I’m Shocked — Shocked! — that Wealthy Parents Love Their Kids Too

In the film version of Forrest Gump (but not, if memory serves, in the novel), Forrest’s mother tries to convince the local elementary school principal that her son belongs at  his local elementary school rather than at an institution for what we would now call “special needs” students. The two reach an understanding on Mrs. Gump’s remarkably squeaky bed while Forrest waits on the front porch.

That scene popped to mind uninvited in early March when fifty parents, test administrators, and college sports coaches were indicted in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal.

Coaches allegedly took bribes to accept students as fake athletic recruits to get around academic standards. Test prep services supposedly taught students how to cheat on tests and bribed proctors to smooth the way for the cheating. An “admissions consultant,” William Singer, is accused of orchestrating the scheme to the tune of $25 million.

None of which, obviously, is According to Hoyle.

I’m surprised, though, at the vitriol directed at the parents in particular.

I suspect most movie viewers empathized with the fictional Mrs. Gump, who did whatever she felt she had to do to secure the best education possible for her child.

Real-life parents like actors Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman — the two most famous of the indicted parents — did whatever they felt they had to do to secure the best educations possible for their children as well.

The difference, of course, is that the fictional Mrs. Gump was poor, while Loughlin and Huffman are wealthy.

The public heartburn over Loughlin and Huffman seems less about them bribing their kids into good schools than about them being able to AFFORD to bribe their kids into good schools.

Suppose the scandal had unfolded in a different way. What if, instead of rich people writing checks they could afford,  it was working class parents scraping together money they really couldn’t afford, or trading menial work or even sexual favors a la Mrs. Gump, for illicit “admissions assistance?”

In that alternative scenario, I suspect most would regard the parents as victims, not as evil-doers.

In that alternative scenario, I expect that most parents could see themselves doing exactly the same things in the same circumstances.

“Let me tell you about the very rich,” wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald. “They are different from you and me.” True. But not when it comes to loving their children. I won’t condemn them for that.

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Social Media Companies “Struggle” to Help Censors Keep us in the Dark

According to CNN Business,  “Facebook, YouTube and Twitter struggle to deal with New Zealand shooting video.”

“Deal with” is code for “censor on demand by governments and activist organizations who oppose public access to information that hasn’t first been thoroughly vetted for conformity to their preferred narrative.”

Do you really need to see first-person video footage of an attacker murdering 49 worshipers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand?

Maybe not. Chances are pretty good you didn’t even want to. I suspect that many of us who did (I viewed what appeared to be a partial copy before YouTube deleted it) would rather we could un-see it.

But whether or not we watch it should be up to us, not those governments and activists. Social media companies should enable our choices, not suppress our choices at the censors’ every whim.

If Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube had been primary news sources in 1915, would they have permitted us to view footage  (rare, as film was in its early days)  of New Zealanders’ desperate fight at Gallipoli?

How about the attack on Pearl Harbor?

The assassination of president John F. Kennedy?

The second plane hitting the World Trade Center?

Lucinda Creighton of the Counter Extremism Project complains to CNN that the big social media firms aren’t really “cooperating and acting in the best interest of citizens to remove this content.”

The CEP claims that it “counter[s] the narrative of extremists” and  works to “reveal the extremist threat.”  How does demanding that something be kept hidden “counter” or “reveal” it? How is it in “the best of interest of citizens” to only let those citizens see what Lucinda Creighton thinks they should be allowed to see?

CNN analyst Steve Moore warns that the video could “inspire copycats.” “Do you want to help terrorists? Because if you do, sharing this video is exactly how you do it.”

Moore has it backward. Terrorists don’t need video to “inspire” them. Like mold, evil grows best in darkness and struggles in sunlight. If you want to help terrorists, hiding the ugliness of their actions from the public they hope to mobilize in support of those actions is exactly how you do it.

Contrary to their claims of supporting “democracy” versus “extremism,” the social media companies and the censors they “struggle” to assist seem to side with terror and to lack any trust in the good judgment of “the people.”

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Will Elizabeth Warren Take on the Biggest Monopoly of All?

For a “progressive” presidential candidate, US Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is remarkably, well, conservative. Her proposals are neither new nor of the “democratic socialist” variety.  In fact, her aim is, as Matthew Yglesias puts it at Vox, “to save capitalism”  with stock proposals from the first half of the last century.

Much of her campaign platform co-opts Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s  1930s “New Deal” emphasis on social welfare, job creation, infrastructure, and highly progressive taxation to pay for it all — solutions she considers proven, for problems she considers similar.

Her latest proposal, though, takes an earlier Roosevelt as its model. Like  “Trust Buster”  Teddy Roosevelt, she wants to use regulation and antitrust enforcement to “break up monopolies and promote competitive markets.” Her initially announced targets for the idea included Facebook, Google, and Amazon. A couple of days later, she added Apple to  the list.

Interestingly, in her search for monopolies to slay, she ignores the biggest, most powerful, and most lucrative monopoly in America: The US government.

In 2020, the federal government expects revenues of about $3.4 trillion.

That’s more than 60 times what Facebook brought in last year. 25 times as much as Alphabet’s 2018 revenues (Alphabet is Google’s parent company). More than 14 times Amazon’s total 2018 take. Nearly 13 times Apple’s haul.

And then there’s market share. No one really has to do business with Facebook, Google, Amazon, or Apple. There are numerous alternatives to the offerings of each, and many consumers choose those alternatives.

Uncle Sugar, on the other hand, boasts 100% market share for his offerings. You’re required to be his paying customer whether you like it or not. Many of the alternatives are outright illegal, and among the ones that aren’t, you’re required to pay for them in addition to, not instead of,  the federal government’s services.

That’s the very definition of “monopoly.” And it’s the monopoly Elizabeth Warren wants to serve as CEO of.

Is Senator Warren is serious about “breaking up monopolies” and “promoting competitive markets?”

If so, I look forward to her proposal for breaking up the federal government and allowing real alternatives to compete for its market share.

A good start would be 100% federal tax deductibility for the purchase of private sector services that replace the government’s offerings, or a pro rata clawback for binding agreement to not use a particular government service.

Absent such a proposal, seems to me she’s just another greedy monopolist looking to suppress the competition.

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Chelsea Manning: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished Again

One of the 21st century’s greatest heroines is behind bars again, held in contempt by federal judge Claude M. Hilton for refusing to help prosecutors trump up charges against the journalists who published information she paid dearly for giving them.

Chelsea Manning spent more than six years in prison —  854 days of it in pretrial confinement, violating the military’s “speedy trial” maximum of 120 days — for the fake “crime” of showing the American people evidence of actual crimes committed in our name by the US government.

President Barack Obama commuted her sentence three days before he left the White House. That, however, turned out not to be the end of her mistreatment at official hands.

Manning, who testified about  her interactions with WikiLeaks during her illegal 2013 court-martial, refuses to do so again before a grand jury targeting WikiLeaks and its founder/leader, Julian Assange, for their work in bringing hidden truth to light. Under Hilton’s order, she may be held for up to 18 months, or until the grand jury’s term ends, or until she gives in. Her history says she won’t do that.

Grand juries usually function in harness to the wishes of prosecutors. A defense lawyer famously told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle in 1979 that “the district attorney could get the grand jury to indict a ham sandwich if he wanted to.”

But in actuality, grand juries enjoy sweeping powers to look beyond what prosecutors show them. Should that ham sandwich — or that prosecutor — happen to attract their negative notice, they can indict the sandwich, or the prosecutor, whether the prosecutor likes it or not.

Federal prosecutors and judges are weaponizing the grand jury system to attack freedom of the press and freedom of information in support of a fortunately dying ethic of government secrecy. This particular grand jury should punish that behavior instead of rewarding it.

The grand jury should indict federal prosecutors Tracy Doherty-McCormick (who represented the government at the contempt hearing) and Gordon D. Kromberg (who requested the Manning subpoena) as well as their bosses for, among other crimes, conspiracy against rights (US Code 18, Section 241) and deprivation of rights under color of law (US Code 19, Section 242).

In the meantime, those who value truth, justice, and the American way owe Chelsea Manning a massive debt. One way to partially repay that debt is to contribute to her legal fund at https://actionnetwork.org/fundraising/chelsea-manning-needs-legal-funds-to-resist-a-grand-jury-subpoena. I hope you’ll join me in doing so.

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Don’t Panic: The Retail Apocalypse Isn’t Disaster, It’s Progress

In the first week of March, big retail chains announced more than 1,100 planned store closings. That, writes Hayley Peterson at Insider, brings the number of planned US store closings for 2019 to more than 5,300.

The Retail Apocalypse is here, and it has consequences.  Including, reports Krystal Hu for Yahoo! Finance, 41,000 retail jobs cut in January and February.

Yet the US economy recorded a net gain of 20,000 total jobs each in January and February, its 101st straight month of job gains.

The economy is slowing down a bit, and we don’t know yet what consumer spending looked like for January (the Commerce Department was delayed in issuing that report by the federal “shutdown”), but people haven’t stopped and won’t stop buying food, clothing, electronics, etc. Many Americans are tightening their belts for various reasons, but that on its own doesn’t explain the Retail Apocalypse.

What does explain it? Progress.

Nearly 30 years after it became widely publicly accessible, the Internet is in the final stages of killing off physical retail as we once knew it. But it’s not killing the economy.

How much stuff do you buy from Amazon or other online retailers (some of them formerly entirely brick and mortar establishments) that you used to have to hunt down in a physical store?

If your family is anything like mine, the answer is “a lot.” And your needs are met, more conveniently and often at lower prices, by a few humans packing boxes in warehouses instead many humans stocking helves, assisting customers, dragging items over price scanners, and bagging them.

Even if you pick your purchases up at a physical store, there’s a fair chance you ordered them online and had them waiting for you when you arrived.  More convenient for you, less labor required at the seller’s end. I’ve done that twice in the last 24 hours.

At some point in the early 20th century, if the reporting mechanisms we have today had existed, we’d have read panicked  accounts of the Horse and Buggy Apocalypse. The automobile caught on.  Purchases of  surreys with the fringe on top plummeted. People in old industries had to find new jobs. But everyone benefited as it got faster, easier, and cheaper to move people and things around.

In the last few decades we’ve experienced Fax Machine Apocalypses (thanks, email), Album on Vinyl and Cassette Apocalypses (thanks, CDs, MP3s, and streaming media), and a thousand other changes of direction in what we buy and how we buy it.

The world didn’t end.

The current “apocalypse” won’t end it either.

Yes, this next model of commerce will mean difficult transitions for some workers and companies, along with other social dislocations we haven’t noticed or even thought of yet.

But if past performance is indicative of future results, it will also mean we get more of the stuff we need, more new stuff we didn’t even know we wanted, cheaper and faster, along with new opportunities.

Change is scary. But it’s also inevitable. And usually for the better.

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Wish List Politics: Green No Deal

The word of the month for the Democratic Party’s would-be 2020 presidential nominees is “aspirational.”

“The Green New Deal? I see it as aspirational,” US Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) told Fox News on February 12. She would vote for the resolution introduced by US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and US Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), but ” if it got down to the nitty-gritty of an actual legislation, as opposed to, ‘Oh, here’s some goals we have’ — uh, that would be different for me.”

Washington governor Jay Inslee echoed Klobuchar on March 1 as he announced his own candidacy, calling the Green New Deal an “aspirational document” and promising his own proposals on climate change.

“Aspirational” is another of saying that the Green New Deal isn’t a real legislative proposal. It’s just a feel-good wish list of things its proponents think Americans want and want us to believe they want too. It’s not legislation aimed at actually making those things happen.

The resolution asserts “a sense of” Congress, “[r]ecognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal.” If the resolution passed, it wouldn’t create any “deal.” It would just assure Americans that those who passed it really, really want to do so.

It’s full of stuff most people would probably like to see: Prosperity and economic security for all people, clean air and water, healthy food, justice and equity, high-quality health care, adequate housing, just about everything good and desirable except for free ice cream and ponies (perhaps Ocasio-Cortez should have called in Vermin Supreme to consult).

But that’s only half of a “deal” (per Oxford Dictionaries, “an agreement entered into by two or more parties for their mutual benefit, especially in a business or political context”).

If we get all that good stuff, what do we give up for it?

The resolution calls, fuzzily,  for “a new national, social, industrial, and economic mobilization on a scale not seen since World War II and the New Deal,” but it doesn’t advertise that as a cost. It calls such a “mobilization” an “opportunity” and claims that its named predecessors “created the greatest middle class that the United States has ever seen.”

In reality, FDR’s “New Deal” stretched the Great Depression out for years (as of 1940, the unemployment rate was still nearly twice that of 1930), and World War Two diverted  more than 16 million Americans away from productive employment to “employment” which killed nearly half a million of them.

What produced “the greatest middle class that the United States has ever seen” was luck of location: At the end of the war, the US was the only world power with its industrial plant still largely intact, its factories being located beyond enemy bomber range. The economic impact of the “mobilizations” themselves was to keep people poor, dependent on government, and willing to be ordered around by the likes of FDR.

The “mobilization”  the  resolution calls for would likely turn out the same way. Lots of sacrifice, little benefit.

Sorry, Alexandria and Ed: No “deal.”

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