Category: National (Page 1 of 18)

Commentary | Find a Long-Term Solution to Net Neutrality

Another summer, another round of debate over so-called net neutrality. It is remarkable because there has been so much back-and-forth inside the Beltway the past few years—even though the internet blossomed for its first 25 years without politicians addressing it much at all. Congress needs to end this game of political football and find a long-term solution.

It would be a comical situation were it not for the uncertainty it creates for investors. They left their money on the sidelines after 2015, representing the first decline in internet investment outside of a recession. 2015 happened to be the year when the Obama Administration started regulating internet service providers (ISPs) like public utilities under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, a law that was written to address the growing networks of landline telephones. 

Fortunately, the current Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Ajit Pai, abandoned this approach in 2017 in favor of a light-touch regulatory environment he believed would encourage innovation. But now Democrats in Congress have resurrected net neutrality once again, choosing to pander to their liberal base by threatening to use the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to overturn Chairman Pai’s decision.

This isn’t leadership; it’s just lazy. Congress should not retrofit antiquated laws to impose on modern issues; if it identifies a contemporary problem, ostensibly like net neutrality, then it should go through the actual effort of devising a contemporary, bipartisan legislative solution. Lawmaking is supposed to be hard because the Founders didn’t want unnecessary laws—or regulations by fiat.

As a writer and advocate, I talk with small-business owners regularly, including those in rural Washington state. Many of them are concerned that the regulatory red tape will create an environment far too complex for small startups and independent ISPs to compete.

As a result, it will be more and more difficult to build their networks and expand into underserved communities like rural America. In fact, 10 percent of all Americans and nearly 40 percent of rural Americans lack access to high-speed broadband capable of 25 Mbps or more.

That’s the real problem, not conspiracy theories about fast lanes and slow lanes. There is widespread agreement among the major ISPs that users should be able to go wherever they like online without fear of selective discrimination against different websites, internet traffic, or data. But heavy net neutrality restrictions are unnecessary, especially the preposterous public utility rules, and few things are truly as neutral as a free marketplace without government interference.

We need a law that ensures lasting open internet protections without the harms of utility-style regulations, one that will provide consistency for consumers and business certainty for investors, and is crafted to deal with specific factors unique to the internet.

Let’s have the debate; let’s hear from the on-the-ground stakeholders—all of them. Last summer, we heard from plenty of internet industry insiders on the matter. In fact, tech giants leveraged their considerable political clout to organize a “Day of Action” to demonstrate in favor of the 2015 decision. The only problem is, relatively few real people showed up. This time, let’s hear from real people.

In the meantime, the CRA has moved to the U.S. House of Representatives. In order to keep the economy growing and innovation on the rise, they must vote “no” on this misguided legislation.

Nansen Malin resides in a small beach community in Southwest Washington and uses technology to operate her business and maintain the involved lifestyle of the big city.


GOP should ignore the Democrats Goldilocks game-playing and move ahead on meaningful tax reform

I know one of the big criticisms of the tax reform bill is that the GOP moved it too fast and without enough input from the left. Then again, when doesn’t the left criticize what the GOP is doing?

As with any major policy overhaul, there are hairs to split if we choose to do so. But sometimes moving quickly to bring relief to a nation of overburdened taxpayers is more apropos than sitting quietly together and fretting over whose feelings are going to be hurt because they weren’t consulted early enough, long enough or just plain enough.

Two facts jump out at me as the tax reform debate rages. The first being that our tax code needs an update yesterday. The major reforms put in place by President Reagan were well suited to that time and economy…over thirty years ago. So yes, it is time for some codified tax reform and yes, the Republicans are in charge while it happens.

The other fact is big-D Democratic policies are bad for business. Any economic philosophy that champions government participation and depends on the government as a competent and key player is bound to fail, usually to the tune of billions of taxpayer dollars. A conservative approach is by definition pro-growth and pro-people. As a business owner (a few times over) and entrepreneur, I know firsthand what it takes to run a business well. I can tell you that spending what amounts to weeks of time and tens of thousands of dollars to comply with a tax code written a decade before cell phones were even a thing (they came into widespread use in 1996, for you younger readers) is not any business owner’s idea of best practices. The tax code needs to be simpler. Taxes on small businesses need to be lower. The current tax code doesn’t account for either of those so guess what? Time for some tax reform.

Entrepreneurs and small business owners are the bedrock of the American economy. If we want to keep America great domestically and as an international economic powerhouse, we need to make changes that pave the way for this to happen. I’m not saying government needs to make a way, I’m saying government needs to get out of its own way. The GOP tax reform plan will loosen the vise grip our tax code has on the throats of American businesses. More room to breathe in business means more hiring, more investment in our businesses, more goods and services produced to the benefit of all. Yes, even to the benefit of a government that will still be collecting taxes from these thriving, expanding businesses and their employees.

Conservative values result in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Conservative values are driving this tax reform and conservative values will win the day when Congress votes on its final passage and sends the bill to the president. Representatives Reichert, Herrera Beutler, Newhouse and McMorris Rodgers deserve credit for supporting this package, and I hope they’ll stay on board as the final package emerges in the next few days.  Conservative values don’t depend on the approval, applause or even the participation of the left.

Roy Moore co-authored a course that taught women should not run for office

In 2011, Alabama candidate for U.S. Senate Roy Moore co-authored a study course that takes a very dim view on women’s suffrage and civic involvement, including teaching that women should not run for public office, according to a new report at the very, very left-wing blog Think Progress.

Think Progress unearthed the course pack and published a detailed story documenting some of the contents and Moore’s co-authorship. (For example, there is a photo of then-Chief Justice Moore on the course packaging under the heading of “Featured Speakers.”)

Think Progress went to the trouble of spending $50 to purchase, read, listen to and view the course materials. (If you have cash to burn, it’s here on Amazon and  some of the customer reviews are really illuminating and priceless.) Spoiler: We’re not going to do that. However, we’re willing to put some trust in their factual citations. From the article:

The course, called “Law and Government: An Introductory Study Course,” includes 28 hours of audio and visual lectures given by Moore and others, as well as a study guide. …

The curriculum was a product of Vision Forum, a now-defunct Texas-based evangelical organization headed by Doug Phillips, which taught “Biblical patriarchy”, a theology that prescribes strict, unequal gender roles for men and women. …

One lecture in the Vision Forum study course on which Moore worked is given by William O. Einwechter, a teaching elder at Immanuel Free Reformed Church. The lecture is titled “What the Bible Says About Female Magistrates.” The lesson argues that the Bible forbids women from holding elected office.

An unidentified man introduces Einwechter’s lesson and criticizes the women’s suffrage movement.

“By and large, the issue of the female magistrate ruling in authority in America would not have been anywhere near as controversial,” the man says. “The controversy was beginning to brew with the women’s suffrage movement.” …

The man references the Biblical passage Isaiah 3 as justification for this claim.

For those not up-to-speed on biblical references, Isaiah 3 is a message presaging judgment on Jerusalem and Judah for a series of offenses against God. Much of the chapter is a description of what punishment is coming; the other rest is a statement of God’s case of the crimes committed. Without having access to the course materials, it’s hard to know exactly which portion of Isaiah 3 the course cites as proof that God does not women to serve in public office. But a good guess might be Isaiah 3:12, this version from the NIV Bible: (emphasis added)

Youths oppress my people,
women rule over them.

My people, your guides lead you astray;
they turn you from the path.

There are also references further in about the women of Zion being “haughty” and “strutting along with swaying hips,” but it’s more probable that an ultra-fundamentalist interpretation of the preceding section that Moore’s co-author uses as justification for teaching that women must not serve and voters must not vote for those who make the effort to run for office. To put it mildly, most Christian leaders and adherents will find this interpretation awkward and off-base in a theological sense, and untenable in secular terms.

While it’s not Moore addressing the matter of women in elected office – he’s only a co-author prominently displayed on the package, and we actually don’t know what his speaking topics were about – Moore is unabashed and unapologetic about his fundamentalist views. This looks like a case of either comfortable association on Moore’s part, or a failure to judge said associations carefully. We think the smart bet is on the former scenario and hope that reporters on the ground in Alabama can get some answers.

If journalists do get to pose the question to Moore, it might be tough for him to pivot into the patter of a modern politician on the run from sex allegations – “I am an ardent supporter of women in the government” – because there’s no evidence that the embattled Alabaman has ever even endorsed a woman for public office.

Most public polling on the Alabama special election for U.S. Senate has Moore holding a narrow lead. Election Day is December 12.

[Image: AP]

Column | A coalition of “Even If” defenders of Roy Moore will sacrifice everything to gain nothing

Would you sacrifice your own daughter to achieve a greater good?

The wolves are circling around Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Roy Moore.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was among the earliest Republicans inside the Beltway to call for the candidate to step aside after on-the-record accusation were published by the Washington Post that Moore engaged in inappropriate relationships with very young girls when he was in his 30s. The most serious accusation is from Alabaman Leigh Corman who said she was 14 and Moore was 32 when he pursued having a relationship with her and eventually initiated sexual contact.

A former law firm colleagues of Moore from the time of the accusations has said that it was “common knowledge” that Moore dated teenagers.

On Monday, Gloria Allred – the Babe Ruth of sexual harassment litigation – stood by her client, a fifth accuser who said Moore sexually assaulted her when she was 16.

Since last Thursday when the story broke, the list of Republicans calling for Moore to step aside has steadily grown. New allegations are likely to accelerate that trend, but Moore has shown no indications that he will yield.

Despite the swelling pressure to lance Moore from the body politic, the lightning rod former Alabama chief justice has plenty of defenders.

There are those who question the timing or veracity of the stories, or dismiss them as outright fabrications by a conspiring media.

There are those who believe that no decision about Moore should be made until he’s given “due process.” (National Review senior writer David French has excellent thoughts on why this is wrong and why the differences between legal judgment and societal judgment are significant and important.)

And, of course, there are also the motley crew of miscreants who a) offer warped and illogical interpretations of Christian teachings in a way that tolerates or normalizes sex with children, or b) bizarrely argue that any victim who keeps their abuse secret is actually an accomplice to the crime and thus victimizing the assailant. (Take a moment to regroup if your mind is spinning. And, yes, this last thing really happened.)

But there is one faction of the Moore defense that will push a simple and seductive line of reasoning. Let’s label them the “Even If” Coalition, and call them out for the simple, seductive, and poisonous logic they’re peddling.

The pitch starts with a seemingly pragmatic existential imperative: “Even if Moore did these things – which may be horrible – we have to stop Democrats from taking over. Vote Moore. Save America.”

It’s a powerful appeal because it’s founded a real fear. The stakes are very high. Every flipped seat in Congress is one step closer to a Democratic majority, one that will more likely organize around an even more socialist set of unifying principles than the last time they held the government.

There’s one big problem, and conservatives need to face it honestly. The surge of pressure to vote for Moore states the explicit danger without spelling out the implicit transaction; for those who are in the “Even If” camp, there’s a hidden sacrifice of humanity proposed that is more than just disturbing.

The “Even Ifs” may not fully recognize that the transactional rallying cry of ‘Vote Moore, Save America’ is only part of the bargain they’re offering. The very insertion of “even if” implies some amount of doubt as to whether the allegations are false, as Moore asserts. This is why conservatives need to continue their criticism of the “even if” rationalizers. If the accusations might be true, doesn’t that logically mean that the lost innocence of four girls is being viewed as an acceptable sacrifice?

But If one of the girls accusing Moore was your daughter, sister, niece, or granddaughter, would you be comfortable exchanging her sanity for a seat in Congress? I suspect that most of those making this argument would not be, but that they haven’t considered a hidden spiritual cost of their political calculus. Is electing Roy Moore to the U.S. Senate worth that cost? Or, more probably, is it worth going to the end of the line for a candidate who is more likely to lose, and in doing so foreclose on other options to hold the seat?

To make matters worse, Moore’s recalcitrance is keeping this ugly rationale alive among some opinion leaders and rank-and-file on the right.

Debate over whether he should leave and if he stays in the race whether he should be supported keeps the “even if” argument active, and Moore’s run to high ground – direct appeals to evangelical voters that not opposing pro-abortion Democrat Doug Jones means the end of Alabama and the Union, in that order – adds cacophony to a much-needed character and morality debate within the broader conservative movement.

“Even If” Republicans who do choose to support Moore might claim to be holding their nose. They may envision self-soothing scenarios in which Moore would never actually serve and the party could appoint a worthy successor. Still, there’s no way to get completely bury the act of supporting a candidate while accepting that he might be guilty of a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old. The further darkening of the soul of our body politic will have been abetted and publicly so.

If the whole problem of a spiritual void still doesn’t concern “Even Ifs,” the downstream political effect should. Swing voters in suburban purple districts may decide to punish this kind of moral ambiguity by sending a message and destroying Republican candidates in the 2018 midterms, just as they appear to have done to send an anti-Trump message in the November election just past.

Fear of Democrats regaining control is valid and real, to be sure. They have become a party that appeals to extremes, too often sits by when freedoms are being suppressed, and seeks more power over our day-to-day choices. If Moore wins, however, the world doesn’t look any safer for Republicans as our would-be protectors. Having Moore in the Senate makes the task of holding the body harder, not easier.

If we have to pick our poison, we’d be smart to sip the toxin that may wound us, but avoid the cup that will surely kill us slowly from within.

[Image: AP]

New CNN Ad Brands the Network as ‘Facts First’ News. Not So Fast, CNN.

CNN is not fake news. Neither is it 100% fact, but that is what the 24-hour news network wants the public to take away from a new advertisement that was tweeted on Monday, the latest slap in a passive-aggressive bickering war with Pres. Donald Trump.

The origins of the feud between Trump and CNN are difficult to trace, but Trump’s use of the news organization as a whipping post began during the 2016 presidential election. Even before Trump took the oath of office, it was clear that his relationship with CNN was exempt from his casual promise to be more presidential. During his first press conference since being elected, Trump singled out CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta, pointed a finger and proclaimed, “Yewww are fake news.”

When the president’s rebuke is interpreted using the fuzzy word-feelings dictionary of our new tonal social language he’s correct, but on substance he’s wrong as usual.

Yes, the CNN hosts have obvious points of view, but the truth is that on most topics each show convenes panels of experts to advocate all sides, and the underlying reporting is based on facts that are all too often inconvenient to the narrative being put out by the Trump administration. That’s as fair and balanced as a typical Fox News show – in some cases more so.

But in other cases, CNN strays and this is where Trump’s minimalist critique still holds up and their claim fails to stick. For example, allowing distinctions to be erased between attempted hacking of US election systems, foreign-based misinformation campaigns, and changing actual votes to fraud a presidential election is counter to any goal of getting to the truth. Editor of the Daily Wire Ben Shapiro writes:

For months, we heard nothing but the story from CNN that the Russians had “hacked” the election. That wasn’t fact, but narrative. The problem with CNN isn’t that they’re fact-free — they’re not, and many of their reporters are excellent — but that they have a bad habit of conflating their opinions with the facts in the same way as any other outlet. The only difference: they fib about doing so, as many in the pseudo-objective media do.

So no, the ad doesn’t work. An apple is indeed an apple, but CNN has been in the business of slicing, dicing, juicing, and mixing that apple with bananas in order to fit its preferred political outcome.

And on a number of issues, CNN does promote the idea that sometimes an apple is a banana, or more precisely that a banana must be called a cantaloupe if that’s what the banana chooses. Put another way, the father of modern psychology Sigmund Freud was attributed to have posited, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” It is equally true that a cigar is never a flower, but CNN has helped to promote that kind of fallacy in the debate over the rights of individuals to self-identify their gender and compel others to recognize their choice.

CNN may be completely unaware that there is a list of these protected “facts” enshrined in their reporting. Suggest to CNN host Don Lemon that it could be reasonable to be offended by anthem protests, or that we should not debate gun control or police shootings by using cherry-picked data and talking points. Or meekly interject to any CNN host that although science shows trends of change in our climate, drastic and sweeping policies could be ineffective or even harmful. In those cases, and on the matter of human sexuality, CNN has moved ahead of the facts to chisel some of its beliefs into stone. Their facts are not so much facts as deeply held beliefs; they may be based on some supporting evidence, but almost always disregard conflicting data.

And there’s the question of CNN’s “facts” in how it chooses words to be used and repeated in the framing of issues. The word “access” has been grossly redefined by the English-to-MSM Dictionary used by CNN. The resulting divergence in a lexicon of debate on policy ensures that communities in different thought bubbles do not have a common point of reference.

Dear Seahawks, Isn’t it Time for That Apology?

It’s ironic that a sport like football that is all about taking things head-on in a physical sense can’t seem to translate that smash-mouth approach to how it approaches moral matters.

Whether in the NFL’s habit of tut-tutting past an endless string of stories about players in legal trouble, or failing to organize around the very basic idea that abusing women will result in swift and sobering punishment, or slipping meekly away from the nova-like moment of leaguewide anthem protests, the amassed megatons of brawn appear weak.

Specifically, directly addressing the understandable offense taken by reasonable people over the protests should be a relatively light lift in whatever units are used for measuring apologies. Nevertheless, the NFL seems content to move on without directly addressing any of it.

The team I’ve loved since the time we both were kids in the mid-1970s, the Seattle Seahawks, seems especially happy to pretend as though the whole thing was a bad dream. Pushing the whole episode down the memory hole is a mistake. True fans have an amazing capacity to carry grudges. There are Hawks fans who continued to despise one-time owner Ken Behring – the man who actually packed up the headquarters in preparation to take the team to Los Angeles – until the day he died.

And ask former Starbucks CEO and Seattle Supersonics owner Howard Schultz whether the city has fully forgiven him for what many feel was an act of betrayal in allowing the team to be sold out and moved to Oklahoma City.

To be sure, the Seahawks have responded in some ways based on the public’s reaction. In Week 5, Seattle Seahawks fans witnessed a pre-game ceremony that didn’t look much different than what was typical prior to Week 4. Players standing. Some locked arms. Some hands over hearts. And at yesterday’s Week 5 match-up against the Los Angeles Rams, even the team’s standout anthem protester, all-pro defensive end Michael Bennett, stood with the team for the first time this year. Hurrah.

There’s just one problem: the leaguewide protest action of three weeks ago was less peaceful speech and more political punch. That blow was felt a broad enough swath of Americans that it shouldn’t be dismissed as the overreaction of right-wing-variety snowflakes. The Seahawks organization was a leader in the effort and neither the team nor the league have stepped up to acknowledge the message they sent, perhaps inadvertently, to fans.

“Look, we put everything back the way it was before. Good! Right?” mewed the league hopefully.

Not so fast. Diehard Seahawks fans who took the slap may deserve something more than an unspoken agreement to not slap them again. If the team wants to win back any respect from those fans, it’s going to have to make some effort to address the slap. Own it, recognize the insult, and let’s move on. We can start by breaching the great divide of perception that persists between protesters and those who see the protests as inextricably aimed at the flag.

At last mention, Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll still contends that he doesn’t believe the protests were a “denigration” of the flag and in the aftermath has defined such acts as a way to “stand against hate and dehumanization and equality for all people.”

The hyper-compartmentalization by Carroll and others to separate the protest from the only other thing happening at that time is still quite stunning. Keeping those blinders strapped on also prevents a rapprochement with alienated Hawks fans. That fan resistance isn’t pouting or intolerance or snowflakery.

Consider that you are attending the wedding of a Catholic friend. At the penultimate moment of the ceremony, you stand, turn your back to the altar, and profess your disapproval of the Church’s position on same-sex marriage. Consider then that you explain to your friend that you weren’t actually being disrespectful of their beliefs, their church or the sanctity of their moment. Consider then that you just lost a friend, perhaps for life, save for one last-ditch act. You do the right thing, suck it up, and make an honest and contrite apology.

Of course, professional sports are not a religion; neither is national pride. The point is that scheduling matters when it comes to how context will be interpreted. Planning a protest to suggest inequality and racism are woven into the American DNA is one thing. Having it coincide with the presentation of said nation’s flag is bound to be seen as intentional. Making it a league statement pits fans who vehemently disagree against the league. It’s fitting that a protest over the freedom to protest has unleashed in some disaffected fans the freedom to choose pumpkin patches, long walks, or reading a book over watching sports, as the decline in ratings appears to show.

So, Seahawks, is it time yet to begin the healing? As one seriously committed lifelong Seahawks fan, I’d like to see something happen. There is only so much entertainment one can squeeze out of a pumpkin patch. I can take a long walk any other day of the week.

Speaking only for myself, I’m not asking for a guarantee that all players will stand for the anthem, because compulsory respect isn’t actually respect at all.

Furthermore, I certainly don’t want players who were initially involved in the anthem protests to be pressured into abandoning whichever cause they were supporting. In fact, the only silver lining to be found here would be an honest opportunity to listen and learn from each other, to challenge preconceptions, get to a common set of facts about the issues at hand, and find some common objectives based on things we can all agree need to change.

Individual actions were not ever really a breaking point issue for me or most other fans. I know that because we were doing okay as recently as four weeks ago. Sure, it was the kind of “doing fine” that involved some tolerance that American football had become ever more soaked in the liquor of liberal politics, but it was easy enough to grind your teeth, roll your eyes and ignore it. And then the individual kneeling metastasized into a leaguewide action.

For the entire NFL to unite in a protest action was markedly different from the isolated player protests. Everything changed the moment it happened. It became a “thing.” To defuse it requires recognizing what it was to many people and some clear, public commitment to make it clear that protests are fine, but not those that coincide with a moment we reserve for respecting the flag. Individual acts of disrespect will still be distasteful, but easy to ignore without the appearance of endorsement by the entire team or the league as a whole.

We’ve given a lot of time, money and emotion to support a team. A simple sign of respect in reciprocity for all of that seems like the least we can ask.

[Ed. This story was corrected to indicate that Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett stood during the singing of the national anthem before the Oct. 8 game against the L.A. Rams.]

[Photo credit: AP]

A Thought Experiment for Proponents of Gun Control: Are You Anti-Gun or Just Scared?

Across America, this week isn’t one where people will wonder why the flags are at half-staff.  All of America is mourning the victims in Las Vegas and praying for their loved ones.

(All Americans except for the pathetic excuse for a former CBS Television attorney Hayley Geftman-Gold who wasn’t “sympathetic [because] country music fans often are Republican gun toters.”  It’s sick coincidence that, if the shooter indeed was a psychopath as at least one former FBI profiler has hypothesized, then he and this woman would share one trait: a chilling lack of empathy.)

We’re in collective shock.  We instinctively grope for answers to create some context that makes any sense at all.  Now is the best time to be brave, set aside your political positions – pro-gun, anti-gun – for just a moment.

If you’re a feeling person, as most Americans are, then the terror unleashed beside the landmark Vegas Strip late Sunday evening, well, it scares you. Frankly, it should scare us. Random violence is Satan’s turn to roll the dice. The number that comes up can easily be ours or that of someone we care about. We should all seek solutions that can minimize the number of times the devil gets his throw.

As we begin to debate policies with the goal of reducing either the number of these events, or the ability for an evildoer to rack up large body counts, or both, it’s actually important to identify what is motivating our policy preferences.  If you lean toward solutions for broader restrictions on gun ownership – maybe even as extreme as getting rid of the Second Amendment all together – are you really anti-gun (e.g., you believe the gun itself is evil and removing it them from society is the answer) or just scared of what guns can do when in an evil hand?  It’s a question that you can sort through even in the current emotion-driven state of debate. It just takes the bravery to honestly confront a thought experiment.

Consider that you are among those people who may have been walking near the Mandalay Bay as the shooting began. You know what’s happening. You can hear the screaming. You know people must be dying. You recognize that you are not in the killing zone; in this constructed reality you know that you are not in danger.

Then, a higher power – God, Yahweh, Allah, or Richard Dawkins and a teleporter machine – blinks you into that unholy space, the 32nd floor corner room.  The same higher power places an assault rifle in your hands and endows you with an immediate Jason Bourne-like understanding of how to use it. The shooter has his back to you and is focused; a kill shot would be assured. What do you do?

If you hold the pure belief that guns are the evil in the room, then you have only one moral option: you do not fire.

On the other hand, if you do choose to fire, that decision informs you about what you really believe: the gun is value-neutral and the shooter is the moral actor.  You accept that the gun is a tool that can be used for a moral purpose to take down the shooter and save lives.

Confronting this has important implications for how we discuss policy.  For those who are concerned by the randomness of these shootings but are brave enough to absolve the gun of a responsibility it doesn’t actually bear, the focus on solutions shifts to address the evil of a would-be shooter. Surely there are laws that can be enacted to address the physical nature of the weapon.  Banning the sale of bump-fire stocks or modifications that allow a weapon to effectively be fired fully automatic seems like a reasonable beginning and ending point.  But when we acknowledge that a person with gun can be a moral good, it becomes much clearer where we need to direct our attention; the utopian fantasy in which getting rid of all guns (or even enacting strict infringements on ownership) would also eliminate the risk of mass violence falls to tatters. Because as long as there’s evil, there will be rampage killings, even when the population has been disarmed.

The scale of evil done with a gun in Las Vegas was grand, but doesn’t negate the value of guns to do relative good in smaller-scale confrontations that take place in living rooms, churches, shopping malls, and elsewhere. Infringing upon the rights of the greater good to address abuses by an evil micro-minority would have unintended consequences that can’t just be ignored.

(Ed. Since initial publication, the headline has been changed for clarity of context.)

[Image credit: UltraONEs]

This Vice News Documentary on Racism Looks Chilling

And it’s time for media to put the same spotlight on all forms of hate.

HBO’s Vice News program will begin airing a documentary tonight (8/16) that promises to take an unflinching look at the white supremacist terror movement. The program will include interviews with white supremacists and footage recorded during the explosive and fateful events of the previous several days in Charlottesville, Va.

HBO has put an extended preview of tonight’s episode on YouTube.  I urge you to watch it, but be warned that it is shocking material that could be considered NSFW and unsuitable for younger children.

This is important and timely journalism from HBO.  It’s very likely that a large number of Americans are unaware that the views espoused by the subject of this piece are anything more than throwaway dialogue for historical fiction.  Those who say that the best way to banish these idea is to apply the Voldemort defense — “don’t speak their name because it gives them more power” — are wrong.  More light.  More shame.  More perspective on how small they are compared to the largeness of those who disagree with them.

Vice should also assign a team to compile a similar unvarnished, unfiltered perspective of groups that the left is now holding up as heroes who are in fact not heroes at all.

A primary role of the press in a free society is to raise an alarm when threat to the greater society surface.  The mainstream national media is doing an excellent job running the siren about the boldness of white supremacists and neo-Nazis. They are, so far, doing a fairly awful job when it comes to sounding the alarm about any hate rising in the left.

In fact, the same righteous charge leveled by nearly every mouth talking on CNN Tuesday at Pres. Donald Trump, that his remarks to the press on that day drew inaccurate and immoral equivalencies between white supremacists and antifa thugs that were warring on the ground in Charlottesville, could also apply to their chorus of outrage.  The president’s equivalency wasn’t just immoral, they cried, it was invalid and false to its core because white supremacists are stand for hate, and antifa is about standing up to hate.  Compounding their flawed logic was a wave of social media posts welcoming antifa into the club of heroes that includes U.S. soldiers who fought and died to defeat fascism in World War II.

(Local coverage in cities like Seattle, Portland, and even Berkeley, where the have been face-to-face with left-wing anarchists and antifa thugs tends to be much less afraid to call a spade a spade, or a nail-studded two-by-four a weapon, as is often the case. Direct experience is a potent ingredient in producing honest journalism.)

The problem is that if we’re going to be a society that really does seek to guard itself against hate, it won’t work for the media to be so exclusionary about what it will allow to be labeled hateful.

Whether hatred coalesces like an oily choking smoke cloud around race-based hate or class-based hate, white supremacy or Marxism, really matters less than the hard truth that each of these hate groups targets for demolition the same common set of core values: freedom, equality and tolerance of different opinions.  These hate groups descend from lines of virulent thought that have stacked up staggering body counts.  The fact that they and other opposing groups on the extreme wings are at war with each other shouldn’t trick us, and especially the wise sages in the media, into being stuck with only one white hat and one black hat to use in talking about them.

For Extremism to Fall, Civility Must Rise

It’s time to revoke the moratorium that intellectuals and political thinkers have imposed on a certain mode of argument. From here on out, we should talk openly about the dangers that extreme political groups pose to democratic societies, even if that means we need to talk about (gulp) the lessons that include the history of Nazi Germany.

I want to say at the outset that, although this should be obvious, the United States is not now Nazi Germany. Despite all attempts by the left to portray the U.S. as a teeming majority racist country, there is no evidence that is true, even with the surge in growth among hate groups in recent years. Similarly, conspiracists on the right who project Nazi-esque totalitarian motives onto liberals and Democrats are unhinged and misguided.

Nor does it seem likely that even in the unlikely event that America descends into extremism it would ever feature horrors on the magnitude inflicted by the 20th century’s ethno-fascist powers; our demographic diversity is a bulwark and a deterrent.

Nevertheless, is should be clear that something is not right in the U.S. body politic. It’s time for a sobering check and to consider the true condition of our political health, even if doing so requires denying ourselves to daydream about what we wish it to be.

Not only because of Charlottesville do we need this examination, but also because of Oak Creek, and Dallas, and Baltimore, and so many other recent moments in which hate boiled over and erupted into uncivil violent rage. Charlottesville was a focal point of white supremacist hate; there will be others. Now is the time to condemn that particular brand of evil, but we can do more than one thing at once. We are, after all, Americans. We fought fascism in two hemispheres; we can identify and defeat it on two poles of the political continuum here at home, too. We only need to be brave enough to face it directly. It’s time to face the reality that the dark forces are conducting their war on the fringes but through the middle of the political landscape. There are real potential concerns if the middle doesn’t take steps to confine corrosive insanity to the edges.

The real danger posed by these extreme groups is not their direct impact—their raw influence is overstated, partly due to tactical shrewdness on their part and partly due to media amplification. Under normal circumstances, the clear majority of people intuitively recognize extremists for who they are and insert proper distance from them and their views. But today’s circumstances are far from normal. The real danger posed by extreme groups is different today than in the past 20 years because it manifests at a time when extremists warring in the streets occurs against the backdrop of hyper-polarized politics in the middle (relatively speaking) of the spectrum.

Political machines making maps to nowhere

There are entire machines inside of mainstream politics working to ensure that people see Democrats or Republicans as sympathetic to one extreme or the other. They are good at what they do.

The political maps generated by millions of social media posts, emails, and other forms of messaging is, to be fair, useful—the groups on the fringes are bad folks—but each side isn’t handing out the same map.

Republicans look across the line to see a movement that runs through Black Lives Matter, Linda Sansour’s Women’s March, and culminates in groups such as Antifa, the Muslim Brotherhood and the BDS movement.

Democrats stare over the barbed wire and see the Tea Party, President Trump hardcore base and the NRA coalescing into the alt-right, white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

When there is blood in the streets between the extremists (as there was in Charlottesville and has increasingly been in clashes around the nation), the political maps come out. Enemies are identified and history tells us that far too often we use the oft-misleading rationale that an enemy of our enemy is our friend to enter uneasy and unhealthy alliances. We recognize how that method of calculation can backfire by reviewing the checkered realpolitik track record in foreign affairs. It is also the domestic political trapdoor through which the German establishment fell in 1933 and all of the world fell through it with them as the Nazis rose to full power.

German politics in the interwar period—the years between World Wars I and II—were chaotic. Here’s a speed course through the history. Conservatives and progressives tugged back and forth over bitter divisions for control of the parliament; Communists and the fledgling National Democratic Socialists (Nazis) fought violently in the streets for control of towns to gain footholds. Communists and Nazis each accreted a small base of power, and in the end, the balance of the German establishment’s concern went to its fear of communism. The more conservative elements reluctantly hopped into bed with the Nazis who promptly fulfilled their end of the bargain. This bit of Joseph Goebbels speaking in 1933 conveys the story well.

(Hat tip to Ben Shapiro for including this clip from a 2005 British-made documentary “Hitler in Colour” on his very fiery podcast today and prompting me to use it here.)

What do we take from this? Only that democracies aren’t invulnerable and a small or divided political center (in terms of dialogue, not beliefs of agenda) can be manipulated to follow its own interests straight to destruction.

It might be comforting to soothe oneself into blissful ignorance by picking up the flag of American exceptionalism and hugging it like a security blanket, believing that the mere existence of the values the nation was founded upon really do have magical prophylactic characteristics to repel viral forces as they emerge. (Constitution! Kills pesky extremism on contact!)

Because we’re immersed in an automated, push-button, retail on-demand world, it may have become very easy to also think of our way of life as self-cleaning. At times pundits promoting confidence in the durability of our system even speak of self-correction to quell fears about how far instability can really take us.

In reality, our system is not self-correcting at all. Our system requires real moral leadership and real will within the public to utilize the tools the system has provided to cause a correction to happen.

In order for that moral leadership to coalesce, it might be best to set aside Pollyannaish talk about how checks and balances and the oh-so-parchmenty substance of the Constitution form an impenetrable defense against threats to real freedom coming from several directions.  In short, it’s time for us to heed Sinclair Lewis’ warning and stop telling ourselves that it can’t happen here.  It—fascism, whether on the right or the left—can gain a foothold anywhere and when even a nation’s “mainstream” political dialogue becomes nothing more than artillery-grade name-calling across a deep and polarized policy divide, the ground becomes a little too fertile for extremism to grow.

We can do things in an effort to ensure that it won’t happen, but waiting for our leaders to adjust their behavior is not one of them. The hard, cold fact is that politicians are more responsive than they are proactive; they react to stimuli. Pat them on the head for a good deed and they do more good deeds. Smack them on the nose… you get the gist. It is necessary for all people, on both sides, to draw the same tough line for themselves and their political friends as they draw for their foes.

We have everything to gain and potentially so much to lose. Other generations have done their part to preserve the nation. If this is the most ours must do—to let each other know that extremism doesn’t have a home in any legitimate political movement—we’ll have drawn the short straw.

Biggest Players Silent on the ‘Day of Action’ for Net Neutrality

Last week I told you about net neutrality and the 2015 government takeover of the internet. The same day I posted, the issue was supposed to be front and center for the left-wing organizers’ “Day of Action” to “save” net neutrality.

Oh, you didn’t notice? Hardly anyone else did, either. Perhaps it’s because few people really care about net neutrality since they never had a problem to begin with. Or maybe they just don’t like the precedent of treating the internet like a public utility and potentially opening it up to endless regulation.

You have to hand it to the social justice warriors; their hearts are usually in the right place. They hear a word like “neutrality” and line right up. But the only thing that isn’t neutral is when big government places its thumb on the scale.

As I wrote last week, there is widespread agreement that users should be able to go wherever they like online without fear of selective discrimination against different websites, internet traffic, or data via Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

But heavy net neutrality restrictions are unnecessary, especially the preposterous public utility rules, and few things are truly as neutral as a free marketplace without government interference.

The interesting thing is the effort was originally backed by big names like Facebook, Airbnb, Spotify, Reddit, and Netflix, among others, sites that the protesters rely on daily, both for their lifestyle choices and their low-risk activism. Then it appears these companies, while supporting the “Day of Action,” kept a relatively low profile. Why?

The fact is that all of them are extremely powerful corporations worth tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars each. Would so many big-time companies really adapt left-wing causes out of the goodness of their hearts and an unshakable sense of justice?  Do they really care about fairness and all the malarkey about mom-and-pop shops?

Of course not; the activists got duped into supporting an objective that fortifies the bottom lines of these companies, the only thing that would compel them to take such bold steps.

Strict net neutrality protects their profitability for a few reasons. First, they are all well positioned now; in fact, near monopolies in their respective online spaces. Permissionless innovation can only loosen their grips, not tighten them. Breakthroughs in technology favor new entrants into the marketplace, unfettered by government, who can usurp the incumbent leaders. That’s why seemingly everyday Facebook simply buys up another new and innovative social media rival rather than compete with them.

Additionally, quasi-monopolies work best when they enjoy biased protections from the government. Overreaching net neutrality essentially protects them and discourages new investors because the utility regulations function similarly to price controls. Think about it: Google doesn’t want to pay more for better broadband just because investors want good returns on their investments.

So it turned out that on Tuesday, July 11th, the day before the Day of Action, Republican House leadership made it clear to Facebook, Google and Amazon that overly aggressive net neutrality activism could make it harder to work together on other policy issues that the companies really care about like privacy rules and legal liability for content on online platforms. So they abandoned, they toned down the resistance and left the millennials to fight the good fight.

As I said last week, the ultimate solution is to settle this issue once and for all by clearly defining the role of the federal government in the internet with a free-market based, legislative solution that locks in basic standards of net neutrality while also promoting continued private-sector investment and innovation. That’s a goal worth marching for.

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