Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Politics frequently involves making mountains out of molehills

A YUGE controversy arose over Melania Trump’s Republican convention speech, when she repeated some things that Michelle Obama had spoken eight years earlier. Melania was roundly accused of plagiarism.

The Oxford Dictionaries online defines plagiarism as “the practice of taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as one's own.”

Approximately one minute of her roughly 14-minute speech dealt with some tried and true values that Americans have revered and promoted for the last 200-plus years, and that parents have worked hard to instill in their children, such as:
Be prepared to work hard to get what you want
Honesty and integrity are critical; it’s important to keep your word
Treat others as you want to be treated, with courtesy and respect
Her expression of those ideas was much the same as Michelle’s in 2008.

What Melania is being chastised for, however, happens pretty often – people frequently say or write things in a similar manner as other people – and it wasn’t an attempt to take credit for some unique ideas, as these ideas did not originate with Michelle Obama. Using phrases someone else used to express common ideas is hardly criminal.

Consider this: If you are driving 27 mph in a 25 mph zone, are you speeding? Technically, yes, but from a practical viewpoint, it is essentially irrelevant. You may have broken the letter of the law, but you have not broken the spirit of the law, which is to cause people to drive slowly. 

At its core, the issue really is whether it makes any significant difference in the long run, and it doesn’t. 

Here is what Michelle said: “And Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you’re going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don’t know them, and even if you don’t agree with them. And Barack and I set out to build lives guided by these values, and pass them on to the next generation. Because we want our children — and all children in this nation — to know that the only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.”

And here is what Melania said: “From a young age, my parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond; that you do what you say and keep your promise; that you treat people with respect. They taught and showed me values and morals in their daily life. That is a lesson that I continue to pass along to our son. And we need to pass those lessons on to the many generations to follow. Because we want our children in this nation to know that the only limit is the strength of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.”

The two excerpts inarguably share ideas and some of the same phrases. Could Melania and those helping write the speech have done a better job of expressing these ideas without sounding so “familiar,” and should they have? Obviously. 

But for this use of a few phrases to be truly relevant, those phrases would have to be special, like “four score and seven years ago …” Those phrases do not “belong” to Michelle; they are not her property. They are ideas common to many/most Americans. And First Ladies or hopeful First Ladies Nancy Reagan, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush and Ann Romney all expressed some of those same ideas before under similar circumstances.

If, on the other hand, Melania had said, “An important idea came to me the other day: Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country,” using those famous words spoken by President John F. Kennedy at his 1961 Inaugural without attribution would have certainly been over the line.

What many or perhaps most people do not know is that according to some of Kennedy’s classmates, the headmaster at a school they attended years before spoke those words originally. Was JFK a plagiarist? 

Laura Bush talked about being determined and working hard at the convention in 2004. Did Michelle plagiarize her speech four years later? In 2014 Hillary Clinton also used a phrase spoken by Michelle in 2008 about hard work and passing those values to her daughter. Did Hillary commit plagiarism? 

There are only so many ways to express an idea or thought, and the more people that write or speak about an idea, the greater the number of times someone will write or say a phrase, a sentence or a paragraph the same way that someone else wrote or spoke it, either verbatim, or in a very similar manner. These similarities may not have been intentional, and are therefore not plagiarism.

This kerfuffle illustrates the extremes to which the Left and its media lackeys will go to focus voter attention on irrelevant minutiae to distract them from the voluminous failures and shortcomings of Hillary Clinton.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

South Carolina Senator Scott discusses being a black man in America

“Mr. President, I rise today to give my second speech this week discussing the issues we are facing following last week’s tragedies in Dallas, Minnesota, and Baton Rouge. This speech is perhaps the most difficult because it’s the most personal,” said Sen. Tim Scott, R-SC, in the Senate Chamber last week.

Scott has a long, distinguished record of public service, serving 13 years on the Charleston County Council beginning in 1995. In 2008 he was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives, in 2010 he elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and was appointed to fill an unexpired U.S. Senate term in 2012 and was elected to retain that seat in 2014. He is the first southern African-American senator since the late 1800s.

Scott said that in his first speech “I talked about how the vast majority of our law enforcement officers have only two things in mind: protect and serve. But as I noted then, we do have serious issues that must be resolved. In many cities and towns across the nation, there is a deep divide between the black community and law enforcement, a trust gap, a tension that has been growing for decades. And as a family, one American family, we cannot ignore these issues, because while so many officers do good – and we should be thankful, as I said on Monday, we should be very thankful and supportive of all those officers that do good – [but] some simply do not. I’ve experienced it myself. And so today I want to speak about some of those issues.”

Recalling his first encounter with the police, he said: “The very first time that I was pulled over by a police officer as just a youngster,” the officer came up to the window, “hand on his gun, and said, ‘Boy, don’t you know your headlight is not working properly?’” Scott said he was embarrassed and ashamed. And “scared, very scared.”

That was not the last time he was stopped by police, he said; he has been stopped seven times in the period of a year, and admitted that he was speeding a couple of times, but usually he was stopped for things like driving a new car in the wrong neighborhood, or some other equally trivial reason. “Imagine the frustration, the irritation, the sense of a loss of dignity” each of those times, he said, capping the story off with an incident that happened while he was serving in the U.S. Congress.

After having been in Congress for five years, and at the time in the Senate, an officer challenged him as he entered a government office building. “The pin, I know,” the officer said, referring to Scott’s U.S. Senate lapel pin. “You, I don’t. Show me your ID.” Later that day he received an apology from the officer’s supervisor, but the damage was done. Again. That was the third such apology he had received since entering the Senate.

Police question millions of Americans of all races every year in their effort to “protect and to serve,” and they should always have a legitimate reason for doing so. Obviously, they don’t always have a good reason, as Sen. Scott illustrated. But often they do have reasons, and sometimes it is at least partly due to the behavior of some of those in groups that are often the focus of police bias.

Chicago serves as a prime example, a place where black Americans are most often killed or attacked by other black Americans, not white Americans or police officers. In neighborhoods where back people routinely commit violence and murder against other blacks, why are we surprised that blacks receive greater police scrutiny?

Columnist Peggy Noonan recently wrote a column titled “Three Good Men Talk About Race” in The Wall Street Journal, all of them black Americans. They are Tim Scott, Dr. Brian Williams of Parkland Memorial Hospital, who fought to save injured Dallas police officers ambushed by a black man, and Dallas Police Chief David Brown.

“We’re asking cops to do too much in this country,” Brown said recently. “They’re paying the price for every societal failure. “Not enough mental health funding? ‘Let the cop handle it.’ Not enough drug addiction funding? ‘Let’s give it to the cops,’” he continued. The chief said that society must get in the game.

In response to blacks being killed by police we now see black men assassinating police officers. The shooter in Dallas who killed five officers and injured seven others was black. In Baton Rouge, six officers were ambushed last Sunday, and three of them died. Police killed the shooter, a 29 year-old black man who, according to The Daily Caller, was a former member of the Nation of Islam.

As Scott said, the country is deeply divided; there is a very tense trust gap. Police sometimes unfairly target black people. Many black people assume every death at the hands of police is a wrongful death.

We need leaders to calm the tension, not pour gasoline on emotional embers, to wait for details before reaching a conclusion. And we must make sure that all who do wrong are punished.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Lipstick on a pig: Administration putting a spin on the U.S. economy

It is natural for politicians to put things in the most favorable light, and the worse the general situation, the greater the need to do so. That serves as an appropriate introduction to the White House’s June economic analysis, which is summarized thusly: “The economy added 287,000 jobs in June, as labor force participation rose and the broadest measure of labor market slack fell.” As far as that statement goes, it is true.

That new jobs number is a decent number – the best jobs figure since October – and miles ahead of May’s revised number of only 11,000 new jobs. But it is not an outstanding number, and is only one of several really significant numbers.

Back in December 2009, six months after the end of the recession and 11 months into Barack Obama’s first term, economist Paul Krugman said that 300,000 new jobs each month were necessary to make up the job losses of the recession over the next five years, so the June figure falls short of that number. In the weak Obama recovery new job production has only met or exceeded 300,000 six times in 89 months. The last was in November of 2014 at 331,000.

Whether the 287,000 number holds up after revision we won’t know until August. May’s preliminary number was revised down by more than two-thirds to a mere 11,000; therefore August may show a downward revision, an upward revision, or a number that is pretty close to the preliminary figure.

Other relevant numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data set for June include an increase in the U-3 unemployment rate, the one President Obama prefers to cite, from 4.7 to 4.9 percent. Despite the increase, the U-3 rate still looks good because it discounts all those marginally attached to the labor force that involuntarily work part-time instead of full-time, or have given up looking for work because they cannot find a job. Those workers are included in the U-6 rate, which more accurately represents reality, and stood at 9.6 percent in June, and improved one-tenth of a percent since May, as some of the previously disaffected workers started seeking employment again.

Even so, the Labor Force Participation rate was still at the late-70s level of 62.7 percent. From 66.0 percent in December of 2007 when the recession began, the trend in the participation rate has been steadily downward and has been below 63 percent since March of 2014. The labor force is made up of those age 16 and older that are working, looking for a job, and not in prison or in the military, and totaled 94,517,000 people last month. That means that 56,228,000 working age Americans are not working, and not in the military or in prison.

In June, 1.8 million persons were marginally attached to the labor force. These are individuals who wanted to work, were available for work, and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months, but were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey.

Another 5.8 million individuals prefer full-time employment, but are working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they haven’t been able to find a full-time job.

The BLS reported, “Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates [U-3] for adult women (4.5 percent) and Whites (4.4 percent) rose in June. The rates for adult men (4.5 percent), teenagers (16.0 percent), Blacks (8.6 percent), Asians (3.5 percent), and Hispanics  (5.8 percent) showed little or no change.”

The 9.6 percent U-6 rate tells one part of the story, but the actual harm of the administration’s policies that keep the economy from cranking up are another story.

“Today’s jobs number can’t hide the ongoing struggles facing the country’s main jobs producers – small businesses – which are overwhelmed by over-taxation, over-regulation, and a lack of access to credit,” said Jobs Creators Network (JCN) president Alfredo Ortiz. “And it shouldn’t distract us from an underwhelming labor force participation rate—still the lowest figure since the 1970s.”

National Federation of Independent Business president and CEO Juanita Duggan commented, “Each month our survey shows that small business owners are trying to hire qualified workers,” and, “The job openings are there, but owners are not going to invest in new employment when labor costs are becoming insurmountable, and the political climate is wildly uncertain.”

All the way back in November of 2010 President Obama was already claiming a “new normal” for the economy: “What is a danger is that we stay stuck in a new normal where unemployment rates stay high,” he said on CBS “60 Minutes.”

Today, with a real unemployment close to 10 percent, Obama may be viewed as a pretty good prophet. However, rather than seeing the future, he engineered it, and the term “new normal” is much less a reality than an excuse. As the JCN’s Ortiz noted, high taxes, rampant and intrusive regulation and limited credit do not a good recovery make.

America deserves better. November’s election provides the opportunity to elect as president someone who understands job creation.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

The Constitution is under attack, and from an unexpected source

Just when you think you have heard the silliest thing possible, someone comes along and slaps you in the head with something sillier yet.

It is no secret that lots of Americans do not appreciate or honor the U.S. Constitution, and millions have no clue what it is, what it means, or why it exists. Among those we do not expect to find in that group are people trained in the law, and especially those who have been elevated to the judicial bench through appointment or election. Of course, every group has its eccentrics, even the judiciary.

To wit: Richard Posner, a judge in the United States Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, who expressed an idea on that baffles those of us who honor the country created for us 200-plus years ago, and the controlling document, the U.S. Constitution, the law of the land that has been the anchor keeping our republic relatively stable all these years. It has done so to the extent it has been followed, and its principles upheld by those specially trained folks who study the law.

Said Posner: “I see absolutely no value to a judge of spending decades, years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, or seconds studying the Constitution, the history of its enactment, its amendments, and its implementation,” which he followed with: “Eighteenth-century guys, however smart, could not foresee the culture, technology, etc. of the 21st century. Which means that the original Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the post-Civil War amendments (including the 14th), do not speak to today.”

Education, it seems, is frequently incomplete. For example, some doctors seem to have not had the class in Bedside Manner 101. News journalists often appear not to have heard the idea that news reporting requires impartiality and accuracy. Many teachers at all levels do not understand that their job is not indoctrination, but the presentation of, and assistance in helping students understand their subject.

Posner apparently missed the class where it was discussed how the Constitution could be improved through amendments, and also where one should have learned about the concept of principles, like those set forth in the Constitution.

A principle, in this sense, is a broad concept, not merely a list of specifics. For example, the First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right of free speech, the freedom of religion, etc. to all Americans, and the Fourth Amendment guarantees the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures. The Constitution is not intended to limit its protections to only those threats that existed in the 1700s, but also to any that may arise thereafter.

Giving Posner credit not substantiated by his comment, let us assume that he understands that a nation must have laws. Since he does not respect the fundamental law that now exists, if we take his argument that the Constitution is old, outdated and therefore useless, what are we supposed to replace it with? Whatever ideas are the most popular? Or the ideas that a particular group of judges like best? Or, worse yet, what each judge and law enforcement official decides ought to be legal and illegal.

Would he prefer a set of rules proposed by the sitting president? Or, would he prefer a set of “living” rules that changes with the winds of popular opinion?

Posner’s article does not address that aspect.

Even with the protections of the Constitution, we see frequent over-stepping by government officials and agencies that ignore its limits on government, so without it how would the citizens of the United States be protected from government excesses? By what measures could we keep our government from becoming just another tyrannical body like communist China or North Korea?

The Constitution in Article III, Section 1, provides: “The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour…” This runs contrary to the widely accepted idea that federal judges are appointed for life or until they decide to step down. Clearly, the Framers foresaw that a judge might exhibit behavior other than “good Behaviour,” in which case he or she is subject to removal from the bench.

With that in mind, several judicial watchers have suggested that Posner’s idea of discarding the Constitution, the document he is sworn to uphold, warrants his impeachment, and also said that a Congress that took both Posner’s oath and its oath seriously would impeach him.

However, Posner is protected by the provisions of the very document he so disdains and wants done away with, the First Amendment’s protection of free speech, which was written not to protect speech with which we agree, but speech that is not popular to some, and even critical of the government. This includes criticism of the Constitution, even by someone so high in the judicial hierarchy as a federal Circuit Court judge.

Our freedoms are now under more serious attack than ever before since the nation’s founding, by political correctness and those who find some protections inconvenient, and now by some charged with defending them by upholding the Constitution’s protections.