Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Trump’s focus on crime could help Chicago

Unless you live on another planet you have heard of the dangerous conditions in Chicago, where the level of violence is and has been at a crisis level for years. Chicago, like other major cities, has rampant crime despite strict gun laws, and the Windy City has one of the higher murder and shootings rates in the country.

On a per capita basis, Chicago does not attract much attention, because of its large population. Based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s last count in 2010, the estimated population in 2016 was 2.7 million, so its murder rate per 100,000 residents isn’t that large. But Chicago still wins a dubious prize for its total number of homicides and shootings.

Data compiled by the Chicago Tribune staff shows that in 2016 there were 4,368 shooting victims in the city, and 762 homicides. Things don’t look much better for 2017: as of Jan. 28, there were 268 shooting victims, which is a little lower than January 2016. But last January was the third lowest month for shootings in 2016, so things could easily get worse.

At least 39 people were shot across Chicago over the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday weekend, leaving 10 dead. Six people were shot while attending a memorial service for a shooting victim last week.

Greg Zanis, a retired carpenter, creates wooden crosses for each person killed by gun violence in Chicago and places them in a grassy lot in the city’s Englewood neighborhood. Last year was the deadliest year for gun violence in 20 years, so Zanis was busy, with 762 homicides, up from 496 in 2015.

Some shooting deaths result from action by police officers, but most shootings do not involve police, and are attributed primarily to gang violence. Yet the deaths involving police officers attract much more attention than the far greater number of shootings and murders that do not involve the police. Data taken from the Independent Police Review Authority shows that in 2016 police were involved in only 11 of the 762 total shooting deaths. Police also wounded 14 people. The chance of being killed by a Chicago police officer is only 1.4 percent.

However, in the high-crime minority communities, there is an almost automatic reaction to blame the police in shooting deaths when they are involved, despite the fact that in the vast majority of cases the victim either initiated the incident, or resisted or fought against a proper action by police.

These knee-jerk reactions arise before details are known, and are based upon emotions and prejudice, ginned up by people who try to pass the blame to police, rather than face up to the reality that the victims have brought their fate on themselves through criminal behavior.

This false narrative survives even after police have been determined not to be at fault, and is responsible for protest demonstrations and hatred and mistrust of police. The effect too often makes police reluctant to patrol in the neighborhoods where these confrontations have occurred and are most likely, but where police presence is most needed, which, of course, makes matters worse.

Street violence has increased in the administration of Democrat Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who served as President Barack Obama’s Chief of Staff from 2008 to 2010, and was elected mayor in 2011. In addition to having failed to get control over the crime-ridden city, Emanuel has opened Chicago to illegal aliens, proclaiming, "Chicago has in the past been a sanctuary city. ... It always will be a sanctuary city,” and celebrated when Obama scapegoated Chicago’s police as he exited the White House earlier this month.

In response to the continuing dangerous circumstances in minority neighborhoods President Donald Trump, a major critic of Chicago’s violent living conditions, has said that he might “send in the Feds,” leaving folks wondering just what that means. Some interpreted it to mean he would federalize the Illinois National Guard, while others thought he meant to dispatch federal law enforcement. Neither is likely, given the eroded but still existent protections from such overreaches provided by the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution.

It’s more likely he intends to use federal assets in a more acceptable manner, such as providing federal intervention if requested.

Citing Mayor Rudy Gulliani’s action in New York City, National Review’s Andrew McCarthy suggests that approach could work in Chicago, noting that the “U.S. penal code is better equipped to deal with street crime today than three decades ago.” McCarthy, however, acknowledges that the feds cannot totally solve Chicago’s problems.

“In Chicago, federal law enforcement could make a difference by using and building on task-force arrangements with the CPD and state police,” he wrote. “High-crime areas could be targeted over a sustained period for investigations of narcotics trafficking, firearms offenses, violent crimes in aid of racketeering (racketeering can include street-gang violence and drug conspiracies), and extortionate interference with commerce by violence or threats. A healthy percentage of the cases developed … could then be indicted in federal court, where the penalties are stiffer and surer.”

Emanuel has failed to reduce crime in his city, but he is amenable to receiving assistance. Perhaps Trump’s focus on big city crime will pay off.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A Trump mandate: We have to restore America’s military strength

Everyone knows that the U.S. military is critical to the nation’s security, and that it is also important how foreign countries perceive America’s strength. That perception of our military and its civilian leadership can encourage careful, thoughtful and peaceful behavior by other countries, or a cavalier, carefree “we’ll do as we please” approach.

Now that the Barack Obama presidency is over, we must begin restoring the military and the world’s perception of America’s strength, both of which have been severely damaged over the last eight years. The security of not just our nation, but also of the world to a large degree, depend upon a strong America.

Back in 2015 Obama stated that the U.S. is now “the most respected country on Earth” thanks to his administration. That comment drew ire and fire on Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor.” Host Bill O’Reilly and Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer both reacted strongly to the comment, with O’Reilly countering, “No, we’re not respected by Putin, we’re not respected by ISIS and other terrorists, so I don’t know what he is referring to.” Krauthammer wondered, “what planet he's living on,” and pointed out that “allies who’ve depended on us for so long are finding themselves left hanging in the wind.”

The rest of the segment detailed the many foreign policy failures of the Obama administration that contradict Obama’s delusional statement.

Two years ago The Heritage Foundation said this about funding for the military: “Consecutive years of across-the-board budget cuts have significantly weakened the U.S. military. The military will likely need several years of reinvestment to return to a sound footing.”

It is instructive to look at just how Obama’s eight years have affected the armed forces from the perspective of active members of the military.

A poll conducted by the Military Times and Syracuse University's Institute for Veterans and Military Families was a voluntary, confidential online survey taken by 1,664 active members of the U.S. armed forces. 

The poll reflects that 51.5 percent of those responding had a generally unfavorable view of Barack Obama’s presidency, and that 29.1 percent had a very unfavorable view, the largest response of the five possible answers. Only 36.4 percent had a generally favorable view, and only 18.0 percent had a very favorable view.

The Marine Corps had the strongest level of disapproval at 60.3 percent, followed by the Army at 53.0, the Air Force at 49.6, and the Navy was the least disapproving at 45.9. Enlisted service members had a 52.1 percent disapproval rate, while 48.8 percent of commissioned officers disapproved.

Seventy-one percent think overall force levels are too low, and 43 percent think more deployed forces are needed, compared to 32 percent who think fewer deployed forces are needed.

Asked how the following “social” measures affected readiness, participants responded: Repealing “don’t ask don’t tell” helped, by 24 to 18 percent; gender integration within combat units hurt, by 30 to 15 percent; and transgenders in service hurt, by 41 to 12 percent.

Participants believe the U.S. is less safe because of drawdowns from Iraq (59 percent) and Afghanistan (54 percent), and less emphasis on large-scale overseas missions (42 percent), but more safe from greater reliance on special forces (58 percent) and training missions (51 percent). And they believe the top four significant threats to the U.S. come from the Islamic State and al-Qaida (70 percent), domestic Islamic terrorists (67 percent), China (64 percent), and Iran (49 percent).

They say the military is smaller and weaker, and the threats against the nation have increased.

In a campaign speech last September, candidate Trump outlined his view of the U.S. military, and said he planned to ask military brass to present a plan soon after he takes office to defeat and destroy ISIS, and that he will ask Congress to eliminate the defense sequester.

Among the goals he seeks are: Building an active Army of about 540,000; a Marine Corps based on 36 battalions; a Navy nearing 350 surface ships and submarines; an Air Force of at least 1,200 fighter aircraft; and developing a new state-of-the-art missile defense system. And he intends to offset the spending for these goals by cutting waste and streamlining the bureaucracy, rather than increases in the $600 billion or so spent each year on the military.

"I'm going to make our military so big, so powerful, so strong, that nobody – absolutely nobody – is gonna (sic) mess with us," he said in a video posted on his campaign website.

Along those lines, his choice to run the Defense Department is retired Marine General James Mattis, a man well respected for his service and expertise, and who is expected to operationally strengthen all armed forces.

A strong military is just smart: Better to have one and not need it, than to need one and not have it. Blessedly, we now have a president who understands that a strong military presence can solve a host of problems before they ever materialize.

And, a president who strongly and unwaveringly supports what is good for America is a great improvement over the weak and tragic performance of the last eight years.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

As Obama exits the White House, a look at some of his presidency

Back in 2007, a candidate for president named Barack Obama arose from near obscurity to seek the Democrat Party nomination for the 2008 election. He won the nomination, defeating a well-known opponent, and then won the election to become the first black/African-American President of the United States, and would serve two full terms.

So much promise surrounded this event that even before his inauguration he was being spoken of in glowing terms because he was the first of his race and for all the great and wonderful things that would occur, based on his campaign messages.

The respected Nobel Committee even awarded him its Peace Prize in December of 2009," only several months after he was sworn in, for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples."

The stage was set for great things; a barrier had been breached. At last America had its first black president. But, alas, so much good that could have happened, didn’t.

Obama doesn’t understand or appreciate the nation he was elected to lead, so his goal wasn’t to honor and advance America’s traditional principles and standards, but to “fundamentally transform” it, as he said repeatedly. That transformation hasn’t been especially attractive.

He promised to have the most transparent administration in history. Yet so much of Obama’s personal background documentation, like his college records, has been safely hidden away from the people he serves. A article says a new report out finds that he hasn't even run the most transparent administration since the previous one.”

Quoting an analysis of federal data produced by the Associated Press, the Townhall article continues: More often than ever, the administration censored government files or outright denied access to them last year under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, cited more legal exceptions it said justified withholding materials and refused a record number of times to turn over files quickly that might be especially newsworthy.”

Taking office on the downside of a significant recession, eight years later the economy has still not fully regained its former strength. He touts the U-3 unemployment rate as proof that the Obama recovery was successful, but tens of millions who couldn’t find a job dropped out of the workforce, thereby producing an unemployment rate in the respectable range near 5 percent.

The U-6 rate, which counts those discouraged workers that the U-3 ignores – the more accurate figure – sits at approximately twice the U-3 rate, and the Labor Force Participation Rate, which shows what portion of eligible workers are working or looking for a job, is at its lowest point since the late 1970s.

The nation’s productivity has been handcuffed by over-regulation and punishing tax rates, which encourage businesses to move jobs and factories to other nations where the business environment is friendlier. A healthy GDP rate is above the 3 percent mark, but Real Clear Politics (RCP) reports, “Under President Obama, annual economic growth from 2010 through the first three quarters of 2016 averaged 2.1 percent, which RCP termed “subpar.”

Where domestic policy is concerned, The Daily Signal provided these tidbits from The Heritage Foundation last week:

·         In 2009 when Obama took office the National Debt was $10.6 trillion; today it is $19.5 trillion, and counting; nearly twice the rate he inherited.

·         200 new regulations have increased the regulatory burden by $108 billion annually, a burden on the shoulders of everyday Americans. Regulations aimed at climate change will kill hundreds of thousands of jobs and increase what American households spend on electricity by 13 to 20 percent over the next 20 years.

·         The Affordable Care Act is anything but affordable. Many Americans have not been able to keep their doctors; 12 of the 23 co-ops have failed, costing taxpayers $1.2 billion, and forcing 740 thousand to scramble to try to find health insurance.

·         Food stamp claimants rose from fewer than 30 million in 2008 to 46.5 million by 2014.

·         Obama’s imperial presidency granted amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants and mandated transgender bathroom policies for public schools by using executive orders to circumnavigate Congress to get his way.

Obama claims that 75 consecutive months of positive job creation during his term is the best ever, which is true. However, this stretch produced 11.3 million new jobs, which is less than two of the last five presidents, according to a report by Business Insider, which says, “Obama ranks third among the past five presidents in total job creation over the length of his presidency — in front of both George H.W. and George W. Bush, but behind Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan,” with Clinton creating about 23 million and Reagan creating about 16 million.

Under Barack Obama’s heavily ideological presidency America is weaker, more divided, less trusted by its allies, and suffers other ill effects. Voters regarded his leadership as poor enough to cause them to abandon the Democrat Party, producing heavy losses at the federal and state levels.

Despite all of this, in Obama’s highly narcissistic perspective, his was a wonderfully successful presidency. But by American standards, his presidency represents a clear and dramatic failure of leadership, and it will take years to repair the damage his presidency has produced.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Draining the swamp: American education is ripe for improvement

Among the many hot topics since Donald Trump won election as the 45th President of the United States is America’s education system. Once at the top of the nations of the world in educating its young, America has lost ground.

Jon Guttman, Research Director of the World History Group, wrote in 2012 that “[a]s recently as 20 years ago, the United States was ranked No.1 in high school and college education,” and that “[i]n 2009, the United States was ranked 18th out of 36 industrialized nations.” He attributes that decline to “complacency and inefficiency, reflective of lower priorities in education, and inconsistencies among the various school systems.”

In 2010 at a Paris meeting of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), President Barack Obama’s first Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, who served from 2009 through 2015, said this:

“Before the 1960s, almost all policymaking and education funding was a state and local responsibility. In the mid-1960s, the federal role expanded to include enforcing civil rights laws to ensure that poor, minority, and disabled students, as well as English language learners, had access to a high-quality education.

“As the federal role in education grew,” Duncan said, “so did the bureaucracy,” adding that the U.S. Department of Education often “operated more like a compliance machine, instead of an engine of innovation,” and that it concerned itself with the details of formula funding, and not with educational outcomes or equity.

He went on to say that the United States needed to challenge the status quo, and to close the achievement and opportunity gaps. Five years later, the U.S. still lagged behind many other countries.

The findings in the 2015 Program International Student Assessment (PISA), described by CNN as “a benchmark of education systems conducted every three years by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a grouping of the world's richest economies,” finds the U.S. education system improved since the last assessment in 2012 in the areas of science, math and reading.

However, that improvement leaves American students ranked behind the students of 24 other countries, among the 72 participating nations. Teens in Singapore, Japan and Estonia led the more than half a million 15-year-olds in the 2015 assessment, the primary focus of which was science, with math as the primary focus in 2012.

President Jimmy Carter signed the federal Department of Education into law in 1979, and since it became active the following year, American education has gotten worse, as measured by these international assessments. Marginal or negative performance is not unusual for federal agencies, however. President-Elect Donald Trump, like Ronald Reagan before him, has called for abolishing the Department of Education, citing the need to cut spending.

Looking back to the formative years of the republic, we find the Founders established only four cabinet level activities: foreign relations through the State Department; national defense through the Department of War (now Defense); taxation and spending through the Department of the Treasury; and enforcement of federal law through the Attorney General (now the Department of Justice).

The increase of federal agencies has no doubt produced some benefits, but does their performance justify the costs incurred?  They have produced huge growth in government control of our lives, and enormous expense. Today there are nearly four times as many cabinet level agencies as the Founders thought necessary.

The federal education effort has many sins on its list, but the primary sin is the shifting of control of local schools to Washington by dangling federal dollars in front of state school officials, which they can earn in return for giving up some degree of control over their schools. Federal influences also contribute to the infestation of standardized testing, which in moderation can provide benefits, but when a typical student takes 112 mandated standardized tests between pre-kindergarten classes and 12th grade, that is over the edge. Eighth-graders, it is said, spend an average of 25.3 hours on standardized testing.

Trump has named Betsy DeVos to become education secretary. Her bio explains that in education she “has been a pioneer in fighting to remove barriers, to enact change and to create environments where people have the opportunity to thrive,” and that her political efforts are focused on advancing educational choices. She currently chairs the American Federation for Children.

Like all of Trump’s cabinet selections so far, DeVos is seen as unqualified, criticized for her lack of experience in education and for pushing to “give families taxpayer money in the form of vouchers to attend private and parochial schools, pressed to expand publicly funded but privately run charter schools, and trying to strip teacher unions of their influence,” according to an unflattering story in The New York Times.

Perhaps the contrary is true, however. Given the lackluster performance of the Department of Education when run by apparently qualified people, someone with other strengths just might be able to turn the department into a positive influence on what is broadly considered a mediocre education system.

Schools are best operated by those closest to the students, so returning control to states and localities will be a good first step.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Trigger warning: Immigration problems are being discussed here

Immigration ought to be one of a nation’s primary concerns, and after the last eight years of lax enforcement of immigration law and the horrible consequences to some individual Americans at the hands of some illegal aliens, President-Elect Donald Trump faces the screaming need to make changes to the immigration process once he is sworn in, and he has stated the desire to do so.

President Barack Obama touts his record on deportations, which some say is nearly 3,000,000 illegal aliens. That certainly is a good thing, but like Paul Harvey famously provided his listeners for so many years, here’s the rest of the story.

The Obama administration did not go around the country rounding up and deporting illegal aliens, some of whom are criminals with varying degrees of violent behavior, including murder. Instead, the Border Patrol caught these nearly three million illegals near the Mexican border as they were entering the country, and turned them around to head back south. Better than nothing, certainly, but far less laudable than that for which Obama takes credit.

In the meantime, the many millions of illegals that have found their way into the country remain, many of them in self-proclaimed “sanctuary” jurisdictions, where local officials brag that they will protect the illegals – criminals and non-criminals alike – from being discovered and deported, or otherwise dealt with as federal law provides.

Like his failure to identify and correctly label radical Muslims who commit terrorism in America and elsewhere, Obama’s failure to properly address illegal immigration will forever be near the top of his lengthy failure list.

It is said, and in proper context it is true, that America is a nation of immigrants. In the earliest days everyone who came to the colonies was an immigrant, and after the colonies gained independence and formed the new nation many other immigrants came to America over the decades and did their part to build and strengthen the nation. But the idea that America still needs immigrants to make it successful and desirable is ridiculous.

American culture was established long ago, so we no longer have a burning need for immigrants for that purpose, or for any purpose. These days, with the foolish suspension of border and immigration control, largely during the term of Barack Obama, the millions of illegal aliens in the country today often weaken our country and pose threats to Americans.

Our country belongs to Americans, those of us whose families have been here for more than a few years, families that have been here for generations. Our Founders created a nation with a unique set of principles from which deep traditions were formed that have survived more than two centuries since the United States came into existence.

We have our ways of doing things – our culture – and a body of laws that evolved from that culture. Americans decide how things are done here, and those who want to come here from places near and far, and places often much different, and many far worse than America, are expected to adapt to our way of doing things.

What sense does it make to do what is required to get to America legally from countries hundreds or thousands of miles away, become a US citizen, and then maintain an allegiance to the land you wanted to get away from instead having an allegiance to America? Or to try to institute the culture of the home you left to come here? If you don’t want to adapt to our way of life – to become an American – why did you come here?

Our policy ought to be: If you want to come here, and you agree to embrace our culture and to assimilate into the American way of believing, living and behaving, and you are a good and honest person with something positive to contribute to America, you will be considered acceptable to apply for citizenship.

What we don’t need, don’t want, and must not abide is people coming here illegally, even if they do so because they truly want a better life in the US. And we also can’t allow those to immigrate here whose national allegiance lies with a country other than the United States. Be an American; accept the country as it is, not as you want it to be. Do not be, for example, a Nicaraguan that lives in America.

Every American needs to understand that there is no divine right held by citizens of other countries to come to America, either asvisitors, immigrants, or as refugees. And further understand that America has no obligation to accept people who want to come here. We can accept them, or not, as we choose.

However, America does have the right, and the obligation, to control who it allows into the country, to be sure they are fit to be here, and have something beneficial to offer us.

America became the great and wonderful country that it is through decades of honoring and sustaining its founding principles, and not by kowtowing to the demands of every dissatisfied minority group that believes its desires are more important than our heritage.