Thursday, April 19, 2018

Cruising the Web

Caitlin Huey-Burns writes of how James Comey's book tour presents Democrats with a dilemma. On one hand, they're still angry over the way his actions might have cost Hillary the election. On the other hand, they need to preserve his credibility in case there is a trial and he is a witness for Robert Mueller.
Comey's admission in his book that he figured Clinton would be the next president and therefore he felt concerned about concealing a re-opened probe has incensed Democrats anew, raising more questions about the extent to which politics tainted his actions. Some Democrats have gone so far as to call Comey a "liar" and a "narcissist" looking out only for himself. Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta called his decision "one of the worst errors of judgment in post-Hoover FBI history."

Yet on the other hand, Democrats still argue that Comey could be a credible witness in the Robert Mueller investigation when it comes to whether the president obstructed justice by firing of FBI director. And some in the party see Comey's blunt questioning of the president's moral fitness to serve, and of his ability to tell the truth, as appealing to moderate voters they hope to win back in the midterms.

Meanwhile, novelist Peter Van Buren notes this ironic detail from Comey's book.

How times have changed now with attorney-client privilege.

Ed Morrissey links to an analysis of how the GOP tax reform bill has affected Californians, particularly those who lost their deduction for state and local taxes.
President Donald Trump’s tax cuts will be anything but for about 1 million California taxpayers who will owe Uncle Sam more money a year from now.

They’re the Californians who will lose a collective $12 billion because the new law caps a deduction they have been able to take for paying their state and local taxes, according to a new analysis by the Franchise Tax Board.

Very wealthy Californians earning more than $1 million a year will pay the lion’s share of that money, with 43,000 of them paying a combined $9 billion.

But some middle-class Californians will pay more, too.

About 751,000 households with incomes under $250,000 probably will owe more tax. All together, they’ll owe an extra $1.1 billion.

The FTB has been releasing reports on the new tax law in waves since December, explaining in detail how it differs from state regulations and analyzing how taxpayers might respond to the changes.

Overall, most Californians should see a tax cut. The new federal law doubles the standard deduction available to all taxpayers, and it increases a child tax credit. It also slashes corporate tax rates.
Morrissey ads in that the federal government will also be taking about $1.1 billion from households earning less than 250,000. So that is distressing for them, but Morrissey goes on to make another, larger point.
Put this another way. That represents the federal tax liabilities that everyone else in the country subsidized through SALT. The “progressive” income tax used taxes paid by people in low-tax states to repay the wealthy for their taxes in places like California. The SALT deduction really only comes into play for people who can itemize enough to outstrip the standard deductions, so its benefit plays mostly to the wealthy anyway.

It also plays mostly to the benefit of a very few states. California and New York taxpayers soak up almost third of all benefits from SALT deductions; add in New Jersey, Illinois, Texas, and Pennsylvania, and they account for more than half of its benefits. Taxpayers in most other states end up footing the bill.

Not only do other taxpayers end up subsidizing the wealthy, they also indemnify blue-state politicians against the consequences of their tax policies. Next year, taxpayers in California, New York, and other high-tax states will have to truly pay for their own taxes rather than foist them off on everyone else. When that happens, will high tax rates be politically sustainable? Will the political party that insists on the rich “paying their fair share” celebrate the impact of the rich actually paying their fair share? Probably not, which is the real reason Democrats are running on the repeal of the tax cuts.

That will likely prove to be a very popular platform … in California and New York. Among the millionaires. And the Democrats who run those states. For now.

Jarrett Stepman writes in The Daily Signal about how the institution of the jungle primary in California where only the top two vote-getters go on to be on the final ballot has almost fatally wounded the Republicans who usually can't be one of the top two candidates and driven the state further to the left as elections now are between a liberal Democrat and a more moderate Democrat. The Democrats controlled the redistricting commission by putting on progressive activists basically pretending to be Republicans in order to put forth the illusion that the redistricting is bipartisan. There is another reason why the state has become more progressive.
Another major factor in California’s shift to the left is changing demographics. Many point to immigration as the primary reason for this shift, but flight has also played a significant role as people leave the state.

For a state that progressives tout as the ideal, there has been a remarkable amount of migration away from California in the last decade. Discontented Californians are voting with their feet, and those feet are moving with a quickening pace.

Though Leyden and Teixeira wrote that Republican policies have “engorged the rich while flatlining the incomes of the majority of Americans,” it’s actually been middle-income Californians who are fleeing the state while rich Americans from the Northeast trickle in.

“People making $55,000 or less a year were mostly moving out of California between 2007 and 2016 … while people making more than $200,000 a year moved in,” according to one report described in The San Diego Union-Tribune.
With such firm control of the government, the Democrats have instituted all sorts of leftist policies thus providing the rest of the country with a true laboratory of democracy to see how those policies fare.
While the harmful effects of progressive policies are statewide, and often fall hardest on the redder communities within the state, no city better reflects the end result of California-style progressivism than San Francisco.

Though it is one of the wealthiest cities in the country, San Francisco is becoming known for its notorious homelessness problem, escalating crime rates, and various other pathologies.

One FBI report noted that while overall property crime rates were down around the country in 2017, San Francisco’s rates had jumped by 20 percent in just a year.

The Federalist’s John Davidson wrote in an expose on the disintegration of this marvelously wealthy, yet increasingly dystopian city.

Here was the perfect chance for progressives to create their ideal society. With no political opposition for a generation and fabulous wealth coming in through the tech boom, it should have been easy to transform this iconic and perfectly located city into exactly what they wanted.

But Davidson poignantly notes that San Francisco fails when judged by the standards of progressives themselves.

“The absence of any organized political opposition, combined with its vast wealth, makes San Francisco a kind of proof-of-concept for progressive governance,” Davidson wrote.

“ … That’s why the housing and homelessness problems besetting the city open it up to more than mere mockery from conservatives but substantive criticism of progressive governance writ large,” Davidson continued. “It’s not just homeless encampments that bedevil San Francisco, but also the flight of the middle class and the emergence of a kind of citywide caste system: the wealthy, the service class, and the destitute. In some ways, San Francisco is becoming something progressives are supposed to hate: a private club for the super-rich.”

San Francisco has managed to create an environment that progressives claim to abhor most. It is a tragic display of how bad ideas, regardless of intentions, lead to dysfunction.

And those very ideas that are eating away at San Francisco are increasingly the dominant ideology in the state capital.

It’s no wonder that so many middle-income Californians are fleeing to more hospitable states like Nevada and Texas.

The tourist industry is not happy with San Francisco's city fathers for how disgusting the city has gotten in some areas.
People injecting themselves with drugs in broad daylight, their dirty needles and other garbage strewn on the sidewalks. Tent camps. Human feces. The threatening behavior of some people who appear either mentally ill or high. Petty theft.

“The streets are filthy. There’s trash everywhere. It’s disgusting,” D’Alessandro said, adding he’s traveled the world, and San Francisco stands out for the wrong reasons. “I’ve never seen any other city like this — the homelessness, dirty streets, drug use on the streets, smash-and-grabs.

“How can it be?” he continued. “How can it have gotten to this point?”

Remember, this is the man whose job is to glorify San Francisco, which tells you something about how far the city has sunk.
Some groups that have met previously in San Francisco for their gatherings are starting to rethink their choices. If members of their groups are complaining about being spit on and screamed at and having to navigate through needles and feces, why shouldn't they consider choosing some other city?

Jonah Goldberg explains why there was never going to be anything new in James Comey's book.
I never thought the Comey book would make much news for the simple reason that it would be outrageous if it did. If Comey knew something relevant and important about the Russia investigation that we didn’t already know, he couldn’t possibly put it in his book. Let’s say he did have something big on the president. He’d have to give it to Mueller, who would probably insist that it remain secret as he conducts his investigation. And if it was really big, it would have probably leaked from congressional Democrats anyway. But even if it didn’t leak and Mueller couldn’t impress upon Comey to keep it out of his book, there’s no way Comey could have included it in his book. I mean, how do you write a book on “ethical leadership” and how you epitomize it, but hold onto damning information the American people — never mind elected representatives and DOJ investigators — need to know just so you can monetize it for book sales? Hiding some “smoking gun” from the public just so you can move books would be highly unethical, to say the least.

So I always expected more atmospherics and finger-wagging than new facts. And that’s what we got.
Of course, the President repeatedly tweeting about the book just helps keep Comey in the headlines. Trump just can never stop himself from stepping on his own story. There could have been some focus this week on the McCabe report or the good news about the tax reform on the economy and employment or his meeting with Prime Minister Abe. Instead we have to have non-stop focus on Comey and Stormy Daniels. It's all so very tiresome.

Devorah Goldman has an irritating story about the test that applicants must take to get into med school, the MCAT, has been politicized. The leader of the AAMC, the organization that administers the MCAT and the national standardized medical school application, has publicly said that he's all about transforming what makes a good doctor.
The project's objectives included revising the MCAT and a wide range of other reforms. A series of new guidelines (some of which have yet to be implemented) called on medical school admissions teams to place less emphasis on applicants' grades, changed the requirements for letters of recommendation, and altered the standardized application by requesting a great deal more information about students' upbringing and life experiences. The AAMC is also planning to add "situational judgment tests"—carefully crafted interviews in which applicants will be presented with a variety of hypothetical scenarios involving ethical conflicts—to the current admissions requirements. Along with the new MCAT, these changes are part of Kirch's plan to shift the focus of medical-school admissions toward a "new excellence," a standard based less on test scores and more on "the attitudes, values, and experiences" of applicants.
He wants more social justice in the curriculum of med students. For example, he wants more teaching of "unconscious racial bias."

The MCAT has been redesigned to match up with those goals.
One MCAT practice question (from a collaboration between the AAMC and online-education nonprofit Khan Academy), for example, asks whether the wage gap between men and women is the result of bigotry, sexism, racism, or biological differences (no other options are provided, and the "correct" answer is sexism). Another asks whether the "lack of minorities such as African Americans or Latinos/Latinas among university faculty members" is due to symbolic racism, institutional racism, hidden racism, or personal bias (the correct answer is institutional racism). Yet another asks test-takers to select from a list of debatable definitions for "the terms 'sex' and 'gender.' "

Taken on their own, these questions may not seem particularly invidious. And it would be easy enough for a good test-taker to select answers that would be marked as correct, whether he or she agreed with them or not. But the changes nonetheless reflect Kirch's greater goal: to test "not just what students know," as he said in a 2015 interview about the test, "but how they think."

If the AAMC's objective were merely to improve the bedside manner and general sensitivity of physicians, or even to increase diversity in the medical field through conventional affirmative-action policies, few people would likely object. Unfortunately, what Kirch in particular seems to want to create is a medical community that aligns as closely as possible with his particular political views—and to insist that future doctors accept those views as settled fact. This leaves students who don't share Kirch's (and the AAMC's) transform­ative vision with a difficult choice: Will they violate their own integrity in order to succeed?
Clearly, science is being undervalued since the theory of "unconscious bias" is highly suspect. This theory is in the news now because Starbucks is going to have all their employees get training in "unconscious bias." David French explains why this is "Orwellian junk science."
[T]he concept of “unconscious bias” or “implicit bias” rests on the notion that each of us possesses hidden biases, and those biases impact our actual behavior in meaningful ways. In other words, you’re bigoted, you don’t know it, and you don’t realize how much it affects the people around you.
It's based on the implicit-association test" in which subjects are asked to associate positive or negative images with pictures of black or white individuals. If the results show that the subject was more likely to associate bad images with racial minorities, the implication is that they have some sort of unconscious bias that they were previously unaware of. But there really isn't any evidence that this test proves what people are taking it to prove.
Last year the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that researchers, analyzing hundreds of studies of the IAT, reached a rather “stunning” result:
The correlation between implicit bias and discriminatory behavior appears weaker than previously thought. They also conclude that there is very little evidence that changes in implicit bias have anything to do with changes in a person’s behavior. These findings, they write, “produce a challenge for this area of research.”
You don’t say. In fact, as the Chronicle observed, “Everyone agrees that the statistical effect linking bias to behavior is slight. They only disagree about how slight.” Jesse Singal, writing in The Cut, put it this way:
A pile of scholarly work, some of it published in top psychology journals and most of it ignored by the media, suggests that the IAT falls far short of the quality-control standards normally expected of psychological instruments. The IAT, this research suggests, is a noisy, unreliable measure that correlates far too weakly with any real-world outcomes to be used to predict individuals’ behavior — even the test’s creators have now admitted as such.

In fact, not only is the IAT a poor predictor of behavior, the test itself is highly unreliable. As Heather Mac Donald noted last fall in the Wall Street Journal, “A person’s IAT score can vary significantly each time he takes the test, undercutting its reliability as a psychological instrument.”

Again, you don’t say. I’ve taken the test several times, and apparently my own subconscious varies between woke and bigoted depending on the time of day or the placement of the images.
But regardless of the lack of evidence, corporations like to use the test and require lots of training built around the idea that we all are biased even though we don't recognize it.
It does no such thing, of course. Instead, the unconscious-bias industry is a font of bad ideas. It diminishes personal responsibility, renders well-meaning, guilt-stricken Americans vulnerable to baseless ideological re-education, and empowers a corporate and academic elite that is by this point inexcusably rebuking Americans for made-up sins. Moreover, there is something inherently ominous about a corporation (much less the government) attempting not just to correct its employees’ behavior but to reform their minds.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Cruising the Web

How sad it is to hear of Barbara Bush's passing. I know that she lived a full and long life, but she was someone I truly admired. She was classy with a sense of humor as well as a true sense of who she was and what was important in life. Whatever anyone thought of her husband or sons, it would have been hard to criticize her. Sure, she was outspoken and even a bit salty at times, but that just seemed part of her charm. Most impI certainly enjoyed that side of her.

She was active in public service all her life, especially as First Lady, raising money for literacy, working for AIDS awareness, and civil rights.

Most importantly, she had a long, happy marriage and raised a family that clearly adored her. Who wouldn't envy a 73-year marriage, five children, 17 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren? She leaves behind an admirable legacy that her family is rightly proud of. And she went out the way we'd all like to go, surrounded by her family and sipping her favorite drink. Raise a glass in her honor.

Guy Benson points
to some good news courtesy of the GOP tax reform courtesy of the Joint Economic Committee Republicans.

Benson adds,
Between the across-the-board tax cuts benefiting the massive majority of US taxpayers and this good news from CBO, it would appear that the "Tax Cuts and Jobs Act" was aptly named. And as a reminder, the job creation side of the reform package is largely thanks to the corporate tax cuts -- which liberals have demagogued, despite their economic wisdom. Recall that Democrats, all of whom joined in lockstep opposition to the bill, are vowing to repeal this tangible progress. More than 500 US companies have rolled out new benefits, bonuses and wage increases as a direct result of tax reform, helping more than four million US workers.
He adds in a link to an announcement that Kroger is planning to hire 11,00 more employees and credits its new investments in jobs, wages, and training to the tax changes.

If anyone thought that Sean Hannity was a model of journalistic ethics, this week has clarified that for us. Apparently, not only did he fail to inform viewers of his professional connection (however minor it actually was) with Michael Cohen, but now it appears that other attorneys who frequently appear on his show also have done legal work for him.
Though Hannity says he was never actually Cohen’s client, he does appear to have used the legal services of other well-connected Trump-world lawyers in a different matter a year ago.

On May 25, 2017, KFAQ, a radio station based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, received a cease-and-desist letter signed by two lawyers for Hannity: Victoria Toensing and Jay Alan Sekulow. Toensing’s signature sits above her name and that of her husband Joseph E. diGenova, the members of diGenova and Toensing LLP, who are identified as “Counsel for Sean Hannity,” according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Atlantic. Sekulow is also identified in the letter page as a “Counsel for Sean Hannity.”

Sekulow is now the only known personal attorney for President Trump working full-time on the response to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry. Sekulow recently announced that diGenova and Toensing had been hired to join him, before reversing course. The letter to the radio station was sent before Sekulow joined Trump’s team.

The letter was sent in response to accusations against Hannity made by the controversial conservative activist Debbie Schlussel. During an appearance on the Pat Campbell show on KFAQ last April, Schlussel said Hannity had been “creepy” towards her and had invited her to his hotel room.

Hannity responded at the time by calling the allegations “100 percent false and a complete fabrication,” and said that he had hired lawyers to plan a response. “This letter provides notice that Ms. Schlussel’s statements are false and defamatory,” the letter read. “Continued publication will result in further exposure to liability because of continued harm to Mr. Hannity’s impeccable reputation.”

On Monday, Schlussel said she remembered that the radio station where she made the remarks had received a legal letter afterwards, but she didn’t know who the lawyer was. Reached by phone on Tuesday, Toensing acknowledged that “at that time” she was acting as Hannity’s lawyer but wouldn’t comment on whether she still represents him....

Sekulow, diGenova, and Toensing have frequently appeared on Hannity’s program; diGenova appeared on the show as recently as Monday night. Asked for comment, Hannity sent a text consisting of NewsBusters and Daily Caller links to stories about ethical misconduct in the mainstream media and declined to offer further comment. “I don’t have time for these silly questions,” he said.
What is so difficult about simply prefacing an interview with a perfunctory statement of disclosure that these people had done legal work for him in the past? Would anyone have thought any differently about what those people said about Trump or anyone else on Hannity's show? Of course, Hannity isn't a journalist; he's just a blowhard running his mouth about whatever he thinks on politics. But still, Fox News should have clearer requirements for all its hosts. Allahpundit, in commenting on all this, points out that the Democrats have often have rather incestuous relationships with journalists as they go back and forth through a revolving door from working for politicians to jobs in the media and sometimes back again.
During the Obama Administration, many members of the media floated in and out of the administration and in and out of leftwing blogs and think tanks. They are still around with many of them serving as reporters and their leftwing friends as active members of the Democrats' "resistance." They trade information and shape each other's worldviews and I am not convinced the heads of media outlets are doing enough to push their reporters to separate their worldview from the facts at hand. As a result, we are not getting the whole truth, but a narrative within which facts are shaped to advance the narrative.

There is a pretty substantial symbiotic relationship between the political left in Washington and the media. While a few people went from the media to the Bush Administration, it was never like it was with Obama.

Jay Carney went from Time to the White House press secretary's office. Shailagh Murray went from the Washington Post to the Veep's office while married to Neil King at the Wall Street Journal. Neil King has left the Wall Street Journal to work for Fusion GPS. Linda Douglass went from ABC News to the White House and then the Atlantic. Jill Zuckman went from the Chicago Tribune to the Obama Administration's Transportation Department. Douglas Frantz went from the Washington Post to the State Department and Stephen Barr went from the Post to the Labor Department.

Ruth Marcus, who heads the Washington Post Editorial Board, is married to the Obama Administration's former Federal Trade Commission Chairman. Jonathan Allen had been at the Politico before going to work for Debbie Wasserman Schultz, then back to Politico before going to the left leaning Vox. Now he is at NBC News. Andy Barr worked for the Politico before leaving for Democrat politics. Michael Scherer was at both Salon and Mother Jones before going to Time. Laura Rozen was at Mother Jones and the American Prospect before Foreign Policy magazine. Even Nate Silver had started out at Daily Kos. Then, of course, there is Matthew Dowd, who worked for scores of Democrats before working for George Bush. That, though he later washed his hands of Bush, bought him street credibility with ABC News to become its senior politically analyst alongside George Stephanopoulos, formerly of the Clinton Administration.
It's all so very cozy. The difference, however, is that these former jobs are public knowledge while Hannity has kept his connections secret. Although it's not like these media figures are giving the standard disclosure statement every time they write for the media.

I still think it's aggravating when George Stephanopolous is given major political interviews to do as if his political origins as a Clinton aide means nothing. For example, consider his interview with James Comey in which Comey was free to accompany his criticisms of Trump with his own moral preening. Peter Berkowitz notes 10 questions that Stephanopolous didn't bother bringing up with Comey. Since Comey is still making the rounds of interviews to sell his book, perhaps some of those interviewers will consider these questions. I liked these questions on Comey's role in the investigation of who leaked Valerie Plame's identity.
1) In December 2003, you were deputy attorney general. When then-Attorney General John Ashcroft recused himself, it fell to you to determine whether to appoint a special counsel to investigate the leak, in spring of that year, of Valerie Plame’s CIA employment. You named your good friend (and godfather to your daughter) Patrick Fitzgerald, who conducted a long, drawn-out investigation that resulted in the 2007 conviction of Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, Scooter Libby (pardoned by President Trump on Friday) for obstruction of justice, making a false statement, and perjury — but not for leaking Plame’s employment. Indeed, by early autumn 2003 — a few months before you appointed Fitzgerald — Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage had informed the FBI that he leaked Plame’s employment. By that time, the CIA had determined that the leak did not harm national security. If, as acting attorney general, you were aware in December 2003 of the leaker’s identity and that the leak had not harmed national security, why did you appoint a special counsel?

2) If you were unaware of that information when you appointed Fitzgerald, why were you in the dark on facts established by law enforcement and intelligence that were vitally relevant to so grave a matter?

3) Fitzgerald chose not to pursue charges against the actual leaker, Richard Armitage. Is it fair to infer that leaking Plame’s identity was not a crime and to wonder why you allowed Fitzgerald to devote several years to investigating a non-crime that had already been solved and that had no impact on national security?
It's about time someone answered why there needed to be a special counsel to investigate a leak that was not illegal and which the FBI already knew who had leaked her name. Little of the coverage of Trump's full pardon to Scooter Libby included those details. Berkowitz has some other good questions about how Comey conducted the investigation of Hillary Clinton's illegal use of a personal server. And then there is this question about Comey's own behavior.
10) In May 2017, in apparent conflict with FBI policy, you leaked memos dealing with your private conversations with the president about FBI investigations. One of those memos may have contained classified material. Did you flout FBI policy and, if so, what message does your breach send to rank-and-file FBI agents and ordinary law-abiding citizens?

For those who think anything children do is wonderful and noble, they'll be very happy that a bunch of kids from age 10 to 20 years old are suing Florida governor Rick Scott because they think he's not doing enough on the environment.
“Gov. Scott says he’s not a scientist. Well, neither are most of the people that are forced to take action because the state is failing us,” Reynolds told the Miami Herald on Monday.

The youth plaintiffs have been getting compared on social media to David Hogg and the young South Florida activists that have been pushing for gun reform in the wake of the Parkland school shooting.

“Rocking it again,” tweeted local climate activist Emily Johnston.

The kids not only name Scott in their suit but several state agencies as well.

“We can’t delay anymore because climate change is a huge problem,” said Draheim, 10.

“We must deal with it right now and start reducing the emissions that are causing it,” she added. “We need to fix the problem not just talk about it.”

In their complaint, the children claim that local officials caused harm to both current and future generations of Floridians by using a “fossil fuel-based energy system” that causes “dangerous levels of greenhouse gas pollution.”
They claim he's violating the FLorida constitution. Apparently, they think there is some clause in the state constitution that the governor has to implement policies that they prefer. Just imagine if that precedent were to be established and citizens all over the country could sue their state leaders for not following through on whatever policy they believe should be enacted. Could we sue legislators who contracted pensions that are now bankrupting the state? Could we sue them for implementing regulations and high taxes that are driving employers out of the state? How about policies that allow people to defecate on the sidewalk? Imagine how busy the courts would be. This is what the governor's office has said in response to the suit.
“The Governor signed one of the largest environmental protection budgets in Florida’s history last month – investing $4 billion into Florida’s environment,” they said. “The Governor is focused on real solutions to protect our environment — not political theater or a lawsuit orchestrated by a group based in Eugene, Oregon.”

If the Florida courts take the children's suit seriously, I suggest that other kids start suing their state governments for the debt bomb that they have brought about through their overly generous public-employee pensions.
A new report by the Pew Charitable Trusts shows that the problem is getting out of hand. In 2016, the most recent full year for which data are available, states were more than $1.4 trillion in the red. Pension debt has increased for 15 straight years, and shows no signs of abating.

Indeed, as Reason blogger Eric Boehm notes, "The really scary part is that pension debt keeps increasing despite the fact that taxpayers' contributions to state-level pension plans have doubled as a share of state revenue in the past decade."

Worse still, as performance lags expectations, desperate pension fund managers have gone in for increasingly risky investments — meaning that workers' pensions might not be as safe as they think.
This is a true crisis, even though it doesn't get much public attention. And those kids are the ones whose educations can't be fully funded by some of these states and localities because of the obligations owing retired employees. And they're the future taxpayers who will be paying the taxes to fund those underfunded pensions. California and Illinois taxpayers should beware.
It's an increasingly common problem. California's Public Employees Retirement System is so far in the hole that it's doubtful it will be able to pay on its obligations without massive tax hikes.

And Illinois is on the verge of insolvency thanks to its pension disaster. There, the city of Harvey last year was ordered to hike property taxes to fund the pension fund for firefighters, which is a whopping 78% underfunded. It wasn't enough, so now the state has garnished Harvey's tax revenues. In response, the city has laid off 40 workers, and more pain is on the way.

As it turns out, there are hundreds of potential Harveys out there. "More than 400 police and fire pension funds, or 63% of Illinois' 651 total downstate public safety funds, received less funding than what was required from their cities in 2016," according to website Wirepoints. A lot of Illinois towns and counties are in for a nasty surprise.

In state after state, city after city, county after county, such stories are becoming common.

The truth is, pension promises have been made across the board that cannot be kept. Something will have to be done. But what?

The standard answer provided by progressive politicians and labor unions is "bite the bullet." "You made the deal with the workers," they say, "so now live with fewer services and much higher taxes as a result."

Yesterday the Supreme Court decision delivered a decision on a case, Sessions v. Dimaya, concerning whether an immigrant,here legally, could be deported under a law in place saying that deportation could be the penalty for someone convicted of a "crime of violence." The liberal wing of the Court said no. The interesting fact was that Justice Gorsuch joined the majority in a concurrence against deportation. Some people are painting this as Gorsuch going against Trump's agenda. But, as Ilya Shapiro points out, this was a decision completely in line with Gorsuch's prior opinions and stand against vague laws. His concurrence is totally connected with his and Justice Scalia's stand on what is called the "void for vagueness doctrine, "meaning that prosecuting someone under a vague law — the legislature’s delegation of broad powers to prosecutors to determine “bad” conduct — violates due process rights." In a 2015 case Justice Scalia had written an opinion for a majority of eight, that such vague laws allow "more unpredictability and arbitrariness than the Constitution allows.” Gorsuch grounded his concurrence in Scalia's precedent. Shapiro links to what Gorsuch said to begin his opinion.
Vague laws invite arbitrary power. Before the Revolution, the crime of treason in English law was so capaciously construed that the mere expression of disfavored opinions could invite transportation or death. The founders cited the crown’s abuse of “pretended” crimes like this as one of their reasons for revolution. Today’s vague laws may not be as invidious, but they can invite the exercise of arbitrary power all the same—by leaving the people in the dark about what the law demands and allowing prosecutors and courts to make it up. The law before us today is such a law. Before holding a lawful permanent resident alien like James Dimaya subject to removal for having committed a crime, the Immigration and Nationality Act requires a judge to determine that the ordinary case of the alien’s crime of conviction involves a substantial risk that physical force may be used. But what does that mean? Just take the crime at issue in this case, California burglary, which applies to everyone from armed home intruders to door-to-door salesmen peddling shady products. How, on that vast spectrum, is anyone supposed to locate the ordinary case and say whether it includes a substantial risk of physical force? The truth is, no one knows. The law’s silence leaves judges to their intuitions and the people to their fate. In my judgment, the Constitution demands more.
The four liberal justices grounded their decision for Dimaya because "of the special gravity of its civil deportation penalty." However, Gorsuch didn't buy that deportation was a greater concern for the law than other crimes.
“Why, for example, would due process require Congress to speak more clearly when it seeks to deport a lawfully resident alien than when it wishes to subject a citizen to indefinite civil commitment, strip him of a business license essential to his family’s living, or confiscate his home?”
That's a strong statement for all individual's due process rights, not just those of an immigrant facing deportation.

The WSJ also weighs in praising Gorsuch's opinion.
Justice Gorsuch writes that Congress is free to define 16b with more specific crimes. But until it does the vague statute violates the due process right of individuals by giving license to police and prosecutors to interpret laws as they wish. This defense of individuals against arbitrary state power was a Scalia staple. Justice Gorsuch adds that vague laws also threaten the Constitution’s ordered liberty because they “risk allowing judges to assume legislative power.”

Mr. Trump’s Supreme Court nominee is sending a useful message that Congress should write clearer laws that aren’t subject to arbitrary interpretation. Congress can rewrite immigration law, and the President should be pleased with his nominee for doing what he promised.
Too many times these days, Congress writes a poorly crafted or vague laws and just leaves it up to some bureaucrats in the executive branch to figure out what the law means. Gorsuch is exactly right that such a practice upsets the balance between the legislative and executive branches and should be curtailed. I hope that this sends a signal to Congress, but I have no hope that they will suddenly decide to draft clear laws. My concern is that the four more conservative justices did not join Gorsuch's opinion. That would have sent a clearer signal to Congress. However, as the WSJ reports, Chief Justice Robert's minority opinion seems as concerned with the policy results of this decision than with the underlying principle. That's disappointing, because the principle is an important one.

Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey writes a column in the WSJ this morning expressing concern that the federal government is testing attorney-client privilege in the case involving Michael Cohen over a violation of campaign finance laws or bank fraud. He points out that this is quite shaky ground for endangering a privilege that is crucial to our justice system.
Have such violations been vigorously prosecuted in the past? In 2012 President Obama received campaign donations exceeding $2 million from sources that were not disclosed; he received another $1.3 million that exceeded contribution limits. The matter was settled after the election by the Obama Justice Department for a fine of $375,000 and no felony prosecution.

Another possible crime said to justify the search warrant is bank fraud. Here, one theory is that Mr. Cohen might have defrauded his bank by falsifying the purpose of the home-equity loan that was reportedly the source of the $130,000. But if Mr. Cohen’s equity is sufficient to provide collateral for the loan, why would its purpose matter to the bank? And if it doesn’t matter, there’s no fraud.
Of course, we don't know all that the authorities are investigating in Cohen's case. But Mukasey expresses a true concern that we're being asked to trust the government.
We can’t be certain that this is all that is under investigation. But if it is, the potential gains from an intrusive and unusual search warrant look meager compared with the interest put at risk. How confident are we in the self-control of those who set these events in train—who after all were supposed to be at work protecting the integrity of our elections?

Oddly, an episode involving a poison no doubt familiar to all three madmen mentioned in the first paragraph gives pause.

After anthrax spores killed five people, infected 17 others, and showed up in envelopes mailed to U.S. senators and media organizations in 2001, the current special counsel, then director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, spent years chasing and destroying the reputation of a microbiologist named Steven Hatfill, zealous in the belief that Mr. Hatfill was the guilty party. Another zealot, James Comey, then deputy attorney general, said he was “absolutely certain” no mistake had been made.

After Mr. Hatfill was exonerated—he received more than $5.5 million in damages from the government—Mr. Mueller then decided that another microbiologist, Bruce Ivins, was the culprit. When Ivins committed suicide, Mr. Mueller pronounced the case closed. A subsequent investigation by the National Academy of Sciences suggests Ivins too was innocent.

Mr. Mueller is not a bad man, nor is Mr. Comey. It’s just that both show particular confidence when making mistakes, which makes one grateful for safeguards like the attorney-client privilege.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Cruising the Web

The tawdriness of the whole Michael Cohen continues. The news broke today that Michael Cohen said in a court hearing that he has three clients: Donald Trump; Elliott Broidy, the sleazy GOP fundraiser who had hired Cohen to organize the payoff to his former mistress, and a third person. When pressed by the judge (who just happens to be Kimba Wood, the one-time nominee for Attorney General for Bill Clinton - how many echoes of the past are there in this whole thing?) to name the third person - he said that it was Sean Hannity. Cue joyful exclamations all over the internet. Everyone was imagining that Hannity had used Cohen for his particular specialty - paying off inconvenient women. Allahpundit has a good summary accompanied by tweets and clips from Fox News reporting on this. Besides all the questions about what Hannity could have used him for, there are also the journalistic ethics questions. Why didn't Hannity announce, during all the times he interviewed and defended Cohen, that they had a professional relationship? You can imagine how Republicans would howl if there were a similar relationship between a CNN host and a prominent figure in all these scandals. Republicans still complain, and rightfully so, when George Stephanopolous is the guy chosen to interview someone involved in a political scandal involving the Clintons or Trump such as James Comey.

Hannity is now saying that he "never retained him, received an invoice, or paid legal ffeels." He says that, basically, their legal contacts had to do with real estate. The purpose of this hearing is Cohen's request that he could look through the documents seized in the search last week to take out the documents that deal with clients other than Trump. If there were truly no documents dealing with Hannity, then there wouldn't be a reason for Cohen to sift those documents out. Allahpundit links to this thread from the lawyer known on Twitter as Popehat.

Popehat and Allahpundit ask the question that I was thinking - why would someone with the money that Hannity has use this hack for anything related to legal matters?
The fact that they’d be talking real estate seems plausible as Cohen did some of that work for Trump, of course. And it’s the sort of thing you might bring up idly in friendly conversation with a lawyer friend: “Oh, that reminds me, I’m looking at this property down south and…” yadda yadda yadda. And yet the fact remains: For whatever reason, Michael Cohen regards Sean Hannity as a client. It wasn’t Bob Mueller or the U.S. Attorney or Kimba Wood who claimed in court that attorney/client privilege applies to their conversations, it was Cohen himself. Is Cohen exaggerating their relationship?

....Cohen and Hannity are at cross-purposes in characterizing their relationship. Cohen wants the court to think the feds have an enormous amount of privileged material in their hands, risking exposure of all sorts of client confidences to federal prosecutors. Hannity wants the public to think there’s no attorney/client relationship in the first place, as he never formally retained Cohen and would be in hot water ethically for not disclosing their consultations for reasons described above. Prosecutors could cite his comments today to argue, though, that because Hannity never believed they were attorney and client, their communications can’t be privileged. Prosecutors can read them.
Geesh! Think of the characters that have been introduced onto the public stage by Donald Trump: Corey Lewandowski, Steve Bannon, Anthony Scaramucci, and Michael Cohen. It's all so repellent.

Think of all the serious issues facing the country today from Syria and Russia to the economy, but the President is spending his time tweeting attacks on James Comey and now the media will concentrate on Comey's book and Cohen's sleaziness.

Here's a CLinton associate who is willing to point out double standards in the investigations on Trump - Mark Penn, the Bill Clinton pollster and adviser.
Moreover, the double standards being applied here are undermining the rule of law. The payments to Fusion GPS and Christopher Steele, the former British spy hired to compile the Trump dossier, were concealed as payments to their attorneys, Perkins Coie, in what experts believe is a clear violation of campaign reporting rules on the use of “cut-outs.”

While the Federal Election Commission complaint over millions of dollars of these concealed payments is making its way through administrative channels, the $130,000 payment to a porn star by Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, prompted very public search-and-seizure raids. Either both instances should be administrative matters or both should receive raids on their attorneys.

The bank fraud and wire fraud charges being tossed around on Cohen are just prosecutor’s tricks. We are talking about Cohen’s home equity loan, not the laundering of Panamanian drug money. By the same logic, the undisclosed Perkins Coie payments to Fusion GPS would be money laundering and wire fraud since the payments became illegal when not reported properly.

Perhaps the last straw was the report in the New York Times that Mueller is investigating a $150,000 contribution to the Trump Foundation in exchange for a private video speech given by Trump in 2015, showing just how grasping this investigation has become. This is the same Ukrainian businessman who gave the Clinton Foundation $13 million. Nope, no double standard here....

The first report from the inspector general of the Justice Department came out Friday and it documents in meticulous detail how the FBI’s former deputy director, Andrew McCabe, lied — on audio tape and under oath — denying a role in a self-serving leak that he, in fact, personally managed. His response? He may sue Trump for defamation.

As these deep staters turn into paid talking heads profiting through books, speeches and clicks, they undermine any notion that they acted professionally instead of politically while in office, and the evidence continues to mount that the foundation for turning the country upside down for the last year was most likely two parts politically tinged hubris and one part sketchy evidence.

IBD notes this heartening tidbit
from the CBO's recent report on the budget.
When the CongreHeressional Budget Office released its updated budget forecast, everyone focused on the deficit number. But buried in the report was the CBO's tacit admission that it vastly overestimated the cost of the Trump tax cuts, because it didn't account for the strong economic growth they would generate.

Among the many details in the report, the one reporters focused on was the CBO's forecast that the federal deficit would top $1 trillion in 2020, two years earlier than the CBO had previously said.

And, naturally, most news accounts blamed the tax cuts. "U.S. budget deficit to balloon on Republican tax cuts" is how Reuters put it in a headline.

But there's more to the story that the media overlooked.

First, the CBO revised its economic forecast sharply upward this year and next.

Last June, the CBO said GDP growth for 2018 would be just 2%. Now it figures growth will be 3.3% — a significant upward revision. It also boosted its forecast for 2019 from a meager 1.5% to a respectable 2.4%.

"Underlying economic conditions have improved in some unexpected ways since June," the CBO says. Unexpected to the CBO, perhaps, but not to those of us who understood that Trump's tax cuts and deregulatory efforts would boosts growth.

In any case, the CBO now expects GDP to be $6.1 trillion bigger by 2027 than it did before the tax cuts.

The CBO report also makes clear that this faster-growing economy will offset most of the costs of the Trump tax cuts.

In a table buried in the appendix of the CBO report, it shows that, before accounting for economic growth, the tax cuts Trump signed into law late last year would cut federal revenues by $1.69 trillion from 2018-2027.

But it goes on to say that higher rate of GDP growth will produce $1.1 trillion in new revenues. In other words, 65% of the tax cuts are paid for by extra economic growth.

That faster growth will also reduce federal entitlement spending keyed to the economy — unemployment insurance, food stamps, welfare and the like — by $150 billion, the CBO says.

If you subtract that from the cost of the tax cuts, the net cost drops to $440 billion.

This is what we and other backers of the tax cuts had insisted all along. Not that tax cuts would entirely pay for themselves. But that the economic growth they generate would offset much of the costs.
The real problem is spending, particularly mandatory spending on entitlements and interest payments on the debt. And, sadly, our nation's leaders are simply sticking their fingers in their ears and pretending that there is no looming debt crisis. Robert Samuelson, who has been warning about this crisis for years, jumps once more into the fray to remind us of the future problems we'll be facing.
No one knows the consequences of these unprecedented peacetime deficits, but the CBO has listed some possibilities:

● They may further raise interest rates, which would increase deficits, squeeze other federal programs and crowd out borrowing by businesses for factories, machinery, computers and buildings. This last effect could imperil living standards.

● Government might find it difficult to respond to national emergencies, whether war, natural disaster or a financial crisis, because more borrowing on top of today’s deficits would be harder.

● We could face a full-blown debt crisis. As CBO Director Keith Hall recently testified, “Investors would become unwilling to finance the government’s borrowing unless they were compensated with very high interest rates.” That could trigger draconian spending cuts or tax increases — and a stiff recession.

There can no longer be any pretense that the deficits reflect the aftermath of the Great Recession or other temporary forces. The main cause is political expediency: It’s more popular to increase spending and cut taxes than the opposite. Combined with an aging population, which automatically raises Social Security and Medicare spending, the profligacy becomes self-fulfilling.
If only both parties would get serious and face up to what needs to be done with entitlements. But that's unpopular so they just keep pushing off the problem. Just as people asked in 2008 why nothing had been done to forestall the recession, one day people will be asking why nothing was done to forestall the debt crisis. And the answer will be the same - it's a lot easier to pass policies that give people money than to cut money going to people.

The Chicago Tribune explains why it makes sense for people to be living their state.
As part of a series on the accelerating exodus from Illinois, we’re tracking down expatriates (and potential expats) and telling their stories. From millennials to retirees, their narratives follow the same thread: Illinois is losing its promise as a land of opportunity. Government debt and dysfunction contribute to a weak housing market and a stagnant jobs climate. State and local governments face enormous pension and other obligations. Taxes have risen sharply; many Illinois politicians say they must rise more.

People are fleeing. Last year’s net loss: 33,703.
It sounds like there are a whole lot of reasons to leave the state and very few reasons to move there.

John Tierney has a very good essay in City Journal about Scott Pruitt's new policy on the scientific research that the EPA will use and why liberals are so outraged about these common sense changes.
Imagine if the head of a federal agency announced a new policy for its scientific research: from now on, the agency would no longer allow its studies to be reviewed and challenged by independent scientists, and its researchers would not share the data on which their conclusions were based. The response from scientists and journalists would be outrage. By refusing peer review from outsiders, the agency would be rejecting a fundamental scientific tradition. By not sharing data with other researchers, it would be violating a standard transparency requirement at leading scientific journals. If a Republican official did such a thing, you’d expect to hear denunciations of this latest offensive in the “Republican war on science.”

That’s the accusation being hurled at Scott Pruitt, the Republican who heads the Environmental Protection Agency. But Pruitt hasn’t done anything to discourage peer review. In fact, he’s done the opposite: he has called for the use of more independent experts to review the EPA’s research and has just announced that the agency would rely only on studies for which data are available to be shared. Yet Democratic officials and liberal journalists have denounced these moves as an “attack on science,” and Democrats have cited them (along with accusations of ethical violations) in their campaign to force Pruitt out of his job.

How could “the party of science,” as Democrats like to call themselves, be opposed to transparency and peer review? Because better scientific oversight would make it tougher for the EPA to justify its costly regulations. To environmentalists, rigorous scientific protocols are fine in theory, but not in practice if they interfere with the green political agenda. As usual, the real war on science is the one waged from the left.
Tierney goes through several notable examples from the EPA's history of ignoring science in order to do what environmentalists demand. I bet some of these examples will surprise people who just accept whatever the EPA pronounces.
The EPA has been plagued by politicized science since its inception in 1970. One of its first tasks was to evaluate the claim, popularized in Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, that the use of DDT pesticide was causing an epidemic of cancer. The agency held extensive hearings that led to the conclusion that DDT was not a carcinogen, a finding that subsequent research would confirm. Yet the EPA administrator, William Ruckelshaus, reportedly never even bothered to read the scientific testimony. Ignoring the thousands of pages of evidence, he declared DDT a potential carcinogen and banned most uses of it.

Since then, the agency has repeatedly been criticized for relying on weak or cherry-picked evidence to promote needless alarms justifying the expansion of its authority (and budget). Its warnings about BPA, a chemical used in plastics, were called unscientific by leading researchers in the field. Its conclusion that secondhand smoke was killing thousands of people annually was ruled by a judge to be in violation of “scientific procedure and norms”—and was firmly debunked by later research.

To justify the costs of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan restricting coal-burning power plants, the EPA relied on a controversial claim that a particular form of air pollution (from small particulates) was responsible for large numbers of premature deaths. To reach that conclusion, the agency ignored contradictory evidence and chose to rely on 1990s research whose methodology and conclusions were open to question. The EPA’s advisory committee on air pollution, a group of outside scientists, was sufficiently concerned at the time to ask to see the supporting data. But the researchers and the EPA refused to share the data, citing the confidentiality of the medical records involved, and they have continued refusing demands from Congress and other researchers to share it, as Steve Milloy recounts in his book, Scare Pollution: Why and How to Fix the EPA.
Pruitt is just establishing that the EPA will apply the scientific principles that are standard operating procedures in science.
Pruitt’s critics have also excoriated him for insisting that the EPA’s advisory boards consist of independent scientists, ending the practice of including researchers who receive grants from the agency—exactly the sort of conflict of interest that progressives object to when researchers receive money from private industry....

Given the high stakes and the many uncertainties related to climate change—the dozens of computer climate models, the widely varying estimates of costs and benefits of mitigation strategies—who could object to studying the problem carefully? Yet Pruitt’s proposal has been denounced by Democrats as well as liberal Republicans like Christine Whitman, the former New Jersey governor, who argued that the facts are so well-established that further examination is unnecessary. As a former head of the EPA, Whitman no doubt appreciates how much easier it is to make regulations without the nuisance of debate. But what’s good for bureaucrats is not good for science.

The WSJ looks at how the new sanctions against Russian oligarchs is having a real impact by examining one tycoon, Oleg Deripaska, a billionaire whose fortune comes from his control over Russia's aluminum industry. He's very close to Putin.
The measures hammered Russian assets; Mr. Deripaska, who was sanctioned along with eight of his companies, bore the brunt. His Hong Kong-listed United Co. Rusal PLC, one of the world’s largest aluminum companies, has lost more than half its value. His En+ Group PLC, which owns a 48% stake in Rusal and major Russian electricity and coal assets, has seen a significant drop in the value of shares that it listed in London months ago for some $1.5 billion.

After the sanctions, Mr. Deripaska warned investors of technical defaults and asked customers to halt payments. Commodities trading giant Glencore PLC swiftly canceled a planned deal with Mr. Deripaska.

“If I were a Russian oligarch, I would not be sleeping easily,” said a former senior U.S. official

The Trump administration’s strategy could draw Russian elites closer to Mr. Putin, making them more dependent on state funding, said Sam Greene, head of Russian studies at King’s College London.

“This creates its own risk for the Kremlin,” he said. “When people have nowhere else to go, they also have no one else to blame. It makes the system more brittle.”

....The U.S. sanctions against Mr. Deripaska and others underline Russia’s growing isolation. Mr. Deripaska, who is 50 years old, emerged from the violent “aluminum wars” of the 1990s in control of Rusal, the world’s largest aluminum producer at the time. By the peak of the commodities boom in the mid-2000s, Mr. Deripaska was the wealthiest person in Russia.

His rise was underpinned by a tacit understanding that Mr. Putin forged with Russia’s industrialists as he consolidated power in the early 2000s to leave their assets untouched as long as they supported national priorities and buried personal political ambitions.

Tycoons helped with flagship national projects, like Mr. Deripaska’s refurbishment of Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater and his $1.38 billion contribution to building facilities for Sochi’s Olympic Winter Games in 2014.

Mr. Putin sometimes demonstrated where the power lay. After workers at Mr. Deripaska’s cement plant protested during an economic crunch in 2009, the president, in a televised exchange, ordered him to sign a contract to get the plant working again.

“Give me back my pen, please,” Mr. Putin told the tycoon after he finished signing.
I'm all for making it a liability for these tycoons to be so close to Putin.

WHile some states have been roiled by teacher strikes and complaints that teachers are not earning enough, the WSJ explains how public pensions and Medicaid spending are the real culprit for state spending that has crowded out money for education.
Following the nationwide trend, Medicaid has taken a growing toll on Oklahoma’s budget. In 2017 the health-care program that is supposedly for the poor consumed nearly 25% of the state’s general fund, up from 14% in 2008, as nearly 200,000 more people enrolled. Lawmakers are left with less money for everything else, not least education.

The shortfall has created grievances, some legitimate. Per-student funding declined by nearly 16% between 2008 and 2017. Class sizes have grown, particularly in rural districts. Ninety-six of the state’s 513 school districts hold class only four days a week.

Oklahoma teachers went a decade without a significant raise, and only three states pay less on average, according to the National Education Association. Depending on which grade they teach, Oklahoma educators’ mean annual pay lags around $1,000 to $3,000 behind the overall state mean of $43,340, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Yet Sooner State teachers received a big pay hike before their recent strike began. In March Oklahoma raised taxes on oil and gas, cigarettes and fuel. The new taxes pay for a raise of about $6,100 per teacher and more school funding. But union leaders sense an opportunity to press for more, especially with Republicans on edge about the midterm elections.

In Kentucky the protests have been about pensions, not pay, but the same Medicaid crowding out is taking place. The Bluegrass State was one of the first Medicaid expansion states under ObamaCare. Some 22% of residents—more than two million people—are enrolled. In 2008 Medicaid spending in Kentucky was $4.9 billion, but by 2017 it was $9.9 billion. The federal government paid $7.7 billion of that sum last year, but the burden has already begun shifting to states.

As for education, Kentucky’s public pension woes place it on par with New Jersey and Illinois, and teachers’ pensions are only 56% funded. Participants can draw full benefits as early as age 49, and some collect longer for more years than they’ve worked.

The Republicans who gained control of the Kentucky government in 2017 have made pension reform a priority. Legislation that passed in March leaves benefits untouched for retirees and current employees.

But it stops teachers from cashing in on accrued sick days at the end of their careers, a common strategy to game the system. And it shifts new hires to a hybrid retirement plan that operates more like a 401(k). The most optimistic estimates have the teachers’ pension running a $14 billion liability, and the changes make a dent of around $500 million to $800 million over 20 years.

The strikes in Kentucky were an effort to lobby Gov. Matt Bevin to veto even this modest reform, never mind that strikes are illegal in the state. Mr. Bevin signed the bill last week and slammed Kentucky Education Association leaders for “looking out for the best interests of themselves.”

He has a point. Teachers unions saw an opening after West Virginia teachers got a raise after nine days on strike, but other concessions they won benefit labor at the expense of students. One casualty was a plan to open the state’s first charter—a science, technology, engineering and math school that would have operated with Marshall University and West Virginia University. Union leaders also killed a reform to let school districts consider teacher performance as they determine which employees to lay off from shrinking schools.
THink about striking so that they could kill a charter school. What they should really be concerned about his how state spending on expanded Medicaid and teacher pensions is crowding out money in state budgets for education. Expect more and more of this as both Medicaid and public pensions increase.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Cruising the Web

While I would prefer that our presidents went to Congress for authorization for military actions, that custom has long gone by the wayside. While every president since Nixon has acted unconstrained by the War Powers Act and we have yet to have a Congress that voted to end military action once troops were engaged, it was Barack Obama who kept troops in Libya and Syria past the 60 days supposedly triggering a necessity for congressional action. So I would be a lot more impressed by congressional calls for a vote on action if Syria if there hadn't been bipartisan hypocrisy for quiescence in the face of presidential action without any sort of congressional approval. Congressman Justin Amash tweets out this hypocrisy by noting the partisan differences depending on the party of the president taking action without any deference to Congress's role.

Congress has been abdicating their responsibilities on all sorts of fronts for a long time now, but particularly when it comes to military action. And then there are all the times that Congress outsources any real policy decisions to unelected bureaucrats to design regulations that they can't overcome their own partisanship to create themselves.

Jonah Goldberg explains how the theory of "Bootleggers and Baptists" applies to Zuckerberg's welcoming of government regulation. The theory is that groups that want government regulation because they think it will be good for the country and those who will gain by undermining the regulation. So, in the example of the theory, Baptists pushed for prohibition on the sale of alcohol for religious reasons while bootleggers were happy for the limitations on sales, because they could make more money for themselves if legal competition was cut. And politicians can pose has helping the moral reformers while granting the bootleggers what they want. Government regulations often work that way and, as Goldberg illustrates, examples abound, including Zuckerberg's welcome for regulations.
The standard story of the Progressive era, taught to high-school kids and college students alike, is that the government has come to the rescue time and again to curtail the excesses of irresponsible, selfish, or otherwise dastardly big businesses. Upton Sinclair, in his book The Jungle, famously exposed the abuses of the meat-packing industry, prompting the government to impose new regulations on it.

Left out of this tale of enlightened regulation is that the meat-packing industry wanted to be regulated — something even Sinclair admitted.

“The Federal inspection of meat was, historically, established at the packers’ request,” Sinclair wrote in 1906. “It is maintained and paid for by the people of the United States for the benefit of the packers.”

The famous trusts were no different. In 1909, Andrew Carnegie wrote a letter to the New York Times suggesting “government control” of the steel industry. The chairman of U.S. Steel, Judge Elbert Gary, lobbied for the same thing.

The story repeated itself during the New Deal. The “malefactors of great wealth” that FDR demonized welcomed government regulation. Famed lawyer Clarence Darrow issued a report on the New Deal’s industrial “codes.” In “virtually all the codes we have examined, one condition has been persistent, “Darrow found. “In Industry after Industry, the larger units . . . have for their own advantage written the codes, and then, in effect and for their own advantage, assumed the administration of the code they have framed.”

Why would the titans of capitalism welcome regulation? Because regulation is the best protection against competition. It stabilizes prices, eliminates uncertainty, and writes profits into law — which is why AT&T convinced Congress at the beginning of the 20th century to give it a monopoly over phone services.
And now we have Zuckerberg putting out there that Facebook will use AI to regulate hate speech all the while knowing that the cost of developing such AI is something Facebook can afford, but any potential competitor could not.

The NYT examines
the ridiculous pension system of Oregon where any compensation a state employee might receiver, even if it isn't from the state, is included in calculating the pension the employee receives.
Oregon’s costs are inflated by the way in which it calculates pension benefits for public employees. Some of the pensions include income that employees earned on the side. Other retirees benefit from long-ago stock market rallies that inflated the current value of their payouts.

For example, the pension for Mike Bellotti, the University of Oregon’s head football coach from 1995 to 2008, includes not just his salary but also money from licensing deals and endorsements that the Ducks’ athletic program generated. Mr. Bellotti’s pension is more than $46,000 a month.
A month. How crazy is that? But that is what the state has contracted the state's taxpayers to pay. It's one thing to bankrupt your state to pay compensation for what state employees have done for the state - but to pay for what they did for other entities?
The bill is borne by taxpayers. Oregon’s Public Employees Retirement System has told cities, counties, school districts and other local entities to contribute more to keep the system afloat. They can neither negotiate nor raise local taxes fast enough to keep up. As a result, pensions are crowding out other spending. Essential services are slashed.

Continue reading the main story
“You get to the point where you can no longer do more with less — you just have to do less with less,” said Nathan Cherpeski, the manager of Klamath Falls, a city of about 21,000 in south-central Oregon.

Klamath Falls’s most recent biennial bill from the pension system, known as PERS, was $600,000 more than the one before. PERS has warned that the bills will keep rising. Mr. Cherpeski has had to cut back on repairing streets and bridges.
As the article outlines, many states are having trouble making ends meet since the recession began in 2008.
It wasn’t until 2016 that average state tax collections returned to pre-2008 levels. In the meantime, states and cities have had to rebuild pension funds to cover the rising numbers of retirees drawing benefits. That has left less money for the police, school sports programs and everything else. Local residents might not know why, but they are paying more taxes and getting scantier services in return.
And taxpayers in these states are having to pay more and more for less and less.
Costs are rising even in places that previously acted to defuse the problem. Colorado trimmed pensions in 2010, but a new $32 billion shortfall means more pension cuts and tax increases are likely. Detroit sliced its pension obligations in bankruptcy and persuaded philanthropists to chip in, but it is not clear that the city has an affordable plan.

In San Francisco, the school board wants voters to approve a $298 “parcel tax” on real estate, ostensibly to raise $50 million to pay teachers a living wage.

“That’s a worthy objective, but it’s not the real reason,” said David Crane, a former trustee of the California teachers’ pension system. He said the school district’s retirement costs had grown by $50 million over the last five years, devouring resources that would have gone to teachers.
In parts of Oregon, it can take a couple of hours for a sheriff to show up even when there is a report of an armed shooter. It doesn't help that employment opportunities were shut down a couple of decades ago to save an endangered owl.
The county has cut sheriff patrols, closed its mental health department and kept its jail at less than half capacity because of a lack of guards.

Dave Valenzuela, the Three Rivers school superintendent, traces the latest woes directly to PERS. The system is run at the state level, but it is bankrolled in large part by obligatory contributions from local governments.

This year, Three Rivers was poised to receive its first increase in state education funding in years, a reflection of growing enrollment. But Oregon raised by more than 50 percent the amount that Three Rivers had to contribute to PERS. So Mr. Valenzuela had to lop five days off the school year, ask each school to cut its budget by 10 percent and lay off the district librarian and English specialist.

PERS sets the pension bill for each entity — local government, university system and the like — based on the pay and demographics of its workers. Just about everyone’s bills are getting bigger.

That includes the state, by far the system’s biggest contributor.

Oregon now has fewer police officers than in 1970, is losing foster-care workers at an alarming rate and has allowed earthquake and tsunami preparations to lapse. A 2016 survey turned up “a large number of bridges with critical and near-critical conditions” because of “longstanding inadequate funding.”
Politicians make these deals to pay off public workers and then years later, the taxpayers are paying the price and they probably don't even realize why there is no money in their county's budget for schools or the sheriff's office. Read the entire story to see what a mess Oregon's lawmakers have created for their state. But they're certainly experiencing the consequences.
Across Oregon, local officials have been told to brace for 15 to 20 more years of rising pension bills. That’s when the current generation of retirees will start dying out.

“All we can do is wait,” said Jay Meredith, finance director of Grants Pass, the seat of Josephine County.

In the meantime, mounting pension costs mean that a generation of schoolchildren is growing up in the area with no theater program, no orchestra, no wood shop and minimal sports, chorus and art.

That’s if they can get to school.

A county road recently washed out, stranding 300 people. Ms. Dwyer, of the Three Rivers School District, reported the problem to a public-works official.

She recalled his response: “I have trucks, but I can’t put gas in them to come to you and dig it out.”
It's amazing to not be able to afford gas for their trucks. And they're being told to wait 20 to 30 years for their pensioners to die out.

One Princeton University sociology professor
has some words for "upper-middle-class residents of high-tax states" who are upset about losing the federal tax full deduction for state and local income and property taxes: just get over it. They should welcome this implementation of true progressive instincts.
Many Democratic voters in high-tax states cried foul when the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act capped these deductions at $10,000 from 2018 onward, and some are trying to fight back. “We’re attempting to come up with ways to negate and blunt the harsh and unfair Republican tax policy,” Kevin de León, the Democratic leader of the California Senate, told CNBC. Several states are devising schemes to allow residents to pay some of their state tax liability as a gift to a charitable fund rather than directly to the state government, restoring its deductibility.

Such efforts are misguided. The overall tax bill may be a disaster, but nixing those deductions was the progressive thing to do. Liberals should train their ire elsewhere.

Simply put: If I choose to live in a high-tax state, why should that reduce my obligation to a poor family in Arkansas or a veteran in Nebraska? Local taxes pay for amenities like good schools, clean streets and social services that make my community better for me and my kids. They are the most self-serving of all the taxes I pay. And deducting them means sending dollars back to my community that wouldn’t be available for anyone else. The old deduction says: I look after my own and leave others to fend for themselves.
Stop making citizens of other states subsidize the high spending choices that blue states have made?
The rule of thumb is: The higher the state and local share of school dollars, the greater the inequality between places, since federal funding is fairly even while state and local funding varies wildly. For example, New Jersey spent $19,000 per student in the 2013-14 school year while Utah, where federal dollars make up more than 12 percent of school funding, shelled out only $6,600. Such disparities operate within states as well. In Illinois, according to the New America Foundation, New Trier Township High School District spent almost $20,000 per pupil in 2008-09 while Farmington Central Community Unit School District spent just $6,500.

Why should the residents of New Trier have to pay less tax to the federal government as a reward for taxing themselves at a higher rate to give their own kids a leg up in a competitive knowledge-based economy? In fact, high-tax areas get a double discount on their federal taxes, since quality schools drive up property values, and high property values usually mean bigger mortgages (another deduction that was capped by the Tax Cut and Jobs Act).
He goes on to argue that the Republicans were mostly motivated by partisan desires for retribution against blue states, but that doesn't mean that the policy is wrong.

A history professor at Jackson College explains why being a GOP Speaker of the House is a totally rotten job.
Something has changed, at least in the Republican caucus, since the days of Wright and Gingrich.

Empowered by new tools that boost members who wish to defy leadership — from strident ideological interest groups to a plethora of ideological media outlets lending support and amplifying their message — members are in constant revolt against the speaker, not ousting him but also not allowing him to govern. This has not required a majority of Republicans to be dissatisfied — a small minority is often enough, because they can partner with Democrats to stifle the Republican leadership. Additionally, Republican speakers labor under the Hastert Rule, a custom adopted under the speakership of J. Dennis Hastert that a Republican speaker won’t put legislation on the floor unless a majority of the majority support it. This combination of factors has allowed the hard-right Freedom Caucus to exert a tremendous amount of power.

Making it even harder for both Boehner and Ryan to corral a fractious caucus, the 2010 ban on earmarks removed the best carrot from the speaker’s toolbox, while the outside infrastructure that boosts extreme members has eliminated most of the speaker’s best sticks — fundraising help and committee assignments — for keeping members in line. This situation helped drive both Boehner and Ryan to retire rather than continue to deal with the headache of their job.

The modern speaker still has immense power, including controlling committee assignments, the calendar and the rules, as Democrat Nancy Pelosi’s speakership showed. But a restive conference, relatively narrow majorities and — at least for Ryan — an unpredictable president have been enough to convince two successive speakers that the position was not worth it.
And if being speaker is now a miserable job, one job even more miserable is being in the minority party since the minority has such few powers in the House.

The Weekly Standard reports what one 19-year-old student, Kenneth Preston, at Parkland High School has uncovered about Broward County Schools. This is amazing stuff.
Kenneth Preston is here to present a report assigning fresh blame to the same old bureaucratic rot. In 2014, $104 million was set aside from an $800 million school-improvement bond issue to upgrade Broward County schools’ physical safety and security. According to public records Preston has unearthed, the vast majority of that money was never put to use. The planned upgrades—including a new alarm system for Stoneman that still hasn’t been installed—were named “year-one priorities” in the proposal four years ago.

Only someone with a lot of time on his hands and a keen distrust of authority would dig up the damning public records. Enter Preston, an obsessive citizen-journalist in the making. He’s a student in the district’s online education program—which is “sort of a joke,” he admits—since he dropped out of his charter high school with a debilitating bout of Lyme disease. The lackadaisical online curriculum has left him with a lot of free time: “The amount of documents that I’ve read—I wouldn’t have had that time otherwise.” Debate tournaments, his favorite activity back when he was a conventional student, prepared him for this foray into contentious county politics.
So this student started researching Broward County's discipline policies for his online journalism class and the school board did not spend the money allocated for school safety and instead spent money that the county had voted on for school security on things like music and technology. He wrote up his report and wanted to present it at the school board meeting. He was brushed off by the school superintendent because the student didn't understand how the government might have delays in implementing plans that have already been budgeted for. He should, apparently, understand that such foot-dragging is standard operating procedure. And so is rear-covering.

Real Clear Investigations looks at the role that the Broward County discipline policies had in the shooting at the high school in Parkland.
Broward County juvenile justice division records, federal studies of Broward school district safety and the district's own internal reporting show that years of “intensive" counseling didn’t just fail to reform repeat offender Cruz, who allegedly went on to shoot and kill 17 people at his high school. Records show such policies have failed to curtail other campus violence and its effects now on the rise in district schools — including fighting, weapons use, bullying and related suicides.

Meanwhile, murders, armed robberies and other violent felonies committed by children outside of schools have hit record levels, and some see a connection with what’s happening on school grounds. Since the relaxing of discipline, Broward youths have not only brazenly punched out their teachers, but terrorized Broward neighborhoods with drive-by shootings, gang rapes, home invasions and carjackings.

Broward County now has the highest percentage of “the most serious, violent [and] chronic” juvenile offenders in Florida, according to the county’s chief juvenile probation officer.

Before the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, the program’s most supportive community partner – the county sheriff’s office – privately worried that school-based deputies were overlooking increasingly dangerous threats. It warned that violent felons on probation were getting “several chances to reoffend” under the school program and those who put their victims in the hospital after attacking them on school grounds escaped arrest through the program.

Records also show that Cruz was not the only active-shooter threat in the Broward school system. Since 2015, at least three other pupils have brought loaded firearms into schools and threatened to go on shooting sprees.
Yet county officials are still defending the reforms as if there isn't any correlation between violent offenders not receiving any penalty and their repeat offenses or lack of a general sense of discipline in schools.
District officials, however, declined to provide evidence when presented with contrary reporting by RealClearInvestigations.

The administration has kept a lid on such bad news by suppressing school safety data, including canceling annual surveys of student behavior.
Some parent groups have been complaining for years and the authorities have denied that there are any problems with their program. They're still trying to cover their rears but now they'll have to face lawsuits from families who accuse the school system of failing to protect their children from being beat up and bullied by students who aren't punished. And the trail goes back to the Obama administration.
That new discipline policy took effect in 2013. It was at the vanguard of the Obama administration’s efforts to address the “school to prison” pipeline. Beginning in 2009, it opened hundreds of investigations or sued to force districts to adopt lenient discipline guidelines. This push was formalized in a 2014 “Dear Colleague” letter to the nation’s public school superintendents and board members that not only discourages student arrests, but holds districts liable for the actions of school resource officers.

After meeting with Obama officials in the White House, Runcie persuaded the Broward County Sheriff’s Office and Fort Lauderdale Police Department to agree to stop arresting students who committed misdemeanor crimes the district deemed “nonviolent” – including assault, theft, vandalism, drugs and public fighting. This included multiple offenders such as Cruz. Law enforcement agreed for the most part to let school officials handle such delinquents through two counseling programs: PROMISE and the Behavior Intervention Program....

In a related program, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel also agreed to back off arrests of students who commit such crimes outside of schools, offering them civil citations and the same “restorative justice" counseling instead of incarceration, even for repeat offenders. Restorative justice is a controversial alternative punishment in which delinquents gather in “healing circles” with counselors – and sometimes even the victims of their crime – and discuss their feelings and the "root causes" of their anger and actions.
The results are in now and it doesn't look good for the program.
Within two years of adopting the discipline reforms, Broward's juvenile recidivism rate surged higher than the Florida state average.

The negative trends continued through last year, the most recent juvenile crime data show.

Prosecutors and probation officers complain that while overall juvenile arrests are down, serious violent crimes involving school-aged Broward youths – including armed robbery, kidnapping and even murder – have spiked, even as such violent crimes across the state have dropped.

Juvenile arrests for murder and manslaughter increased 150 percent between 2013 and 2016. They increased by another 50 percent in 2017. County juveniles were responsible for a total of 16 murders or manslaughters in the past two years alone, according to the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.
And it's going to be difficult to put together the impact of the program because they're destroying the records.
Thousands of arrested Broward students have had their records deleted in the system as part of a program to end “disproportionate minority contact” with law enforcement, blindfolding both street cops and school resource officers to the criminal history of potential juvenile threats.

In addition, “the actual police reports are being destroyed,” stated Broward juvenile prosecutor Maria Schneider at a recent Juvenile Justice Circuit Advisory Board meeting. She added that her office has added a full-time attorney to handle expunctions.

Meanwhile, “scared straight” field trips to the juvenile jail are now a thing of the past. And juvenile probation officers are discouraged from visiting schools.
So we're left with just looking at the correlation between the existence of these discipline programs and the lack of discipline in the schools. Who would have thought that violence in Broward County schools would be worse than many big-city schools. I went to high school in Broward County for three years and observed nothing like this in the 1970s. I can't imagine trying to teach in such an environment.
After Broward schools began emphasizing rehabilitation over incarceration, fights broke out virtually every day in classrooms, hallways, cafeterias and campuses across the district. Last year, more than 3,000 fights erupted in the district’s 300-plus schools, including the altercations involving Cruz. No brawlers were arrested, even after their third fight, and even if they sent other children to the hospital.

Federal data show almost half of Broward middle school students have been involved in fights, with many suffering injuries requiring medical treatment. The lion’s share of the campus violence is taking place at middle schools and high schools in Miramar, Coconut Creek, Fort Lauderdale and Plantation.

At South Plantation High School, for instance, all-out brawls involving dozens of students have been reported regularly in hallways and the cafeteria.
I spent a year at South Plantation High School. I just can't imagine what has happened to the school these days.
Because the students involved in the fights are considered “mutual combatants,” administrators tell parents they cannot be referred to police under the new discipline code....

In a December 2016 fight caught on video at Plantation High School, several girls beat and dragged another girl to the ground and took turns kicking her. Campus police did not break up the fight and the girls who jumped her were not arrested. The attacked girl’s mother said the school failed to stop bullying before it escalated into violence, and then swept the incident under the rug. Three other fights reportedly broke out the same day at the school....

Earlier in the year, another girl was jumped by several girls as she walked down a flight of stairs at New Renaissance Middle School. Jayla Cofer ended up in the emergency room with deep lacerations and bruises to her face. Though a school resource officer broke up the fight, no arrests were made. Instead, the girls were sent to the PROMISE program for a few days of counseling sessions, which are held at Pine Ridge Education Center in Fort Lauderdale.
Imagine that this were your child living in fear of being jumped in the school's hallways and knowing that the authorities will do no more than a wrist-slap. Even though everyone involved from students, parents, and teachers recognized how bad discipline had become in Broward County schools, the authorities have been in CYA mode.
In 2014, the year after discipline reforms took effect and school safety data started trending badly, Broward stopped asking students key safety questions in an annual survey, including whether they “feel safe” in the classroom, restroom or cafeteria, or whether they have “seen students with weapons at school." The next year, the district stopped publishing its yearly school-climate surveys entirely.

"In 2014, they removed the six questions directly asking students whether they felt safe,” Eden said. "After 2015, they discontinued the annual survey they had been conducting for 21 years.”

The district did not respond to requests seeking explanation for the discontinued school safety surveys.
School officials pretend to be so concerned about bullying, but they do nothing to punish the bullies. The Parkland shooter was just one of those students being bounced around and not facing discipline for his violent behavior. There were multiple signs of his violence and desire to hurt others, but the school did little beyond recommending counseling and moving him around to different schools all because the policy was to avoid any sort of arrest that would get on a kid's record even though that would have prevented him from buying a gun.
Robert Martinez, a Broward deputy who worked as a school resource officer for nearly two decades, agreed. He said the school district wanted to keep arrest numbers down at all costs, and actively discouraged school resource officers from taking lawbreaking students into custody. He said removing a dangerous teen like Cruz from a school can take up to two years due to all the red tape that was added to the process by Runcie's new discipline policies and programs.

Martinez, who retired last year after 18 years stationed at various Broward schools, added that the number of sheriff's deputies assigned to area schools has in recent years been cut in half, to about 30, as they've come under increasing political pressure to look the other way when students break the law....

Less than two months after the signing of the no-arrest agreement, the executive staff of the Broward Sheriff’s Office expressed concerns that deputies were unable to ascertain whether gang members, repeat offenders or violent kids on probation were committing crimes inside schools due to the constraints of the PROMISE program, minutes of a 2014 meeting with school officials and other members of the Juvenile Justice Circuit Advisory Board reveal.

“According to the [new discipline] matrix, that kid may get several chances to reoffend,” said David Scharf, executive director of community programs for Broward Sheriff’s Office.

Friction also came from the state attorney’s office. Around the same time, juvenile prosecutor Schneider complained that students committing aggravated battery – a violent felony – were being classified as "non-violent" misdemeanor offenders and referred to PROMISE counseling instead of jail.
Read the entire report. It's a horrifying picture of what the do-gooderism of the left has wrought in one county's schools.
“Sheriff Israel can boast that arrests are down in Broward County [but] that tends to happen when you stop arresting,” Eden said. “That does not mean that schools are safer.”
But all that mattered was that press release, not what was happening on the ground.