Friday, October 30, 2015

Cruising the Web

I had a lot of fun discussing Wednesday's debate with my students. They weren't assigned to watch it, but they do have this long-term assignment to follow one of the candidates and write a group paper in December analyzing the various aspects of the AP Government and Politics curriculum as they're playing out in the race. So I was pleasantly surprised that about a third of the students had watched some or all of the debate. In fact, several of the kids watched more of the debate than I did because I kept switching back and forth with the Spurs-Thunder game. I think their reactions were very interesting, because even though most of my students are only 10th graders, I think they stand in for other young voters. They're probably more informed than most low information voters since they've chosen to take a challenging advanced placement course instead of the regular state mandated course in Civics and Economics. So these are kids who are interested in learning about politics and government. They read a book of essays about the 2014 elections edited by Larry Sabato, The Surge. So they're not ignorant; they just don't know much of the history of our country in recent years. A lot of them were born in 1999 or 2000 so 9/11 and Bush's presidency are just something they've heard about.

When I asked their impressions of who had won the debate, their response across my three classes was practically unanimous. They thought Rubio had won except for one student who liked Fiorina. They thought Rubio was smooth and substantive. Some of the commented that they thought he was the one who was talking about the future and with whom they could relate. When one of the moderators asked about his problems with his personal finances, several students liked that he had had such personal problems with debt because they thought he could relate better to them. They liked his response to the question on his attendance record in the Senate and thought he'd really owned Bush. They didn't care in the slightest that he has missed votes. In fact, my students sound a lot like this group of young voters talking about Rubio.

Quite a few commented that they Trump was a lot quieter during this debate and, therefore, less interesting. They could barely remember anything that he's said. One student commented that Trump just wasn't fun if he's not insulting someone. Almost all my students are mystified at Trump's popularity. They think he's fun and like to come in to school talking about the latest outrageous thing he has said. But they don't want him to be the nominee and they really don't like him.

They were not really impressed with Carson. In each class there were students who thought he was boring to listen to and has a sleepy manner of talking. I guess they'd agree with Trump that Carson is low energy. Though I did think it was interesting that, of those who had watched, the one answer Carson had given that they remembered was his response to the question about COSTCO and their gay-friendly policies. I would guess that, for almost all my students, gay rights and environmental questions are the most important issues in politics. So they have an instinctive dislike for most Republicans because of their stances on gay marriage. So they aren't likely to be Carson supporters. But a couple of students said they liked his answer that a person could support traditional marriage and still believe that gays deserve equal rights and not oppose gays personally. One girls said that she had never thought about it that way and she liked what Carson had said.

Even the students who hadn't watched the debate had seen the coverage that highlighted the candidates' slamming the media. Most of the students who had watched a lot of the debate agreed that the moderators were asking questions in an insulting manner. One student asked why it was so hard for moderators to ask questions in a debate. My answer was that it isn't hard. If I were a moderator, my questions would be simple and short. I'd ask candidates that their preferred policies would be to address the looming crisis in Medicare or the influx of immigrants from Syria and the Middle East. What specific action would they take to lessen our nation's debt? If a question is more than two or three sentences, it's too long. As a voter I want to know how candidates would address issues. If there are problems with the proposals a candidate has made, sure ask about it. But such questions don't have to be in a combative manner. Just state the facts and let the candidate address it. The purpose of the moderator is not to set candidates against each other. It shouldn't be so hard to be a moderator.

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ONline polls show that Trump was the overwhelming winner for the debate. That demonstrates how skewed such non-scientific polls can be such as a survey on the Drudge Report. One of the first lessons I teach in my class is about polling and even students who have only had about four days of the class understand why an online poll is worthless.

Poor Jeb Bush is facing such criticism. The uniform opinion is that Jeb Bush had a really rotten performance during the debate. My students all thought so and they enjoyed Rubio's takedown of Bush. John Heilemann at Bloomberg explains why Bush's performance was worse than it appeared to be.
The problem for Bush, however, isn’t just that his performance last night was atrocious; the problem is that his performance was (and struck many elites, including his supporters as) utterly and deeply revealing. The debate in Boulder presented itself as a fundamental test for Bush. What the night required of him, what everyone was watching for, was a demonstration that, despite the myriad troubles that have plagued him months, he could still be the guy: the candidate with the performance skills and the fortitude not just to survive but to thrive under pressure. That’s what the GOP is understandably looking for in its standard-bearer. That’s what it takes to win the White House.

It was, as I said, a fundamental test—and Bush failed it, badly. Whether he lacks the ability to perform at the highest level, or the will to find untapped reserves within himself, or perhaps even the requisite hunger for the presidency is a matter for his shrink to figure out. But the scale of the failure is now evident for anyone with eyes to see. Coupled with his dismal standing in the public polls nationally and in the early states, the fund-raising difficulties he now faces, and the cutbacks to his organization that have recently taken place, it's impossible to overstate the severity of the malady that now afflicts him.

Maybe, just maybe, the Jeb Bush who walked off stage last night and woke up to bedlam all around him in his world is still in possession of a pulse. But if so, it’s a faint one. On the eve of November, three months out from the first votes, the guy who entered the race looking like a juggernaut is now a wastrel in the desert, clad in rags, desperately short of food and water. And the vultures are gathering and circling overhead, preparing to pick the carcass clean.

Stephen Green analyzes what went wrong for Jeb.
The first is that he’s just not the Intimidation Candidate. Bill Clinton could be fairly described as a Reagan-Era Democrat — a convert (if perhaps only a convert-of-convenience) to the pro-growth policies which made the ’80s the ’80s. Clinton fiddled at the margins to direct more of the goodies to his cronies, but in some ways actually expanded on Reagan’s growth program. Jeb might then be fairly described as an Obama-Era Republican, having embraced Common Core and showing no real fire to undo even the worst of Obama’s excesses, or any indication that he’d dig the rot out of the vast executive branch. Candidates without fire aren’t intimidating, no matter how many big donors they have — especially given the ease of small-donor internet fundraising.

The second flaw is that Bush seems to have underestimated both Marco Rubio and Donald Trump. There might not be any way to get around Trump’s ability to dominate the news media, and if there is a way, Jeb just isn’t the man to find it. When your best strategy is “hunker down with all the money and wait until it’s all over” then you have no means of dealing with a sensation like Trump — like hiding under the house in the storm cellar when a typhoon comes.

So is the Trump show diminishing? Pundits have been predicting that for weeks and weeks, but there are more such analyses out there now. Alexis Levinson writes at National Review,
Trump put on a solid debate performance, getting into it with John Kasich and taking on the moderators. He landed a couple of solid one-liners. But what stood out was how often the billionaire upstart was not a part of the discussion.

“He’s starting to not monopolize the discussion any more, which is bad for him,” says one GOP strategist.

That meant a lot more oxygen for other candidates.

Jonah Goldberg writes that he doesn't mind tough questions, but what riles him is the contrast with the questions that Democrats get.
While I don’t particularly love gotchya questions and inquiries merely intended to put candidates in a rhetorical Catch-22, this is the life presidential candidates have chosen and they should be prepared for such things. What truly vexes me is that Democrats aren’t treated nearly so rough. As I put it in a column after the first Democratic debate, “Republicans are always asked to justify their conservatism in a way that puts them either at odds with their supporters or with the public.”

Take abortion. Republicans are routinely asked “surely you can’t be serious” questions about rape-and-incest exclusions. But when was the last time a Democrat was asked, “Do you really believe that a healthy second or third trimester fetus can be killed on a whim?” Or “Do you really believe that an unfettered right to sex-selection abortion — which overwhelmingly terminates females in the womb — is a constitutional right?”

I don’t think last night’s debate touched on abortion, which surprised me. Then again, it was supposed to be about economics. Even so, the same dynamic was at work. Leave aside the fact that the questions were poorly researched and, quite often, smug, they also tended to start from an ideological premise that tax cuts must be “paid for.” That is an entirely defensible — if occasionally problematic — position. But in the Democratic debate, where trillions of dollars in new spending was proposed by the various candidates, the question of how to pay for it rarely came up, except when the candidates themselves shouted about how they’ll make the rich pay for everything. It’s a remarkable thing: When Republicans talk about how they want to let more Americans keep the money they earn, they are grilled about how much that will cost. But when Democrats talk about how much of our money they want to spend, they’re rarely held to account for how that would work. That’s because the real storyline — one intimately subscribed to by the media — is that Republicans are greedy while Democrats are compassionate, even though Republicans are the ones who don’t want to take other peoples’ money.

Ultimately, the real problem is that the media works from the unspoken assumption that Democrats are normal while Republicans aren’t. Many MSM journalists think asking tough, even unfair, questions of Republicans is their job. They’re congratulated for it by the media critics and by Democratic activists who are often friends or even spouses of the reporters. Asking similar questions of the Democrats is considered gauche water-carrying for conservatives. That’s one reason why so many liberals grew to revile Tim Russert. The late Meet the Press host was a liberal, to be sure. But he understood what his job was supposed to be. He wasn’t flawless, but he was certainly better than what we’ve been seeing so far this season.

Steven Hayward has a good proposal for fixing the GOP debates.
First, cancel the rest of the debates. Instead, announce that the RNC will host the debates and pick the panel of questioners. Allow any news organization that wishes to broadcast it. Most of the cable nets will do so, but who cares if they don’t. Panelists should be party elders, such as Newt Gingrich, Bill Armstrong, and Mitch Daniels (who will be sure to ask hard questions on policy), or serious journalists of the right, like George Will.
He's right that the cable networks would cover it. They cover Trump's rallies; they'd be sure to cover such an event especially if there weren't any other debates. I like that.

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How's that Obamacare working out for you now?
It isn’t just Obamacare premiums that are set to spike next year. The rates on commercial health plans that are sold off the Obamacare exchanges will also rise, by double digits in most states. Inflation in the health plan sector continues to grow.

The latest data comes from a regular survey of commercial insurance brokers, conducted by the investment bank Morgan Stanley MS +0.00%. The survey tracks how much the annual increases built into the price of insurance are rising or falling.

President Obama famously promised that the Affordable Care Act would not only slow the growth in health care costs, but would also reverse these trends, making the average health insurance plan cheaper. That isn’t happening.

Bernie Sanders seems to think that there really is a conspiracy of rich people against the rest of the country.
Bernie Sanders is the most prominent conspiracy theorist in America.

He runs around the country alleging that the economy is “rigged” — a term borrowed from Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren — by what he calls “the billionaire class.”

Sanders doesn’t mean this metaphorically. It’s not a poetic exaggeration. He’s dead serious. As he put it in his speech at Liberty University a couple of months ago, our economy is “designed by the wealthiest people in this country to benefit the wealthiest people in this country at the expense of everybody else.”

Designed. Per Sanders, the wealthy have built and maintained a self-serving system of income inequality at the cost of the 99 percent. As he has put it: “This is a rigged economy — heads they win, tails you lose.”

The Sanders view has all the hallmarks of a good conspiracy theory. It finds a common thread in disparate phenomena and attributes them to the workings of a shadowy, nefarious force. It is simplistic, paranoid and seductive. And it is, outside the hothouse confines of its own assumptions, wholly implausible.
Rich Lowry goes on to ponder what the billionaire class would have had to do in order to gain such power.
Consider what vast and complex forces the wealthy would have had to manipulate in their favor to “rig” the economy as Sanders alleges. (I draw on the proceedings of a conference on income inequality held by the free market Hoover Institution in what follows.)

Since the top 1 percent mostly make their money not by sitting on inheritances or though stocks and bonds but by earning salaries, they have shaped the broader economic conditions to create greater rewards for the most talented workers.

They had to enhance the return to education. They had to forge a revolution in computing and create the Internet to enhance the scale in which talent could operate. They had to open up the global economy, an epochal change spanning decades and different counties and cultures. If you thought these were inexorable elements of the modern world, you underestimated the power of the billionaire class.

And, presto, they had created the predicate for higher pay — and not just for CEOs, financiers and lawyers, but for other talented individuals, including top professional athletes.

The work of the billionaire class wasn’t done. It had to cover its tracks. It would be too obvious how it had rigged the economy in its favor if the top were gaining only in the United States. So it ensured that the United Kingdom and Canada experienced basically the same trend. It went out of its way to see that the proportion of children born in the top 20 percent of the income distribution in U.S. who stay at the top or drop lower in the distribution is roughly the same as it is in the U.K. and Scandinavian countries. Clever.

For whatever reason, the billionaire class constantly eases people in and out of the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest people in the U.S. and favors entrepreneurial newcomers. In 1982, only 40 percent of the Forbes 400 owned first-generation businesses. In 2011, roughly 70 percent did. Fifth- and sixth-generation businesses, inherited and passed along, had disappeared from the list. Even more mystifying, the share of the Forbes 400 who grew up wealthy has declined over the decades.

Who can understand why the wealthy conspired to increase the share of federal income taxes paid by the top 20 percent of the income distribution from 65 percent in 1979 to 93 percent in 2010? Or the share of the top 1 percent from 17 percent to 37 percent over the same period of time? Doesn’t this undermine the entire effort? According to the Congressional Budget Office, once taxes and transfers are taken into account, the proportion of income going to the top 1 percent in 2009 wasn’t much different than in the mid-1980s.

It’s not enough for billionaires to protect their interests unless dispossessed people beneath them are denied the means of ascent. Clearly, the country must have a rotten, utterly unaccountable public school system. It can’t be a coincidence that we spend more on K-12 education than almost any other country, but get poor results; the state of California is outperformed by Kazakhstan on one international measure of math, yet fires incompetent teachers very rarely.
Boy those conspirators are so very sneaky and uber competent, aren't they?

Though I must tell you that Bernie Sanders is very popular with many high schoolers I talk to. They don't really like Hillary, but they're quite attracted to Bernie. He had a rally in North Carolina dn they were very excited to go hear him.

Jay Cost goes through how, contrary to the narrative of the MSM, Hillary's testimony before the Benghazi Committee exposed her to several lines of attack that will come back to haunt her later on. In addition to the exposure of her lies to the families and American people blaming the video when she knew that night that it was a terrorist attack, the committee also exposed how active she was urging the attack on Libya and then losing interest once Qaddafi was overthrown.
She was eager to take credit for the perceived victory when longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi was toppled by rebels, with NATO air support, in August 2011. She had little interest, however, in managing the tasks assigned to the State Department in connection with the post-Qaddafi transition, though she did keep open a back channel on that country with her old political associate Sidney Blumenthal, a longtime confidant at the time employed by the Clinton Foundation. Not all of the Republicans’ assertions rang true, but the questioners did marshal an impressive array of data points to suggest that Clinton should have been more interested in the policy, and less in the U.S. domestic political value, of the intervention in Libya.

Peter Roskam led the questioning for the GOP. He presented evidence that Clinton was the principal Obama official championing U.S. participation in the Libya intervention. Roskam indicated that Clinton overcame objections from domestic officials as well as foreign governments. He also showed how interested Clinton was in receiving public credit. He mentioned a memo from her adviser Jake Sullivan written in August 2011 that applauded her “leadership on Libya,” where she provided “a critical voice” and became “the public face of the U.S. effort.” Two months later, that memo was the basis for a glowing report in the Washington Post. Roskam also cited an email from Clinton herself suggesting that she fly to Martha’s Vineyard after the Qaddafi regime fell to appear with President Obama.

Politicians naturally like to take credit for any positive development, so this alone is hardly grounds for criticism. But it sets the stage for the line of questioning pursued mainly by Susan Brooks, Martha Roby, Mike Pompeo, and Lynn Westmoreland: that Clinton lost interest in Libya after Qaddafi fell and did not react appropriately to copious warnings that the security situation in that country was deteriorating badly.

....The context for this apparent lack of interest is important. Westmoreland and Pompeo provided it. Westmoreland pointed out that there were 20 security breaches at the Benghazi facility before the fatal attack (though Clinton said she knew of only 2). Pompeo noted the rapid increase in the frequency of requests for additional security for Benghazi through 2012 leading up to September 11. Yet the documentary evidence suggests that Clinton remained unengaged, the security of the facility remained inadequate, and none of the many requests reached her desk.

Clinton’s catchall answer was that the security experts made these decisions, and anyway Stevens never asked for the facility in Benghazi to be closed....

The Republicans pushed back on this rejoinder in two ways, and Clinton did not have a good answer for either. First, they provided evidence that Clinton should have been more involved. Second, they showed that she was quite prepared to be involved when the messages came from Blumenthal....

It is striking to juxtapose her hands-off approach to security with her voluminous correspondence with Blumenthal. According to committee chairman Trey Gowdy, Blumenthal was her “most prolific emailer that we have found on the subjects of Libya and Benghazi.” Whereas none of the requests for additional security got through to her, Blumenthal passed along whatever he liked.

There were, in effect, two different processes at the State Department regarding Libya: the official process, where the security needs of the facility were not met and Clinton never got involved, even as security became precarious; and a back channel for an old pal. Gowdy noted that Stevens was even asked to “read and respond to Sidney Blumenthal’s drivel .  .  . in some instances on the very same day [Stevens] was asking for security.”

Together, these two points undermined Clinton’s insistence that she did not have a personal role to play in reviewing security arrangements. As Gowdy put it: “How did you decide when to invoke ‘a people and process’ and who just got to come straight to you? Because it looked like certain things got straight to your inbox, and the request for more security did not.” Clinton had no persuasive answer.

And, in addition to her appearance before the committee, she also delivered a self-inflicted wound by downplaying problems at the VA as partisan propaganda by the Republicans.
Days after Hillary Clinton said that Republicans have inflated problems at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to make them appear more “widespread,” three reports point to shortfalls and mismanagement at VA facilities across the country.

The VA Office of Inspector General released three separate reports on VA facilities in Alaska, Illinois, and California this week that found insufficiencies at the locations....These reports come less than a week after Hillary Clinton said on MSNBC that scandal at the VA has “not been as widespread as it has been made out to be.”

“There have been a number of surveys of veterans and, overall, veterans who do get treated are satisfied with their treatment,” Clinton told Rachel Maddow on Friday. “Nobody would believe that from the coverage that you see with the constant berating of the VA that comes from the Republicans in part in pursuit of this ideological agenda that they have.”

Clinton received immediate criticism from lawmakers, causing her campaign to walk back her statements. Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), a veteran, called on Clinton to apologize for her statements.

“If Hillary Clinton really believes the comments that she made, I don’t see how any veteran who cares about their fellow veterans … could support her quest for being commander in chief,” McCain told the Washington Free Beacon on a press call Wednesday.

Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon told CNN that Clinton’s comments have been “misinterpreted” and that issues with care and wait times at the VA have indeed been “systemic.” Fallon said Clinton would unveil a plan to reform the federal agency in November.

As evidenced by multiple inspector general reports, delays, poor care, and mismanagement have persisted at the VA more than a year after the fake wait list scandal of 2014 led to the deaths of dozens of veterans. An independent assessment of the VHA released in September concluded that the VA’s network of health systems needs a “system-wide reworking.”

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Oh, dear. Sometimes schools are so silly. Check out this T shirt that was twelve-year old student was told he couldn't wear and had to turn inside out because it had a bear and stars and stripes on it. One of the many, many things I love about the school where I teach is that we don't have a dress code. I didn't go to college and work to become a teacher so I could tell teenagers what they could and couldn't wear to school. And, amazingly, the kids exercise good judgment in what they wear and clothes just aren't a big deal.

As a teacher, I regularly preach about plagiarism. So I deeply appreciate it when plagiarists are caught. So here is strange case of a romance author who plagiarized from other romance novels. She thought she could get away from it because she was taking material straight from a standard male/female romance novel and put it into a gay romance and hope that there were no crossover readers. Well, she's been caught and exposed as a prolific plagiarist. Her writing career is over. Good.