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Tuesday's Most Active Threads

by Jeff Steele — last modified Jan 10, 2024 11:30 AM

Yesterday's topics with the most engagement included MCPS early dismissal, unhappiness with the likely presidential candidates, the "dead zone" for upper middle class families for college admissions, and presidential immunity.

The most active thread yesterday was titled, "Possible early dismissal Tuesday?" and posted in the "Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS)" forum. The thread was started Monday evening by a poster suggesting that, due to flood and high wind warnings for Tuesday, the Montgomery County Public Schools system might want to send students home early to ensure that they were off the buses before things got bad. If you are surprised that a thread on this topic could end up as the most active of the day, you are not familiar with this area's parents of school children. Parents are divided between those who expect schools to be open during anything short of nuclear war and who would rather have a voluntary root canal than be forced to change their schedules and those who constantly fear the worst and advocate for school closures at the drop of a leaf, particularly if that leaf dropped as a result of inclement weather. In this type of situation, schools face a no win situation. Decisions must be made in advance or they get criticized for last minute changes. That often requires working with imperfect information and changing weather forecasts. Failing to close when they should have can leave children stranded and in danger. But, closing and then having the weather turn out to be fine results in second guessing and complaints. A large system like MCPS that covers an extensive geographic area has an even more difficult time because the conditions in one part of the county might be considerably different than another part. Debates about what to do can be especially vehement when they are taking place at a time when the weather is particularly nice as was the case in this instance. Posts ranged all the way from those warning of the possibility of buses "floating away" to those complaining that DCUM posters were "cheering on the hysteria". When the school system finally announced that schools would close 2 and a half hours early, approximately a third of Montgomery County's residents rushed to post the news in this thread. There is nearly an entire page of posts repeating the same information. This provoked a round of scoffing from those scornful that schools would close "because of rain". One complained that "families shouldn't have to leave work for this nonsense." Those posters, in turn, faced their own pushback with one saying, "I assume these comments are coming from people who walked 10 miles to school each day, uphill both ways, in the dark, across live power lines, in five feet of snow, fighting off wolves, and they were fine so why don't we do that now?" The rest of the thread was spent with posters criticizing almost every aspect of the decision from almost every angle. For some, the decision was made too early, for others too late. For some it was justified, for others not. Some were bothered by repeated notices of the closure, others complained that they had not been informed. The debate about whether the schedule change was justified continued well into the evening and even into today with no agreement in sight.

The next most active thread was posted in the "Political Discussion" forum and titled, "I definitely don’t want Trump back in office, but I really don’t want to vote for Biden". The original poster says that she fears that the reelection of former President Donald Trump would "plunge the US into fascism". However, she doesn't believe that President Joe Biden has performed well and can't get excited about voting for him. A significant number of posters agree with the original poster and suggest that they will vote for Biden grudgingly at best. Some posters disagree about Biden's performance, crediting him with getting inflation under control, avoiding a recession, passing an infrastructure bill, and other accomplishments. For some posters, Biden's support for Israel during it's demolition of the Gaza Strip has overshadowed his accomplishments. Based on responses in this thread, Biden benefits most from the fear many have of what a second Trump presidency would entail and his support for abortion rights. Without those two factors, there would likely be very little support for Biden. He is further harmed by being tied to Vice President Kamala Harris who seems even less popular than either Biden or Trump. As I said in a post yesterday, Democrats are terrible at controlling the narrative. While Trump is only 4 years younger than Biden, Biden's age gets considerably more attention. Similarly, Trump routinely says completely insane things with no basis in reality that, said by anyone else, would put that person's mental state into question. Instead, it is Biden who is constantly accused of a lack of mental faculties. Similarly, Harris has suffered from an inability to demonstrate her strengths. This is partially a function of being Vice President, a role in which the occupant should not outshine her boss, but also of an almost unprecedented campaign of negative publicity being waged against her. Many posters in this thread are frustrated that Trump and Biden will likely be our only choices. Both Republicans and Democrats pine for someone else to take one of the nominations with some even expressing a willingness to vote for the other side if an alternative nominee were available. This feeling is so deep in some posters that they suggest that being left with Biden and Trump as the leading candidates is an indication of America's decline. There is a lot of debate over specific policies or programs that Biden either passed or failed to successfully implement. With very few exceptions such as immigration, abortion, or Biden's complete and absolute support for Israel, I don't think specific policies are significant enough to determine an individual's vote. Outside the single issue voters, most will act according to a general feeling or impression that they have of the candidates. As this thread shows, many have a negative impression of both major candidates. The trick will be which candidate, if either, and change the public's perception.

Next was a thread titled, "Sorry DCUM middle class, your kids are screwed for college" and posted in the "College and University Discussion" forum. I am fairly certain that I have previously discussed a thread on this same topic and possibly with nearly the same title. The original poster discusses an article in New York Magazine about the so-called "dead zone" that exists in admissions to elite colleges. This refers to a salary range in which families are wealthy enough not to benefit from admissions advantages available to poorer students and not rich enough to be prized as potential large financial donors. These families may be in the top 3 to 10 percent of incomes, but they lose admissions opportunities to those in the top 1 percent. The main culprit, according to the article, is the tradition of legacy admissions. "Legacy students in the top one percent are five times more likely to be admitted than a non-legacy student". Even legacy applicants who are not among the top one percent have an advantage, though that is decreased to three times more likely. Moreover, these "policies put Asian students at a particular disadvantage" because legacy admissions favors White students. So much attention has been paid to affirmative action and diversity, equity, and inclusion policies, while the real advantages are going virtually unnoticed. The article also attributes other admissions advantages to the truly rich to athletic recruitment which, the article contends, favors the very wealthy and colleges judging the children of the very-rich "to be stronger in nonacademic categories". The upshot is that the "dead zone" families have many similarities to and attributes in common with the very rich, except being as wealthy. That difference is enough to significantly decrease their opportunities at elite colleges. There is little disagreement among DCUM posters that what the article describes is true. Some posters say that as a result, their children didn't target the most elite colleges. Many chose state flagship universities instead where they also received generous scholarships. Some posters did not feel much sympathy for the "dead zone" families. As the article mentioned, this is "impacting kids who, as a group, have had most every advantage in life". Similarly, a number of posters disputed the assertion the original poster made in the thread's title that these families are "screwed". In fact, great opportunities are still available to these families. The bottom line is that the article furthered the perception among many that middle class families are getting a raw deal. At the lower end of the economic scale, first-generation students and other underrepresented minorities are believed to have significant advantages. As this article highlights, those at the very top of the scale also have advantages. So, where does that leave those in between? As Tom Cruise says in one of my favorite lines in the movie "Risky Business" when his interview with Princeton goes bad, "Looks like University of Illinois!" or another state university.

The final thread that I will discuss today was posted in the "Political Discussion" forum. Titled, "The President is Above the Law", the thread was prompted by testimony that occurred during former President Donald Trump's appeal of a lower court's rejection of his claim to immunity from prosecution. Trump's argument has been that the Constitution only allows for the president to be impeached and then tried in the Senate. As such, presidents are immune from prosecution otherwise. During a hearing yesterday, Judge Florence Pan asked Trump's lawyer, John Sauer, whether a president "could order SEAL Team 6 to assassinate a political rival" and remain immune from prosecution. Sauer's response was that a president would be quickly impeached and convicted for the murder of a rival and then could be prosecuted but that otherwise a president's official acts are not reviewable by the courts. During Trump's second impeachment trial, some Republican Senators, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, argued that impeachment was meant to be used to remove a president from office and, since Trump was no longer president, he should be subject to prosecution in the courts rather than impeachment. This sets up a kind of Catch-22. If a president can't be prosecuted in the courts and can't be impeached after leaving office, a president could indeed order the murder of a political rival and then resign, escaping prosecution of any sort. The argument against this would be that murdering a political rival is not an official act which may be true in this extreme hypothetical example, but there are plenty of gray areas in which a president could perform an illegal act and claim that it was an official duty. Indeed, that is exactly what is at issue here. Trump has been charged with provoking the January 6 insurrection. But, he claims that all of his actions were within his official duties and, therefore, not subject to court review. Trump defenders further argue that he was impeached but that the Senate failed to convict, essentially declaring him innocent of any January 6 related charges. This argument is somewhat undermined by statements by several Senators, including that by the aforementioned McConnell that they believed that Trump was guilty but would vote against conviction anyway because he was no longer president. Separately, prosecutors will argue that provoking an insurrection is not an official act and, therefore, the question of impeachment versus court review is moot. Regardless of the decision by the Appellate Court, the case will likely go to the US Supreme Court where Trump is hopefull and his opponents are worried that his court appointees, along with other conservative justices, will side with him.

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