The Higher Education Bubble

From Allysia Finley:

Another school year beckons, which means it’s time for President Obama to go on another college retreat. “He loves college tours,” says Ohio University’s Richard Vedder, who directs the Center for College Affordability and Productivity. “Colleges are an escape from reality. Believe me, I’ve lived in one for half a century. It’s like living in Disneyland. They’re these little isolated enclaves of nonreality.”

Mr. Vedder, age 72, has taught college economics since 1965 and published papers on the likes of Scandinavian migration, racial disparities in unemployment and tax reform. Over the last decade he’s made himself America’s foremost expert on the economics of higher education, which he distilled in his 2004 book “Going Broke by Degree: Why College Costs Too Much.” His analysis isn’t the same as President Obama’s.

This week on his back-to-school tour of New York and Pennsylvania colleges, Mr. Obama presented a new plan to make college more affordable. “If the federal government keeps on putting more and more money in the system,” he noted at the State University of New York at Buffalo on Thursday, and “if the cost is going up by 250%” and “tax revenues aren’t going up 250%,” at “some point, the government will run out of money.”

Note that for the record: Mr. Obama has admitted some theoretical limit to how much the federal government can spend.

His solution consists of tying financial aid to college performance, using government funds as a “catalyst to innovation,” and making it easier for borrowers to discharge their debts. “In fairness to the president, some of his ideas make some decent, even good sense,” Mr. Vedder says, such as providing students with more information about college costs and graduation rates. But his plan addresses just “the tip of the iceberg. He’s not dealing with the fundamental problems.”

College costs have continued to explode despite 50 years of ostensibly benevolent government interventions, according to Mr. Vedder, and the president’s new plan could exacerbate the trend. By Mr. Vedder’s lights, the cost conundrum started with the Higher Education Act of 1965, a Great Society program that created federal scholarships and low-interest loans aimed at making college more accessible.

In 1964, federal student aid was a mere $231 million. By 1981, the feds were spending $7 billion on loans alone, an amount that doubled during the 1980s and nearly tripled in each of the following two decades, and is about $105 billion today. Taxpayers now stand behind nearly $1 trillion in student loans.

Meanwhile, grants have increased to $49 billion from $6.4 billion in 1981. By expanding eligibility and boosting the maximum Pell Grant by $500 to $5,350, the 2009 stimulus bill accelerated higher ed’s evolution into a middle-class entitlement. Fewer than 2% of Pell Grant recipients came from families making between $60,000 and $80,000 a year in 2007. Now roughly 18% do.

This growth in subsidies, Mr. Vedder argues, has fueled rising prices: “It gives every incentive and every opportunity for colleges to raise their fees.”

Many colleges, he notes, are using federal largess to finance Hilton-like dorms and Club Med amenities. Stanford offers more classes in yoga than Shakespeare. A warning to parents whose kids sign up for “Core Training”: The course isn’t a rigorous study of the classics, but rather involves rigorous exercise to strengthen the glutes and abs.

Or consider Princeton, which recently built a resplendent $136 million student residence with leaded glass windows and a cavernous oak dining hall (paid for in part with a $30 million tax-deductible donation by Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman). The dorm’s cost approached $300,000 per bed.

Universities, Mr. Vedder says, “are in the housing business, the entertainment business; they’re in the lodging business; they’re in the food business. Hell, my university runs a travel agency which ordinary people off the street can use.”

Meanwhile, university endowments don’t pay taxes on their income. Harvard’s $31 billion endowment, which has been financed by tax-deductible donations, may be America’s largest tax shelter.

Some college officials are also compensated more handsomely than CEOs. Since 2000, New York University has provided $90 million in loans, many of them zero-interest and forgivable, to administrators and faculty to buy houses and summer homes on Fire Island and the Hamptons.

Former Ohio State President Gordon Gee (who resigned in June after making defamatory remarks about Catholics) earned nearly $2 million in compensation last year while living in a 9,630 square-foot Tudor mansion on a 1.3-acre estate. The Columbus Camelot includes $673,000 in art decor and a $532 shower curtain in a guest bathroom. Ohio State also paid roughly $23,000 per month for Mr. Gee’s soirees and half a million for him to travel the country on a private jet. Such taxpayer-funded extravagance has not made its way into Mr. Obama’s speeches.

Colleges have also used the gusher of taxpayer dollars to hire more administrators to manage their bloated bureaucracies and proliferating multicultural programs. The University of California system employs 2,358 administrative staff in just its president’s office.

“Every college today practically has a secretary of state, a vice provost for international studies, a zillion public relations specialists,” Mr. Vedder says. “My university has a sustainability coordinator whose main message, as far as I can tell, is to go out and tell people to buy food grown locally. . . . Why? What’s bad about tomatoes from Pennsylvania as opposed to Ohio?”

Mr. Vedder notes that, by contrast, “you don’t have to worry about this at the University of Phoenix. One thing about the for-profits is that they are laser-like devoted to instruction.” Although for-profits like the University of Phoenix and DeVry spend more money on marketing, they don’t contain as much administrative overhead.

‘The Obama administration has been beating up on [for-profits] pretty hard for the past two to three years,” Mr. Vedder says. “It’s true that drop-out rates are disproportionately higher at the for-profits, but it’s also true that the for-profits are reaching the exact audience that Obama wants to reach”—low-income minorities, many of whom are the first in their family to attend college.

Today, only about 7% of recent college grads come from the bottom-income quartile compared with 12% in 1970 when federal aid was scarce. All the government subsidies intended to make college more accessible haven’t done much for this population, says Mr. Vedder. They also haven’t much improved student outcomes or graduation rates, which are around 55% at most universities (over six years).

Mr. Vedder is skeptical about the president’s proposal to tie federal aid to graduation rates, among other performance metrics. “I can tell you right now, having taught at universities forever, that universities will do everything they can to get students to graduate,” he chuckles. “If you think we have grade inflation now, you ought to think what will happen. If you breathe into a mirror and it fogs up, you’ll get an A.”

A better idea, Mr. Vedder suggests, would be to implement a national exam like the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) to measure how much students learn in college. This is not on Mr. Obama’s list.

Nor is the president addressing what Mr. Vedder believes is a fundamental problem: too many kids going to college. “Thirty-percent of the adult population has college degrees,” he notes. “The Department of Labor tells us that only 20% or so of jobs require college degrees. We have 115,520 janitors in the United States with bachelor’s degrees or more. Why are we encouraging more kids to go to college?”

Mr. Vedder sees similarities between the government’s higher education and housing policies, which created a bubble and precipitated the last financial crisis. “In housing, we had artificially low interest rates. The government encouraged people with low qualifications to buy a house. Today, we have low interest rates on student loans. The government is encouraging kids to go to school who are unqualified just as it encouraged people to buy a home who are unqualified.”

The higher-ed bubble, he says, is “already in the process of bursting,” which is reflected by all of the “unemployed or underemployed college graduates with big debts.” The average student loan debt is $26,000, but many graduates, especially those with professional degrees, have six-figure balances.

Mr. Obama wants to help more students discharge their debts by capping their monthly payments at 10% of their discretionary income and forgiving their outstanding balances after 20 years. Grads who take jobs in government or at nonprofits already can discharge their debt after a decade.

“Somehow working for the private sector is bad and working for the public sector is good? I don’t see on what basis one would make that conclusion,” Mr. Vedder says. “If I had to make some judgment, I would do just the opposite.”

He adds that the president’s approach “creates a moral hazard problem. What it signals to current and future loan borrowers is that I don’t have to take these repayment of loans very seriously. . . . I don’t have to worry too much about getting a high-paying job.” It encourages “sociology and anthropology majors compared with math and engineering majors.”

Can online education, which is being pioneered in some science disciplines, substantially reduce costs? Mr. Vedder says it can, but government won’t do the innovating. “First of all, the Department of Education, to use K-12 as an example, has been littered with demonstration projects, innovation projects, proposals for new ways to do things for decades. And what has come out? Are American students learning any more today than a generation ago? Are they doing so at lower cost than a generation ago? No.”

Innovation, he says, is being driven by entrepreneurs like Stanford computer science Prof. Sebastian Thrun, who founded the for-profit company Udacity that offers “massive open online courses” (MOOCs). Mr. Thrun began teaching artificial intelligence, first at Stanford and then at Udacity. Mr. Vedder notes that he quickly got “200,000 people to sign up for it. And it’s a great course and people are learning like crazy.”

Where the government can help, Mr. Vedder says, is to get out of the way of progress and encourage slow-moving accreditors to allow innovations to move forward more rapidly. But ultimately, the way to improve college affordability is for the government to disinvest in higher ed and wean students from subsidies.

Mr. Obama is dead set against that. “He wants to maintain that world” of nonreality in which demand is impervious to cost, Mr. Vedder sighs. “That world has to change.”

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Obamacare is Not a Law, But a Hierarchy of Privilege

From Mark Steyn:

On his radio show the other day, Hugh Hewitt caught me by surprise and asked me about running for the United States Senate from New Hampshire. My various consultants, pollsters, PACs, and exploratory committees haven’t fine-tuned every detail of my platform just yet, but I can say this without a doubt: I will not vote for any “comprehensive” bill, whether on immigration, health care, or anything else. “Comprehensive” today is a euphemism for interminably long, poorly drafted, and entirely unread — not just by the people’s representatives but by our robed rulers, too (how many of those Supreme Court justices actually plowed through every page of Obamacare when its “constitutionality” came before them?). The 1862 Homestead Act, which is genuinely comprehensive, is two handwritten pages in clear English. “The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” is 500 times as long, is not about patients or care, and neither protects the former nor makes the latter affordable.

So what is it about? On Wednesday, the Nevada AFL-CIO passed a resolution declaring that “the unintended consequences of the ACA will lead to the destruction of the 40-hour work week.” That’s quite an accomplishment for a “health” “care” “reform” law. But the poor old union heavies who so supported Obamacare are now reduced to bleating that they should be entitled to the same opt-outs secured by big business and congressional staffers. It’s a very strange law whose only defining characteristic is that no one who favors it wants to be bound by it.

Meanwhile, on the very same day as the AFL-CIO was predicting the death of the 40-hour week, the University of Virginia announced plans to boot working spouses off its health plan beginning January 1 because the Affordable Care Act has made it unaffordable: It’s projected to add $7.3 million dollars to the university’s bill in 2014 alone.

As Nancy Pelosi famously said, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what’s in it.” But the problem with “comprehensive” legislation is that, when everything’s in it, nothing’s in it. The Affordable Care Act means whatever President Obama says it means on any particular day of the week. Whether it applies to you this year, next year, or not at all depends on the whim of the sovereign, and whether your CEO golfs with him on Martha’s Vineyard. A few weeks back, the president unilaterally suspended the law’s employer mandate. Under the U.S. Constitution, he doesn’t have the power to do this, but judging from the American people’s massive shrug of indifference he might as well unilaterally suspend the Constitution, too. Obamacare is not a law, in the sense that all persons are equal before it, but a hierarchy of privilege; for example, senators value their emir-sized entourages and don’t want them to quit, so it is necessary to provide the flunkies who negotiated and drafted the Affordable Care Act an exemption from the legislation they imposed on the citizenry. Once again, the opt-out is not legal. As the Wall Street Journal trenchantly observed, “OPM has no authority to pay for insurance plans that lack FEHBP contracts, nor does the Affordable Care Act permit either exchange contributions or a unilateral bump in Congressional pay in return for less overall compensation.”

OPM has no authority to pay for plans that lack FEHBP? Who knew?

Despite being the presumptive next senator from New Hampshire, I am in fact an immigrant, and, although I do my best to assimilate, I never feel more foreign than when discussing “health” “care” “reform.” Across the planet, my readers from Tajikistan to Tuvalu are wondering: Is an OPM a new kind of procedure? Is it the latest high-tech stent or prosthetic? But, no. Nothing in the health-care debate is anything to do with medicine or surgery, only with OPMs and FEHBP and the death of full-time employment.

What does your employer or (for the discarded husbands of the University of Virginia’s Women’s Studies Department) your spouse’s employer have to do with health care? For most of modern history, your health care was a matter between you and your doctor. Since World War II, in much of the developed world, it’s been between you, your doctor, and your government. In America, it’s now between you, your doctor, your government, your insurer, your employer, your insurer’s outsourced health-care-administration-services company . . . Anybody else? Oh, let’s not forget Lois Lerner’s IRS, which, in the biggest expansion of the agency in the post-war era, has hired 16,500 new agents to determine whether your hernia merits an audit.

All third-party systems are crappy and inefficient. But socialized health care has at least the great clarifying simplicity of equality of crappiness: liberté, égalité, merde. It requires a perverse genius to construct a “health” “care” “reform” that destroys everything from religious liberty to full-time employment, while requiring multitudes of new tax collectors and other bureaucrats and ever fewer doctors and nurses. The parallel public/private systems of Continental Europe cost about 10 percent of GDP. The Obamacare monstrosity blends all the worst aspects of a private system (bureaucracy, restricted access, co-pays) with all the worst aspects of a government system (bureaucracy, restricted access, IRS agents) and sucks up twice as much GDP, ever less of which is spent on “health care” and ever more on the intervening layers of third, fourth, fifth, and sixth parties.

But, as the AFL-CIO’s resolution emphasizes, that hardly begins to state the distorting effects of Obamacare. In my part of the world, a common employment profile is for the husband to have his own one-man business, doing construction all summer and snowplowing all winter, while the missus does an administrative job with the school district or some other government or quasi-government racket in order to get health coverage. In my experience, most of the people who do the latter don’t terribly enjoy it: They take the job mostly for the health care. So it’s un-American, in the sense that it requires them to sacrifice the pursuit of happiness for the certainty of low-deductible plans.

But it also has a broader destabilizing effect: As I noted a couple of weeks ago, at the low end, about 40 percent of Americans now do minimal-skilled service jobs — the ones that, in the wake of Obamacare, are becoming neither full-time nor part-time but kinda-sorta two-thirds-time in order not to impose health-insurance obligations on the employer. In the middle, a similar number of Americans are diverted into those paper-shuffling jobs that do provide health benefits — say, in the “human resources” department of the bureaucracy; the kind of job in which you pass the time calling someone in Idaho to say you need them to fill in a W-9 before you can send them a 1099, or vice versa. And, at the top end, privileged Americans spend six-figure sums acquiring college degrees that admit them to an homogenized elite that tells itself Obamacare makes perfect sense for everyone except them. The U.S. economy can never recover until more of its real “human resources” are engaged in genuine wealth creation. Yet Obamacare instead incentivizes the diversion of more and more manpower into the Republic of Paperwork.

The cynical among us have always assumed Obamacare was set up to be so unworkable a grateful populace would embrace any 2016 Democrat promising single-payer health care. The way things are going the entire system may collapse first. If any Republicans are trying to devise a health system that doesn’t involve employers, the IRS, and paperwork without end, they’re keeping awfully quiet about it.

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Replacing What Worked With What Sounded Good

From Thomas Sowell:

Nothing symbolizes the utopianism of our times like both liberals and some conservatives calling for us to cut off aid to the Egyptian military because of the widespread killings in what is becoming a civil war in Egypt. Such utter lack of realism from the Left is not new, but hearing some conservatives saying the same things takes some getting used to.

President Obama’s call for the Egyptians to end the violence and form an “inclusive” government, with all factions represented, may sound good to many Americans. But there is not a snowball’s chance in hell that it will happen.

Egypt existed for thousands of years before there was a United States of America. In all those millennia, Egypt has never had a free or democratic society. Nor is Egypt unique in that. Of all the different nations that have existed at various times and places throughout recorded history, it is doubtful that even 10 percent were free or democratic.

Even those nations that are free and democratic today took centuries to achieve freedom and democracy. Barack Obama may have enough ego to imagine that he could accomplish, during his White House years, what took centuries to accomplish elsewhere. But do others, including some conservatives, need to share that delusion?

Yet Obama is only the latest in a long line of American officials, including presidents, who have thought that a universal human desire for freedom meant that freedom and democracy could be exported, even to countries where they have never existed before.

However widespread the desire to be free, it is wholly different from a desire to live in a society where others are free. Nowhere is such tolerance harder to find than in the Middle East. Has no one noticed the ongoing lethal violence between different sects of Muslims in the Middle East, or their intolerance toward Christians and murderous hatred of Jews? Muslims in some other parts of the world have been more tolerant, and there have been five female heads of state in Muslim countries. But not in the Middle East.

Much is made of the fact that the United States gives financial support to the Egyptian military, which is shooting down hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of Egyptians in the streets. But we have to make our choices among the options actually available. With the Muslim Brotherhood mounting armed attacks, what can anyone rationally expect except shooting on both sides?

It would certainly be a lot nicer if everyone laid down their guns and just sat down together and worked things out peacefully. But has anyone forgotten that, for centuries, Protestants and Catholics slaughtered each other and tried to wipe each other out? Only after the impossibility of achieving that goal became clear did they finally give it up and decide to live and let live.

As regards Egypt, it is not at all clear that any regime that has existed after Mubarak, or that is currently on the horizon, is better than Mubarak was. But the very idea of leaving well enough alone is foreign to those who are looking for moral melodramas and soaring rhetoric, such as talk about “the Arab spring.”

What did we get for our money in Egypt under Mubarak? We got peace in a part of the world where peace cannot be taken for granted — and from which oil provides the economic lifeblood of Western civilization.

But we could not leave well enough alone. Now we are paying the price — and perhaps it is only the first installment of the price.

The idea that when a government we find unsatisfactory is overthrown we can expect a better government to follow, goes back at least as far as President Woodrow Wilson. His intervention in World War I — a war “to make the world safe for democracy” — was unsuccessful, since the actual end results replaced old monarchies with new, and far worse, totalitarian governments.

Barack Obama’s Middle East interventions have replaced stable and neutral despots in Egypt and Libya with anti-Western despots and chaos. Such is the price of pursuing ideological mirages.

After contributing to the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood to power, and the disastrous aftermath of that, the Obama administration is now publicly lecturing Egyptian leaders and trying to micromanage them from thousands of miles away. And some conservatives are joining the quixotic chorus, playing with fire.

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If Congress Doesn’t Act, I Will

From Charles Krauthammer:

As a reaction to the crack epidemic of the 1980s, many federal drug laws carry strict mandatory sentences. This has stirred unease in Congress and sparked a bipartisan effort to revise and relax some of the more draconian laws.

Traditionally — meaning before Barack Obama — that’s how laws were changed: We have a problem, we hold hearings, we find some new arrangement, which is ratified by Congress and signed by the president.

That was then. On Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder, a liberal in a hurry, ordered all U.S. attorneys to simply stop charging nonviolent, non-gang-related drug defendants with crimes that, while fitting the offense, carry mandatory sentences. Find some lesser, non-triggering charge. How might you do that? Withhold evidence — e.g., about the amount of dope involved.

In other words, evade the law, by deceiving the court if necessary. “If the companies that I represent in federal criminal cases” did that, said former deputy attorney general George Terwilliger, “they could be charged with a felony.”

But such niceties must not stand in the way of an administration’s agenda. Indeed, the very next day, it was revealed that the administration had unilaterally waived Obamacare’s cap on a patient’s annual out-of-pocket expenses — a one-year exemption for selected health insurers that is nowhere permitted in the law. It was simply decreed by an obscure Labor Department regulation.

Which followed a presidentially directed 70-plus percent subsidy for the insurance premiums paid by congressmen and their personal staffs — under a law that denies subsidies for anyone that well-off.

Which came just a month after the administration’s equally lawless suspension of one of the cornerstones of Obamacare: the employer mandate.

Which followed hundreds of Obamacare waivers granted by Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius to selected businesses, unions, and other well-lobbied, very special interests.

Nor is this kind of rule-by-decree restricted to health care. In 2012, the immigration service was ordered to cease proceedings against young illegal immigrants brought here as children. Congress had refused to pass such a law (the DREAM Act) just 18 months earlier. Obama himself had repeatedly said that the Constitution forbade him from enacting it without Congress. But with the fast approach of an election that could hinge on the Hispanic vote, Obama did exactly that. Unilaterally.

The point is not what you think about the merits of the DREAM Act. Or of mandatory drug sentences. Or of subsidizing health-care premiums for $175,000-a-year members of Congress. Or even whether you think governors should be allowed to weaken the work requirements for welfare recipients — an authority the administration granted last year in clear violation of section 407 of the landmark Clinton-Gingrich welfare reform of 1996.

The point is whether a president, charged with faithfully executing the laws that Congress enacts, may create, ignore, suspend, and/or amend the law at will. Presidents are arguably permitted to refuse to enforce laws they consider unconstitutional (the basis for so many of George W. Bush’s so-called signing statements). But presidents are forbidden from doing so for reason of mere policy — the reason for every Obama violation listed above.

Such gross executive usurpation disdains the Constitution. It mocks the separation of powers. And, most consequentially, it introduces a fatal instability into law itself. If the law is not what is plainly written, but is whatever the president and his agents decide, what’s left of the law?

What’s the point of the whole legislative process — of crafting various provisions through give-and-take negotiation — if you cannot rely on the fixity of the final product, on the assurance that the provisions bargained for by both sides will be carried out?

Consider immigration reform. The essence of any deal would be legalization in return for strict border enforcement. If some such legislative compromise is struck, what confidence can anyone have in it — if the president can unilaterally alter what he signs?

Yet this president is not only untroubled by what he’s doing, but open and rather proud. As he tells cheering crowds on his never-ending campaign-style tours: I am going to do X — and I’m not going to wait for Congress.

That’s caudillo talk. That’s banana-republic stuff. In this country, the president is required to win the consent of Congress first.

At stake is not some constitutional curlicue. At stake is whether the laws are the law. And whether presidents get to write their own.

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A Tale of Two Trials

From Charlotte Allen:

The trial of George Zimmerman over the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was actually two trials in one.

There was the trial that took place inside a courtroom in Sanford, Florida, which ended on July 13, when a jury acquitted Zimmerman on charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter. The six jurors apparently concluded that the prosecution had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the then-28-year-old Zimmerman hadn’t killed Martin in self-defense on the rainy night of February 26, 2012, in a deadly scuffle on the grounds of a townhouse complex where Zimmerman and Martin’s father’s girlfriend were renters and Zimmerman was the neighborhood watch captain. And then there was the other trial, which took place in newspapers, on television networks, and in fiery pronunciamentos from reporters, pundits, editorialists, bloggers, tweeters, celebrities, self-appointed black spokesmen, guilt-soaked white liberals, disgruntled members of the prosecution team, and even the Obama administration, from Attorney General Eric Holder’s Justice Department to the president himself.

That latter trial began well before Zimmerman turned himself in to the police on April 11, 2012, and will seemingly continue without recess either until the zombie apocalypse, or until Zimmerman is “taken out by a nutball vigilante like him,” as a friend of a Facebook friend phrased it a couple of hours after the acquittal. The issues in that second trial—the shadow trial, as it were—are completely different from those raised in the courtroom itself: racism, gun control, more racism, white supremacy, white privilege, Florida’s “stand your ground” law of self-defense—oh, and still more racism.

The facts presented in the two trials were, and are, completely different as well. The late New York senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously declared, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” Not so. The Zimmerman shadow trial in the media has featured its very own facts, which bear little resemblance to those entered into evidence in the Sanford courtroom.

The factual disparities extended all the way down to the micro level. An article for the online magazine Salon, filed by Paul Campos, a University of Colorado-Boulder law professor, within hours of Zimmerman’s acquittal, described the “scary” (Campos’s word) Zimmerman as “a 230-pound 30-year-old”—a description that added a full 45 pounds to the 185 pounds listed on the police report compiled on the night of the shooting, plus two extra years to his age. (Zimmerman did gain considerable weight while awaiting trial.) Martin, by contrast, got 10 pounds subtracted from his actual weight (150 in Campos-world versus 160 in the real world). Campos never did get around to stating their respective heights: Martin was 6′0″, Zimmerman 5′8″. Campos repeatedly referred to Martin as a “boy” and a “kid,” which was technically true because he was a year shy of legal adulthood. This jibed with a general tendency on the part of the media to call Martin a “child,” as in this CNN commentary on July 10 by Roxanne Jones: “[W]hen an unarmed child is confronted and gunned down in the street by a grown man who’s trained to kill, that’s murder.” Media photos of Martin almost invariably showed a cherubic photo that had been snapped years before—in contrast to the photos from Martin’s cell phone released by Zimmerman’s lawyers in which a muscular Martin sported a gold teeth-grill, tattoos, and a faint mustache.

That was the small stuff. Here is a list of some of the more significant discrepancies between the facts of the Zimmerman case as they emerged in the Bizarro World of outside-the-courtroom commentary and the facts that the jury actually heard:

Zimmerman “stalked” Martin. This was a favorite media meme, typified in a CNN column by Miller Francis: “Was .  .  . Martin justified in .  .  . defending himself when this stranger, an apparent stalker, approached him in a threatening manner?” The trial evidence showed merely that Zimmerman briefly ran after Martin while making a 911 call to the police about a suspicious person he saw wandering between some houses in the complex, which had been hit by a wave of burglaries, at least two involving young black men. According to statements Zimmerman made to the police after the shooting, Martin then approached him as he was returning to his car. It should be noted that Zimmerman was legally carrying, under a concealed-weapon permit, the gun with which he shot Martin; a neighbor interviewed by Reuters in 2012 said he had bought it to fight off a periodically loose pit bull that was terrorizing his wife.

Zimmerman was racially profiling Martin. The media picked up this allegation from the prosecution’s affidavit of probable cause filed on April 12, 2012. “It cannot reasonably be disputed that the incident that left Mr. Martin dead began with ugly racial profiling,” NBC News legal analyst Lisa Bloom wrote for the New York Times on July 15. NBC had creatively edited the tape of Zimmerman’s 911 call to make him look fixated on race, leaving out the part where the dispatcher asked for a description. Judge Debra Nelson, who presided over the trial and who was not known for her sympathy for the defense, pointedly barred the use of the term “racial profiling” during opening statements or at any other time. Racial profiling would have been a tough charge in any event to sustain against Zimmerman, who was half-Hispanic, with a Peruvian mother and a black great-grandfather. (The New York Times’s response to the revelation that Zimmerman wasn’t quite the Aryan that the press had initially characterized him as was to dub Zimmerman a “white Hispanic.” Campos of Salon called him “a more or less white man.”)

Zimmerman disobeyed a police dispatcher’s order to stay inside his car and instead embarked on a vigilante quest for Martin. That’s what nearly every newspaper reporter and TV network in America said during the year or so leading up to the trial. “Wannabe cop” was a favorite epithet. As the recording of Zimmerman’s conversation with the dispatcher, Sean Noffke (together with Noffke’s testimony at trial), revealed, Noffke had merely said, “We don’t need you to do that,” when Zimmerman was already out of his car. And judging from the rhythm of Zimmerman’s breathing on the recording, he stopped pursuing Martin a mere 13 seconds after Noffke issued his advice.

Zimmerman provoked the conflict with Martin by confronting him about what he was doing on the premises, effectively nullifying his claim of self-defense. Andrew Reinbach, a blogger for the Huffington Post, wrote on July 16: “It can certainly be argued .  .  . that Mr. Zimmerman provoked the attack that prompted him to use deadly force against an unarmed teenager who bested him in a fistfight.” (The “fistfight,” according to Zimmerman’s statements to the police, corroborated by the testimony of witnesses at the trial and gunpowder evidence on Martin’s shirt, consisted of Martin’s sucker-punching Zimmerman to the ground and pounding his head into a concrete sidewalk while on top of him.) That Zimmerman started it was one of the prosecution’s theories, but Judge Nelson, rejecting the idea that Zimmerman’s questioning of Martin could amount to provocation, refused to allow a jury instruction on provocation—so it was never an issue in the courtroom trial.

Florida’s generous “stand your ground” law allowed Zimmerman to prevail on a claim of self-defense that would not be permitted in other states. Florida—like the majority of other U.S jurisdictions—does not require someone to retreat if reasonably possible rather than use deadly force against a real or reasonably perceived aggressor who threatens death or grave bodily injury. Florida also—unlike the majority of other U.S. jurisdictions—allows people to use deadly force merely to defend property under some circumstances, such as a home or car invasion. But as Stephen P. Garvey, a professor of criminal law at Cornell University, explained to me in a phone interview, the “stand your ground” doctrine under any interpretation simply wasn’t an issue in the trial, because Zimmerman didn’t draw his gun until it was impossible for him to retreat. As Garvey says, “This is a very bad case on which to base your thoughts about important issues such as racial profiling or the duty to retreat.”

The problem was that those issues, plus others, such as gun control, which Obama quickly interjected into the case as one of his pet causes in a July 14 statement, weren’t the ones put before the jury. The jurors had to deliberate whether the prosecution could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that George Zimmerman hadn’t acted in self-defense. The bloggers, the tweeters, the columnists, the politicians, and even the supposedly objective news reporters weren’t nearly as interested in that trial as in the parallel trial, which is still going on. In this latter trial, white racism is the defendant (Zimmerman is just a symbol), black victimization is the crime, and the verdict is always guilty.

The narrative is that Martin was killed for “walking while black,” as Lisa Bloom put it. New York Times reporter Lizette Alvarez expressed dismay in a front-page story on July 7 that in Nelson’s courtroom “race lingers awkwardly on the sidelines, scarcely mentioned.” Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson declared outright on July 15 that the Zimmerman trial was actually about the fact that “[o]ur society considers young black men to be dangerous, expendable, guilty until proven innocent.” Robinson called Martin’s punch, which apparently broke Zimmerman’s nose, “adolescent bravura.” Tim Wise, a professional in the “white privilege” and “white supremacy” industries, wrote a 2,800-word screed in the Huffington Post condemning Zimmerman as a “racist” simply for noticing Trayvon Martin’s suspicious behavior on the townhouse grounds. “[A]ny white person who wants to kill a black person can follow one, confront them, maybe even provoke them, and as soon as that black person perhaps takes a swing at them, or lunges at them, the white pursuer can pull their weapon, fire, and reasonably assume that they will get away with the act,” Wise wrote.

The Justice Department is currently investigating whether to prosecute Zimmerman for federal civil-rights violations, even though the FBI last year investigated him for racism and found none. Florida special prosecutor Angela Corey continued to call Zimmerman a “murderer” even after his acquittal, and Bernardo de la Rionda, the prosecutor who actually tried the case, implied that Zimmerman was a coward for having invoked his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent throughout his trial; de la Rionda said he had “prayed” for Zimmerman to have the “courage” to take the stand. But all those people have no interest in the real trial of George Zimmerman that took place inside a courtroom. They care only about the other trial, a show trial that will never end.

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Busybodies

From Thomas Sowell:

It is hard to read a newspaper or watch a television newscast without encountering someone who has come up with a new “solution” to society’s “problems.” Sometimes it seems as if there are more solutions than problems. On closer scrutiny, it turns out that many of today’s problems are a result of yesterday’s solutions.

San Francisco and New York are both plagued with large “homeless” populations today, largely as a result of previous housing “reforms” that made housing more expensive and severely limited how much housing, and of what kind, could be built.

The solution? Spend more of the taxpayers’ money making homelessness a viable lifestyle for more people.

Education is a field with endless reforms, creating endless problems, requiring endless solutions. One of the invincible fallacies among educators is that all sorts of children can be educated in the same classroom. Not just children of different races, but children of different abilities, languages, and values. Isn’t it nice to think so? I suspect that even most conservatives would prefer to live in the kind of world conjured up in the liberals’ imagination rather than in the kind of world we are in fact stuck with.

The result is that many very bright children are bored to the point of becoming behavior problems when the schoolwork is slowed to a pace within the range of students who are slower learners.

By federal law, even children with severe mental or emotional problems must be “mainstreamed” into classes for other students — often in disregard of how much this disrupts these classes and sacrifices the education of the other children.

Parents who complain about the effect of these “solutions” on their own children’s education are made to feel guilty for not being more “understanding” about the problems of handicapped students. Nothing is easier for third-party busybodies than being “understanding” and “compassionate” at someone else’s expense — especially if the busybodies have their own children in private schools, as so many public-school educators do.

Whether in housing, education, or innumerable other aspects of life, the key to busybody politics, and its endlessly imposed “solutions,” is that third parties pay no price for being wrong. This not only presents opportunities for the busybodies to engage in moral preening but also to flatter themselves that they know better what is good for other people than these other people know for themselves.

Right now, there are people inside and outside government who are proposing new restrictions on how you may or may not visit the national parks that your taxes support. Among their proposals is doing away with trash cans in these parks, so that visitors have to take their trash out with them. Just how they would enforce this, when millions of people visit places like Yosemite or Yellowstone, is something the busybodies need not bother to think through — much less pay the price when trash simply accumulates in these parks after trash cans are removed.

Obamacare is perhaps the ultimate in busybody politics. People who have never even run a drugstore, much less a hospital, blithely prescribe what must be done by the entire medical system, from doctors to hospitals to producers of pharmaceutical drugs to health-insurance companies.

This includes federal laws requiring the turning over of patients’ confidential medical records to the federal government, where these records can be looked at by politicians, bureaucrats, and whoever can hack into the government’s computers. Neither you nor your doctor has a right to keep this information confidential.

What could lead anyone to believe that he has either the right or the omniscience to dictate to hundreds of millions of other people? Our educational system may have something to do with that, with its constant promotion of “self-esteem” and its emphasis on developing “leaders.”

Our schools and colleges are turning out people who cannot feel fulfilled unless they are telling other people what to do. The price of their self-indulgence is the sacrifice of our freedom. If we don’t defend ourselves against them, who will?

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