Friday, April 27, 2018

Cruising the Web

Noah Rothman has a thoughtful essay examining the inevitable disappointment of those who put their faith in electing someone who can change everything. Many progressives thought that electing Barack Obama was going to bring about some almost messianic change in America. And they were disappointed. That was inevitable because no political leader can bring about those sorts of changes. But politicians, as he points out, feed the public's desire to believe that electing them can change the course of the country. They campaign that the election is "the most important election of our lifetime." And then they win and can't fulfill any of those raised expectations. So their supporters are disappointed. The problem is expecting anyone in the government. Rothman is struck by how downcast progressives are these days even though they're commanding the heights of culture and social thought.
At the noncelebrity level, polls confirm a turning away from conservative social mores altogether. In 2017, Gallup’s annual values-and-beliefs survey found a record number of Americans approving of doctor-assisted suicide, same-sex relations, pornography, both sex and childbirth out of wedlock, polygamy, and divorce.
Add in the decline in religious affiliations, particularly among younger people. And younger people have increasingly positive views of socialism and don't support capitalism. But this command of the culture isn't enough to make them happy because they're not achieving the policy results they've been hoping to. Or what they achieve turns out to not fulfill their hopes. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act didn't achieve the end of the supposed "pay gap" which liberals believe is due to discrimination rather than choices that people make. The Violence Against Women Act hasn't ended sexual abuse on the job. And discrimination or sexual abuse on the job were already illegal.
ObamaCare is another example of an exercise in cultural engineering that has failed to take. The Affordable Care Act wasn’t only a health-care law; it was an effort to transform society. The law’s true goal was a “culture of coverage” that would foster a new “norm” in which health coverage was an “expected” part of the social contract, according to California Health Benefit Exchange board member Kim Belshe. But once again, the political process failed to match the transformative ambitions of the progressive activist class. A late 2016 survey conducted by the American College of Emergency Physicians found that tighter doctor networks as well as higher deductibles and co-payments meant people were cutting back on doctor visits—the precise opposite of the law’s philosophical objectives.

Donald Trump and his GOP majorities in Congress could not overturn the ACA (though they did manage to get rid of its mandatory aspect). But ObamaCare’s preservation has not prevented the health-care left from sinking into gloom. This is because the politicians who pursued these reforms set unrealistic expectations for what they could achieve. These are not blinkered ideologues, but they are in thrall to a grandiose idea of what politics should be and out of touch with what politics actually is: a messy, narrow, often unsatisfying project of compromise and incrementalism.
Despite laws passed in the 1960s haven't managed to end the problems they were touted as addressing.
Progressives have come to believe that America is beset with difficulties that must be addressed if the country is to survive—but they recognize that the difficulties they diagnose are extraordinarily hard to deal with in conventional political terms. Income disparities. Sexual and racial inequities. The privileges and disadvantages associated with accidents of birth. Such matters increasingly dominate the agenda of leftist politicians because they preoccupy the minds of their voters and donors. But what can be done about them? Great Society legislation in the 1960s—the farthest-reaching effort to reorder and reframe our country along social-justice principles—was designed to extirpate these evils. It is clear that today’s progressives are convinced we have not progressed very far from those days, if at all. This can lead to only one devastating conclusion, which is that the United States is a structurally oppressive nation. The system is the problem.

For the left, no problem is more hopelessly systemic than racism. It is powerfully attractive to believe that because some American institutions were forged in racial bias, the country is forever soiled by discrimination and white supremacy. Economics, politics, education, criminal justice—all are soiled by what Harvard professor Derrick Bell has said was an indelible stain on American life. Bell’s theories have been amplified by celebrated literary figures such as Ta-Nehisi Coates. “White supremacy is neither a trick, nor a device, but one of the most powerful shared interests in American history,” he recently wrote. You can understand why exasperated activists might conclude that devoting themselves to a Sisyphean torment is not the best use of their time. “I cannot continue to emotionally exhaust myself,” wrote the British journalist and feminist speaker Reni Eddo-Lodge in 2014. In a 2016 Washington Post op-ed, Zack Linly concurred. “I’ve grown too disillusioned to be relieved and too numb to be frustrated. I’m just tired.”

Violence, too, is seen as systemic. Acts of small-scale and mass violence are the result of many factors in American life. The individual who commits those heinous acts is often a secondary concern to activists on the left. For them, the problem rests in our militaristic national character, which is foremost exemplified by a pathological devotion to guns. As a recent headline at the New Republic put it: “America’s Gun Sickness Goes Way Beyond Guns.”
All the faults in our society from racism to violence to substance abuse to poverty are all due to the endemic sins of our government.
When faced with this constellation of systemic challenges, progressives are left with a grim conclusion: We are impotent; change on the scale that is necessary is out of reach. Instead of practicing “the art of the possible,” they have made a totem of the impossible. The activists who are consumed by these phenomena have come (or are coming) to the conclusion that the political process cannot resolve them precisely because the oppression is a feature, not a bug, of the system. It is logical, therefore, for them to determine that engagement in traditional forms of politics is an exercise in naiveté.

Indeed, under this set of beliefs, legislative incrementalism and compromise seem like detestable half measures. Mistaking deep-rooted and immensely complex social and cultural circumstances for problems government can solve blinds participants in the political process to the unambiguous victories they’ve actually secured through compromise. This is a recipe for despair—a despair to which certain segments of the right are not immune.
Conservatives are similarly discouraged thinking that the country is on the downside. But there is a difference in why they are dismayed.
The issues that most animate these conservatives are significant, but they are only indirectly related to conventional political matters. Disrespect for authority figures in law enforcement, the accessibility of pornography, assimilation rates among immigrant groups, the bewildering exploits on college campuses, and the ill-defined plague of “cultural Marxism”—these are widespread social trends that resist remedy from the inherently circumspect political process.
When ideologues become disappointed they turn on their political leaders. Conservatives are angry at George W. Bush, Paul Ryan, or Mitch McConnell. Democrats are fed up with Nancy Pelosi.
The tragedy here is how this dynamic has convinced tens of millions of Americans that the political system is broken. Pull back from the granular view of events and try to examine America over the past decade and you see something else. You see American voters responding in complex ways to complex events. Obama overreaches and the voters elect a Republican House. Mitt Romney says 47 percent of Americans are losers, and he loses an election. Hillary Clinton says people who don’t care for her are “deplorables,” and she loses an election, too. The GOP appears to be on a path to electoral disaster in November 2018 because Trump may be bringing about a counterattack against the way he does business. Democratic overreach inspires conservative backlash. Republican overreach inspires liberal backlash. The electoral system is responsive to the views of the people. The system works. It works by restraining excessive ambition.
As I told my students who were crying the day after the election, wait a bit. American politics is a pendulum. A party wins one election and they disappoints and the other party wins election. The pendulum will swing back.

The danger, as Rothman points out, is that disappointed idealists who think government can address all our problems is to wish for some sort of dictatorial government that can achieve their goals. They're fed up with Madison's vision of ambition checking ambition.
Those restraints annoy people who think change should just happen because they will it. In 2009, for example, the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman was so annoyed by Congress’s failure to devise a bipartisan environmental bill that he lamented the fact that America did not have China’s political system. The People’s Republic, he wrote, was demonstrating the great “advantages” of a “one-party autocracy” led by “reasonably enlightened people.” Amazing how Chinese Communism had the ability to circumvent public opinion—the same ability also leads to the construction of well-populated labor camps.
But hey, if we can achieve progressive goals, it might temporarily be worth it, right? Ugh. If people don't yearn for a Chinese-style dictatorship, they are disappointed in the country and the American system.
The quotidian, custodial duties that typify public service are neither dramatic nor entertaining. Zoning laws are boring. Police reforms are boring. Business-improvement districts are boring. Functional governance in the United States is unexciting governance.

Unexciting governance is limited governance. And the fatalists are driven mad by the limits our system imposes on them because they don’t want governance to be limited. That is exactly why those limits are so necessary and why, rather than getting dirty fighting inch by inch for the things they believe in, fatalists write themselves out of our political life. The danger the fatalists pose is that they are convincing tens of millions more that our system doesn’t work when it most certainly does, just in a fashion they wish it wouldn’t. In doing so, they are encouraging mass despair—and that is an entirely self-imposed affliction.

Ah, isn't this typical of the approach some college officials take to investigations of sexual abuse?
When challenged to defend flyers posted around an Oregon campus that warn of a widespread sexual assault problem, a college official said the following: "Believing survivors means let's sit down and understand each other's experience. Let's believe what that person said, he or she has experienced, that we have experienced. It may not be the truth, as has been determined, but it is that person's truth and what they were going through."
So a person's beliefs are more important than facts when they're conducting an investigation that could result in a young man being expelled and labeled a sexual predator, basically having his life ruined?

So much for the Democratic accusation that the GOP tax cut was a give-away for the wealthy.
Boston University economist Laurence Kotlikoff, along with University of California, Berkeley, economist Alan Auerbach, conducted a detailed analysis of the winners and losers of the tax bill.

They found virtually no change in the progressivity of the tax reforms. The rich, they concluded, "will pay essentially the same share of taxes" as before.

Data from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center shows the tax code getting more progressive under the Republican tax cuts, according to a report on the data in the Wall Street Journal.

Top 0.1%, for example, will see their share of federal income taxes paid climb to 22% this year, up from 18.9% last year.

The share of income taxes paid by the top 1% will reach 43.3% this year, compared with 38% last year.

How is this possible, given that the law cuts the top income tax rates?

Because while it cut taxes for the relatively few rich in the country, the law also cuts taxes for the vast middle class — through lower rates, a much larger standard deduction, and doubled per-child tax credit.

The law also kicks many families off the tax code entirely. According to the Tax Policy Center, 45.8% "tax units" will owe nothing in federal income taxes this year, or will get a net refund thanks to tax credits. That's up from 43.4% under the old law.

So, thanks to the GOP tax cuts, the rich will pay either the same or a greater share of the nation's income tax bill and millions more will pay zero income taxes. How exactly is this a "giveaway" to the rich?

Indeed, by the Democrats' own definition, the Republican tax reform — which zero Democrats voted for — has made the tax code more fair, not less.

Just don't expect them to ever admit this.

Apparently those who work under Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel don't think as highly of him as he thinks of himself.
A deputies’ union on Thursday decided it has “no confidence” in Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, citing crushed morale amid national criticism of how the agency handled its response to the Parkland school massacre.

The Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association revealed 85 percent of the union members who voted — 534 out of 628 — said they had no confidence in the sheriff. The plan is to send the results of the vote to Gov. Rick Scott, urging him to “make change and replace the sheriff with somebody who is capable of amazing leadership.”
Israel discounts the vote and says the great majority of the Sheriff's Office like him. John Sexton comments,
While many deputies were upset over the Sheriff’s handling of the Parkland shooting, CNN’s Rosa Flores reports the last straw for some was his appearance on CNN in which he praised his own “amazing leadership.”

With states asking the Supreme Court to allow them to tax internet sales from businesses that don't have a physical presence in their states, the policy question has its foundation in states' claims that they're bleeding revenues from such sales. However, as Chris Cox writes in the WSJ, the data from South Dakota, the plaintif in the case, don't support that claim.
The state’s own data show that sales and use tax revenue grew from $787.7 million in 2013 to $974.7 in 2017—considerably faster than the state’s rate of economic growth. The governor’s budget for 2018 projects the state’s sales and use tax revenue will be more than $1 billion, 4% higher than last year, with no change in rate. That’s 29% higher than five years earlier. Sales-tax revenues have been booming in other states, too.

How did a case get all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court with such basic facts still in dispute? South Dakota did not have to prove its claim because its legislature created a “fast track” litigation procedure to move the case up to the state’s high court without the usual elaborate fact-finding, discovery, witnesses and trial.

If the new law stands, South Dakota’s tax and regulatory power would extend to almost anyone in America with a retail website. Even a site selling music for 99 cents would become subject to South Dakota’s courts, administrative tribunals, and taxing authorities if as few as 200 people in the state downloaded a single song.
While this case wouldn't change anything for most large retailers which already collect sales tax, it could destroy small-business people just trying to cobble together a business out of selling things online.
But changing trends in retail toward local presence for faster delivery have resulted in the vast majority of large out-of-state online businesses now collecting those previously uncollectible taxes. Virtually every large retailer, including Amazon, already collects sales taxes in every U.S. jurisdiction that has a sales tax. This has contributed to South Dakota’s observable tax collection windfall.

Before upending decades of commercial reliance on its rulings, a Supreme Court led by judicial conservatives should think twice. At the very least, the court should have the facts.

Guy Benson wonders
what has happened to freedom in the UK, particularly after a judge's ruling that Alfie Evans' parents can't take the sick toddler to Italy for treatment. This wouldn't cost the British government a penny, but they're still refusing to let the child go and the judge finds Italy's involvement in offering free health care to a tragically ill child "disrespectful to the principles of international diplomacy."
How dare...Italy? It's hard to overstate how twisted that assignment of moral opprobrium is. Yes, little Alfie's condition is dire and his chances of survival are negligible. But there are doctors in Italy willing to offer experimental treatments at no cost to the family, with a jet standing by to fly them out of the UK. The boy's chances of recovery may be close to zero (perhaps especially so after State-mandated delays), but regardless of medical outcome, it strikes me as unspeakably egregious that the British courts have the authority to order their own free citizens to be effectively imprisoned inside the UK until their baby has been suffocated to death. Like Charlie Gard's family, their international travel and supplemental health care would have cost British taxpayers nothing, yet the Evans are being denied basic freedom of movement and the right to try -- albeit against heavy odds -- to save their child's life. If Alfie were healthy, his parents would be entirely free to fly him to Disneyworld, or anywhere else. But he's sick, so they're barred from taking him to another country to explore alternative treatments? It's unfathomably capricious and cruel. Their supporters have grown increasingly desperate and furious, as one might imagine.
The local government has even threatened people commenting on the story that they are monitoring their internet posts. Some people are positing that the government won't let the baby go because they are afraid that their health care system will be shown up if he recovers elsewhere. I'm not quite that cynical, but I still can't get past this arrogant assumption that the government knows better than loving parents what is best for the child and will stop parents from acting even when it doesn't cost the government any money. It's just chilling to think of that mindset.

Guy Benson goes on to tell the story of how the authorities arrested a 78-year-old man for murder after he killed a 38-year old criminal who bork into his home. Eventually, the police decided not to prosecute the elderly man, but there were people who thought this was so horrific that they left a shrine to the criminal outside the home. As Benson asks:
Do Britons still have any meaningful right to self defense? Or is protecting their lives and property -- especially with forbidden tools -- more of a possible ticket to prison than anything else? When The State alone is the Great Protector (except for people like Alfie Evans, of course), all others are conditioned to think twice before doing anything that's "best" left in the hands of the authorities.
He then links to this story of a teenager who posted lyrics from a Jay-Z song online as a tribute to a 13-year old who had died in a car accident. But she was prosecuted for posting offensive language.
Liverpool Justice Centre, sitting at Sefton Magistrates' Court, heard Russell posted the lyrics to her account after the death of a 13-year-old in a road accident in 2017, the Crown Prosecution Service said.

The words Russell used on her account contained a racial label which some people find extremely offensive.

The screenshot was passed to hate crime unit PC Dominique Walker, who told the court the term was "grossly offensive" to her as a black woman and to the general community.

The Liverpool Echo reported that Russell's defence had argued the usage of the word had changed over time and it had been used by superstar rapper Jay-Z "in front of thousands of people at the Glastonbury Festival".

Prosecutor Angela Conlan said Russell's defence also argued her profile "wasn't public", but it had been proved in court that anyone could access it and "see the offensive language".

She said prosecutors also "sourced case law that showed that posting the profile on her account constituted sending it and making it public".

Russell was found guilty of sending a grossly offensive message by a public communication.

She was given an eight-week community order, placed on an eight-week curfew and told to pay costs of £500 and an £85 victim surcharge.
Amazing. A kid can get be convicted of a hate-crime for posting the lyrics of a song that Jay-Z was celebrated for singing at one of the biggest music festivals in Britain. As Benson asks, "Is Great Britain still a free country?"
As you contemplate my original question, also mull over this parting thought: If you were a family friend or relative of Alfie Evans today, you would be liable to be charged and prosecuted for too "abusively" objecting to his treatment (or lack thereof), or for quoting lyrics in his memory on social media that may be deemed unsuitable by some unaccountable tribunal. Doing either of those things would place you in far graver legal danger than any bureaucrat or magistrate who ordered Mr. and Mrs. Evans to remain in Great Britain until their son has perished, compelling them to forego privately-funded medical opportunities elsewhere. How deeply, astoundingly, enragingly perverse. Free people have a general sense of what freedom looks like, and that isn't it. I'll leave you with this, via a Brit who became a US citizen earlier this year:

How long will that be true here? Right now, it's only the First Amendment and some justices on the Supreme Court protecting that freedom of speech. We'll see how long the "right to privacy" will also include your care for a dying relative.

It's fascinating how investigators were able to find the so-called "Golden State Killer" by using genealogy sites.
More than three decades after his trail went cold, one of California's most prolific serial killers and rapists was caught by using online genealogical sites to find a DNA match, prosecutors said Thursday. Investigators compared the DNA collected f-
Authorities alleged that he was responsible for 12 murders and dozens of rapes in California from 1976 to 1986. The suspect, they said, was tied to many of those crimes through DNA.
I guess the lesson here is that, if you're going to be a mass murderer and rapist, make sure your relatives don't submit their own DNA to those websites.