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Essential or not?

The COVID-19 experience helps us decide what is essential and what isn’t

By Dr. Larry Fedewa • DrLarryOnline

One effect of the lockdown is that we find ourselves with frequent decisions as to what is essential to our survival and happiness and what isn’t. Life gets stripped down to essentials, with all the extras becoming secondary, if that. Here are some ideas along these lines.

The first essential is food. The availability of food for us to buy entails a massive industry. First, there is the source which is the farmers and ranchers who provide our meat, fruit and vegetables. Their activities require thousands of acres of land and huge amounts of water for crops and livestock, which in turn depend on favorable weather. Bad weather can bring both floods and droughts.

Then there is also a vast capital expense required for equipment and labor to plant, cultivate and harvest the crops which feed both people and animals.

Ahead is the immense supply chain which involves the transportation, processing and ultimately delivery to the thousands of stores and restaurants which will make our food supply available to all of us. It is important to remember that this entire industry and all its parts must continue to operate at all times in order for us to survive. Any significant disruption could have disastrous consequences. 

Closely related to food is water. Humans can survive longer without food than without water. The availability of water involves another massive industry as well as favorable weather. When we turn on a faucet and water appears, it is well to remember what has gone into that daily miracle.

The moral of these reflections is that 1) we are all radically dependent on the proper functioning of extremely complicated and expensive sources and supply chains for the very fundamentals of our existence, and 2) that the survival of the human race depends on factors which are mostly beyond our control.

Among other things, these essentials remind us that they depend entirely on people working, pandemic or no pandemic.

The subject of “work” brings up another consideration: buildings may not be as universally essential as we thought. Specifically, our housing is essential. If we never thought about that before the “shelter in place” mandate appeared, staying home for three or four months certainly showed us the importance of our house.

For many, however, the experience also demonstrated that “office” is not essential to work. We have been forced to discover that, thanks to all the modern communication technology, much of the work we do can be as easily preformed at home as in an office. So, offices are not really on some lists as essential.

But work really is essential. We have discovered what we always knew – that our work is what keeps us going, defines our place in this society, which, if we are not satisfied with the way things are, provides alternatives for us to test and follow. Work is also critical for society as a whole because it constitutes the means by which all those complex supply chains are sustained. Combined, they are the “economy” which is followed so thoroughly by the news – and Wall Street.

Another essential which has been forced to the front of our attention span by the pandemic is our family. In many cases, parents who work hard in often stressful circumstances have re-discovered the importance and the joys of marriage and parenthood by staying home for extended periods. They have become re-acquainted with their spouse and children, and spouses and children have in turn made their own discoveries.

Fathers especially sometimes become almost mythical figures to children who see them only for short periods, often in a disciplinary circumstance. The rest of the time their father is talked about but not there. Getting to know each other better is beneficial to all.

Hygiene is another subject which has drawn more attention in the last few months than in the last few years. We have been told ad nauseum how to wash our hands and sterilize every surface in sight. Like it or not, cleanliness – of person and environment – has become a new essential.

Shopping, restaurants, sports events and sports teams have fallen to lower placed priorities. All are missed – acutely by some – but there are other ways to get exercise and to prepare and consume food and drinks, other ways which involve much less risk of contracting disease.

Among the essentials most missed, however, are social events and interactions with other people. Some have discovered that the absence of crowds and gatherings is so important that being deprived has led to depression or worse. Others – often a significant number – have decided to seek communal activities, whether parties or protest marches, in spite of advice and even prohibitions to the contrary. To them, a full social life is essential, damn the consequences!

Just some contemplative thoughts (while working at home!).


The Trouble With Mail-in Voting Might Not Be Fraud, But Government Incompetence

By John Daniel Davidson • The Federalist

The Trouble With Mail-in Voting Might Not Be Fraud, But Government Incompetence

President Trump has repeatedly warned of potential voter fraud associated with mass mail-in ballots for the November election, but a bigger threat might be sheer incompetence. Can we really rely on the U.S. Postal Service to handle a nationwide influx of mail-in ballots beginning next month?

So far, there’s not much reason for confidence. Last week in New York City, the Board of Elections threw out more than 84,000 mail-in ballots for the June 23 Democratic primary. That was out of a total of nearly 319,000 mail-in ballots, which means about 21 percent of all mail-in ballots were invalidated.

The New York Post reported, “One out of four mail-in ballots were disqualified for arriving late, lacking a postmark or failing to include a voter’s signature, or other defects.” What’s more, it took six weeks to declare a winner in two closely watched Democratic congressional primary races, largely because of delays associated with a surge of mail-in votes.

Elsewhere around the country, similar problems are cropping up. In Pennsylvania, mail-in ballot problems kept tens of thousands of residents from voting in the June primaries. In California, more than 100,000 mail-in ballots were rejected in the March presidential primary, mostly for missing the postmark and arrival deadlines.

Missing deadlines is turning out to be a real problem. A recent NPR analysis of 2020 mail-in primary ballots found significant rates of rejection because of late arrival. In Virginia, for example, more than 5.6 percent of all primary mail-in ballots were thrown out for arriving after the deadline. The numbers themselves are not large, but in a close election they can make all the difference—after all, Trump won in 2016 because of just 80,000 votes in three key states.

All these problems suggest the Postal Service isn’t prepared to handle an influx of voting by mail this November, as well as the possibility that no winner will be declared on election night because of mail-in ballot delays.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy last week said the Postal Service is expecting “an unprecedented increase in election mail volume due to the pandemic,” yet insisted it “has ample capacity to deliver all election mail securely and on time in accordance with our delivery standards.”

Based on all the mail-in ballot problems we’ve seen so far this year, that doesn’t seem to be the case. The Postal Service has been bleeding money for a long time—its losses this year reached $1.5 billion, compared to $1.1 billion last year—and the coronavirus pandemic has made things worse as the volume of mail sent by businesses has plummeted. Last month, the Postal Service agreed to a $10 billion loan from the U.S. Treasury Department after congressional negotiations to give the service as much as $25 billion fell through.

DeJoy’s efforts to manage these losses, which include a hiring freeze for leadership positions announced last week, have been denounced by Democrats who sound increasingly like conspiracy theorists. Rep. Gerry Connolly of Virginia, the Democrat who chairs the committee overseeing the postal service, accused DeJoy of “deliberate sabotage to disrupt mail service on the eve of the election—an election that hinges on mail-in ballots.”

Democrats complain that DeJoy, a Republican and a Trump supporter, is a “partisan” postmaster general, and that his efforts to shore up the Postal Service are really a ploy to steal the election.

But to the extent the Postal Service has a political bias, it certainly isn’t DeJoy’s fault—and in fact, it goes in the other direction. Last month, the American Postal Workers Union’s National Executive Board endorsed Joe Biden, saying in a statement that Trump is “a serious threat to our decent postal jobs, our unions and to the right of the people to a public Postal Service.”

That’s not to say there’s a conspiracy in the other direction, that Postal Service workers are going to mishandle mail-in ballots on purpose to hurt Trump. Only that relying on a failing government agency like the Postal Service to ensure the integrity of a presidential election might not be a good idea, especially given all the problems we’ve already seen with mail-in ballots in primary elections this year.


When Educrats Can’t Even Agree That 2+2=4, Public Education Is A Joke

It seems critical theorists won't stop until they've denied, rewritten, and scrubbed every semblance of Western Civilization from the education system.

By Katya Sedgwick • The Federalist

When Educrats Can’t Even Agree That 2+2=4, Public Education Is A Joke

It started on July 5 when Nikole Hannah-Jones, who penned the lead essay for The New York Times’ 1619 Project, was trolled with a meme. The meme came from philosopher James Lindsay, whose upcoming “Cynical Theories” book on identity politics co-written with Helen Pluckrose is already an Amazon bestseller. Lindsay summarized the exchange:

[I]t appears someone put this Woke Mini into the employ of satirically replying to Nikole Hannah-Jones on the fifth of July in response to her tweeting, ‘I wonder if folks always talking about ‘standards’ ever stop to consider that it’s their so-called standards that are the actual problem.’ Hannah-Jones decided to make fun of me by quote-retweeting this delightful troll, including the image of the ‘2+2=4’ Woke Mini, and adding the comment, ‘Using Arabic numerals to try to make a point about white, Western superiority is just so damn classic.’

Referring to George Orwell’s 1984, and poking fun of wokesterism, Lindsay quipped: “2+2=4: A perspective in white, Western mathematics that marginalizes other possible values.”

Hannah-Jones’s response energized Twitterati who mostly appear to be employed in education bureaucracies. They attempted to prove that in certain instances two and two equal five.

One of these was Kareem Carr who, according to his profile, is a Ph.D. statistics student at Harvard University He offered several examples of situations in which he claimed 2+2=5, including: “Imagine a system where we can only measure things to 1 decimal place. So 2 could mean 1.5 to 2.4 … 2.4 + 2.4 is 4.8 … in our theoretical system, this would look like 2+2=5. Again pretty normal to have an error in measurements in normal life.”

“Second example. Imagine computing distances between airports on cost. Is it possible that flying from airport A to B is $200 and B to C is $200 but flight from A to C is $500 … happens all the time. Again pretty typical everyday example.”

In the first instance, Carr proves that 2+2=5 when one makes a measuring error, then rounds up. Yet mathematical notations have the language to express errors and approximations, and it’s not “equal to.”

The second example confuses prices with distances. Carr might as well say that an airline offered a discounted $500 ticket for $400, thereby confirming that 200+200=500.

Carr should know better. A theorem is proven wrong if we find a set of values for which it doesn’t hold. Truly showing that 2+2=5 means that 2+2 is not 4. Yet this is not the point Carr and the rest of the woke math team want to advance. Rather, they are saying that 2+2 can sometimes be construed as equaling four, so who is to judge?

As one observer noted, they are deconstructing math here or using the methods of post-modernism developed for humanities. But these methods simply don’t apply to other fields of inquiry (indeed, whether they apply in the humanities is still an open debate). The humanities rely on gathering then interpreting information, whereas mathematicians derive knowledge through deduction, or discovering universal laws under which systems operate.

That 2+2=4 is a simple truth, just like the fact that there are two easily recognizable sexes, male and female, is indisputable common sense. To get people to agree that it’s not is disorienting. Lindsay says this is intentional:

…the activists are seeking a radical rewriting of the entire rational project, and any reason that doesn’t forward their favored actors as the sole arbiters of what is true and correct needs to be deconstructed by rhetorical tricks and marginalized by moral and, perhaps, physical force and intimidation. They’re seeking a revolution.

The wokies are not interested in truth, Lindsay goes on to explain. Their objectives are purely political: to identify “systems of oppression,” and transfer political power to preferred groups. To this, Lindsay adds:

This is … a breakdown of the fundamental logic of civilization, which depends entirely on the ability for each citizen to generally understand something of how that civilization operates. It is also a replacement of that fundamental logic of civilization with the fundamental logic of something more basic and less able to meet the needs of the people who will still be forced to live within it: self-interest, cronyism, corruption, and an unstable form of uncivilized might-makes-right that will surely eventually collapse into the more brutal and familiar stable sort in which whomever can kill enough people gets to make the rules.

While I agree that people incapable of clear thought are a threat to democracy and civilization, to call the 2+2=5 crowd revolutionaries gives them too much credit. They are long marchers, grifters, and cowards with an insatiable quest for power. There is no point in having a revolution when they can simply issue a ukase mandating everyone acknowledges that 2+2 is not necessarily 4.

Because it relies on logic and is independent of fact-gathering, mathematics is the single most liberating field of knowledge. It stands free from ideological contamination and depends solely on an individual’s ability to reason. Because identity politics is the ideology of bondage, it cannot easily coexist with math.

The hard left may never convince Americans that their fake math is right, but they don’t need to win by persuasion when they have pawns strategically positioned in the nation’s school districts and education schools. Seattle Unified School District made the news last school year with their ethnic mathcurriculum, which twisted knowledge into identity.

SUSD is at the forefront, but not alone in their fight against reason. Consider, for instance, Rochelle Gutiérrez, a math education professor at the Illinois School of Education who champions something called “living mathematx” and “rehumanizing” math for non-Caucasians.

Gutiérrez was involved in a mutually affirming Twitter conversation with Angela Knotts, a co-director of the Silicon Valley Mathematics Initiative, an educational consultancy that advises school districts around the country. Here is a snippet: “A5 – I think there is an implicit question here which is, Why do we teach math as a ‘core’ subject in the first place? What is the historical legacy of school math? Also, who was/is intended to benefit & how? #cmcmath #mathequity”

It seems a bit self-defeating for an education bureaucrat specializing in math to call for the eradication of her field, but Gutiérrez enthusiastically picked it up: “Yes! This is a part of what I’ve been referring to as defunding maths: literally defunding it from K-12 curriculum (requirements, testing) & society (STEM funding and salaries) but also figuratively from our minds (giving the current version more value than other subjects/gifts).”

The remarks almost make it seem like these gals are not so much in favor of eliminating math as they are for eliminating clear thinking on public school properties, and redistributing wealth from high-achieving people to politically preferred ethnic groups.

Next, Mathematical Association of America, a professional organization to which 25,000 educators belong, ran interference for the 2+2=5 bunch. MAA published an essay by Dr. Keith Devlin, who, without linking to the actual debate, assured readers that the Woke Math proponents never said two and two is five.

He further stated that of course arithmetic is cultural because we belong to the culture that understands what two and two add up to. If other cultures don’t have this knowledge, they are well-advised to appropriate it from us, and we shouldn’t shy away from teaching it.

There might not be very many people subscribing to such bizarre opinions, and they might not have many followers, but every last one of them has institutional power to destroy mathematics and with it the future of our children. If there ever a cause for conservative canceling, we should cancel these specialists. They do not belong in education.


The Man Who Wasn’t There

The risks of Joe Biden’s basement strategy

By Matthew Continetti • The Washington Free Beacon

At first glance, Joe Biden’s strategy of avoiding the spotlight is paying off. He maintains his consistent lead over Donald Trump in national polls. In June, in the aftermath of the Lafayette Park fiasco, his advantage in the RealClearPolitics average expanded to 10 points. The critical swing states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Florida are trending his way. His lead gives him the freedom to mollify the progressive wing of his party by shifting leftward on policy. The Democrats smell victory and dream of unified control of government for the first time in a decade.

There is no question that President Trump is in trouble. But look again at the polls. The national race has tightened. Biden is still ahead but by a 6-point margin. Michael Goodwin of the New York Post observes that Hillary Clinton enjoyed a similar lead at this point in the 2016 campaign. The CNBC poll conducted in late July found a much closer race in the battlegrounds. Biden’s leads in Arizona and Pennsylvania were within the margin of error. His greatest advantage was a 5-point spread in Wisconsin. Recent days have brought news of GOP gains in registration in Pennsylvania and of the Trump campaign’s huge lead in voter contacts. The 2016 election was decided by a relatively small number of voters across a tiny number of states. If a similar scenario plays out in 2020, then Donald Trump may well emerge the winner.

The truth is that, except on the air and online, the presidential campaign really hasn’t started yet. The coronavirus has upended traditional forms of electioneering. It’s forced Trump to cancel his tentpole rallies, driven both parties to hold virtual conventions, and blotted out the daily back-and-forth between candidates and campaigns. That has left the race in a form of suspended animation, with Biden enjoying the fruits of leaving Trump to his own often self-destructive devices.

But the strategy is not all upside. It has left Biden offstage during a multifaceted national emergency. The Democratic nominee has made a series of speeches detailing his “Build Back Better” agenda, but has anyone really paid attention to them? Nor did Biden take a strong stand against the violence in Seattle and Portland. He’s been AWOL. The Trump campaign has turned the minuscule audiences that attend his livestreamed events into the butt of a running Twitter joke. A philosopher might say that Biden has transcended his physical form and become the Platonic ideal of a “generic Democrat.” He is running more or less in line with the congressional generic ballot. But voters do not vote for generic presidents. They choose between two individuals.

This lack of definition is a potential danger for Biden as the presidential race enters its final months. “No other major-party presidential nominee has spent so long in politics,” wroteEdward-Isaac Dovere of the Atlantic in late June. “Biden was first elected to the Senate in 1972, before anyone currently serving in Congress. And no other major-party presidential nominee has led the polls despite basically coming off as a fuzzy white space.” Dovere cited “data from focus groups and polls conducted by Biden allies” that showed voters basically know Biden is old, worked for Barack Obama, and seems to be a genial and well-intentioned, if sometimes weird, elder statesman. That’s it.

A few weeks ago, the “Engagious” swing voter project, which conducts focus groups, gathered together some Michigan voters who had pulled the lever for President Trump in 2016. The participants were drawn from the “Obama-Trump” demographic that gained so much attention last cycle but has since been overshadowed by groups trending Democratic, such as college-educated women, suburbanites, and independents. “Over the past several months, most of my ‘Obama-Trump’ voters couldn’t name a single thing Biden has said or done regarding the pandemic,” wrote Rich Thau, president of Engagious, for CNN last week. “In bellwether Macomb County, on July 21, none of the nine voters I interviewed could name a single thing Biden had achieved in nearly 50 years in national politics.”

The problem for Biden is that the campaign is about to enter a phase where he cannot help being defined. A preview of this new reality came the other day. When asked if he has taken a cognitive test, Biden exploded and said, rather offensively, that the question was as silly as wondering if the black CBS reporter he was talking to had been tested for cocaine. The coming weeks will bring three major events that will convey Biden’s strengths and weaknesses before audiences of millions. He won’t be able to hide in his basement. And that may be where the fun begins.

The first event is his vice presidential announcement. Biden unintentionally backed himself into a corner by limiting his options at the start of the process, and now several of his choices would offer the Trump campaign avenues for attack. Republicans have signaled their eagerness to go after potential candidates such as Rep. Karen Bass (D., Calif.) and former national security adviser Susan Rice. Choosing Elizabeth Warren would amount to flipping the order of the ticket and allow Trump essentially to run against the Massachusetts senator rather than the former vice president. Kamala Harris seems to be the safest pick. But she’s also an uninspiring and potentially clumsy one.ADVERTISING

The second occasion where Biden will be center stage is his convention. It’s unlikely that Milwaukee will be as chaotic as Philadelphia in 2016, especially now that neither Biden nor his running mate will be there, but one wonders if radicals want to enjoy a split-screen with the televised speeches (of either party). There is also the question of how much Barack Obama will loom over the proceedings. The Biden team and Democrats in general are convinced that more Obama is always and everywhere a good thing. But they might want to consider the possible reactions of the Obama-Trump voters mentioned above.

The former president’s political interventions thrill partisans and the media wing of the Democratic Party. But they also remind Republicans and independents of everything they disliked about the Obama years. Biden’s address will be the first time in years that the American people will hear from him without interruption or mediation. His campaign strategists have not behaved as if this is something they look forward to.

Finally, the debates are scheduled to begin on September 29 in Cleveland. What Biden says and does in response to President Trump’s inevitable braggadocio, interruptions, denials, and needling about his son and his mental capacity will go a long way to determine voters’ confidence in him. Biden has displayed a tendency to snap, ramble, and use bizarre turns of phrase when asked tough questions, and it’s unknown whether voters will respond favorably to an aggressive and probably often bewildering performance. Biden also trips over his words. The contrast between a commanding Trump and a confused Biden would be damaging.

I have a feeling Democrats recognize this hazard, which is why a few liberals have raised the possibility of getting rid of the debates altogether. The first trial balloon came from Tom Friedman in a July column, and the most recent from Elizabeth Drew in an August 3 New York Times op-ed. There is no way Biden could try to do this without looking afraid, and so it’s unlikely to happen. But the very fact that media figures are having such a debate over the debates is evidence of the anxiety some on the left feel about Biden’s capabilities.

And with good reason. Joe Biden has not faced a serious in-person rebuke since Harris’s surprise attack in June 2019. He hasn’t experienced a significant setback to his campaign since March. Yes, the race is his to lose. But others have lost similar races before. And not being Trump might not be enough.


In The Minds And At The Hearts of Existential Hatred

By Dr. Miklos Radvanyi • Frontiers of Freedom

In today’s America, as so many times before in the country’s history, the responsible majority that has always desired to uphold the founding principles of the Republic and the good-for-nothing miniscule minority that has been hell-bent to destroy everything, are splitting up into a non-symbiotic rite of passage between the past and the present, as well as between assuming power through legitimate elections versus seizing power by employing malicious lies combined with ruthless violence.  However, when these two conflicting viewpoints to political and economic powers are juxtaposed, the events and occurrences of the past several months can be put into  perspective for anyone paying even scant attention to the future of the United States of America.

The protests that have been triggered by the death of a hardened criminal George Floyd during his arrest for alleged criminal acts on May 25, 2020, first in Minneapolis and then in several other Democrat controlled cities, have taken over an outsized portion of the political discourse in America and across the globe.  Quickly joined by an opportunistic as well as politically braindead Democrat Party and an irredeemably corrupt media, the often hate-filled narrative surrounding George Floyd’s death first became a spicy and exciting story, and then a discombobulated myth nurtured by racial hatred toward the overwhelming majority of the American people. 

The pernicious and highly inciting narrative initially has focused on the misleading reporting that George Floyd was an innocent and even saintly black man murdered without any reason by four evil, racist policemen.  As the protests have spread, this lying narrative has expanded to claiming that all anti-racist, meaning non-white, people are taking to the streets and rightfully demanding wholesale changes in a disciplined and peaceful manner.

At the same time, America is marking three-and-a-half years of the Trump presidency with the new presidential election looming on the horizon amidst the coronavirus pandemic.  The artificially manufactured baseless political crises by the Democrat Party slavishly propagandized by most of the official and social media, have given rise to a general atmosphere of mutual hatred.  What started out as protests against alleged police brutality and racial bias has quickly deteriorated into ubiquitous mayhem and senseless violence.  Black Lives Matter, Antifa, and an assortment of loosely organized mentally unstable groups that later have become known as “anti-racist” and “social justice” protests, have come together to oppose the Trump Administration as a systematically racist and even “Nazi” and “Fascist” government.  

Yet, these increasingly hateful and extremist fringe groups have not captured the minds and hearts of the vast majority of Americans across the nation.  Clearly led by individuals who admittedly espouse extremist Communist ideas and egged on by like minded idiotic Democrat members of Congress, their hateful and overtly political message against the President has already alienated the overwhelming majority of the American people.  Moreover, beyond alienating this majority, the claims that the United States of America is an institutionally and systematically racist country, with all the police forces, national guards, and military, which is trained for brutality against the black population, have angered not only the Caucasians, but also all the non-black minorities.

Clearly, the political strategy of the Democrat Party is to utilize this destructive mob to propagate lies about the United States of America, its citizens, and the rest of the world.  Moreover, this political strategy also aims at preventing everybody from fighting against these egregious lies by getting to the truth.  Finally, the deeply complicit official and social media are used to disseminate subjective, unreliable, and untrustworthy information, in order to hide the facts from the people.  

Allowing these viscerally anti-American and scantly educated so-called politicians, journalists, and rag-tag idiots to control the political, economic, and social narratives is a sure recipe for an inevitable national catastrophe.  For this reason alone, they must be stopped decisively.  Dialogues and compromises will only lead to the gradual erosion of the federal, state, and local institutions, and the constitutional principles upon which their legitimacy rests.  

Accusing almost the entire American nation of its alleged moral shortcomings for being the most predatory and humanly despicable country is factually absolutely incorrect.  Its purpose is to create moral equivalency between the current lawlessness that destroys statues, expresses utter disdain for the national anthem by kneeling, burns the flag as an expression of anti-patriotism, wages war on America’s history, intimidates law abiding citizens, terrorizes nonconforming students, distorts world history, spreads lies about the state of affairs across the globe, and attacks free speech by using hateful sobriquets against all opponents, and the real historic achievements of a great country.  

A mere rejection rather than the total defeat of this toxic and evil movement would only mean the steady weakening of the Republic as we know it.  Even well-intentioned political compromises would result in the likely regrouping of the destructive forces to repeatedly attempt their coup d’etat in the future under more favorable circumstances.  In the minds and at the hearts of individuals championing a single issue, proposing compromises is perceived as weakness on the part of their opponents that can be exploited rather than being viewed as constructive offers that should be contemplated, and even reciprocated.

It is in this uncompromising and hateful context that the presidential election in November will have to take place.  Allowing a mentally clearly demented person to assume the presidency would only move the United States of America closer to the global abyss.  Being governed by the lies of the Democrat Party would take America into a political vacuum with no chance of future recovery.  To prevent such an outcome the American people must reject the destructive forces and vote for the constitution-based constructive vision of President Donald J. Trump.


School Choice Is the Only Option

If there is a potential silver lining to the United States' experience with COVID-19, it can be found in the domain of primary and secondary education, where the demand for alternatives to traditional public schools is surging. The pandemic has both laid bare the US education gap and pointed the way to a solution.

By JOHN B. TAYLOR • Project Syndicate

STANFORD – After years of rumblings for change in US education, the COVID-19 pandemic is becoming a catalyst for improving the system. America’s educational divide – especially in grades K-12 (elementary through high school) – is now clearly visible for anyone to see. Disparities in quality and access to education are a major source of the economic, social, and racial inequalities that are driving so much social unrest from Austin and Oakland to Portland and Seattle. Whether they come from impoverished inner-city neighborhoods or the suburbs, the least-educated Americans have been the hardest hit by the pandemic and its economic effects.

Fortunately, economist Thomas Sowell (my colleague at the Hoover Institution) has offered a solution. In his new book, Charter Schools and Their Enemies, he shows that schools with more autonomy and flexibility than traditional public schools are closing the educational divide, providing sorely needed choice, opportunity, and competition.

Sowell’s careful analysis of the data, which was available before the pandemic struck, shows that students in publicly funded but privately operated charter schools like Success Academy in New York City score remarkably higher on standardized achievement tests than do those in traditional public schools. The book contains reams of convincing evidence, all of which is explained beautifully and presented clearly in more than 90 pages of tables.

Sowell controls for many factors, including school location: students at charter schools within the same building as a traditional public school perform several times better on the same tests. And he supplements the hard data with simple evidence, such as the long waiting lists to get into the better performing charter schools. But if charter schools work so well, what explains the enemies mentioned in the book’s title? Critics of charter schools would list many reasons, but the main one, Sowell laments, is that public schools simply do not want the competition.

Will the COVID-19 crisis finally change things? There are already positive signs that it has. Last month, US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos unveiled a new, five-year $85 million scholarship fund that will help students from lower-income families in Washington, DC go to schools of their choice. It is part of her department’s Opportunity Scholarship Program, the only federally funded school-choice initiative in the United States. The average income of families in the program is less than $27,000 per year, and more than 90% of students in it are African-American or Hispanic/Latino.

In another promising sign, US Senators Tim Scott of South Carolina and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee recently introduced a bill to direct some of the educational relief funding in this year’s US Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to school-choice programs. That money would enable lower-income families that are hard-pressed by the pandemic to send their children to alternative schools. Among other things, the legislation would direct 10% of CARES Act educational funds toward scholarships for private-school tuition or reimbursement for homeschooling costs.

But most telling, perhaps, is the fact that many families and individuals are coming up with their own solutions. Consider the sudden blossoming of pandemic learning “pods,” wherein parents get together, find teachers, and form a class for kids in the neighborhood. Learning pods are a natural civil-society response to school closing in many districts in California and elsewhere. When schools suspend services, parents immediately will seek out alternative solutions, especially when they have concerns about their children’s ability to learn remotely.

Of course, learning pods already have enemies of their own, with critics complaining that the practice is unfair, harmful for traditional schools, or available only to those who can afford to hire teachers. But that is all the more reason to make high-quality, effective schools more widely accessible. Quashing new ideas is not the answer.

The struggle over pandemic-era education is quickly moving to statehouses. In June, as part of the new state budget, California lawmakers passed Senate Bill 98, which caps per-student state funding for charter and public schools at last year’s funding levels. The point is to limit charter school enrollments at a time when demand for alternatives to traditional public schools is surging. But with those public schools closing and resorting to remote teaching, students from lower-income households will be the ultimate victims.Sign up for our weekly newsletter, PS on Sunday

There are already at least 13,000 students waiting to enroll in charter schools in California. But owing to SB98, notes State Senator Melissa Melendez, “if you are in a school that is failing that is really too bad. You are just going to have to stay there and deal with it. That is not fair to the student or the parent.”

In his book, Sowell points out that, “Those who want to see quality education remain available to low-income minority neighborhoods must raise the question, again and again, when various policies and practices are proposed: ‘How is this going to affect the education of children?’”

If we all focus squarely on that question, the pandemic’s long-term impact on education could turn out to be highly beneficial.


DOD’s Global Household Goods Contract (GHC) has fatal flaws and clear mismanagement

By George Landrith • American Military News

Household Goods Inspector, Faata Leafa, performing an inspection of a household goods packout performed by Aloha International. They all are practicing social distancing and wearing facemasks in accordance with NAVADMIN 126/20. (U.S. Navy photo by Daniel Mayberry/Released)

Generally, when we think of multibillion-dollar military contracts, we think of advanced weapon systems or other cutting-edge technologies. However, a recent Pentagon contract that is intended to overhaul how the military moves service members’ household belongings has hit the news. In an attempt to both save taxpayer money and provide a streamlined, more reliable, and higher quality moving experience for military families, the Pentagon recently requested proposals to revamp and privatize these moving services for America’s military families. The initial contract is valued at more than $7 billion, and with future options and extensions, could exceed $20 billion.

The contract process has been marred with serious misfires. The problem is that the Pentagon originally awarded the Global Household Goods Contract to American Roll-On Roll-Off Carrier Group (ARC) under questionable circumstances. ARC’s capacity to actually perform the contract is doubtful. ARC’s bid was more than $2 billion higher than competitors who actually have experience and a real track record.

Another problem was that ARC’s proposal incorrectly listed Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics AS as its parent company. The listed parent company pleaded guilty to bid-rigging and price-fixing only four years ago and faced a fine of $100 million.  On top of that, the Department of Justice indicted three former and current executives in the matter.

It turns out that ARC’s parent company is actually Wallenius Wilhelmsen ASA which didn’t plead guilty to bid-rigging or price-fixing. However, Wallenius Wilhelmsen ASA is the parent company of both ARC and the convicted company, Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics AS, so there is a real and formal corporate genealogical relationship between the ARC and the bid-rigging and price-fixing company.

The contract award was challenged or protested on these and other grounds (a total of nine specific grounds). Normally, protests take up to four months to review, but the Pentagon’s TRANSCOM took only two weeks to review its original decision before reinstating it. TRANSCOM only looked at the bid-rigging and price-fixing conviction issue and ignored all the other issues. TRANSCOM’s review was focused more on technicalities than real-life concerns.

Bid-rigging and price-fixing issue aside, the formal protests of the contract award to ARC included eight other grounds any one of which would be sufficient to overturn the contract award. As previously mentioned, ARC’s bid was more than $2 billion higher than other bids, which were found to be both responsive and technically solid. Why would the Pentagon be willing to pay an extra $2 billion for nothing?

It gets worse. Not only is ARC’s bid $2 billion higher than its competitors, but ARC doesn’t have the capacity to deal with the massive number of moves that will happen in 2021 due to the 2020 military moves that were postponed and disrupted by COVID-19.  ARC has less than 100 employees to oversee all military moves and related subcontractors. Moreover, ARC does not have any experience in military moves, so ARC can’t seriously argue that they have state of the art experience that will allow them to get the job done with so few people.

This contract is a once in a generation chance to reorganize the military’s moving system to create better accountability and in the end better results for America’s military families, all while saving money.  However, it seems unlikely to turn out well if the new moving contract is to be administered by a company with a corporate genealogy that includes bid-rigging and price-fixing. Moreover, ARC’s large team of subcontractors includes a large number with a questionable performance history. If the goal is to reduce costs and improve moving experiences, this seems a poor way to accomplish the stated goals.

The Pentagon has made a big mistake in awarding this contract to ARC. If the goal is to improve quality, streamline processes, and reduce costs, you don’t select a company with zero experience that lacks the capacity to deal with the significant number of military moves that occur every year, and that has bid-rigging and price-fixing convictions with $100 million fines in its corporate family tree. On top of all of that, you don’t overpay by $2 billion.

It is time for the Pentagon to get this right and not dig in its institutional heels in defense of its original misjudgment.


NYT Quietly Scrubs Chinese Propaganda

U.S. newspapers collected millions from Beijing to publish propaganda

By Yuichiro Kakutani • The Washington Free Beacon

The New York Times quietly deleted hundreds of advertorials that the Chinese Communist Party paid to publish on its website.

Times spokeswoman told the Washington Free Beacon that the move is a reflection of a decision to stop accepting ads from state-run media. “We made the decision at the beginning of this year to stop accepting branded content ads from state run media, which includes China Daily,” she said.

The Times‘s decision to end its partnership with China Daily is part of a society-wide reckoning about the cozy relationships between the Chinese government and American institutions, from the NBA to Harvard University. While the paper is responsible for some of the most gut-wrenching stories about Chinese government oppression, it has also run more than 200 propaganda articles in the last decade, some of which sugar-coated China’s human rights abuses. One 2019 video ad, for example, promoted Xinjiang tourism by depicting the oppressed Uyghur people as content under Chinese rule.

China Daily, an official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, has been purchasing advertorial spaces in the pages of mainstream U.S. media outlets for the last decade, using the space to disseminate Chinese propaganda to millions of unassuming Americans. In return, U.S. newspapers such as the Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal received millions of dollars.

Rep. Jim Banks (R., Ind.), a member of Congress’s China Task Force who has spearheaded efforts to rein in the distribution of Chinese propaganda, applauded the Times for terminating its relationship with China Daily.

“The New York Times has done excellent, detailed reporting on the ongoing Communist Party atrocities in Xinjiang and around the world,” the congressman said. “That reporting has finally had an effect—at the New York Times—and it no longer supports covering up the CCP’s barbarity. I hope the other outlets follow suit and start putting American values over Communist bribes.”

After the Free Beacon found that China Daily failed to follow federal disclosure requirements about its relationship with U.S. media outlets, Banks and 34 other Congressional Republicans demanded a Justice Department probe into the outlet. Following the demand, China Daily submitted a revised disclosure of its U.S. activities since 2016, revealing previously undisclosed details about its ties with U.S. media organs.

The new disclosure revealed that the Post and the Journal each received more than $100,000 per month to run print versions of Chinese propaganda articles. The Times received $50,000 in 2018 to place the propaganda on its website, presumably a small fraction of the revenue it made selling print space to China Daily. The new disclosures also showed that China Daily paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Houston Chronicle, and other large regional newspapers to print copies of the China Daily for local distribution.

Post spokesman told the Free Beacon that the outlet has not published any China Daily advertorials since 2019 but did not clarify whether the Post formally terminated its relationship with the propaganda outlet.

Yaqiu Wang, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, urged other U.S. media outlets to follow the Times‘s example and end their relationships with Chinese state media. “If you care about the truth, then don’t participate in the Chinese government’s machinery of propaganda, censorship and repression,” she said.


The Long National Nightmare Begins

By Peter Roff • Newsweek

On Thursday, the nation learned that second-quarter U.S. gross domestic product was down by a third, the biggest one-quarter drop on record. It’s an astounding measure of just how deeply the coronavirus lockdowns imposed by the governors, combined with their reluctance to reopen their states for business, has affected life in America.

If these were normal times, the story would lead everywhere. The news channels would have economists on all day talking about what it means, not just for President Donald J. Trump’s re-election prospects, but for the health of the dollar and the status of the recovery. Faced with numbers like that, the national conversation should be about whether America will ever regain its leadership role in the global economy. Instead, everyone is talking about whether the November 3 election can, or should, be postponed.

Welcome to Trumpworld, where the president of the United States lives rent-free inside the heads of nearly every talk show host, newspaper editor, political reporter, pundit and Democratic officeholder. They’re obsessed with him and he, over his almost four years in office, has become expert at pushing their buttons—as he did with this Thursday morning tweet:

Almost immediately, and it’s hard to believe the president didn’t intend for this to happen, the airwaves and the Internet were full of conversations and prognostications about the election being put off, usually with the spin attached that Trump, by proposing it, was only putting off his inevitable defeat. What this kind of commentary misses is that he still hasn’t lost his ability to turn the conversation in any direction he wants, at any given time. Once the campaign starts in earnest, which will probably happen as soon as Joe Biden is locked in as the Democratic nominee, things will get really ugly, really fast.

Right now, the polls show Biden in the lead. They should. The nation has been through crisis after crisis, most of them not of Mr. Trump’s making but which are nonetheless, because he is the president, his responsibility. But Mr. Biden, who spent almost all but the last four years of his life in one elective office or another, is an unknown quantity to most voters. They don’t know him, and they don’t know what he’s going to do if he’s elected except that he’ll be different.

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenMARK MAKELA/GETTY IMAGES

Now, that might be welcome. When the voters figure out the progressives running the Black Lives Matter Movement and the various Soros-funded groups and the other fringe elements of the Democratic Party are actually in charge of Biden’s campaign and will be in charge of the White House, things may change.

That doesn’t mean Mr. Trump will win. It just means the race is probably a lot closer than the polls show, and that it will get even closer before votes are cast. And, referring again to the president’s Thursday tweet, the concerns he voiced about the various vote-by-mail schemes proposed for the fall have some validity to them. Through the primary season, there have been reports of ballots going missing or to the wrong place, of multiple ballots going to addresses where an intended recipient no longer lived, and more. A national election, especially one as apparently consequential as this one, is not the time for a “make things up as we go along” experiment with the voting process.

Once things get going, expect Mr. Biden to throw mud at Mr. Trump, and for the president to respond in kind. It’s unlikely there will be much either campaign does to show why its guy is the better candidate—and that’s a mistake. As any election expert will tell, you must give the people a reason to vote for you, not just against the opposition. Republicans after Reagan seemed to understand that better than the Democrats did, at least until very recently. Now, some of the Republican national leadership seems content to say, “If you don’t want socialism to come to America, vote for us. Don’t let us become the next Venezuela.”

It’s a sentiment many people share, but it’s not enough. “Yuck, Trump” might get Mr. Biden close, but it won’t bring him home to victory. There has to be more, and it needs to be heard not just by the base and the people who have already made up their mind, but by independents and undecideds and the disaffected in each party. The one to figure that out, not first but best, like the first one to explain how to get back that lost third of U.S. gross domestic product, probably wins.


The GOP Doesn’t Need Litmus Tests for Judges

By Peter Roff • American Action News

USCapitol via Wikimedia Commons

The next election will determine the direction of the United States Supreme Court and have a lot to say about its future. Given the outsized role its decisions play in the political life of the nation, that’s important and an issue worth voting on.

The court makes policy and law from the bench. Those who wrote the U.S. Constitution believed those functions were best left to the Congress, the president, and the states. To change that, to limit the ability of the justices to usurp the role of our elected representatives requires the addition of a justice or two who believe they are constrained by the law.

If Donald Trump wins, that’s the likely outcome. Given the precarious health of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, he’ll probably get at least one appointment in his second term. And if that happens, and Chief Justice John Roberts is no longer the deciding vote on key cultural and legal matters, his recent flirtation with the court’s liberal wing might come to an end.  It’s unlikely he’ll want to be on the losing side of decisions that come down 5-to-4.

If Joe Biden wins, things will go in the opposite direction, especially if Republicans lose control of the U.S. Senate in November. Then, free of any restraint the filibuster might have imposed, the Democrats could easily pass through Congress legislation packing the court with so many new members the center-right majority currently in place would quickly become a distant memory.

In that world, expect the most radical of ideas to be affirmed by a majority of 2-to-1. The new Biden judges would side with existing liberals to find within the Constitution everything from the right to abortion on demand at any time during pregnancy up to and including the onset of labor, the right to universal healthcare, free education, a guaranteed national income, and the abolition of the private ownership of most firearms. The democratic process would be subverted by activist judges more concerned about results than the law.

It would be the tipping point leading to the downfall of the American system. Accomplished quickly if not quietly, it would perpetuate the advance of progressivism for a century if not more. Those opposed to that outcome should tread carefully so as not to help the enemies of liberty get what they want. 

Missouri GOP Sen. Josh Hawley, for some time considered one of the bright lights of the party’s future, has weighed in on this discussion in a big way. A state attorney general before winning his seat in the U.S. Senate he recently told The Washington Post he would “only vote for those Supreme Court nominees who have explicitly acknowledged that Roe v. Wade is wrongly decided.”

“By explicitly acknowledged, I mean on the record and before they were nominated,” he added. “I want to see on the record, as part of their record, that they have acknowledged in some forum that Roe v. Wade, as a legal matter, is wrongly decided.”

Taking that position publicly is, as one prominent conservative leader told me privately, “destructively stupid.” As a practical matter, more than one pro-life activist brought to my attention, on that one point Hawley could have voted enthusiastically to confirm Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Anthony Kennedy, and David Souter while being forced to oppose adding Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito to the high court.

Admittedly our confidence in some of our judicial nominees has been misplaced. Dwight Eisenhower bungled things several times, not just by appointing Earl Warren as chief justice. Nixon, Reagan, and both Bushes made appointments they’d probably have liked to reconsider after they joined the court. The vetting process before the nomination is extremely important and must continue. Trump’s idea to release a list of potential nominees sets a precedent every other presidential candidate should follow. But vetting and litmus tests are two extremely different things. One has its place and one doesn’t, at least not among those who say they are proponents of intellectual freedom. 

Hawley’s newfound insistence loads the gun the progressives will use, in the metaphoric sense, to shoot any nominee who’d possibly be any good from a pro-life, limited government, strict constitutionalist perspective. The senator’s heart may be in the right place, but the GOP is not the party that marches in ideological lockstep on every issue. That’s the other team. They’re the ones who use emanating penumbras to find things in the Constitution that Madison, Hamilton, and others didn’t put into it. They’re the ones who place political, social, and economic outcomes over the rule of law. That’s a major difference between us and them and Trump and Biden.


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