So Germany has come up with the perfect job for all those migrants

One of many problems plaguing Germany since their decision to essentially open their borders to hundreds of thousands of migrants from Syria and Iraq is how to get them employed and contributing to the local economy as part of their “assimilation.” As of a few months ago, officials estimate that more than 75% of the new arrivals are unemployed, collecting benefits and are “unlikely to find work” in the next ten years. Big problems such as this call for big solutions and the Germans think they’ve come up with a winner. What better job to give to these unemployed migrants than that of… being a truck driver. (Voice of Europe)

Due to an acute shortage of professional truck drivers the German trucking association has launched a new project to train asylum seekers for the job, Austria’s tabloid Wochenblick reports.

The project, which is named “The drive into your new future” intends to make it easier for asylum seekers to become truck drivers.

In this way, the German Red Cross (DRK) and the Logistics Organization (UVL) want to alleviate the shortage of truck drivers. The concept was developed together with the SVG Driving School North, reports newspaper DVZ.

During the training the candidates have to pass through two exams. In addition to its general suitability, the DRK also wants to check the language skills and the status of residence. In addition, a separate “refugee representative” should look after the participants during the three-year training.

I understand that we probably broke the sarcasm meter with this question long ago but I still have to ask… what could possibly go wrong?

To be fair, it’s not hard to understand why Germany might find themselves in need of more truck drivers. The unemployment rate there is currently down to roughly 3.6% so they’re close to what we would describe as “full employment.” Unless they’re paying their truck drivers exceptionally well it might be hard to attract new employees in that sort of market.

But does anyone else see why focusing on hiring these refugees in large numbers as truck drivers would have some of the population a bit on the nervous side? You may recall the story of Anis Amri, the asylum seeker who drove a truck into a crowd at high speed in Berlin shortly before Christmas in 2016, killing twelve pedestrians and injuring more than fifty others. While he wasn’t the first, he certainly seemed to popularize the ISIS endorsed strategy of using trucks as weapons of terror in countries around the world.

Even if you can get past the optics of loading up hundreds of German trucks with other asylum seekers, is this a productive way to fill those jobs? There’s probably a combination of factors involved, including both vetting and training, but the German program is requiring three years of training before the new drivers are ready to hit the roads on their own. In the United States, you can get a Commercial Drivers License (CDL) with about three months of driving school and a short apprenticeship before you’re ready to go to work. It sounds like the Germans are going to be sinking a ton of money into each of these applicants just to get them situated in what is essentially a blue collar job.

Let’s give the Germans credit for trying to think outside the box and put some of these migrants to work. But if just one of them winds up taking their new commercial trucking license and using it to carry out an attack, Angela Merkel will be back on the hot seat once again.

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Oakland mayor inspires new bill which could lock up officials like her

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said in a recent op-ed for the Washington Post that she originally ran for office because she wanted to change the way things operate. She may be changing things more than she thought and in ways she never imagined. Following calls to investigate her decision to alert illegal aliens in her community to an impending ICE raid, Iowa Congressman Steve King (R) has introduced legislation which could lock up public officials obstructing justice in this fashion for as much as five years. (Washington Times)

Tipping illegal immigrants off to a looming immigration sweep could net sanctuary city leaders jail time, under a bill announced Monday by Rep. Steve King.

The Iowa Republican dubbed the bill the Mayor Libby Schaaf Act, after the Oakland mayor who alerted California’s Bay Area to an impending sweep this year, a move that immigration officials said helped hundreds of people escape detection.

At the time, the chief of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Ms. Schaaf was essentially acting as a “gang lookout” tipping off lawbreakers when police came through their neighborhood.

Mr. King’s bill would include a penalty of up to five years in prison for any state or local official who obstructs enforcement of federal laws.

“I want lawless, Sanctuary City politicians to hear this message clearly: If you obstruct ICE, you are going to end up in the cooler,” Mr. King said in announcing his bill.

I somehow doubt that King is expecting much support from his Democratic colleagues on this one and the bill may be nothing more than an effort to make a point in this debate. I’m also not sure there’s really a need for such a law. As we’ve discussed here previously, we already have laws on the books which cover this. Under Title 8, Chapter 12, anyone can be charged with harboring or shielding from detection any illegal aliens, leaving them subject to a fine and/or not more than 10 years in prison. I see no reason why an elected official such as a mayor wouldn’t be subject to that law.

Then again, when it’s a public official doing it, that’s a special sort of violation in some ways because they’re violating their oath of office and undermining the laws they are sworn to uphold. In that sense, perhaps a special law specifically covering elected officials might be in order.

Of course, even if this gets signed into law it won’t apply to Mayor Schaaf, so she doesn’t have much to worry about. You can’t prosecute someone for a law passed after they commit the act, so unless Schaaf plans to do any additional gang signaling when ICE is coming to town she should be in the clear.

I do hope that this bill at least earns time for an open debate on the floor of the House. If nothing else, it will be entertaining to see if any Democrats are willing to take to the podium and argue against holding elected officials accountable when they flout the law. How does one even begin to structure such an argument? If you’re going to start making exceptions under the law for people in public office that could lead to all manner of uncomfortable conversations in the current climate of Washington.

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Still missing in Santa Fe: blaming the guns

Things are slowly returning to normal in Santa Fe after the recent school shooting, or at least as close to normal as is possible under such circumstances. But one thing I’ve noticed is that we’re not seeing nearly as much wall-to-wall coverage of reactions from the community on cable news. One possible reason for this is the fact that as the community comes together to try to heal, there’s a key element missing from the usual narrative. Almost nobody is blaming the guns for the tragedy. Calls for new gun control laws coming out of Santa Fe are nearly nonexistent. The LA Times looks at some of the contrasting responses.

There was no outcry against firearms in Santa Fe after a gunman killed 10 and wounded 13 others Friday. Guns didn’t come up at a prayerful vigil attended by 1,000 people that evening. On Saturday, there were no protests, and local leaders don’t expect any Sunday…

The Rev. Brad Drake has ministered to the Santa Fe community for seven years at Dayspring Church, an Assemblies of God congregation of about 150 people a few miles from the high school. The town of about 13,000 has 15 churches, and Drake serves on the local ministerial alliance as well as the Chamber of Commerce.

After the shooting, he worried that outside groups might show up with political agendas. He noticed a man openly carrying a handgun on his hip at the Friday vigil. But that was it, he said.

“We’re able to look past that stuff and just take care of people,” Drake said as he sat in his office.

Among the students who were willing to talk to the press, there didn’t seem to be any interest in signing up to be political pawns. These kids are just trying to heal and the answers they are demanding have more to do with making their school more secure than some national political debate. And that’s probably for the best since the Santa Fe shooting broke the usual story arc in a few ways.

There’s more to the missing narrative puzzle than just the failure to call for more gun control. This shooting breaks the standard profile in a couple of ways. A second element is the problematic fact that the guns used in the attack were legally owned by the shooter’s father and were stolen by the son. Once again, no gun control laws currently under consideration would have staved off this attack. The same was true of the Sandy Hook shooting, though that didn’t stop Connecticut from immediately moving to ban guns.

The types of firearms used have also deflated the media’s enthusiasm for covering the Santa Fe shooting. As the Chicago Tribune pointed out this week, the firearms owned by the shooter’s family are on the list of “approved” weapons, even among gun control advocates.

Friday’s shooting at Santa Fe High School, which left 10 dead, was carried out with a pistol and a shotgun – firearms that even gun-control advocates generally regard as utilitarian.

The reality that weapons not included in proposed assault-rifle bans can still exact a double-digit death toll further complicates a wrenching national debate about how to prevent future tragedies.

“That’s true” that weapons other than assault rifles can kill many people at once, conceded Avery W. Gardiner, co-president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which favors a federal ban on assault rifles but not on shotguns or pistols.

Parkland and Santa Fe are indeed a tale of two cities. Unfortunately, only one of them is being heard from in the media coverage of this national debate. If the survivors in Santa Fe don’t follow the script theyr’e not of much use to the various gun control groups currently trying to use the Parkland tragedy to their advantage.

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Broke: Cultural appropriation. Woke: Conservative appropriation

By this point, unless you are fortunate enough to be able to completely ignore social media and most television programming, you’re probably familiar with the term “cultural appropriation.” It’s an increasingly popular term among social justice warriors, typically employed as an accusation of cultural insensitivity. This means that if you choose to wear some clothing, eat some food, dance to some music or otherwise partake of something which is deemed to be the “property” of a particular demographic group, you’re stealing it from them and somehow cheapening it. One of the most recent examples was the young lady who wore a traditional Chinese dress to prom and was roundly lambasted on the left over it.

It’s a silly idea which I’ve never paid much attention to since nobody “owns” a particular style of clothing, food or whatever unless they happen to hold a patent or copyright on a specific brand. But now, thanks to our Townhall colleague Timothy Meads, perhaps we can put that all behind us. There’s a new type of appropriation in town and it’s known as “conservative appropriation.” Hey now… that might have some potential! Do you mean people are taking on conservative traits without being conservative?

Sadly, no. In this case, it’s liberal women claiming that conservative women can’t speak up on women’s issues because… I have no idea. But it’s apparently “appropriation” of some sort.

According to the New York Times’ Jessica Valenti, conservative women cannot use the term “feminist” because their beliefs do no match up with hers nor in her mind help women. In today’s edition of NYT, Valenti says:

“Now, we have a different task: protecting the movement against conservative appropriation. We’ve come too far to allow the right to water down a well-defined movement for its own cynical gains. Because if feminism means applauding ‘anything a woman does’ — even hurting other women — then it means nothing.”

Valenti basically says that feminists wrongly led others to believe in a version of feminism that was separate from the truth. It does not simply mean equal treatment under the law or in the work place. Instead it means believing in ideals that ascertain only to the left. Because, according to Valenti, those ideals are what truly help women.

Valenti goes on at length to make an extensively cataloged list of complaints which explain why women who benefit from earlier feminist endeavors can’t actually be feminists if they are Republicans or conservatives. Breaking the glass ceiling in a major company or government office is “groundbreaking” according to the author, but only in a technical sense. It’s not a real victory for women to see one of their own gender take over Fox News, for example, because they’ve risen to the top in an organization which liberals don’t endorse. You see, feminism is apparently inherently tied to liberalism and anyone coloring outside those lines is not welcome in the clubhouse.

Wasn’t the original idea of feminism to fight for gender equality in the workplace and, more generally, under the law in all aspects of life? How does the question of whether you support or oppose tax cuts relate to this subject? Shouldn’t the career achievements and success of women like Nikki Halley or Betsy DeVos be celebrated by all women, if only for having busted their way into the old boys’ club?

Apparently not. For a long time now I’ve heard from various women who tell me that females in the workplace are their own worst enemy. There is anecdotal proof that women in competitive environments tend to treat each other horribly and stab each other in the back far too often. Apparently, it’s the same in politics. It’s all “up with women” and “fight the patriarchy” until someone shows up with some different political views. Then they are summarily kicked to the curb. It’s a phenomenon which was perfectly demonstrated when some Jewish lesbians were kicked out of the Dyke March in Chicago last year.

Just keep making that tent smaller, feminists. One of these days you’re going to wake up and realize that it’s gotten awfully lonely in there.

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“Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans?”: Pentecost Sunday reflection

This morning’s Gospel reading is John 15:26–27; 16:12–15:

Jesus said to his disciples:

“When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth that proceeds from the Father, he will testify to me. And you also testify, because you have been with me from the beginning.

“I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming. He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you. Everything that the Father has is mine; for this reason I told you that he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.”

We have a tradition in our parish and diocese for Pentecost Sunday that warms my language-loving heart. For this one Sunday, at each of our Masses, our second reading is given in a foreign language, as a demonstration of the first gift of the Holy Spirit to the apostles nearly two thousand years ago. We have had a number of languages over the years for this second reading; at last year’s Mass, a friend read it in Italian, which I understood well enough to recognize the scripture. Usually, it’s in a language completely outside my experience.

This year, it’s my turn to do the reading, to which I’ll return in a moment. It’s from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, explaining the gifts of the Holy Spirit and their equality and service to the one body of Christ. Much of 1 Corinthians is taken up with settling disputes and rebuking the wayward in Corinth, and among the disputes between them appears to have been over the relative value of the gifts. Paul addresses the misunderstanding of their meaning and purpose, among other issues in this lengthy instruction to the fledgeling church.

Paul analogizes these gifts to the body to underscore their connectedness to each other and to the body of Christ. “As a body is one though it has many parts,” he writes, “and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ.” The gifts are different forms from “the same Spirit,” and all given for the purpose of serving the whole body. “The body is not a single part,” Paul reminds the Corinthians, “but many. … If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?” We are given gifts to bring to the whole body of Christ with common purpose, value, and respect.

The analogy of the body of Christ works beyond that in our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. Prior to Jesus, the Lord established Israel for the salvation of the whole world. Israel was to be a nation of faithful priests to whom the rest of the world would come to learn salvation. Unfortunately, Israel chose to pursue its own vision and purpose, and the Old Testament is filled with prophets’ warnings about idolatry and worldliness, which resulted in ruination after ruination.

Christ came to establish His church and reverse the process. Rather than having the world come to Israel to hear the Word of God, the church would carry it to the nations, and to the ends of the earth. His would be a servant kingdom, meant to embrace all of the nations as part of the one body of Christ rather than lose itself in worldly power and concerns.

This new mission gets its start at Pentecost, and also provides an intriguing parallel to Paul’s corporal analogies in Corinthians. The Holy Spirit delivers the gift of tongues to the apostles, allowing them to proclaim the Gospel in the native languages of those gathered for the feast. Pentecost was one of three major pilgrimage feasts of Israel, and travelers to Jerusalem would likely have had to accustom themselves to a language other than their first in order to participate in the rituals.

These pilgrims find themselves astounded to be addressed in their own languages, especially by Galileans who would not have been of an intellectual caste. They’re so astounded that a few of them conclude that the apostles are drunk. Paul rebukes them immediately afterward for their suspicions, noting that “it is only nine o’clock.” He instructs them that this gift signifies the power of Christ by fulfilling the prophecy of Joel, for the purpose of showing “the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” It is the moment in which the new Church boldly proclaims it central tenet of salvation — and does so in the native language of all who are in attendance.

This foreshadows the mission of the new Israel, the new Church. Not only will it go out into the world rather than have the world come to it, salvation will embrace all the different parts of the world with common respect and dignity. The gift of tongues to the apostles demonstrates that dignity and respect for others, allowing the apostles to bring the Gospel to people directly. Underlying that gift is the one love of Christ for us all, coming to us as we are in order to offer us salvation in Him.

What Paul writes to the Corinthians about differing gifts applies to the different communities of human beings as well. And in fact Paul does extend that analogy to people in our second reading: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.”

Both readings remind us that we are to use these gifts to serve the one body of Christ. Whether our gifts are language, service, theology, organization, or anything else, those gifts are ours to use and enjoy. They will find their greatest fulfillment in the service of the Lord, though, and we will benefit most from our gifts and the gifts of all others by making ourselves into the one body of Christ. We both lift and are lifted together in that exchange, and brought closer to salvation in it.

That brings me back to today’s reading, 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13. I’ll be delivering it today in Irish, the first time I will have done any public speaking in the language. I look forward to participating in this lovely tradition, even if it produces very puzzled looks from my fellow parishioners.

Nach féidir d’aon duine ach oiread “Is é Íosa an Tiarna” a rá ach amháin faoi anáil an Spioraid Naoimh. Tá tíolacthaí difriúla ann ach an t-aon Spiorad amháin; tá feidhmeannais difriúla ann ach an t-aon Tiarna amháin; agus tá oibreacha difriúla ann ach is é an Dia céanna a bhíonn á n-oibriú go léir i ngach ceann riamh acu. An léiriú a dhéantar ar an Spiorad i ngach duine ar leith, is chun tairbhe an phobail mhóir é.

Is aonad an corp agus mórán ball ann, ach dhá líonmhaire iad na baill ní dhéanann siad uile ach aon chorp amháin. Is é an dála céanna ag Críost é: mar cibé acu Giúdaigh nó Gréagaigh sinn, saor nó daor, baisteadh an uile dhuine againn leis an aon Spiorad amháin, isteach san aon chorp amháin agus as an aon Spiorad amháin tugadh deoch le hól dhúinn.

Note: For more on the remarkable background on 1 Corinthians, I’d highly recommend the commentary First Corinthians by George T. Montague, SM.

The front page image is a detail from “Pentecost” by El Greco, c. 1597-1600.

“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here.  For previous Green Room entries, click here.

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Seattle’s new head tax may plug budget gap but won’t allow for additional spending on homeless

Last week I wrote about the passage of the $275 per person, per year head tax in Seattle. That tax, levied only on companies with annual revenues over $20 million, is intended to raise $47 million per year for new home construction and more services for the city’s homeless. There’s just one problem. According to Ben Noble, director of the city’s budget office, the city is already projected to spend more on the homeless than it is likely to take in. So far, that spending has been covered by taxes on construction which has been booming. But now that boom is expected to cool off, leaving a shortfall even if projected spending remains steady. From KUOW:

If current trends continue, Noble told the committee, Seattle will operate in the red in 2019, to the tune of $28.5 million.

Councilmember Sally Bagshaw asked Noble what city spending was blowing the budget.

Homelessness, Noble said, adding, “The demand for those services, far from declining, is continuing to increase.”

Noble told the Council that the city doesn’t have room in the budget for long-term spending on homelessness…

To recap: The city of Seattle overspent its budget on homelessness before the City Council voted on the head tax. Unless something changes, most of the money raised by the head tax will cover previous spending commitments — not new spending.

So the city with one of the worst homelessness problems in the nation just raised millions via a new tax which, most likely, will only cover what the city is already projected to spend. The vote to pass this new tax happened on the same day that the severity of the homeless problem was brought home for many people. On Monday, just hours before the head tax vote, a 24-year-old homeless man followed a 40-year-old woman into the bathroom at a car dealership and raped her. From KOMO News:

Christopher Teel is accused of following the 40-year-old woman into the restroom at Carter Volkswagen and locking the door, according to charges filed in King County Superior Court Wednesday.

Court documents say Teel, described as 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighing 250 pounds, forced open the woman’s stall door, grabbed her by the neck and pulled her out. She screamed, and he choked her, court documents say.

Teel told her “you want this, God wants this,” according to charges…

Court documents say the woman told police she “surrendered because I didn’t want to die.”

A homeless man named Chris Teel was photographed last November in a homeless camp. He had moved to the area from Texas. You can see several photos of him here. At least one area resident is describing the rape as the last straw:

Erika Nagy, a mother of two who lives in Ballard, said the rape is the final straw for her. She said she has taken her worries about safety, as well as her concerns about the drug needles she and her children have found, to City Hall. But, she said, no one has listened.

“I have every right to be mad,” Nagy said. “This is enough. I want my city back.”

A Seattle architect who has lived in the city since the 1970s wrote a piece for the Seattle Times today saying much the same thing:

The big problem is that for years we have had a city government that has ignored the needs and wants of the citizens they are supposed to represent, and instead listened only to relatively radical special-interest advocates that represent a fraction of Seattle residents. In the process, our city government has become bizarrely left-wing, routinely ignoring public opinion and advocating socialist ideology…

The city has spent hundreds of millions of dollars degrading the quality of life for most residents, all of it based on ideology, never sound analysis or evidence. There is no accountability for spending on homelessness, bike lanes, or streetcars, and at the same time, the basic responsibilities of city government – public safety, welfare, and infrastructure – continue to deteriorate…

The real question is why Seattle’s residents don’t rebel, and recall rogue politicians and pass initiatives to roll back ridiculous programs. I honestly do not know anyone in personal, work, neighborhood, or other contexts that agrees with any of the city’s major plans or programs in the last five years. On the contrary, most people are mad as hell…

Will this revolt grow, or are Seattle’s residents too lazy, complacent, or polite to take back control of their city? Are there any reasonable, moderate people and political groups preparing to run for office and put real public representatives back in city government?

Are residents finally getting sick of their far-left city council members spending like crazy while the city itself becomes one of the nation’s leading homeless encampments? I’ll believe it when I see it. If there’s one thing we can take from what is currently happening in Venezuela it’s that socialists rarely take the signals being sent by the market as a sign of their own failure. Instead, they inevitably see them as signs they haven’t gone far enough.

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Denver Mayor’s pricey trip to Paris attracts little attention

Remember when the media was obsessed with Scott Pruitt’s travel expenses and whether he flew business class or coach? To be sure, those are valid questions to investigate in case taxpayer dollars are being abused, but the story wound up mostly hitting a dead end. Still, if there are any other government officials out there wondering about how they can fly with the elites and not have to reach into their own pockets, they might want to have a chat with Denver’s Democratic mayor, Michael Hancock.

An investigation by the local CBS affiliate found that Hancock, his staff, and a number of officials from the Denver International Airport (DIA) took a very nice trip to France recently and ran up quite the tab. Much of the expense can be attributed to the fact that virtually everyone on the non-stop trip to Paris and beyond flew business class rather than coach and most of the tickets were booked at the last minute, driving up the already hefty fares even further.

A CBS4 Investigation has found some business class flights to Paris last month for Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, his appointees and Denver International Airport administrators cost between $7,000 to $9,000 with some roundtrip tickets running nearly $16,000.

“These flights are expensive, and we acknowledge that,” said Stacey Stegman, a spokesperson for Denver International Airport.

CBS4 found two newer DIA employees on the trip, office manager Katie Halbert and DIA travel administrator Katie Houlmiere, flew to Paris on Lufthansa business class at a cost of $8,917.80 each. Their return flights on Lufthansa business class from Paris to Frankfurt to Denver cost $6,734. Meaning the two mid-level administrators round trip flights from Denver to Paris cost $15,651.80.

The stated purpose of the trip was claimed to be (irony alert!) to “celebrate the inaugural trip of low cost airline Norwegian Air, which …offers fares as low as $300 from Denver to Paris.” This trip went to Paris first, ostensibly to receive economic briefings and meet with French industry leaders. The gang then flew to Brest, finishing up with a trip to Normany to visit Omaha Beach. When you add up the cost of this five-night jaunt for 15 municipal government and DIA employees it approaches a quarter million dollars.

Now that CBS has exposed the expenses, this will surely be coming to a stop, right? Perish the thought. The DIA spokesperson says that the policy remains in place and business class flights are required so that the travelers can be “well rested” when they arrive and to ensure they have “time to relax” on the way back.

The Mayor, while admitting the trip was expensive, is quick to point out that “no taxpayer money was involved.” But that’s only true in a very limited and direct view. The airport is an “enterprise” as described in the state constitution and is, in theory, responsible for generating its own revenue and doesn’t rely on taxpayer dollars. But that’s something of a smokescreen because the airlines and all the airports rely on government largesse and their infrastructure needs are almost always covered by the taxpayer. And the airport is owned by Denver’s Department of Aviation and governed by the City and County of Denver.

Even if that weren’t the case, the Mayor and all of his staff and DIA cronies aren’t paying for these tickets themselves. They essentially arranged for more than a dozen officials to have a lovely, five-day holiday in France with top level amenities and didn’t have to lay out a dime for it.

Nice work if you can get it.

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Tomorrow’s elections in Venezuela will be a joke

Tomorrow will see the next round of elections in Venezuela, where Nicolas Maduro will seek another term as the tyrant (or president, if you insist). Most of the opposition party leaders will not be on the ballot in the majority of races because they’ve been barred by Maduro’s electoral commission. Others are in jail or simply “missing.” Maduro himself is somehow facing two opponents, former regional governor Henri Falcón and evangelical pastor Javier Bertucci.

If you look at some of the scant polling coming from the few independent news outlets still able to cover Venezuela these days, Maduro looks like he should be in trouble. He’s almost dead even with Falcón and Bertucci is eating up a significant amount of support, though still behind the other two. But as NBC News reports this weekend, when the official vote count is released, Maduro will still likely “win” in a landslide.

Most of the opposition has decided not to participate in Sunday’s election and has called for a boycott. Their leaders have been barred from running, while others are being held in prisons or exiled. Much of the opposition claims the vote will be neither free nor fair and do not trust the electoral council, which is controlled by government loyalists…

Caracas resident Leobaldo Matos, 82, idolized Chávez and never imagined abandoning the ranks of his Bolivarian Revolution. But this Sunday he will back Falcón.

“I opened my eyes, Maduro isn’t Chávez,” he said.

At his home, not everyone feels the same. His daughter Margret, 42, a dentist with one young daughter, said she has always voted for the opposition. This time she will not go to the polls.

“I already know who’s going to win,” she said. “I feel tired of waking up the next day feeling robbed.”

Those voters have every right to feel discouraged. Maduro controls the electoral commission, the supreme court and the new superlegislative body which essentially dismantled Venezuela’s constitution and opened the path for him to be dictator for life. Even if too many votes for opponents do somehow wind up being cast, most observers agree that they will miraculously disappear or be disqualified on some technicality before making it to the final tally.

All of this is taking place while Venezuela continues to slide into third-world status or worse. Healthcare in the country has collapsed and diseases such as malaria and measles, formerly almost eradicated from the continent, are now surging again. Food shortages have reached the point where children are literally starving to death and many adults get only one meal a day. Their economy has long since imploded and their currency is virtually worthless for anything but wallpaper, with an inflation rate of more than 4,000%.

In the United States, a president gets worried about reelection if the unemployment rate gets above 5% or gas prices go up by a dollar. But in a dictatorship, the tyrant has no such concerns. An election will be held tomorrow and Maduro will declare himself and his cronies the winners. Meanwhile, that nation is spurring a refugee crisis, with more than a million Venezuelan citizens having fled the country in search of food and medicine. These are the wages of socialism. And at this point, there is precious little that anyone else can do to save them. Reuters is reporting that arrests for treason and desertion in the military are up significantly from last year, but there’s no sign of a general rebellion or coup in sight. If the people of Venezuela wish to be rid of Maduro they will probably have to take care of it themselves.

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The school shooting epidemic as a slow-motion riot

At least 10 people were killed today in a school shooting at a Texas high school. There’s still a lot we don’t know about the shooter and his motives. No doubt we’ll still be writing about that for days or weeks to come. But today National Review’s David French steps back from this particular instance and takes a look at the pattern of shootings. French is relying heavily on a piece written by Malcolm Gladwell back in 2015 which attempted to offer an explanation for the pattern of shootings over the past couple decades. Gladwell starts by introducing some social science on the topic of riots and what drives them:

In a famous essay published four decades ago, the Stanford sociologist Mark Granovetter set out to explain a paradox: “situations where outcomes do not seem intuitively consistent with the underlying individual preferences.” What explains a person or a group of people doing things that seem at odds with who they are or what they think is right? Granovetter took riots as one of his main examples, because a riot is a case of destructive violence that involves a great number of otherwise quite normal people who would not usually be disposed to violence…

Granovetter thought it was a mistake to focus on the decision-making processes of each rioter in isolation. In his view, a riot was not a collection of individuals, each of whom arrived independently at the decision to break windows. A riot was a social process, in which people did things in reaction to and in combination with those around them. Social processes are driven by our thresholds—which he defined as the number of people who need to be doing some activity before we agree to join them. In the elegant theoretical model Granovetter proposed, riots were started by people with a threshold of zero—instigators willing to throw a rock through a window at the slightest provocation. Then comes the person who will throw a rock if someone else goes first. He has a threshold of one. Next in is the person with the threshold of two. His qualms are overcome when he sees the instigator and the instigator’s accomplice. Next to him is someone with a threshold of three, who would never break windows and loot stores unless there were three people right in front of him who were already doing that—and so on up to the hundredth person, a righteous upstanding citizen who nonetheless could set his beliefs aside and grab a camera from the broken window of the electronics store if everyonearound him was grabbing cameras from the electronics store.

The important point here is one that Gladwell reaches later: “the longer a riot goes on, the less the people who join it resemble the people who started it.” Sure, at the start, the people breaking windows are probably the kind of hotheads who would do that on any pretext. But as the riot spreads, eventually the people participating are people who are only doing so because everyone else around them is doing it. They are people who would never have thrown the first rock.

Gladwell’s idea is to apply this concept to the kind of misfit losers who commit school shootings. I won’t go into all the details (you can read his entire piece for that) but he posits that the Columbine shooting created a kind of social script for others to follow. And people have been following. It’s very common for school shooters to be people obsessed with previous school shooters, especially the Columbine killers. Even the shooter in the Texas high school today appears to have been fond of wearing a black trench coat to school.

Now imagine that the riot takes a big step further along the progression—to someone with an even higher threshold, for whom the group identification and immersion in the culture of school shooting are even more dominant considerations. That’s John LaDue…LaDue is a scholar of the genre, who speaks of his influences the way a budding filmmaker might talk about Fellini or Bergman. “The other one was Charles Whitman. I don’t know if you knew who that was. He was who they called the sniper at the Austin Texas University. He was an ex-marine. He got like sixteen, quite impressive.”

So if you imagine the series of school shootings as a kind of slow-motion riot spread out over years, then as more cases make the news, more people reach the threshold for participation. People who would never have been the first to do something like this are willing to be the 10th or 20th. And as this progresses, some of the people involved become less identifiable as the kind of obviously troubled kids who might consider something like this.

In the day of Eric Harris, we could try to console ourselves with the thought that there was nothing we could do, that no law or intervention or restrictions on guns could make a difference in the face of someone so evil. But the riot has now engulfed the boys who were once content to play with chemistry sets in the basement. The problem is not that there is an endless supply of deeply disturbed young men who are willing to contemplate horrific acts. It’s worse. It’s that young men no longer need to be deeply disturbed to contemplate horrific acts.

I would point out that Nikolas Cruz, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school shooter, seems like the kind of low threshold person who would throw the first brick in a riot. So it’s not necessarily the case that with each new school shooting we’re getting kids who seem less obviously prone to this sort of thing. We’re still seeing kids who were obviously troubled (and should have been stopped). Does that mean Gladwell’s thesis is wrong? Maybe it just means that, as the riot expands, everyone below the current threshold joins in, not just those at the highest limit. If five people are throwing bricks and someone else walks up who is a zero (i.e. prone to throw the first brick even if alone) he’ll simply join in with the other five without hesitation. There can be more than one person at each level so the progression won’t be always upward.

Finally, based on Gladwell’s analysis, David French recommends a solution to the problem:

it’s the pattern of elaborate preparation and obsession with the subculture of mass shooters that has led in part to my own advocacy of the gun-violence restraining order. While we don’t have sufficient details about today’s shooter in Texas to know if it would have made a difference, it’s a fact that large numbers of mass shooters broadcast warning signals of their intent to do harm, and it’s also a fact that family members and other relevant people close to the shooter have few tools at their disposal to prevent violence. A gun-violence restraining order can allow a family member (or school principle) to quickly get in front of a local judge for a hearing (with full due-process protections) that can result in the temporary confiscation of weapons from a proven dangerous person.

This sounds like the sort of thing that might help in some instances, but remember that in the case of Nikolas Cruz, police had been to the house many times but never took any firm action. And the people he was living with just prior to the shooting say he never betrayed any signs of troubling behavior. So even if this program had been in place, it’s not clear it would have been used against Cruz.

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Communist Party USA: That’s right, we really don’t believe in free speech

File this under least surprising story of the day. Yesterday the Communist Party USA published a response to an “adolescent” who wrote in to ask whether or not freedom would still exist if Communists were in control of the United States government. The not surprising part? The person responding on behalf of CPUSA said the answer was no. Here’s the question that prompted this revelation:

Hello. I am an adolescent who is thinking about joining the CPUSA once I am at the legal voting age. My History teacher told me that in a Communist country, no one has individual rights. I asked her to give me specific examples of what rights I would not have and she said something along the lines of,” We wouldn’t have freedom of speech. Like for example, I wouldn’t be able to say an opinion that was different from how the majority felt.” My question is, since this a progressive party, If we had a Communist President and a Communist country with communist laws, would that mean people who are conservative in any way could not not be able to say or do anything that was politically incorrect? –Madeline

I don’t know many teens who refer to themselves as adolescents, but whatever. Here’s the reply from CPUSA:

Thanks for writing in, and for a terrific question.  It really got me thinking! In our perspective, dissent, protest, disagreement and debate are a vital part of the democratic process–as vital, in fact, as arriving at and implementing a collective strategy. We don’t see CPUSA as ruling a single-party state; instead, we hope to be one of many parties and organizations working together to build socialism.

That doesn’t sound so bad.

So, in a socialist USA, will people be allowed to say ‘politically incorrect’ things? The short answer is that it depends on what kind of things, and where.

Oh.

I doubt a government based on our vision of Bill of Rights socialism will be handing out fines to people who use the term ‘snowflake’, but I also don’t think it will issue permits for Nazi rallies, use publicly owned media to promote racist conspiracy theories, or let trolls make rape threats over social media.

Well, I’m glad the communist state police won’t be handing out speech tickets, but the end of freedom of assembly seems like a bit of a downer. No permits for Nazis could also mean no permit for any other group seen as incompatible with “a collective strategy.” Would a group of business executives be able to hold a pro-capitalism march? Your guess is as good as mine.

As for “publicly owned media” promoting conspiracy theories, I guess he’s talking about social media companies like Facebook. Those aren’t owned by the government, at least not currently, so it’s not clear how CPUSA would be in control of them in this hypothetical future. Have they been expropriated? It’s unclear.

I think the term ‘politically incorrect’ is a trap. It gets used to cover up what we’re really talking about, which are patterns of speech that promote white supremacy, male supremacy, and other forms of inequality. An awful lot of awful conversations wouldn’t happen if people had to say “I heard a great joke about how Black people are inferior!” rather than “I heard this hilarious joke, but it’s super politically incorrect.”

He’s talking more generally now but clearly, the goal is to stop “awful conversations.” At what point do awful conversations become illegal? Who is monitoring them? And what happens to those who have these bad conversations? Do those people get re-education from the government?

The idea of political correctness also implies a certain kind of censorship and constraint, as if not saying the n-word means I’ve given up some part of my freedom in response to social pressure.

That Ayn Rand, individual-vs-society line is how the right wing has trained people to think about freedom. For them, it’s not freedom unless it comes at the expense of someone else, the First Amendment was written to protect bigots and trolls, and the whole foundation of liberty is under attack when a university suggests that its students avoid racist stereotypes in their Halloween costumes.

The first amendment was “written to protect bigots and trolls” sort of sums it up, I think. Apparently, it guarantees freedom to no one besides hardcore Nazis and racists. I guess they missed the whole “free speech movement” in the 60s.

Unfortunately, some liberals buy into that idea as well.  They think that shutting down a Nazi rally, or preventing religious fundamentalists from verbally abusing patients outside abortion clinics, would compromise free speech rights for everyone.  It’s the ‘I don’t agree with what you say, but I’ll fight to the death for your right to say it’ thing.

It’s also nonsense.

You see, free speech for everyone isn’t really that important, certainly not for the 40%+ of Americans who consider themselves pro-life. They can just learn to keep quiet.

So there you go, adolescent Madeline. Under CPUSA, things wouldn’t be so different except that everyone to the right of Trotsky would need to get used to having no freedom of assembly or speech. And really, that won’t be so bad because limiting free speech to socially approved groups couldn’t possibly go wrong or lead to state control of everything you do or think. Trust the communists.

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