Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Cruising the Web

For all the politicians who think that there is something that we in the West are doing or saying that is leading people to join ISIS, Andrew McCarthy poses an intriguing question.
Let me ask you a question.

Let’s say you are an authentically moderate Muslim. Perhaps you were born into Islam but have become secularist. Or perhaps you consider yourself a devout Muslim but interpret Islam in a way that rejects violent jihad, rejects the concept that religious and civic life are indivisible, and rejects the principle that sharia’s totalitarian societal framework and legal code must be imposed on the state. Let’s just take that as a given: You are no more inclined toward terrorism than any truly peaceful, moderate, pro-democratic non-Muslim.

So let me pop the question: Is there any insulting thing I could say, no matter how provocative, or any demeaning video I could show you, no matter how lurid, that could convince you to join ISIS?

Mind you, I am not asking whether, upon my insulting and provoking you, you would ever want to have anything to do with me again. I am asking whether there is anything that could be said or done by me, or, say, Donald Trump, or Nakoula Basseley Nakoula — the video producer (Innocence of Muslims) whom Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama tried to blame for the Benghazi massacre — that could persuade you to throw up your hands and join the jihad? Is there anything so profoundly offensive to Islam that we could conjure up that would make a truly moderate, peaceful Muslim sign up for mass murder? Torching and beheading? Killing children? Participating in systematic rape as a weapon of war?

I didn’t think so.

Yet, understand, that is what Washington would have you believe. Whether it is Barack Obama sputtering on about how Guantanamo Bay drives jihadist recruitment, or Hillary Clinton obsessing over videos (the real one by Nakoula that she pretended caused terrorism in Libya, and the pretend ones about Donald Trump that she claims have Muslims lined up from Raqqa to Ramadi to join ISIS), you are to believe violent jihad is not something that Muslims do but that Americans incite.
Once you reject this argument and stop blaming ourselves for violent people wanting to kill us and others, then we can begin to ponder what exactly is going on to make people join ISIS.

Victor Davis Hanson observes how Barack Obama is still bitterly clinging to the same theory that he enunciated behind closed doors in 2008 that there were some people living in small Midwestern towns who are stressed because they've lost their jobs and their communities have deteriorated. "And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations." Remember that. Well, Obama hasn't changed his theory of why people might oppose him. Because, for Obama, it is only such motivations that would make someone not acknowledge his wonderfulness.
Seven years later an unpopular (43% approval rate in the RealClearPolitics.com aggregate poll), lame-duck President Obama has come full circle in his angst and pouting. Now with no more elections looming, nothing apparently is off the record. He recently gave an interview with NPR, in which he offered a sort of Clingers 2.0 exegesis for his current poor approval ratings and absence of a legacy.

Once again the fault is with an ignorant “them” and their biases (e.g., “I may represent change that worries them”), not Obama’s own unimpressive record of governance.

A liberated Obama is more overt in his sense of victimization. Now he can be more explicit than his Clingers 1.0 indictment and quite openly allege that his family’s background and race best explain his plight ("I think if you are talking about the specific virulence of some of the opposition directed towards me, then, you know, that may be explained by the particulars of who I am”). But as before, the Obama victimization argument fails in a variety of ways, and, sadly, tells us more about the president himself than those who he alleges were captives of their prejudices.
This doesn't explain why he was elected overwhelmingly in 2008 and reelected in 2012. It doesn't explain why he had such high poll numbers the first months of his presidency. It doesn't explain why Republicans have supported black candidates and some still support Ben Carson. South Carolina elected a black Republican, for gosh sake. And remember that Obama hasn't faced any of the hateful press and commentary that George W. Bush faced. How then does Obama explain the disgust that so many felt for his predecessor a white man whom no one ever thought of as possibly being a Muslim?
Public figures like Linda Ronstadt, Harold Pinter, Scott Ritter, Ted Rall, and George Soros all once tagged Bush with the Hitler slur. So did Sen. John Glenn, activist Julian Bond, and a vein-bulging Al Gore.

Has a conservative version of Jonathan Chait published an essay, with a refrain “I hate Barack Obama”? Did a younger “there are no red states or blue states” Obama object when Alfred A. Knopf published a novel, Checkpoint, about two characters dreaming how to kill President Bush?

Has Hollywood made a fallacious movie about Obama’s past, perhaps appropriately dubbed Truth II—in the manner it canonized, with the aid of forged documents, those who lied about Bush’s military service?

Did a pre-presidential Obama cry foul when a guest columnist in the Guardian, Charlie Brooker, wrote to his British readers on the eve of the Bush 2004 election bid: “John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinckley Jr. —where are you now that we need you?” Would a Western newspaper print anything like that about Obama?

If Obama believes bias has driven mindless opposition to his policies, what drove Sen. Barack Obama in 2006 to vote to refuse raising the debt ceiling and thus to shut down the Bush-led government at a time when the national debt was half of what it is now? Or why did Obama declare the Bush-Petraeus surge a failure before it had even been started? Why was Senator Obama’s voting record the most partisan in the entire U.S. Senate? Were there biases or unenlightened prejudices that drove him to such nihilistic partisanship?

Are we to believe that Obama’s dismal popularity and mostly failed legislative record were due to the innate prejudice and the fears of a vanishing white male electorate? If so, few presidents have entered office with such wide party majorities in both houses of Congress and impressive public approval ratings. In contrast, does Obama remember the poll ratings of the last white male president when he too left office? Was George W. Bush’s lower 37% approval rating as he neared the end of his tenure due to “who he was”? Did it thus likewise reflect an even greater prejudice against a white Christian southerner?
For Obama, it is always about race. He is the bitter clinger who is clinging to his age-old explanation for why he is not succeeding. Contrary to what many people expected and hoped for in 2008, his presence in the White House hasn't led to some grand racial reconciliation.
No other president has so consciously tried to divide the country by race since Woodrow Wilson. In order to achieve an electoral 93% black majority, and historic turnouts among minority voters, Obama unleashed a campaign of thinly disguised racial divisiveness. Mutatis mutandis, imagine had John McCain or Mitt Romney advised supporters to “get in their face” or to bring a gun to a knife fight, told white supporters to “punish our enemies,” waded into a powder-keg criminal trial to announce the white defendant looked the like the son he might have had, or had a trusted confidant—in Attorney General Eric Holder fashion—refer to whites as “my people” or slur the country as a “nation of cowards” for not talking about racial tensions....

Obama won two elections and transient popularity by community-organizing the country. His class warfare rhetoric, before and after elections, was effective in galvanizing both minority solidarity and white guilt. But those were politicized cheap shots that are not the path to unite a democracy behind a common agenda.

As we see in both Obama’s Clingers 1.0 and 2.0 riffs, Obama has learned, in classic Nixonian fashion, that winning elections in Humpty-Dumpty fashion, by smashing apart the electorate, does not translate into gluing back together a nation: win by divisiveness, perish by divisiveness.

Ben Carson is not only falling in the polls, he's also demonstrating what happens when an inexperienced candidate becomes the victim of campaign operatives who are becoming rich off of his candidacy.
A damning report published last week in the Wall Street Journal indicated strongly that Dr. Ben Carson’s presidential campaign has hit the skids, is in desperate need of competent leadership, and may be subject to abuse by unscrupulous campaign consultants. The majority of the campaign’s donations, it was revealed, are being used to reach new donors. That misuse of financial resources led at least one donor to accuse the campaign of serving as a vehicle to line the pockets of Carson’s operatives. When confronted by the Journal with these allegations, Carson’s campaign spokesperson Doug Watts did not inspire confidence. “I don’t know how much we’ve spent,” he said. “That’s something I hardly ever track.” If this wasn’t simply theatrics, this flippant response to grave allegations exposed either striking ineptitude or unprofessional indifference.

This tale of internal turmoil within the Carson campaign turned out not to be an isolated event. Instead, it was a sign of things to come.

“It costs 55 cents in the Carson campaign to raise a dollar. So if you look at, ‘Oh, he raised $20 million, what is the net to the campaign?’ Most of that is going out every month in consulting fees to these guys,” Harold Doley, a former Reagan administration official who hosted a fundraiser for Carson in early October, alleged. Combined with Dr. Carson’s collapse in both national and early state polling from his November peak (he has fallen in the Real Clear Politics national average of polls from first place at 24.8 percent to fourth place with 9.3 percent), this revelation should prompt any campaign to make some serious changes.
So he has to blame his staff and plan a shake-up.

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Get ready for Obama to stretch his executive powers even further in his last year. He has even told us of his threat.
"I've got 12 months left to squeeze every ounce of change I can while I'm still in office. And that's what I intend to do."
As if the past seven years of change haven't been enough for us.

The pollsters acknowledge that no one likes them. But it's not their fault. In fact, they still think their profession matters. What a surprise.
Response rates have dipped so low over the years that eight pollsters said they were surprised polls hadn’t missed election results by even more than they have. “Some of the recent failures may be a harbinger that the response rate threat is finally materializing,” said Chris Borick of Muhlenberg College. “However, I think the relatively older electorate and marginally higher response rates in that group may continue to buffer more dramatic declines in accuracy.”

Citing reasons such as the older electorate, 14 pollsters said they weren’t surprised that polling remains reasonably predictive of election results. Several pointed to a 2012 study by Pew that found that people who don’t respond to polls aren’t different enough from those who do to skew results badly. Other factors, therefore, matter more, said Julia Clark of Ipsos: “Election accuracy is dependent on the team overseeing the work and their expertise, regardless of institution or methodology.”

Not all media critiques of polling concern accuracy. In her recent New Yorker article about polling, Jill Lepore wrote sympathetically about political scientist Lindsay Rogers’s contention that polls “are a majoritarian monstrosity.” Pollsters said they shouldn’t be blamed if the media overstate the certainty of a poll’s finding about what the majority wants, or if policy makers put undue emphasis on what polls find. “Polls are not meant to be a blueprint for policy,” said J. Ann Selzer of Selzer & Company, a Des Moines, Iowa, polling firm. “But, it is helpful to know where a majority stand — imagine a world where you did not know that.”
It must be tough to be in a profession that seems to be dying before our eyes - rather like being a journalist these days, I imagine.

I wonder if the public will be enthusiastic about the idea of having their daughters having to register for the draft. Hillary Clinton would support such a change and the Obama administration has taken the moves to allow women in combat roles that would make such a registration requirement the next logical move.
Ashton Carter, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama share one thing in common: they never served in the military. This may be why they dismiss the Marine Corps’ 9-month study on the impact of expanding the role of women in combat. The study’s results are eye-opening. In nearly three quarters of events (69%), all-male squads outperformed mixed gender squads. Negotiating obstacles, casualty evacuations and long hikes under load were exponentially more difficult for women.

I interviewed a recently-retired Navy SEAL who told me that he would be fine with women joining the SEALs on one key condition: that they be able to pass the exact same tests as the men. Realistically, there is no way to get droves of women to become Rangers, Marines or the SEALS unless we lower our standards.

Women have many wonderful abilities that men lack, including the ability to give birth. But females in the military have around a third less muscle mass and at least ten percent more body fat than the males, according to recent Army data. Men are significantly faster and stronger than women, shows military study after study.

40 percent more women than men who serve in the military today are hospitalized (even accounting for pregnancy). Expect this percentage to skyrocket if more women assume Marine combat roles.

Much ado was made when three women managed to pass Ranger School on their third try. Countless more men—including my own cousin—passed Ranger School without first failing to pass twice. No one in the national media noticed.

We wouldn’t ask golf star Jordan Spieth to miss a few putts so as to “equalize” the playing field in a hypothetical co-ed Masters Tournament. Why support poor sportsmanship when the stakes are far higher than a green jacket?

We’re at war with ISIS, folks. Thugs who enjoy murdering innocent people via explosive necklace; beheading and suicide bombing. It is unethical to push women into the toughest Marine combat roles knowing they have a 69% greater chance of failure than men. Because, in war, mission failure often means death.
For the Democrats, gender politics outweighs whatever the military might say.

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Besides being the most-admired woman, Hillary Clinton tops another list.
A government watchdog group has released a list of eight politicians it considers Washington, D.C.’s worst ethics violators, but Hillary Clinton is in a “league of her own.”

Eli Lake and Josh Rogin explain how the Iran deal restricts the U.S. more than Congress knew.
Members of Congress knew the Iran nuclear deal came with strings attached. They just didn't know how many.

When the administration presented the agreement to Congress, lawmakers were told that new sanctions on Iran would violate the deal. Now the administration is trying to sidestep a recently passed provision to tighten rules on visas for those who have visited Iran.

Since the accord was struck last summer, the U.S. emphasis on complying with its end of the deal has publicly eclipsed its efforts to pressure Iran. In that time, Iranian authorities have detained two American dual nationals and sentenced a third on what most observers say are trumped up espionage charges. Iran's military has conducted two missile tests, one of which the U.N. said violated sanctions, and engaged in a new offensive with Russia in Syria to shore up the country's dictator, Bashar al-Assad.

In the latest example of the U.S. effort to reassure Iran, the State Department is scrambling to confirm to Iran that it won't enforce new rules that would increase screening of Europeans who have visited Iran and plan to come to America. There is concern the new visa waiver provisions, included in the omnibus budget Congress passed last week, would hinder business people seeking to open up new ventures in Iran once sanctions are lifted.

U.S. officials confirmed over the weekend that Secretary of State John Kerry sent his Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif, a letter promising to use executive powers to waive the new restrictions on those who have visited Iran but are citizens of countries in the Visa Waiver Program. These officials also told us that they have told Iranian diplomats that, because they are not specific to Iran, the new visa waiver provisions do not violate the detailed sequence of steps Iran and other countries committed to taking as part of the agreement. Even so, the State Department is promising to sidestep the new rule.

At issue is a provision that would require travelers who visit certain countries -- including Iran, Sudan, Syria and Iraq -- to apply at a U.S. Embassy for a visa before coming to the U.S., even if they are from a country for which such visas would normally be waived.

House staffers who spoke with us say Iran was included for good reason, because it remains on the U.S. list of state of sponsors of terrorism for its open support for Hezbollah and Hamas. The White House did not object until the Iranian government told the administration last week that the bill would violate the nuclear agreement, according to correspondence on these negotiations shared with us.
Well, isn't that special. Of all the countries on earth, why would we have special waivers for Iranians? And of course, when the Iranians speak, this administration rushes to salute and obey. And who cares if Iran still hasn't implemented any of its side of the deal?

Michael Rubin ponders what Obama's foreign policy legacy might be. Contrary to his grandiose promises while a candidate, he didn't find that his brand of engagement with our adversaries would achieve some sort of magic result. Other presidents have worked with our adversaries and achieved success. Rubin does find a common thread throughout Obama's approach.
What makes Obama and Kerry different is that he lowered the standards upon which administrations operated. Perhaps it was ego, perhaps it was moral equivalence but the result was the same.

The biggest divergence between Obama and his predecessors of both parties is the disdain Obama and his team has exhibited to dissidents and those living under repression. Obama turned his back on Iranian protesters in 2009, when a few choice words about the justice of the values for which they stood might have pumped adrenaline into a movement which stood for greater freedom and representation. Hillary Clinton had the U.S. Embassy in China turn over a blind dissident to his oppressors. Kerry and his team have repeatedly shown themselves willing to bargain away freedom, whether for American hostages, occupied Ukraine, Syrians fighting the murderous Assad and, most recently Cubans. After all, Kerry did not allow dissidents to attend the American embassy opening.

Obama’s disdain for democracy — and that of Kerry and his team — also shapes their attitude to Congress. Environmentalists castigated Bush for walking away from Kyoto, but it was Bill Clinton who did not submit it to Congress knowing he could not garner bipartisan support. Kerry also crafted the Iran deal to avoid the necessary Congressional treaty approval. To do so might have meant negotiating in a tougher manner that would have hampered the ability to make the concessions necessary to win an agreement at any price. Likewise, the White House withheld information from the Congress about Russian cheating on its previous arms accords in order to win new ones. Whatever the merits of the Benghazi investigation, the decision by the man Kerry put in charge of managing the response to Congressional demands for documents to instead give investigators magazine articles about Richard Gere is nothing short of a middle finger to the notion of separation of powers.

Contemporaries castigated Truman for standing up for democracy. The juxtaposition between North and South Korea shows how right Truman was to stand up for principles. Likewise, despite predictable academic revisionism, Reagan is remembered far better now for his role ending the Cold War than he was when he was fighting the battles — MX Missiles, Star Wars, “the Evil Empire speech” — which contributed to the ultimate victory. Obama and Kerry, on the other hand, have traded short-term acclamation for long-term security and recognition that the world is a better place when the United States — whatever our flaws — stands up as a beacon of freedom.

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Benjamin Wallace-Wells writes in The New Yorker
that Marco Rubio is a political natural. And that is not necessarily a good thing.

The LA Times look at Trump's time in Atlantic City. As expected, it's not quite the story that Trump would want us to believe.
The real story of Trump's rise and fall in Atlantic City is more complicated. His casinos were profitable early. As he expanded, though, Trump's aggressive borrowing and go-go strategy left them laboring under high-interest debt. When he decided to leave, in 2009, the exit was far from smooth and graceful; he gave up after last-ditch battles with bondholders.

Today, some still love him here, even people who lost money. Others have bitter memories.
It certainly belies his image as a brilliant businessman who built something lasting and worthwhile.
"From a financial point of view, he left Atlantic City with his tail between his legs," said Perskie. Trump's management of the casinos is "hardly a model of financial probity or business acumen," he said.

In Perskie's view, Trump "created an artificial situation in which he had no personal exposure and then ran away from the failure."

Since then, Trump has continued to prosper as a reality television star and developer, but the fortunes of Atlantic City have continued to sink. Four casinos closed and three others are in trouble. Unemployment is among the worst in the country.

Trump can't be blamed for the city's collapse, but he doesn't deserve credit for his casino management either, said one analyst who has followed the industry since the 1980s.

"You can't deny the way he ran the properties while he was in charge led to the problems they confronted later on," said Roger Gros, publisher of Global Gaming Business magazine. "He put his properties in so much debt that subsequent managers couldn't manage them properly."

Even so, some people in Atlantic City still love Trump — even those who lost money when his casinos landed in bankruptcy court.

Billy Gabriel Jr. is now the fourth generation involved in his family business, Paris Produce Co., which has been supplying Atlantic City hotels for nearly a century.

"The whole area took a beating" with the Trump bankruptcies, he said, adding that the pain was just as bad when other casinos went under. Gabriel said his company recovered most of what he was owed. And, in a phone interview, he said he still likes Trump — and was even wearing one of Trump's "Make America great again" hats.

"If a guy used a loophole in the law to benefit himself, more power to him. Wouldn't you do the same thing?" Gabriel said.
I suppose that some would see that the ability to twist laws and pressure critics and creditors as a sign of strength. It might be so in the business world, but it's not the sort of character that I'm looking for in a president. We've had successful businessmen run for political office before and some have been men that I could support for higher office like Steve Forbes, Mitt Romney, or someone like Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.

Trump has certainly demonstrated that consistency is totally irrelevant. A few weeks ago in the Fox Business Network debate, he told the public that wages in the U.S. are "too high" to compete with other countries. Now, he's totally flipped and he has tweeted out that "wages in are [sic] country are too low."

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Nature Magazine looks at science myths that just won't die. One in particular interested me because I hear it so often in education circles and had no idea that it had been debunked. Apparently, it doesn't make a drop of difference if teachers gear their teaching to different learning styles.
“Learning styles has got it all going for it: a seed of fact, emotional biases and wishful thinking,” says Howard-Jones. Yet just like sugar, pornography and television, “what you prefer is not always good for you or right for you,” says Paul Kirschner, an educational psychologist at the Open University of the Netherlands.

In 2008, four cognitive neuroscientists reviewed the scientific evidence for and against learning styles. Only a few studies had rigorously put the ideas to the test and most of those that did showed that teaching in a person's preferred style had no beneficial effect on his or her learning. “The contrast between the enormous popularity of the learning-styles approach within education and the lack of credible evidence for its utility is, in our opinion, striking and disturbing,” the authors of one study wrote9.

That hasn't stopped a lucrative industry from pumping out books and tests for some 71 proposed learning styles. Scientists, too, perpetuate the myth, citing learning styles in more than 360 papers during the past 5 years. “There are groups of researchers who still adhere to the idea, especially folks who developed questionnaires and surveys for categorizing people. They have a strong vested interest,” says Richard Mayer, an educational psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

In the past few decades, research into educational techniques has started to show that there are interventions that do improve learning, including getting students to summarize or explain concepts to themselves. And it seems almost all individuals, barring those with learning disabilities, learn best from a mixture of words and graphics, rather than either alone.

Yet the learning-styles myth makes it difficult to get these evidence-backed concepts into classrooms. When Howard-Jones speaks to teachers to dispel the learning-styles myth, for example, they often don't like to hear what he has to say. “They have disillusioned faces. Teachers invested hope, time and effort in these ideas,” he says. “After that, they lose interest in the idea that science can support learning and teaching.”
I bet if I polled my co-workers, almost all of them would buy into the myth. I feel vindicated in having ignored it for most of my teaching career.