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“Fake But True” Tars the Innocent

For The Washington Examiner, Byron York reviews the case of a hoax racial incident at the Air Force Academy that inspired the superintendent, Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, to make a destined-to-go-viral statement in opposition to racism.  York goes on:

… The cadet candidate who reported the racial slurs has admitted that he was behind the whole thing. It was all a hoax. The young man, who is black, has left the academy.

Anyone who follows such incidents, certainly anyone in the news business, should have known that there was a substantial chance the Air Force Academy vandalism was a fake. Too many such incidents have turned out to be hoaxes not to raise suspicions about new ones, pending the results of an investigation.

There was the young black man in Kansas who admitted writing racist graffiti on his car. There was the black man in Michigan charged in three racist graffiti incidents at Eastern Michigan University. There was the young Muslim woman in New York who admitted making up a story about being attacked by white Trump supporters. The black Bowling Green State University student who said white Trump supporters threw rocks at her. The University of Louisiana student who said a white man wearing a Trump hat tried to pull off her hijab.

Then there was the wave of stories about threats to Jewish community centers — stories that received widespread news coverage in the context of the new Trump presidency. Most of the threats were made by a teenager in Israel, with the others made by a former journalist who was somehow trying to get back at a former girlfriend.

Upon the revelation of the Air Force Academy incident was a hoax, those who had lauded Lt. Gen. Silveria applied the “fake but true” salve, as did the man himself.  Surely, we can all agree that racism is worth denouncing, even in the abstract.  One gets the sense, though, that a practice of denouncing individuals who don’t actually exist too easily translates into denouncements of those within a group who might resemble the fictional perps in some superficial particular.

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From Mercy Killings in Hard Cases to Death on Demand

Fortunately, this hasn’t been much of a topic of conversation in Rhode Island (yet):  Wesley Smith describes how…

Once a society generally accepts killing as an appropriate response to suffering, there are few limits to the kind of “suffering” that will qualify for extermination.

The Netherlands shows the danger.  Permitted in a decriminalized form since 1972–and formally legalized in 2002–euthanasia deaths are skyrocketing.

Because it hasn’t been of immediate relevance at the level of news to which I devote most of my attention, I haven’t completely worked through my thoughts on assisted suicide.  As tends to happen with emotional matters that are closely tied to ideological or religious beliefs, people typically focus on the extreme cases that align with their first reactions.  On one end is the person facing an imminent and horrible death who wants to take his own life.  On the other end is a doctor having family members hold down a woman who wakes up and resists being killed.

So, one axis in a multidimensional spectrum could address such circumstances of each case, including degree of suffering, permanence of the condition, and imminence of natural death.  Another axis would be the degree of assistance, ranging from none at all through offering advice through the provision of supplies all the way to execution with dubious consent.  There may be other axes to consider.

According to my beliefs, nothing on this field is moral, but that does not necessarily mean everything must be criminalized and vigorously enforced.  In that regard, I find yet more reason to regret how integral we’ve allowed government to become.  To the extent that libertarians can cite an expansion of individual liberty, it seems always to be in these areas of personal destruction, which is to say when libertarians find common cause with progressives.

If government weren’t involving itself in the question of children’s lemonade stands, we mightn’t feel as compelled to write a policy on the tougher moral disagreements.  Similarly, if the fine details of employers’ insurance benefits weren’t up for national policymakers, so too might states and localities be able to draw different lines on other issues.

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Ajello’s Use of Victim Status as a Weapon Against “Those [Innocent] Males”

Providence progressive Democrat Representative Edith Ajello said something to the folks at Rhode Island Public Radio that illustrates how the treatment of all things sexual harassment relies on a sort of superstition.  As Ian Donnis relates in his weekend column:

As far as [Democrat Representative Teresa] Tanzi’s decision to not identify the source of the harassment, and whether that may unfairly tar some members of the legislature, “The victim’s rights should be thought of as primary,” Ajello said. “…. I think we will hear from others, but the importance of protecting victims of sexual harassment, I think, is more important than protecting those males at the Statehouse” who do not engage in harassment.

This is nonsense, ignoring entirely the objective question of who suffers harm.

What is the harassment, in this case, if Tanzi is telling the truth?  A guy said something a single time and in private implying that she should do something she would find objectionable in order to gain advantage.  She has offered no evidence that this inappropriate comment caused her any difficulties in any way whatsoever, personally or legislatively, and the fact that it was a private comment means that it couldn’t even subtly affect how other people would react to her.  In contrast, Tanzi has placed all “those males” in the General Assembly under a cloud of suspicion.

Both cases involve nothing but words, but Tanzi’s words, proclaimed across the country, have a greater effect.  Again, it’s a kind of superstition that raises to a state of inviolable victim status somebody who suffered a bit of personal office awkwardness over people who have been implicated nationally as potential harassers.

One suspects that implicating men as irredeemable harassers is pretty much the point.

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A Living Constitution as a Creature of the Elite

Rhode Island’s far-left Democrat U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse has joined the ranks of his colleagues engaging in (let’s say) enhanced questioning techniques of Christian nominees.  As National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru highlights:

Whitehouse then asks nominee Trevor McFadden seven questions based (loosely) on these facts about his church. Whitehouse asks McFadden whether he agrees with the associate pastor, for example. Several other questions relate to whether McFadden could faithfully apply the Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges decision, which required governments to recognize a fundamental right to same-sex marriage.

Suggesting that Whitehouse’s line of questioning is inappropriate, Ponnuru draws a distinction between a person’s being a member of a religious organization, like a church, and making statements similar to those that a senator finds objectionable.  That approach misses the bigger problem (and hypocrisy) with Whitehouse’s approach.

Progressives such as Whitehouse believe that the Constitution ought to be interpreted so as to adjust to the changing standards of the times, as a “living document.”  The only mechanism for doing that in a democratic society would be for the country, through elected representatives, to appoint judges who match their standards and will rule accordingly, even if it means overturning decisions that prior courts have made.

Of course, one suspects that Whitehouse and his ilk don’t really want the Constitution to be interpreted according to the standards of the people at the time.  They want it to be interpreted according to the standards of an elite that sees itself as more enlightened than the hoi polloi.

This means that Whitehouse wants the evolution only to go in the direction that he believes to be correct.  Those with whom he agrees should feel free to reconsider rulings of the past, while those with whom he disagrees should be kept from the bench.

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Institutional Absurdity at Wheaton

Wheaton College, in Norton, Massachusetts, is apparently not a place designed to guide young adults fully into the adult world, to empower them to overcome challenges, or to train them to deal with differences between people.  Shaun Towne reports on WPRI that the college canceled the entire women’s soccer team’s participation in their conference tournament because one of the players attended a Halloween party in a costume of a movie character whose appearance required her to darken her skin.  That punishment is on top of consequences that the individual student may face for expressing herself in a way that the snowflakes who run the institution can’t handle, emotionally.

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Towne’s article includes the full text of a letter that President Dennis Hanno sent to the campus population.  Prospective students and their parents should judge for themselves whether the author of such a document, not intending it to be a parody, is likely to have the capacity to run an institution of higher education that is worth the price of admission:

The past few days have been disturbing and challenging for our community. A Wheaton student chose to wear blackface as part of an offensive and racist Halloween costume, and the incident raises difficult issues for all of us. …

This is a difficult moment for the college and our community and I am convinced that we can use this incident as a rallying point to build a better, more welcoming and inclusive place for all students, faculty and staff. I hope you will join me in this important work.

No kidding this controversy is disturbing. That a student and her teammates have been treated in this way over a costume shows how detrimental time spent at Wheaton can be.  When Hanno writes that the “college community aspires to be a place that welcomes a diverse group of students from every background and perspective,” he’s obviously lying.  Anybody who might think that young adults should be able to dress up as movie characters even when they’re of different races and that such activity actually speaks to a shared culture will obviously not be tolerated on campus.

(I wonder, by the way, if there isn’t an implicit sexism in the punishment.  Would the football team be treated so harshly, or are female sports seen as less-important affairs at Wheaton?)

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In Support of Some Risk on Social Media and in a Free Society

Some of the responses of America’s tech barons under questioning by Rhode Island’s far-left Democrat Senator Sheldon Whitehouse should raise concerns about the future of freedom in the United States.  Of course, we should keep in mind that these are private corporations that can make their own decisions, but they do talk and act as if they’re somehow more fundamental to society than that.  And so:

Twitter’s acting general counsel, Sean Edgett, told Whitehouse and other members of the Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on crime and terrorism that detecting foreign-based influence campaigns run through phony shell corporations set up as American companies is a challenge. …

All three witnesses also agreed on the threat presented by shell corporations.

“Anything that prevents us from policing the authenticity of our users is a menace,” said Stretch.

It isn’t difficult to imagine freedom — whether explicit in law or simply part of the fabric of American culture — as just such a “menace.”

We accept that people will use freedom in ways that allow them to take advantage of other people because it’s unavoidable, and it would be unacceptable to give government (or oligarchs) the power to set the line between taking advantage of freedom and simply utilizing it in ways that powerful people don’t like.  The fact that powerful people didn’t like the outcome of an electoral contest would be a poor reason to pressure tech companies to set up roadblocks to speech.

Instead, we should seek to educate people sufficiently that a few bogus stories on Facebook won’t dupe enough of them to change the course of history.  We should also encourage more-respectable purveyors of news to get their bias under control so that they have the credibility to offer objective resources.

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ACLU Gets One Right; We Should Take the Warning

If the facts of the case bear out as described in the Rhode Island ACLU’s press release, it looks like the organization is on the right side of a controversy (which happens every now and then):

In January 2017, [Marissa] Lacoste was leaving work [at Twin River] when two RISP detectives approached her car. In response to their demand that she “hand over the weed,” Ms. Lacoste produced a bag with less than one ounce of marijuana. Under RI law, possession of less than one ounce of marijuana is not a crime. Despite Lacoste having committed no criminal offense, the detectives suggested that she was in serious trouble and could go to jail, and demanded that she accompany them to the Lincoln Woods Barracks.  She complied, and while there, they told her that if she didn’t assist them with an ongoing investigation at the Casino, they could cause her to lose her job.

In February, after cooperating with RISP for a period of time, Lacoste indicated that she was no longer willing to assist. Weeks later, she was issued a civil summons for her January possession of marijuana, and she further learned that RISP had requested, unsuccessfully, that the Department of Business Regulation revoke her “Service Employee” license, a permit required for those who work in the state’s gaming facilities.

Thereafter, Lacoste and a representative of her union met with her employer who informed her that the civil citation she received would not affect her employment.  However, upon reporting to work for her next scheduled shift, Lacoste was stopped by Twin River security and told that she had been permanently excluded from the Casino by order of the State Police, effectively terminating her from her job.  Since that time, RISP has repeatedly denied her requests for an opportunity to be heard regarding her exclusion from the Casino.

Lacoste’s case provides a helpfully broad example of the reasons we should limit government influence.  When government makes things illegal, we’re all potential criminals.  When government licenses everything, we’re all dependent on its good graces.  And when government regulates businesses, our livelihoods can be threatened.

There’s a balance, of course, but it ought to be struck with awareness of the dangers, not naiveté about good intentions.

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Familiar Tightening of Rules for Religions of Which the State Disapproves

Of course, it would be easy to overstate the parallel, but there’s something familiar in this Catholic News Agency article about political events in China:

President Xi Jinping of China announced this week that he wants to tighten Beijing’s strict government controls on religion in the communist country.

In a speech this week during the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, Xi said that religions not sufficiently conformed to Communist ideals pose a threat to the country’s government, and therefore must become more “Chinese-oriented.”

One gets the sense of a similar intention in progressive corners of the United States.  The Obama Administration wouldn’t recognize the Little Sisters of the Poor as a religious organization for the purpose of exempting them from ObamaCare mandates.  With the onset of same-sex marriage, the Catholic Church in Massachusetts was no longer recognized as sufficiently “Massachusetts-oriented” to offer adoption services.

For the time being, congregations in the United States (even New England) can still meet and practice their religion within the church walls, but unless they adhere to an ever-expanding list of mandatory virtues handed down from the government, their ability to act in public is increasingly restricted.  Meanwhile, the government is giving less and less credence to the notion that it ought to remain neutral with respect to its own activities, particularly in public schools.

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Surreal, Unhealthy Sexism on the Opinion Pages

Today’s Newport Daily News reprints an op-ed that that Suzanne Fogarty, the head of the private Lincoln School in Providence, first published on the Web site of the Girls Scouts of Southern New England.  Now, in the spirit of practical consideration, we should remember that Ms. Fogarty has a (very expensive) school to promote, so we can only go so far in begrudging an all-girls school its sales pitch.

That said, this paragraph reads like a text that one might come across from some society that had succumbed to a strange bigotry.  Enlightened moderns can’t help but see the injustice and incongruity of the ideas, but even the most enlightened within the thus-tainted culture may not have been able to see it through the haze of their environments:

While I believe the Boy Scouts’ decision to admit girls is a step toward gender equity, that move in no way devalues the remarkable female-first environment that the Girl Scouts is committed to providing. Some people believe that if their daughters go to an all-girls school, then they will not be prepared for the co-ed world. The opposite is true. Lincoln students and Girl Scouts are more prepared because they are encouraged to be themselves every day in a culture that knows and supports them. They practice the hard stuff of trial and error, which leads to resilience, and resilience in turn leads to confidence. This becomes part of their DNA, which girls take with them into the world of college and beyond.

Denying boys a space in which to be themselves in a “remarkable male-first environment” is “equity.”  Granting girls such a space is “empowerment.”  Sure seems like we’re writing off one half of a generation. That an educator would do this so casually illustrates how far we’ve gone into the haze. Given that most Boy Scouts are veritably guaranteed to be of lesser socioeconomic advantage compared with Lincoln’s clientele gives the double standard a more insidious feel.

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