Monday, April 16, 2018

Cruising the Web

While I would prefer that our presidents went to Congress for authorization for military actions, that custom has long gone by the wayside. While every president since Nixon has acted unconstrained by the War Powers Act and we have yet to have a Congress that voted to end military action once troops were engaged, it was Barack Obama who kept troops in Libya and Syria past the 60 days supposedly triggering a necessity for congressional action. So I would be a lot more impressed by congressional calls for a vote on action if Syria if there hadn't been bipartisan hypocrisy for quiescence in the face of presidential action without any sort of congressional approval. Congressman Justin Amash tweets out this hypocrisy by noting the partisan differences depending on the party of the president taking action without any deference to Congress's role.



Congress has been abdicating their responsibilities on all sorts of fronts for a long time now, but particularly when it comes to military action. And then there are all the times that Congress outsources any real policy decisions to unelected bureaucrats to design regulations that they can't overcome their own partisanship to create themselves.


Jonah Goldberg explains how the theory of "Bootleggers and Baptists" applies to Zuckerberg's welcoming of government regulation. The theory is that groups that want government regulation because they think it will be good for the country and those who will gain by undermining the regulation. So, in the example of the theory, Baptists pushed for prohibition on the sale of alcohol for religious reasons while bootleggers were happy for the limitations on sales, because they could make more money for themselves if legal competition was cut. And politicians can pose has helping the moral reformers while granting the bootleggers what they want. Government regulations often work that way and, as Goldberg illustrates, examples abound, including Zuckerberg's welcome for regulations.
The standard story of the Progressive era, taught to high-school kids and college students alike, is that the government has come to the rescue time and again to curtail the excesses of irresponsible, selfish, or otherwise dastardly big businesses. Upton Sinclair, in his book The Jungle, famously exposed the abuses of the meat-packing industry, prompting the government to impose new regulations on it.

Left out of this tale of enlightened regulation is that the meat-packing industry wanted to be regulated — something even Sinclair admitted.

“The Federal inspection of meat was, historically, established at the packers’ request,” Sinclair wrote in 1906. “It is maintained and paid for by the people of the United States for the benefit of the packers.”

The famous trusts were no different. In 1909, Andrew Carnegie wrote a letter to the New York Times suggesting “government control” of the steel industry. The chairman of U.S. Steel, Judge Elbert Gary, lobbied for the same thing.

The story repeated itself during the New Deal. The “malefactors of great wealth” that FDR demonized welcomed government regulation. Famed lawyer Clarence Darrow issued a report on the New Deal’s industrial “codes.” In “virtually all the codes we have examined, one condition has been persistent, “Darrow found. “In Industry after Industry, the larger units . . . have for their own advantage written the codes, and then, in effect and for their own advantage, assumed the administration of the code they have framed.”

Why would the titans of capitalism welcome regulation? Because regulation is the best protection against competition. It stabilizes prices, eliminates uncertainty, and writes profits into law — which is why AT&T convinced Congress at the beginning of the 20th century to give it a monopoly over phone services.
And now we have Zuckerberg putting out there that Facebook will use AI to regulate hate speech all the while knowing that the cost of developing such AI is something Facebook can afford, but any potential competitor could not.


The NYT examines
the ridiculous pension system of Oregon where any compensation a state employee might receiver, even if it isn't from the state, is included in calculating the pension the employee receives.
Oregon’s costs are inflated by the way in which it calculates pension benefits for public employees. Some of the pensions include income that employees earned on the side. Other retirees benefit from long-ago stock market rallies that inflated the current value of their payouts.

For example, the pension for Mike Bellotti, the University of Oregon’s head football coach from 1995 to 2008, includes not just his salary but also money from licensing deals and endorsements that the Ducks’ athletic program generated. Mr. Bellotti’s pension is more than $46,000 a month.
A month. How crazy is that? But that is what the state has contracted the state's taxpayers to pay. It's one thing to bankrupt your state to pay compensation for what state employees have done for the state - but to pay for what they did for other entities?
The bill is borne by taxpayers. Oregon’s Public Employees Retirement System has told cities, counties, school districts and other local entities to contribute more to keep the system afloat. They can neither negotiate nor raise local taxes fast enough to keep up. As a result, pensions are crowding out other spending. Essential services are slashed.

Continue reading the main story
“You get to the point where you can no longer do more with less — you just have to do less with less,” said Nathan Cherpeski, the manager of Klamath Falls, a city of about 21,000 in south-central Oregon.

Klamath Falls’s most recent biennial bill from the pension system, known as PERS, was $600,000 more than the one before. PERS has warned that the bills will keep rising. Mr. Cherpeski has had to cut back on repairing streets and bridges.
As the article outlines, many states are having trouble making ends meet since the recession began in 2008.
It wasn’t until 2016 that average state tax collections returned to pre-2008 levels. In the meantime, states and cities have had to rebuild pension funds to cover the rising numbers of retirees drawing benefits. That has left less money for the police, school sports programs and everything else. Local residents might not know why, but they are paying more taxes and getting scantier services in return.
And taxpayers in these states are having to pay more and more for less and less.
Costs are rising even in places that previously acted to defuse the problem. Colorado trimmed pensions in 2010, but a new $32 billion shortfall means more pension cuts and tax increases are likely. Detroit sliced its pension obligations in bankruptcy and persuaded philanthropists to chip in, but it is not clear that the city has an affordable plan.

In San Francisco, the school board wants voters to approve a $298 “parcel tax” on real estate, ostensibly to raise $50 million to pay teachers a living wage.

“That’s a worthy objective, but it’s not the real reason,” said David Crane, a former trustee of the California teachers’ pension system. He said the school district’s retirement costs had grown by $50 million over the last five years, devouring resources that would have gone to teachers.
In parts of Oregon, it can take a couple of hours for a sheriff to show up even when there is a report of an armed shooter. It doesn't help that employment opportunities were shut down a couple of decades ago to save an endangered owl.
The county has cut sheriff patrols, closed its mental health department and kept its jail at less than half capacity because of a lack of guards.

Dave Valenzuela, the Three Rivers school superintendent, traces the latest woes directly to PERS. The system is run at the state level, but it is bankrolled in large part by obligatory contributions from local governments.

This year, Three Rivers was poised to receive its first increase in state education funding in years, a reflection of growing enrollment. But Oregon raised by more than 50 percent the amount that Three Rivers had to contribute to PERS. So Mr. Valenzuela had to lop five days off the school year, ask each school to cut its budget by 10 percent and lay off the district librarian and English specialist.

PERS sets the pension bill for each entity — local government, university system and the like — based on the pay and demographics of its workers. Just about everyone’s bills are getting bigger.

That includes the state, by far the system’s biggest contributor.

Oregon now has fewer police officers than in 1970, is losing foster-care workers at an alarming rate and has allowed earthquake and tsunami preparations to lapse. A 2016 survey turned up “a large number of bridges with critical and near-critical conditions” because of “longstanding inadequate funding.”
Politicians make these deals to pay off public workers and then years later, the taxpayers are paying the price and they probably don't even realize why there is no money in their county's budget for schools or the sheriff's office. Read the entire story to see what a mess Oregon's lawmakers have created for their state. But they're certainly experiencing the consequences.
Across Oregon, local officials have been told to brace for 15 to 20 more years of rising pension bills. That’s when the current generation of retirees will start dying out.

“All we can do is wait,” said Jay Meredith, finance director of Grants Pass, the seat of Josephine County.

In the meantime, mounting pension costs mean that a generation of schoolchildren is growing up in the area with no theater program, no orchestra, no wood shop and minimal sports, chorus and art.

That’s if they can get to school.

A county road recently washed out, stranding 300 people. Ms. Dwyer, of the Three Rivers School District, reported the problem to a public-works official.

She recalled his response: “I have trucks, but I can’t put gas in them to come to you and dig it out.”
It's amazing to not be able to afford gas for their trucks. And they're being told to wait 20 to 30 years for their pensioners to die out.


One Princeton University sociology professor
has some words for "upper-middle-class residents of high-tax states" who are upset about losing the federal tax full deduction for state and local income and property taxes: just get over it. They should welcome this implementation of true progressive instincts.
Many Democratic voters in high-tax states cried foul when the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act capped these deductions at $10,000 from 2018 onward, and some are trying to fight back. “We’re attempting to come up with ways to negate and blunt the harsh and unfair Republican tax policy,” Kevin de León, the Democratic leader of the California Senate, told CNBC. Several states are devising schemes to allow residents to pay some of their state tax liability as a gift to a charitable fund rather than directly to the state government, restoring its deductibility.

Such efforts are misguided. The overall tax bill may be a disaster, but nixing those deductions was the progressive thing to do. Liberals should train their ire elsewhere.

Simply put: If I choose to live in a high-tax state, why should that reduce my obligation to a poor family in Arkansas or a veteran in Nebraska? Local taxes pay for amenities like good schools, clean streets and social services that make my community better for me and my kids. They are the most self-serving of all the taxes I pay. And deducting them means sending dollars back to my community that wouldn’t be available for anyone else. The old deduction says: I look after my own and leave others to fend for themselves.
Stop making citizens of other states subsidize the high spending choices that blue states have made?
The rule of thumb is: The higher the state and local share of school dollars, the greater the inequality between places, since federal funding is fairly even while state and local funding varies wildly. For example, New Jersey spent $19,000 per student in the 2013-14 school year while Utah, where federal dollars make up more than 12 percent of school funding, shelled out only $6,600. Such disparities operate within states as well. In Illinois, according to the New America Foundation, New Trier Township High School District spent almost $20,000 per pupil in 2008-09 while Farmington Central Community Unit School District spent just $6,500.

Why should the residents of New Trier have to pay less tax to the federal government as a reward for taxing themselves at a higher rate to give their own kids a leg up in a competitive knowledge-based economy? In fact, high-tax areas get a double discount on their federal taxes, since quality schools drive up property values, and high property values usually mean bigger mortgages (another deduction that was capped by the Tax Cut and Jobs Act).
He goes on to argue that the Republicans were mostly motivated by partisan desires for retribution against blue states, but that doesn't mean that the policy is wrong.


A history professor at Jackson College explains why being a GOP Speaker of the House is a totally rotten job.
Something has changed, at least in the Republican caucus, since the days of Wright and Gingrich.

Empowered by new tools that boost members who wish to defy leadership — from strident ideological interest groups to a plethora of ideological media outlets lending support and amplifying their message — members are in constant revolt against the speaker, not ousting him but also not allowing him to govern. This has not required a majority of Republicans to be dissatisfied — a small minority is often enough, because they can partner with Democrats to stifle the Republican leadership. Additionally, Republican speakers labor under the Hastert Rule, a custom adopted under the speakership of J. Dennis Hastert that a Republican speaker won’t put legislation on the floor unless a majority of the majority support it. This combination of factors has allowed the hard-right Freedom Caucus to exert a tremendous amount of power.

Making it even harder for both Boehner and Ryan to corral a fractious caucus, the 2010 ban on earmarks removed the best carrot from the speaker’s toolbox, while the outside infrastructure that boosts extreme members has eliminated most of the speaker’s best sticks — fundraising help and committee assignments — for keeping members in line. This situation helped drive both Boehner and Ryan to retire rather than continue to deal with the headache of their job.

The modern speaker still has immense power, including controlling committee assignments, the calendar and the rules, as Democrat Nancy Pelosi’s speakership showed. But a restive conference, relatively narrow majorities and — at least for Ryan — an unpredictable president have been enough to convince two successive speakers that the position was not worth it.
And if being speaker is now a miserable job, one job even more miserable is being in the minority party since the minority has such few powers in the House.


The Weekly Standard reports what one 19-year-old student, Kenneth Preston, at Parkland High School has uncovered about Broward County Schools. This is amazing stuff.
Kenneth Preston is here to present a report assigning fresh blame to the same old bureaucratic rot. In 2014, $104 million was set aside from an $800 million school-improvement bond issue to upgrade Broward County schools’ physical safety and security. According to public records Preston has unearthed, the vast majority of that money was never put to use. The planned upgrades—including a new alarm system for Stoneman that still hasn’t been installed—were named “year-one priorities” in the proposal four years ago.

Only someone with a lot of time on his hands and a keen distrust of authority would dig up the damning public records. Enter Preston, an obsessive citizen-journalist in the making. He’s a student in the district’s online education program—which is “sort of a joke,” he admits—since he dropped out of his charter high school with a debilitating bout of Lyme disease. The lackadaisical online curriculum has left him with a lot of free time: “The amount of documents that I’ve read—I wouldn’t have had that time otherwise.” Debate tournaments, his favorite activity back when he was a conventional student, prepared him for this foray into contentious county politics.
So this student started researching Broward County's discipline policies for his online journalism class and the school board did not spend the money allocated for school safety and instead spent money that the county had voted on for school security on things like music and technology. He wrote up his report and wanted to present it at the school board meeting. He was brushed off by the school superintendent because the student didn't understand how the government might have delays in implementing plans that have already been budgeted for. He should, apparently, understand that such foot-dragging is standard operating procedure. And so is rear-covering.


Real Clear Investigations looks at the role that the Broward County discipline policies had in the shooting at the high school in Parkland.
Broward County juvenile justice division records, federal studies of Broward school district safety and the district's own internal reporting show that years of “intensive" counseling didn’t just fail to reform repeat offender Cruz, who allegedly went on to shoot and kill 17 people at his high school. Records show such policies have failed to curtail other campus violence and its effects now on the rise in district schools — including fighting, weapons use, bullying and related suicides.

Meanwhile, murders, armed robberies and other violent felonies committed by children outside of schools have hit record levels, and some see a connection with what’s happening on school grounds. Since the relaxing of discipline, Broward youths have not only brazenly punched out their teachers, but terrorized Broward neighborhoods with drive-by shootings, gang rapes, home invasions and carjackings.

Broward County now has the highest percentage of “the most serious, violent [and] chronic” juvenile offenders in Florida, according to the county’s chief juvenile probation officer.

Before the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, the program’s most supportive community partner – the county sheriff’s office – privately worried that school-based deputies were overlooking increasingly dangerous threats. It warned that violent felons on probation were getting “several chances to reoffend” under the school program and those who put their victims in the hospital after attacking them on school grounds escaped arrest through the program.

Records also show that Cruz was not the only active-shooter threat in the Broward school system. Since 2015, at least three other pupils have brought loaded firearms into schools and threatened to go on shooting sprees.
Yet county officials are still defending the reforms as if there isn't any correlation between violent offenders not receiving any penalty and their repeat offenses or lack of a general sense of discipline in schools.
District officials, however, declined to provide evidence when presented with contrary reporting by RealClearInvestigations.

The administration has kept a lid on such bad news by suppressing school safety data, including canceling annual surveys of student behavior.
Some parent groups have been complaining for years and the authorities have denied that there are any problems with their program. They're still trying to cover their rears but now they'll have to face lawsuits from families who accuse the school system of failing to protect their children from being beat up and bullied by students who aren't punished. And the trail goes back to the Obama administration.
That new discipline policy took effect in 2013. It was at the vanguard of the Obama administration’s efforts to address the “school to prison” pipeline. Beginning in 2009, it opened hundreds of investigations or sued to force districts to adopt lenient discipline guidelines. This push was formalized in a 2014 “Dear Colleague” letter to the nation’s public school superintendents and board members that not only discourages student arrests, but holds districts liable for the actions of school resource officers.

After meeting with Obama officials in the White House, Runcie persuaded the Broward County Sheriff’s Office and Fort Lauderdale Police Department to agree to stop arresting students who committed misdemeanor crimes the district deemed “nonviolent” – including assault, theft, vandalism, drugs and public fighting. This included multiple offenders such as Cruz. Law enforcement agreed for the most part to let school officials handle such delinquents through two counseling programs: PROMISE and the Behavior Intervention Program....

In a related program, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel also agreed to back off arrests of students who commit such crimes outside of schools, offering them civil citations and the same “restorative justice" counseling instead of incarceration, even for repeat offenders. Restorative justice is a controversial alternative punishment in which delinquents gather in “healing circles” with counselors – and sometimes even the victims of their crime – and discuss their feelings and the "root causes" of their anger and actions.
The results are in now and it doesn't look good for the program.
Within two years of adopting the discipline reforms, Broward's juvenile recidivism rate surged higher than the Florida state average.

The negative trends continued through last year, the most recent juvenile crime data show.

Prosecutors and probation officers complain that while overall juvenile arrests are down, serious violent crimes involving school-aged Broward youths – including armed robbery, kidnapping and even murder – have spiked, even as such violent crimes across the state have dropped.

Juvenile arrests for murder and manslaughter increased 150 percent between 2013 and 2016. They increased by another 50 percent in 2017. County juveniles were responsible for a total of 16 murders or manslaughters in the past two years alone, according to the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.
And it's going to be difficult to put together the impact of the program because they're destroying the records.
Thousands of arrested Broward students have had their records deleted in the system as part of a program to end “disproportionate minority contact” with law enforcement, blindfolding both street cops and school resource officers to the criminal history of potential juvenile threats.

In addition, “the actual police reports are being destroyed,” stated Broward juvenile prosecutor Maria Schneider at a recent Juvenile Justice Circuit Advisory Board meeting. She added that her office has added a full-time attorney to handle expunctions.

Meanwhile, “scared straight” field trips to the juvenile jail are now a thing of the past. And juvenile probation officers are discouraged from visiting schools.
So we're left with just looking at the correlation between the existence of these discipline programs and the lack of discipline in the schools. Who would have thought that violence in Broward County schools would be worse than many big-city schools. I went to high school in Broward County for three years and observed nothing like this in the 1970s. I can't imagine trying to teach in such an environment.
After Broward schools began emphasizing rehabilitation over incarceration, fights broke out virtually every day in classrooms, hallways, cafeterias and campuses across the district. Last year, more than 3,000 fights erupted in the district’s 300-plus schools, including the altercations involving Cruz. No brawlers were arrested, even after their third fight, and even if they sent other children to the hospital.

Federal data show almost half of Broward middle school students have been involved in fights, with many suffering injuries requiring medical treatment. The lion’s share of the campus violence is taking place at middle schools and high schools in Miramar, Coconut Creek, Fort Lauderdale and Plantation.

At South Plantation High School, for instance, all-out brawls involving dozens of students have been reported regularly in hallways and the cafeteria.
I spent a year at South Plantation High School. I just can't imagine what has happened to the school these days.
Because the students involved in the fights are considered “mutual combatants,” administrators tell parents they cannot be referred to police under the new discipline code....

In a December 2016 fight caught on video at Plantation High School, several girls beat and dragged another girl to the ground and took turns kicking her. Campus police did not break up the fight and the girls who jumped her were not arrested. The attacked girl’s mother said the school failed to stop bullying before it escalated into violence, and then swept the incident under the rug. Three other fights reportedly broke out the same day at the school....

Earlier in the year, another girl was jumped by several girls as she walked down a flight of stairs at New Renaissance Middle School. Jayla Cofer ended up in the emergency room with deep lacerations and bruises to her face. Though a school resource officer broke up the fight, no arrests were made. Instead, the girls were sent to the PROMISE program for a few days of counseling sessions, which are held at Pine Ridge Education Center in Fort Lauderdale.
Imagine that this were your child living in fear of being jumped in the school's hallways and knowing that the authorities will do no more than a wrist-slap. Even though everyone involved from students, parents, and teachers recognized how bad discipline had become in Broward County schools, the authorities have been in CYA mode.
In 2014, the year after discipline reforms took effect and school safety data started trending badly, Broward stopped asking students key safety questions in an annual survey, including whether they “feel safe” in the classroom, restroom or cafeteria, or whether they have “seen students with weapons at school." The next year, the district stopped publishing its yearly school-climate surveys entirely.

"In 2014, they removed the six questions directly asking students whether they felt safe,” Eden said. "After 2015, they discontinued the annual survey they had been conducting for 21 years.”

The district did not respond to requests seeking explanation for the discontinued school safety surveys.
School officials pretend to be so concerned about bullying, but they do nothing to punish the bullies. The Parkland shooter was just one of those students being bounced around and not facing discipline for his violent behavior. There were multiple signs of his violence and desire to hurt others, but the school did little beyond recommending counseling and moving him around to different schools all because the policy was to avoid any sort of arrest that would get on a kid's record even though that would have prevented him from buying a gun.
Robert Martinez, a Broward deputy who worked as a school resource officer for nearly two decades, agreed. He said the school district wanted to keep arrest numbers down at all costs, and actively discouraged school resource officers from taking lawbreaking students into custody. He said removing a dangerous teen like Cruz from a school can take up to two years due to all the red tape that was added to the process by Runcie's new discipline policies and programs.

Martinez, who retired last year after 18 years stationed at various Broward schools, added that the number of sheriff's deputies assigned to area schools has in recent years been cut in half, to about 30, as they've come under increasing political pressure to look the other way when students break the law....

Less than two months after the signing of the no-arrest agreement, the executive staff of the Broward Sheriff’s Office expressed concerns that deputies were unable to ascertain whether gang members, repeat offenders or violent kids on probation were committing crimes inside schools due to the constraints of the PROMISE program, minutes of a 2014 meeting with school officials and other members of the Juvenile Justice Circuit Advisory Board reveal.

“According to the [new discipline] matrix, that kid may get several chances to reoffend,” said David Scharf, executive director of community programs for Broward Sheriff’s Office.

Friction also came from the state attorney’s office. Around the same time, juvenile prosecutor Schneider complained that students committing aggravated battery – a violent felony – were being classified as "non-violent" misdemeanor offenders and referred to PROMISE counseling instead of jail.
Read the entire report. It's a horrifying picture of what the do-gooderism of the left has wrought in one county's schools.
“Sheriff Israel can boast that arrests are down in Broward County [but] that tends to happen when you stop arresting,” Eden said. “That does not mean that schools are safer.”
But all that mattered was that press release, not what was happening on the ground.