Thursday, June 15, 2017

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We're all feeling a sense of horrified unity after the shooting at the Republican baseball team yesterday, I'm struck by how lucky everyone was that the Capitol Police were there and were able to take down the shooter. If you look at the map of where everyone was on an open baseball field, it's amazing that more weren't injured. The Congressmen huddled in a dugout and would have been quite vulnerable to the shooter if the Capitol Police hadn't taken him down before he could get to them.

Jim Smith, a former Congressional aide, pays tribute to the Capitol Police.
Their long and unusual hours require that they are exempt from the USCP's collective bargaining agreement. A typical day might involve work at the Capitol, a cross country flight, followed by an hours-long drive to a destination, before any relief or respite. Always on alert.

When you work side by side with these dedicated men and women, they become your colleagues. They become your friends. Christmas parties, baby showers, happy hours, intramural softball games and the like. In a sense, they're employees of the office itself, just like you. Except that while your job might be to write memos and take meetings, their job involves body armor, bullets, and guns.

A lot of aides (myself included) don't reflect on that as much as they should: That Capitol Police officer has pledged to do everything, including die, to protect you. Yes, that same guy who plays first base on your softball team. (Four USCP officers have died in the line of duty over the years.) Everyone knows that police are in a dangerous line of work, but sometimes you don't appreciate the risks that the person who sits (or more often stands) nearby is taking.

That congressmen practicing for a charity baseball game and participating in one of the few bipartisan activities where partisanship is put aside were targets of a murderous attack is so disturbing.

After such mass shootings, there is always a rush by one side or another to try to make ideological points based on who the shooter and victims were. Other than attacks that seem inspired by terrorists and should be investigated and prosecuted as such, I don't think that there is much we can extrapolate from the actions of crazed or evil attackers. Just because this guy was a Bernie Sanders supporter and ranted against Republicans doesn't mean that Sanders or Democrats are to blame for his actions. But it would be nice if liberals practiced the same understanding when there are attacks that they think they can make political hay out of. Senator Sanders was understandably appalled that one of his volunteers had taken to violence to attack Republicans. But, as Matt Welch reminds us, Sanders wasn't as eager to separate political rhetoric from a murderous attack when he could cast blame on Republicans.
Sanders did not choose in this moment to stand up and denounce the increasingly violent rhetoric coming from the left wing of American politics, and appropriately so: As I argued after Jared Loughner's deadly Arizona shooting rampage in 2011 (and again as recently as last month), responsibility for acts of violence lies with the perpetrators, not unconnected persons engaged in political hyperbole, no matter how deranged the latter. I only wish such post-Loughner restraint had been shown by Bernie Sanders himself.

On January 11, 2011, three days after Loughner shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and murdered six people, Sanders sent out a fundraising email that, among other things, criticized Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for not doing more to condemn right-wing political rhetoric.
Ah, fundraising over a tragedy while also attacking a Republican. Classy. As Welch concludes,
On days like today, it's worth engaging in a little self-inventory to see how you reacted when the political violence was aimed at the opposing team. If in one case you assign responsibility to the shooter, and not to the political opponents of the targets, you really ought to do so in the other. Any talk of hyperbolic rhetoric then becomes a secondary, though still interesting, issue.

David Harsanyi also remembers how liberals have been quick to jump on similar attacks to cast blame on all conservatives.
But many Republicans, I’m sure, imagine what this event looks like had the parties been reversed. We would, doubtlessly, be thrust into another vacuous national conversation like the one we had during the 2009-2010 Obamacare debates, when every false and exaggerated claim about Tea Party violence induced a thousand wringing hands on cable TV to grapple over the supposed fascistic tendencies and ugly underbelly of conservatism. It was the same after the Oklahoma City bombing, when President Bill Clinton blamed talk radio.

Moreover, we would also almost surely see the crime used as cudgel to chill speech.

After Gabby Giffords was shot by Jared Loughner in 2011, there was not a single shred of evidence linking his actions to any political rhetoric or position. Yet, much of the question begging and amateur psychoanalyzing was used to lay culpability at the feet of people like Sarah Palin and other Tea Party leaders. Notables like Andrew Sullivan wrote that Palin’s “recklessly violent and inflammatory rhetoric has poisoned the discourse and has long run the risk of empowering the deranged.” The New York Times’ Paul Krugman wrote a piece headlined “Climate of Hate,” in which he tenuously cobbled together some bad jokes to claim that rising tide of violence would soon manifest because of Republican positions. “The question is,” he asked, “will G.O.P. leaders accept the reality of what’s happening to America, and take a stand against eliminationist rhetoric?”

This was a lie. There was no eliminationist rhetoric — not by anyone that mattered. There is no eliminationist rhetoric today. What we have is heated and emotional rhetoric, sometimes bordering on irresponsible, but well within the traditional contours of political discourse.
As Harsanyi points out, the shooter's prior posts and statements were well within the mainstream of what liberals argue about conservatives, attributing evil motives to policy differences on health insurance, abortion, environmental policy. There are all sorts of calls to tone down rhetoric in the wake of this shooting. Well, that should last a couple of days if we're lucky. But if there is one change I would wish for people to realize that just because someone disagrees with you on policy questions doesn't mean that that person is evil and wishes for others to die.

Prior to the shooting yesterday, Ben Shapiro had written a column about how so much rhetoric today is playing into people's anger. This is true of both Democrats and Republicans. Shapiro points out that cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on helping patients realize that there are illogical links in the path that their thoughts are taking to a place of anger. However, this is not what politicians do. Instead they tend to play to people's rage. And that it the problem we are living with.
Politicians spend their lives seeking the favor of others. That means they find it wildly beneficial to nurse the emotions of constituents — the customer, of course, is always right! It means that if a constituent is angry, the best option isn’t to help break the chain of emotional volatility — it’s to channel that volatility into the beating back of enemies. If you wonder why generic congressional support is so low, but support for local incumbents is so high, this is why: Your local congressman hears you and understands you, but the faraway government, full of cronies and fools, simply doesn’t. On a national level, such pandering has become endemic: It’s why Hillary Clinton presided over the intersectional Olympics in 2016 (in which voters must be constantly reassured that their anger at alleged victimhood isn’t illegitimate), and why Trump spends inordinate time talking about Rust Belt voters (who must be reassured that their anger at the system — and China and Mexico! — is worthwhile).

All of which makes for a toxic politics.
This isn't a unique situation today. If you read the rhetoric from political debates in American history, you'll see how ugly things could get. Social media, however, exacerbates the rhetoric. It's not just a partisan newspaper with an ugly editorial attacking Hamilton or Jefferson, anyone can get on Twitter and post the ugliest sort of statement and see it get retweeted. It isn't ugly rhetoric that leads to shootings; it's crazy people. Unless political figures have actively called for violence, let's not blame them when a shooting occurs.

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Victor Davis Hanson writes about the "endless ironies of Donald J. Trump." Some of those ironies are directed at NeverTrumpers to argue that Trump was better than the alternative. But he also reminds the Left about how much about Obama they either ignored or praised and now are stuck trying to argue that what Trump has done is so much worse.
The Left was mostly untroubled for eight years about the often unconstitutional abuses of Barack Obama — given that they saw their shared noble aims as justifying almost any means necessary to achieve them.

There was the not uncommon Rice-Gruber-Rhodes-Holder sort of deception (on Benghazi, on the conduct of Bowe Bergdahl, on the Affordable Care Act, the Iran deal, on Fast and Furious, etc.) — a required tactic because so much of the Obama agenda was antithetical to the wishes and preferences of the American electorate and thus had to be disguised and camouflaged to become enacted.

There was the pen-and-phone mockery of established federal law (the suspension of the ACA employer mandate, the Chrysler creditor reversal, the non-enforcement of federal immigration law, the institutionalization of sanctuary-city nullification). There was the constant mythmaking (from faux red lines, deadlines, and step-over lines to the fatuity of the Cairo Speech and Iran-deal harangues).

There were the abuses of presidential power (the surveillance of journalists, the selective release of the bin Laden trove to pet journalists, the likely surveilling, unmasking, and leaking through reversed targeting of political enemies).

No one worried much when Obama promised on a hot mic to Medvedev that he would be more flexible with the Russians after his reelection, as if they were to conform to a desired sort of behavior in service to Obama that would earn them dividends from him later on — the kind of unapologetic partisan “collusion” that would have earned Trump a Comey-induced indictment. No one cared that Obama pulled all peacekeepers out of Iraq and thereby ruined what the surge had saved.

Nor did anyone fret much about the serial scandals at the GSA, the VA, the IRS, and the Secret Service, or his disastrous reset policy with Russia and the implosion of the Middle East or the strange spectacles of Obama’s interview with GloZell or polarizing Oval Office guests, such as the rapper whose album cover portrayed celebrations over a dead white judge.

True, none of these were impeachable or even major offenses. But all of them recalibrated the bar of presidential behavior.

So along came the next Republican president, empowered by Obama’s exemptions to do almost anything he wished, albeit without the thin exculpatory veneer of Ivy League pretension, multicultural indemnity, and studied smoothness.

In biblical “there is a season” fashion, for every sermon about not building your business, making too much money, or profiting at the wrong time, there was a Trump retort to profit as never before.

For every too-frequent gala golf outing of a metrosexual Obama decked out in spiffy attire, there is a plumper Trump swinging away, oblivious to the angry pack of reporters that Obama once so carefully courted.

For every rapper with an ankle bracelet that went off in the White House, there is now a White House photo-op with Ted Nugent.

For every executive-order suspension of federal immigration enforcement, there is an executive-order corrective.

For every lecture on the crusades, sermons on Western genocidal history, apology tour, or Islamic mythmaking, there is an American Greatness pride in everything.
Along those same lines, Daniel John Sobieski reminds us of the behavior of President Obama and Eric Holder with the Fast and Furious scandal. Not only was this an idiotic policy in which the ATF lost track of more than 1,400 guns that were transported to Mexican cartels including the one that killed Border Patrol agent Brian Terry. The Obama administration obstructed the Congressional investigation and Obama extended executive privilege to cover Eric Holder's communications, including those with his wife. Terry's mother, in heartbreaking testimony, is begging President Trump to revoke the executive privilege to release the information that Obama and Holder tried to hide. I don't know that a subsequent president can reverse a prior president's executive privilege. That seems to vitiate the whole purpose of executive privilege, but I have no idea if it's possible.

There seems clear evidence that Eric Holder lied to Congress that he didn't know about the Fast and Furious in 2011 even though there was a 2010 memo informing him about it and there is a 2009 video of a Justice Department official talking about the administration's plans to fight the Mexican cartels including a plan to "fortify Project Gunrunner" and Holder also gave a speech about increasing the efforts of Project Gunrunner which was the precursor of Fast and Furious. Obama and Holder have never had to answer for Fast and Furious and Obama even bragged that there was no scandal during his presidency.

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A reader provided a link to this story from last year of how the government plans to spend $47 billion to try to create a way for police and firefighters to communicate with each other. It was thought after 9/11 that this had been a problem and the reason why so many firefighters died in the towers, but it turns out that that isn't really true. So we are spending all this money for a network that is already unnecessary and obsolete. But what is really striking is all the delays in getting a project that is non-controversial off the ground. It is so typical of any large government project these days.
It took FirstNet two years just to recruit a skeleton staff, only to be hit by an inspector general’s report that found potential conflicts of interest and problems with the awarding of initial consulting contracts. It then took another two years to issue a request for proposal (RFP) asking contractors to bid on the work to build and operate the system.
So we're not even talking about the delays that arise because of environmental challenges that lead to lengthy court cases. It's just the normal government red tape.

And, ironically, it turns out that this network isn't really needed.
There are certainly some situations when interoperability is necessary, especially in major metropolitan areas, where first responders from multiple jurisdictions will swarm a dire emergency. But New York, Los Angeles, and other large jurisdictions have long since established protocols and bought technology that solve the problem. The combined forces are now able to plug into one another’s systems without waiting for FirstNet’s grand solution, which would allow all first responders to communicate over an emergency-response system established with specially reserved bandwidth across every inch of the 50 states.

Moreover, as cellphone technology advanced (including phones that use press-to-talk features, much like cops’ walkie-talkies do), the interoperability argument began to lose its luster. Skeptics pointed out that everyone could now talk to everyone through their cellphones—and that various apps could easily establish user groups of first responders.

The justification for FirstNet shifted more to problems of bandwidth: The first responders needed their own network because in true calamities, such as in Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, consumer bandwidth is overwhelmed, causing calls to be blocked or dropped. That’s true, but other technology now allows for designated users to get bandwidth priority in an emergency.

Yet another argument that emerged was that even if big metropolitan areas had largely solved these problems on their own, rural responders still needed help, both with interoperability and with setting up cell towers across vast regions where cell service does not now extend and where firefighters dealing with increasingly horrendous wildfires have perished for lack of communication. FirstNet is requiring bidders to provide exactly that kind of ubiquitous service across the far reaches of rural America.

Yet in the FirstNet RFP itself there is mention of still another new technology—mobile cell towers—that telecommunications companies, perhaps with federal aid, could have on standby and deploy without building the entirely new, exclusive communications system envisioned by FirstNet. (Indeed, wouldn’t we want the mobile towers to be used to provide cell service to civilians trapped in these fires too, rather than only to first responders?)
Government planning for a new technology for a disaster that happened over a decade earlier without taking into account new technologies that have grown up since then seems like government planning at its finest.

All this fits in with George Will's recent column about all the money the government wastes when it attempts some major infrastructure project these days. And so much of this delay and wasted money is a result of the legal challenges that any project must face.
The nation that built the Empire State Building in 410 days during the Depression and the Pentagon in 16 months during wartime recently took nine years just for the permitting of a San Diego desalination plant. Five years and 20,000 pages of environmental assessments and permitting and regulatory materials were consumed before beginning to raise the roadway on New Jersey’s Bayonne Bridge, a project with, as Howard says, “virtually no environmental impact (it uses existing foundations and right-of-way).” Fourteen years were devoted to the environmental review for dredging the Port of Savannah, which has been an ongoing process for almost 30 years. While faux environmentalists litigate against modernizing the U.S. electrical grid, transmission lines waste 6 percent of the electricity they transmit, which equals 16 percent of 2015 coal power generation and is equal to the output of 200 average-size coal-burning power plants. In 2011, shippers using the inland waterway system of canals, dams and locks endured delays amounting to 25 years. In 2012, the Treasury Department estimated that traffic congestion wasted 1.9 billion gallons of gasoline annually. Diverting freight to trucks because of insufficient railway capacity quadruples fuel consumption. And so on, and on.
His source is Philip K. Howard who has been writing about this problem for years, and in his report "Two Years NOt Ten Years: Redesigning Infrastructure Approvals" has put forth common sense proposals about how to shorten the approval process and save money.
“America could modernize its infrastructure, at half the cost, while dramatically enhancing environmental benefits, with a two-year approval process. Our analysis shows that a six-year delay in starting construction on public projects costs the nation over $3.7 trillion, including the costs of prolonged inefficiencies and unnecessary pollution. This is more than double the $1.7 trillion needed through the end of this decade to modernize America’s infrastructure.”
Will ridicules how the Center for American Progress's skewed view of the permitting ordeal that must be endured before any new project can begin.
Twenty months after Howard published his article, the response by the Center for American Progress (CAP) shows how far we have defined efficiency down: It celebrates the fact that federal environmental statements average only 4.6 years. That would be bad enough if such reviews were all or even most of the problem. Actually, there are other kinds of reviews and other layers of government involved, as with the Bayonne Bridge — 47 permits from 19 federal, state and local agencies.

CAP says that “the principal restraint facing state and local governments contemplating megaprojects is money, not environmental review.” But, again, this ignores myriad other time-consuming reviews and the costs, in both construction and social inefficiencies, driven by lost time.
Donald Trump promises a major infrastructure plan to help the economy. As a real estate magnate, surely he knows about this problem. Unless the process changes, he'll be talking like Obama explaining the delays in the 2009 stimulus by saying that he's learned that "[T]here is no such thing as shovel-ready projects." And the iron triangle of interest groups, legislators, and bureaucrats will be there to block any reform by screeching how any shortening of the process would destroy the environment. Logic and evidence flies out the window in these cases.

Jason Riley writes about the true and verifiable success of Success Academy. You would think that results like these are the type that liberals would celebrate and be searching for ways to duplicate the template of education that make them possible.
Students at Success schools, the first of which opened in 2006, are chosen by lottery. Detractors complain that charter schools teach more-motivated students, but random-assignment studies that control for self-selection bias have found that charter students tend to outperform their counterparts in traditional public schools and are more likely to finish college. Today, there are 41 Success schools serving 41,000 K-12 students—76% of whom are poor and 93% black or Hispanic. In 2016, for the eighth consecutive year, Success schools were among the highest performing in New York state. Ninety-four percent of Success students eligible to take state tests were proficient in math, and 82% were proficient in English—both more than double the statewide average.

“In 2016, black and Hispanic students at Success Academy, on average, performed better than their white peers across the entire state of New York and low-income students performed better, on average, than their non-low-income peers across the state at both the Proficient and Advanced levels in all three tested subjects—English, math and science,” according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Similarly, Success students with disabilities and English-language learners outperformed students without disabilities and native English speakers, respectively, providing more evidence that charters not only accept such students but do a superior job of teaching them.

In other words, Success Academy and its tireless leader, Eva Moskowitz, have brought to urban ghettos the high-quality education normally found in affluent suburban communities. She’s proving that children reared in the most difficult circumstances—engulfed in chaos and exposed daily to all manner of antisocial behavior—are capable of not merely learning but thriving academically.
This a wonderful thing, right? But now if you're a progressive Democrat whose main concern is the worries of teachers' unions that any charter school that isn't tied to massive contracts with teachers making any sort of flexibility in education impossible are the most important concerns for our education system. So they must attack Moskowitz as if she's an enemy of the very children she's done so much to help.
That charters are a boon for inner-city blacks is difficult to refute on the merits, but the merits matter less to politicians like Mr. de Blasio than the support of teachers unions. Charter schools typically have little use for union labor, which is why labor groups like the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association so strenuously resist their creation and expansion. The preferences of union leaders are more important to the political left than the preferences of black and brown parents.
Riley points to another problem such Democrats have with these charter schools - they accomplish these results without much racial diversity.
Many high-performing charter schools are criticized for a lack of racial balance, and the implicit assumption of critics is that racism is the motivating factor. The reality is that charter operators like Ms. Moskowitz locate in communities where the need for better education choices is most pronounced, and based on the high demand for admission, the residents want them there. The racial composition of the schools is incidental.

Evidence that classroom diversity has a significant impact on academic outcomes is far from overwhelming, and the busing disaster of the 1970s demonstrated the perils of forced integration. On the other hand, proof that predominantly black schools can excel academically is ample, and it predates today’s high-performing charter schools by several decades. During the Jim Crow era, students at ONE black public high school in Washington, D.C., regularly performed as well or better on standardized tests than the city’s top white high schools, and sent most graduates to college.

That’s not a call for segregated learning, but it does suggest that other factors may matter more to academic success than seating black and white students next to one another.
I wrote yesterday of the money wasted in the school district where I used to teach with the goal of bringing the percentage of minority students down below 40% in the district's magnet schools.

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Oh, geez! Guess which words are now termed to be sexist?
Cambridge University examiners are told to avoid using words like “flair”, “brilliance” and “genius” when assessing students’ work because they are associated with men, an academic has revealed.

Lucy Delap, a lecturer in British history at Cambridge University, said that History tutors are discouraged from using these terms because they “carry assumptions of gender inequality”.

“Some of those words, in particular genius, have a very long intellectual history where it has long been associated with qualities culturally assumed to be male”, she said. “Some women are fine with that, but others might find it hard to see themselves in those categories”.
I'm a woman and mother of daughters and I'd be thrilled if any of us were described with words like “flair”, “brilliance” and “genius” It wouldn't even occur to me that those were now gender-normed terms.

The College Fix provides a list of some of hate-crime hoaxes from the past year. It's amazing how many people seek to call attention to themselves by faking an attack on themselves and then try to do it where there are security cameras which can be checked. Oh, well. No one said that they were smart. And it demonstrates that we shouldn't automatically believe that something terrible is going on even if it fits our partisan biases.