2019-09-26 08:00:19

Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Officer Robert Lawson has been charged with battery, obstruction of justice, perjury, false informing and official misconduct after striking a student at a local school. In a report, Lawson said he struck the boy with an open hand and other officers then handcuffed the student. But video shows Lawson punched the boy and struck him with a knee as the student was being handcuffed.

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You didn’t hear many people saying that “it was God’s will” a few years ago when a kid fell into the gorilla exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo. Instead, you saw memes featuring the gorilla, Harambe, and the words “I’m dead because a bitch wasn’t watching her child.”

Sympathy for the gorilla, who was shot and killed, makes total sense. Outrage against the mom doesn’t, unless you think she should have been on constant high alert against this and every other one-in-a-billion accident.

Unfortunately, that’s how we’ve begun to think. Alan Levinovitz, a professor of religious studies at James Madison University, has a theory for why that is. Religion, he says, used to govern almost every aspect of our lives: what we ate, read, said, and wore—and how we raised our kids. But in a society where, for many, religion’s authority covers an ever-shrinking area of life, we’re left to come up with our own rules, taboos, and punishments. In some ways, our secular codes are more harsh and demanding than religions were.

Religion can explain a tragedy as God’s will, or as karma coming around. “The burden is outsourced to God,” says Levinovitz. If you’re suffering here on Earth, well, you’ll get your reward in heaven. Or in karmic systems, if you’re suffering, it’s thanks to a bad past life. Be good now, and next time around? Blue skies. “You didn’t have to feel guilty for your own suffering,” Levinovitz says. God was in charge and would even the score later on.

But as religiosity shrank, a tragedy—or even a simple accident—became incomprehensible and unredeemable. Why did it happen? What can make it right? How can we give it meaning? If we can’t tell ourselves that “the Lord works in mysterious ways,” all of us, but especially parents, have only three options.

The first is to try to prevent all accidents, no matter how minor and no matter what the cost of prevention. If perfection isn’t coming in the next life, by golly, we’d better make it happen here.

The second is to blame a human whenever an accident does happen, even when it’s completely random—the kind of thing we used to call an “act of God.”

The third is to make a new ritual (private or legal) that we will practice forevermore as a secular sacrifice to safety.

Parents feel it is their new job to be omniscient, “but there’s devastating guilt that comes with a vision of the world in which knowledge plus vigilance equals perfect safety,” Levinovitz says. If anything goes wrong, “it means you weren’t vigilant enough. So what do we do? We track our children more closely than ever before.” With a couple of iPhone taps, it’s possible to know not only where your kid is but who he has texted, what he ate for lunch, how he did on his Spanish quiz, and whether he’s running a fever.

Now let’s say something bad does occur. Your child gets hurt. What happens next? Blame. It’s easier to blame someone than to accept the idea that “tragedy is just kind of built into reality,” Levinovitz says, “and it’s nobody’s fault, and there’s no redeeming value to it. It just is what it is.”

That’s not to say we shouldn’t strive to be responsible. “It’s really about recognizing that there’s no such thing as a world in which everything is entirely free from risk and that striving for that world can actually be dystopic.”

When something terrible happens to a child, often there is a rush to pass a law in his name that we believe will prevent the bad thing from happening again. We do this no matter how anomalous the tragedy or how pointless, in reality, the law.

Meanwhile, at an individual level, parents rush to create new, often elaborate, safety rituals. They will take their kids out of the car rather than letting them wait for five minutes, for instance, because another child died waiting in a car for five hours. Then society deems the parents who don’t perform these rituals impure, even demonic.

Without God to absolve us, redeem our tragedies, and make everything right at some future date, we’re stuck sorting out the unfathomable mess known as reality on our own. We are not making it easy on anyone. Especially parents.

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2019-09-26 13:40:25

“I have received information from multiple U.S. Government officials that the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election…” The whistleblower complaint against President Donald Trump that has fueled an impeachment inquiry was made public this morning.

“This interference includes, among other things, pressuring a foreign country to investigate one of the President’s main domestic political rivals,” says the complaint, dated August 12. The writer was “not a direct witness to most of the events described” but found colleagues’ accounts “to be credible because, in almost all cases, multiple officials recounted fact patterns that were consistent with one another.”

It goes on to state that there were about a dozen people on the July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. According to the complaint, this was expected to be a “routine” call and White House officials were subsequently instructed to “lock down” records of the conversation. It also says that efforts related to Zelenskiy and to digging up potential Biden dirt started long before July. (Read the whole complaint here.)

Records viewed by investigative journalist Murray Waas suggest that the initial impetus for Trump’s interest in Ukraine was to suss out potential fodder for pardoning Paul Manafort and discrediting the special investigation being undertaken by Robert Mueller.

“Attorneys representing Trump and Manafort respectively had at least nine conversations relating to this effort, beginning in the early days of the Trump administration, and lasting until as recently as May of this year,” Waas claims in The New York Review of Books. He continues:

Through these deliberations carried on by his attorneys, Manafort exhorted the White House to press Ukrainian officials to investigate and discredit individuals, both in the US and in Ukraine, who he believed had published damning information about his political consulting work in the Ukraine. A person who participated in the joint defense agreement between President Trump and others under investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, including Manafort, allowed me to review extensive handwritten notes that memorialized conversations relating to Manafort and Ukraine between Manafort’s and Trump’s legal teams, including Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.

As personal lawyer and all-around fixer, Giuliani fills roles Manafort and Michael Cohen previously filled for Trump.

“The new disclosures in this story underscore how this scheme originated in the long-running coordination between Trump, Giuliani, and Manafort to frustrate the Mueller investigation,” Waas sums up.

Since yesterday, when a transcript of Trump’s phone call with Zelenskiy was released, Zelenskiy himself has weighed in and more information about the scope of Giuliani and Trump’s meddling has come out.

ABC reported yesterday that Serhiy Leshchenko, a former Zelenskiy advisor, said “it was clear” that Trump would only talk to Zelenskiy “if they will discuss the Biden case. This issue was raised many times. I know that Ukrainian officials understood.” But Leshchenko apparently disputes this:

For the Ukrainian president’s part, he said on Wednesday:

I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be involved in…elections of USA….We had, I think, a good phone call. It was normal, we spoke about many things, and you read it that nobody pushed it, nobody pushed me.

There’s some room for interpretation in the summary of the Zelenskiy phone call that the White House put out yesterday, but it certainly isn’t the good look that Trump seems to think it is.

One element that peaked interest was Trump’s seemingly random mention of the private security firm Crowdstrike (“I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say CrowdStrike…I guess you have one of your wealthy people….The server, they say Ukraine has it”) and the company’s subsequent insistence that it has no idea why it was invoked. Crowdstrike was the firm hired by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to examine its servers, and the group that concluded “two separate Russian intelligence-affiliated adversaries” had been behind the infiltration and distribution of the DNC emails.

Trump’s interest in Crowdstrike seems to be for basically bonkers conspiracy-theory reasons. First, he has repeatedly claimed the company is based in Ukraine when it’s actually located in California, with no apparent connection to Ukrainians. Second, Trump appears to buy into a conspiracy theory surrounding Crowdstrike, the DNC emails, Seth Rich, and a secret server.

“Not only has he endorsed this nonsensical theory on Twitter and in press conferences,” writes Andy Kroll, “but we now know he does it in private calls with foreign leaders and is using the power of the oval office to press for actual investigations.”

In August, Texas financial advisor and conservative commentator Edward Butowsky filed a federal lawsuit against Crowdstrike, the Democratic National Committee, law firm Perkins Coie, and others. The suit alleges that the law firm was hired by the DNC to hide “the Russian collusion hoax” and that Perkins Coie in turn “retained CrowdStrike for the purpose of creating the false narrative that the Russian government had hacked the DNC’s servers.”


  • The Washington Post‘s Glenn Kessler factchecks “Trump’s repeated suggestions that Hunter [Biden] struck it rich with a sketchy deal in China.”
  • Judge Andrew Napolitano weighs in:
  • Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D–Hawaii) continues to strike a different note on impeachment than her Democratic presidential competitors:
  • The Anti-Defamation league has added the OK hand gesture “along with several others on Thursday to its longstanding database of slogans and symbols used by extremists.”
  • The vaping madness continues:

“The War on Whores” Documentary: Celebration and Panel Discussion

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In October 1989, Justice Antonin Scalia delivered a lecture on “Assorted Canards of Contemporary Legal Analysis” at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law. Last week, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a former Scalia clerk, revisited Justice Scalia’s famed lecture in her own talk at CWRU.

In “Assorted Canards of Contemporary Analysis Redux,” Judge Barrett added to Justice Scalia’s list of canards, with a particular focus on addressing common misconceptions and caricatures of textualism. A video of the remarks is below. An article based upon the talk will be published in the Case Western Reserve Law Review.

Both Justice Scalia’s and Judge Barrett’s lectures were part of the Sumner Canary Memorial Lecture series at CWRU, established to honor the memory of Sumner Canary, a lion of the Cleveland legal community.

Last year’s lecture was delivered by Judge Joan Larsen, and was recently published in the Case Western Reserve Law Review. 

Previous lecturers have also included then-Judge Neil Gorsuch, Judge Diane Sykes, then-Judge Brett Kavanaugh, and Judge Bill Pryor, and non-jurists such as Neal Katyal, Jack Goldsmith, and Randy Barnett. A full list of prior Canary lectures, including links to video (when available) and published versions of the remarks is available here.

It is an honor to be the current curator of this lecture series, and the law school is grateful to Nancy Canary for the support that makes this lecture series possible.

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2019-09-26 04:01:43

Stan Veuger of the American Enterprise Institute recently complained on Twitter that those who cared about cronyism when Barack Obama was president are suddenly very quiet about President Donald Trump’s bailout of farmers. There is some truth to his complaint.

But first, it’s wrong to say that everyone has been silent. The National Taxpayers Union, the Cato Institute, and others have complained and written against the bailouts. It’s also wrong to assume that those, like me, who haven’t made the bailouts a central focus of their work in spite of their past opposition to cronyism are silent for political reasons. Many of us are simply overextended, fighting the multifront attacks against freedom launched by Trump, the Democratic House, the Republican Senate, and the Democratic presidential candidates.

Cronyism is the unhealthy marriage between corporations, or other special interests, and the government. And farmers have been willing participants in this relationship for decades, at the expense of taxpayers and good economic policy. They’ve received subsidies and other government-granted privileges despite being relatively well-off and part of an industry that’s not more subjected to adversity than many others. Conservative, free market, and even left-wing advocates have used buckets of ink complaining about the handouts.

On closer inspection, it’s obvious that these farm bailouts are the culmination of everything that is wrong with cronyism. They came about after the president imposed duties on steel and aluminum in order to protect those industries from competition, which is cronyism. Then China, the European Union, Canada, and Mexico retaliated by targeting U.S. agricultural exports. From soybean to corn farms, from steel nails to bicycles, this trade war is hurting many businesses, some of which are closing their doors.

But none of Trump’s trade war victims are as powerful and important a voting bloc as farmers, who secured two agriculture bailouts over the past two years, totaling $28 billion—so far. For perspective, Bloomberg reminds us that this “farm rescue is more than twice as expensive as the 2009 bailout of Detroit’s Big Three automakers, which cost taxpayers $12 billion.” Many Republicans at the time rightfully decried the auto bailout, yet most have nothing to say about the farm bailouts. Many have even joined in and demanded more for the farmers in their states.

Like regular farm subsidies, these bailouts are designed to shower largesse on the biggest farms. According to the Environmental Working Group, an outfit that has long opposed farm subsidies, one-tenth of the bailout recipients last year have received over half of the bailout payments, and 82 farmers have each received more than $500,000. Their report also notes that the top 1 percent of recipients of trade relief received $183,331 on average. The bottom 80 percent received less than $5,000 on average. It doesn’t sound right, because smaller farms must be hurting the most. But it’s naive to expect sensible policies from those who tried plugging a hole created by the trade war by paying out farmers rather than lifting the tariffs.

But that’s precisely what’s so disgusting about cronyism. It is, at its core, an exchange of government favors for loyalty in the voting booth. Nowhere is that more obvious than here. In fact, Trump almost seems proud of it, as he demonstrated during a recent call with farmers when he reminded them of the bailouts, saying, “I hope you like me even better than you did in ’16.” It’s likely no coincidence that Midwestern states such as Indiana and Iowa, which backed Trump in 2016, will receive large payments just before the midterm elections. It could also explain why fruit growers in California or lobster farmers in Maine, both victims of the trade war but in Democratic territories, are receiving little to no bailout.

To recap: Trump started a trade war to protect his friends in the steel industry. That triggered severe retaliatory tariffs from our trade partners. Then the president, rather than lift all the tariffs, decided to extend two bailouts to farmers and farmers alone in order to ease their pain in time for the next election. And most Republicans now appear to be OK with—or silent about—this crony solution to protectionism. Paired with the fact that some of us haven’t given the issue the attention it deserves, I can see why others, like Veuger, would think that conservatives are acting hypocritically. So much for principles.


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2019-09-25 22:05:49

On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of letting state-legal marijuana businesses have access to banks and other financial institutions.

It was a historic bipartisan moment, and an important one—though one that skirts the larger and more important matter of changing how the federal government treats marijuana.

The bill was the first stand-alone marijuana legalization bill to pass either chamber of Congress. The SAFE Banking Act—the acronym stands for “Secure and Fair Enforcement”—would shield banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions from being held liable for doing business with marijuana growers and pot shops in states where the drug has been legalized. Under current law, any financial institution that so much as allows a marijuana business to open a business checking account could potentially violate a host of federal banking and drug laws.

“People in states and localities across the country are voting to approve some level of marijuana use, and we need these marijuana businesses and employees to have access to checking accounts, lines of credit, payroll accounts, and more,” said Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D–Colo.) during debate on the bill. “Most importantly, this will also reduce the risk of violent crime in our communities. These businesses and their employees become targets for murder, robbery, assault and more by dealing in all cash.”

The bill also protects third-party vendors—like plumbers or electricians—that might have to do business with state-legal pot shops.

Rep. Patrick McHenry (R–N.C.) called the bill “one of the biggest changes to U.S. drug policy in my lifetime.”

But McHenry voted against it, saying that he worries the bill could give drug cartels access to U.S. financial institutions. The SAFE Banking Act, he added, is a “half answer to a much larger question,” specifically whether marijuana should remain on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. That’s a category that’s supposed to only include drugs with “no currently accepted medical use” and “a lack of accepted safety for use”—terms that obviously do not accurately describe marijuana.

It’s certainly true that Congress should have a larger debate over the federal status of marijuana, but it’s also easy to see why the SAFE Banking Act is the first bill to break the seal and earn a full vote. During debate on the floor, for example, Rep. Steve Stivers (R–Ohio) voiced support for the bill while noting that he would vote against any effort to legalize marijuana nationally.

The SAFE Banking Act passed by a final vote of 321–103 (with 10 members abstaining), enough to clear the two-thirds majority required for the bill’s passage under the suspension of rules that allowed it to be brought to the floor without any amendments being offered.

With the bill’s passage, it moves to the Senate, where a companion bill introduced by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D–Ore.), has 33 cosponsors. That total includes only four Republicans, making passage through the upper chamber more of an open question.

Sen. Mike Crapo (R–Idaho), chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, told Politico earlier this month that he would like to hold a committee vote on the bill before the end of the year, despite the fact that he has not signed onto Merkley’s bill.

But neither the larger questions surrounding Congress’ slow-walking of the end of the federal war on marijuana nor the fate of the SAFE Banking Act in the Senate should take away from the significance of Wednesday’s vote, which gave members of Congress their first chance to affirmatively vote for legalization and regulation of marijuana businesses over the decadeslong failed efforts of prohibition.

“For the first time ever, a supermajority of the House voted affirmatively to recognize that the legalization and regulation of marijuana is a superior public policy to prohibition and criminalization,” said Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, a national marijuana legalization advocacy organization, in a statement. The group is “cautiously optimistic” about the bill’s future in the Senate, he said.

“American voters have spoken and continue to speak,” said Perlmutter just before the vote. “Prohibition is over.”

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The oceans are warming, becoming more acidic, and rising faster as a result of man-made climate change, according to a new special report, The Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC). The report is a compilation of the latest research by climate scientists assembled under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Its authors write that the extent of Arctic sea ice is steadily declining, mountain glaciers are melting, the area of snow cover on land is decreasing, and permafrost is warming.

As these trends advance, low-lying coastal areas will experience increased flooding, marine life will shift further polewards, coral bleaching events will become more common, weather patterns may shift in response to more open warmer water in the Arctic Ocean, and melting permafrost may exacerbate warming by gushing trapped carbon into the atmosphere.

Some of the topline findings in the SROCC are that “it is virtually certain that the global ocean has warmed unabated since 1970 and has taken up more than 90% of the excess heat in the climate system.” In addition, it is likely that the rate of ocean warming has more than doubled since 1993. Researchers have very high confidence that marine heatwaves—defined as when the daily sea surface temperature exceeds the local 99th percentile over the period 1982 to 2016—have very likely doubled in frequency since 1982 and are increasing in intensity. It is virtually certain that by absorbing more carbon dioxide, the ocean has undergone increasing surface acidification.

Total global mean sea level rose by about 0.16 meters between 1902 and 2015 (a little over 6 inches). The rate of average sea level rise between 2006 and 2015 was about 3.6 millimeters per year, which is about 2.5 times the 1901–1990 rate of 1.4 millimeters per year. The rise in sea level is accelerating as water from melting ice sheets and mountain glaciers run into the oceans, and thermal expansion, as the oceans warm up.

In trying to see into the future, the SROCC chiefly focuses on two scenarios: one in which efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions keep future global average warming to around 1.6 degrees Celsius by 2100, and another scenario in which no efforts to limit emissions results in an increase of 4.3 degrees Celsius by that same year.

Global mean sea level rise in the lower temperature 2100 scenario is projected to be about 0.43 meter (17 inches), with respect to 1986–2005. For the higher temperature scenario, the corresponding sea level rise is projected to be around 0.84 meter (33 inches) in 2100.

The rate of global mean sea level rise is projected to reach 15 millimeters per year by 2100 in the high temperature scenario, and to exceed several centimeters per year in the 22nd century. In the low temperature scenario, the rate is projected to reach 4 millimeters per year in 2100. While the researchers express low confidence in computer model projections for 2300, they note that sea level rise in the high temperature scenario could be as much as 2.3–5.4 meters (7 to 17 feet) and  0.6–1.07 meters (2 to 3.5 feet) in the low temperature scenario.

Interestingly, during the last interglacial period between 127,000 to 106,000 years ago, temperatures were between 1 and 2 degrees Celsius warmer than now and sea level was 4 to 6 meters (13 to 20 feet) higher. Researchers believe that the higher sea level of that time period occurred as a result of ice sheet melting in Greenland and Antarctica.

These trends certainly pose challenges to humanity. But there is good evidence that ingenuity and increasing wealth from economic growth can meet these challenges. Let’s take sea level rise. As I noted in an earlier article:

Using a worst-case climate scenario in which no efforts were made to reduce future warming, a 2018 study in Earth’s Future projected that sea level would rise by 2 and half feet by 2100. The researchers estimated that that increase would globally expand the area of land located in the 1-in-100 year coastal flood plain from its current area of about 210,000 square miles, to 290,000 square miles in 2100. The percent of the global population threatened by coastal flooding would rise (in the worst case scenario) from 3.6 percent now to about 5.4 percent by 2100.

A 2018 study in Global Environmental Change, this one also evaluating the economic effects of projected sea level increases ranging from 1 to 6 feet by 2100, concluded that it would be cost effective to invest in the protection of just 13 percent of the global coastline, thus safeguarding 90 percent the population and 96 percent of assets located in the global coastal floodplain. If these projections are approximately correct, addressing sea level rise will be costly, but it does not portend near-term societal collapse.

Setting aside big unexpected surprises, human ingenuity and increased wealth created by economic growth will similarly be able to adapt to the coming changes in the oceans and the cryosphere stemming from future climate change.

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Over at the Niskanen Center, I have a long post on the question of whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could simply refuse to hold a trial if the House of Representatives does manage to adopt articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. Ultimately, this strikes me as question of constitutional norms, and it would be inappropriate in most circumstances for the Senate to refuse to hold an impeachment trial and just ignore the actions of the House.

Here’s a taste:

Should a constitutionally conscientious senator ever agree to table or significantly delay an impeachment trial? The text of the Constitution does create some space for that kind of hardball. The Constitution says that the Senate “shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments,” and provides some directions on what should happen when the Senate is “sitting for that Purpose,” but the Senate is empowered to have a trial, not mandated to have a trial. If the Senate wants to take action against an officer, it would need to go through the constitutionally specified process of holding a trial, but if the Senate is content to allow an officer to remain in place it is not clear that the Senate needs to follow any particular procedure. Moreover, the fact that the Senate has the “sole Power” to try impeachments emphasizes that the impeachment process is a cooperative one. There is no way to end-run a Senate that does not want to remove an individual from office.

Read the whole thing here.  Also on this topic is Bob Bauer at Lawfare.

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2019-09-25 17:55:51

Cancel culture may have finally jumped the shark after an Iowa newspaper decided to include in a profile of a local man raising money for charity two racist tweets he published at age 16.

On Tuesday, the Des Moines Register published a profile of Carson King, a 24-year-old security guard who achieved viral fame after he was spotted on ESPN’s College Gameday waving a sign that asked people to use the mobile payment app Venmo to send him beer money.

The TV coverage brought in $11,000, which King then announced he was donating to the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital. That declaration led to more donations, which prompted Beer company Anheuser-Busch and Venmo both to announce that they would match Carson’s donations to the hospital. Anheuser-Busch even said they’d gift King a year’s supply of beer, making him an Iowa legend. As of Tuesday evening, King reports raising over $1 million.

All in all, it’s a nice feel-good story of a person using his surprise viral fame to help others.

In writing up this feel-good story, however, the Register decided to do some digging on King, eventually finding two, now-deleted, tweets from 2011—when King was 16 years old—that made racist jokes, one reportedly comparing black women to monkeys, another making a joke about black victims of the holocaust.

When asked about the tweets by the Register, King apologized profusely for them, saying they made him “sick” and “that’s not something that I’m proud of at all.”

Prior to the publication of the Register story, King issued a statement to local media expressing further regret.

“I am embarrassed and stunned to reflect on what I thought was funny when I was 16 years old. I want to sincerely apologize,” said King. Social media, he said, had the power to bring people together and to make one’s life very public.

The Register‘s description of King’s teenage tweets was enough to get Anheuser-Busch to disassociate themselves with King, although the company says that it will still donate $350,000 to the hospital.

The paper’s decision to publish the tweets also attracted heaps of scorn online, with many arguing that it’s wrong to dig up someone’s offensive tweets from high school, particularly given the remorse King already expressed, the sudden nature of his fame, and the legitimately decent charity work he was doing with that fame.

In response to these criticisms, the Des Moines Register Executive Editor Carol Hunter published an absolutely infuriating statement in which she described editors wrestling with whether to ignore the tweets, given King’s age at the time and apparent remorse, or go ahead and risk ruining his life by publishing descriptions of them. They went with the latter option. Hunter’s statement makes clear that this decision to publish the tweets was made prior to King releasing his own statement to the media.

Hunter’s statement did little to quell anger at the paper. Critics on Twitter quickly found offensive tweets from Aaron Calvin, the reporter who wrote the profile of King. Calvin has since apologized and deleted those tweets. He is now being investigated by his employer.

The story is reminiscent of Ken Bone, who went viral after asking a question during a 2016 presidential debate only to have sexually explicit remarks he made on Reddit dug up by the media. It’s also similar to Kyler Murray, the University of Oklahoma quarterback who’s winning of the Heisman trophy was marred by USA Today deciding to publish an article on homophobic tweets he made when he was 15.

The fact that both King and the reporter writing about him had offensive tweets in their past should hopefully serve as a lesson: Everyone who’s grown up with social media has posted content they regret and that doesn’t necessarily reflect on their present-day values or beliefs.  Even progressive New York Times staffers have managed to slip up.

Treating a person’s most intemperate tweets as worthy of public shame is an exercise in hypocrisy. What’s worse is that we have graduated from using social media history as a way of divining a person’s true nature to deploying that history cynically and maliciously, and in this case, to simply including a person’s dumbest posts as a matter of routine: “Age, name, dumbest thing they’ve said online that we can find.” Journalists can and should do better.

King’s treatment by the Des Moines Register and the subsequent backlash suggest that the world would be a lot better place if we could ignore people’s worst online moments, especially if they appear to be artifacts of their immaturity. As the great @alexander_pope might say were he alive today, “2 err is human, 2 forgive divine.”

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It’s hard to think of a time when political and cultural discourse has been more polarized. These days, it seems as if even casual conversation has become tougher to navigate than a World War II minefield. Everyone from prospective Saturday Night Live cast members to college professors teaching books on racism to social media folk heroes have been canceled for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time and holiday dinners occasion endless columns about surviving political discussions. In today’s world, “Can we all just get along?“—the phrase famously attributed to Rodney King after he was almost beaten to death by members of the Los Angeles Police Department in 1991—seems like it’s from a totally different universe.

Today’s guest, Peter Boghossian, hopes to remedy at least some of today’s toxic atmosphere. He’s an assistant professor of philosophy at Portland State University and the co-author, with James Lindsay, of the new book How To Have Impossible Conversations: A Very Practical Guide. Their aim is to give us all advice on how to have “effective, civil discussions about today’s most divisive issues.”

Boghossian talks with Nick Gillespie about strategies to bring people who disagree into useful, productive engagement with one another. They also discuss how Boghossian, Lindsay, and a third scholar, Helen Pluckrose, pulled off the “grievance studies” hoax, one of the biggest and most controversial academic controversies in recent memory. The trio authored 20 fake articles that they say exemplify how political correctness has trumped serious intellectual inquiry in many academic disciplines. These were not subtle satires: One talked about canine “rape culture” at dog parks and another appropriated aspects of Hitler’s Mein Kampf in the service of a feminist critique of patriarchy. They submitted the papers to academic journals, with seven being accepted for publication and four actually coming out when they were exposed by The Wall Street Journal.

Is there a contradiction between pulling off the hoax and writing a book about bringing ideological opponents together? And what punishment at Portland State does Boghossian still face as a result of his role in the hoax? Those are some of the questions raised in this wide-ranging conversation about politics, polarization, and intellectual inquiry.

Audio production by Ian Keyser.

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