October 9, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 PM


Is There Life After Mitt? (MATT BAI, October 9, 2012, NY Times Magazine)

Not long ago, David Winston, a leading pollster in the Republican Party, listed for me some of the empirical reasons that Mitt Romney should be winning the election. In the past 64 years, Winston said, only six presidents had run for re-election at a time when the unemployment rate was above 6 percent, and five of them lost. (The exception was Ronald Reagan, whose unemployment rate, while over 7 percent, had dropped almost three full points since his election.) Since 1948, when the government started keeping such statistics, the country experienced a total of 82 months with an unemployment rate of more than 8 percent, and 43 of those months came under President Obama -- more than the previous 11 administrations combined. George H. W. Bush's economy grew at triple the rate of Obama's during his last quarter before the election, and he never stood a chance.

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 PM


How Racist Are We? Ask Google (SETH STEPHENS-DAVIDOWITZ, 6/09/12, NY Times)

Can we really quantify racial prejudice in different parts of the country based solely on how often certain words are used on Google? Not perfectly, but remarkably well. Google, aggregating information from billions of searches, has an uncanny ability to reveal meaningful social patterns. "God" is Googled more often in the Bible Belt, "Lakers" in Los Angeles.

The conditions under which people use Google -- online, most likely alone, not participating in an official survey -- are ideal for capturing what they are really thinking and feeling. [...]

The state with the highest racially charged search rate in the country was West Virginia. Other areas with high percentages included western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, upstate New York and southern Mississippi.

Once I figured out which parts of the country had the highest racially charged search rates, I could test whether Mr. Obama underperformed in these areas. I predicted how many votes Mr. Obama should have received based on how many votes John Kerry received in 2004 plus the average gain achieved by other 2008 Democratic Congressional candidates. The results were striking: The higher the racially charged search rate in an area, the worse Mr. Obama did.

Consider two media markets, Denver and Wheeling (which is a market evenly split between Ohio and West Virginia). Mr. Kerry received roughly 50 percent of the votes in both markets. Based on the large gains for Democrats in 2008, Mr. Obama should have received about 57 percent of votes in both Denver and Wheeling. Denver and Wheeling, though, exhibit different racial attitudes. Denver had the fourth lowest racially charged search rate in the country. Mr. Obama won 57 percent of the vote there, just as predicted. Wheeling had the seventh highest racially charged search rate in the country. Mr. Obama won less than 48 percent of the Wheeling vote.

Add up the totals throughout the country, and racial animus cost Mr. Obama three to five percentage points of the popular vote. In other words, racial prejudice gave John McCain the equivalent of a home-state advantage nationally.

Barring some decisive screw-up, like the House Republicans refusing to help bail out the credit system, there's no way the President can get to 49%.

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 PM


Opened to prove a point, UFT's charter school could be closed (Philissa Cramer and Geoff Decker, 10/08/12, Gotham Schools)

The city teachers union could face a school closure this year that hits uncomfortably close to home.

A decade ago, the early success of some charter schools became a case in point for a larger argument: The absence of a union contract in the schools enabled them to succeed with high-need students, proving that the presence of unions was holding other schools back, charter school advocates said.

Randi Weingarten, then the president of the United Federation of Teachers, opened the UFT Charter School in 2005 to pierce that argument. By posting higher scores, the school would "dispel the misguided and simplistic notion that the union contract is an impediment to success," she said at the time. [...]

But seven years into its existence, the nation's first union-run school is one of the lowest-performing schools in the city. Fewer than a third of students are reading on grade level, and the math proficiency rate among eighth-graders is less than half the city average.

On the school's most recent progress report, released last week, the Department of Education ranked it even lower than one of its co-located neighbors, J.H.S. 166, which the city tried to close last year and now has shortlisted again for possible closure.

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 PM


A dereliction of debating (Dennis Byrne, October 9, 2012, Chicago Tribune)

[O]bama's fatal flaw is not just his policies (as bad as they are), but the fact that he isn't and never was cut out to be president. He's not up to it. He's the kid who got thrown into the pool without knowing how to swim. He lacks the experience, composure and certain qualities of leadership required of a president -- qualities that Romney put on display. The pro schools the neophyte.

Bob Woodward described it in his new best-seller, "The Price of Politics," which detailed the collapse last year of the "grand bargain" on spending and debt. While Woodward found fault with both parties, he held Obama's insufficiencies mostly responsible for leaving America heading for the fiscal cliff it now faces. Woodward's book describes an arrogant, withdrawn, indecisive and uncompromising president. These are dispositions that would doom Obama to failure as a private sector boss. And ought to in the public sector.

All signs of adolescence, I would say.

Obama's presidency was based purely on hope, change and hot air. Never did he demonstrate executive ability or leadership. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 PM


Obama 'believed he had BEATEN Romney' in Denver debate - after ignoring advice of top aides on preparation (TOBY HARNDEN, 9 October 201, Daily Mail)
When President Barack Obama stepped off the stage in Denver last week the 60 million Americans watching the debate against Mitt Romney already knew it had been a disaster for him.
But what nobody knew, until now, was that Obama believed he had actually won.

In an extraordinary insight into the events leading up to the 90 minute showdown which changed the face of the election, a Democrat close to the Obama campaign today reveals that the President also did not take his debate preparation seriously, ignored the advice of senior aides and ignored one-liners that had been prepared to wound Romney.

...when the staff starts trying to avoid any blame for the loss.  The notion that they had these lethal one-liners all set to go is particularly amusing.

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 PM


Barack Obama, Supportable and Inscrutable (Nicholas Lemann, October 5, 2012, New Republic)

The many details that Maraniss has unearthed about Obama fall into two main categories: first, Obama's childhood circumstances were more emotionally difficult than he has made them out to be; second, his narrative of finding a comfortable, lasting cultural identity by embracing his African Americanness seems too pat. Barack Obama, Sr., though brilliant and magnetic, comes across as a real horror-show in Maraniss's account. Although he and the president's mother were officially married for a few years, it sounds as if they never lived together as husband and wife. When Barack Sr. was still in Hawaii after his son was born, he didn't even acknowledge to his friends that he had started a new family. (He already had a family back in Kenya, whom he hadn't told his wife in Hawaii about.) He may have been unfaithful to and physically abusive of Stanley Ann Dunham, as he was with his next wife, Ruth. He made no effort to provide for his Hawaiian son in any way, and when he returned to Kenya his life was a series of disasters because he was a deeply unreliable alcoholic. The auto accident that killed him in 1982, at about the same age the president was when he was elected, was merely the last in a long string of drunk-driving incidents.

The grandparents who mainly raised Obama were drinkers--in his interview with Maraniss, Obama casually refers to the grandmother who was the rock of his childhood as an alcoholic. Stanley Dunham, his grandfather, whom he strikingly resembles physically, was a salesman who had gone from mainly ebullient to mainly defeated by the time Obama was a teenager. Obama's mother was a remarkably determined and independent person who, under difficult circumstances, built a significant life for herself as an anthropologist in Indonesia, but Maraniss insistently points out what Obama himself was too diplomatic to say outright in Dreams from My Father: she consistently decided, from the time he was about ten, to structure her life so that she spent almost no time with him, and there is some evidence that he sensed this and resented it deeply. 

You can't help but feel sorry for the guy.  He's spent his whole life seeking the love and approval denied him as a child, and seemed to have gotten it from the American electorate, but now we're structuring American life around spending no time with him either.  He's going to resent us even more than he did her. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


Nobel-winning stem cell work helps curtail embryonic research (Carl Bunderson, 10/08/12,  CNA/EWTN News)

Moral theologian Father Thomas Berg is praising the work of Shinya Yamanaka, the winner of this year's Nobel Prize in medicine, for helping to "put human embryonic stem cell research largely out of business."

Yamanaka and John B. Gurdon, researchers in cell biology, were awarded the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discoveries about the generation of stem cells.

"Yamanaka will be remembered in history as the man who put human embryonic stem cell research largely out of business, motivated by reflection on the fact that his own daughters were once human embryos," Fr. Berg, professor of moral theology at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y. told CNA Oct. 8.

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 AM


WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN THE NORDIC MODEL (Nima Sanandaji, 09/20/2012, New Geography)

So how come the Nordic nations are so prosperous? A key reason is that they, particularly since the 1980s, have compensated for high tax regimes by implementing a range of market reforms. These reforms range from Flexicurity -- a combination of strategies to provide flexibility for employers and security for workers -- in the Danish labor market, to partial abolition of rent-control in Finland, to school vouchers and partial privatization of the pension system in Sweden. Indeed, the Nordic nations have risen sharply in both the Heritage/WSJ and the Frasier Institute indexes of economic freedom over the years.

It is also important to realize exactly why the Nordic nations have been able to implement large welfare states, and what the benefits have been. The cultural and economic systems in the Protestant Nordic nations have historically given rise to very strong norms related to work and responsibility. Coupled with uniquely homogeneous societies, these norms made it possible to implement larger welfare states in the Nordic nations than those in other industrialized countries. Since the norms relating to work and responsibility were so firmly rooted, Nordic citizens were not as likely as other Europeans or Americans to try to avoid taxes or misuse generous public support systems. Also, the "one-solution-fits-all" systems of the welfare state are typically less disruptive in a strongly homogeneous social environment, since most of the population has similar norms, preferences, and income levels.

However, with time the norms have evolved. In the World Value Survey of 1981-84, almost 82 percent of Swedes responded that "claiming government benefits to which you are not entitled is never justifiable", but in the survey of 1999-2004, only 55 percent held the same belief. It is no coincidence that much of the public policy debate in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland has focused on curbing overutilization of welfare systems.

Many of the favorable social outcomes in the Nordic nations relate to our unique culture, and the policies cannot simply be copied. In1950, long before the high-tax welfare state, Swedes lived 2.6 years longer than Americans. Today the difference is 2.7 years. The two researchers Jesper Roine and Daniel Waldenström have similarly shown in a new study that "most of the decrease [in economic inequality in Sweden] takes place before the expansion of the welfare state", occurring during the period when the nation was characterized by low taxes, a small state and a flexible labor market.

Clearly, the social success in the Nordic countries is not simply a result of welfare policies, but related to cultural and demographic factors.

Not coincidentally, changing attitudes towards and reforms of the generous welfare state have followed mass immigration into these countries.
Posted by orrinj at 5:09 AM


Obama's Drone Dilemma : The killings probably aren't legal--not that they'll stop. (Eric Posner, Oct. 8, 2012, Slate)

The U.N. Charter permits countries to use military force abroad only with the approval of the U.N. Security Council, in self-defense, or with the permission of the country in which military force is to be used. The U.N. Security Council never authorized the drone war in Pakistan. Self-defense, traditionally defined to mean the use of force against an "imminent" armed attack by a nation-state, does not apply either, because no one thinks that Pakistan plans to invade the United States. That leaves consent as the only possible legal theory.

Except, of course, that the UN, as its name implies, is premised on relations between sovereign nations and the legal theory of sovereignty holds that a nation is only sovereign where it exercises political control over territory.  Pakistan wields no such authority over the territory where terrorists operate freely.  If it claimed to, then it would be answerable for their actions.

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 AM


The Imaginary Teacher Shortage : Forty years and a million more teachers later, student performance is unchanged. Yet Obama and Romney both say schools need more staff. (JAY P. GREENE, 10/08/12, WSJ)

Hiring hundreds of thousands of additional teachers won't improve student achievement. It will bankrupt state and local governments, whose finances are already buckling under bloated payrolls with overly generous and grossly underfunded pension and health benefits.

For decades we have tried to boost academic outcomes by hiring more teachers, and we have essentially nothing to show for it. In 1970, public schools employed 2.06 million teachers, or one for every 22.3 students, according to the U.S. Department of Education's Digest of Education Statistics. In 2012, we have 3.27 million teachers, one for every 15.2 students.

Yet math and reading scores for 17-year-olds have remained virtually unchanged since 1970, according to the U.S. Department of Education's National Assessment of Educational Progress. The federal estimate of high-school graduation rates also shows no progress (with about 75% of students completing high school then and now). Unless the next teacher-hiring binge produces something that the last several couldn't, there is no reason to expect it to contribute to student outcomes.

Most people expect that more individualized attention from teachers should help students learn. The problem is that expanding the number of hires means dipping deeper into the potential teacher labor pool. That means additional teachers are likely to be weaker than current ones.

...that way you broaden the pool, avoid burnout, lower wage bills, and skip pensions and benefits almost entirely.