Thursday, October 05, 2017

Cruising the Web

im Geraghty goes through
recent mass shootings in which the shooters seem to have had psychological problems that were apparent to others before the shooting. After the massacres at Virginia Tech, Tuscon, Isla Vista, Sandy Hook, Columbine, we learned that some people had noticed alarming behavior from the murderer. Some even told others about it including authorities, but were told that there was nothing that could be done just based on complaints that someone was behaving in a disturbing manner. We can all wish that something had been done ahead of the murders to prevent those deaths, but I just can't figure out how, in our society and with our respect for due process, such laws giving the police more power to do I have no idea what, if someone reports that someone else seems to be behaving erratically would be written. This is a discussion we don't ever seem to be having.

The latest shut-dwon of a speaker on a college campus was at William and Mary where students connected with Black Lives Matter prevented a speaker from the ACLU, Claire Gastañaga, from speaking.
Ironically, Gastañaga had intended to speak on the subject, "Students and the First Amendment."

The disruption was livestreamed on BLM at W&M's Facebook page. Students took to the stage just a few moments after Gastañaga began her remarks. At first, she attempted to spin the demonstration as a welcome example of the kind of thing she had come to campus to discuss, commenting "Good, I like this," as they lined up and raised their signs. "I'm going to talk to you about knowing your rights, and protests and demonstrations, which this illustrates very well. Then I'm going to respond to questions from the moderators, and then questions from the audience."

It was the last remark she was able to make before protesters drowned her out with cries of, "ACLU, you protect Hitler, too." They also chanted, "the oppressed are not impressed," "shame, shame, shame, shame," (an ode to the Faith Militant's treatment of Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones, though why anyone would want to be associated with the religious fanatics in that particular conflict is beyond me), "blood on your hands," "the revolution will not uphold the Constitution," and, uh, "liberalism is white supremacy."

This went on for nearly 20 minutes. Eventually, according to the campus's Flat Hat News, one of the college's co-organizers of the event handed a microphone to the protest's leader, who delivered a prepared statement. The disruption was apparently payback for the ACLU's principled First Amendment defense of the Charlottesville alt-right's civil liberties.

Organizers then canceled the event; some members of the audience approached the podium in an attempt to speak with Gastañaga, but the protesters would not permit it. They surrounded Gastañaga, raised their voices even louder, and drove everybody else away.
It's pretty bad when the ACLU is now associated in the protesters' minds with Hitler just because they support freedom of speech. The college issued what Robby Soave of Reason calls "an incredibly tepid statement." If the college wants to make sure this doesn't happen again, they need to impose some penalty on the students.
These students have clearly made up their minds about free speech: they don't want to share it with anyone else—especially Nazis, but also civil liberties lawyers who happen to be experts on the thing they are willfully misunderstanding: the First Amendment. Their ideological position is obviously incoherent—Liberalism is white supremacy? What?—and would not stand up to scrutiny, which is probably why they have decided to make open debate an impossibility on campus. They really shouldn't get away with this.
These students live-streamed their protest and their faces are visible in the video. The ball is now in the college's court to demonstrate their commitment to free speech.

David Cole writes in the NYT Review of Books why protecting free speech, even the speech that we detest, is so indispensable to our polity.
Critics argue that the First Amendment is different, because if the weak are silenced while the strong speak, or if some have more to spend on speech than others, the outcomes of the “marketplace of ideas” will be skewed. But the marketplace is a metaphor; it describes not a scientific method for identifying truth but a choice among realistic options. It maintains only that it is better for the state to remain neutral than to dictate what is true and suppress the rest. One can be justifiably skeptical of a debate in which Charles Koch or George Soros has outsized advantages over everyone else, but still prefer it to one in which the Trump—or indeed Obama—administration can control what can be said. If free speech is critical to democracy and to holding our representatives accountable—and it is—we cannot allow our representatives to suppress views they think are wrong, false, or disruptive.

Should our nation’s shameful history of racism change the equation? There is no doubt that African-Americans have suffered unique mistreatment, and that our country has yet to reckon adequately with that fact. But to treat speech targeting African-Americans differently from speech targeting anyone else cannot be squared with the first principle of free speech: the state must be neutral with regard to speakers’ viewpoints. Moreover, what about other groups? While each group’s experiences are distinct, many have suffered grave discrimination, including Native Americans, Asian-Americans, LGBT people, women, Jews, Latinos, Muslims, and immigrants generally. Should government officials be free to censor speech that offends or targets any of these groups? If not all, which groups get special protection?

And even if we could somehow answer that question, how would we define what speech to suppress? Should the government be able to silence all arguments against affirmative action or about genetic differences between men and women, or just uneducated racist and sexist rants? It is easy to recognize inequality; it is virtually impossible to articulate a standard for suppression of speech that would not afford government officials dangerously broad discretion and invite discrimination against particular viewpoints.
I'm always amused that protesters who detest Trump and Jeff Sessions want to give the government those men head the power to regulate speech.
HHere is the ultimate contradiction in the argument for state suppression of speech in the name of equality: it demands protection of disadvantaged minorities’ interests, but in a democracy, the state acts in the name of the majority, not the minority. Why would disadvantaged minorities trust representatives of the majority to decide whose speech should be censored? At one time, most Americans embraced “separate but equal” for the races and separate spheres for the sexes as defining equality. It was the freedom to contest those views, safeguarded by the principle of free speech, that allowed us to reject them.

As Frederick Douglass reminded us, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” Throughout our history, disadvantaged minority groups have effectively used the First Amendment to speak, associate, and assemble for the purpose of demanding their rights—and the ACLU has defended their right to do so. Where would the movements for racial justice, women’s rights, and LGBT equality be without a muscular First Amendment?

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Jay Cost has an important essay about what is really driving our future debt - mandatory spending, particularly Medicare. As he points out, politicians are arguing over an increasingly smaller portion of the federal budget - discretionary spending. Mandatory spending just goes up and up.
The overwhelming majority of the federal budget is spent automatically, through entitlements. Social Security makes up about 24 percent of federal spending; Medicare accounts for 15 percent; Obamacare, Medicaid, and other health programs make up another 11 percent; various safety net programs, like unemployment insurance and food stamps, account for 10 percent; benefits for veterans and retirees make up about 8 percent. In the realm of discretionary spending, defense accounts for about 16 percent—and conservatives in Congress want to increase, not decrease, spending there. When interest on the debt (another 6 percent) is accounted for, that leaves about 10 percent of the total budget for Congress to fight over. That tiny fraction is usually what the two sides are squabbling over—and even then their disagreements, a couple of hundred billion dollars, are trivial when compared with the $4 trillion Uncle Sam will spend this year.
The fastest growing portion of our budget is Medicare but Trump has sworn not to cut Medicare spending and just gives us the usual pablum about cutting "waste, fraud, and abuse."
Office, Medicare cost 3.7 percent of gross domestic product in 2017, but over the next 25 years, it will balloon to 7 percent of GDP, making it the single most expensive federal program. Meanwhile, revenues taken in by the Medicare program (through taxes on wages) will not keep up—the result being an explosion in public debt.
Cost explains why the program costs so much more than it was anticipated when it was first enacted.
When Medicare was passed in 1965, it was premised on several assumptions that no longer hold. First, life expectancy has increased markedly. People who turned 65 in 1970 could expect to live another 15 years, but those who turn 65 this year can expect about 21 more years. That creates a greater burden on the program responsible for their care.

Second, the cost of medical care has increased dramatically. The Consumer Price Index for all goods and services has increased by roughly 650 percent since 1970, but for medical care it has grown by 1,450 percent. Not only are people living longer, their care is becoming more expensive—relative to the cost of other things in society. Relatedly, the lines between different types of care have grown more complex. Medicare originally divided itself between Part A, hospital service, and Part B, doctor care. But that kind of clean dichotomy makes little sense in this age of integrated care.

Third, the balance between those who are eligible for Medicare and those who are paying into the system has changed. In 1970, the over-65 cohort was a little less than 10 percent of the total population, while today it is more than 15 percent. Meanwhile, the percentage of the working-age population that is employed hit a peak of 65 percent in 2000 but has since tapered off. Even though the Great Recession has been over for nearly a decade, workforce participation now stands at just 60 percent—about where it stood in 1980. This means fewer people are paying into the system to fund the growing number who are receiving benefits from it.

Fourth, the economic condition of the elderly has improved dramatically. In 1965, seniors were the least well-off cohort; now they are the most prosperous. This stands to reason. People born in 1900, who had just reached retirement age when Medicare was passed, lived through two world wars and a major economic depression—all of which hampered their prospects for upward mobility. On the other hand, those born in 1952, who reached retirement age this year, hit their peak earning years in the ’80s and ’90s, amidst unprecedented prosperity.
As Cost writes, reform is necessary but it's not easy and will anger those who are happy with what they're receiving from Medicare.
These are all hard choices, with no easy answers. Somebody is going to end up paying more or receiving less—for the current trajectory of the Medicare program is unsustainable.

In the meantime, quibbling over the small portion of the budget that makes up domestic discretionary spending—money for transportation, the arts and sciences, education, and so on—only diverts public attention from the bigger problem of Medicare.

Unfortunately, neither party is prepared to deal with this issue. Credit is certainly owed to Ryan for calling attention to it, but last year GOP voters supported Trump and his pie-in-the-sky pledge to sustain Medicare with mere tweaks. Indeed, the Republican coalition is not disposed to deal with Medicare, seeing as how it depends so heavily on middle-aged and elderly voters who would bear the brunt of any benefit cuts.

Meanwhile, the Democrats—whose younger coalition stands the most to gain from reforms—are deluding their voters into thinking the program is just fine. In fact, Democratic aspirants for the presidency are lining up to endorse Bernie Sanders’s plan to expand Medicare to all Americans....

While it no doubt is engrossing, any fight over spending that ignores entitlements is little more than pantomime. It is not a real conflict over the proper scope of government in modern society. Such a debate would require the political class to deal with Medicare—which, despite a few admirable exceptions, neither side is prepared to do.
That is why Paul Ryan has long been one of my favorite Washington politicians because he has been willing to grapple with such hard choices. Unfortunately, there are too few of him and there are too many Republicans who blame Ryan for compromises that they dislike.

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Well, good riddance to this hypocritical jerk.
Rep. Tim Murphy announced Wednesday that he would not seek re-election, following revelations that he urged a woman with whom he had an affair to get an abortion.

The Pennsylvania Republican told a local CBS affiliate that he would not run for 9th term in Congress. He said there was still work to be done and he would serve out the remainder of his term.

“In the coming weeks I will take personal time to seek help as my family and I continue to work through our personal difficulties and seek healing,” Murphy said. “I ask you to respect our privacy during this time.”

Murphy first admitted last month to having an affair with forensic psychologist Shannon Edwards. The affair came to light amid Edwards’ divorce proceedings.

But on Tuesday the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported new details of text messages between Edwards and Murphy, in which Edwards referenced Murphy urging her to have an abortion. The Post-Gazette reported the discussion was referring to an “unfounded pregnancy scare.”

Murphy was a member of the House Pro-Life Caucus and voted Tuesday night to pass a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks.

Ramesh Ponnuru explains
why the Democrats' effort to end partisan gerrymandering by the so-called efficiency gap is wrongheaded.
Democrats cluster, Republicans disperse.

In our political system, dominated as it is by single-member legislative districts, that geographic pattern gives Republicans an advantage. Democrats are going to the Supreme Court on Tuesday to try to change that. Their frustration with our system is understandable. The court should still tell them no....

The plaintiffs in the current case, against Wisconsin’s district lines, think they have found one [a standard to end partisan gerrymandering that will appeal to Justice Kennedy]. It’s based on what they call the “efficiency gap.” In a gerrymander, the dominant party typically tries to distribute its voters efficiently, so that it gets the most seats for its votes. It achieves this goal by packing the other party’s voters into a few districts.

Republicans try to ensure that a lot of Democrats end up either voting for losing candidates or voting superfluously for winning ones. The theory behind the lawsuit is that if one party’s voters are “wasting” their votes significantly more than the other party’s voters, the courts should step in.

Taking the efficiency gap as a measure of gerrymandering would, however, lead to some odd results. It can treat competitive elections as more problematic than lopsided ones. A party suffers more “wasted” votes in a district where it gets 49.9 percent of the vote — since all of them count as wasted — than in one where it gets 25 percent or 75 percent.

Also, the efficiency gap isn’t just a function of how state legislatures draw district lines. It’s also a function of where Democrats and Republicans live. Democrats are more densely concentrated in urban areas.

When districts are drawn to be compact and contiguous, that pattern is naturally going to lead to some heavily — inefficiently — Democratic districts. The larger the legislature, and the smaller the districts, the worse that problem is going to be.

Using the efficiency gap as a measure assumes that proportional representation is the ideal: If the percentage of Democrats in seats matches the percentage of Democratic votes, there’s no gap. But the court has repeatedly stressed that proportional representation isn’t the constitutional baseline. The efficiency gap is just a way to sneak that rejected notion through the back door....

The legal claim advanced in the case — that the First Amendment, in protecting the right to free association, blocks Wisconsin’s gerrymander — is implausible in the extreme. There’s no amendment to the Constitution that gives anyone a right not to have his vote wasted — or gives one group a right not to have votes wasted at higher rates than another group.
If Kennedy goes for the plaintiffs' argument, the Court should be prepared to hear dozens of cases as the losing party appeals every state's districting lines.

Here is some more evidence about the success of charter schools compared to regular public schools.
The study, by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, used test scores to compare the gains of 75,000 third- through eighth-graders in 197 city charters to those of their traditional-school peers between 2011-12 and 2015-16.

It found an average charter kid displays growth in reading “equivalent” to 23 extra school days; for math, it’s 63 extra days. Every. Single. Year.

Some results were positively stunning: Kids at KIPP NYC, for example, “grew” academically by 80 more days in reading, and 137 in math. At a Success Academy in Harlem, it was 137 more days in reading, 239 in math.

Notably, the study found the gains particularly “strong” among poor black and Hispanic charter vs. regular-school kids.

Nor can critics claim that charter kids just come from more privileged backgrounds: The researchers controlled for variables like poverty, race, special-ed status and English proficiency.

These dramatic findings merely confirm what other studies have found: The city’s charters routinely outperform the traditional schools run by the bureaucrats and unions.
That won't prevent the teachers' unions and the politicians they control such as Bill de Blasio from doing all they can to block the expansion of charter schools.
In particular, the mayor’s minions are dragging their feet on responding to charters’ requests for new space next fall. The city missed a Sept. 8 deadline to release documents so the Panel for Education Policy can OK charter space at its October meeting. It now has until Oct. 13 to come up with the material for the November meeting.

If the stall continues, hundreds of kids moving up to middle school and so on could be forced into failed district schools — and out of schools that are working miracles. Hundreds more would be denied the chance to start out at a charter.

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Here's the read-with-a-smile story of the day. Apparently, Jerry Rice has spent his post-retirement time crashing weddings.
If you’re wondering if Rice does this every Saturday and Sunday, he does not. “Sometimes there are weddings on Friday, too,” he said. He estimates that he crashes at least one wedding per weekend.

“I’ve had some brides that start crying,” Rice said. “I tell them, ‘You’re not supposed to be crying for me. Your groom is a different story.’”

....Rice doesn’t know the first time he crashed a wedding, but it started sometime after he retired from the NFL in 2006. “I’ve done it so many times,” he said.

There are two reasons it happens. The first is that he finishes a round of golf at a club or resort where people tend to have weddings. If there’s one happening, as was the case with Restani and Johnson, he’ll always swing by. The second is that he’s on the road for business, and as he did with Larkin and Matt, he happens upon a wedding and decides to see what’s going on.
While he's there, he dances with the guests and takes selfies with the people there and just seems to have an all-around good time. I guess the all-time leader in receptions likes receptions no matter what type they are.