Thursday, February 15, 2018

Cruising the Web

My heart goes out to the families and friends who lost loved ones in yesterday's horrific school shooting. I keep thinking of parents who sent their kids off to schools maybe with reminders of not to forget their lunches or good luck wishes on a test or talk of plans for Valentine's Day and never to see them again.

I wish that people would wait a day or two before trying to turn such grief and horror into trying to score political points. I read about this young murderer and it seems that he was troubled and almost beyond reach from early on, even in middle school. It doesn't help that his father and then his mother had died. It seems, from what is reported now, that the school was trying as best it could to cope with him and apply proper discipline. They most assuredly recognized what a dangerous kid he was. The questions to be asked are what can authorities do when there is such an identified student who hasn't yet done anything? Yes, his access to guns needs to be looked at, but does anyone doubt that such a troubled person wouldn't have found other ways to kill if that was his intention? After each one of these horrific events we hear about addressing both guns and the mental issues and the reach of the law. Yet nothing seems to change. I remember after the Virginia Tech shootings we heard a lot about addressing mental health policies to identify such a future murderer but no one seemed to have an idea of what to do that is legal in our system. I'd like to hear more about that. Instead, I feel the grief of this community. PErhaps, this is all we can think.

David French points
to how premeditated and well-thought out this murderer's plan was.
Mass shootings are among the most premeditated of crimes, often planned months in advance. The shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School reportedly wore a gas mask, carried smoke grenades, and set off the fire alarm so that students would pour out into the hallways. Though we’ll obviously learn more in the coming days, each of these things suggests careful preparation. A man who is determined to kill and who is proactive in finding the means to kill will find guns. He can modify guns. He can find magazines.

But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do. When policies fail, people can and should rise to the occasion. Looking at the deadliest mass shootings since Columbine, we see that the warning signs were there, time and again. People could have made a difference.
He goes through all the advance warning signs that were there in so many of the mass shootings we've experienced in the recent past.
What does this mean? It means that Americans need to be aware that this contagion exists, that this “ever-evolving riot” is under way. We can’t deflect responsibility upwards, to Washington. We’re still the first line of defense in our own communities. We cannot simply assume that the kid filling his social-media feed with menacing pictures is just in “a phase” or that strange obsessions with murder or mass death are morbid, but harmless.

We’ve trained ourselves to mind our own business, to delegate interventions to professionals, and to “judge not” the actions of others. But in a real way, we are our brother’s keeper; and an ethic of “see something, say something” is a vital part of community life.

Instead, we all too often retreat into our lives — either afraid that intervention carries risks or falsely comforted by the belief that surely someone else will do the right thing. We’ve seen this dynamic in other crimes. The worst of the sexual predators revealed (so far) by the #MeToo movement, Harvey Weinstein and Larry Nassar, could have been stopped so much earlier if the people around them had shown just an ounce more courage in the face of known complaints and known misconduct. We didn’t need better laws to stop rape. We needed better people.

One of the greatest challenges for any society is stopping a man who is determined to commit murder, and we’ll never fully succeed. Even the most vigilant community will still suffer at the hands of evil men. But it’s days like these, when children lay dead in school, that we must remind ourselves that we’re all in this together. We have responsibilities, not just to mourn and comfort the families of the lost, but to think carefully about our own communities and the circle of people in our lives — and to take action to guard our own children and our own schools.

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Ben Shapiro ponders how abnormal politics has become. Of course, Donald Trump is not a normal politician and his presidency has certainly been quite abnormal. Almost every day we find ourselves discussing stories involving the President that we've never experienced before. He's said and tweeted things that no politician has ever said before. No modern politician would have equivocated about the motives of the marchers in Charlottesville. And then we read about his jabs with LaVar Ball or whatever Omarosa has said about Donald Trump and we remember that she actually had a job in the White House. None of this is normal. But, as Shapiro points out, there are different levels of abnormality.
All of this "non-normality," however, has resulted in ... a relatively normal situation. The economy's booming. We're on more solid foreign-policy ground than we were when President Obama was in office -- by a long shot. The Constitution hasn't been torn asunder. The structures of government are still in place. Trump may be toxic rhetorically, but his presidency hasn't annihilated the norms that govern our society.

The same can't be said, however, of the media institutions that seem so consumed with saving the republic from the specter of Trump. Like self-appointed superheroes so intent on stopping an alien monster that they end up destroying the entire city, our media are so focused on stopping Trump that they end up undermining both their credibility and faith in American institutions.
We have just witnessed our media going ga-ga over the appearance of the deputy director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department of the Workers' Party of Korea at the Olympics and their thrills because she gave a side-eye to Mike Pence.
It's not just the media. This week, we learned that former FBI Director James Comey, former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, former national security adviser Susan Rice, former Vice President Joe Biden and former President Obama held a last-minute meeting at the White House to discuss the possibility of Trump-Russia collusion. At that meeting, Rice wrote in an email, Obama reportedly asked whether there was any reason "we cannot share information fully as it relates to Russia." That means that Obama asked his top staff, including the FBI, whether he could hide intelligence information from the incoming Trump team.

That amounts to a massive breach in the constitutional structure. The FBI is not an independent agency. It is part of the executive branch. The incoming Trump administration was duly elected by the American people and had every right to see all intelligence information coming from the FBI and the CIA. Yet it was the supposedly normal Obama White House exploring means of preventing that transparency.

Trump isn't a normal president. But the threat to our institutions doesn't reside only at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. -- or even primarily there. It resides with those who are willing to side with any enemy and violate every rule in order to stop the supposed threat of Trump.

Ah, this is excellent trolling of Nancy Pelosi.
Congressman Todd Rokita, R-Ind., will introduce legislation that helps Americans keep more of the bonuses they receive by making them tax-free.

The legislation, “Creating Relief and Useful Middle-Class Benefits and Savings”—known as the CRUMBS Act—also takes a swipe at House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who has repeatedly downplayed the significance of the bonuses some Americans are receiving thanks to the GOP tax plan by referring to them as “crumbs.”

...."Americans are receiving thousands of dollars in bonuses and more money in their paychecks thanks to President Trump's tax reform, but out-of-touch Democratic leaders believe they only amount to crumbs," he said, reports Fox News. "The CRUMBS Act will let Americans keep more of the money they receive as a result of President Trump's tax reform, and allow them, not the government, to choose how best to spend their bonuses.”

The CRUMBS Act would make bonuses up to $2,500 tax-free.

Americans for Tax Reform is keeping track of the number of Americans who are receiving tax reform bonuses. So far 346 companies have given workers bonuses, raises, or 401(k) hikes thanks to tax reform, affecting more than 3,500,000 Americans.
Hey, if those bonueses are so measly, why not allow their recipients to keep more of the money?

Jason Riley reports
on another way that Betsy DeVos is undoing some of the damage done by Obama's Education Department. She is set to get rid of a rule Obama's Education Department had promulgated to take effect this July for schools to make sure that there was racial balance in special education programs. Basically, they wanted to apply racial quotas on the determination of which students need help for learning disabilities or other problems which affect learning. It's just crazy thinking for anyone who really cares about getting students the help they need.
The rule, which would effectively impose racial quotas, is likely unconstitutional. Moreover, academic research shows that racial bias is not the cause of disproportionate representation of black pupils in special ed. Anyone who cares about the prospects of minority youngsters should welcome the Trump administration’s decision to put the rule on hold.

A 2015 study by scholars at UC Irvine and Penn State University found that black children are more likely than white children to be born prematurely and have high levels of lead in their blood, among other factors that often result in learning disabilities and speech impairments. When otherwise similar groups of black and white adolescents were compared, the data didn’t show that black students were more likely to be placed in special education classes. In fact, it showed the opposite: “The real problem is that black children are underrepresented in special-education classes when compared with white children with similar levels of academic achievement, behavior and family economic resources,” two of the authors, Paul Morgan and George Farkas, wrote in an op-ed.

To the extent that the Obama-era rule could make teachers and administrators fearing accusations of racial bias too skittish to do their jobs properly, it potentially puts at-risk children at even more risk. Do we want racial proportionality to become more important than matching students with the educational tools that will serve them best? Do we want school districts identifying special-needs kids based on the evidence or based on a desire to stay out of the federal government’s crosshairs?

Those questions are not theoretical. The Obama Education Department’s obsession with disparate-impact analysis also led it to pressure schools into disciplining fewer black students, even if those students represented a higher proportion of troublemakers. In 2016 and 2017, President Obama and his wife visited Washington, D.C., schools that boasted fewer suspensions and higher graduation rates. But a Washington Post investigation last year revealed that administrators at some D.C. schools were underreporting the number of suspensions. Other schools were juicing graduation numbers by not counting low-performing students in the graduating class and granting diplomas to chronically absent kids who didn’t qualify for a degree. “This is [the] biggest way to keep a community down,” a black teacher told NPR. “To graduate students who aren’t qualified, send them off to college unprepared, so they return to the community to continue the cycle.”

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has said that her team is “looking closely” at the Obama school-suspension guidance, which was issued in 2014 via a “Dear Colleague” letter and could be rescinded with another one. Let’s hope she gets on with it. Cities from Los Angeles to Chicago to New York provide evidence that reducing school suspensions has increased classroom disorder, which works to the detriment of those minority students who are in school to get an education, not make mischief. A study of Wisconsin schools published last month by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty noted that “softer discipline policies, pushed by the Obama Administration, are having a negative impact on student test scores.” Is it any shock that when undisciplined students aren’t removed from the classroom, less learning takes place?
These Obama-era rules are just knee-jerk reactions and a surface response to statistics they don't like. But there are other statistics they might not like to have uncovered.
Obama administration officials and their progressive supporters used disparate-impact analysis to dodge a discussion about differences in student behavior, which might have brought to the surface other uncomfortable facts. Boys are suspended at higher rates than girls, and whites are suspended at higher rates than Asians. Moreover, a significant share of teachers and other staff in many majority-minority schools are of the same race and ethnicity as the students, which somewhat undermines “hidden bias” claims.

The previous administration took sides with bad actors out of political expediency. Mrs. DeVos’s focus should be on students who just want a safe learning environment and a decent education.
Imagine that.

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Remember the 1980s hysteria about child abuse in day care centers that saw quite a few innocent day care providers sent to prison on the basis of some unbelievable stories told by pre-schoolers. Well, some professors are worried that we're now seeing a rerun of that era with regard to accusations of sexual harassment or abuse.
In the 1980s it was “we believe the children.” In the 2010s it’s not a statement, but an order: “Believe the victim.”

More than 130 professors and legal experts are warning that increasingly popular techniques and theories in Title IX investigations are setting up America for a rerun of the “satanic daycare child abuse” panic of 30 years ago....

Across 13 pages and 53 citations, the professors and legal experts argue that “victim-centered” investigations and “trauma-informed” theories are a direct attack on constitutional due process.

They are the outgrowth of the 1980s “witch hunt” against daycare workers, which was prompted by “fear of crime; the decline of respect for traditional authority; homophobia (being gay helped send some day-care workers to prison); [and] the conservative backlash against feminism,” according to a 2015 book on the phenomenon.

The signatories trace the roots of “believe the victim” – which conflates “psychological treatment” with “adjudicative contexts” – to the early 1990s, soon after the daycare panic ebbed.

But the concepts fully flowered in a victim-rights group’s 2006 manual that explicitly instructs investigators to pursue a “successful prosecution” and undermine “potential defense strategies,” without regard for objectivity or finding the truth.

“Ideological biases in favor of alleged sexual assault victims are particularly ubiquitous in the campus setting,” they write, citing a University of Texas “blueprint” that explicitly tells investigators not to record “a detailed account of prior interview statements,” so as to preempt “inconsistencies.”

It's come to this
The student leadership at a California high school has banned "The Star-Spangled Banner" from school rallies, calling the national anthem "outdated and racially insensitive."

Ariyana Kermanizadeh, president of the Associated Student Body at California High School in San Ramon, explained the decision in a letter to the school's newspaper last week, reported KGO-TV, the ABC affiliate in San Francisco.

"A few weeks before the rally it was brought to our attention that the national anthem's third verse is outdated and racially insensitive," Kermanizadeh wrote. "After learning about the third verse, the other ASB officers and I thought that this was completely unacceptable and must be removed from the rally."

The rarely sung third verse of the national anthem in part says, "No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave."

"We understand that this third verse is not included when the anthem is performed, but still, what does this tell us?" the letter read. "This verse translated, finds joy in the killing of African-Americans. To think that our nation's anthem once had the word slave and ‘land of the free' in the same sentence leaves me speechless."
Walter Olson explains the debated historical interpretation of that verse.
But although claims of this sort have been circulating since at least the 1990s, it would not be fair to say that historians are of one mind on whether Key’s song was understood in its day to be making any reference to race.

Exhibit A in critics’ account is the anthem’s seldom-sung third verse, which gloats at the defeat of the “band who so vauntingly swore” America would lose its independence:
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
There it is: the word “slave.” To an American of 2017, the word is likely to mean one thing only: the system of chattel slavery prevailing in Key’s day in Maryland and throughout the American South. Key was from a slaveholding family and litigated many cases involving slavery issues; he argued numerous cases in favor of slaves’ freedom, but also prosecuted a prominent abolitionist.

Not so clear is what the phrase “hireling and slave” would have meant to listeners in Key’s day.

To some critics who believe the reference to be racial, it’s significant that among the British troops Key fought against in Maryland during the War of 1812 were the Corps of Colonial Marines, free persons of color who had formerly been slaves.

But there are other possibilities to consider, too.

At the time Key was writing, the word “slave” (we’ll get to “hireling” in a minute) had long functioned in English as a wide-ranging epithet, hurled at persons of any and all colors, nationalities, and conditions of servitude or otherwise.

Shakespeare, who barely mentioned America in his writings, used the word more than 180 times in his works. Fewer than a third of those references are in the plays set in Roman and Greek times, in which characters in the drama might be literal slaves. More often, Shakespeare’s characters — including Macbeth, Lear, and many of the kings in the history plays — use “slave” as an insult. (“O what a rogue and peasant slave am I!” says Hamlet, a prince, as part of a self-lacerating soliloquy.) Though often signifying low birth, these uses have no connection to color or — aside from the frequent use of the epithet to put down the French — to nationality. Still less do they connect to the institution of chattel slavery as found in the Americas.

This usage had not disappeared by Key’s lifetime. In Robert Burns’s battle poem “Scots Wha Hae,” written in 1793 though set more than 400 years earlier, the word “slave” is an insult directed at his fellow Scots who would flee rather than follow their king into the Battle of Bannockburn.

To Americans, while “slave” was both a common descriptive word and an epithet, “hireling” — especially in contexts of poetry and literature — ordinarily carried derogatory connotations. It meant someone such as a soldier, official, or laborer who served for money rather than from some more durable loyalty such as to family or nation. Yet another Robert Burns song, “Parcel of Rogues,” describes Scotland as having been sold out for “hireling traitor’s wages.” “Hireling and slave” is not an accidental pairing; the two words often occurred together as epithets.

Some soldiers on the British side were involuntary conscripts, and the British crown’s policy of in effect kidnapping young men and sending them into battle had roused indignation, contempt, and disgust on the American side.

Was Key pursuing a grudge by describing, or misdescribing, the Corps of Colonial Marines as slaves? Or did he have the (predominantly white) conscripts in mind? Or was he just reaching for a common word pairing, familiar to his listeners, that provided him with a rhyme?

There’s no record of him ever explaining why he chose those words. When we decide whether to give his words a reading that is charitable or otherwise, we make a choice too.
But if you want an excuse to despise the national anthem, by all means, take the most negative interpretation.

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An author who has written a book about libertarians, particularly one of the founders of the field of public choice, Nobel Prize winner James Buchanan, made some deeply offensive remarks last week about libertarians. Her book has been deeply criticized for its dishonest and poorly researched portrayal of Buchanan, has really crossed the line with how she answered a question.
Nancy MacLean, author of Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, made the comments during the Q&A portion of her February 7 speech at New York City Unitarian Church of All Souls.

The question:

“Where do [Public Choice Theory economist James Buchanan's] motivations lie? Are they ones of personal greed? It seems like it’s a little grander, is it malevolence?”

MacLean, who has also written a biography of Buchanan, responded:

“As an author, I have struggled with this, and I could explain it in different ways. I didn’t put this in the book, but I will say it here,” she answered. “It’s striking to me how many of the architects of this cause seem to be on the autism spectrum—you know, people who don’t feel solidarity or empathy with others, and who have difficult human relationships sometimes.”
Katherine Timpf excoriates this Duke University professor.
In other words: She managed to give an answer that was incredibly offensive not only to libertarians, but also to people with autism. Let me be clear: Having autism does not mean that you do not have empathy for other people, and it’s outrageously inappropriate for McClean to have made such ignorant and insensitive comments about something she clearly knows nothing about.

Having libertarian beliefs also does not mean that you lack empathy. I know, because I have both. Libertarianism does not rest on the belief that people should not have good things, but the belief that getting the government too involved in people’s lives actually does more harm than it does good. The entire idea behind libertarianism is to minimize this kind of harm — and, believe it or not, wanting to minimize the harm being inflicted on others is the exact opposite of not having any empathy. Libertarians want people to be happy and prosperous, and suggesting otherwise is downright asinine.

I cannot believe that I even have to write this, but having a libertarian view of how society can best manage things such as the economy and the health-care system does not mean that you want a garbage economy where everyone is sick — it just means that you have a different view of how we can achieve that best society. The goal is still to have an environment where everyone can live his or her own best life. Suggesting that having a belief in a different path to that goal is the same as not having that goal is ignorant and simplistic, and MacLean should be ashamed of herself for her comments.
This seems all part of how many on the left regard those on the right who endorse other policies than government intervention in the economy. They're portrayed as people who don't care about the poor or the elderly, or young people or the environment instead of there being any recognition that they might care just as much, but have different ideas of the best way to achieve those ends. I hope that there is a big backlash against this professor for her smear of both libertarians and the autistic. Her response is all part of the left's inclination to define conservative (or libertarian) beliefs as an actual psychological problem.

This is today's Britain's Labour Party.
Labour has been rebuked by the equalities commission again after banning heterosexual white men from a conference.

An advert for the Young Labour event said a person had to be under 27, and 'self identify' as from an ethnic minority background, be LGBT or a woman to go.

It sparked a storm of controversy and critics pointed out that under the rigid rules Jeremy Corbyn would not be allowed to go to the conference.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (ECHR) has warned the restrictions would flout the law unless there is a good reason for it.