Sunday, January 27, 2013

Ben Shapiro: "Bullies" -- we always knew what the Left is capable of

Author: Ben Shapiro
Title: “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences America
Publication: 2013, Threshold (Simon & Schuster), ISBN 978-1-4767-0999-4, Seven chapters, 324 pages, indexed, hardcover
Amazon link

The dust jacket identifies the handsome young author as the editor-at-large of  and as having become the youngest syndicated columnist in the United States. He discusses Andrew Breitbart extensively, especially with his ode at the end, mention accomplishments like exposing ACORN. But I don’t see any mention of at least one very disturbing episode, the Shirley Sherrod resignation in the summer of 2010 (as explained in Wikipedia here

But let’s get right to his title, “bullies”.  He’s right.  Libertarians are always saying that the Left can yield bigger bullies than the Right and is even more likely to try to stifle independent, spontaneous speech with low barriers to entry.  That’s certainly important, given, for example, the recent tragedy concerning Aaron Swartz, who certainly seems to have been targeted by prosecution rather connected to the Left.

But really, isn’t the whole problem of “bullying” something that happens anywhere you have a social and political establishment?  Both sides do it.  Any society needs someone in charge and some sort of leadership, and any leadership can become corrupt.  There is always some tension between stability and freedom.  And what does “bullying” saw, but something like this:  We are in charge, you depend on us, and you must do what we say.  Is it an implementation of superiority?  Or a tool for disciplining the troops.  As I found out as a substitute teacher, all teachers (with anything less than adult-like kids) have to do a little bullying to keep order, and I found that to be a problem.

He has his areas of leftist bullying organized into seven areas, which makes the book pretty easy to follow, although some of the areas overlap.

I once met a gay “trick” (back in 1976, when living in NYC)  who spoke of “the abuse of the media”.  The attempts of the major media companies, through Congress, to bully smaller Internet users (not the real pirates but low cost artists who may seem to threaten their heavily guilded industry) certainly fueled the battle over PIPA and SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) which threatened the Internet-as-we-know-it by trying to undermine provider immunity to downstream liability.  Shapiro didn’t go into this, but it’s an excellent introduction to the problem of “institutionalism” (which one time was asked about on a high school government test when I went to school) and its use to maintain gatekeeping and “barriers to entry”.  

He makes a suggestion early that he would be OK with allowing only people who have served in the military to have a vote in matters of foreign policy, although it's hard to see how that could even be implemented. 
On his chapter on “race bullies”, he gives a detailed account of the Trayvon Martin death case, defending George Zimmerman and explaining how the race card was manipulated.  I buy most of this, but I do recall that Zimmerman was told by cops (when he first called in the problem) not to pursue, and he did anyway.

His chapter on “Class Bullies” might describe the heart of leftist indignation and tactics.  I got familiar with this in my own coming-of-age days around 1972 when I spied on “The People’s Party” in New Jersey and was shocked to overhear their plans for revolution by force if necessary, and their rants against the whole concept of capitalism and private property.   He talks about the bailouts after the Financial Crisis of 2008 – but shortsights the idea that the crisis arose because of the reckless behavior of “capitalism” during the Bush years, and also the fact that the bailouts really started with Bush before he left office.  One of my own late mother’s “conservative” friends use to rail against the bailouts at Sunday School.  Just go cold turkey!   But Shapiro goes on to make troubling observations against the GM and Chrysler bailout, as he gets into his criticism of labor unions.  He says that some bond holders were wiped out and got nothing for their equity.  I don’t know if this is true.  I don’t think that anything like this happened to my own estate (there had been losses from Worldcom and later Citibank), but I feel concerned personally enough about what he says here that I need to check again.

I was quite entertained by Shapiro’s characterization of the Occupy Wall Street (and other Occupy) movements.  On p. 144, Shapiro refers to a “large group of smelly, violent, stupid people” as if they had lived in outhouses.

I certainly appreciate Shapiro's concerns over union domination of some workplaces, and the ability of some unions to hijack the political and free speech of their own members.  He would certainly support right-to-work laws on the theory than unions can dominate entry as much as employers can.  It was unions who led New York City to its Financial Crisis of 1975 ("Ford to City, drop dead!"), and it was the teachers' union that "bailed" the City out eventually to prevent default.
The chapter on Sex Bullies attacks “feminism” (as we know it), starting with a discussion of Sarah Palin (remember the HBO film “Game Change”, my movies blog, March 11, 2012, which had portrayed her as not knowing anything).  He mentions Betty Friedan and then has to walk a tightrope when he gets to the issue of women wanting to have it both ways.  I’ve always thought there was a bit of a logic gap in this whole matter of gender equality.  Since women can do almost everything (except hit 500-foot home runs) as well as men, a free labor market will welcome their skills, and does.  (After all, doesn’t Mark Zuckerberg let his older, wiser sister run his company?)  But then there will be men who could fear that will not find potential spouses who will be submissive to them – we really see that in soe Islamic cultures.   Likewise, one-earner families will have a hard time “competing”, and women who really want to dedicate themselves to raising their children might have trouble finding potential husbands who would find them sexually interesting.  Let’s be frank about it.  Libertarians, however, say that these things will just shake themselves out.  It’s “different strokes for different folks”.
He goes on to speak of “gay bullies” and “gay education bullies”.  He has to deal with some ultimate contradictions that will fall out traditional opposition to gay marriage.  I talked in detail about this on another posting on my GLBT Issues blog yesterday.  In general, “marriage equality” wasn’t an issue as long as “being left alone” was the main problem, a few decades ago, during my own coming of age.  Shapiro admits that gays themselves were bullied in the past and takes the libertarian position that the government shouldn’t enter the bedroom (so I  guess he would support Lawrence v. Texas, 2003).  But he really doesn’t get into why anti-gay attitudes were seen as normal until more recently, even though he gives another chance to do so in his last chapter on “secular bullies”. 

Religious faith does deal with the human and social resources people need to deal with
the unpredictable”, hardships, and the emotional bonds (starting in the nuclear family) they need to carry civilization forward.  Inevitably, this leads to imposing on those who are “different” – talented in their own special ways but not able to conform easily without some sort of personal humiliation. Most of the time, a modern “ideological truce”, based on privacy for individuals and yet honoring the tradition family, has worked for a lot of us (including me).  But the problem is, without “equality”, those who don’t conform emotionally can get set up for expropriation.  I did.

Shapiro also never gets around to the military "don't ask don't tell" policy issue, which probably would seem off-track to him.  But that links back to the draft.  And who got us into Vietnam?  Largely Kennedy and Johnson.  Who replaced student deferments with a lottery and then ended the draft? Nixon. I took Basic Training during the end of the Johnson era -- bad times.  
Shaprio gets into a discussion of the way the Left abuses science (in its desire to keep religion out of public policy).  For example, he is properly skeptical of claims that homosexuality is genetic.  He neglects to talk about the role of epigenetics, information that has been known a few years but wasn’t widely circulated until late 2012, perhaps after his book had gone to press.  But the real question is more, why did people used to regard homosexual behavior as criminal or sinful?  I’ll leave aside the worst right wing medical fantasies that got disseminated during the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s (they didn’t prove to be right anyway).  It’s always sounded to me like a tribal thing.  Families feel they must have lineage, any cultural expression that reduces its future procreation (or weakens the incentive of others to believe they need families) must be kept in check.  I felt this big time because I am an only child (a “little emperor”).  Anyway, Shapiro never quite goes there. He should notice what's going on in Uganda now. 
On the education thing, Shapiro could have done something with school bullying, for example the “neutrality” curriculum policy in the Anoka school district north of Minneapolis.  I do think that one can make a case for zero-tolerance toward all bullying and yet keep the curricula within the range that some more conservative parents want.  Shapiro could have argued for this.
Shapiro also has a chapter on “environmental bullies”.  He gives a particular galling case of EPA abuse of a landowner in Idaho.  But I think his treatment of climate change , claiming that the Left (and Al Gore in “An Inconvenient Truth”) has hijacked basic calculus, is unconvincing.  It seems to me that conservatism should argue for protecting the climate and our infrastructure by real problem solving.  Does he take up the need to harden the power grid against solar storms or possible terror (EMP) attacks?  No, but that’s an opportunity.  Of course, that takes money – and maybe profits – but the point of profits is to have capital to reinvest.  In fact, the prospect of a really unstable environment could be construed as making a case for social conservatism – for arguing that nuclear and extended families need to be more cohesive, and that “individual sovereignty” needs to honor a Santorum-like notion of common good. 

The interview of Shapiro above was conducted by Glenn Beck. Who else? 

I will say, Stalin was a brutal as Hitler (so was Pol Pot). And today, North Korea is more dangerous than Iran or Al Qaeda.   

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Now, Lance Armstrong's books will test whether authors (and publishers) can be liable for "fraud"

Can authors be sued, in a class action, because a non-fiction account they write isn’t true?
This isn’t about defamation or libel, where truth is an absolute defense (in the US).  It is about the idea that the book-purchasing consumer has been defrauded or deceived.

Carolyn Kellogg has a story in the Los Angeles Times about a class action suit against cyclist Lance Armstrong for fraud in his 2000 book “It’s Not About the Bike”, published by Putnam in 2000, as well as “Every Second Counts”, published by Broadway in 2003.
Amazon shows both books as available at bargain price from Amazon’s Prime service. 

A Toronto Star story by Curtis Rush indicates that publishers are defendants as well, for "conspiracy",  The suit was filed in California and the plaintiffs are Rob Stutzman and Jonathan Wheeler.

Practically all publishers require authors to indemnify them, so it sounds very unlikely the publishers could be on the hook (it’s rather like a Section 230 for print).  
There was a similar suit against Greg Mortensen for “Three Cups of Tea:  One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time” in Montana, which was dismissed.  That lawsuit had alleged that the publisher (Penguin) was part of a “conspiracy”.  

Friday, January 04, 2013

Stephen Moore: "Who's the Fairest of Them ALL?" Why "flat" is fair

Author: Stephen Moore (with Foreword by Glenn Hubbard)

Title: “Who’s the Fairest of Them All?  The Truth About Opportunity, Taxes, and Wealth in America

Publication: 2011, Encounter Books, ISBN 978-1-59403-684-2, hardcover, 122 pages (also available as e-book), seven chapters

Amazon link is here

First, let’s mention that this book went to press before the “Fiscal Cliff” deal was patched together over the New Year’s holiday, and it often mentions the Fiscal Cliff and upcoming debt ceiling issues, in order to criticize Obama’s desire to make the rich pay higher marginal tax rates, as “fair”. 
Morre offers the simple argument that well-off people are typically more productive, and, when left alone from government, tend to innovate more and raise the standard of living for everyone, including the poor.
He offers many specific examples where innovations made people rich, but those individuals (like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates) continued to invent in such a way as to make everyone better off.  And of course, in many areas of life, that is certainly true.

He also argues that when marginal tax rates on higher incomes are lower, rich people actually wind up paying a larger share of the taxes.  That seems to be true.  He also argues for not taxing investment income or corporations at all, because then, he says, companies will employ more people.  Perhaps so.

His last chapter is, “Why flat is fair”.  Remember, back in the 1990s, Steve Forbes had argued for a flat tax.  Moore mentions Hong Kong as a booming place with a flat tax.  He also notes that states without state income taxes (Texas) are generally faring better than the “high cost, high service” states.

There is something a bit offensive about the tone of some of this rhetoric.  “We rich people employ you and spend our money on your products, so you do what we say.”  Coming from a Rand Paul in the Fiscal Cliff debate, it sounds a bit like power hunger. And the opposite side of that is, of course, “Marxist” class warfare.  Moore argues well that “workers” may indeed be better off when the rich keep more about what they earn.  There is, of course, a good question: why not carve out lower rates for businesses hiring workers, even closely held family businesses, and tax “discretionary” income more and separately.  Aren’t we doing that sort of thing (social engineering) with child tax credits?

The media has portrayed this book as about “fairness” although for more of its brief length it doesn’t seem so.  It seems more about economic pragmatism.  But there are places to pick bones.  For example, the FICA tax has always been separate, and “regressive” because it seems to be set up as a “pseudo-annuity”.  Moore asks, is it “fair” to keep collecting it when Social Security may not pay out in the future?  That leads to the question, why not means test social security payments now (maybe based on accumulated or inherited wealth as well as income).  But is that fair to me?  After all, I paid into the system for thirty years expecting my “annuity”.  Is it fair that I should be stiffed? That just could happen if the debt ceiling really gets broached early in 2013.

Moore does mention unwed mothers and welfare, but for the most part he stays away from the social issues, and he is likely a social libertarian.  (Let me add here, that I read this on the Metro, and got some dirty looks.)  

But much of the current debate about social policy – most recently gay marriage – has been about “equality” and “rights”, and about “fairness” that goes beyond economic equity (for example, discrimination in the workplace and equal pay for women) to the more subtle areas about how we perceive each other as individuals, who obviously cannot all assume equal risks or equal “personal responsibility” for results.  People do “start ahead in line” (or behind), and people do benefit from the unseen sacrifices of others.  That can generate indignation, and sometimes violence and social or political instability.  Totalitarian governments have tried to make people share this sort of risk and burden more “equally”, and the end result can be poverty for everyone.  Look not only at North Korea but also at Maoist China after the 60s.  Social conservatives sometimes try argue that the “natural family” should mediate local inequalities among people inasmuch as they occur as part of nature, but then you have the problem that different individuals (including gays and lesbians) sometimes have very different ideas about how bloodline and family (and having children at all) fits into their self-interest, and that feeds for inequality (as over discretionary income and very personal sacrifice and risk taking).  Social values will certainly figure into the way we handle entitlements in an aging population with fewer children.  How much of this needs to be the (not always chosen) responsibility of other family members and not government?  

A little technical note about the book.  The text is not right-aligned, giving it a ragged look, and there was at least one accidental font change. 

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Booklet explains how service dogs work for epilepsy

Some media outlets have promoted the booklet “My Seizure Dog”, by Evan Moss, a child with tuberous sclerosis. The booklet shows how a service dog can anticipate a child’s having a seizure before it happens. 
The Amazon link for the paper version is here.

There is also a Kindle version. The official publisher is Moss Family Publishing (Lexington, KY) and the ISBN is 978-1463566715.

There are several references:  The Epilepsy Foundation is here.  Seizure Tracker is here.    The Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance is here

I grew up in the 1950s, and I am sorry to say that in ninth grade, there was an incident where a student was teased after having an epileptic seizure in an algebra class.  I regret that I participated in the taunt, although I had been teased myself about many things.  In that past era, there was much less public respect for the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities.  Today, participation in such an incident could get one sent to an alternative school.  That is what happened recently in upstate New York after a middle school bus incident.