Vive La France

Word tonight is that terrorists have struck France in a series of attacks, including a bomb at a football match, multiple shootings and a hostage situation. As of this moment, the French are fighting back. Preliminary news is that this is tied to ISIS.

This is why you stand with Charlie Hebdo. This is why you stand against ISIS. Because these monsters know no mercy and no decency. They will attack and they will kill. Right now, their violence is focused on the Middle East. But as the bombing of the Russian airliner and these attacks show, they will expand the fight until we are all in the crosshairs.

Veterans Day

“From the darkness on all sides came the groans and wails of wounded men; faint, long, sobbing moans of agony and despairing shrieks. It was too horribly obvious that dozens of men with serious wounds must have crawled for safety into new shell-holes and now the water was rising about them and powerless to move they were slowly drowning.

Captain Edwin Vaughan, describing the Third Ypres.

Such was the horror that was ended on November 11, 1918, a day which became Armistice Day, which became Veterans Day to honor all those over the last two centuries who have been willing to face the horrors Vaughan described.

Another Gun Control Failure

About fifteen years ago, a couple of states decided to try a program in ballistic fingerprinting. The idea was that, whenever a gun was sold, it would be fired and a casing would be kept of its ballistic fingerprint. Then, when that gun was used in a crime, police could use the ballistic fingerprint to find the perpetrator.

At the time, it was very obvious this program was going to be an expensive failure. Apart from the challenge of creating a usable database, it was fundamentally flawed. Because ballistics isn’t that precise a science. Ballistic “fingerprints” change. Ballistic fingerprint can be altered. Even if you could identify to whom a gun was sold, that doesn’t help you if the gun was stolen or sold to another party. It doesn’t prove they used it to commit a crime. And … as always … this was yet another gun control measure that punished the law abiding. According to the FBI, only about 15% of guns used to commit a crime were purchased legally. The vast majority are obtained from friends, family members or illegally. So people legally buying guns in stores had to go through this rigamarole while criminals didn’t.

You know … sometimes I hate being right all the time:

For gun control advocates, it sure sounded like a great idea. Why not force gun purchasers to fire a round at the police station so that the ballistic “fingerprint” of the firearm could be catalogued? That way, police could find the perpetrator every time a gun was used in a crime. What could go wrong?

Plenty, according to the Baltimore Sun’s Erin Cox. Fifteen years, millions of dollars, and 340,000 shell casings later, Maryland decided last week to scrap the system … after failing to solve one single crime in its existence.

What lessons are we to learn here? Perhaps the first lesson is that no idea is so nonsensical that it can’t be turned into a government program, especially when the topic is gun control. Even now, some of the program’s defenders insist that it takes 15 years for this kind of project to ripen because guns tend to get stolen and used in crimes long after their initial sale. However, even if that’s true, then the ballistic fingerprints will get investigators nowhere except to find the victim of a prior robbery. It still won’t solve the extant crime. Meanwhile, Maryland will bury itself in used shell casings and pay for storage and personnel in order to solve no crimes at all. Those resources would be put to much better use if they funded more investigators rather than more bureaucrats and stock clerks. Those are the priorities that matter in law enforcement, but appear to matter less to politicians looking for headlines to assuage gun-control advocates.

(That’s from Ed Morrissey. Be sure to click through to a great column from Glenn Reynolds about how gun control primary targets minorities, convicting them not of crimes against their fellow humans but of breaking arbitrary government rules.)

This was never going to work. Anyone who knew anything about guns knew this was never going to work. Even if it had been run perfectly and created an extremely efficient system for ballistic fingerprinting, it would never have worked. It would never have worked because guns don’t work that way.

SilliPeople at Yale

As I mentioned last week, there has been growing pressure on college campuses for universities to hand down guidelines on “offensive” Halloween costumes. This debate exploded recently at Yale. A letter was sent out on the subject of appropriate Halloween attire (composed by 13 administrators … and people wonder why college is so expensive). Erika Christakis, associate headmaster of a residence college, responded in a manner was that totally inappropriate for college professor. By which, I mean, she addressed the students like they were adults:

Even if we could agree on how to avoid offense – and I’ll note that no one around campus seems overly concerned about the offense taken by religiously conservative folks to skin-revealing costumes – I wonder, and I am not trying to be provocative: Is there no room anymore for a child or young person to be a little bit obnoxious… a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive? American universities were once a safe space not only for maturation but also for a certain regressive, or even transgressive, experience; increasingly, it seems, they have become places of censure and prohibition. And the censure and prohibition come from above, not from yourselves! Are we all okay with this transfer of power? Have we lost faith in young people’s capacity – in your capacity – to exercise self-censure, through social norming, and also in your capacity to ignore or reject things that trouble you? We tend to view this shift from individual to institutional agency as a tradeoff between libertarian vs. liberal values (“liberal” in the American, not European sense of the word).

Nicholas says, if you don’t like a costume someone is wearing, look away, or tell them you are offended. Talk to each other. Free speech and the ability to tolerate offence are the hallmarks of a free and open society.

But – again, speaking as a child development specialist – I think there might be something missing in our discourse about the exercise of free speech (including how we dress ourselves) on campus, and it is this: What does this debate about Halloween costumes say about our view of young adults, of their strength and judgment?

In other words: Whose business is it to control the forms of costumes of young people? It’s not mine, I know that.

The students at Yale did not respond well to this eminently reasonable dialogue, culminating in an incident this weekend where students confronted Nicholas Christakis (Erika’s husband and Silliman headmaster) to demand an apology, a confrontation that ended with one student screaming in his face about how he is supposed to be creating a “safe space” for students rather than an intellectual space (notice that Christakis doesn’t raise his voice at all, even when she’s screaming in his face).1

Something important to remember: what the students are objecting to is not offensive Halloween costumes. It’s not even Yale’s refusal to ban said costumes. What they’re angry about is that a professor had the temerity to engage them on this issue. What they’re furious about is that someone didn’t immediately agree with them. That’s their definition of a “safe space”. Not a space where someone is physically safe. Not a space where someone is safe from racism. No, they want a safe space where they are protected from ideas they don’t like and from challenges to ideas they do like. And, as Ken at Popehat points out, they want that safe space forcefully extended everywhere:

[the safe space] is not a self-selected community or an exercise of freedom of association, because it lacks the element of voluntary entry. It’s the safe space of an occupier: students demand that everyone in the dorm, or college, or university conform to their private-club rules. Your right to swing your fist may end at my nose, but their asserted right to safety surrounds you.

Conor, in a really great and thorough piece, makes other great points:

In “The Coddling of the American Mind,” Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt argued that too many college students engage in “catastrophizing,” which is to say, turning common events into nightmarish trials or claiming that easily bearable events are too awful to bear. After citing examples, they concluded, “smart people do, in fact, overreact to innocuous speech, make mountains out of molehills, and seek punishment for anyone whose words make anyone else feel uncomfortable.”

What Yale students did next vividly illustrates that phenomenon.

According to the Washington Post, “several students in Silliman said they cannot bear to live in the college anymore.” These are young people who live in safe, heated buildings with two Steinway grand pianos, an indoor basketball court, a courtyard with hammocks and picnic tables, a computer lab, a dance studio, a gym, a movie theater, a film editing lab, billiard tables, an art gallery, and four music practice rooms. But they can’t bear this setting that millions of people would risk their lives to inhabit because one woman wrote an email that hurt their feelings?

This weekend, the Yale Herald published an op-ed (since withdrawn because it drew some actual harsh criticism) exploring these points, claiming that students couldn’t eat or function … because of the e-mail. Not because someone burned a cross on their lawn (as happened to my synagogue when I was kid). Not because someone used racial epithets (which happened in my high school). Not because someone wore an offensive Halloween costume (which itself seems relatively trivial). No, they’re unable to function because of a respectful e-mail that made the mistake of trying to engage them on a subject rather than simply saying, “Oh, your feelings are hurt. Well, that’s all that matters.”

To me, this trivializes … everything. One of the points being made is that minority students at Yale (of which there are very few) often feel like outsiders. They often feel like there is very real racism within the Ivy League — racial epithets, exclusion and prejudice. That is an issue that’s worth exploring. Getting angry because a professor, while acknowledging your point, respectfully disagrees with the idea of subjecting Halloween costumes to some kind of cultural vetting process is a waste of life.

But … as I’ve said before, we are raising a generation of people who have been coddled from the crib. They have helicopter parents who don’t let them do anything risky. Their schools are more focused on their self-esteem than their education. They play soccer without a score so no one’s feelings get hurt. And, for those who go to elite colleges like Yale, they’ve been told all their lives how brilliant they are. And this is the result: they can’t tell the difference between racial discrimination and a minor political disagreement. As Gregg Easterbrook once said, they can’t tell the difference between a crushed bicycle and the end of the world. And they think they have a right to be protected from all of it.2

It bears repeating: these are not children. These are grown men and women. This business blew up because the Christakis’s treated them like grown men and women. Neither Yale nor the Christakis’s have anything to apologize for. At least, not when it comes to e-mails about Halloween. How much culpability they bear for molding students that think like this … well, that’s another question.

1. Side note: I’m really hoping, not optimistically, that the screaming student doesn’t become the target of an internet shaming campaign. No one should be judged by a two-minute video clip. She acted like an idiot. Let’s not compound that by acting like assholes in response. She’s probably 19 years old. No one should be nationally judged by dumb things they say and do when they’re 19. Drezner makes a good point on this, pointing out that “One of the purposes of college is to articulate stupid arguments in stupid ways and then learn, through interactions with fellow students and professors, exactly how stupid they are. Anyone who thinks that the current generation of college students is uniquely stupid is either an amnesiac or willfully ignorant. As a professor with 20 years of experience, I can assure you that college students have been saying stupid things since the invention of college students.” I was an even bigger idiot in college than I am now. I was fortunate that nothing I said “went viral”.

2. In the meantime, back on planet Earth, we have a President who is about to get into his second illegal undeclared war, has launched hundreds of drone attacks that kill ten bystanders for every supposed terrorist, has declared the right to track our phones without a warrant and is piling up debt that these kids are going to have to pay off. It’s not like there’s a dearth of big issues they could be protesting over.

Right Problem, Wrong Solution

I can’t stand crony capitalism. I have little tolerance for special subsidies and tax breaks being paid out to rent-seeking industries. So you can imagine that I’m not on board with what’s going on in New York because … holy crap.

Nearly two-dozen studios raked in more than $1.5 billion in rebates from New York over the past nine years as the state rapidly expanded its incentives to lure in movies and shows.

Indeed, no New York tax program is as generous as the one targeted toward the film and television industry, and records obtained by Gannett’s Albany Bureau shows that big-name studios reaped massive rewards for shooting in the Empire State.

NBC/Universal was by far the leader in rebates awarded between 2006 and 2014, getting back a whopping $320 million for up to 30 percent of its production costs to film in New York.

Sony/Columbia was refunded $200 million, while HBO got $198 million, the WB got $185 million and CBS received $171 million, the records obtained by Gannett through a Freedom of Information request showed.

The figures were staggering to critics of the program, who said the money should be used instead to help existing businesses in New York, particularly in regions trying to recover from decades of decline in manufacturing jobs.

Overall, $423 million was sent back to studios in 2014 – with the most, $117 million, returned to CBS, said Empire State Development, the state agency that runs the program.

Defenders of the program point to $8.7 billion in business Hollywood studios bring to the Empire State. But there’s no way that this possibly pays for itself. Hollywood mostly brings in its own people and its own experts. What’s the benefit to New York jobs? Selling the camera crews some Starbucks? And it’s not like if the tax benefits disappeared, Hollywood would stop making movies and TV shows in New York altogether.

And the benefits to New York businesses run into another problem. If Hollywood studios aren’t paying their taxes, that means someone else is. That means businesses that are native to New York, that are based in New York, that do all their business in New York have to make up the difference.

Here’s where the critics get it wrong. They think New York should be replacing those subsidies with other more targeted subsidies for upstate businesses. That’s better, I guess, in some weird sense. But here’s a better idea: just make taxes lower for everyone. Make New York friendly to all businesses, not just those that have some pull in Albany.

But … then you wouldn’t have Hollywood movie stars kissing up to politicians and making them feel important. Can’t have that, can we?

Jobs and Austerity

By reasonable standards, we got a good jobs report today. 271,000 hires with a drop in part-time employment, a rise in wages and positive revisions to earlier months. It’s not Reagan, but it’s good.

So … time for your monthly reminder. This is not supposed to be happening. We are now in our fifth year of “austerity” where federal spending has been essentially flat and state spending has fallen. According to all the Keynesians, we are supposed to be back in recession. Job creation simply isn’t possible without government spending. According to the likes of Krugman, that’s the only variable that matters: how much the government is spending.

Now just imagine if our employers weren’t hamstrung with over a trillion dollars in deadweight loss from excessive regulation, over-complicated taxes and an expanding welfare state. The economy is staggering around with a five ton elephant on its back and is still producing jobs.

Now I suppose a clever left-winger will reverse those statements. “The economy is succeeding despite regulation and Obamacare! If only we didn’t have austerity!” Here’s the difference. We can measure the effects of regulation and taxation. There are direct compliance costs that absolutely come out of the pockets of employers. The effects of austerity are based on speculation and economic models that have yet to predict anything. When it comes to which narrative we should believe — the very visible dollars being sucked out of our bottom lines or the theoretical dollars being eaten by “austerity” … well, you be the judge of which of those you think is real.

From ISIS to Russia


Days after authorities dismissed claims that ISIS brought down a Russian passenger jet, a U.S. intelligence analysis now suggests that the terror group or its affiliates planted a bomb on the plane.

British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond said his government believes there is a “significant possibility” the plane was brought down by an explosive device. And a Middle East source briefed on intelligence matters also said it appears likely a bomb was placed aboard the aircraft.

Metrojet Flight 9268 crashed Saturday in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula after breaking apart in midair, killing all 224 people on board. It was en route to St. Petersburg from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

The latest U.S. intelligence suggests that the plane crash was most likely caused by a bomb on the plane planted by ISIS or an affiliate, according to a U.S. official familiar with the matter.

I was a little suspicious of the way the Russians immediately dismissed the possibility of terrorism. It seemed awfully suspicious that this happened immediately after Russia decided to put its foot into the hornet’s nest that is Syria. This is not the first time Islamic terrorists have struck at Russia. Now we’ll see how the Russians respond.

Those Evil Vote Suppressing … Democrats?

Today is an election day in Pennsylvania. Turnout is expected to be very low, as it is in all states that time elections off of the federal cycle. There has been a movement afoot to get states to line up their elections with federal elections, something voters and citizens favor overwhelmingly.

Guess who is standing of this and why?

The consolidation bills, which were generally sponsored by Republicans, typically failed because of Democratic opposition, according to Anzia. By her account, Democrats opposed the bills at the urging of Democratic-aligned interest groups, namely teachers unions and municipal employee organizations.

Consider a 2011 bill in Michigan to move school board elections to November of even-numbered years. The Michigan Education Association, a teachers union, testified against the bill, as did associations of school boards and administrators. The bill ended up passing on nearly a party-line vote, with almost all Democratic legislators opposed and almost all Republican legislators in favor.

Looking at the 102 bills aimed at consolidating school board elections with other elections between 2001 and 2011, Anzia found that 72 were sponsored either exclusively or predominantly by Republicans, compared with 23 that were sponsored exclusively or predominantly by Democrats. The bills sponsored by Democrats were also generally much weaker than the Republican bills. For example, the Democratic bills typically permitted municipalities to hold on-cycle elections while the Republican bills required them to do so.

Moreover, for the subset of bills that went to a vote, Republicans were far more likely to vote “yes” than Democrats. For all the bills that went to the floor, Anzia estimates that Republicans voted for consolidation 60 percent of the time and Democrats 40 percent.

The difference is even starker when you look at the “strong” consolidation bills that would require local elections to move to the federal cycle.

There’s no mystery as to why unions want turnout for local elections to be low. It’s so that they can control them. In any local election, the unions turn out like crazy because they know that school boards and local politicians exercise immense control over spending and hiring. Without a federal election to drive up turnout, there is no counterbalancing force. In fact, Anzia’s research shows that public employees in areas with off-cycle elections get higher pay and benefits than those with on-cycle elections.

It is accepted wisdom in our society that Democrats are all in favor of everyone voting while Republicans want to suppress the vote, especially the vote of black people, to serve their special interests. Why else would Republicans want to require ID to vote … for free … like many other democracies? And at the risk of being accused of “saying both sides do it” — currently the gold standard for responding to revelations about Democratic chicanery — this shows a much more focused and naked interest.

And at least the Republicans have the public on their side. Voter ID laws are supported by 70-80% of the public, including a slim majority of Democrats. By contrast, having local elections off the federal cycle is opposed by the 70-80% of the public, including 70-80% of Democrats.

(The excuse being made is that, in a consolidated election, the ballot would be too long for people to have a good feel for each election. This would apparently be worse than … not voting at all.)

So … who exactly is sabotaging the elections in favor of their special interests? Oh, right. Must be the Republicans. ‘Cuz we all know they’re evil.

(PS – And you should check out the comments on 538’s site and their Twitter feed. The idea that Democrats are noble defenders of the electorate and Republicans are evil vote suppressing maniacs is a deeply ingrained faith.)