Thursday, October 09, 2014

Cruising the Web

It's pretty bad when Jimmy Carter is criticizing Obama's policies in the Middle East.

Well, now the Obama administration admits that they were playing politics with the decision to postpone any executive action by Obama on immigration.

John Podhoretz cautions Republicans on why they shouldn't be getting cocky. The GOP still lags behind the Democrats in their get-out-the-vote efforts.

Ron Fournier is, as Alan Simpson once claimed in the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings, getting lots of stuff over the transom, about how Democrats are upset about how Obama is conducting his presidency. And Leon Panetta is publicly saying what these Democrats have been telling Fournier in private.
They ask only that I don't identify them. Some fear retribution; others don't want to compromise their financial or political standing inside their party. These Democrats speak admirably about the president's intellect, integrity, and intentions, but they question his leadership—an admittedly squishy term that can be unfairly deployed against people with the guts to lead. But their critiques are specific, consistent and credible—and they comport with what many other Democrats are telling other journalists, almost always, privately.

Leon Panetta speaks for them now. It's uncanny how the former CIA/Pentagon chief's memoir and book-tour interviews channel the frustrations of Democrats who want the president to succeed but consider him a near-failure, who raised their concerns directly with the president or with his team, and were told to stop their worrying.

Heather MacDonald ponders all the questions that the media are determinedly not asking about Ferguson.
The press quickly developed a formula for reporting on the “unrest,” as the media still call such violence: select some aspect of Ferguson’s political or civic culture; declare that feature racist, by virtue of its being associated with Ferguson; disregard alternative explanations for the phenomenon; blame riots on it. Bonus move: generalize to other cities with similar “problems.”

Some examples: Ferguson’s population is two-thirds black, but five of its six city council members are white, as is its mayor. Conclusion: this racial composition must be the product of racism. Never mind that blacks barely turn out to vote and field practically no candidates. Never mind that the mayor ran for a second term unopposed. Is there a record of Ferguson’s supposed white power structure suppressing the black vote? None has been alleged. Did the rioters even know who their mayor and city council representatives were? The press didn’t bother to ask. But this “problem” is disturbingly widespread, in the media’s eyes: MOSTLY BLACK CITIES, MOSTLY WHITE CITY HALLS, announced a New York Times front-page story on September 29, complete with a sophisticated scatter-graph visual aid.

Example: Ferguson issues fines for traffic violations; 20 percent of its municipal budget comes from such receipts. If people with outstanding fines or summons don’t appear in court, a warrant for their arrest is issued. Conclusion: this is a racist system. The city is deliberately financing its operations on the backs of the black poor. The only reason that blacks are subject to fines and warrants, according to the media, is that they are being hounded by a racist police force. “A mostly white police force has targeted blacks for a disproportionate number of stops and searches,” declared Time on September 1. What is the evidence for such “targeting?” Time provides none. Might blacks be getting traffic fines for the same reason that whites get traffic fines—because they broke the law? The possibility is never contemplated. The most frequently summonsed traffic offense is driving without insurance, according to the New York Times’s “exposé” of Ferguson’s traffic-fine system. Perhaps the Times’s editors would be blasé about being hit by an uninsured driver, but most drivers would be grateful that the insurance requirement is being enforced. Might poor blacks have a higher rate of driving without insurance than other drivers? Not relevant to know, apparently.
Her examples go on and on demonstrating how the media are happy to paint everything according to the template of racism that they've chosen without delving any deeper.

The State Department hands out billions of dollars in grants to individuals and NGOs without any real supervision.
For example, GAO noted that none of the State Department risk-assessment checklists for evaluating grants mention corruption as a factor for evaluating whether to award a grant, even though side notes in a grant file might mention that corruption was rampant in the country where the money was being handed over.

Since corruption wasn’t on the official checklist, any observations about it did not factor into the overall determination of the riskiness of the grant -- nor did they show up “anywhere else in the grant file documentation,” the GAO observed.

Even when grant recipients themselves had bad records for prior financial mismanagement, the GAO report noted, grants were awarded “without addressing how the risk could be mitigated.” In many cases, over plans for how to monitor grants both for performance and for financial probity were simply missing.

The Inspector General’s alert found many of the same things in its own review of the inspection record. Only 6 of 37 files examined to see if they contained proper documentation to close out a grant award -- meaning that the project and the money had been properly accounted for -- had anything like the proper paperwork, the alert discloses.

Even worse, out of 60 sample files requested for inspection, “10 had been prematurely destroyed, 3 were missing and one was mislabeled.” In another State Department office, intended to monitor and combat trafficking in persons, more than 280 grant awards “could not be closed out because of missing documentation.”
It all sounds so similar to other problems we've seen with the VA, HHS, and the IRS. Maybe large government just doesn't work in the idealized way that liberals pretend it does.

Daniel Henninger writes today on the same theme.
Ebola, the Secret Service, Veterans Affairs, ObamaCare’s rollout, the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Behind all these names are federal bureaucracies that are supposed to protect people or help them. Instead they have been putting individuals at risk, or worse....

The theoretical defense of bureaucracies is that they perform large, needed tasks in a predictable way. For decades, left and right have argued over the bureaucracies’ accountability, regulatory capture, adverse incentives and the like. Along the way, all this largely got internalized as background noise, the annoying price of a complex society.

Suddenly, the federal bureaucracies look like a clear and present danger to the American people. Even progressive defenders of the administrative state must be getting nervous at the disarray in the response to Ebola.

Liberalism’s traditional answer to such failure is that underfunding raises the risk of bad outcomes. The Secret Service is failing because its budget was cut. Similarly, otherwise smart analysis of the reasons for the Ebola virus’s spread invariably ends by saying the World Health Organization, a huge U.N. agency, is underfunded. Arkansas’s incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor has run a campaign ad attacking his GOP opponent, Rep. Tom Cotton, “who cut billions from our nation’s medical disaster and emergency programs.”

But what if this argument is not only wrong but is now dangerous? What if we have reached a point past which using money to make already large bureaucracies bigger makes the likelihood of catastrophic events worse?

Forget FDR and the glory days of the 1930s. Federal bureaucracies in the 21st century are breaking apart amid a perfect storm of size, complexity and technology. The debris is endangering all of us.

It is no revelation that contemporary society has become exceedingly complex, mainly because microchip-based technology has enabled complexity and speed to run side by side. Too bad the humans can’t keep up.

Studies done for the software industry conclude repeatedly that its most intractable problem is not engineering failure but human error. A 2012 study for insurer Munich Re found that the $1.6 trillion in losses from various catastrophes between 2001 and 2011 had more to do with human error and bad judgment than with bad luck.

People who study how complex systems work or fail have long known that introducing new or additional rules often increases the odds that the people operating the systems will make more mistakes. Under pressure from managers and machines, they are often undertrained, unfocused and distracted. Unless you are a machine, successful multitasking is an oxymoron....

The political class is clueless, or doesn’t care. With “reform” legislation such as Dodd-Frank, ObamaCare, Sarbanes-Oxley and the no-doubt imminent Ebola outlays, the compulsive fix-it men of politics make matters worse. These complex requirements are time bombs primed for more catastrophe—another financial crisis, another deadly VA scandal. They increase the confusions in an intrinsically error-prone bureaucratic system.

What to do? If progressivism’s technologists think the answer is a giant, centralized server farm running the whole government, a Big Algorithm with Google’s Eric Schmidt seated at the mighty organ, be my guest and program it for us. My guess is that the answer to this plague of bureaucratic damage runs in the opposite direction, toward scaled-down, distributed public responsibilities. Less power but better, safer performance.

That will be anathema to progressives who still want to pilot the ancient bureaucratic controls. But it should appeal to most people wanting mainly not to be killed by their government.

And here's another embarrassing blunder from the State Department.
The U.S. State Department endorsed on Wednesday a controversial anti-terror handbook published by Canada’s Muslim community that refers to jihad as “noble” and urges law enforcement to avoid using terms such as “Islamic extremism.”

The handbook, published earlier this month by two Canadian Muslim community organizations, was so controversial that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) flatly rejected the manual and ordered its officers not to use it.

Yet the State Department’s official anti-terrorism Twitter feed, called Think Again Turn Away, appeared to endorse the controversial handbook on Twitter and linked to a positive article about it.

The handbook, titled United Against Terrorism, has become a contentious issue for the RCMP since its release. Several sections of the guide instruct Muslim community members not to cooperate with police while others claim jihad “is a noble concept.”
Probably, the State Department will apologize and some anonymous underling will take the blame, but the fact that they'd be so happy to tweet out an endorsement for a booklet they clearly hadn't read or, even worse, had read and didn't even register why they shouldn't be praising such a booklet. But this isn't the first time they've rushed to support a Muslim individual or organization without looking more in depth before they jumped to praise.
The department’s Counterterrorism Bureau (CT Bureau) was forced to issue multiple apologies earlier this year after it endorsed on Twitter a radical Muslim cleric who backed a fatwa calling for the murder of U.S. troops.

Amazingly, Democratic senator Mark Udall got a question on abortion that came from the pro-life position. I've never heard of that happening before for a Democrat.
But at a debate held by the Denver Post, a moderator began with a question to clarify Udall’s own position on abortion: ”We know that you support a women’s right to choose, but given the advances in the scientific understanding of fetal development, where pregnant mothers know at which week their babies grow fingernails and can swallow, would you support a ban on late-term abortions and if so, at what week?”
Of course, Udall ducked the question and called t a "diversion." He's been bashing his opponent Cory Gardner on the abortion issue and yet, he's not willing to address a perfectly fair question.

This is how silly some feminists have gotten to be. Now some French feminists are upset about the famous image of the sailor kissing a woman in Times Square in celebration ofn V-J Day because they think it's an image of sexual assault. I wonder if these same feminists are as upset about the way women are being treated in so many Muslim cultures.

Jason Riley has some advice for Republican candidates who are getting beaten up by Democrats for not increasing spending on education.
Republican candidates might do better to explain to voters that more spending is no guarantee of better schools. New York spends more money per pupil than any state in the nation, yet only two in five New York state high school students are ready for college-level work, according to a College Board report released on Tuesday. New York City, which tops all large school systems in spending per student, has very little to show for it. “Of the 1,262 elementary and middle schools in the city, 82% have more than 50% of students failing,” reports the New York Post. “And only 45 of those 1,262 schools had 70% of students pass the English test.”

Republicans could also change the subject by explaining that school-choice reforms produce better outcomes in the classroom and are a better bargain for taxpayers. “Students transferring to private schools using publicly funded vouchers saved participating states more than $1.7 billion over a 20-year period,” according to a study of 10 voucher programs in the U.S. released last week by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. “From 1990 to 2011, students in six states and Washington, D.C., received $2.8 billion in voucher funds to attend private schools of choice. In making that choice, those students also relieved public schools of $4.5 billion in variable expenses. You do the math: $4.5 billion minus $2.8 billion equals $1.7 billion.”

Research has long shown that school choice correlates with superior test scores, graduation rates, parental satisfaction and college performance. But it’s also a more economical way of teaching kids. Instead of telling voters that more of their tax dollars should go to the union-controlled education blob, Republicans might try explaining how current expenditures could be used more wisely.
Wendy Davis just can't understand how women would vote for her opponent, Greg Abbott. Guy Benson explains things to her,
Allow me to assist in decoding this mystery, Wendy. First, according to the latest poll, which puts your rival ahead by 11 points, "Abbott is still trusted more than Davis in all four major policy areas we regularly track – government spending (48% to 36%), taxes (50% to 35%), social issues (44% to 41%) and government ethics and corruption (44% to 37%)." You're losing on every front of the campaign. Second, you are wildly out of the American mainstream on the issue that made you famous. You filibustered a law that ends the inhumane practice of sixth-month abortion, with limited exceptions. But American women support that common-sense regulation by an enormous margin, and are more likely than men to do so. Come to think of it, you do not speak for women on the abortion question more generally, as a substantial majority of female voters favor significant restrictions on the practice. Third, you're an ineffective debater (pro-tip: droning on over the moderator doesn't typically play well). Finally, I suspect that a lot of Texas women aren't impressed with your (dishonestly revised) resume, which includes such low-lights as voluntarily giving up custody of your daughters to pursue your career, and walking out on your marriage literally the day after your ex-husband made the final payment on your law school education -- for which he'd cashed in his 401k and taken out a loan. Sorry to be blunt, Wendy, but it seems as though many voters have concluded that you're not only a bad candidate who doesn't share their values, but also a bad person. Hope that helps clear a few things up.
Wendy Davis rose to fame not just for supporting the right to an abortion, but the right to a late-term abortion when a baby could usually survive outside the womb. Plenty of women, even those who support abortion rights, draw the line at abortion when the baby is viable.

The WSJ refutes liberals' arguments that problems with the CDC result from lack of funding. First of all, the CDC's total budget, including emergency and supplemental appropriations, is up 35% from the Bush years. Meanwhile, the CDC is funding all sorts of programs that aren't really within what the public might think of as what we envision the CDC doing.
The core of public health used to be society’s interest in securing the conditions necessary for human survival—mainly meaning epidemiology and combating communicable diseases. The pity is that all too often the current CDC has diluted its mission and budget by funding political causes that the doctors and troops in West Africa (and Texas) don’t need. The list extends to anti-bullying, trans fats, prescription opiate abuse, college rape prevention, workplace wellness, “racial and ethnic approaches to community health,” and promoting breast feeding.

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