Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Has Anti-Bullying Gone Too Far

Late last night, I posted about the over reaction of the federal govenrment to the issue of sexual assault on college campuses.  There is no doubt in my mind that sexual assaults happen on college campuses, but not with the frequency the Department of Education would have you believe. 

Today, we visit an issue on the other side of the spectrum--bullying in elementary and secondary schools.  Again, let me acknowledge from the beginning that bullying happens, it is wrong and it is a problem.  But like sexual assaults on college campuses, the problem, I beleive, is not nearly as widespread as the nanny staters would have you believe. 

This morning, I saw this story in the New York Times about New Jersey's tough new anti-bullying law
Under a new state law in New Jersey, lunch-line bullies in the East Hanover schools can be reported to the police by their classmates this fall through anonymous tips to the Crimestoppers hot line.
In Elizabeth, children, including kindergartners, will spend six class periods learning, among other things, the difference between telling and tattling.

And at North Hunterdon High School, students will be told that there is no such thing as an innocent bystander when it comes to bullying: if they see it, they have a responsibility to try to stop it.

But while many parents and educators welcome the efforts to curb bullying both on campus and online, some superintendents and school board members across New Jersey say the new law, which takes effect Sept. 1, reaches much too far, and complain that they have been given no additional resources to meet its mandates.
The law, known as the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, is considered the toughest legislation against bullying in the nation. Propelled by public outcry over the suicide of a Rutgers University freshman, Tyler Clementi, nearly a year ago, it demands that all public schools adopt comprehensive antibullying policies (there are 18 pages of “required components”), increase staff training and adhere to tight deadlines for reporting episodes.
Seriously, a law that puts kindergartners into six hours of anti-bullying seminars instead of, I don't know, reading or math class.  A law that requires bystanders to get involved or potentially face some kind of punishment (NOTE:, As an adult, if I see an assault going on in the street, I have no legal obligation to call the police or intervene, and I cannot be sued if I don't). 

This law is a classic example of an overreaction by government busybodies who have nothing better to do.  Instead of addressing a bullying problem that is smaller in scope than is proably the truth, the New Jersey legislature has enacted a law that dramatically blows out of proportion a real problem, making it a monstrosity of intervention, informing and administration that will cost millions and won't solve the problem.

Bullying takes so many forms, from the low-tech in-your-face milkmoney shakedown, to the high-tech, online and texting shaming that happens.  This law apparently makes no distinction between the two and brands the culprits as beasts or criminals when in fact the former is pretty minor and probably pretty easily handled by both the victim and the schoool.  The latter instance is more complicated and might need some special intervention.  But a massive state law like New Jersey's treats every one of these incidents, from the trifling to the significant, in the same way--ultimately poorly.

The fact of the matter is bullying is going to happen no matter what kind of law is put in place in an effort to "stop bullying."  Bullies should be punished, of course,  and most bullies grow out of their behavior.  Would not a far better use of taxpayer dollars and student's precious time be to teach kids how to handle bullies themselves?  Do we really need a massive governmental program, complete with hundreds of hours of training for adults (at millions of dollars in taxpayer funds) and tedious paperwork and reporting requirements, for school administrators and teachers to address a problem that has existed in schools since the formation of the first schools?  Why not let school administrators, guidance counselors, teachers and oh yeah, parents, address bullying in a manner tailored to the incident. 

Wait....because that is not what government wants.

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Demonization and Victimization on Campus

Some good friends and colleagues of mine spent the last couple of weeks packing their kids, young men and women really, into their cars with all their stuff and then moving their children in to dorms at various colleges and universities across the country.  The hustle and bustle of moving in the college, of stepping out from their parent's shadow and immediate protection certainly made most of my friends proud, and maybe a little apprehensive. 

After the chore of moving into to the dorms, the parents departed, leaving their children on their own.  But what most parents didn't see or experience was the orientation seminars that took place on college campuses.  While some orientation sessions are to be expected, i.e. where to go if you are sick, where to go if you need to get something to eat, got to the gym, proceedures for signing up for classes or changning a schedule, there is one session, effectively mandated by law, that is guaranteed to scare the crap out of men and women--the sexual assault session.  I have no problem with sexual assault awareness seminars, but is there any college adminsitrator out there who thinks that this seminar is going to stop what is almost certianly going to happen hours after the seminar--the semi-anonymous hook-up fueled perhaps by a little alcohol? 

Certainly sexual assault is something to be avoided, but in the new rules of sexual behavior, a staple of collegiate activity, sex, can and should make men very afraid and women very angry.  Right now, as I write, I am willing to wager significant sums of my annual income for the next 10 years that hundreds, if not thousands, of college students are drunk and having sex.  But under recent guidelines promulgated by the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education, unless the "sexual initiator" (almost always assumed to be the man) has explicit consent for each act of sexual activity, from kissing a girl, to feeling her up, to grabbing her butt, right up to taking off her clothes and actually engaging in sex of any kind, that man has committed a sexual assault.  The consequences of his act can mean expulsion and the end of his academic career at the current school and indeed any school. 

Here's the next scary thing--the young woman doesn't have to bring the charges--it can be brought by anyone, including a bystander.  Here is the truly frightening thing--the young man, at most colleges, is not entitled to legal represenation when brought up before a "judicial committee" to hear the case.  At the same time, there is an entire bureaucracy on hand assist the woman (or the bystander) in filing the case.

The recent policy changes, applicable to every school that receives even a penny of federal funds including federal student loans (so effectively just about every school in the country), means that in place of a campus culture that puts a premium on personal responsbility, on growth and learning, we have arrived at the ultimate nanny state--one that blames men (no matter what actually happened) and coddles and degrades women (no matter how much they take responsibility for their role in what happened).  It is the perfect storm of predator naming and shaming and victim culture. 

The burden of proof of a sexual assault hearing on a college campus is not on the college to prove beyond a reasonable doubt or even on a clear and convincing standard, that a man committed a sexual assault.  Indeed the burden of proof is prepodnerance of the evidence (a more likely than not) standard.  Adding insult to injury, the burden is on the "initiator" of the sexual activity (almost always assumed to be the man) to prove that he had consent.  Absent written proof, the man will not have anything other than his word. 
At a time when men are disappearing from college campuses, why would a man risk going to college and knocking beer (or six) back and talking to a woman?  If he touches her, in any way, he could be doomed to underemployment or worse for years to come, a damage to his psyche and future that he may never recover from.

But lest you think that I am trying to stick up for men here, the policy is, in my opinion, just as bad in its treatment of women.  Women make up the majority of students on most college campuses today.  But this policy, at a time when women have made significant strides in higher education, treats them in a manner reminiscent of worst cliches we think of from the Victorian age.  This policy doesn't treat women as individual, adutl women--it treats them as if they are 8 year old girls rather than the young adults we want them to be.  They cannot, under this policy, admit to the mistakes (if it is a mistake) of sleeping with some random guy.  This policy doesn't allow women to be adults--it treats them like children.

Is there a problem with sexual assault on campus?  Probably, yes.  Is it as widespread as Vice President Biden and the Department of Education would have us believe?  Probably not. 

The true test of any policy is does it deal with the minority case as well as the majority case?  In other words, does this policy protect the male victim of a sexually aggressive woman? 

No one, man or woman, should have to suffer the indignity and violation of a sexual assautlt.

But no man, or woman, should be raped by a process that classifies horny teenagers predators and victims without regard to what actually happened (or whether the so-called victim thinks of themselves as a victim) when both participants are best classified, in the overwhelming, vast majority of cases, simply as college students being college students.

Check out my soccer blog at Nutmegs and Stepovers

Monday, August 29, 2011

Why Do People Get Hung Up on Forecasts?

In the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, there is a more than a little finger pointing about steps taken by various governmental entities and actors based upon the forecasts of Irene, the storm's track and its intensity.
To be sure, and credit to the forecasters--there projected track could not have been more accurate, but everyone seems to be pitching a fit that the storm was not more intense when it made landfall in North Carolina--blaming the forecasters for getting it wrong.  Like it was a bad thing that the storm was not a bad as predicted. Had Irene made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane, everyone would have been pointing the finger at the forecasters for not making the correct call.

To be honest, there is a reason why I call weather forecasters--weather guessers.  Yes, they have lots and lots of data that they use to make a forecast--but in the end it is a guess, an educated guess.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

An Outside Observer Goes to Madison

As the recall elections in Wisconsin wind to a close, Ann Althouse has been providing excellent coverage of the events in Madison, including wonderful coverage of the various protestes that have happened. As it turns out, a preacher from Kansas went to see first hand what was going on and he provided some interesting comments, which Prof. Althouse was kind enough to republish. Some of the less clever protesters dubbed him The Nefarious Kansas Preacher, who made the following comment:
4. Folks who work for the government, union or not, you are not oppressed. You make good salaries compared to your counter parts in the private sector, have more job security by far, more holidays, vacation days and comparatively outstanding health and retirement benefits. The problem for you as I see it is that you thought it would never end. Well, guess what, while you are singing about saving the middle class I want you to know, I AM the middle class and I pay for you! If you want to help the middle class then you are going to have to accept compensation that is more in line with reality. If you are fearful of the future may I suggest to you that your friends have been fearful for a long time. Change is coming and the old arguments born in the industrial age and honed in earlier eras of fatness sound incredibly hollow today. You singing songs and beating drums in what sounds like a Salvation Army street meeting only underscores how old and out of touch your ideas have become.(emphasis added)
Madison is but one battle ground in the contest between public sector unions and the rest of the public. People in America who work in the private sector now fully understand that it takes several of them working and paying taxes to pay for one public sector worker's salary and benefits. When you start getting to the point where that number if 5:1 or 7:1 or 10:1 (that is 10 private sector taxpayers for 1 public sector worker), people are starting to balk. To be honest, I have no idea what the ratio of taxpayers to public sector workers is, but here are some back of the envelope calculations.

According to the IRS, for FY 2009, the average taxes paid by individuals was approximately $8,156. (Note this does not count anything other than individual tax returns so the calculations are necessarily off, but individual income tax returns are the biggest category of tax revenue). If the average federal employee makes $50,000 per year, it takes 6 American taxpayers to pay for 1 federal employee. This clearly doesn't count state workers, city workers or other public sector workers. Nor does it cover the fairly generous benefit package (including a defined benefit pension plan for many federal workers). So a ratio of 10 taxpayers (or more) to 1 federal worker is not an unreasonable deduction based on the above calculations.

So the Nefarious Kansas Preacher is right, public sector workers are not an oppressed group by any stretch of the imagination. Change is coming and it may have started in Madison, but it is not going to end there. An adjustment is coming and it is long over due.

Check out my soccer blog at Nutmegs and Stepovers

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Real Reason You Won't See A Real Increase In Taxes on the SuperRich

On Monay, mega investor, the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffet authored an op-ed in the New York Times calling on Congress to increase taxes on the super rich.  The nugget take away came in this paragraph: 
But for those making more than $1 million — there were 236,883 such households in 2009 — I would raise rates immediately on taxable income in excess of $1 million, including, of course, dividends and capital gains. And for those who make $10 million or more — there were 8,274 in 2009 — I would suggest an additional increase in rate.
 So, increase the taxes on those making more than $1 million.  This statement, if made by President Obama, would be called classic class warfare, but because the statements come from Buffett, they are somehow more palatable.

So Buffett is making a call for a change in taxes for those making more than $1 million and I can predict how that is going to go over with Congress--like a lead balloon.  The reason why is simple--it is not in the individual self-interest of Members of Congress.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, twenty five members of Congress had incomes in 2009 over $280,000 in income other than their Congressional salaries, which are substantial as well.  In 2011, a rank and file member of congress makes $174,000 per year.  So for those 25 Members of Congress listed by the CRP, their combined total income is more than $450,000 per year.

To increase the taxes on millionaires jeopardizes Congress's own tax bill.  Remember, the income discussed by the CRP is outside income.  While it might make good policy, an assertion I am not ready to admit, the fact is that if you were a member of Congress would you willinging punish yourself and your family by voluntarily increasing your tax burden? 

Increasing taxes on yourself requires an understanding of "shared sacrifice" that I really don't see a lot of in our current leaders in Washington.  It requires a courage that is lacking, so as appealing as Buffett's call may be, I simply don't see it happening.

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Tim Pawlenty Quits

Really, Pawlenty pulls third place in a "buy your way to a win" contests and packs it in. Come on man, show some back bone. If lost the actual Iowa caucuses, I could see withdrawing--but a straw poll--in August.

Have some backbone man.

Monday, August 01, 2011

What Cato has to say about the budget deal

the Cato Institute, unlike some other thing tanks in Washington DC which are designed to bolster a partisan agenda, is usually pretty good with a clear explantiona, and it doesn't get much clearer than this: Budget Deal Doesn’t Cut Spending.

If Congress were serious about making a real change in how the federal budget works they would implement a zero baseline budget--that is a budget like you and I use. The budgets would start at zero every year. Right now the federal budget has a built increase every year, as much as 3 percent or more for some agencies/programs. So that is how it is possible for the government to claim they are "cutting" the budget and there is actually more money spent from year to year.

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