Thursday, April 13, 2017

Cruising the Web

Now that it's been leaked that the FBI got a FISA warrant to investigate former Trump adviser Carter Page, David French points out that this creates problems for both Trump advocates and opponents.
It certainly highlights how zealots on both sides have a Carter Page problem. Those who think it’s simply preposterous to believe that anyone in Trump’s orbit had improper contact with Russian officials — that the entire affair is concocted out of whole cloth in a worse-than-Watergate scandal that features the “deep state” attempting a “soft coup” – seem to be simply assuming that Page (and men like Paul Manafort) did everything right. How can they be so confident? Do they truly believe that it’s beyond the realm of possibility that Page had improper contacts with Russian intelligence agents?

At the same time, those who believe that Trump is a virtual Russian stooge — a Manchurian Candidate who seized the presidency in a worse-than-Watergate scandal that includes collusion with a foreign power – will be sorely disappointed if the collusion story turns out to be about Page and Page only. By most credible accounts, he was never more than a bit player in the Trump campaign and was jettisoned before the election. A Page scandal is not the same thing as a Trump scandal. Indeed, barring extraordinarily surprising revelations, a Page scandal would be nothing more than a footnote to the much larger and much more important story of Russia’s more direct efforts to influence American public opinion.

I think a lot of members of the Trump administration need some remedial history classes. Let's start with the President who said yesterday that relations with Russia are "an all-time low.". Has the man never heard of the Cold War?

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Kassem Eid, a Syrian activist who suffered gassing back in 2013, asks a good question.
Only two months ago, American airports became protest zones because President Trump attempted to bar entry temporarily to refugees and travelers from seven nations, including Syria. Where is all that outrage today? How come protesters didn’t pack the streets in front of the White House and the United Nations last week to demand military action against Assad?

Syrians—like the people in the other Arab Spring countries—didn’t rebel against the dictatorship as a way to gain entry to the U.S. as refugees. We rebelled because we wanted to live for the first time as equal citizens in our own nation. We wanted to stay home and make Syria a better place.
It's so much easier to focus protests against an unpopular American president instead of advocating for a more difficult choice. I'm not convinced that we need to send in American troops to take out Assad. Who knows where such actions would end up? Do we really want to be responsible for maintaining order in Syria after we've experienced such difficulties in Iraq and Afghanistan? But Eid is right that only solution for Syrian refugees is to make it safe to stay in their own country. Sadly, there seems no chance of that happening.

Here's another disastrous story for United about how they bumped a first-class passenger to economy class because they purportedly had a higher prestige passenger to accommodate.
Fearns, 59, is president of TriPacific Capital Advisors, an Irvine investment firm that handles more than half a billion dollars in real estate holdings on behalf of public pension funds. He had to fly to Hawaii last week for a business conference.

Fearns needed to return early so he paid about $1,000 for a full-fare, first-class ticket to Los Angeles. He boarded the aircraft at Lihue Airport on the island of Kauai, took his seat and enjoyed a complimentary glass of orange juice while awaiting takeoff.

Then, as Fearns tells it, a United employee rushed onto the aircraft and informed him that he had to get off the plane.

“I asked why,” he told me. “They said the flight was overfull.”

Fearns, like the doctor at the center of that viral video from Sunday night, held his ground. He was already on the plane, already seated. He shouldn’t have to disembark.

“That’s when they told me they needed the seat for somebody more important who came at the last minute,” Fearns said. “They said they have a priority list and this other person was higher on the list than me.”

Apparently United had some mechanical troubles with the aircraft scheduled to make the flight. So the carrier swapped out that plane with a slightly smaller one with fewer first-class seats.

Suddenly it had more first-class passengers than it knew what to do with. So it turned to its “How to Screw Over Customers” handbook and determined that the one in higher standing — more miles flown, presumably — gets the seat and the other first-class passenger, even though he’s also a member of the frequent-flier program, gets the boot.
He was threatened for being taken off in handcuffs if he didn't agree to move. What will happen next to destroy United's image? I resolved never to fly United again a couple of years ago when we were flying to New Mexico. After landing in Houston, our connecting flight was delayed a couple of hours because of weather. The airline decided that everyone on any of the flights that had been grounded should all lose their seats and have to wait in a line of a few hundred people for two harried agents to try to reschedule us. After waiting about 12 hours, my daughters and i got to Phoenix and got on a connector flight to Albuquerque. After tiredly sitting down, an agent ran up and said that they needed one of us to get off because one of their flight trainees needed a seat. I got off and waited another two hours before finally getting on a plane to my destination. I can understand that weather delays present all bad choices for the airline. But the airline was so totally unprepared to take care of passengers and rather unapologetic about the entire inconvenience. Then they topped it off by prioritizing a trainee over a paying customer. I didn't need the two stories this week to decide that United will be my last choice of an airline.

IBD has a very decent question.
The big news in the auto world was that Tesla (TSLA) topped the market value of General Motors (GM). That means the car company that gets massive taxpayer subsidies is now worth more than the car company taxpayers bailed out a few years ago. Welcome to the world of crony capitalism.

On Monday, Tesla's stock closed at $312.39, which meant the startup electric car company, which sold a grand total of fewer than 80,000 cars last year, was worth more than GM, which sold 80,000 Chevy Silverados every eight weeks. (Tesla's market cap edged below GM's on Tuesday.)

Is this a case of irrational exuberance gripping investors? Or the electric car version of the 1990s internet bubble? Is the future of Tesla really that bright? We tend not to second guess the wisdom of the markets to get things right, at least over the long term.

But it's worth noting that whatever Tesla's growth potential, at the moment the company is heavily reliant on taxpayer support.

For every Tesla car sold (up to No. 200,000), federal taxpayers kick in $7,500 to lower the costs. State taxpayers in a multitude of states pony up still more. In Colorado, they contribute another $5,000 to the electric car kitty, in California, it's $2,500.
IBD concludes by asking,
If Tesla Is Worth More Than GM, Why Are Taxpayers Still Subsidizing It?

Whatever the impact these subsidies have on Tesla, there is no good reason for taxpayers to continue subsidizing electric cars made by it, or any other car company.

First, there's the fact that these taxpayer subsidies are nothing more than welfare for the rich. A study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that 90% of electric car subsidies go to the top 20% of households.

Second, the supposed environmental benefits of electric cars have been vastly — and we mean vastly — oversold.

While they might emit "zero emissions" while on the road, electric cars are barely any cleaner than good-old internal combustion engine cars when you look at the complete environmental impact picture. Getting the materials to make lithium ion batteries, for example, is an extremely dirty business, and the electricity to recharge the batteries most likely comes from power plant fueled by coal or some other fossil fuel.

Even if a midsize EV manages to last 20 years and 150,000 miles, total CO2 emissions would be just 19% less than a comparable gas-powered car, according to an analysis by Arthur D. Little.

That is a lot of welfare-for-the-rich for very little environmental benefit.

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Stanley Kurtz reviews
the long history of college students shutting down any speech from those with whom the disagree.
None of this is to deny that the problem of campus shout-downs and disinvitations is getting worse. Yet it’s important to keep in mind that today’s pattern is an intensification of a long-standing crisis that has had its ups and downs since the early Sixties, but has not fundamentally changed in form for well over five decades. What’s clear after 50-some years is that the academy has proven itself incapable of solving its free-speech problem on its own. Let’s see why.

We can think of the challenges to free-speech since the Sixties as washing over our campuses in four great waves. The first wave (“Young Radicals”) was made up of the illiberal and violent Sixties student radicals. Notwithstanding the views of the Free Speech Movement veterans who condemned the Berkeley Netanyahu shut-down of 2000, a great many of the Sixties radicals rejected classical-liberal conceptions of freedom in favor of a neo-Marxist analysis. In this view, free speech and constitutional democracy are tools used by the ruling class to suppress dissent and protect an oppressive society.

The second anti–free-speech wave (“Long March”) hit colleges in the early-to-mid 1980s, as the radicals left graduate school and took up junior faculty positions, bringing their suspicions of free speech with them. These faculty did away with required Western Civilization courses as well, helping to launch the academic “culture war” that began at Stanford in 1987. After allied leftist faculty and students succeeded in abolishing Stanford’s Western Civilization requirement in 1988, student demonstrators began demanding speech codes (partly in hopes of silencing students who had challenged them during the Western Civilization debate)

The third anti–free-speech wave (“Takeover”) began in the mid 1990s, as the older generation of professors began to retire. At this point, the younger and more radical generation of faculty members reached critical mass. That is, they had the numbers to control hiring. Not believing in the classical-liberal vision of a marketplace of ideas, these faculty used the tenure system, not to seek out and protect the finest scholarly representatives of diverse perspectives, but to solidify an intellectual monopoly of the Left. By the 2000s, the tenured radicals constituted a controlling majority in many social science and humanities departments, and stood as the most powerful plurality in the university as a whole.

The fourth anti–free-speech wave (“Transformed Generation”) consists of the late Millennial students who began demanding safe-spaces and trigger warnings around 2014, just as the number of university shout-downs and disinvitations began to spike. Free-speech advocate Gregg Lukianoff and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt attribute the new student sensitivities, in part, to parental coddling by the Baby Boomers. No doubt there is truth to this, but this college generation’s K–12 curriculum also differed dramatically from past standards.

Although Lynne Cheney, former National Endowment for the Humanities chairwoman under Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush, managed to convince the U.S. Senate to condemn the proposed new multiculturalist National History Standards of 1994, the left-leaning post-Sixties generation of K–12 teachers adopted them in practice anyway. The rest of the curriculum was also quickly remodeled along lines that stressed group conflict and America’s sins. The generation that brought us “micro-aggressions” and “white privilege” duly entered college 20 years later.
Administrators seem supine when it comes to protecting controversial speakers on their campuses. If there were real penalties for students who shut down speakers, that behavior would stop. If scholarships were threatened or students faced expulsion or suspensions, the behavior would stop. Instead, the situations on campus are getting worse.
There are plenty of indications that campus free speech is more besieged nowadays than it’s been in decades. Trigger warnings, safe spaces, and microaggressions signal a cultural sea-change. Anti-Israel shout-downs and disruptions have multiplied dramatically. These are no longer occasional embarrassing episodes but the fruit of a deliberate strategy devised by influential sectors of the campus left....

Yet statistics tell only part of the story. We can’t assume a constant rate of speakers attempting to counter campus orthodoxies. Top comedians and an unknowable number of conservative speakers now avoid college campuses. At some point, a decreasing rate of shout-downs may actually indicate that free speech, along with resistance to campus orthodoxies, has been successfully crushed. And in a world of social media and the 24-hour news cycle, a few well-publicized shout-downs may suffice to chill speech and encourage violent demonstrators across the entire country. Finally, in contrast to the Sixties, today’s illiberal demonstrators, disruptive and ornery though they may seem, may actually be allied with significant sections of the faculty and administration.
Read the rest and ponder how the climate on college campuses has deteriorated over the past half century.

The Hill has an excerpt from Jonathan Allen and Arnie Parnes' new book Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign, that will do nothing to improve her image. She comes off as an ill-tempered, arrogant woman who would prefer to scream at her staff than acknowledge her own culpability.
Hillary was so mad she couldn’t think straight. She was supposed to be focused on the prep session for that night’s Univision debate in Miami, but a potent mix of exhaustion and exasperation bubbled up inside.

She’d been humiliated in the Michigan primary the night before, a loss that not only robbed her of a prime opportunity to put Bernie Sanders down for good but also exposed several of her weaknesses. How could she have been left so vulnerable? She knew — or at least she thought she did. The blame belonged to her campaign team, she believed, for failing to hone her message, energize important constituencies and take care of business in getting voters to the polls....

She let everyone on her team have it that day. “We haven’t made our case,” she fumed. “We haven’t framed the choice. We haven’t done the politics.”

“She was visibly, unflinchingly pissed off at us as a group,” said one aide who was in the room for the humiliating scene. “And she let us know she felt that way.”

Hillary had been up into the wee hours the night before, agitating over her loss. This is because we made poor choices about where we traveled, she thought. She emailed Robby Mook to tell him she believed she’d spent too much time in the cities of Detroit and Flint and not enough in the working-class white suburbs around them. Sensing just how angry she was, Mook responded by putting together a morning conference call so that Hillary could vent. But that didn’t settle her; if anything, it left her more perplexed and angry, as her debate-prep team witnessed firsthand.

Her aides took the browbeating — one of several she delivered in person and on the phone that day — in silence. They had a lot of their own thoughts on what went wrong, some of which echoed Hillary’s assessment: her message was off for Michigan, and she had refused to go hard against trade; Mook had pinched pennies and failed to put organizers on the ground; the polling and analytics were a touch too rosy, meaning the campaign didn’t know Bernie was ahead; she had set up an ambiguous decisionmaking structure on the campaign; and she’d focused too heavily on black and brown voters at the expense of competing for the whites who had formed her base in 2008. The list went on and on.

The underlying truth — the one that many didn’t want to admit to themselves — was the person ultimately responsible for these decisions, the one whose name was on the ticket, hadn’t corrected these problems, all of which had been brought to her attention before primary day. She’d stuck with the plan, and it had cost her.
Ever since Hillary Clinton first appeared on the stage, we've heard stories about the furious temper tantrums that Hillary Clinton would throw at underlings who could speak back. For all the concerns about Donald Trump's temperament, it's clear that Hillary's temperament is not so stellar either.

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cAEI reports on a new law in the District of Columbia that is just ridiculous and will fall most heavily on low-income families.
The Washington Post reported yesterday that D.C. is “among the first in the nation” to require child care workers to get college degrees. By 2020, directors of child care centers will need to have a bachelor’s degree, and child care teachers an associate’s degree. This is a nonsensical policy that will have no winners save colleges that get to charge child care workers thousands of dollars to churn out those credentials.
Think of child care workers who now must put in the time and money in order to qualify. What is there about getting a college degree that would make someone better at taking care of small children? People have been doing that for centuries without a college degree. What matters is their love and care for children, not classwork. What about parents who have children and don't have a college degree? Are they now unqualified to have a baby?

How many such workers will leave the business because they don't want to spend the time and money to qualify. And then what will happen to families in D.C. who need child care?
The regulations will put a supply crunch on the District’s already-squeezed child care market. At $22,631 per year, D.C. families already face higher child care costs than any state in the nation. With these new requirements, it’s impossible to see that figure going anywhere but up.
I've long opposed certification requirements for teachers. Having gone through the education classes myself, I know how little of what was covered in all those classes actually helped me be a teacher. Extending such regulations to day care is such a mistake. If parents really care about that, they'll search out caretakers who have that background. If college degrees are so in demand among parents, workers will start getting the degrees because the market demands it. The government can just stay out.

David French ponders Hillary Clinton's excuse-making that she lost because people didn't want to vote for a woman. She told Nicholas Kristof that "misogyny played a role" in her defeat. Please. French explains why this is so ludicrous.
Here’s a thought. It’s revolutionary, I know, but hang with me for a moment. In the United States of America, the (R) or (D) next to a name matters far, far more to the electoral outcome in any given race than does the (M) or (F) of the candidates’ sex. Let’s go even further (again, I’m going crazy here, so be patient), and even say that the (R) or (D) matters more than the (B) or (W) of the candidates’ race. If Ben Carson or Tim Scott had been the nominee, wouldn’t he have won a majority of the white vote and lost a majority of the black vote?
French has an idea of what will happen if the first woman president is a woman.
At this point, it’s safe to say that Nimrata Randhawa has a far, far better chance to be the first female president of the United States than Hillary Clinton. But here’s the question: When or if Nimrata (she goes by “Nikki”) — a conservative, Indian-American daughter of immigrants who married Michael Haley, became governor of South Carolina, and is now the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations — wins a presidential election, will Hillary’s friends and supporters hail Haley’s ascension to the White House as a tremendous achievement for women? Will the fans of intersectional feminism laud the ultimate success of a woman of color?

Not likely. At this point, we all know the drill. There is one way and one way only for women — especially black or brown women — to take a true step forward, and that’s through progressive politics. Identity politics works like this: Progressives do everything in their power to explicitly and unequivocally stoke race- and gender-related resentments and grievances. Any pushback against identity politics is labeled denialism at best and racism or sexism at worst. Progressive ideas are so self-evidently superior that opposition is best explained as grounded in misogyny or the always-reliable “fear of change.” Opposition, even from women and even from people of color, is proof of the awful and enduring power of sexism and white supremacy.

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Cheers to Charles Barkley for taking a strong stand against one of the more pernicious trends in modern fashion - man buns. Next up - Jeremy Lin

I agree with Louisville sportswriter Tim Sullivan that the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill academic scandal is ten times worse than Louisville's stripper scandal. The NCAA should be ashamed that it's taken so many years to reach a conclusion about 18 years of academic fraud while UNC got to two NCAA finals and won a championship under this shadow.
If the organization that governs college athletics in this country fails to impose strong sanctions on a school that kept athletes eligible for nearly two decades through bogus classes, it might as well abandon any pretense of oversight.

“As sordid and as scummy as the Louisville allegations are, it doesn’t even come close (to North Carolina),” Ridpath (yhe president of the Drake Group, an organization dedicated to academic integrity in college athletics) said. “This is the absolute worst thing that can be done: academic misconduct, lack of academic integrity or academic manipulation. It goes to the very core of what the NCAA stands for. ...

"If the NCAA does nothing, they really need to pack up and not do enforcement anymore. ... My hope is the penalties will be pretty severe. If they would take away the championship banners (from 2005 and 2009), that would send a message.”
Whenever I watch a press conference with players after a game and the NCAA person introduces them as "student athletes," I just want to gag. If the NCAA wants to maintain the pretense that they're all about the amateur student athletes, then they need to come down on UNC and make it clear that no school, no matter how prestigious, should be allowed to get away with almost two decades of phony classes to keep athletes eligible. And UNC's argument that it's not within the NCAA's purview because not all the students in the fake classes were athletes would leave such a large loophole in the NCAA's rules about academic requirements that a aircraft carrier could float through. It would give a green light to schools to set up bogus classes for athletes and let a few other students into the classes and just smirk at the NCAA.

North Carolina legislators double down on stupid.
North Carolina legislators filed a bill this week that would require North Carolina and NC State to withdraw from the ACC should the conference decide to boycott the state again.

Last year, the ACC decided to pull its neutral-site championship games and tournaments out of North Carolina because of House Bill 2, the controversial law that limited legal protections for the LGBTQ community.

In March, the North Carolina legislature passed a measure that repealed House Bill 2. As a result, the ACC said the football championship game would return to Charlotte, North Carolina, and all other neutral-site championships that had existing contracts would return as well, beginning with the 2017-18 calendar.

But several North Carolina legislators were unhappy with the initial decision the ACC Council of Presidents made to boycott the state. They have proposed House Bill 728, filed Tuesday, which states any public state school in a conference that boycotts North Carolina would be barred from "extending any grant of media rights to the conference" and "shall immediately provide written notice to the conference that the constituent institution intends to withdraw from the conference no later than when the assignment of its media rights expire, unless the conference immediately ends the boycott."
Both NCSU and UNC are founding members of the ACC. The conference would not be the same without either of them. THe legislature should stay out of this. If they want to be even more unpopular in North Carolina, try yanking the two major state schools out of the conference that they've been in since 1953.