Archive for the ‘United States’ Category

GOP still favoured to win the Senate

August 13th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post writes:

The decision by Sen. John Walsh (D-Mont.) not to seek election in November in the wake of a plagiarism scandal is the latest piece of good news for Republicans as they strive to take control of the Senate in less than three months.

Walsh’s departure from the race came in the same week that two Republican senators — Pat Roberts in Kansas and Lamar Alexander in Tennessee — defeated tea party challengers in primary fights, ensuring that every GOP senator seeking reelection would be the party’s nominee.

These past seven days typified the fates of the two parties this election cycle. Democrats have been hit by retirements in tough states — Montana, West Virginia, South Dakota and, to a lesser extent, Iowa — and Republicans haven’t nominated the sort of extreme candidates who lack broader appeal in a general election.

Those realities — along with a national playing field in which a handful of incumbent Democrats are defending Republican-leaning seats in places where President Obama is deeply unpopular — have made a GOP takeovera better-than-50/50 proposition.

Nate Silver agrees:

The problem for Democrats is that this year’s Senate races aren’t being fought in neutral territory. Instead, the Class II senators on the ballot this year come from states that gave Obama an average of just 46 percent of the vote in 2012.1

Democrats hold the majority of Class II seats now, but that’s because they were last contested in 2008, one of the best Democratic years of the past half-century. That year, Democrats won the popular vote for the U.S. House by almost 11 percentage points. Imagine if 2008 had been a neutral partisan environment instead. We can approximate this by applying a uniform swingof 11 percentage points toward Republicans in each Senate race. In that case, Democrats would have lost the races in Alaska, Colorado, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Oregon — and Republicans would already hold a 52-48 majority in the Senate.

It therefore shouldn’t be surprising that we continue to see Republicans as slightly more likely than not to win a net of six seats this November and control of the Senate. 

Harry Reid may come to regret effectively abolishing the filbuster. If the Democrats go into the minority, they will have sacrificed the tool that could require the majority to work with them.

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Yet another study on the effectiveness of charter schools

July 26th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Phys.org reports:

A first-ever report released July 22 by the University of Arkansas, which ties charter school funding to achievement, finds that public charter schools are more productive than traditional public schools in all 28 states included in analyses of cost-effectiveness and return on investment.

All 28 states!

The national report, titled “The Productivity of Public Charter Schools,” found that  deliver on average an additional 17 points in math and 16 points in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress exam taken by students for every $1,000 invested. These differences amount to charter schools being 40 percent more cost-effective in math and 41 percent more cost-effective in reading, compared to traditional .

So when unions (falsely) claim charter schools do better because they get extra funding, remember this study.

The cost-effectiveness analysis of the report found that charter schools in 13 states were found to be more cost-effective in reading because they had higher student achievement results despite receiving less funding than traditional public schools. Charter schools in 11 states were more cost-effective in math for the same reason. The remaining states produced equal or slightly lower achievement with significantly lower funding.

Better results off less funding. Do you get some idea of why the NZ unions are terrified by the trial of charter schools. Think if they produced the same results here!

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Teacher unions at war with Obama

July 17th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Hill reports:

Teachers unions have turned on Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the Obama administration, creating a major divide in the Democratic Party coalition.

The largest teachers union in the country, the National Education Association (NEA), called for Duncan to resign at its convention on July 4, arguing his policies on testing have failed the nation’s schools.

Tensions between Duncan and the unions had been building for some time.

The administration’s Race to the Top program, which has provided $4.35 billion to states, incentivized changes that unions strongly oppose. One of the most controversial policies backed by Duncan is using students’ improvement on standardized tests to help evaluate teachers and make pay and tenure decisions.

“Our members are frustrated and angry,” said NEA president Dennis Van Roekel. “Number one is the toxic testing. There is too much.”

An added spark came on June 10, when a California judge ruled the state’s teacher tenure laws are unconstitutional because they keep ineffective teachers in the classroom and deprive poor and minority students of their right to an equal education.

Teachers unions, which are strong defenders of tenure, expressed outrage when Duncan said the plaintiffs in the case were just some of millions of students disadvantaged by tenure laws. He called the decision “a mandate to fix these problems.”

Heh if Chris Christie becomes President, then they’ll really have something to complain about.

According to a report from the National Council on Teacher Quality, at the beginning of the administration, in 2009, no states had clear policies that ineffective teaching was grounds for dismissal. By 2013, 29 states did. 

You can’t sack teachers for incompetence. That’s heresy.

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Germany says nein to US

July 12th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Germany has told the CIA station chief in Berlin to leave the country in a dramatic display of anger from Chancellor Angela Merkel at the behaviour of a close ally after officials unearthed two suspected US spies.

The scandal has chilled relations with Washington to levels not seen since Merkel’s predecessor opposed the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. It follows allegations that Merkel herself, who grew up in Stasi-ridden East Germany, was among thousands of Germans whose mobile phones have been bugged by American agents.

“Spying on allies … is a waste of energy,” the chancellor said in her most pointed public remarks yet on the issue. “We have so many problems, we should focus on the important things.” …

US government sources said the official – whom neither side named – was Berlin station chief for the CIA, the Central Intelligence Agency. A German source said the man would face possible forcible expulsion if he did not leave voluntarily.

This is an unprecedented fall out between allies. I can’t say I blame the Germans. Spying on your opponents and enemies, but not your allies.

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Kiwis most satisfied with freedoms

July 11th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Gallup reports:

 Fewer Americans are satisfied with the freedom to choose what they do with their lives compared with seven years ago — dropping 12 percentage points from 91% in 2006 to 79% in 2013. In that same period, the percentage of Americans dissatisfied with the freedom to choose what they do with their lives more than doubled, from 9% to 21%.

The rise of big Government.

And how about other countries:

Gallup asks people in more than 120 countries each year whether they are satisfied or dissatisfied with the freedom to choose what they do with their lives. In 2006, the U.S. ranked among the highest in the world for people reporting satisfaction with their level of freedom. After seven years and a 12-point decline, the U.S. no longer makes the top quartile worldwide.

So who is top:

gallup

That’s a good table to top.

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Americans say Obama worst President since WWII

July 4th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

ABC News reports:

President Obama is considered to be the worst president since World War II, narrowly beating out George W. Bush, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll released today.

Obama was the choice of 33 percent of those polled for the selection of worst president, the largest percentage of any of the 12 presidents since 1945 when the war ended.

The poll asked people to name both the best and worst presidents. The results are quite interesting.

Best Presidents

  • Overall 35% Reagan, 18% Clinton, 15% JFK, 8% Obama, 55 Eisenhower
  • Republicans – 66% Reagan, 6% George HW Bush, 6% JFK – Reagan is the undisputed Republican hero
  • Democrats – 34% Clinton, 18% JFK, 18% Obama, 6% Reagan, 6% Johnson – no one stand out candidate but Clinton well ahead
  • Independents – 36% Reagan, 17% JFK, 16% Clinton, 8% Eisenhower, 6% Truman, 4% George HW Bush, 2% Obama – Obama not rated by independents

Worst Presidents

  • Overall 33% Obama, 28% George W Bush, 13% Nixon, 85 Carter
  • Republicans – 63% Obama, 14% Carter, 5% Nixon, 5% George W Bush – Obama probably suffers a bit from being the incumbent. I’d rate Carter as far worse.
  • Democrats – 54% George W Bush, 20% Nixon, 6% Reagan, 4% Obama
  • Independents – 36% Obama, 23% Bush, 14% Nixon, 9% Carter

 

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A school that doesn’t accept failure

June 27th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Audrey Young reports:

Charlene Reid is what you might call a rockstar among teachers.

It’s not what she would call herself.

She is just getting on with it at what used to be an ordinary school in the Bronx district of New York where she is Head of School.

But she is being noticed for the results being achieved there.

It’s a charter school, privately run but publicly funded, and fees cannot be charged to the parents. …

In state-wide testing, it was ranked the highest K-8 charter school in New York state and fourth among all.

The other top five were schools for gifted and talented or specialty schools that can choose their students. At BCSE they don’t. Anyone from the local area gets precedence. If there are 60 applicants from the area, they get automatic entry; if there is more, there is a ballot. About 10 per cent of the students have special needs.

Isn’t that a stunning result. Up in the top five with schools restricted to gifted students, and they’re in the Bronx and have 10% special needs students.

Having high expectations, said Reid, was a big feature of her school’s success.

“Expectation, confidence and attitude that you can deliver. I don’t think any teacher goes into the classroom saying they want a kid to fail. I think what happens is that you don’t know how to get a child to learn, then it is very difficult to look at yourself and say ‘I’m the reason why’.

“What we’ve done here at BCSE is we have pointed the finger at ourselves and said if it is not working, it’s our fault. It’s nobody else’s fault. We took this job on. We are educators.

“We are going to figure it out. We are adults. There is no way you should blame a child who has only been on this Earth 60 months if they can’t read or they can’t write or that they’re poor or their parents were educated or they live in a particular environment.

This is what I find so appalling by the apologists for poor performance on the left. Their worldview is that poor achievement is all about the family’s income, and that you shouldn’t expect students from poor backgrounds to be able to achieve at the highest level. The bigotry of low expectations.

This principal shows what you can achieve when you don’t buy into that.

 

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Labour and the US republicans

June 27th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Liam Hehir at the Manawatu Standard compares NZ Labour to the US Republicans on four grounds:

  1. It is in thrall to party activists
  2.  It appears to be in denial about polling
  3. It is banking on turning out the base
  4. Its weakness is temporary

I could add a 5th one on. Both parties are leaderless!

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Internet news now more trusted in US than TV news

June 26th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

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Gallup reports:

Confidence in newspapers has declined by more than half since its 1979 peak of 51%, while TV news has seen confidence ebb from its high of 46% in 1993, the first year that Gallup asked this question. Gallup’s only previous measure of Internet news was in 1999, when confidence was 21%, little different from today.

And there is a political difference:

Slightly less than one-fifth of self-identified conservatives (15%) say they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in newspapers, tied with the 10-year low. In the past decade, the percentage of conservatives expressing a strong degree of confidence in newspapers has fallen by nearly half. Liberals are far more likely than conservatives — or than the adult population in general — to be confident in newspapers (34%). Nearly a quarter of moderates (24%), meanwhile, have confidence in newspapers.

Most of the US media has a huge liberal bias, and people have revolted against it. We’re lucky things are not so bad in NZ.

 

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US economy shrinks 2.9%

June 26th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

USA Today reports:

The U.S. economy turned in its worst quarter in five years during the first three months of 2014, shrinking more sharply than previously estimated.

The nation’s gross domestic product in the first quarter fell at a 2.9% annual rate vs. the 1% contraction previously believed, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg expected a 1.8% drop in output.

The decline was the sharpest since growth tumbled 5.4% in the first quarter of 2009 during the Great Recession. The last time the economy shrank was in the first quarter of 2011, slipping 1.3%.

The more dramatic drop was largely the result of weaker household consumption. Consumer spending increased just 1%, vs. the 3.1% gain previously estimated as health care spending dipped slightly. The government previously said that medical expenditures contributed substantially to growth as the Affordable Care Act began to cover more Americans.

Also, exports declined 8.9%, vs. the 6% drop previously estimated. And businesses replenished their stocks even more slowly than believed after aggressively adding to inventories late last year.

Quite a contrast to the NZ economy, as we have exports booming, and a strongly growing economy. Once upon a time the US economy contracting would seriously damage NZ’s economic growth also. But we’re less tied than we used to be.

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Female participation in the labour force

June 23rd, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

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This graph from ANZ Bank shows the participation rate in the labour force for women in NZ and te US. We’ve gone from 4% lower to almost 8% higher.

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The cost of a bad teacher

June 22nd, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Eric Hanushek in the NY Times writes:

A small percentage of teachers inflicts disproportionate harm on children. Each year a grossly ineffective teacher continues in the classroom reduces the future earnings of the class by thousands of dollars by dramatically lowering the college chances and employment opportunities of students. 

There is also a national impact. The future economic well being of the United States is entirely dependent on the skills of our population. Replacing the poorest performing 5 to 8 percent of teachers with an average teacher would, by my calculations, yield improved productivity and growth that amounts to trillions of dollars. 

Protecting bad teachers has a massive impact on students. and through them the country. we should pay our best teachers more, and move on those teachers who are not skilled in connecting with students/

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Obama and Key

June 22nd, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Tracy Watkins reports:

For 30 missing minutes in Barack Obama’s diary, the United States president and John Key did something unexpected.

They strolled the White House South Lawn, checked out the president’s putting green, had a squiz at Obama’s back office and First Lady Michelle Obama’s famous veggie garden, and part of the White House the family use.

The unscheduled timeout followed a 50-minute working session to discuss issues including trade – and whether a deal can be done on the Trans-Pacific Partnership – the South China Sea dispute, climate change, North Korea and Iraq.

Key’s second meeting with Obama at the Oval Office was supposed to wrap up at the end of that session. But the two leaders went for a walk instead.

“It was cool,” said Key.

Key and Obama have clearly established a rapport. They are roughly the same age, share a passion for golf and both have a bolt-hole in Hawaii where they escape with family. Last Christmas, the pair spent a day on the golf course with Key’s son Max while holidaying in Hawaii. Obama name-checked Max to the world’s media after yesterday’s meeting.

Key expects his relationship with Obama to endure beyond political life

Key has shown an extraordinary ability to forge strong personal relationships with many world leaders.  And relationships do matter, and help.

Incidentally the mention of Max was that he had a longer drive than both Obama and his father, according to Obama!

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The intolerance with dissent on US campuses

June 13th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Joel Kotkin writes:

In ways not seen since at least the McCarthy era, Americans are finding themselves increasingly constrained by a rising class—what I call the progressive Clerisy—that accepts no dissent from its basic tenets. Like the First Estate in pre-revolutionary France, the Clerisy increasingly exercises its power to constrain dissenting views, whether on politics, social attitudes or science.

As the modern clerisy has seen its own power grow, even while the middle class shrinks, it has used its influence to enforce a prescribed set of acceptable ideas. On everything from gender and sexual preference to climate change, those who dissent from the official pieties risk punishment.

This power has been seen recently in a host of cancellations of commencement speakers. Just in the past few months Ayaan Hirsi Ali, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde, and former UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, have been prevented from speaking by campus virtue squads whose sensibilities they had offended.

Normally a top achieving African-American woman or a Somali born feminist would be welcomed on campuses. But they are not left wingers, so they get blocked.

The spate of recent cancellation reflect an increasingly overbearing academic culture that promotes speech codes on what is permissible to say and even seeks to provide “trigger warnings” to warn students about the presence of nominally troubling subject matter in readings and discussions so they can avoid the elements of reality they find offensive. 

Universities were once bastions of freedom of speech, which includes a freedom to offend.

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No 2 House Republican loses his primary

June 12th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

US House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has lost in his Republican primary election to a little-known economics professor, a stunning upset for the No. 2 Republican in the House and a major victory for the ultraconservative tea party movement.

Cantor, viewed as a possible successor to House Speaker John Boehner, was taken down by a political novice with little money named Dave Brat. His win marked the biggest triumph this year for tea party supporters who until a few years ago backed Cantor, a former state legislator who rose to Majority Leader in 2011.

This is a huge upset. Cantor lost, and lost decisively (12% margin) despite having the far larger budget ($5 million to $200,000).

Cantor was on the right wing of the Republicans. The American Conservative Union scored him 84/100 in the last session and 95/100 lifetime rating. The National Taxpayers Union gave him a B- which was about average for Republicans.

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The success of US charter schools

June 11th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Philanthropy Roundtable writes:

Twenty-five years ago, charter schools hadn’t even been dreamed up. Today they are mushrooming across the country. There are 6,500 charter schools operating in 42 states, with more than 600 new ones opening every year. Within a blink there will be 3 million American children attending these freshly invented institutions (and 5 million students in them by the end of this decade).

It is philanthropy that has made all of this possible. Without generous donors, charter school could never have rooted and multiplied in this way. And philanthropists have driven relentless annual improvements—better trained school founders, more prepared teachers, sharper curricula, smarter technology—that have allowed charter schools to churn out impressive results.

Studies show that student performance in charter schools is accelerating every year, as high-performing models replace weaker ones. Charter schools as a whole already exceed conventional schools in results. The top charters that are now growing so fast elevate student outcomes more than any other schools in the U.S.—especially among poor and minority children.

This is what Labour and Greens are vowing to end.

An extract from the report:

Bill Gates explains that after his foundation decided in the mid‑1990s to focus on U.S. schooling, it poured about $2 billion into various education experiments. During their first decade, he reports, “many of the small schools that we invested in did not improve students’ achievement  in any significant way.” There was, however, one fascinating exception. “A few of the schools that we funded achieved something amazing. They replaced schools with low expectations and low results with ones that have high expectations and high results.” And there was a common variable: “Almost all of these schools were charter schools.”

And:

By 2014 there were 2.6 million children attending 6,500 charter schools in the U.S. Every year now, more than 600 new charters open their
doors for the first time, and an additional 300,000 children enroll (while a million kids remain on waiting lists, with millions more hungrily waiting in the wings). Charter school attendance began to particularly accelerate around 2009, and as this is written in 2014 it looks like there may be 5 million children in charters before the end of the decade.

This is the worst nightmare of Labour/Greens and the educational unions. That charter schools in NZ provide successful and popular. Once they do, they’ll never be able to abolish them. They have to kill them off before they have a chance to prove themselves.

And some highlights:

  • The 9,000 students at Uncommon Schools are 78 percent low‑income and 98 percent African‑American or Hispanic, yet all seniors take the SAT, and their average score is 20 points above the college‑readiness benchmark
  • At KIPP charter schools, home to 51,000 pupils in 21 states, 96 percent of eighth graders perform better than their local district counterparts on reading, and 92 percent perform better in math
  • Among charter school students in Washington, D.C. (almost half of that city’s public school population), the on‑time high‑school graduation rate is 21 percentage points higher than that among conventional school students: 77 percent to 56 percent
  • In New Orleans—long an educational disaster zone—the city schools rank first in the state for student growth now that more than eight out of ten students attend charters (some details on the Big Easy’s charter experience will follow in just a few pages)

Wouldn’t it be great if in the next decade we could get some results like that.

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US teacher tenure ruled unconstitutional

June 11th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Washington Post reports:

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday that tenure, seniority and other job protections for teachers have created unequal conditions in public schools and deprive poor children of the best teachers.

We don’t have formal tenure here, but it is near impossible here to sack a teacher purely because they are ineffective at teaching.

In a 16-page ruling, in the case of Vergara v. California, Treu struck down three state laws as unconstitutional. The laws grant tenure to teachers after two years, require layoffs by seniority, and call for a complex and lengthy process before a teacher can be fired.

David F. Welch, founder of an optical telecommunications manufacturing firm, charged that job protections allow the state’s worst educators to continue teaching and that those ineffective teachers are concentrated in high-poverty, minority schools, amounting to a civil rights violation.

And the court agreed.

The ruling was a setback for the labor unions, which represent about 400,000 educators in California and whose core mission is to protect teachers’ jobs.

Which is fine, so long as you understand that is their core mission.

In states such as California, there are so many legal and procedural hurdles before a tenured teacher can be fired, they say, that it’s difficult to shed even the worst teachers.

Sounds familiar.

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Second largest religions by US states

June 9th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

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An interesting graphic from the Washington Post showing the most popular religion after Christianity in each US state.

In the North East it is Judaism.

In the mid west it is Buddhism.

In the South and Great Lakes it is Islam.

And in three states it is Hindu or Baha’i.

The state that is most Jewish is New York at around 6%.

Utah by the way is 58% Mormon.

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Where does online free speech end?

June 9th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Messages posted on Facebook and Twitter or sent in emails can be tasteless, vulgar and even disturbing.

But just when do they cross the line from free speech to threats that can be punished as a crime?

As the internet and social networks allow people to vent their frustrations with the click of a mouse, the US Supreme Court is being asked to clarify the First Amendment rights of people who use violent or threatening language on electronic media where the speaker’s intent is not always clear. The First Amendment of the US Constitution guarantees freedom f speech and other basic rights.

The justices could decide as early as Monday whether to hear appeals in two cases where defendants were convicted and sent to jail for making illegal threats, despite their claims that they never meant any harm.

Often authorities do over-react. The worst case was in the UK when a man was arrested seven days after he tweeted he was so annoyed with a flight delay, he might blow something up. A dumb thing to do, and one could understand if action was taken at the time. But to hunt him down seven days later, was awful.

But how about these cases:

In one case, a Pennsylvania man ranted on Facebook in the form of rap lyrics about killing his estranged wife, blowing up an amusement park, slitting the throat of an FBI agent and committing “the most heinous school shooting ever imagined.”

That’s way over the line. Especially the reference to the estranged wife, and the school shooting.

The other case involves a Florida woman who emailed a conservative radio talk show host about “second amendment gun rights” and said she was planning “something big” at a Broward County government building or school. The US Constitution’s Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms.

“I’m going to walk in and teach all the government hacks working there what the 2nd Amendment is all about,” the email said. Her comments triggered a lockdown affecting more than a quarter-million students.

No sympathy in this case either. It is a specific credible threat that could not be ignored.

In both cases, the defendants were prosecuted under a federal statute that makes it a crime to transmit a “threat to injure the person of another.” Those laws apply only to “true threats” that are not protected by the First Amendment under a doctrine established by the Supreme Court in 1969. The high court has said laws prohibiting threats must not infringe on constitutionally protected speech that includes “political hyperbole” or “vehement,” “caustic,” or “unpleasantly sharp attacks” that fall shy of true threats.

I’d see both of those as true threats. A quip about blowing up an airport because a flight was late is hyperbole.

The wife of the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, man, Anthony Elonis, testified at his trial that the postings made her fear for her life. One post about his wife said, “There’s one way to love you but a thousand ways to kill you. I’m not going to rest until your body is a mess, soaked in blood and dying from all the little cuts.”

What a creep. Posting that to the Internet is a form of mental torture, designed to harass and terrify his wife – at least.

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John Oliver on Net Neutrality

June 8th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

If you’ve ever wondered what the fuss about Net Neutrality is about, then you can get both informed and very amused by this piece from John Oliver on it.

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Trading Private Bergdahl

June 6th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

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Mad Magazine are the latest to pile into Obama on his trade of an American POW for five Taliban held at Gitmo. Bergdahl appears to be a deserter, and while this doesn’t mean you don’t try and recover him, it does suggest the five to one trade was far too high. Even Democrats are now attacking Obama on this.

James Taranto at the WSJ writes:

“If I’ve lost Neuman, I’ve lost Middle America.” That’s how we imagine President Obama reacting to being scathed by MAD magazine. The Usual Gang of Idiots tweeted a parody poster yesterday for “Barack Obama’s Unfortunate New Movie,” titled “Trading Private Bergdahl.” The tag line: “They got five Taliban leaders. We got one deserting weasel. The mission is a disaster.” Obama is depicted as the lead actor, with the Taliban quintet in supporting roles. The picture is rated “NC” for “No Congressional Approval.”

How in the world did an administration known for political competence, if for no other kind, manage to pull off such a public-relations disaster? The answer is that the left has a very large blind spot when it comes to military culture.

There’s been speculation that the White House intended the Bergdahl release as a distraction from the Veterans Administration scandal. Certainly it has served as such a diversion, not to mention a reminder to be careful what you wish for.

Adding to Obama’s woes is that there is a law saying the President must notify Congress 30 days before the release of any prisoner from Gitmo. Obama ignored the law, as he indicated he might do when signing the law.  This is not uncommon – but the heads of the relevant congressional committees were not even given a heads up in advance – and they are very peeved.

Obama is in his final term. This will however reduce his ability to get much done in the last two and a half years of his term. It also gives the Republicans another weapon for the mid-terms.

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What do moderates want?

May 20th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Molly Ball writes at The Atlantic:

It often seems there’s no center in American politics anymore. Increasingly polarized camps on the right and left hold diametrically opposed, irreconcilable views on seemingly every issue.

And yet more than a third of American voters call themselves neither liberal or conservative but moderate, indicating a substantial chunk of dissenters from the left-right paradigm. Are they just confused? Are they closet ideologues with strongly partisan opinions but a distaste for labels? Are they politically disconnected? What, in short, is their deal?

The folks at Third Way, a Democratic think tank that urges moderate positions, decided to find out. They commissioned a poll of 1,500 American registered voters, asking detailed questions about a variety of issues to find out whether those who called themselves moderate were a distinct group and what sets them apart. The Democratic pollster Peter Brodnitz of the Benenson Strategy Group conducted the inaugural “State of the Center” poll last month; it carries an overall margin of error of 2.5 percentage points in either direction.

What the poll found is fascinating. Moderates, according to the poll, aren’t tuned-out or ill-informed, but they tend to see both sides of complex issues—for example, they want the government to do more to help the economy, but they worry that it may be ineffective or counterproductive. 

Is a very sensible position – want to do more, but sceptical it will be effective.

Moderates’ perspective on the role of government has elements in common with both liberals and conservatives. Only 23 percent of moderates favor a larger government that provides more services (compared to 54 percent of liberals and 13 percent of conservatives); 37 percent favor a smaller government with fewer services (compared to 12 percent of liberals and 62 percent of conservatives).

So moderates are sceptical of government, but not hostile to it. While many on the left have a belief that there is nothing Government can’t do.

Liberals overwhelmingly (75 percent) worry government isn’t involved enough in the economy, while conservatives mostly (60 percent) worry government is too involved in the economy; moderates lean toward the liberal side of the argument, with 53 percent saying not enough involvement to 40 percent who cite too much. Still, more moderates fear big government (52 percent) than big business (41 percent). Two-thirds of moderates think government often gets in the way of economic growth, and a majority (54 percent) think that if government is involved in something, it often goes wrong.

Moderates are, well, moderate.

Majorities of moderates believe government should play a role in creating equal opportunity and that a strong safety net is important even if “a few lazy people game the system,” but moderates also largely believe the government has created incentives for poor people not to work. Most interestingly, even as they see society as unequal, seven in 10 moderates disagree with the idea that “the deck is stacked against people like me.” In fact, it was conservatives who were most likely to see themselves as victims: 35 percent said the deck was stacked against them, versus 28 percent of liberals and moderates.

Interesting.

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Mr Key goes to Washington

May 20th, 2014 at 8:22 am by David Farrar

The PM has announced:

Prime Minister John Key has welcomed an invitation to meet the President of the United States during his upcoming visit to the US.

The White House has announced President Obama will meet the Prime Minister in Washington DC on Friday, 20 June.

“The invitation underlines the very close relationship between the United States and New Zealand,” Mr Key says.

“I look forward to meeting with President Obama.  We are likely to discuss the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations, to take stock of our bilateral relationship, and to exchange views on current regional and international issues,” he says.

The Prime Minister is travelling to the United States from June 16 to 20.

While in Washington DC, the Prime Minister will also meet with a range of senior administration figures, Congressional representatives and business leaders. 

The Prime Minister will also undertake a full programme in New York in support of New Zealand’s bid to win a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for 2015-16.

This is no surprise, yet still welcome.

A diplomat commented to me a couple of months ago how extraordinary it is that the New Zealand Prime Minister is the national leader that has probably spent the most time in the last 12 months with both the President of the United States, but also the President of China.

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Government Has Made America Inept

May 14th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Philip K. Howard writes:

In February 2011, during a winter storm, a tree fell into a creek in Franklin Township, New Jersey, and caused flooding. The town was about to send a tractor in to pull the tree out when someone, probably the town lawyer, helpfully pointed out that it was a “class C-1 creek” and required formal approvals before any natural condition was altered. The flooding continued while town officials spent 12 days and $12,000 to get a permit to do what was obvious: pull the tree out of the creek.

Government’s ineptitude is not news. But something else has happened in the last few decades. Government is making America inept. Other countries don’t have difficulty pulling a tree out of a creek. Other countries also have modern infrastructure, and schools that generally succeed, and better health care at little more than half the cost.

Reforms, often embodied in hundreds of pages of new regulations, are tried constantly. But they only seem to make the problems worse. Political debate is so predictable that it’s barely worth listening to, offering ideology without practicality—as if our only choice, as comedian Jon Stewart put it, is that “government must go away completely—or we must be run by an incompetent bureaucracy.”

The missing element in American government could hardly be more basic: No official has authority to make a decision. Law has crowded out the ability to be practical or fair. Mindless rigidity has descended upon the land, from the schoolhouse to the White House to, sometimes, your house. Nothing much works, because no one is free to make things work.

Automatic law causes public failure. A system of detailed dictates is supposed to make government work better. Instead it causes failure.

The simplest tasks often turn into bureaucratic ordeals. A teacher in Chicago who called the custodian to report a broken water fountain was chewed out because he didn’t follow “broken water fountain reporting procedures.” On the first day of school he was required to read to his students a list of disciplinary rules, including this one, just to start things off on the right foot: “You may be expelled for homicide.”

It would be hilarious, if it wasn’t so sad.

Budgets are out of control because government executives lack flexibility to shave here and there to make ends meet. Soon after his election, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo thought he had found an easy way to save $50 million when he learned that a large juvenile detention center was empty, with no prospects of use anytime soon. There it was, sitting upstate, with several dozen employees—doing nothing but costing taxpayers millions of dollars. But no one had the authority to close it down, not even the governor. There’s a New York law that prohibits closing down any facility with union employees without at least one year’s notice. 

I look forward to Labour adopting this as policy!

Even matters of life and death are sometimes asked to yield to the rigid imperatives of a clear rule. In 2012, Florida lifeguard Tomas Lopez was fired for leaving his designated zone on the beach to rescue a drowning man just over the line. “On radio I heard Tommy saying ‘I’m going for a rescue but it’s out of our zone,’” said another lifeguard, who added that the “manager told him not to go and to call 911.” Lopez said he couldn’t just sit back, and was prepared to get fired, adding, “It wasn’t too much of an upset, because I had my morals intact.” After publicity about the incident, Lopez was offered his job back. He declined.

These are extreme examples, but they show why it is important to rely more on values and judgement than strict rules.

Let this be our motto: Just tell me the rules. In 2013, an elderly woman collapsed at an assisted living facility in Bakersfield, California, and a nurse called 911. The operator asked the nurse to try to revive the woman with CPR, but the nurse refused, saying it was against policy at that facility. “I understand if your boss is telling you, you can’t do it, but … as a human being … is there anybody that’s willing to help this lady and not let her die?” “Not at this time,” the nurse replied. During the seven-minute, sixteen-second call, the dispatcher continued to plead with the nurse: “Is there a gardener? Any staff, anyone who doesn’t work for you? Anywhere? Can we flag someone down in the street to help this lady? Can we flag a stranger down? I bet a stranger would help her.” By the time the ambulance arrived, the woman had died. The executive director of the facility defended the nurse on the basis that she had followed the rules: “In the event of a health emergency … our practice is to immediately call emergency medical personnel for assistance … That is the protocol we followed.”

Very sad.

 

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Why do we get media slant?

May 6th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Greg Mankiw writes in the NY Times:

Consumers of the news, both from television and print, sometimes feel that they are getting not just the facts but also a sizable dose of ideological spin. Yet have you ever wondered about the root cause of the varying political slants of different media outlets?

That is precisely the question that a young economist, Mathew Gentzkow, has been asking. A professor at the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago, Mr. Gentzkow was recently awarded the John Bates Clark Medal by the American Economic Association for the best economist under the age of 40. 

And what did he find?

Mr. Gentzkow and Mr. Shapiro went to the Congressional Record and used a computer algorithm to find phrases that were particularly associated with the rhetoric of politicians of the two major political parties. They found that Democrats were more likely than Republicans to use phrases like “minimum wage,” “oil and gas companies” and “wildlife refuge.” Republicans more often referred to “tax relief,” “private property rights” and “economic growth.” While Democrats were more likely to mention Rosa Parks, Republicans were more likely to mention the Grand Ole Opry.

With specific phrases associated with political stands, the researchers then analyzed newspaper articles from 2005 to determine which papers leaned left and which leaned right. (They looked only at news articles and excluded opinion columns.) That is, they computed an objective, if imperfect, measure of political slant based on the choice of language.

A nice way to do it. Wonder if that could be done here?

With a measure of political slant in hand, the researchers then analyzed its determinants. That is, they examined why some papers write in a way that is more consistent with liberal rhetoric while others are more conservative.

A natural hypothesis is that a media outlet’s perspective reflects the ideology of its owner. Indeed, much regulatory policy is premised on precisely this view. Policy makers sometimes take a jaundiced view of media consolidation on the grounds that high levels of cross-ownership reduce the range of political perspectives available to consumers.

From their study of newspapers, however, Mr. Gentzkow and Mr. Shapiro, find little evidence to support this hypothesis. After accounting for confounding factors like geographic proximity, they find that two newspapers with the same owner are no more likely to be ideologically similar than two random papers. Moreover, they find no correlation between the political slant of a paper and the owner’s ideology, as judged by political donations.

Fascinating, and reassuring. So when people go on about ownership, there is no data to back up that an owner’s ideology slants most newspapers’ coverage.

So, if not the owner’s politics, what determines whether a newspaper leans left or right? To answer this question, Mr. Gentzkow and Mr. Shapiro focus on regional papers, ignoring the few with national scope, like The Times. They find that potential customers are crucial.

If a paper serves a liberal community, it is likely to lean left, and if it serves a conservative community, it is likely to lean right. In addition, once its political slant is set, a paper is more likely to be read by households who share its perspective.

So it is about meeting market demand. That’s one reason Fox News has done so well. For decades there was no TV broadcast presence that didn’t lean left.

Religiosity also plays a role in the story, and it helps Mr. Gentzkow and Mr. Shapiro sort out cause and effect. They find that in regions where a high percentage of the population attends church regularly, there are more conservatives, and newspapers have a conservative slant. They argue that because newspapers probably don’t influence how religious a community is, the best explanation is that causation runs from the community’s politics to the newspaper’s slant, rather than the other way around.

The bottom line is simple: Media owners generally do not try to mold the population to their own brand of politics. Instead, like other business owners, they maximize profit by giving customers what they want.

Makes sense.

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