “unearned income.” But better to backdate the action through this year. That would avoid capital lock-in and boost growth in 2017, because investors will otherwise await lower rates.

In the individual market, the bill discards ObamaCare’s web of mandates and regulations in favor of incentives to buy health insurance on a deregulated market. ObamaCare’s subsidies are as much about income redistribution as access to care. For people who lack employer-sponsored insurance and aren’t eligible for Medicaid or Medicare, the House substitutes flat, age-adjusted tax credits that float from $2,000 to $14,000 a year as people get older.

A tax deduction is better economic policy but would offer less help to those with lower incomes. The House credits are also “refundable,” meaning they become a straight cash payment to those with no income tax liability. This is costly, but then only about 7% of the population is eligible.

The tax credits are also means-tested, phasing out after $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for couples, or for roughly the top 10% of earners. Increasing inframarginal tax rates with benefit cliffs is a problem, but the income caps are set high enough that effects on incentives to work won’t be especially strong.

Far from a “Republican entitlement” or “ObamaCare Lite,” the new tax credits start to fix a core bias of U.S. health care, which is that individuals buying insurance for themselves don’t receive the same tax subsidy that flow to workers at businesses.
The choice for Republicans isn't repeal and reform later since they won't be able to get through any sort of reform with 60 votes in the Senate. Such a plan would roil the insurance markets much more than they are today. That should be a political non-starter. Using reconciliation to get through as much as possible is all that the GOP can do without the 60 votes in the Senate that the Democrats used to push Obamacare through in the first place.
Repeal-only can’t pass the Senate in any case, because Senate Republicans—with good reason—don’t want to accelerate ObamaCare’s collapse or throw millions off the Medicaid rolls. Voters tend to punish parties that disrupt their insurance. Just ask Democrats.

In other words, the House bill is the only heath-care show in town. If conservatives join Democrats to defeat the measure, the result will be to preserve ObamaCare as is—and probably torpedo the rest of the GOP agenda including tax reform. Good luck running for re-election in 2018 with a record of failure.

The House proposal can be improved with amendments—and more work will be necessary in future years to make medicine more affordable, promote innovation, protect the most vulnerable and give patients more control of their health-care dollars. But the bill is a major down payment on a brighter health-care future. Republicans have a limited window for repeal and replace, and this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. Democrats understand this, even if some conservatives don’t.
As Paul Ryan has explained there are different phases to what the GOP are trying to do. Phase One is this reconciliation bill. Then Phase Two is for Tom Price as HHS Secretary to reform those burdens that the law allows for. We'll have to wait for Phase Three for reforms to be passed through the House and Senate under regular procedures.

And what the Democrats are ignoring in their yelps of dismay is that Obamacare is collapsing. Every year more insurance companies have dropped out and premiums have increased. And the Republicans are doing this through regular order instead of huddling together in Harry Reid's office on Christmas Eve and then cramming it through without amendment and without those who voted for it having a chance to read it. Remember how "we have to pass it to find out what's in it." Well, that's not how the Republicans are doing this. It's going through committees and there is time for people to read it.

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Jim Talent has some worthwhile proposals
of how state governments should react to tales of violence on college campuses to prevent some people, mostly conservatives, from speaking. Talent wonders, as I have, why there has been so little response from lawmakers to protect the free flow of conversation on college campuses. And now, at Berkeley and Middlebury, we're also seeing mob violence and destruction of property. He recommends that state legislatures look into what is going on within their states and then take action to allow peaceful protests, but prevent violence and unruly disruptions that aim to suppress speech. He recommends some possible new laws to address the problem.
New statutes specifically prohibiting the violent or disorderly disruption of speech on college campuses. Conviction of such an offense, even if it is designated as a misdemeanor, should result in mandatory jail time. A second conviction should be a felony.

Provision for the automatic termination of any state employee, or expulsion of any student at a state university, convicted of violating the new statute, even if the conviction is a misdemeanor and regardless of whether the state employee has tenure or other civil-service protections.

Authorization for the governor to intervene with state law-enforcement personnel, or where necessary the National Guard, to protect free speech on college campuses, upon application by local authorities, or when he decides that local authorities are unable or unwilling to provide sufficient protection.

Authorization for the governor to appoint special prosecutors where he decides that local prosecutors are unwilling or unable to charge and try offenders.

Funding to train special units of state police and the National Guard in the methods of protecting peaceful speech and controlling or investigating mob violence or disorderly conduct on college campuses.
Right now it seems that students are getting away with disrupting speakers and not facing any consequences. If the universities can't handle security to protect speech, then it is the job of the legislatures to take action. If people faced consequences, they might think twice if they faced being thrown out of school.

It's not quite the same, but I remember the day that we started ground action in the Persian Gulf War. I was teaching in middle school at the time and, as word spread throughout the students what was going on, kids decided to rush out of classes and start protesting outside. The assistant principal grabbed a megaphone and video camera and went outside to announce that anyone still outside in the next minute would get suspended and then he pulled out the video camera to let them know that he was serious about identifying who was out there. Boy, those kids rushed to get back inside the building. Suddenly, skipping class and protesting the war was no longer such a thrilling idea. I really admired that administrator's quick thinking and decisive action. I'd like to see some college administrators take the same approach, but they're either too afraid of the bad publicity or perhaps too in sympathy with their protests to take any actions to protect unpopular speakers. Whatever they're doing now is not working. As Talent concludes,
Every time one of these episodes occurs, dozens of columns are written decrying them. That is good as far as it goes, but at a certain point it looks like hand wringing. The right response to speech is more speech, but the right response to violence against speech is not just verbal condemnation but strong laws, carefully written and stringently enforced.

We are not defenseless in the face of violence. This isn’t 1929, and America isn’t the Weimar Republic. Nor should our people have to rely on organizing their own self-defense. We don’t need anarchists and vigilantes fighting it out on the grounds of our universities. But that’s what we’re going to get, unless those who have the authority, and therefore the responsibility, take firm action to protect their people in the exercise of their rights.

John Podhoretz explains one of the main reasons why Trump's poll numbers have been relatively stable despite the terrible press he's received.
First, it’s an important reminder to those of us who live and breathe the news that we live in (yes) a bubble — only this is not a bubble that prevents unwanted outside information from getting in. Rather, it’s a bubble of the hyper-aware, in which people with a granular interest in news events are associating primarily with others like us at work and on social media.

Those of us who stay informed on a minute-to-minute or hour-to-hour basis are experiencing news events in a manner entirely different from the way the overwhelming majority of Americans experience them.

We see the cascade of daily Trump controversies happening in real time, and the overstimulation is constant. It’s both exhausting and exhilarating, and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say we’re on the verge of hysteria for some part of nearly every day.

Social media have only intensified our contacts with each other and the sense that something major is happening every few hours — and that the country is being buffeted about the way we are.

Clearly, it’s not. If you didn’t like Trump on Nov. 8, you don’t like him now — though it’s certainly possible you hate him more than you did. But if you liked Trump on Nov. 8, or if you voted for him even if you didn’t quite like him, your feelings are very different.

What these polls show is that Trump voters are sticking with him. They are giving him a chance. For them, the election just happened, and the idea his administration is on the verge of collapse is ridiculous — after all, he just got there.

He and the media are fighting, but then, they always have. Democrats are screaming bloody murder about him, but then, they always did.

The people who voted for him are neither fans of the media nor fans of the Democrats. Why would his voters and sympathizers be affected by the campaign against him, except perhaps to strengthen their support because they don’t like the people who are shouting the loudest?

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Joy Pullmann discusses
what is wrong with teachers shutting down entire school systems so that they can go on strike. She does the math to argue that there should be enough non-teacher staff in Alexandria and Chapel Hill's school districts. I was also wondering this. I bet that there are parents who would have been willing to come in for a one-time volunteer opportunity. If they couldn't sub in the classrooms, they could sub for secretaries so those employees could go to the classroom. Maybe there are laws in these school districts about who can be a substitute. That's one more reason why I am grateful to work at a charter school where we can improvise creatively. Pullman also wonders there aren't other school districts shut down? Are Alexandria and Chapel Hill the most "woke" school districts in the nation?

And who is really hurt by their selfish actions?
Teachers strikes have always been politically touchy because, well, besides the mundane inconveniences for family routines, striking does hurt kids. Missing class or having a substitute even for one day measurably hurts student learning. So not just the closed districts but in all classrooms where teachers are on strike Wednesday, it’s hurting kids. Is that really a good way to win at politics? I guess it makes education politics more transparent (everyone is not in it for the kids), but still, awkward.

In just one study about this, “Columbia researchers Mariesa Herrmann and Jonah Rockoff concluded that the effect on learning of using a substitute for even a day is greater than the effect of replacing an average teacher with a terrible one.” Further, public-school teachers are already typically more frequently absent than private-sector workers, even though they get much more vacation time, not including summer vacation. In fact, Alexandria schools were closed Friday for a teacher work day, stretching parents even more thin this week. Skipping more is not a good look for public education in a time when unions insist it is under attack.
When one of my daughters was in a regular public elementary school, the school decided, as part of its improvement plan, to close school one Wednesday afternoon a month so they could have teacher meetings. I was furious. As a teacher myself, I knew how worthless most teacher meetings are. I couldn't imagine what they could be doing that was worth the hassle. Working parents really struggled to arrange childcare for our elementary-school age children. It was a tough year. It is always difficult for working parents to arrange childcare for unexpected school closings. I bet a lot of parents will have to stay home because of this school closing. Some of the these families can't ill afford missing out on the pay from that one day. Do these protesting women care about single mothers scrambling to arrange for their kids today?

As James Freeman writes, "the women's movement seems to be annoying lots of women."
It’s intended as a general strike to protest gender oppression. But it seems that the oppressed may be too busy to participate.

“Stupid. That’s what I first thought,” Angie Beem tells the Seattle Times. Ms. Beem helped organize a January 21 Women’s March in Seattle but is skeptical of tomorrow’s event. “What’s the purpose of a strike when you can’t afford a day to not work? Women who could possibly do this are in an executive-type position. Life will go on for them. Their career is more stable. This screamed white privilege,” says Ms. Beem.
He links to this column by Meghan Daum in the LA Times criticizing this whole idea.
In the fine tradition of taking something that worked before and milking it to the point of uselessness or maybe self-parody, a strike has been called for March 8, International Women’s Day, also known this year as A Day Without a Woman....

I highly doubt that “anyone, anywhere” can or will join this party. That’s because it’s really going to be A Day Without a Privileged Woman....

Make no mistake, March 8 will mostly be a day without women who can afford to skip work, shuffle childcare and household duties to someone else, and shop at stores that are likely to open at 10 and close at 5....

Meanwhile, for the millions of women who have no choice but to show up and meet their responsibilities on March 8 (and every day), it will be business as usual.

Which, when you stop to think about it, is kind of the point, isn’t it? At least it should be. We are nearly half the labor force now. We are just as important in the workplace and to our families’ fiscal welfare as men. All things being equal (which is what we’re after, right?), we are too essential to play hooky.

That’s why the idea that women should take a day off en masse to make a political point is both self-defeating and vaguely insulting. It’s meant to highlight how crucial we are, but its very premise also suggest the opposite: Women are expendable. A Day Without a Woman plays into the idea that we entered the workforce not to support ourselves and our families but to combat boredom or to boost our self-esteem. For all but a very few affluent women, that’s never been the case.
As Amanda Carpenter writes in Politico about how this "Day Without a Woman" can backfire because it's not clear what protesting women are asking for.
Adding further insult to the families inconvenienced by the demonstration, the strikers appear unable to answer one simple question: What, or whom, are they striking against?

Theoretically, Wednesday’s event is designed to highlight the economic power of women by showing the world what can happen if they refuse to engage in both paid and unpaid work, as well as any shopping, for a day. Right away, thorny questions pile up. First off, are women really attempting to show their value in the workplace by refusing to work? This seems like a risky strategy. No worker is truly indispensable, and going on strike could invite employers to consider just how replaceable you are. Not to mention that parents thrown into the lurch due to last-minute school cancellations for petty political games will surely be tempted to consider other educational choices, too.

Second, what would happen if all women actually participated? The event’s organizers are suggesting women refrain from paid as well as unpaid work, which means mothers, if they followed through with the guidelines, may leave children unattended. The entire American airlines industry would be grounded without women to help planes get on and off the ground. Female nurses and doctors would not be available to administer chemotherapy, deliver babies or conduct life-saving emergency treatments. Do organizers truly want to encourage a movement that would lead to nothing less than the breakdown of civil society? This isn’t a feminist ploy, it’s one for anarchy.

Third, what political remedy are they seeking? No specific requests are apparent. All the organizing material is bathed in vague blather about raising awareness without asking for any specific reforms. Unlike this month’s “Bodega strike,” in which immigrant businesses closed their doors in objection to Trump’s travel ban, or #GrabYourWallet, which seeks to protest the Trump family’s conflicts of interest, or even January’s “Women’s March on Washington,” which was at least reacting to President Donald Trump’s inauguration and history of sexist comments, “A Day Without A Woman” is a protest without a point. If women are going to put thousands of children out of school and consider grinding the American economy to a halt, they at least ought to have a good, clear reason to do so....

The “Day Without A Women” organizers made a severe misstep by making children and working families, many of whom who can’t easily skip work or get babysitters, into collateral damage for their dead-end, self-soothing political agenda. School may not be in session in Alexandria, in Prince George’s County, in Chapel Hill, or in parts of Brooklyn, but there’s a lesson the nation can learn from these closures. The modern progressive movement doesn’t have any goals. Just feelings, which come before all else.

Carrie Lukas wonders
what would happen if men were the ones to go on a pointless strike.
In the end, the fundamental premise of the “Day Without a Woman” is flawed. It pits men and women against one another. It suggests that women drudge along while men take them for granted, slack off, and are showered with undeserved riches. That’s na├»ve and deeply insulting to men, hypocritically overlooking their critical contributions to society.

Doubt this? Just imagine if men went on strike. The bulk of law-enforcement officers would disappear, putting everyone in jeopardy, particularly women and children. Power, basic infrastructure, and transportation systems would shut down, as would factories and most construction. Trash would literally pile up. The truth is, men do most of the county’s dangerous, dirty, and physically unpleasant work. They are killed on the job far, far more often than women. Compensating them for these risks is another reason, incidentally, that the wage gap exists.

Of course, a men’s strike is as unthinkable and as impractical as a true “day without a woman.” Men and women’s fates are inexorably joined and both work to make society and the economy function. Most Americans know this, even if the strike organizers do not.

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For all those outraged that Ben Carson for saying that America is a nation of immigrants including those "immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships," Eugene Volokh points to several historians who argue that those Africans brought here as slaves were indeed immigrants. Brey Payton links to "11 times that Barack Obama compared slaves to immigrants." This was, apparently, a common trope from our most eloquent president ever. For example when speaking to an event hosted by the DNC in April, 2016, he said,
I want a confident America where, yes, everybody makes sacrifices, but nobody bears all the burden, and we live up to the idea that no matter who we are, no matter what we look like, no matter whether our ancestors landed on Ellis Island or came here on a slave ship or crossed the Rio Grande, we are all connected to one another. We rise and fall together.
It's not the phraseology I would use, but it's not the ridiculous statement that so many on Twitter were claiming.

I just finished teaching First Amendment cases and for the Freedom of the Press, we talked about the landmark case, New York Times v. United States, that arose out of the Times' publication of the Pentagon Papers. Now it seems that Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep are planning to star as Ben Bradlee and Kay Graham in a movie to tell the story. The poor New York Times were the paper that originally got the leak from Daniel Ellsberg and started publishing the Pentagon Papers only to be stopped by the Nixon administration. While the paper was arguing before the Supreme Court, the Washington Post jumped in and published the leaks and got that jump on the Times. And now the Post also gets the movie. I get a little tired of the Post's self-congratulation for their actions in the 1970s, but I would probably be interested in seeing this movie.

John Sexton links to an interesting experiment. A NYU professor had the idea to restage parts of the Trump-Clinton 2016 debates but have a woman speak Trump's words and a man speak Clinton's words. The professor, Maria Guadalupe, worked with Joe Salvatore, a theater professor who specializes in something called ethnodrama which adapts information and documents to be performed as a play. They had actors read the words that were actually said and try as much as possible to emulate the actual gestures of the two candidates. The results on both the actors and audience surprised them. A woman played "Brenda King," the female Trump and a man played "Jonathan Gordon," the male Clinton.
Salvatore says he and Guadalupe began the project assuming that the gender inversion would confirm what they’d each suspected watching the real-life debates: that Trump’s aggression—his tendency to interrupt and attack—would never be tolerated in a woman, and that Clinton’s competence and preparedness would seem even more convincing coming from a man.
But the lessons about gender that emerged in rehearsal turned out to be much less tidy. What was Jonathan Gordon smiling about all the time? And didn’t he seem a little stiff, tethered to rehearsed statements at the podium, while Brenda King, plainspoken and confident, freely roamed the stage? Which one would audiences find more likeable?
Discussion with the audience members was quite revealing.
Many were shocked to find that they couldn’t seem to find in Jonathan Gordon what they had admired in Hillary Clinton—or that Brenda King’s clever tactics seemed to shine in moments where they’d remembered Donald Trump flailing or lashing out. For those Clinton voters trying to make sense of the loss, it was by turns bewildering and instructive, raising as many questions about gender performance and effects of sexism as it answered.
Salvatore, the theater professor commented afterwards,
Once we got into rehearsal and started experiencing Clinton in a man’s voice and body, Maria and I started to think that maybe Daryl had the harder job. We both thought that the inversion would confirm our liberal assumption—that no one would have accepted Trump’s behavior from a woman, and that the male Clinton would seem like the much stronger candidate. But we kept checking in with each other and realized that this disruption—a major change in perception—was happening. I had an unsettled feeling the whole way through.
Salvatore explained the surprises in the audience reaction.
We heard a lot of “now I understand how this happened”—meaning how Trump won the election. People got upset. There was a guy two rows in front of me who was literally holding his head in his hands, and the person with him was rubbing his back. The simplicity of Trump’s message became easier for people to hear when it was coming from a woman—that was a theme. One person said, “I’m just so struck by how precise Trump’s technique is.” Another—a musical theater composer, actually—said that Trump created “hummable lyrics,” while Clinton talked a lot, and everything she was was true and factual, but there was no “hook” to it. Another theme was about not liking either candidate—you know, “I wouldn’t vote for either one.” Someone said that Jonathan Gordon [the male Hillary Clinton] was “really punchable” because of all the smiling. And a lot of people were just very surprised by the way it upended their expectations about what they thought they would feel or experience. There was someone who described Brenda King [the female Donald Trump] as his Jewish aunt who would take care of him, even though he might not like his aunt. Someone else described her as the middle school principal who you don’t like, but you know is doing good things for you.
Apparently, the audience didn't respond well to the male Hillary smiling so much.
I think it was mostly the smiling piece—so many women have told me that they’re taught to smile through things that are uncomfortable. It’s been really powerful to hear women talk about that, and a learning experience for me. I was surprised by how critical I was seeing [Clinton] on a man’s body, and also by the fact that I didn’t find Trump’s behavior on a woman to be off-putting. I remember turning to Maria at one point in the rehearsals and saying, "I kind of want to have a beer with her!" The majority of my extended family voted for Trump. In some ways, I developed empathy for people who voted for him by doing this project, which is not what I was expecting. I expected it to make me more angry at them, but it gave me an understanding of what they might have heard or experienced when he spoke.
It's an interesting experience. Maybe some people, particularly liberals, responded better to Hillary because she is a woman; once that was removed, people could see how unlikeable she actually is. And when Trump's words were said by a woman and they didn't have to look at Trump's face, they could pay more attention to what he actually was saying and they didn't object as much. Who knows? But there seems to have been a definite unexpected reaction to this experiment. Here's a bit of their rehearsal. The actress really had Trump's gestures down.