Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Cruising the Web

Nice for the President to keep letting us know that he doesn't have a complete strategy for fighting ISIS. He told us that last year in August and again this week. It always inspires confidence when the commander in chief admits helplessness. In the interim, couldn't he have allowed arms to go to the Kurds who are willingly and actively fighting ISIS in Iraq? Instead he has sent all our weapons aid to the Iraqi government which clearly hasn't been using them to any effect and now those same weapons are landing in the hands of ISIS fighters. Of course, we didn't need Obama to tell us every ten months that we don't have a strategy for fighting ISIS; everyone could observe our actions and tell that he didn't have a strategy. And how typical of Obama to place the blame on the military. That's our president - always looking to place blame elsewhere.

The Washington Examiner comments on what has happened since the last time Obama confessed that he didn't have a strategy for fighting ISIS.
By most other measures, the Islamic State has been flourishing in the time since Obama's first "no strategy" remark. Not only has the terrorist group seen an influx of recruits — including as many as 100 from the U.S. — but it has also made significant territorial gains in both Iraq and Syria.

Last month, its fighters captured Ramadi, the capital of Iraq's largest province. Islamic State militants are currently fighting for control of Iraq's largest oil refinery. In Syria, the Islamic State recently overran the ancient city of Palmyra and is now approaching the doorstep of Aleppo, Syria's largest city.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the Islamic State now rules half of Syria. Another analysis estimates that between Iraq and Syria, it controls 115,000 square miles, a mass of land roughly equal to the size of Italy. Perhaps most significantly, Islamic State controls all of the border crossings between Iraq and Syria.

Obama's neglect of Syria and Iraq seems to confirm Leon Panetta's assessment of him as wanting to keep Iraq out of sight and out of mind from the beginning of his presidency. Panetta served under Obama as CIA director and then secretary of defense. In his memoir, Worthy Fights, Panetta criticized Obama for not doing enough to convince the Iraqi government to accept a residual U.S. force in Iraq when American troops left in 2011.

"Those on our side viewed the White House as so eager to rid itself of Iraq that it was willing to withdraw rather than lock in arrangements that would preserve our influence and interests," Panetta wrote. Obama's lack of commitment in Syria and Iraq, Panetta told USA Today, created a vacuum that led to the Islamic State's rise.

There is an ongoing debate over who's more to blame for the Islamic State and the disintegration of Iraq and Syria — Bush, for invading Iraq, or Obama for abandoning it prematurely. But that debate is largely academic at this point. Obama will have no one but himself to blame if his dithering and lack of coherent strategy turns the Islamic State into a permanent presence on the world map.

The New York Post listens to the President with amazement at the fantasy world Obama seems to live in.
It’s plainly liberating for President Obama to simply deny reality and declare everything just peachy, as he did again Monday at the G7 summit in Germany. Sadly, reality’s not cooperating.

One of his fictions du jour: All’s well with Obama­Care. No joke.

“The thing is working,” the president insisted. “We haven’t had a lot of conversation about the horrors of ObamaCare, because none of them have come to pass.”

Somebody’s having those conversations. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows 54 percent oppose ObamaCare, with only 39 percent — the lowest ever — in favor.

He also insisted that a big suit against ObamaCare, Burwell v. King, is based on so clearly a “twisted interpretation” that “it probably shouldn’t even have been taken up.”

Huh? Wouldn’t that be the first time the Supreme Court had to settle a crystal-clear law?

In fact, that “twisted interpretion” is the clear language of the law. The hastily rammed-through legislation had so many “glitches” that it’s been amended dozens of times — some, unilaterally by Obama; some by new laws; some by the Supreme Court in past cases.

Obama’s other big fib was touting “significant progress” against ISIS. He’s not willing to admit that the Islamic State controls more territory in Iraq and in Syria than it did nine months ago, when he vowed to “degrade” and “destroy” it “through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy.”

Noemie Emery ponders the temperament of Barack Obama.
The conventional view of what has gone wrong — that Obama lacked experience, and that first-term senators should be viewed with suspicion — is undercut by the fact that he has had six years of experience, and failed to learn from it. At home and abroad, Obama makes mistakes over and over, with the same result, and takes nothing from them. He disses his friends, placates aggressors and seems surprised that aggressors advance and whole regions catch fire.

He refuses to bargain with Congress, insults opponents, imposes unpopular policies by fiat and seems surprised when his measures result in court challenges, when polarization increases, opposition solidifies, divisions harden and gridlock prevails. Deal-making is the essence of politics, but Obama finds it demeaning, so he resorts to brute force when he has the means to (as in the still-festering matter of healthcare). Alternatively, as with immigration, Obama resorts to executive actions that stir angry resistance and are frequently halted by courts.

This has gone on since 2009, but Dana Milbank noticed only when Obama began slighting Democrats, whereupon he began taking offense. "Rather than accept that they have a legitimate beef, he shows public contempt for them," the Washington Post columnist complains, writing that Obama dissed fellow Democrats to friendly reporters as being short-sighted and dense. (Of course, he's done that for years to Republicans, but they seem not to matter.) If Franklin Roosevelt was described as having a commonplace intellect but a brilliantly tempered political character, Obama seems to be his ultimate opposite: A man with an intellect that delights the elite but a temperament that is counterproductive in matters of government. This combination seems to work much less well.

Presidents can sometimes repair their mistakes, but only after they realize they've made them, which is something Obama can't do. George W. Bush stayed with his failed Iraq strategy until a bloody year followed by a political bloodbath in the 2006 midterms forced him to change course dramatically. John Kennedy failed in the Bay of Pigs and then in his first face-to-face meeting with Nikita S. Khrushchev, when he compounded his first bad impression by seeming irresolute.

Sensing at once that he had made a grave error — "He savaged me," Kennedy said later of the Russian leader — he doubled the draft, increased defense spending and took Dwight Eisenhower's advice to have his councilors argue their cases before him and each other (instead of one at a time and in isolation), which led to the peaceful solution of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

But admitting mistakes — and taking advice — are not the skill set of the current incumbent, who finds them demeaning. The learning curve of the 35th president between l961-63 had been exponential, while, as Josef Joffe recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal, "the 44th president's learning curve has been flat for six years."

It's not lack of experience that hampers Obama; it's his refusal to learn a thing from it. That's the trait we can't have in the 45th president — and the one we must strive to avoid.

Stephen Moore celebrates how my state, North Carolina, has turned around its economy.
Four years ago, North Carolina’s unemployment rate was above 10 percent and the state still bore the effects of its battering in the recession. Many rural towns faced jobless rates of more than 20 percent.

But in 2013, a combination of the biggest tax rate reductions in the state’s history and a gutsy but controversial unemployment insurance reform supercharged the state’s economy and has even helped finance budget surpluses.

As Wells Fargo’s Economics Group recently put it: “North Carolina’s economy has shifted into high gear. Hiring has picked up across nearly every industry.”

The tax cut slashed the state’s top personal income tax rate to 5.75 percent, near the regional average, from 7.75 percent, which had been the highest in the South. The corporate tax rate was cut to 5 percent from 6.9 percent. The estate tax was eliminated.

Next came the novel tough-love unemployment insurance reforms. The state became the first in the nation to reject “free” federal payments for extended unemployment benefits and reduce the weeks of benefits to 20 from 26. The maximum weekly dollar amount of payments, $535, which had been among the highest in the nation, was trimmed to a maximum of $350 a week. As a result, tens of thousands of Carolinians left the unemployment rolls.
Of course, there was a lot of sturm und drang about ending those extended unemployment benefits and leaving the unemployed without help, but the results have been quite interesting.
Then a funny thing happened. After a few months, the unemployment rate started to decline rapidly and job growth climbed. Not just a little. Nearly 200,000 jobs have been added since 2013 and the unemployment rate has fallen to 5.5 percent from 7.9 percent. There is a debate about how many of North Carolina’s unemployed got jobs and how many dropped out of the workforce or moved to another state. But the job market is vastly improved and people didn’t go hungry in the streets. On the Tax Foundation index of business conditions, North Carolina has been catapulted to 16th from a dismal 44th since 2013.

The most recent news will make many other governors jealous. The state didn’t take the extra federal benefits—which require repayments later to the feds—and it cut the weekly benefits. So the state government has been able to pay back $2.8 billion in unemployment insurance money owed to the feds, and it now has a trust fund surplus. This means it will be able to provide employers with at least $500 million in cuts from the state and federal unemployment tax on payroll over 18 months.

This comes at a time when other states are having to raise payroll taxes to pay off the loans for the rich benefits they doled out in the recession and its aftermath. The lesson: Handouts from the feds are never free.

An even bigger surprise—even to supporters—is the tax cut’s impact on revenue. Even with lower rates, tax revenues are up about 6 percent this year according to the state budget office. On May 6, Gov. McCrory announced that the state has a budget surplus of $400 million while many other states are scrambling to fill gaps....

The story gets better. Because North Carolina built in a trigger mechanism that applies excess revenues to corporate rate cuts, the business tax has fallen to 5 percent from 6.9 percent, and next year it drops to 4 percent.

You won’t hear much about this in national news media, where the preferred story line is that tax cuts don’t work because they were followed by budget deficits in Kansas. In North Carolina, policies to reduce taxes and stop paying people for not working have created jobs and surpluses. Pope says: “I wish people criticizing Kansas would look at what’s happened here.”
Of course, that doesn't prevent the Democrats from screaming and yelling about these changes and vowing to bring back the previous economic policies that were such clearly failures.

In New York City, a federal judge has thrown out a qualifying test for teachers because racial minorities got lower scores on the test. There is nothing on the test to indicate racial discrimination, but lower scores are, apparently, enough to determine that the bias must lie in the test instead of in the abilities of the applicants.
A federal judge in New York has struck down a test used by New York City to vet potential teachers, finding the test of knowledge illegally discriminated against racial minorities due to their lower scores.

At first glance, the city’s second Liberal Arts and Science Test (LAST-2) seems fairly innocuous. Unlike the unfair literacy tests of Jim Crow, LAST-2 was given to every teaching candidate in New York, and it was simply a test to make sure that teachers had a basic high school-level understanding of both the liberal arts and the sciences.

One sample question from the test asked prospective educators to identify the mathematical principle of a linear relationship when given four examples; another asked them to read four passages from the Constitution and identify which illustrated checks and balances. Besides factual knowledge, the test also checks basic academic skills, such as reading comprehension and the ability to read basic charts and graphs.

Nevertheless, this apparently neutral subject matter contained an insidious kernel of racism, because Hispanic and black applicants had a passage rate only 54 to 75 percent of the passage rate for whites.

Once their higher failure rate was established, the burden shifted to New York to prove that LAST-2 measured skills that were essential for teachers and therefore was justified in having a racially unequal outcome. While it might seem obvious that possessing basic subject knowledge is a key skill for a teacher, District Judge Kimba Wood said the state hadn’t met that burden.
Yes, because we don't want teachers to have basic skills. And the result will be more than letting lower-quality applicants through. It could cost the city a bundle.
LAST-2 hasn’t been used in New York since 2012, but the ruling will still have repercussions. Minorities who failed the exam (who number in the thousands) may be owed years of back pay totaling millions of dollars, and those who were relegated to substitute teaching jobs could be promoted to having their own classrooms. In addition, while Wood’s ruling only applies to New York City, the test was used statewide, and it could serve as a precedent for further lawsuits.

The ruling could also pave the way for another ruling finding New York’s current teacher test, the Academic Literacy Skills Test (ALST), to be discriminatory as well. That test is even harder than LAST-2, with a strong focus on literacy skills such as writing and reading comprehension, and like LAST-2 it has a very large gap in scores between whites and minorities. A lawsuit, once again being heard by Wood, is already pending, with the plaintiffs arguing that there is no clear evidence strong literacy skills are essential for a teacher.
Instead of searching out invisible bias in a basic literacy test, why not look to schools which are letting students graduate without being able to pass such tests?

As a teacher of three Advanced Placement courses, I have good reason to have contempt for College Board which writes and administers both AP tests and the SATs. Here is another reason to despise them.
The SAT has 10 sections, and Sections 8 and 9 are 20 minutes long. On June 6, however, tests were distributed in which the directions for either Section 8 or 9 indicated that section would be 25 five minutes long.

One junior from New Milford, CT, told me that when he got to Section 8 of his SAT on Saturday, he knew something was wrong since he’d taken the exam twice before. The test booklet said he had 25 minutes, but the proctor said he had 20. He pointed this out, and the proctor asked what other people’s exam books said. About half the people in the room had 25 minutes for Section 8. Presumably, the other half would have the extra time on Section 9. The test supervisor had to be called in, and she indicated that other classrooms were experiencing the same problem. It turned out that the extent of this problem was much wider and was in fact nationwide.
College Board is now saying that they just won't count that entire section and leaving out an entire section is just fine with their usual practice of having some field questions within the test. However, I would bet that they had no original intention not to count an entire section. Instead, they usually seed such field-test questions throughout the SATs, not for an entire section. But now they're claiming that their tests are so great that they don't need this section in order to have a valid score. Well, if that were true, why not have a shorter test to begin with? And how does such a mistake happen in the first place? I would bet that the timing of each section is fixed from one test administration to another. The instructions remain the same. How did an anomaly in the timing creep into the directions in the first place?

We are coming up on the bicentennial of the Battle of Waterloo. This anniversary has led historians to ponder counterfactuals to wonder what would have happened if Napoleon had won that battle. I don't think the results for the rest of Europe would have been that drastic. Even if Napoleon had won that battle, he wouldn't have been strong enough to retake the rest of his empire. By June 1815, the Congress of Vienna had already wrapped up most of its agreements to return Europe to the status quo before the French Revolution with a few changes such as fewer German states. I don't think Napoleon could have altered those decisions. The changes would have been more important for France which wouldn't have had a Bourbon restoration. But don't forget that Napoleon only had a few more years to live after that. He died in 1821. His heir would still have been a young boy and, in 1815 was in the control of his Habsburg relatives. Napoleon's death would have led to fighting among his brothers and generals for control of France. Perhaps one would have emerged triumphant, but I think that all guessing about France trying to rebuild Napoleon's original control over so much of continental Europe would not have borne fruit.

Apparently, some comedians are able to discern how deleterious the PC environment on college campuses is better than the college students themselves. Here is Jerry Seinfeld talking to Colin Cowherd on ESPN.
Colin Cowherd: Does the [politically correct] climate worry you now? I’ve seen, I’ve talked to Chris Rock and Larry the Cable Guy—they don’t even want to do college campuses anymore.

Jerry Seinfeld: I hear that all the time. I don’t play colleges, but I hear a lot of people tell me, “Don’t go near colleges, they’re so PC.” I’ll give you an example. My daughter’s 14. My . . . wife says to her, “Well, you know, in the next couple years, I think maybe you’re going to want to be hanging around the city more on the weekends so you can see boys.” You know what my daughter said? She says, “That’s sexist.” They just want to use these words. “That’s racist.” “That’s sexist.” “That’s prejudiced.” They don’t even know what they’re talking about.

CC: Does it hurt comedy?

JS: Yes it does. Yes it does.