Saturday, November 30, 2019

When egos and political considerations trump honorable service

Have you ever been in a situation where the person in charge of a unit is neither liked or respected by some members? Most likely, you have; such dynamics are not unusual.

Sometimes, some members get together and talk about how the leader is heading in the wrong direction, how her/his ideas are at odds with the previous leader. 

Some of the disaffected have been there for many years, and feel a deep connection to the unit, and like the way things were done in the past. They believe that things will go downhill quickly, unless something is done.

At this point, there are options for the disaffected, but only two of them are honorable. First, they can swallow hard, follow the direction of the leader, and do their job as well as possible. Second, they can turn in their resignation and look elsewhere for a situation that suits their preferences. 

That’s all; nothing else is acceptable. Anything else is subversive.

This scenario can be an issue for any new president of the United States upon taking the oath of office. Federal career employees — bureaucrats, the establishment — have been around for a while and likely served more than one president. They often have their own ideas about who “really” runs the country — them, many believe — and how things should be done.

Depending upon how those bureaucrats and political appointees decide to behave, problems often result. Most of the current federal bureaucracy served during some or all of the administrations of presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Many of them probably did not like some of what one or more of the presidents under whom they served was doing. 

On January 20, 2017, Donald Trump became President of the United States, and the stage was set for what we see happening today. Many government employees have their own ideas about how the country should be run, and some don’t like what Donald Trump is doing.

Trump’s actions have been, shall we say, different, unusual, unconventional, compared to other recent presidents. And, his political philosophy is undoubtedly in conflict with some career bureaucrats and political appointees. Some of them have no doubt made their differences known, directly or indirectly.

It is a president’s option to replace any or all political appointees, and many have done so. The Washington Post reported the following: “The incoming Obama administration has notified all politically-appointed ambassadors that they must vacate their posts as of Jan. 20, the day President-elect Barack Obama takes the oath of office, a State Department official said.”

The Atlantic reported the day before Trump’s swearing in, however, that his administration would keep more than 50 Obama administration appointees in place temporarily. This was perhaps done due to the slow process of getting new appointees through the confirmation process, and thinking the hold-overs would behave.

Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense in George W. Bush’s administration, had a famous rule that is applicable in such situations: “You go to war with the Army you have — not the Army you might wish you have.” 

But egos magically inflate in Washington politics, and inflated egos often lead to problems in the performance of one’s duties when the ego dwarfs the duty to the president and country.

Given the philosophical differences between Trump and his three predecessors, particularly with Obama’s philosophy, the probability of substantial hostility among some career bureaucrats and appointees to Trump’s policies and methods is great. 

There is no scarcity of federal bureaucrats who have trampled on their professional and ethical responsibilities and engaged in activities that work against their boss, the elected President of the United States.

Some older names are FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page and their thousands of exchanged emails. James Comey, Director of the FBI from 2013 until his dismissal in May 2017. The as yet unidentified former FBI lawyer accused of altering a document in the application for a FISA warrant. Andrew McCabe, an FBI veteran, former deputy director and former acting director who “lacked candor” in connection with a leak investigation, which means he knowingly provided false information. 

More recently, National Security Council aide Alexander Vindman, State Department diplomats William Taylor Jr. and George Kent, Ambassador Gordon Sondland, former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, and former National Security Council staffer Fiona Hill. 

The aforementioned generally worked against this president with some colluding to bring him down, and others testified to what they thought, believed, surmised and hoped for. The key factor in the Herculean effort to find collusion, quid pro quo, bribery, obstruction and whatever else they might come up with is missing in action.

First, they claimed Trump was guilty of a quid pro quo. For there to be a “quid pro quo” — a “this” in return for “that” — with the Ukrainian president, the Ukrainian president would have to be aware of both the “this” and the “that.” When “quid pro quo” didn’t garner the expected interest, the Democrats in the House took a poll and found a preferable term: bribery.

The Ukrainians, however, repeatedly insisted that it didn’t happen: their president was unaware that funds were being withheld. Neither bribery nor the quid pro quo happened.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The quality of U.S. K-12 and college education is on the decline

As recently as 20 years ago, HistoryNet tells us, the United States led the world in high school and college education.  

However, the American education system has lost ground. That is not to say that there are no schools or school systems that are doing well, or that no students are learning. But the U.S. standing among nations of the world has fallen to a frightening degree over the last several years.

“Every American family needs to open The Nation’s Report Card [the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress] this year and think about what it means for their child and for our country’s future,” said Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. “The results are, frankly, devastating. This country is in a student achievement crisis, and over the past decade it has continued to worsen, especially for our most vulnerable students.”

Her warning didn’t end there. "Two out of three of our nation’s children aren’t proficient readers. In fact, fourth grade reading declined in 17 states and eighth grade reading declined in 31,” she said. “The gap between the highest and lowest performing students is widening, despite $1 trillion in Federal spending over 40 years designated specifically to help close it.”

The Atlantic magazine reported on a 2001 study by the Brookings Institute which, in fact, showed that international students found their U.S. classes “much easier” than classes in their home country. That number rose from nearly 60 percent of foreign students in 2001 to 66.4 percent in a 2016 study.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) administers an exam every three years. It is considered the gold standard for such data. The most recent available results from the exam, titled the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), is from 2015. PISA measures reading, math and science in 15-year-olds in 72 countries every three years.
** The U.S. ranked 18th in Reading. The top five were: Singapore, Ireland, Canada, Hong Kong, and Japan. 
** The U.S ranked 36th in Math, with the top five being: Singapore, Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei, Macau (China), Japan.
** And we ranked 22nd in Science, with the leaders being: Singapore, Japan, Estonia, Chinese Taipei, Canada.

The U.S. scored just above the average of all nations in reading and science, and below average in math. East Asian and northern European countries tend to dominate the exam.

Among the most advanced countries, the U.S. ranks 38th out of 40 in graduating science majors, according to the 2015 Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard report from the OECD.

And America is way behind China and India in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) graduates, the academic areas our future depends upon to a great degree.

“China had at least 4.7 million recent STEM grads as of 2016; India had 2.6 million as of 2017; the U.S. pulls in at third at 568,000,” according to the World Economic Forum. In terms of graduates per thousand population, the U.S. is about even with India with one grad per 573 people, but far behind China with one grad per 293 people.

Being challenged by China, our leading economic competitor, is a serious problem. Will we have enough future engineers and scientists to protect our lead in high technology fields, or will we be replaced by the Chinese?

Business Insider worries that “While American scientists still publish more papers than their international counterparts, and American companies still register more patents, not nearly enough students are graduating with degrees in STEM fields to keep pace with the rest of the world.”

The reasons for America’s declining educational performance are many and varied. Some are systemic. Some are cultural. Some are political.

The Brookings report also reflected that foreign students also say that American students spend far more time on sports than on academics.

“Nearly two-thirds of foreign-exchange students in the United States view American teenagers as placing a much higher value on athletic success than teens in their home countries do,” Brookings reported. “By comparison, only 5 percent of international students say American teens place a much higher value on success in mathematics than teenagers abroad. Around 65 percent of foreign-exchange students also feel that American teens spend less time on homework than their international peers.”

Standardized testing is a frequent target for blame. By placing so much attention on performance on these tests, it is argued, much class time and other resources that could be put to better use is wasted, and students learn what they need for the test, to the detriment of broader and deeper learning of subject matter.

Another area of criticism is the implementation of the Common Core State Standards. Common Core was heralded as “dramatically improving teaching and learning” and, indeed, “transforming education for every child.” It hasn’t. The Hill commented, “Under the suffocating hand of Common Core, true academic achievement is withering.”

The late Joseph Sobran years ago wrote, “In 100 years we have gone from teaching Latin and Greek in high school to teaching remedial English in college.” 

We have replaced so many of the concepts that made us strong for “newer and better ideas,” and now we are paying the price.

Friday, November 08, 2019

“As California goes, so goes the nation.” Is that still true?

Not so long ago, California was “the” place to be. Known as “The Golden State,” it has beautiful topography, with the ocean, cliffs, lakes, mountains and forests, and generally nice, warm weather that lured those from other states to visit, and even to relocate. Many special attractions add to the state’s allure.

The state’s openness to, and propensity for novel ideas on government and other things led to the creation of phrase “As California goes, so goes the nation.”

Today, California is only a dark shadow of its former self. The natural beauty is still there, many of the other attractions remain, but the state has lost much of its charm and allure.

In certain areas it is very expensive to live, and that situation has not been improving of late. AMAC Magazine tells us that “In 1970, Californians spent three times their salary on a home.” That cost/earnings ratio has risen to 10 times salary. 

This and other factors drove a million residents to other states between 2007 and 2016. “The online survey, conducted [in January] by Edelman Intelligence, found that 53 percent of Californians surveyed are considering fleeing, representing a jump over the 49 percent polled a year ago,” as reported by CNBC. 

Taxes add to the discomfort. In some locations the state sales tax is worsened by local sales taxes, and the total tax averages out to 8.54 percent for people in those locations, one of the highest in the country. The 18-cents per-gallon gasoline tax makes things even worse.

The state has become very difficult for middle income earners, who can’t afford to live there comfortably anymore. 

As a result of high taxes and aggressive regulation, businesses now do studies to see if it makes economic sense for them to expand in California, or expand elsewhere, or to totally move from the state.

California’s “sanctuary state” status puts unneeded stress on social welfare programs and public education, both of which are funded by taxes. And, the homeless population is out of control.  

“In 2018, there were 129,972 people on the streets on any given night statewide,” as reported by the Los Angeles Times back in August. “The most recent count conducted in Los Angeles County revealed that there were nearly 59,000 homeless people in 2019, while there were 9,784 homeless people in San Francisco, including in jails, hospitals and rehab centers — a jump of 30 percent from 2017.”

And recently the state has been suffering from the annual wildfire season. Each year hundreds of thousands of acres of land and dozens of buildings are lost to these fires, and the lives of thousands of residents are turned upside-down, and some die. And things are getting worse each year.

Many people place blame on climate change, not only for the worsening degree of the fires each year, but for their origin. Democrat California Gov. Gavin Newsom, his predecessor, Jerry Brown, and many Newsom political allies claim climate change is driving California’s increasingly intense and deadly wildfires.

While natural circumstances contribute to the problem, most of the fires are started not by nature, but by the actions of people, about 84 percent of them, according to Vox.

Such things as a tree limb contacting a power line. Sparks from a trailer wheel rim with no tire on it produced sparks that caused one fire. Another was deliberately set by an arsonist. And so on.

Some sources say that the degree to which climate change contributes to the fire problem is directly related to the intensity of climate change assumptions that drive the state’s energy and environmental policies. 

“For instance, California’s large and heavily regulated public utilities — PG&E, SDG&E, and SCE — prioritize wind and solar power, leaving little for powerline maintenance and upgrades,” Chuck Devore wrote in The Federalist. “Simply put, the utilities are doing exactly what the regulators tell them to do. They make money for their investors on wind and solar; they don’t on powerline maintenance.”

And a 2015 Reason Foundation study noted: “While it is possible that climate change has played a role in increasing the size of fires, the primary cause seems to be forest management practices, which have changed several times over the course of the past 200 years.”

Failure to harvest timber and manage the downed trees that proliferate in wooded areas and fuel the fires has greatly increased the likelihood, and also the intensity of fires. The policies that limit forest management often are decisions by government to protect wildlife.

No one can argue that California does not have many problems, some very serious. But elected representatives have made scant progress, if any, toward solving the worst of them.

It is a fact that the state government and many/most local governments are and have been under Democrat control for a while. With the hard-left leanings of the current potential Democrat nominees for president, a Democrat president could be a real danger to the country, championing higher taxes and regressive policies such as those in The Golden State.

If it is still true that “As California goes, so goes the nation,” America is in deep trouble.

Friday, November 01, 2019

Imposing justice on a terrorist and impeaching the guy who did it

While the nation watches House Democrats conduct secretive impeachment hearings on President Donald Trump, the president was busy planning and approving a successful raid against the world’s leading terrorist.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, the global terrorist organization that is responsible for death, destruction and misery over a broad area for many years, is at long last dead.

The Washington Post did it’s best to downplay the event with this headline: “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, austere religious scholar at helm of Islamic State, dies at 48.” Apparently shame, at last, won out, and that obit-like headline was later changed to: “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, extremist leader of Islamic State, dies at 48.” Only slightly better.

“He commanded an organization that, at its peak, controlled a territory the size of Britain from which it directed and inspired acts of terror in more than three dozen countries,” The New York Times wrote of the terrorist.

This triumph against terrorism caps an international five-year manhunt involving the intelligence services of several countries.

In a U.S. Special Forces operation with its origins several days ago, al-Baghdadi was located in northwestern Syria. After consulting with military leaders, plans were devised and Trump okayed the raid, choosing the option that provided the highest probability of success. 

The option chosen called for asking al-Baghdadi to surrender, but if necessary to kill him. He refused to surrender, and Special Forces troops stormed his compound, chasing the terrorist leader from it into a dead-end tunnel last Saturday night, where he killed himself and three of his children by detonating a suicide vest. 

U.S. forces collected valuable intelligence information following the raid on al-Baghdadi, and sustained only minor injuries, and no deaths in the operation.

Calling the terrorist leader’s death a "devastating blow" to a terrorist organization that has launched horrific attacks across the world, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that "we're going to watch carefully [ISIS’] next steps. And as a new leader and leaders pop up we'll go after them as well,” on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. He also commented that al-Baghdadi "is not just their leader, it's their founder. He was an inspirational leader in many ways."

Michael Pregent, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute said that there is likely to be a splintering of ISIS into some smaller groups, as the transition to a new leader, or leaders to replace al-Baghdadi transpires.

While acknowledging the obvious success, Congressional Democrat leaders criticized the president for not notifying them in advance, and for notifying Russia, but not them. But there is no requirement to notify Congressional leaders of coming secret military missions, and Russia assisted in the operation. The fewer people who know about a secret mission, the better. And Democrats’ reputation for keeping quiet is not especially good.

Congratulations to the Special Forces, and all involved. It is comforting to see that Trump is doing his job despite the obvious distractions and interference resulting from the years-long impeachment effort.

Speaking of impeachment: ABC News reported “A group of House Republicans stormed a secure hearing room Wednesday, delaying a witness deposition in the ongoing impeachment inquiry.”

What an interesting choice of a verb: they “stormed” a secure hearing room. In this context, “stormed” means a sudden forceful attack by armed troops, such as the storming of the Bastille.

In World War II, roughly 57,000 American soldiers stormed the beaches of Normandy. Dressed in military clothing, complete with helmets, ammo belts and weapons, soldiers exited the boats near the shore, fought their way onto the beaches under fire, climbed the cliffs and killed thousands of the enemy. Thousands of American troops also were killed and injured.

That is the picture created by the choice of the verb “stormed,” which the news media used nearly universally. Warrior Republicans in the House of Representatives fought for conquest over the secretive hearing being conducted in the underground SCIF in the Capital building.

Two dozen House Republicans — men dressed in trousers, coats, shirts and ties; women in dresses, or skirts/slacks, blouses and high heels — walked casually down the stairs to the SCIF (Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility), a secure room where the impeachment inquiry is taking place three floors below ground level. They wanted to attend the secretive meeting that only members of the Intelligence Committee are allowed to attend.

They were asked by the Committee staff to give up their cell phones, and did so. All this was done before the unclassified hearing started. Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., hustled the witness out of the SCIF while the warriors were present, and would not return until they were gone.

Had American soldiers stormed the beaches of Normandy, dressed and behaving as gently as were the Republican warriors armed with cell phones, we would likely be speaking German today.

We have become familiar with — and numb to — hyperbole, overstatement and embellishment by the mainstream media, as its members commit malpractice in support of Democrat/liberal efforts to unseat a duly elected president. This behavior by the media has reached the point where terming the inarguably mannerly entry by Republicans into the SCIF as “storming” no longer raises eyebrows.