Friday, May 31, 2013

Church Activists Oppose Free Trade: Compassion or Ideology?

From The Institute on Religion and Democracy:
An initiative of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Hunger Program is organizing U.S. and overseas activists to oppose free trade agreements and resist corporate investments in developing countries. This “Joining Hands” initiative was featured in a workshop at an April 5 PCUSA-sponsored conference on “food justice.”

Joining Hands describes itself as “an initiative of the Presbyterian Hunger Program that fights the root causes of hunger by sparking the formation of networks in developing countries. These networks lead the struggle against hunger at a local level while working with PC(USA) presbyteries and congregations to address global hunger issues.” Hunger Program associate Valery Nodem hailed Joining Hands as “the new approach in the church to do mission.” With the rest of the Hunger Program, it is funded through the One Great Hour of Sharing offering.

The Rev. Alexa Smith, PCUSA staff associate for Joining Hands, characterized the initiative as an effort to shine light into the dark places of international commerce. Developing country decisions to enter free trade agreements and allow foreign investment are often made without consulting the people most directly affected, according to Smith. “Most of the decisions that were causing people problems were not public decisions,” she said. “They were decisions that were made in the shadows.” Smith asked her audience to imagine a poor farmer caught by surprise when “a bulldozer was moving toward your house to displace you because the government had leased the land you were living on to a corporation very cheaply to grow a monocrop for export.”

The Joining Hands associate saw such incidents as symptomatic of a global problem: “There are 1.5 billion people in more than 50 resource-rich countries who remain mired in poverty.” Although the resources are abundant, many of those countries have “very authoritarian governments” that appropriate the proceeds from foreign investment for themselves and their loyalists. “Most of the money is siphoned off at the upper level and never filters down for basic needs like infrastructure, health care, education, and housing,” Smith charged.
Here is the dirty little secret of the activists: they don’t really care that much for poor people in poor countries.

They doubtless think they do, but they in fact are motivated by something else: an hostility to capitalism and free markets.

There is no other sufficient way to explain their embrace of crackpot pseudoscience on certain issues:
Nodem was encouraged that people, such as the networks supported through Joining Hands, “are becoming more aware and they are starting to fight back” against the corporations. He counted rising numbers of “divestments or abandoned or postponed projects” as victories for the poor.

Nodem was particularly suspicious of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) developed by multinational corporations. He rejoiced to recount how Haitian farmers had rejected a gift of seeds from Monsanto. Nodem was also pleased to report that “more and more countries around the world have banned or put in place GMO restrictions.” In the United States, he hailed “the whole organic thing” that disdains fertilizers and pesticides.
These folks, like Marquette students who want the university to boycott Palermo’s Pizza, care more about feeling self-righteous than about actually helping those in need.

As Alan F.H. Wisdom points out:
There is no reason to doubt the stories of abuse communicated through the Joining Hands program. In a fallen world, where authoritarian governments and other unjust structures leave many people powerless and vulnerable, it is not surprising that sinful individuals and institutions take advantage. Lack of transparency can make the problems worse.

Free trade may in some sense globalize the opportunities for exploitation. Yet at the same time free trade limits exploitation by undercutting the old local monopolies that used to hold all power. More open economies allow the poor and others to take the initiative in providing for their families. Some of them create their own jobs as entrepreneurs; others find employment with the very corporations that the PCUSA program habitually denounces. All of them benefit from the unprecedented abundance of food produced with the assistance of despised technologies such as fertilizers, pesticides, and genetic modification.

Indeed, this opening of new markets and new opportunities is the means by which hundreds of millions worldwide have emerged from poverty in recent decades. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization reports that over the last 20 years the proportion of undernourished persons in the world has dropped from 19 percent to 12 percent. This is the story that the PCUSA’s Joining Hands initiative is not telling. Perhaps corporations are not always the bad guys.
These clerical leftists are not well-meaning people who are just mistaken. They are rigid ideologues who are putting their anti-capitalist ideology ahead of the interests of poor people in the Third World.

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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Obama Administration Mandates Campus Speech Censorship: More

We recently reported on an initiative by the Obama Departments of Justice and Education to require colleges to impose speech codes on campus speech that is in any way “sexual” or references gender.

Basically, it defined as “sexual harassment” any speech that some person on campus finds “offensive.” Established law dictates that speech, to be considered “sexual harassment,” must be offensive to a “reasonable person of the same gender in the same situation.” The new definition means that anything that somebody takes offense at has to be considered “sexual harassment” notwithstanding that no reasonable person would consider it such.

The Federal government has tried to defend this policy, and it doing so has tripped all over itself.

In a form letter sent to people to write the Office for Civil Rights, the claim is made that:
Furthermore, as we have said in the past, OCR’s regulations and policies do not require or prescribe speech, conduct or harassment codes that impair the exercise of rights protected under the First Amendment.
Then the letter tries to walk back the mandate, by explaining that:
Consistent with OCR’s previous, well-established guidance, the May 9 letter explains that “sexual harassment” is unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature but that sexual harassment is not prohibited by Title IX unless it creates a “hostile environment” — that is, unless the harassment is sufficiently severe, pervasive, or persistent such that it denies or limits the student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the school’s program.
Note that “conduct” includes “verbal conduct” (speech).

And of course, what constitutes a “hostile environment” is entirely a matter of a student’s subjective response to speech he or she does not like.

Back in December, 2011, we were charged with “sexual harassment” by some prissy little feminist in our introductory American Government class because we debunked bogus rape statistics that feminist professors and activists are always touting.

She apparently felt the “environment” was “hostile” because she heard views expressed that were out of sync with her feminist worldview.

The explanation of the policy by the Office for Civil Rights actually makes clear that purely subjective offense is something that universities ought to punish:
Students will be allowed to bring complaints when they have been subjected to unwelcome sexual conduct, and the University will evaluate whether that harassment has created a hostile environment. Making this determination requires, as it has in the past, the University to examine both whether the conduct is objectively offensive and its subjective impact on an individual.
So the “subjective impact” on the individual is sufficient for a finding of “sexual harassment.” Thus students who are intolerant of speech with which they disagree, and feel the speech is “hostile” have a right to have the university punish the speaker.

Marquette’s Non-Response

We queried Chris Miller, Vice President for Student Affairs, about this. He is out of the country, and gave us only a brief reply:
You are correct; we have no formal correspondence on it yet however I am in discussion with General Counsel on the matter. Let us try to connect upon my return.
It would be nice to believe that Marquette (and lots of other universities) would challenge this is court. There is not a snowball’s chance in hell of that happening.

In the first place, there are a large number of administrators (largely in offices that have “diversity” in their names) and quite a large number of faculty who very much like the idea of silencing people who say politically incorrect things about sex and gender. To come out against these rules would inflame them, and start them declaring that Marquette is “soft on sexual harassment.”

Further, as the current scandals surrounding the IRS show, Federal bureaucrats (and especially the “civil rights” enforcers) are liberal, capable of being very vindictive, and capable of causing huge trouble for anybody whom they dislike.

So these rules (like the absurd “Dear Colleague” letter about sexual assault) will probably remain in place, at least until they victimize some student, faculty member or staff member who is defiant enough to challenge them in court.

It’s important to remember that these rules will never be enforced in a neutral and consistent way. They will only be used to punish speech offensive to the politically correct activists who dominate most college campuses.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education notes, for example, that “The Vagina Monologues” could be outlawed for its lewd sexual content. That will never happen. “The Vagina Monologues” is an expression of politically correct feminism, and the socially conservative students who might object quickly learn that, on a modern college campus, they are to shut up and take what is imposed on them.

Likewise, we are very unlikely to ever be harmed by this rule, because (as Provost John Pauly learned the hard way) we can’t be harassed or bullied into silence.

A more likely outcome is that students will learn that any statements or expressions of opinion to which the campus feminists or the campus gay lobby object are voiced only at great personal risk.

And that, of course, would create the exact kind of campus that liberals and leftists want.

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Bill to Hillary: What Difference Does It Make?

The Weekly Standard noticed this interesting article on Bill and Hillary Clinton:

You will likely need to click on the image to read the entire article.

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Sunday, May 19, 2013

Washington Post: Electric Car Folly

From the (liberal) Washington Post:
GM’s vaunted Volt is on the road to nowhere fast

By Editorial Board, Editorial Board

The Washington Post

AS A CANDIDATE for president in 2008, Barack Obama set a goal of getting 1 million all-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles on the road by 2015. In February 2011, the Obama administration’s Energy Department issued an analysis purporting to show that, with the help of subsidies and tax credits, “the goal is achievable.” This was a paltry claim in the first place, since 1 million cars amount to less than 1 percent of the total U.S. fleet. Yet it is increasingly clear that, despite the commitment of many millions of taxpayer dollars, the United States will not hit Mr. Obama’s target by 2015. A recent CBS News analysis suggested that we’ll be lucky to get a third of the way there.

The Energy Department study assumed that General Motors would produce 120,000 plug-in hybrid Volts in 2012. GM never came close to that and recently suspended Volt production at its Hamtramck, Mich., plant, scene of a presidential photo-op. So far, GM has sold a little more than 21,000 Volts, even with the help of a $7,500 tax credit, recent dealer discounting and U.S. government purchases. When you factor in the $1.2 billion cost of developing the Volt, GM loses tens of thousands of dollars on each model.

Some such losses are normal in the early phases of a product’s life cycle. Perhaps the knowledge and technological advances GM has reaped from developing the Volt will help the company over the long term. But this is cold comfort for the taxpayers who still own more than a quarter of the firm.

The Energy Department predicted that Nissan, recipient of a $1.5 billion government-guaranteed loan, would build 25,000 of its all-electric Leaf this year; that car has sold only 14,000 units in the United States.

As these companies flail, they are taking the much-ballyhooed U.S. advanced-battery industry down with them. A Chinese company had to buy out distressed A123, to which the Energy Department has committed $263 million in production aid and research money. Ener1, which ran through $55 million of a $118 million federal grant before going bankrupt, sold out to a Russian tycoon.

No matter how you slice it, the American taxpayer has gotten precious little for the administration’s investment in battery-powered vehicles, in terms of permanent jobs or lower carbon dioxide emissions. There is no market, or not much of one, for vehicles that are less convenient and cost thousands of dollars more than similar-sized gas-powered alternatives — but do not save enough fuel to compensate. The basic theory of the Obama push for electric vehicles — if you build them, customers will come — was a myth. And an expensive one, at that.
In our Public Policy class, we warn students about the dangers of the “Warm Fuzzies School of Policy Analysis.” This way of thinking doesn’t ask tough questions about whether something if economically viable, whether it’s the best approach to a social problem, or even whether it’s scientifically possible. It just endorses anything that gives the person the warm fuzzies. If solar power, or wind energy or electric cars give one the warm fuzzies, it immediately follows that one’s fellow citizens should be taxed to support it, and if necessary coerced to use it.

The really good ideas, of course, can find private financing — there is a huge amount of venture capital in the U.S. economy.

(But private venture capital is derided by people like Barack Obama.)

The things that really make people’s lives better are things they will happily buy, and indeed line up to buy.

But the pet projects of elites have to be imposed on the citizenry.

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Friday, May 17, 2013

Academic Fascism From the “Sustainability” Crowd

From the Wall Street Journal, an article written by Denielle Charette:
For a case study in the illiberalism that has taken over liberal arts colleges, look no further than Swarthmore. I suspect that the Quakers who founded the school in 1864—and prized tolerance above all—wouldn’t recognize the Swarthmore where I am currently a junior.

The latest upheaval has centered on the school’s radical environmentalist club, Mountain Justice, which has led a multiyear campaign calling on the college to divest its $1.5 billion endowment—one of the highest endowments-per-student in the nation—of fossil-fuel companies.

The divestment movement is national, but Swarthmore has been ahead of the curve: Before environmentalist Bill McKibben fired up students across the country last year, Swarthmoreans were staging protests. Numerous professors and the entire history department have endorsed the effort, and administrators and board members have met with Mountain Justice members 25 times over the past two years.

On May 4, the school scheduled an open board meeting on the divestment initiative so that the opinions of board members, faculty, administrators and students would receive a fair hearing. I went to the meeting to listen, and to support a friend who was planning on delivering a few remarks critical of the divestment idea. My friend never got his chance.

The board had invited two representatives from Mountain Justice to sit on a panel with them for the first half of the meeting. What the board didn’t realize was that those same students were positioning themselves to grab the microphone and disrupt the proceedings. The chairman of the Board Investment Committee, Chris Niemczewski, was in the middle of delivering the opening PowerPoint presentation—which, incidentally, estimated the cost of divestment at $200 million over 10 years—when more than 100 student protesters burst into the room, waving signs and shouting.

One of the student panelists grabbed the microphone out of turn and handed it to a line of protestors who delivered speeches that condemned the “liberal script” in the name of “radical, emancipatory change” and “institutional transformation.” Afterwards, my classmates defended their behavior because they were smashing “hegemonic power structures” and “flipping the power dynamic.”

About 10 minutes after the takeover, I stood up and reminded the protesters that other members of the college were there to hear various perspectives. But rather than listen to what I had to say, the students began to shout and clap in unison, drowning out what I was saying. Professors sat silent in the audience. Neither Dean of Students Liz Braun, nor the college president, Rebecca Chopp, spoke up.

I crossed the aisle to speak to the meeting’s moderator, but she refused to do anything. Then I appealed to Ms. Chopp, who conceded that what was unfolding was “outrageous” but said there was nothing she could do. I approached Ms. Braun as well, but she did nothing.

All of this is on video, which some classmates have posted online, exulting in the evidence of how they spoke truth to power. Meanwhile, my peers have derided me on blogs and Facebook. One accused me of “pernicious, destructive, far-reaching silencing.”

They give me far too much credit: I’m an English major who wants Swarthmore to be a place where ideas are freely exchanged. To me, overthrowing a meeting of board members, who are all alumni, is wrong and juvenile.

Apparently the college doesn’t see things that way. The day after disrupting the open board meeting, the protesters insisted on mandatory campus “teach-ins” for all students. Though it was the day before exams at a school that prides itself on its academic rigor, the administration acquiesced and endorsed the teach-ins to heal our “fractured community.”

Each attendee received a list of student “demands,” which included making courses in ethnic studies and gender and sexuality required for graduation. The activists also demanded that Swarthmore revise its judicial process so that “sexual assault cases are no longer confidential.” A refresher course in basic civility might be more useful.

After I sent several emails and a link to the video to President Chopp, she agreed to meet with me a week after the incident. Ms. Chopp conceded that the meeting was handled poorly and that the administration must do a better job of defending all of its students, not merely those with the loudest voices.

Still, I have yet to hear a public defense of our college’s policies. No administrator has condemned the takeover of the board meeting. If that tantrum doesn’t qualify as disorderly conduct and outright intimidation, what does? If moderate or conservative students—no doubt also a “marginalized” group on campus—behaved similarly, would they be held accountable?
We actually can’t actually imagine Marquette students acting this badly.

Admittedly, this kind of intolerant politically correct mentality exists here. It can be found in a deranged rant from one Claire Van Fossen, who accused this blog of “oppressive, hateful content and blatant misogyny, not to mention homophobia, racism and slander of Marquette students” because we criticized the bawdy FemSex Workshop that was sponsored by Marquette’s Gender and Sexuality Resource Center.

Likewise, the ecofascists at Swarthmore accused Denielle Charette of “pernicious, destructive, far-reaching silencing.” The people who cheerfully shut up views they don’t like accuse other people of “oppression” and “silencing!”

Van Fossen, fortunately, is a bit of an outlier at Marquette, although her attitudes are typical of a small cluster of activist students, especially in humanities departments, Sociology and Psychology, and Women’s and Gender Studies.

Swarthmore, on the other hand, is one of those hot-house liberal places that lacks diversity of opinion. According to the Christian journal First Things:
Located in a suburb southwest of Philadelphia, Swarthmore has long been considered one of the top five small liberal-arts colleges in the nation. It is also one of the least religious colleges.

Swarthmore, politically, is even more liberal than it is unreligious. . . . According to one student, “There is one known Republican in my entire class (out of nearly four hundred people), and he is known as ‘the Republican.’” Says the same student, “I suspect that there are quite a few more moderate liberals who just don’t voice their dissent on whatever issue they don’t agree with.”
Marquette is hardly a conservative place, but there is a bit of diversity among students (if little among faculty). Which leads to an interesting reality about academia: the more conservative any college or university is, the more tolerant it is of dissenting and politically incorrect views.

Several leftist faculty have urged Provost Pauly to shut us up. He mostly resisted their demands, and the one time he tried to shut us up, he failed. And we can’t imagine Marquette students trying to shout down and shut up a speaker they don’t like.

But we may not be many years away from that.

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Academic Yahoos: A Roundup

From Walter Williams in The Examiner:
Brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who are accused of setting the bombs that exploded at the Boston Marathon, attended the University of Massachusetts. Maybe they hated our nation before college, but if you want lessons on hating America, college attendance might be a good start. Let’s look at it.

“We need to think very, very clearly about who the enemy is. The enemy is the United States of America and everyone who supports it.” That’s taught to University of Hawaii students by Professor Haunani-Kay Trask. Richard Falk, professor emeritus at Princeton University and the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Palestine monitor, explained the Boston bombings by saying, “The American global domination project is bound to generate all kinds of resistance in the post-colonial world.” Professor Falk has also stated that President George W. Bush ordered the destruction of the twin towers.

University of Southern California professor Darry Sragow preaches hate to his students in his regulation of elections and political finance class, recently telling them that Republicans are stupid, racist losers and that they are angry old white people. A few years ago, Rod Swanson, a UCLA economics professor, told his class, “The United States of America, backed by facts, is the greediest and most selfish country in the world.” Penn State University professor Matt Jordan compared supporters of the voter ID laws to the Ku Klux Klan. Professor Sharon Sweet, an algebra teacher at Brevard Community College, told her students to sign a pledge that read, “I pledge to vote for President Obama and Democrats up and down the ticket.” Fortunately, the college’s trustees fired her.

University of Rhode Island history professor Erik Loomis tweeted, “I want (National Rifle Association executive vice president) Wayne LaPierre’s head on a stick.” He asked, “Can (we) define NRA membership as dues contributing to a terrorist organization?” Here’s a sample of how Professor Loomis frequently expresses himself: “Motherf---ing f---heads f---ing f---.” Then there’s Georgetown law professor Louis Michael Seidman, who explained our national problems by saying, “But almost no one blames the culprit: our insistence on obedience to the Constitution, with all its archaic, idiosyncratic and downright evil provisions.” Professor Seidman worked for The Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia. When he was sworn in as an officer of the court, I wonder what constitution he swore to uphold and defend.

Parents don’t have to wait for college admission for their youngsters to receive America-hating lessons. Scott Compton, an English teacher at Chapin High School in Chapin, S.C., was put on administrative leave after he allegedly threw an American flag on the floor and stomped on it in front of his students. He has chosen to resign.

An Advanced Placement world geography teacher at Lumberton High School in Texas encouraged students to dress in Islamic clothing and instructed them to refer to the 9/11 hijackers not as terrorists but as “freedom fighters.” They were also told to stop referring to the Holocaust as genocide. John Valastro, the superintendent of the Lumberton Independent School District, told Fox News that the teacher did absolutely nothing wrong.

In McAllen, Texas, teachers tried to force a teenager to sing the Mexican national anthem and recite Mexico’s pledge of allegiance. The teen refused, saying it was against her beliefs as an American. She was thrown out of the class and given a failing grade for that day’s assignment. Her father has filed a lawsuit on behalf of his daughter against the McAllen Independent School District.

Investor’s Business Daily ran a story that shows student indoctrination is official union policy: “A New Low From The California Federation Of Teachers: Urine Indoctrination” (12/5/12). The union’s website has a cartoon narrated by leftist Hollywood actor Ed Asner. In tones used when reading to children, Asner says: “(Rich people) love their money more than anything in the whole world. ... Over time, rich people decided they weren’t rich enough, so they came up with ways to get richer.” The cartoon finishes its class warfare message by graphically depicting “the rich” urinating on the poor.

These people running our education system are destroying the minds and values of our young people, and we allow them to do it.
Of course, one could argue that these examples of outrageous indoctrination are atypical, and to an extent they are. But we have blogged about several examples nearly this bad at Marquette. Even an occasional example is an outcropping of a narrow, insular and intolerant culture among academics. When an entire subculture leans left, leftist extremism doesn’t seem that abnormal.

One could also argue that college professors (but not high school teachers) have academic freedom, and can say outrageous things. This, of course, is quite correct. But anybody has an equal right to hold such academics in contempt. Taxpayers have a right to vote against politicians who keep funding public universities at a high level, and parents have a right to look for a college for their kids from among the minority of institutions that actually have a diversity of opinion.

A good place to start is among Christian colleges, and not “Christian” colleges that, like Marquette, are only nominally Christian. There are a few that really are Christian. Those, ironically, would be more congenial to non-believers who are conservative or libertarian than the secular, politically correct places.

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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Economically Illiterate: Demanding a “Living Wage”

Don Walker of the Journal-Sentinel, who wrote an absurdly biased story about attempts in the state legislature to rein in some of the excesses of Milwaukee government, has followed it up with an equally biased story about a demonstration by local union activists demanding a “living wage” at local fast-food restaurants.

It’s basically a puff piece, quoting only activists and people sympathetic to the activists, and giving no indication that anybody but an evil greedy capitalist might oppose the notion.

But in fact, anybody who is serious about public policy will oppose the notion.

Typical of what liberals who know some economics think is this column by Christina Romer, who was chairwoman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers. Dealing with President Obama’s proposal to raise the minimum wage to $9.00 per hour (far less radical than the $15 that the activists want), she goes through the evidence on various related issues. Being a liberal, she bends over backwards to find good in the policy, but still comes out against it.
. . . businesses pass along some of the cost of a higher minimum wage to consumers through higher prices. Often, the customers paying those prices — including some of the diners at McDonald’s and the shoppers at Walmart — have very low family incomes. Thus this price effect may harm the very people whom a minimum wage is supposed to help.

It’s precisely because the redistributive effects of a minimum wage are complicated that most economists prefer other ways to help low-income families. For example, the current tax system already subsidizes work by the poor via an earned-income tax credit. A low-income family with earned income gets a payment from the government that supplements its wages. This approach is very well targeted — the subsidy goes only to poor families — and could easily be made more generous.
Just how generous the welfare state is for low income workers in Wisconsin can be seen by going to the website access.wi.gov.

There, one can enter a hypothetical person or family, and see what sort of aid they would get if they worked for the current minimum wage.

Suppose, for example, we posit a family with a single mom and two children.  She is working 30 hours per week (it’s easier to get a part-time job than a full-time job) at the current Federal minimum wage ($7.25 per hour).  Her children  are both school age (8 and 11).  She pays $500 a month for an apartment, and has to pay a heating bill.

What does she get, according to the official state website?
  • Her earnings are $935 per month
  • She can get a minimum of $430 a month in food stamps
This works out to $16,380 per year.  In addition she can get yearly:
  • A minimum of $5,236 Federal Earned Income Tax Credit
  • Wisconsin Earned Income Tax Credit of $575
  • At heating benefit of at least $210
  • A benefit toward her electric bill of at least $166
Thus her actual income (if you count food stamps as “good as cash”) is $22,567. (Given the complication of some of these programs, this is actually an approximation, but it’s most likely on the low side.)

In addition to these benefits, her family can get:
  • BadgerCarePlus Standard plan
  • Help paying for child care
  • Free school lunches for the children
  • Summer meals for the children
Note that her cash income ($22,567) is well above the $19,530 that is the Federal Poverty Level for Wisconsin for a family of three.

A Rational Welfare State

What we have here is a rational welfare state. It’s not perfect, and it’s probably a bit too generous, but what it does is help workers with little human capital (and thus little earning ability) without distorting labor markets.

Then why are the labor and left activists such yahoos about the issue?

They would not admit it (perhaps not even to themselves), but they want labor markets distorted. When a high minimum wage causes unemployment, that is an excuse for more stimulus spending. When income inequality increases because poor people are put out of jobs, that’s an excuse for more redistribution. When poor people have trouble affording food because prices have been driven up, that’s a reason to spend more on food stamps.

Of course, an extremely high minimum age reduces the incentive for employers to resist unionization. That goes to the fundamental agenda behind the whole “living wage” movement. It’s not really about low-wage workers at all. It’s about unionizing the workforce, since unions are the key organizational backbone behind the Democratic Party. This isn’t humanitarian politics at all. It’s about giving more power to leftist elites.

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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Nice List of Government Boondoggles

From, of all places, the Washington Post, along with nice pictures.

It seems the paper is willing to include some of the liberals’ favorite “green energy” fiascos.

Sorry, I don’t know how to avoid the ad at the beginning.

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Friday, May 10, 2013

Obama Administration Mandates Campus Speech Censorship

From the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education:
WASHINGTON, May 10, 2013—In a shocking affront to the United States Constitution, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education have joined together to mandate that virtually every college and university in the United States establish unconstitutional speech codes that violate the First Amendment and decades of legal precedent.

“I am appalled by this attack on free speech on campus from our own government,” said Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which has been leading the fight against unconstitutional speech codes on America’s college campuses since its founding in 1999. “In 2011, the Department of Education took a hatchet to due process protections for students accused of sexual misconduct. Now the Department of Education has enlisted the help of the Department of Justice to mandate campus speech codes so broad that virtually every student will regularly violate them. The DOE and DOJ are ignoring decades of legal decisions, the Constitution, and common sense, and it is time for colleges and the public to push back.”

In a letter sent yesterday to the University of Montana that explicitly states that it is intended as “a blueprint for colleges and universities throughout the country,” the Departments of Justice and Education have mandated a breathtakingly broad definition of sexual harassment that makes virtually every student in the United States a harasser while ignoring the First Amendment. The mandate applies to every college receiving federal funding—virtually every American institution of higher education nationwide, public or private.

The letter states that “sexual harassment should be more broadly defined as ‘any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature’” including “verbal conduct” (that is, speech). It then explicitly states that allegedly harassing expression need not even be offensive to an “objectively reasonable person of the same gender in the same situation” — if the listener takes offense to sexually related speech for any reason, no matter how irrationally or unreasonably, the speaker may be punished.

This result directly contradicts previous Department of Education guidance on sexual harassment. In 2003, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) stated that harassment “must include something beyond the mere expression of views, words, symbols or thoughts that some person finds offensive.” Further, the letter made clear that “OCR’s standards require that the conduct be evaluated from the perspective of a reasonable person in the alleged victim’s position, considering all the circumstances, including the alleged victim’s age.”

Among the forms of expression now punishable on America’s campuses by order of the federal government are:
  • Any expression related to sexual topics that offends any person. This leaves a wide range of expressive activity—a campus performance of “The Vagina Monologues,” a presentation on safe sex practices, a debate about sexual morality, a discussion of gay marriage, or a classroom lecture on Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita — subject to discipline.
  • Any sexually themed joke overheard by any person who finds that joke offensive for any reason.
  • Any request for dates or any flirtation that is not welcomed by the recipient of such a request or flirtation.
There is likely no student on any campus anywhere who is not guilty of at least one of these “offenses.” Any attempt to enforce this rule evenhandedly and comprehensively will be impossible.
That, of course, is the main point. When a vast array of speech is illegal, and only a small proportion of potentially “offensive” speech is punished, what will be punished is unpopular speech.

Thus, “The Vagina Monologues” is absolutely safe. Discussion of “safe sex” practices will always be protected. But a Christian ethical critique of homosexual sex will be punished. Criticism of feminism will be punished. Politically incorrect speech will be punished, but politically correct speech, no matter how objectively offensive, will be allowed.
“The federal government has put colleges and universities in an impossible position with this mandate,” said Lukianoff. “With this unwise and unconstitutional decision, the DOJ and DOE have doomed American campuses to years of confusion and expensive lawsuits, while students’ fundamental rights twist in the wind.”

“The Departments of Education and Justice are out of control,” continued Lukianoff. “Banning everyday speech on campus? Eliminating fundamental due process protections? Ignoring its own previous statements? They even misquoted the Supreme Court. This cannot be allowed to continue. FIRE will use all of its resources to oppose this menace to our constitutional freedoms and to free speech and academic freedom on campus.”
It remains to be seen, of course, whether this mandate will survive a court challenge. If federal judges hue to precedent, it certainly will not.

But it is questionable how much longer the federal judiciary will protect free speech when liberal elites are more and more wanting speech they dislike censored.

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Thursday, May 09, 2013

Liberal Book Burners (Literally)

It seems the Heartland Institute, which is skeptical of man-made global warming, sent some of its books to the San Jose State University Meteorology Department.

Not being too keen on dissenting views, two of the faculty members (one of them the department chair) put a match to it.



Yes, the typical academic tolerance of dissenting opinions.

The current web page of the department has the image removed. But of course, the original version is archived.

Sometimes academics, regardless of their better judgment, let their inner authoritarian out.

Hat Tip: Watts Up With That? and Cold Springs Shops

[Update]

We wrote one of the scientists in the photo, Craig Clements, and he responded as follows:
Thanks for your email. No, the book was never burned. We never intended to burn the book. The Department of Meteorology and Climate Science has removed the material in question from its website, and regrets what was clearly an ill-conceived attempt at satire. Please be assured the university does not condone book burning for any reason.
It’s nice that they considered this a form of “satire,” but the symbolism was absurdly bone-headed.

It’s also the case that the whole global warming movement has been shockingly intolerant of dissent. So we have to wonder whether the San Jose State University Meteorology Department would ever hire a professor who was skeptical of the theory, or whether they would ever invite a speaker who was critical. And we also wonder what would happen to the grade of a student who failed to embrace anthropogenic global warming.

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Monday, May 06, 2013

Cultural Bias and Gun Control

It’s long been obvious that liberals’ desire for gun control simply doesn’t reflect any sort of rational policy calculus.

As Americans are increasingly realizing, no gun control policy short of outright confiscation (and probably not even that, since government could not get the guns of the violence-prone) has any hope of reducing gun violence.

Liberals, for example, simply ignore the fact that the 1994-2004 assault weapons ban had no detectable effect on gun violence.

Neither do they pay any attention to the fact that the best scientific studies of local gun control ordinances show little if any effect.

Then there is the fact that concealed carry laws, according to the best social science evidence, create no increase in gun violence, and may well have a strong deterrent effect on crime.

So what is going on here? The impetus for gun control is simply the cultural hostility of liberal elites toward gun buffs and the sort of people whom they stereotype as liking guns. For example, one columnist for the New York Daily News said of Sarah Palin’s appearance at the National Rifle Association convention in Houston:
Sarah Palin showed up at the NRA convention the other day, which was merely perfect. She belonged there as much as anybody in the hall just because from the start, from the time John McCain picked her out of the chorus, Palin has most appealed to mean, dumb, angry crowds exactly like the one she found in Houston.
Then, of course, there was Josh Horwitz of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, who told USA Today of the people attending the convention “The world’s changing around them, and they’re hunkering down.”

Ironically, the attitudes of the American people are changing, and they are becoming more supportive of gun rights.

This kind of contempt for gun rights people was clear in the tantrum that Obama threw when the Manchin-Toomey bill went down in the Senate. He whined that:
“The gun lobby and its allies willfully lied about the bill.” The Senators who voted against it are cowardly and had “no coherent arguments as to why we wouldn’t do this. It came down to politics.” And finally “a minority was able to block it from moving forward” through “this continuing distortion of Senate rules.”
By the time the bill came to a vote in the Senate, it had been watered down to contain little more than an expansion of background checks. Supposedly, 90% or so of Americans favored that, and it seemed reasonable enough. Unfortunately, as the Wall Street Journal noted:
Mr. Obama is technically right that Manchin-Toomey [gun control compromise bill] would not create a federal firearms registry. Then again, its most clamorous supporters are also contemptuous of the Second Amendment, and they are explicitly hoping for a fifth Justice to overturn the Supreme Court’s landmark gun-rights rulings. Manchin-Toomey opponents can be forgiven for worrying that gun controllers will attempt to build a registry from whatever records they get.
Of course, if there were the slightest whiff of a possibility that the government might build a database of people of whom liberals are solicitous (left-wing teachers or Muslims with some distant connection to terrorism, for example) the “civil libertarians” would be out in force, denouncing the incipient police state. But the “civil libertarians” don’t like gun owners. At least, they don’t like white male gun owners in red states. Minority teen gang bangers, the people most likely to actually harm somebody with a gun, are another matter.

Ultimately, for liberals it was not about reducing gun crime at all, but rather sticking it to the NRA, and to those red state voters they consider ignorant rubes.

As local talk show host Charlie Syles said on Right Wisconsin:
There was in Obama’s view no principled opposition. There was no rational basis for not giving the president what he wanted. His opponents did not simply have other ideas that needed to be respected and accommodated; they were cowards and liars.

His message to Red State America: I really, really despise you.

Obama’s attitude is not new, of course. Longtime students of the president will recall his 2008 characterization of his fellow citizens: “They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment …”

Bitter, ignorant, and bigoted.

This was not a gaffe or a slip; it was a revealing glimpse into Obama’s political id, the full-on sneering contempt of the academic/political/media elite in its fullest expression.

Why does the president feel free to express such naked disdain for his countrymen? Because they are not his voters. And the media will not call him on it because, by and large, they share his attitudes.
In the wake of the 2012 election, liberals somehow believed that they were in control, and that the evil forces of reaction and ignorance had been forever routed. Greek dramatists had a word for that sort of thinking: hubris.

[Update]

More cultural bigotry on display from CNN in an opinion column. The writer says that:
The annual festival of conspiracy theorizing, belligerent fist-shaking and anxious masculinity known as the National Rifle Association convention came to Houston over the weekend, and it was everything the organizers hoped it would be.
And at the end of the column:
. . . the NRA has become even more extreme, even more paranoid, even more ensconced in its self-reinforcing world in which guns are all that matter. There may be a few Republicans who now have the courage to stand up to them. But there are still plenty such as Perry, Cruz and Palin, who will troop to their convention and jump into their festering pool of anger and fear. They don’t seem to realize how it makes them smell.
Yes, a lot of liberals really, really hate NRA members, as well as the mass of gun owners who don’t belong to the NRA, but don’t want their guns taken away.

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Sunday, May 05, 2013

Liberals and Science: Pesticides Hoax

From the (liberal) Huffington Post:
“Many of the ‘healthiest foods’ we eat may not be as healthy as we think” was the lede of a recent Channel 11 news story out of Pittsburgh. It was based on the Environmental Working Group’s just released 2013 “Dirty Dozen” report on pesticide residues on produce, which is trotted out every year by the NGO. These misleading pseudo-analyses frighten consumers and actually discourage them from buying healthy fruits and vegetables.

The news story continues, “Pesticides are meant to kill pests, but the residue isn’t meant to be eaten, and it could be harmful to your health.” Actually, the only truth in that statement is that “pesticides are meant to kill pests.” The rest of it is false, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, which unambiguously states that “U.S. food does not pose a safety concern based upon pesticide residues.”

The Channel 11 news story is typical of the insidious reporting that results from the EWG list. (We refuse to call it a study.) In fact, such news stories are the very reason EWG releases the report each year — to generate coverage that inhibits people from eating produce that isn’t organic. Unless of course, the produce is on the relatively new list, “The Clean Fifteen,” which contain the lowest level of pesticides, according to EWG.

EWG tries to make their “Shopper’s Guide” appear legitimate by relying on samples taken and tested by the USDA and FDA. According to an article in The Huffington Post, “The EWG looked at six measures of pesticide contamination, gave each measurement a score from one to 100 and compiled the results.

But what was their methodology, if you could call it that? “In government tests analyzed by the Environmental Working Group, detectable pesticide residues were found on 67 percent of food samples after they had been washed or peeled. We found striking differences between the number of pesticides and amount of residues detected on Dirty Dozen Plus™ and Clean Fifteen™ foods.” (Yes, they’ve trademarked the names.)

In essence their approach is (in our words), “Some produce had more residue and some had less. We put the ones with most on a list and called them ‘dirty’ and the ones with least and made a different list and called them ‘clean.’”

This type of gimmick should result in an “F” in a 4th grade science fair, not adoring coverage in major media.

Federal agencies agree that pesticide residues, even from those topping the dirty dozen list, are not in the least harmful at the levels they occur. If you think the government agencies are in cahoots with “big agriculture” and you shouldn’t believe them, consider that even the first lady in her “Let’s Move” campaign advocates consumption of more fruits and vegetables, and hasn’t insisted they be organic.

Yet the Dirty Dozen is resurrected each year, and each time — like Charlie Brown fooled by Lucy pulling away the football at the last second — the media buy into it.

The EWG’s crying “Wolf!” about this non-issue began in 1995, when, backed by such eminent scientific entities as the Barbra Streisand Foundation (we are not making this up), the organization published its first “Dirty Dozen” — a list of produce that supposedly contained the highest levels of chemical pesticides. The annual list, which this year includes some of the most nutritious and delicious components of our diet - such as apples, tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, peaches, strawberries and grapes - is accompanied by an admonition to limit consumption of those kinds of fresh produce and to avoid conventionally grown varieties in favor of the more costly organic options.

However, a study published in 2011 in the Journal of Toxicology by Dr. Carl Winter and Josh Katz of UC-Davis showed that 90% of the cases “exposed” in EWG’s 2010 list involved levels of pesticides 1,000 times lower than the chronic reference dose (the level of daily exposure likely to be without an appreciable risk of deleterious effects during a lifetime of chronic exposure). They concluded, “The potential consumer risks from exposure to the most frequently detected pesticides on the ‘Dirty Dozen’ list of foods are negligible and cast doubts as to how consumers avoiding conventional forms of such produce items are improving their health status.”

Moreover, as Dr. Winter wrote in a separate commentary for the International Food Information Council, “Three-quarters of the pesticide/commodity combinations [identified by the EWG] showed consumer exposure estimates more than one million times lower than doses given to laboratory animals continuously over their entire lifetimes that do not show adverse effects.”

These are critical observations because, as has been known from antiquity, “the dose makes the poison”; in other words, a substance is toxic only if the dose and length of exposure are sufficient to cause damage - a fundamental principle of toxicology seemingly alien to the EWG (which relies heavily on the percentage of samples with pesticide, rather than on potentially toxic levels). Moreover, the EWG’s main recommendation - to “buy organic” - is belied by the fact that many organically grown versions of the “dirty” products are also “contaminated.” As Winter and Katz pointed out, the same data from the Department of Agriculture Pesticide Data Program used by the EWG indicate that there are pesticide residues in nearly a quarter of organic food samples.

The “Dirty Dozen” list is always a headline grabber for EWG, so it is no wonder that the media-hungry activist group keeps updating the same worthless analysis each year. The report informs — or more aptly, misinforms — the public conversation about the alleged dangers of pesticides on food. EWG cleverly publishes the report in the spring, just as Americans are getting excited about the prospect of summer produce.

The media have failed dismally to do their homework. Reporters consistently fail to ask pertinent questions about dose, exposure, likelihood of actual harm or compliance with federal regulations. Had they done so, they would have discovered that the pesticide tolerances in food established by the EPA are extraordinarily conservative — that is, highly risk averse — and that even these stringent limits are exceeded less than one percent of the time. But reporters and editors regurgitate the same old story, touting the Dirty Dozen’s supposed dangers while ignoring the science that belies the warnings

Although the minuscule amounts of synthetic pesticides in our foods pose negligible health risks, some activists actually advise consumers not to eat fruits and vegetables at all if they can’t afford organic varieties — in spite of decades of evidence that those who eat the most conventionally grown fruits and vegetables have half the cancer rates for practically every type of cancer and live longer than those who eat less.
We might add, of course, that the extra expense of organic food is easily borne by the affluent yuppies that are the core constituency of places like Whole Foods, but not so available to people who have to eat on food stamps.
We will never convince the intransigent ideologues of the error of their ways, but the media can — and must — do better at presenting accurate and complete information.
Liberals like to claim that conservatives are “anti-science,” since a lot of Christian conservatives don’t believe in evolution, and a lot of conservatives (secular and religious) are skeptical about anthropogenic global warming.

But when an issue comes up that serves neither the social biases of liberals (as evolution does) nor their class interests (as global warming does) the situation is different.

Their dislike of business shows in their rejection of the science on fracking, and their faddish embrace of organic and locally-grown produce.

Their cultural biases against the sort of people who own guns causes them to ignore the social science evidence on the 1994-2004 assault weapons ban, and the evidence that concealed carry laws at worst do no harm, and there is much evidence that they deter crime.

And liberals, being much like likely than conservatives to be secular, are more attracted to flaky new-ageist things like astrology. So social and ideological biases can cause people all across the ideological spectrum to ignore sound science. The problem is that the ignorance of the liberals is much less likely to be challenged in schools, and in the media.

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Saturday, May 04, 2013

Inside the Playboy Mansion

You thought it might be glamorous or something?

The author of this piece said of one room that it “looks like something that would accompany a 1-star TripAdvisor review of a Polish ski resort.”

Hugh Heffner’s old sex for sale formula has always been tawdry. But now form mirrors substance.

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Wednesday, May 01, 2013

How to Get Rid of Gitmo