Commencement controversies: free speech vs. mob rule

What is it about today’s college students, acting like they’d need smelling salts if their safe space was invaded by controversial ideas?

Commencement speaker choices now drive an annual ritual of protest, led mostly by intolerant students (and too many faculty) unwilling to have to hear provocative comments from someone with whom they disagree or who is affiliated with a disagreeable institution. Only people with the right purity of thought and action, usually a liberal, get a pass.

God forbid exposing students to ideas that might challenge their preconceptions and destroy their youthful innocence.

And the protests are not, as some would claim, exercises in free speech. The students are not just objecting to the speakers’ ideas; they are endeavoring to stifle what the speakers have to say.

In 2014, International Monetary Fund director Christine Lagarde withdrew as a planned commencement speaker at Smith College and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pulled out at Rutgers University.

Lagarde withdrew after a petition circulated on iPetitions with charges such as, “IMF… policies (have) led directly to the strengthening of imperialist and patriarchal systems that oppress and abuse women worldwide.”

At Rutgers, Rice withdrew after some students asserted that by inviting Rice the university was “…encouraging and perpetuating a world that justifies torture and debases humanity.”

Students protest planned commencement address by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at Rutgers University

Students protest planned commencement address by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at Rutgers University

This year, dozens of faculty at John Fisher College criticized the school’s commencement invitation to former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, asserting he is “a political figure who has recently shown himself to be inflammatory and divisive in his commentary.”

In Texas, student’s objected to a commencement address at the University of North Texas by Gov. Greg Abbott. The critics assailed Abbott’s views on immigration and same sex marriage and his efforts to undo a voter-approved fracking ban in the area.

The protests are part of the effort by intellectually arrogant students (and faculty) to filter out different opinions, to create echo chambers for “acceptable” views.

The protests are consistent with the push for “trigger warnings”, warnings that certain class material might make some students uncomfortable.

At Rutgers University, for example, a student wrote to the school newspaper endorsing notifications to students of material that might trigger discomfort, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” which “…possesses a variety of scenes that reference gory, abusive and misogynistic violence.”

Even the liberal New Republic has raised warnings. “Structuring public life around the most fragile personal sensitivities will only restrict all of our horizons,” the magazine wrote. “Engaging with ideas involves risk, and slapping warnings on them only undermines the principle of intellectual exploration.”

The way things are going, the only acceptable commencement speaker will be Kermit the Frog. He’s already primed and ready, by the way, having addressed commencement Exercises at Southampton College in 1996.


Sen. Jeff Merkley: leading the way in partisanship

So much for working well across the aisle for the common good.

Jeff Merkley, D-OR, is one of the most partisan U.S. Senators, according to a just compiled Bipartisan Index that measures members of Congress. Of 100 Senators, Merkley ranked 93rd in bipartisanship.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-OR, a true blue partisan.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-OR, a true blue partisan.

A low score indicates that a legislator is viewing his or her duties through a partisan lens, rather than prioritizing problem solving and being open to working with the other party when possible, entertaining a wide range of ideas, and prioritizing governance over posturing.

The Lugar Center, a non-profit organization focusing on global policy issues, teamed up with the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University to develop a Bipartisan Index to measure members of Congress. The ranking of all senators, released for the first time on Tuesday, rates lawmakers by how their legislation does in attracting co-sponsors from the other party as well as how often they sponsor legislation proposed by members across the aisle.

“…sponsorship and co-sponsorship behavior is especially revealing of partisan tendencies,” said former Senator Richard G. Lugar, President of The Lugar Center. “Members’ voting decisions are often contextual and can be influenced by parliamentary circumstances. Sponsorships and co-sponsorships, in contrast, exist as very carefully considered declarations of where a legislator stands on an issue.”

Berkeley’s abysmal ranking in the Bipartisan Index suggests that he’s more interested in making political points than being an effective legislator. Partisan bills certainly have their place, but as Lugar said in his Introduction to the Bipartisan Index, “…at the beginning of the legislative process, when effective governance would argue for broadening a new bill’s appeal, too often the opposite is happening.  Bills are being written not to maximize their chances of passage, but to serve as legislative talking points.  Taking a position is not the same thing as governing.”

Facebook: swallowing the news

Facebook has officially launched its Instant Articles feature where full stories from media outlets are displayed, rather than links to the media sites. Media such as the New York Times, BuzzFeed and the Guardian are participating in the program.

The new function will not only avoid the problem of slow loading time for linked stories, but will prevent users from leaking from Facebook when leaving to view a full story. That will help Facebook in its goal to be a one-stop-shop.

You might not even notice the change, but it signals a transformative relationship between media outlets, Facebook and the public.


The collaboration will be far from benign. It will have a devastating impact, seriously eroding the brands of the media companies and, over time, the connections readers have with them.

In short, the seeds of your newspaper’s demise are being planted by Facebook. Read more.


The Oregon Convention Center Hotel: paying off the unions

Ask any informed person without a vested interest in the proposed Oregon Convention Center Hotel whether they think it will be a fiasco and you’re likely to get a loud and clear, “Yep!”

But public opinion has little to do with whether the hotel will get built. The fix is in, with Metro, liberal politicians and labor unions joined at the hip.

Metro Council President Tom Hughes, the hotel’s principal cheerleader, was first elected to Metro in 2010 with the strong support of labor organizations; they continued that support in his successful 2014 race.

“I want to build a hotel,” Hughes once told union workers. “I want it to be built by union workers, and I want union workers running it.”

unite here

Portland has just three union-operated hotels, all organized by Unite Here Local 8: the Benson; the Paramount; and the Portland Hilton Hotel and Executive Tower.

The unions got their first break on the Convention Center project when Metro mandated that the hotel be built by union building trades.

Prospective developers were also told to bid the privately-owned and operated project under union-supported prevailing wage guidelines where wages are set artificially high above the market.

Metro stacked the deck in favor of the unions again when the Council required that Hyatt sign a labor peace agreement with Unite Here before Metro would begin negotiating the details of the project. Hyatt, long a non-union hotel chain, subsequently agreed to a national labor peace agreement with Unite Here.

Metro also gave unions an edge in organizing the eventual hotel workers by requiring that they use a voting process despised by employers and many workers called card check. Under card check, instead of holding a federally-supervised secret ballot election, workers get to vote under the watchful eyes of union organizers, Lucky them.

Once a majority of employees have signed cards, the union is immediately recognized.

As the AFL-CIO’s Southeastern Oregon Central Labor Council put it, the hotel workers “…will come into a workplace where their management has promised to leave any decisions to the workers without wasting money on deceiving anti-union campaigns.”

Yep, folks, the fix is in.

Sure it’s ugly, but at least it’s expensive.

I passed an all-electric BMW i3 today and it’s the ugliest thing ever. It reminded me of the ungainly 2001-2005 Pontiac Aztec, one of the ugliest vehicles ever made, according to consumer polls. Even legendary GM executive, Bob Lutz, said it and other GM products looked like “angry kitchen appliances.”

BMW i3

BMW i3

What is it that drives people to buy the i3, with a MSRP up to $46,250, and other horrendously pricey, but ugly, products?

It’s the weirdness itself.

It’s not that people want an ugly car. What they want is to stand out, to express their have their friends, neighbors and even strangers see them in their distinct, peculiar, expensive car. If it’s an electric or hybrid car, so much the better because it crows, “I can afford this. Admire me and my environmental credentials.”

Same thing with a host of other products.

Want an expensive watch? You could spend tons on an exhorbitantly priced, but bland-looking one. But who will notice? Instead, try the Roger Dubuis Excalibur Quatuor, priced at 1 million Swiss francs (about US $1,125,000).

Roger Dubuis Excalibur Quatuor watch

Roger Dubuis Excalibur Quatuor watch

The maker says it’s worth it because its case is made entirely of silicon (according to the brand, the first such watch of its kind), a material with half the weight of titanium and four times the hardness. It’s big advantage? It’s really ugly, so people will notice.

How about shoes? Some women are apparently willing to spend $2495 on Giuseppe Zanotti white crystal-embellished peep-toe leather mid-calf booties. It can’t be because they are so elegant, but they certainly will be noticed.

Giuseppe Zanotti booties

Giuseppe Zanotti booties

Of course, some people will buy expensive things even if they aren’t ugly, so long as they carry status. Aspirational Americans keep buying Land Rovers, for example, even though they consistently get terrible reliability ratings.

Range Rover Evoque

Range Rover Evoque

When JD Power recently released the results of its newest Customer Service Index study, Land Rover finished right at the bottom, in the basement, dead last.

Typical of owner complaints is this from the owner of a Land Rover with 28,000 miles on it: “…after a year of owning it – the electronic park brake got stuck and was a huge expense to fix. Shortly after that the rear anti roll bar was leaking – another huge expense…After 50K miles front suspension arms have gone wheel bearings have gone and front anti roll bar has gone, another 4.5K to fix all. Just got the car back – and now the right side turbo has gone. Another 5K fix… Range rovers are nice to look at – but are built so poorly – its not worth owning this car.”

Oh well, at least people blowing all their money on overpriced things are keeping the people who make them employed. And that’s good for the economy, right?

Baltimore: The seeds of black despair

The past is prologue.

If you want to understand Baltimore’s current turmoil, look at the childhoods of its inner-city blacks and their progress to adulthood.

Despite the American ideal of social mobility, we are not all masters of our own fortune able to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. That’s the conclusion of “The Long Shadow”, a report on a groundbreaking 25-year study led by three Johns Hopkins University academics.


The study showed how hard it is for inner city blacks in Baltimore to break out from the straitjacket of poverty, dysfunctional families, limited education and crime-ridden neighborhoods.

The study followed 790 urban youth who began first grade at 20 Baltimore elementary schools in 1982 and tried to forge lives for themselves into the first decade of the twentieth century.

It’s not a pretty picture.

The de-industrialization, downsizing and impoverishment of Baltimore has left thousands of blacks behind.

In 1950, Baltimore was a major American city with 950,000 people and thriving industries. Today, downtown Baltimore is a jewel, but the city’s population is just 623,000 and it’s economy is sharply divided between well-paid professionals and an underclass with no jobs or with low-wage, low or no benefit jobs with limited potential for advancement.

A cumulative disadvantage begins in the early elementary school years. “Lower socioeconomic status and disadvantaged black youth begin school already behind on all criteria commonly used to gauge school readiness,” the study says. Then the black children who start behind find it hard to ever catch up.

The study points out that the urban disadvantaged are not all disadvantaged in the same way and to the same extent.

Disadvantaged blacks in Baltimore find life harsher than low-income whites. This is due partly to growing up in neighborhoods with more pervasive violent crime, high levels of single teen parenthood, low levels of schooling and high unemployment.

In contrast, many disadvantaged whites with low education levels in Baltimore still manage to find decent employment as adults in the remaining industrial and construction crafts. That’s partly cause they have a broader network of job contacts that grow out of their blue-collar residential enclaves.

“The networks were relics of Baltimore’s well-documented Jim Crow past, when blacks were systematically shut out of most skilled trades,” the study reported. “Modern anti-discrimination laws ended such practices’ official sanction, but white employers continued to hire mostly white workers through family and social connections rather than through formal job postings.”

And the pattern of failure for too many Baltimore blacks repeats itself when parents with little formal education and erratic employment in low-level dead-end jobs are in no position to be role models for the kinds of behaviors that will help their children succeed.

Then there are drugs and criminal records. Higher levels of drug-related arrests of blacks, even though their drug usage is comparable to that of whites, and higher rates of incarceration mean more blacks have the stain of a criminal record, further limiting employment opportunities. “To be young, black and a dropout in today’s economy is trebly disadvantaging, and a criminal record adds another strike,” the report says.

The result? A dispirited, frustrated, fatalistic black population with bleak prospects. Perfect tinder for combustion.