Thursday, April 27, 2017

Cruising the Web

Jonathan Haidt has a great essay on how intimidation on college campuses is the new normal. He really nails it. He goes through the notable examples of college students denying speakers such as Milo Yiannopoulos, Charles Murray, and Heather MacDonald from speaking simply because they don't like the message that they imagined that they were going to hear. Violence has become a common element of such protests. Regarding the mob that shut down MacDonald's talk, Haidt writes,
What are we to make of this? There were no reports of violence or property damage. Yet this event is pote ntially more ominous than the Berkeley and Middlebury violence, for we are witnessing the emergence of a dangerous new norm for responding to speakers who challenge campus orthodoxy. Anyone offended by the speaker can put out a call on Facebook to bring together students and locals, including "antifa" (antifascist) and black-bloc activists who explicitly endorse the use of violence against racists and fascists. Because of flagrant "concept creep," however, almost anyone who is politically right of center can be labeled a racist or a fascist, and the promiscuous use of such labels is now part of the standard operating procedure. The call to shut down Mac Donald’s talk asserted, without evidence, that her agenda is "racist, anti-Black, capitalist, imperialist, [and] fascist." As with accusations of witchcraft in earlier centuries, once such labels are attached to someone, few will dare to challenge their accuracy, lest they be accused of the same crimes.

It is crucial to note that at all three colleges — Berkeley, Middlebury, and Claremont McKenna — the crowd included a mix of students and locals, some wearing masks. It is therefore no longer possible to assume that a crowd on a college campus will be nonviolent, as crowds of protesting students were in the fall of 2015. What would have happened to Mac Donald had she tried to enter or exit through the main entrance, without a police escort? From now on, any campus speaker who arouses a protest is at risk of a beating. Can this really be the future of American higher education?
Haidt notes the reasoning that these protesters now employ to justify their violence.
A common feature of recent campus shout-downs is the argument that the speaker "dehumanizes" members of marginalized groups or "denies their right to exist." No quotations or citations are given for such strong assertions; these are rhetorical moves made to strengthen the case against the speaker. But if students come to believe that anyone who offends them has "dehumanized" them, they are setting themselves up for far greater vulnerability and isolation. Life, love, and work are full of small offenses and misunderstandings, many of which will now be experienced as monstrous and unforgivable.
Students have decided that they don't need to engage speakers on their ideas. Once they've decided that someone has views they dislike, engagement is unnecessary.
Second, students in the past few years have increasingly opted for collective action to shut down talks by speakers they dislike, rather than taking the two traditional options available to all individuals: Don’t go to the talk, or go and engage the speaker in the question-and-answer period. The decision to turn so many events into collective moral struggles has profound ramifications for the entire college. Everyone is pressured to take sides. Administrators are pressured to disinvite speakers, or at least to condemn their scholarship and morals while reluctantly noting their right to speak. Petitions are floated, and names of signers (and abstainers) are noted.
This is precisely the wrong attitude that should prevail on college campuses.
But the tribal mind is incompatible with scholarship, open-minded thinking, toleration of dissent, and the search for truth. When tribal sentiments are activated within an academic community, some members start to believe that their noble collective ends justify almost any means, including the demonization of inconvenient research and researchers, false accusations, character assassination, and sometimes even violence. Anyone not with the movement is against it, and its enemies — students, faculty members, administrators — are often intimidated into acquiescence. This is how professors and students are increasingly describing their campus climate, at least at elite four-year residential colleges.
Haidt has some good suggestions for what can be done to combat this dangerous trend. He recommends that professors speak up to engage their students in why it is so important to grant people of all persuasions the freedom to present unpopular ideas. Professors need to speak up for the value of a free marketplace of ideas.

College administrators must also enforce their own rules to protect speakers from mob rule and intimidation. Alumni and students must also demand administrators preserve a tolerant atmosphere on their campuses to protect speakers of all ideologies.
This year may become a turning point in the annals of higher education. It may be remembered as the year that political violence and police escorts became ordinary parts of campus life. Or it may be remembered as the year when professors, students, and administrators finally found the moral courage to stand up against intimidation, even when it is aimed at people whose ideas they dislike.

While conservatives face opposition when they come on college campuses to speak and rarely get invited to be graduation speakers, this is whom CUNY has invited to speak.
CUNY is set to host Linda Sarsour, a leading voice in the anti-Israel movement who has been condemned by human rights groups for her rhetoric and promotion of terrorism against the Jewish state.

Sarsour, a Palestinian American and executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, is scheduled to give the commencement speech for CUNY's Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy.

Local lawmakers and pro-Israel activists have expressed outrage over the decision, calling on CUNY to cancel Sarsour's appearance. CUNY leaders have continued to praise Sarsour and maintain the speech will take place as scheduled.

Sarsour has earned a reputation as one of the country's most virulent anti-Israel activists. She has attacked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a "bigot" and routinely condemns the Jewish state as racist. Sarsour attracted outrage in 2015 when she tweeted out a picture of a Palestinian child with a rock in his hand accompanied by the caption, "the definition of courage."

Sarsour became a darling of the activist left as a participant in the Women's March against President Donald Trump and other demonstrations. She also has embraced and partnered with Rasmea Odeh, an anti-Israel activist and convicted terrorist who was recently found guilty of immigration fraud in the United States for failing to disclose her ties to terrorism.
CUNY has the right to invite whomever they want to speak and I'm not thrilled to have legislators getting involved to try block her speech. She should be allowed to speak, just as conservatives be allowed to speak. But students should be made aware of whom they have invited and what her background is. What does appall me is that no one thought that is might be a bit problematic to invite such a speaker. I just hope that the administration will be as supportive of her right to speak, despite her support for terrorism against Israelis, as they should be if a conservative comes to speak not that I would expect CUNY to be inviting conservatives any time soon.

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Politico looks at how Trump's presidency has affected the Democratic Party. On one hand, the party is certainly energized by their opposition to Trump. Grass roots groups are engaged and active as can be seen by the better-than-expected results in special elections in Kansas and Georgia. On the other hand, the excitement surrounding anger at Trump doesn't mean that the party is problem-free.
But while the president has generated a vibrant culture of resistance on the left, it’s obscuring the depth of the hole in which the Democratic Party still finds itself. A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows more Americans view the party negatively than positively.

“We have a new energy, but we don’t have a new brand,” said Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, who gained national attention in November, when he unsuccessfully challenged House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for her leadership role. “I would think that if the Democratic Party had a halfway decent national brand or an exciting, affirmative agenda, that we would have been able to get at least a couple more percentage points in the Georgia [special election]" last week, in which Democrat Jon Ossoff fell just short of 50 percent. "We had a great candidate and great energy running under a very negative brand.”
Given that so many of the 23 Democratic senators up for reelection in 2018 are in red states where Trump did very well, the party needs to have a national message that allows those senators to run as moderates. Instead their opponents will be able to argue that a vote for Joe Donnelly in Indiana or Jon Tester in Montana is a vote for a Bernie Sanders/Elizabeth Warren agenda.

Charles Kesler of the Claremont Institute makes the argument that Trump is acting in the pattern of Republican presidents from an earlier age.
Mr. Trump remains the kind of conservative president whom one expects to say, proudly and often, “the chief business of the American people is business.” Although Calvin Coolidge said it first, Mr. Trump shows increasing signs of thinking along broadly Coolidgean lines, and of redirecting Republican policies toward the pre-New Deal, pre-Cold War party of William McKinley and Coolidge, with its roots in the party of Abraham Lincoln.

Continue reading the main story
Mr. Trump is not and never was a movement conservative. Apart from a youthful flirtation (is there any other kind?) with Ayn Rand, he has displayed little to no patience for libertarianism, traditionalism, neoconservatism or the other endangered ideological species that the movement has sought to conserve for so many decades...

Mr. Trump’s policies suggest that what he calls his “common sense” conservatism harks back to the principles and agenda of the old Republican Party, which reached its peak before the New Deal.

In those days the party stood for protective tariffs, immigration tied to assimilation (or what Theodore Roosevelt called Americanization), judges prepared to strike down state and sometimes federal laws encroaching on constitutional limitations, tax cuts, internal improvements (infrastructure spending, in today’s parlance) and a firm but restrained foreign policy tailored to the defense of the national interest. Are these not the main elements of Trump administration policies?

It’s not that Mr. Trump set out consciously to return the Republican Party to its roots. By temperament and style he’s more attracted to President Andrew Jackson, whose portrait now hangs in the Oval Office.
His protectionist policies, while departing from modern conservatism, is in alignment with traditional Republican positions from Lincoln through the 19th century Republicans.
Mr. Trump could have as easily quoted McKinley’s 1896 platform (protection is “the bulwark of American industrial independence and the foundation of American development and prosperity”) or Coolidge’s in 1924. Mr. Trump praised Dwight Eisenhower not for ending the Korean War, say, but for building “the last truly great national infrastructure program,” the Interstate System of highways.
It's an interesting argument and I hadn't thought of Trump in comparison with such past Republican leaders. Kesler goes on to point out that the ideology of some of these past presidents would be considered on the left in today's politics.
The old Republican Party also had a sizable progressive or liberal wing. As his fondness for Jackson shows, Mr. Trump is more a populist than a progressive, but in any case he will be fighting mostly over the party’s definition of conservatism, trying to stretch an orthodoxy, or a clutch of orthodoxies, to accommodate a governing majority. Nonetheless, he will have some room to reach to his left, or to the center, and could invoke Theodore Roosevelt as a model, without necessarily following T.R. on his later Progressive Party bender.

America today is a very different country from what it was in the 1920s or the late 19th century, when Republicans reigned. So the Trump administration’s policies will have to be a mixture of old and new. It’s too early to tell whether this mixture will evolve into a doctrine of Trumpism. Few presidents’ policies, principles and persona are so distinctive that they congeal into an “ism.”

The movement that brought him to power is, by Mr. Trump’s own admission, almost spontaneous and still strangely nameless. It cannot fill the thousands of executive branch positions at his disposal; for that, he needs to rely mainly on the broad conservative movement and the Republican Party.

It’s likely, then, that his administration will have to maneuver between the older and the current strains of conservatism, and between the populist and establishment sensibilities. On foreign policy he has demonstrated a pugnacity easily exceeding the old Republican Party’s. Though he will move trade policy toward greater protection, he will fall far short of McKinley’s standards.

Donald Trump’s populism may be protean, but look for it to move both conservatism and the Republican Party closer to their former selves.

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Aaron Blake writes in the Washington Post to chide Barack Obama for accepting the $400,000 pay out to speak at a conference put on by the investment frim Cantor Fitzgerald. As Blake points out, other former presidents and other political figures have also made the big bucks by giving highly paid speeches. However, Obama is helping to further a precedent of big pay days from Wall Street and other special interests. Liberals are already irritated with Obama for not doing enough to prosecute Wall Street figures for the recession.
Whether fair or not, it's not difficult to look at Wall Street paying $400,000 to Obama as a reward for that. In that way, it's tough on both precedent and Obama's presidency.
It makes it more difficult for the Democrats to portray themselves as the anti-Wall Street party. Well, that was always going to be difficult given how much firms like Goldman Sachs have donated to the Democrats.

There is also the issue of Obama's hypocrisy given what he wrote in his book "The Audacity of Hope."
I can’t assume that the money chase didn’t alter me in some ways. …

Increasingly I found myself spending time with people of means — law firm partners and investment bankers, hedge fund managers and venture capitalists. As a rule, they were smart, interesting people, knowledgeable about public policy, liberal in their politics, expecting nothing more than a hearing of their opinions in exchange for their checks. But they reflected, almost uniformly, the perspectives of their class: the top 1 percent or so of the income scale that can afford to write a $2,000 check to a political candidate. …

And although my own worldview and theirs corresponded in many ways — I had gone to the same schools, after all, had read the same books, and worried about my kids in many of the same ways — I found myself avoiding certain topics during conversations with them, papering over possible differences, anticipating their expectations. On core issues I was candid; I had no problem telling well-heeled supporters that the tax cuts they’d received from George Bush should be reversed. Whenever I could, I would try to share with them some of the perspectives I was hearing from other portions of the electorate: the legitimate role of faith in politics, say, or the deep cultural meaning of guns in rural parts of the state.

Still, I know that as a consequence of my fundraising I became more like the wealthy donors I met, in the very particular sense that I spent more and more of my time above the fray, outside the world of immediate hunger, disappointment, fear, irrationality, and frequent hardship of the other 99 percent of the population — that is, the people that I’d entered public life to serve. And in one fashion or another, I suspect this is true for every senator: The longer you are a senator, the narrower the scope of your interactions. You may fight it, with town hall meetings and listening tours and stops by the old neighborhood. But your schedule dictates that you move in a different orbit from most of the people you represent.

And perhaps as the next race approaches, a voice within tells you that you don’t want to have to go through all the misery of raising all that money in small increments all over again. You realize that you no longer have the cachet you did as the upstart, the fresh face; you haven’t changed Washington, and you’ve made a lot of people unhappy with difficult votes. The path of least resistance — of fundraisers organized by the special interests, the corporate PACs, and the top lobbying shops — starts to look awfully tempting, and if the opinions of these insiders don’t quite jibe with those you once held, you learn to rationalize the changes as a matter of realism, of compromise, of learning the ropes.
Ah, it's much easier to write about ethics before the big paychecks are offered.

It's about time that this gets done.
Lawmakers faced off in a Wednesday hearing on proposed legislation to approve a nuclear waste storage facility in Yucca Mountain, Nevada.

Many lawmakers at the hearing were concerned about the federal government defaulting on its legal obligations to dispose of used nuclear fuel. Even House Democrats acknowledged the sheer scale of this problem.

“Courts have determined that DOE has breached contractual obligations under this statute,” New York Democrat Paul Tonko, ranking member of the subcommittee, said in the hearing. “DOE estimated that if it could begin to accept waste in the next 10 years, liabilities would total $29 billion dollars.”

Nevada lawmakers strongly objected to the bill, since it would approve a project they’ve been fighting for decades.
Harry Reid is gone. It's about time that the government moves forward.
The Department of Energy submitted its proposal to build Yucca Mountain in June 2008, and the project met the NRC’s safety standards in October 2014. The NRC released a report in May determining the site would have no adverse environmental impact on the local groundwater, soil, ecology or public health for a period of one million years.

The positive technical findings didn’t help Yucca Mountain get approved due to the Barack Obama administration.

Failing to authorize Yucca again would cause the federal government to default on its legal obligations to dispose of used nuclear fuel and high-level waste. Such a default would undermine the nuclear industry.

While Democrats trot out their usual arguments about tax cuts for the rich in response to the outline of Trump's tax plan, they'll be ignoring the important goal of the program - to stir economic growth instead of the anemic growth we've seen in the past eight years. The WSJ explains why this is so important and how the plan would increase growth.
The plan also fits the economic moment, because a main source of U.S. malaise is poor business investment. Spending on the likes of new factories, equipment and software is soft, which in turn has undermined the productivity gains that produce more jobs, higher wages and higher living standards. Productivity growth in the 2000s and 2010s is only about half the average of the 1980s and 1990s.

One reason for this underinvestment—even though corporations have about $2.5 trillion parked overseas—is the uncompetitive and complex American tax system. The 35% statutory rate is the developed world’s highest, and an archipelago of credits, exclusions and deductions means the tax collects only about 11% of federal revenue, or roughly a meager 2% of GDP.

Slashing the headline rate to 15% would instantly lead to a surge in capital investment. Mr. Trump would make small businesses like S corporations and other pass-throughs that now pay through the individual tax code eligible for the 15% rate. Tax parity among all companies is a useful goal, not least because owner-operated companies are an engine of hiring and growth.

Increasing the capital stock will raise productivity. The economic literature conservatively suggests that about half of the corporate tax burden is carried by workers in the form of lower wages. In other words, moving to 15% is a national pay raise.
I also like the cutting down of deductions to just for mortgages and charitable donations. Cutting deductions not only simplifies the tax code, but also helps to offset some of the loss in revenue from the rest of the plan. That is what the 1986 bipartisan tax reforms that did from Reagan's presidency. And itemizing deductions is something the wealthier do so there is an answer for those who will pretend that all the plan does is cut taxes for the rich.

Here is one deduction that blue-state Democrats will fight tooth and nail:
This killing spree includes political favorites like the write-off for state and local tax payments. This is a federal subsidy for high-tax New York, New Jersey, Oregon and California, but about 90% of these tax expenditures flow to taxpayers with adjusted gross income over $100,000.
Why should the country's taxpayers subsidize blue-state high-tax policies? And given that this deduction helps the wealthiest, Republicans can turn the standard Democratic argument back on them.
The Trump principles show the President has made growth his highest priority, and they are a rebuke to the Washing. ton consensus that 1% or 2% growth is the best America can do. Now Mr. Trump has to show results. If anything close to his this reform can survive the political maelstrom, it will go a long way toward returning to the abundance of the 1980s and 1990s.
Martin Feldstein, Reagan's chairman of the CEA, has a suggestion of how to offset some of the decline in revenues from Trump's proposal while also enacting good policy.
The bipartisan Social Security legislation enacted during the Reagan administration provides a useful history lesson for how to offset deficit increases. The 1983 law raised the age of eligibility for full Social Security benefits from 65 to 67 while still allowing actuarially equivalent benefits at earlier ages. The increased age was phased in gradually and began only after a substantial delay.

In the intervening decades life expectancy at 67 has increased by three years. Repeating the Reagan reform by gradually raising the age for full benefits from 67 to 70 for those now under the age of 55 would reduce the annual cost of Social Security by about 15%, or 1% of GDP. Together with reforms of federal health-care spending, that should be enough to close the budget gap created by tax reform and increased defense outlays.

Raising the age for full Social Security benefits would also prevent the crisis in the program that is projected to occur in 2029. That’s when the Social Security trust fund will be exhausted, requiring either an immediate 30% cut in benefits or a sharp tax increase. A gradual rise in the age for full benefits would be the best way to prevent that crisis as well as to reduce the projected fiscal deficit.
Based on the reaction I get from my students when we cover Social Security and the impending crisis that will occur during their lifetimes, this could be a very popular proposal for younger voters.

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A survey of Dartmouth students demonstrates who is actually more tolerant.
In the campus-wide field survey, students of all political stripes were asked how comfortable they would be about living with a roommate who holds opposing political views. Of the 432 students surveyed, only 39 percent of students who identified as Democrats said they would feel comfortable living with a Republican, 16 percent said they felt neutral about the proposed arrangement, while 45 percent, a plurality, said they felt uncomfortable.

A majority of students who identified as Republicans (69 percent) said they were comfortable living with someone of opposing political views, 19 percent said they felt neutral about it, and only 12 percent said they felt uncomfortable. Among Independent students, 61 percent said they felt comfortable living with someone with opposite views, 22 percent were neutral about it, and 16 percent were uncomfortable.
These results aren't at all surprising. It is those on the left who are exulting in their power to shut down voices from the other side of the political spectrum. And, as Bre Payton points out, Republicans are used to being in the minority on college campuses so they've gotten used to associating with those who are liberal while many liberals just don't know many Republicans so they are more likely to buy into stereotypes of how despicable Republicans are.