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On Earth Day 2018, let’s appreciate our fossil fuel energy treasures that are part of the Earth’s natural environment - Foreclosing the foreclosure argument in AT&T/Time-Warner merger

Sat, 04/21/2018 - 07:30

From today’s Washington Examiner, my article “On Earth Day, let’s appreciate fossil fuels“:

On Earth Day, according to various advocates, “events are held worldwide to increase awareness and appreciation of the Earth’s natural environment.” As we observe the annual environmental event on Sunday of this week, it might be a good time to appreciate the fact that Americans get most of their plentiful, affordable energy directly from the Earth’s “natural environment” in the form of fossil fuels: coal, natural gas, and petroleum.

It’s largely those energy sources from the natural environment that fuel our vehicles and airplanes; heat, cool, and light our homes and businesses; and power our nation’s factories, and in the process significantly raise our standard of living. Shouldn’t that be part of “increasing our awareness and appreciation of Earth’s natural environment” — to celebrate Mother Earth’s bountiful natural resources in the form of abundant, low-cost fossil fuels?

The nearby chart illustrates the importance of the Earth’s hydrocarbon energy treasures to the American economy — in the past, today, and in the future. Over a more than a 100-year period from 1949 to 2050, fossil fuels have provided, and will continue to provide, the vast majority of our energy according to the Department of Energy. Last year, fossil fuels provided 80 percent of our energy consumption, which was just slightly lower than the 85 percent fossil fuel share 25 years ago in the early 1990s, and not that much lower than the 90.6 percent share back in 1949.

Even more than a quarter of a century from now, the Department of Energy forecasts that fossil fuels will still be the dominant energy source, providing 79 percent of our energy needs in 2050. So, despite former President Obama’s frequent dismissals of oil and fossil fuels as “energy sources of the past,” government forecasts tell a much different story of a hydrocarbon-based energy future where fossil fuels will serve as the dominant energy source to power our vehicles, heat, and light our homes, and fuel the growing economy.

Further, Obama’s energy policies focused on forcing U.S. taxpayers to “invest” in politically favored “energy sources of the future” – renewables like solar and wind — instead of expanding production of oil, natural gas, and coal. But again, government data tell a much different story. Even after billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies for renewable energy, all renewables together (including hydroelectric power, biomass, solar, and wind) last year provided only 11.4 percent of America’s energy, which was just slightly greater than the 9.3 percent share that renewables provided in 1949, nearly 70 years ago – that’s not a lot of progress for the politically popular but very expensive renewables.

When it comes to solar and wind, those two energy sources combined provided only 3.2 percent of America’s energy in 2017 – an almost insignificant amount, especially wind’s contribution of less than 0.8 percent, or just a little more than a rounding error in the overall energy picture. Even in 2050, all renewables together will provide only 14.9 percent of our nation’s energy – not that much higher than renewable’s 9.3 percent share of energy in 1949!

To further appreciate the Earth’s natural environment on Earth Day 2018, we should celebrate the revolutionary extraction technologies of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling that have allowed us to tap into what were previously inaccessible oceans of natural energy treasures trapped in tight shale rock formations miles below the Earth’s surface. It’s an important point that those shale resources have been part of the Earth’s “natural environment” for hundreds of thousands of years, but have only become usable natural resources in the last decade, because of the human resourcefulness that led to breakthroughs in drilling and extraction technologies.

Therefore, the full awareness and appreciation of Earth’s natural environment really only makes sense as a greater appreciation of the human resourcefulness and human ingenuity that have transformed natural resources like sand into computer chips, and oil and gas trapped in shale rock formations miles below the ground, into useful energy products.

Mother Nature provides us with a vast abundance of natural resources, but without any “instruction manuals,” that tell us how to process those resources into usable products that improve our lives and raise our standard of living. On Earth Day 2018, as we celebrate Earth’s natural environment that includes fossil fuels, let’s not forget to also celebrate our tremendously valuable human resources of ingenuity, creativity, “petropreneurship,” and imagination.

It’s the application of human resources to the natural environment that transform otherwise unusable natural resources like shale hydrocarbons into energy treasures that will power our economy for generations to come.

11 senators are about to make a big mistake - AEI - American Enterprise Institute: Freedom, Opportunity, Enterprise

Sat, 04/21/2018 - 00:00

For the first time in the history of the republic, it appears increasingly likely that a majority of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will vote against the president’s nominee for secretary of state. If this happens, it would be a black mark not on Mike Pompeo’s record, but on the reputation of this once-storied committee.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo testifies before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on Pompeo’s nomination to be secretary of state on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 12, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

There are no instances of a secretary of state nominee ever receiving an unfavorable committee vote since such votes were first publicly recorded in 1925. (Before that, the committee voted in closed session.) Democrat John Kerry was approved in a unanimous voice vote, including from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who opposes Pompeo. Democrat Hillary Clinton was approved 16 to 1, despite concerns about foreign donors to the Clinton Foundation. Madeleine Albright was approved unanimously, with the strong support of my former boss, the committee’s conservative then-chairman, Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), who called Albright “a tough and courageous lady” and voted for her despite saying that she was “sincerely wrong” in some of her foreign policy views.

Other Democrats, including Warren Christopher and Cyrus Vance, were also approved unanimously in committee, as were Republicans Colin Powell, James A. Baker III and George P. Shultz. Indeed, no secretary of state going all the way back to Henry Kissinger had ever received more than two negative votes in the Foreign Relations Committee — until Donald Trump became president.

Last year, all 10 Democrats on the committee voted “no” to Rex Tillerson’s nomination, making him the first secretary of state in history to be approved on a party-line vote. Now, thanks to the opposition from those 10 Democrats and Paul, it appears that Pompeo could soon become the first secretary of state nominee in history to receive a negative recommendation from the committee.

There is simply no excuse for this. There are no ethical questions hanging over Pompeo’s nomination. He has engaged in no disqualifying personal conduct. And no one questions that he is extraordinarily qualified for the job. Indeed, Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) said that Pompeo “has a clear record of public service to his nation — in uniform, in Congress, and as the director of the CIA.” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said he believes that Pompeo “will work hard to restore morale at State and work to supplement, not atrophy, the diplomatic tools at the Secretary of State’s disposal.” Yet both are voting against him. Indeed, nine of the committee’s 10 Democrats have already declared their opposition to Pompeo — including two, Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who voted for him to lead the CIA.

Their opposition comes just as President Trump is preparing for a high-stakes nuclear summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Pompeo recently returned from North Korea, where he met with Kim and laid the groundwork for this historic meeting. Democrats ought to ask themselves how their actions will be seen in Pyongyang. To deliver such an undeserved rebuke to Pompeo at such a critical diplomatic moment would be a shameful abdication of the committee’s responsibilities.

It would also breach two centuries of precedent in which the committee has carefully examined the credentials and qualifications of the president’s nominee for secretary of state but acknowledged that the president should have his choice of who should be his chief diplomatic adviser. It is one thing for senators to use a nomination as leverage to gain commitments on specific policy matters. (Helms insisted that Albright work with him on his plans to reform the United Nations and reorganize the State Department, which she did.) Effective senators understand how to use the nomination process to win policy fights. But for senators to vote down a highly qualified nominee over their disdain for the president is completely unwarranted and, quite frankly, a breach of Senate norms.

A negative vote would hurt the Foreign Relations Committee more than it would Pompeo. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will bring his nomination to the floor regardless of what the committee does, and it is expected that some Democrats — such as Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), who has publicly announced her support — will vote for him. And when Pompeo is confirmed by the full Senate, he would be more than justified in determining that the State Department is best served by working closely with the appropriators and Senate leadership, and bypassing a committee that can’t make policy, can’t legislate and can’t lead.

GOP foreign policy opinion in the Trump era - AEI - American Enterprise Institute: Freedom, Opportunity, Enterprise

Fri, 04/20/2018 - 20:44

The Trump presidency has produced a continual stream of sweeping, yet misinformed, analysis regarding the internal state of the Republican Party. Amongst journalistic, academic, and political commentators today, the condition of opinion within the GOP regarding foreign policy issues is regularly misunderstood. Here are several prevalent and mistaken assumptions that have circulated since November 2016:

  1. Among Republican voters, support for American internationalism is dead.
  2. Republicans are now pro-Putin.
  3. The GOP base strongly opposes free trade.
  4. Republicans are deeply divided over President Trump’s foreign policy.
  5. Trump’s foreign policy views are not representative of the median voter.
  6. Donald Trump has revolutionized Republican foreign policy opinion.

A closer look at public opinion polling results from organizations such as Gallup, the Pew Center, and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs over the past couple of years reveals a far more nuanced picture, often directly contradictory to the above myths. Let’s consider each one in turn.

Among Republican voters, support for American internationalism is dead.

Donald Trump’s nomination and election as a GOP presidential candidate was commonly viewed as the Republican electorate’s repudiation of American internationalism. And indeed Trump’s 2016 campaign offered a withering critique of Wilsonian foreign policy traditions. But if American internationalism is defined as favoring a certain kind of U.S. activism overseas, including the maintenance of alliances, then there is still considerable support for it among Republican voters. A 2017 Pew Center study found that “Core Conservatives”—the single biggest group of Republicans and Trump supporters—are more likely to say that “it’s best for the US to be active in world affairs,” rather than simply “focus on problems at home.” A Chicago Council study, also from 2017, shows a solid majority of Republicans—some 65%—agreeing that’s it’s best for the United States to “take an active part in world affairs.” On the maintenance of existing alliances, a clear majority of Republicans including core Trump supporters agree that the preservation of NATO is “still essential” to U.S. security. Indeed, with regard to the U.S. military presence in Europe, the Middle East, or the Asia-Pacific, Trump supporters and Republicans generally are more likely than Democrats to support either the continuation or enhancement of current U.S. troop levels.

To be sure, these same studies show a significant percentage of Republicans—like a significant percentage of other Americans—ready to question existing U.S. alliances and force commitments, along with the underlying premise of U.S. foreign policy activism. The Chicago Council, for example, found that 36% of Republicans now believe NATO is no longer essential to American security. Internationalist and non-interventionist impulses do compete within the heart of the GOP today. But this has always been true, including with regard to the American public as a whole. The notion that Republican voters no longer support U.S. foreign policy activism is an oversimplification.

Republicans are now pro-Putin.

This is one of the most commonly suggested findings of the Trump era: namely, that GOP voters are now supposedly “warm” toward Putin and Russia. A widely discussed YouGov poll found a significant shift in Putin’s favorable ratings among Republicans over the course of 2016. The logical implication is that this shift was in response to Trump’s unusual language regarding Putin over the course of the 2016 campaign.

Some polls do indeed suggest that Republicans are now less likely than Democrats to view Russia as a major threat. A recent Pew Center poll found that 63% of Democrats, compared with 38% of Republicans, view Russia as a major threat. And insofar as the Russia issue has become entangled in domestic political and legal controversies related to ongoing special counsel investigations, party opinion has certainly polarized. However, the fact that tends to go missing amidst the headlines is that according to these same polls, the majority of Republicans retained a negative impression of Putin before, during, and after the 2016 campaign. Moreover, in polling results other than Pew’s, this past year has seen a dramatic rise in the percentage of Republicans inclined to view Putin’s Russia as an adversary. According to YouGov, as of February 2018, some 83% of Republicans viewed Russia as either “unfriendly” or an “enemy.” This was actually a higher percentage than among the general public, where 63% viewed Russia in similarly negative terms. Other polling organizations, such as Gallup, never found a significant rise in GOP voter favorability toward Russia in the first place.

In sum, when asked directly, an overwhelming majority of Republicans had a negative impression of Putin before the 2016 campaign, and an overwhelming majority of Republicans now hold that same position. The big and lasting story since 2014 is not that GOP voters have shifted toward Russia, but that Democrats have shifted against it.

The GOP base strongly opposes free trade.

Even champions of free trade often draw the regretful conclusion from the last couple of years that Republican voters have now turned hard against this tradition. A significant portion of GOP voters indeed are and have long been skeptical regarding the benefits of economic globalization and free trade agreements. Donald Trump won the 2016 GOP primaries in part by appealing to this constituency. Yet, any blanket statement that the Republican base simply opposes free trade is misleading. It would be more accurate to say that the base of the party is divided on this issue.

The Pew Research Center found in 2017, for example, that over half of GOP voters believe U.S. involvement in global economy is good for new markets and growth. At the same time, a large minority of Republican voters—including 24% of core conservatives—disagreed with this statement. Republicans are also divided over the question of whether trade agreements benefit the United States along with other countries. Core Trump supporters are more likely to believe that such agreements mostly favor other countries and that NAFTA in particular has been bad for the United States. Most Republican voters today—like most Americans—believe that international trade has been on balance good for the American economy, but bad for the job security of American workers. Party leaders are far more likely to say that globalization has been good across the board. This gap between popular and elite conceptions over U.S. trade policy has been wide for many years and was fully revealed in 2016.

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump took an unusually stark position against numerous free trade agreements. Yet, since his inauguration, there is considerable evidence from multiple polling organizations including Pew, Gallup, and the Chicago Council to suggest that popular support for free trade within the Republican Party has actually gone up. Diana Mutz of the Chicago Council points out that whereas 46% of Trump supporters opposed new trade agreements as of October 2016, a full year later, only 17% were opposed. Polling on trade policy has produced contradictory images since 2016, in part depending upon the precise questions asked. Yet, that is precisely the point. The picture that emerges of Republican voters as a whole is one of mixed feelings, rather than unalterable opposition toward free trade.

Republicans are deeply divided over President Trump’s foreign policy.

The regularly intense and churning criticism against the Trump administration’s foreign policy from elite opinion commentators, including many conservative intellectuals, sometimes creates an impression of deep opposition toward the president’s international approach from inside the GOP. But although there are broad divisions among Republican voters on a number of substantive international issues, when it comes to the question of supporting President Trump’s foreign policy, there is no such even division.

On the contrary, when asked simply whether or not they support the president’s foreign policy, the vast majority of Republicans say yes, and have said so ever since his inauguration. Representative polls find the level of GOP voter support for Trump’s foreign policy to be roughly 80%, and remarkably steady at that level for over a year now. This is in keeping with trends during recent presidencies such as Barack Obama’s. The pattern in recent administrations has been that fellow partisans are much more likely to support a president of their own party, even when there is internal party disagreement over substantive issues. Interestingly, the reverse is also true: voters of the opposite party have been far more likely in recent years to say they oppose a given president’s foreign policy, even when they themselves are divided on matters of substance. According to the polls, this is certainly true for Democrats in the Trump era. As with Republicans, Democratic voters today express some serious internal divisions over numerous foreign policy issues including free trade, U.S. foreign policy activism, and military intervention. But when asked simply whether or not they support the president’s foreign policy, an overwhelming majority of Democrats reply that they do not. There is even some evidence that the very fact of Trump’s taking a given issue position produces Democratic voter movement in the opposite direction.

The result is paradoxical: both parties are internally divided right now over international issues, with some overlapping mixed opinion on matters of substance. Yet, when framed as supporting the president, party opinion lines up very differently, strongly for or against.

Trump’s foreign policy views are not representative of the median voter.

A simple way of dismissing Trump’s views from the very beginning has been to label and discard them as “isolationist.” It is then easy to confirm that the general public is not isolationist. Naturally, this encourages the impression of a great distance on numerous international policy issues between Trump and the median voter.

The Chicago Council, for example, released a widely discussed report last year asking whether U.S. public opinion is closer to Donald Trump or the infamous “Blob”—i.e., the bipartisan American foreign policy establishment based in Washington, D.C. For those who wanted a quick takeaway, the report’s subtitle was: “Americans are generally closer to the Blob.” Yet, a closer look at the Council’s own results in that poll showed a much more complex picture, revealing some genuine gaps between foreign policy elites and the general public. One way to demonstrate these gaps is to compare the views of voters to opinion leaders, among self-identified political independents. According to the poll, compared to opinion elites, the general public is: considerably less likely to say that globalization is good for the United States (61% of independent voters, as opposed to 85% of independent opinion leaders); more focused on job protection as a key U.S. foreign policy priority (69%, versus 29%); significantly more likely to say that large numbers of immigrants and refugees coming into the United States constitute a “critical threat” (40%, versus 19%); less likely to say the U.S. should take an active part in world affairs (57%, versus 92%); and considerably less likely to say that defending allies’ security should be an important U.S. foreign policy goal (33%, versus 53%).

Obviously, large portions of Trump’s foreign policy are quite controversial. Over 50% of Americans typically say they do not approve of his foreign policy overall. Yet, insofar as the president projects mixed feelings or ambivalence regarding any of the usual components of American internationalism—free trade, traditional alliances, intervention, and U.S. foreign policy activism—he may not be so far from the median American voter.

Donald Trump has revolutionized Republican foreign policy opinion.

It is convenient for both pro-Trump and anti-Trump partisans to pretend that the president has utterly transformed the Republican Party on foreign policy as on other matters. And with regard to certain issues, such as free trade and U.S. Russia policy, there was an observable bump in support over the course of the 2016 campaign among Republican voters in the direction of Donald Trump’s own stated views. But this bump is dwarfed by three larger and observable trends, implied above.

First, movements in GOP popular opinion specifically over the course of 2015-16 toward trade protection or warmer relations with Russia appear to have been temporary, and may have already evaporated as of 2018.

Second, any observed changes in opinion during 2015-16 applied to only a minority of Republican voters. All of these polls reveal that a majority of GOP voters never changed their views on issues such as Russia or free trade, one way or another.

Third, and perhaps most important, intra-GOP divisions over questions of trade and military intervention—and a sense of nationalist resurgence—predated Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy. Roughly half of Republican voters expressed skepticism toward free trade and economic globalization several years before Trump’s candidacy began. And increased popular Republican skepticism regarding U.S. military interventions, counter-insurgency operations, or nation-building exercises was already noticeable during Barack Obama’s first term. Donald Trump did not create these trends; he tapped into them. For an outspoken nationalist to win the Republican presidential nomination was indeed unusual. But internal GOP divisions over issues of trade and intervention existed well before 2015. The broad configuration of Republican foreign policy opinion is therefore much the same as it was before Trump ran for president.

Part of the confusion surrounding current analyses regarding the GOP, public opinion, and U.S. foreign policy lies in the common mistaken simplification that bipartisan support previously existed for an agreed-upon definition of American internationalism, only recently destroyed by Donald Trump. In reality, liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans have held some significant differences over these matters going back many years. Liberals and conservatives disagree and have long disagreed over issues of multilateralism, global governance, the United Nations, the use of force, humanitarian intervention, foreign aid, defense spending, arms control, immigration, covert action, counter-terrorism, civil liberties, and the need to address environmental challenges including climate change. These broad inter-party differences go back decades, arguably to the domestic political fallout from the U.S. war in Vietnam. Ever since the 1970s, liberal Democrats have tended to favor cooperative, multilateral, or accommodating forms of liberal internationalism. Conservative Republicans have tended to be more hard-line. So for Republicans, a hawkish American nationalism in itself is nothing new. The great question has always been whether specific Republican presidents are capable of combining that impulse with realistic, engaged, and successful foreign policies under ever-changing conditions. Some have done so quite effectively.

Myths Busted

An objective look at public opinion polls over the past few years reveals the limitations of some common and current misconceptions regarding popular Republican attitudes toward U.S. foreign policy. Support for multiple aspects of American internationalism among Republicans has never really been extinguished. But this support takes the form of some specific policy preferences that liberal Democrats are unlikely to favor, which is presumably why we have more than one political party competing for high office.

The great majority of Republican voters have no affection for Putin’s Russia. Nor is the base of the GOP overwhelmingly hostile toward free trade. Rather, there is a deep and longstanding division among GOP voters over the relative merits of free trade agreements. A certain ambivalence toward economic globalization, military intervention, alliance commitments, and U.S. foreign policy activism is prevalent among American voters writ large, including Republicans, now as in the past. Trump’s particular formulations in response to this are of course new. But neither internal GOP divisions over important foreign policy issues, nor the presence of an intense American nationalism, are truly anything new when it comes to the Republican Party. At the end of the day, the president retains the support of the overwhelming majority of Republicans for his foreign policy overall. Whether Trump has revolutionized U.S. foreign policy remains a matter of intense debate. Every U.S. president has the ability to reshape America’s foreign relations, and his own party’s projected image, in profound sometimes unexpected ways. But on the question of whether Trump has radically reshaped Republican voter opinion on foreign policy issues, altogether the polls over the last few years tell an interesting and perhaps counter-intuitive story: He has not.

Emmanuel Macron’s Critique of Pure Liberalism - AEI - American Enterprise Institute: Freedom, Opportunity, Enterprise

Fri, 04/20/2018 - 19:48

It is tempting to categorize next week’s visit by French President Emmanuel Macron to the United States as a meeting of opposites: Macron the “globalist” supporting free trade and the European Union versus US President Donald Trump, the nationalist and populist. And it’s clear their discussions will include tough issues over which they disagree, from the fate of the Iran nuclear agreement to the fight against climate change, all against a background of looming trade wars. But the reality of the two presidents’ close relationship has been misinterpreted — mostly because Macron himself has been misunderstood.

Despite their radically different platforms at home, both presidents see themselves as insurgent outsiders who have rewritten existing political rules, landed unexpected victories despite pundits’ predictions, and shaken the old political establishment. But their similarities aren’t simply a matter of style. Macron has never been the knee-jerk postmodern “globalist” many accuse him of being. Instead, both in domestic and foreign policy, he has systematically tried to channel populist appeals for protection back into a liberal framework, while never letting anyone outbid him in claims to patriotism.

Observers have often characterized Macron as the French heir to the Clinton-Blair “third way” of governing that split the difference between the existing left and right. In fact, he is attempting to transcend that difference by charting a third way between the nationalist temptation and the globalist creed. The French president is keenly aware that the overarching task of his mandate — the outcome of which will determine his success or failure — will be to restore trust in liberal democracy by reforming not just the EU, but globalization as a whole.

To read the full piece at, click here. 

Supporting better choices - AEI - American Enterprise Institute: Freedom, Opportunity, Enterprise

Fri, 04/20/2018 - 15:09

Do you know why most people are poor, and what would make them better off? Mauricio Miller is pretty sure you do not. In The Alternative: Most of What You Believe About Poverty Is Wrong, he argues that people involved in anti-poverty work today regularly do more harm than good. In fact, he fires staffers within his organization who simply “help” poor families.

Low-income families, Miller says, need to be aided to solve their own problems, not temporarily rescued with outside resources. “Helping” people may sound charitable, but it keeps the helper in control, makes the beneficiary dependent, and only offers short-term boosts. In Miller’s view, it doesn’t matter if someone is dependent on government aid or dependent on private charity. Either way the result is bad.

Founder of the Family Independence Initiative, Miller has devoted his life to serving low-income families and children. His book offers a refreshing account of an accomplished poverty warrior who realized one day he had been fighting the war in the wrong way. It was only after he received national attention as a guest of President Bill Clinton during the 1999 State of the Union address that he changed the trajectory of his career.

Miller finally recognized that poor people’s lives usually improve for reasons other than the assistance they receive from the social-services sector. This conclusion brought him back to his own experience as the son of a hardworking, immigrant, single mother. By working multiple jobs, his mother gave her children a shot at the American Dream. She never asked for anything, and implored her son to make good choices, work hard at school, and get a good job. Making good choices, Miller writes, is the key to overcoming poverty.

Of course, in order to make good choices, one needs to have options. Miller got a chance to attend college at UC Berkeley. He grabbed it, majoring in engineering. Like J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, Miller’s experience is a story of cultural displacement. He noticed that everyone else in his dorm expected to have jobs in the future, yet he fretted about whether he would get hired after graduating. He realized that family and friends provide a base for future opportunity that poor individuals often can’t grasp.

The best way to improve the lives of the poor, Miller believes, is to support their own efforts to expand their options and choices. Anyone who wants to be useful “must first recognize the thousands of right things that people are doing for themselves.” Those are the elements most likely to grow into something more valuable. The best way to be of assistance might be matching the savings a person is already putting aside to buy a house. Or helping someone transform her second job into a main line of work. Or getting a child who is attentive to his studies into a better school.

Miller developed an alternative view of overcoming poverty that emphasizes increasing the opportunities available to poor people, avoiding “expert” guidance or control of the poor, and building up the community networks that surround and support low-income people. He founded the Family Independence Initiative to promote this approach.

FII has made great strides in gathering information on productive things poor families are already doing to improve their lives. For instance, FII found that many low-income people work side jobs for cash. Rather than turning this into a demand for higher minimum wages, as poverty activists often do, Miller believes side work should be encouraged and nurtured.

Miller’s book is refreshingly devoid of the usual jargon about inequality and poverty. He does not spare policymakers on the left or the right. Both have oversimplified ideas about overcoming poverty, and both often fail to see how the activities of poor people themselves are the key to success. The main target of his criticism is public and private transfers to the poor. Most of these “programs waste time and resources, providing assistance that doesn’t meet the real priorities of the families.”

Miller’s insights can help philanthropists and civic leaders looking for a new template for addressing poverty in their communities and cities. One lesson is that it’s important to create environments where low-income people can solve problems together. Identifying leaders in the community, finding family members who are toiling hard to improve their situation, then creating tools for these individuals to help them succeed at what they are already doing is the right approach.

The school-reform movement is a useful example. By creating vouchers and charter schools, reformers established an environment in which parents could exercise productive options. Proof that there are lots of poor people who will do their part can be seen in the flood of applications for these new education tools.

Philanthropists and community leaders can apply that same approach to other choices parents can make to improve their station. What kind of job training would poor people take up if they had time and money? What would they like to see done in their neighborhoods? There are many low-income households capable of achieving good things when they have options and problem-solving tools, instead of just impersonal transfers and mass entitlements.

Contributing editor Ryan Streeter is the director of domestic policy at the American Enterprise Institute.

Poor marks on The Nation’s Report Card | In 60 seconds - AEI - American Enterprise Institute: Freedom, Opportunity, Enterprise

Fri, 04/20/2018 - 14:51


The nation’s 2017 NAEP results, often called “The Nation’s Report Card,” were just released. The results were not great. AEI’s Nat Malkus reviews the data and explains that, while results have stalled since 2015 and seem unremarkable, the details add to the story.

Foster kids, wronged by the courts - AEI - American Enterprise Institute: Freedom, Opportunity, Enterprise

Fri, 04/20/2018 - 13:43

Why do our courts make decisions about the fate of children on a timeline designed for adults? That’s the question that Rachel Schneiter and her family are asking themselves as they await a decision about what will happen to the now-3-year-old baby girl they took into their home shortly after her birth.

Schneiter never planned to be a foster mother. A nurse for 18 years in a suburb of Buffalo, she volunteered through a church group to help young, at-risk mothers.

One day in 2014, a pregnant mother who already had two small boys at home asked for help setting up a crib. Schneiter recalls the “terrible conditions” she saw when she arrived at the home (which was part of a supportive housing facility): “There were dirty, stool-filled diapers left on the floor. There was garbage covering every surface.”

Schneiter developed a relationship with the mother, accompanying her to doctor’s appointments and trying to help her make conditions in her home suitable for children. When the mother went into labor, she asked Schneiter to be there and named her the baby’s godmother.

And when Child Protective Services determined in May 2015 that the mother was not capable of caring for her children, she asked for Schneiter to be appointed guardian for the 12-week-old Baby N., who at this point was already visibly malnourished.

The girl’s two older brothers, meanwhile, were placed with another foster family. When the baby was a year old and the mother’s parental rights had been terminated, the Erie County Department of Social Services started talking about “reuniting” her with her brothers.

While Baby N. had met her brothers a few times, she had no relationship with them. And the biological mother, who was pregnant with another child, was not about to take them all back. But the Department of Social Services removed Baby N. — 14 months old at the time — anyway, and put her with the other foster family.

The Schneiters filed an administrative appeal with the state Office of Children and Family Services. They pointed out what should have been obvious to anyone: Removing a baby who had spent the first year of her life with a stable, loving family to put her with strangers seemed crazy. Of course it’s beneficial to keep siblings together but at what cost? Taking them away from the only mother they’ve ever known?

It took Family Services until October 2016 to reach the same conclusion, deeming the Department of Social Services’ decision “arbitrary and capricious.” But instead of ordering Baby N.’s return to the Schneiters, Family Services ordered another Department of Social Services evaluation.

When Social Services failed to complete the evaluation, the Schneiters went to state Supreme Court, which concluded in February 2017 that Family Services had “abused its discretion in remitting the matter to (the Department of Social Services) and should have, among other things, immediately returned the child to the petitioners.”

Unfortunately the decision was too vague — saying that the child should be returned as soon as is practical — for the bureaucrats at Erie County, who once again did not return Baby N.

The Schneiters at least had two days a week of visitation at this point; they drove 135 miles each way in order to accomplish this.

The legal fight continued. In October , the 4th Appellate Division reached the same conclusion as the lower court, ruling that the removal “was contrary to the child’s best interests.” But then the court said that because so much time had elapsed since the initial evaluation, Social Services should conduct yet another evaluation — and hold a final hearing May 14 .

Unfortunately, the Schneiters’ story is not uncommon. I hear from foster parents all over the country who are the victims of “arbitrary and capricious” decisions by child welfare caseworkers. It is hardly surprising then that a study from the Foster Care Institute found that turnover rates for foster parents ranged from 30-50%.

There is not much data on why foster parents decide to leave the system. A lot of states don’t seem particularly curious about the answer. But a 2004 survey of New York families who fostered found that of those who stopped, “dissatisfaction with agency” was the second most common reason after “adoption of foster children.”

All of the back-and-forth with courts and caseworkers can amount to a full-time job, a number of foster parents have told me. And unlike the Schneiters, most do not have the time or money to appeal these decisions.

In their defense, caseworkers are tasked with fulfilling (at least) two mandates at the same time: protecting the interests of the child while also reunifying birth families.

But the bottom line here is a girl who is 3 years old has spent her entire life in legal limbo, being yanked unnecessarily from one home to another. Courts that are set up on timelines to determine whether an adult committed a robbery or whether a company engaged in fraud are making decisions about the fates of children.

For years we assumed that early years didn’t matter. Now we know better. Our courts should, too.

Riley is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Facebook fixes won’t be easy - AEI - American Enterprise Institute: Freedom, Opportunity, Enterprise

Fri, 04/20/2018 - 13:24
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Many agree that Facebook needs to make some changes. But those changes are a lot more complicated than the public conversation suggests.

Let’s discuss three of what would seem to be the simplest moves Facebook could make: tighter standards for political speech, user verification, and allowing people to take their social network with them when they stop using Facebook.

Tighter controls on political content seem relatively simple to implement. In fact, a few days before Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg came to Washington for congressional testimony, he announced a major policy change to this effect: “Every advertiser who wants to run political or issue ads will need to be verified,” including confirming their identity and location. Facebook “will also label them and advertisers will have to show you who paid for them,” Mr. Zuckerberg wrote on his Facebook page.


This is designed to deter foreign interference in U.S. elections. The company may also hope that disclosures similar to those on broadcast political ads will dissuade officials from regulating Facebook more like a media outlet..

How America can win its tech war with China - AEI - American Enterprise Institute: Freedom, Opportunity, Enterprise

Fri, 04/20/2018 - 13:14

The U.S.-China trade throwdown isn’t just about helping “American steel,” protecting Corporate America’s intellectual property, reducing bilateral trade deficits, or really much of what President Trump typically tweets about. To focus exclusively on tariffs or international investment flows misses the big picture.

What’s actually playing out on a global stage is an escalating conflict to be the technological leader and thus leading economic superpower of the 21st century.

President Donald Trump takes part in a welcoming ceremony with China’s President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, November 9, 2017. Reuters

Beijing made its fighting intent clear in 2015 when it announced its goal to create “national champions” in 10 high-tech manufacturing sectors by 2025. Since then, it has expanded its ambitions with a strategic plan to become the world leader in artificial intelligence, a technology that a recent McKinsey Global Institute report called the “transformational technology of our digital age.”

Understanding the nature of this conflict makes it clear why the Trump administration’s recent tariff plan targeted those strategic “Made in China” high-tech sectors. Also part of the clash was Washington’s moves this week to stop the sale of Huawei telecommunications gear by U.S. telecom carriers and bar ZTE from buying U.S.-made components for seven years, perhaps crippling that company. “We are in a new cold war with Beijing to retain control of the technology critical to the modern economy,” Richard Staropoli, chief information officer for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, recently wrote in the Financial Times.

To many, this story may sound familiar. Before China there was Japan, a rising Asian power that 1980s America saw as an existential threat to its economic and technological supremacy. Politicians campaigned against trade deficits and campaigned on “economic patriotism.” Think tanks put out reports advising America to move away from its old-fashioned free-market thinking and embrace Japan’s economic model with government more actively aiding business. Dread of Japan’s ascendance permeated deep into American culture. The TV Tropes web site has a lengthy entry on “Japan Takes Over the World,” citing numerous films, television shows, books, and video games that used this theme. For instance: In the 1989 Ridley Scott film, Black Rain, a Japanese cop in Tokyo tells his visiting American counterpart (played by Michael Douglas), “We make the machines, we build the future, we won the peace.”

Another 1980s Japan worrier was Donald Trump. During the 1980s, Trump frequently made colorful attacks on the U.S.-Japan trading relationship. The same year Black Rain came out, Trump in a television interview said Japan had “systematically sucked the blood out of America — sucked the blood out!” Of course it wasn’t long after that Japan’s stock and real estate markets crashed, leading to a long period of Japanese economic stagnation while the U.S. accelerated into the 1990s internet boom.

Trump’s views on Japan never really changed, and to a great extent he understands China in the same way: a parasitic economy draining America of its manufacturing base and the jobs that went along with it. But that’s an exaggerated and backward-looking perspective. America still has a high-output, high-productivity manufacturing sector. And it should be the goal of U.S. policy to meet the unique Chinese challenge, one that combines the 1980s economic challenge of Japan with the 1980s military and ideological challenge of the Soviet Union. And while the U.S. should not allow Chinese firms to steal American technology or force companies to hand over their blueprints, a strategy of retarding China’s technological advance won’t work. China has too many scientists, generates too much valuable data, and contains too much entrepreneurial drive.

Now some U.S. policymakers underestimate China’s challenge. During Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s Senate testimony the other day, Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) was taken aback when Zuckerberg disagreed with his proposition that “only in America” could someone take a tech company form a “dorm room to global behemoth.” As Zuckerberg corrected him, “Well — well, senator, there are — there are some very strong Chinese internet companies.” Zuckerberg was surely thinking about Chinese tech giants such as Alibaba, Baidu, and Tencent, which have a combined market value of over $1 trillion.

Nor should we be against China advancing its tech prowess. In an internet-connected, globalized economy, national economies gain from each others’ advances. As Harvard’s Amar Bhide argues in The Venturesome Economy, “the expansion of the global supply of cutting-edge research, regardless of where it originates, is a good thing.” America’s global tech competition doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. Indeed, given the interdependent nature of American and Chinese companies, policymakers must make sure it isn’t.

The only realistic path forward for America is to continue to push the technological frontier and race ahead of competitors. That primarily means it needs to continue to do what it does best: Create bold and innovative new tech firms that will eventually become tech giants. These companies — such as Amazon, Apple, and Google — not only offer great products and services but pour billions into cutting-edge research. Taxes and regulations matter. So, too, does not recklessly breaking these companies up because they’re “too big and powerful.” Beyond that, the U.S. needs to invest more at the federal level into basic science research and continue to attract high-skill immigrants who want to do great things with their lives. Both these things were key to America’s tech supremacy in the 20th century.

Entrepreneurship, investment, immigration — America, you do you.

Straight up conversation: Math guru Richard Rusczyk - AEI - American Enterprise Institute: Freedom, Opportunity, Enterprise

Fri, 04/20/2018 - 12:00

Richard Rusczyk is the founder of the Art of Problem Solving (AoPS), a math curriculum and online learning community that supports students who excel in math. In the early 1990s, Richard started AoPS as a book series; it has grown into a 300,000-member online community with classes, video lessons, and an adaptive learning system. AoPS is also the go-to trainer for America’s Math Olympiad participants. I recently had a chance to chat with Richard about AoPS, how it works, and the effort to extend its reach to new kids.

@nina_p_v via Twenty20

Rick Hess: First off, what exactly is the Art of Problem Solving (AoPS)?

Richard Rusczyk: AoPS develops educational resources for eager math students, including textbooks, an online school, in-person learning centers, and a constellation of online applications. We build the tools we wish we’d had when we were students.

RH: When did AoPS begin? Where did the idea come from, and how did you wind up getting started?

RR: As I was finishing college, back in 1993 to ’94, I co-wrote a two-volume series, The Art of Problem Solving, for students preparing for math competitions. These texts are probably still the most widely used math contest prep books. I left grad school after a couple months because I wanted to teach high school. Then I learned how hard teaching is! It’s even harder when you’re 22 and look 13. I left teaching after a semester and traded bonds for a while. Then the internet came along, and I realized I could build a school online and let selection bias draw the students I could best serve: those who thirst for a greater challenge than they’re finding in their classrooms. We launched in 2003 and expanded from contest preparation to a full math curriculum.

RH: When a student participates in AoPS, what does that involve?

RR: It depends on which slice of AoPS the student is using. Students learn in many different ways, so we deliver our materials through a variety of media: textbooks, an adaptive learning system, videos, and an online community. We weave these together in our online school, though each can be used individually—and several are free. In the online school—which most students take in addition to their regular math classes—students meet weekly for a 75- to 120-minute conversation with instructors. Between classes, they read textbooks, watch videos, collaborate with instructors and other students in our online community, and tackle sets of difficult problems. Some of the problems require writing complete solutions on which students receive feedback on the accuracy and presentation of their work. Most students in the online school are taking math classes in their regular school in addition to ours; however, some students are able to replace to their school classes with ours. Our school is accredited, and we can provide grades and a transcript to students who need them.

RH: This is really striking. We hear a lot about gamification, video elements, and interactive technology, but it sounds like what you’re describing is old school, and then some. Is that right? Does this really work? And do students actually enjoy it?

RR: We have those modern elements—gamification, video, and our real-time classes are extremely interactive because all the students can “talk” at any time. But the classroom is text-and-image only; you have to experience it to appreciate why we don’t use video and audio. The key part of the instruction comes from students solving hard problems themselves, which is the main old-school component. The online school works for some students. Nothing works for all students, so we deliver our material through multiple avenues. But many students keep coming back far past the age where they can say “no” to their parents. One mother recently told me that when she needs to get her son’s attention, she takes his AoPS Precalculus book away from him, and parents proudly send us pictures of their children’s creations celebrating their favorite Beast Academy characters from our elementary school curriculum.

RH: How do students get involved in AoPS?

RR: They or their parents find us. We have strong word-of-mouth in the communities we serve. If you have a math-focused child and start asking around online for suggestions for her, you’ll hear about us.

RH: How many students do you serve, and who are they?

RR: This year, we expect over 15,000 in our online school and over 3,000 in our in-person learning centers. Our online community has over 300,000 members, about half of whom are international. Our online learning system for middle school is nearing 100 million trials. While most students in our earliest classes are 10 or 11, we have some as young as 7 or 8. That age will get younger this summer when we launch Beast Academy Online, our online learning system for elementary school. The students range through high school.

Most of our students have high interest and ability in math. At the very high end of the ability scale, the six members of the US team that won the 2015 International Math Olympiad—for the first time in over two decades—collectively enrolled in over 40 AoPS classes. We don’t collect data on income or race, but anecdotally speaking, many of our students have parents in math- or science-related fields, and probably most are in the top half of the income distribution. Many of our students’ parents are immigrants who can credit their own interest and ability in mathematics with allowing them to come to this country.

RH: Is there any alignment to curriculum or standards throughout AoPS? Can what students are doing on your platform help them in their math courses?

RR: While we reviewed various standards, we didn’t adhere precisely to any of them. The standards, like most of our K-12 education system, by necessity must target mathematical literacy, not mastery—they ensure that students reach a certain baseline level of understanding. AoPS’ target is different, it’s that of universities: the mastery required to be a STEM professional. Students who work through our curriculum usually find themselves extremely well-prepared for their regular school classes. They’re also far less likely to be shell-shocked when they take math or science classes in college, which is where we first see the gap between literacy- and mastery-focused educations as legions of students leave STEM-related majors. Those students may have notched high scores on their AP exams, but they hadn’t ever operated at the level they were asked to in their first university math and science classes, or at the level they’d need for internationally competitive careers.

RH: Can you talk a bit about the teaching side of all this? Who are the instructors? How do you find them and train them? How much time to they give to this? And how much are they paid?

RR: Some of our instructors are university professors or high-school teachers. Some are grad students at schools like MIT, Harvard, and Stanford. Some are professionals in software development or the financial industry. Some are on a break from their careers as they raise families. Teaching at AoPS allows them to share their love of math with eager students. We provide the students—we’ve essentially created a two-sided market where the teachers and students draw each other. Each course requires 3 to 5 hours per week of the teacher’s time, with their pay varying by course and the range of roles they fill for their courses.

RH: And what’s the price to enroll in AoPS?

RR: Many of our online resources are free, but the online school has per-course tuition. Each course runs 12 to 25 weeks, and costs 20 to 25 dollars per week. This summer we’ll launch a subscription-based service for elementary school, which will be around 100 dollars a year, and considerably less for those purchasing the elementary school books at the same time.

RH: What do we know about how well AoPS works? What kind of evidence do you look at when assessing your impact?

RR: All of our evidence is anecdotal. Performing a randomized controlled trial would be pretty difficult for us. Probably the strongest evidence is our continued growth, particularly considering our limited focus on marketing to date. We can point to contest results, but most of our students are not coming to us for contests. As a sign of our reach among top students, we recently learned that the 2018 MIT admit class circulated a spreadsheet to share social media usernames. The spreadsheet had 5 columns for each student: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and AoPS.

RH: Now, I understand you all are in the midst of efforts to expand the population that AoPS is serving. Can you talk a little about what that involves and how it’s going?

RR: We started a non-profit organization, the AoPS Initiative, whose Bridge to Enter Advanced Mathematics (BEAM) program serves high-potential students in underserved communities in New York City and Los Angeles. BEAM starts with middle-school summer programs and provides support during the school year through high school. Even though BEAM has been around for 7 years, it’s still too early to tell how well we’re achieving our goal of producing more STEM professionals from underserved communities. Some of our students have earned admissions to New York’s highly selective math and science schools, which is an early indicator of progress.

Meanwhile, our company invited 40 third-graders from similar communities into our AoPS Academy learning center in Gaithersburg, Maryland, this year through a STEM Talent Pipeline of the Montgomery Blair High School Magnet Foundation. We’re only in the first year of this Academy program. The students on average are holding their own, and some are excelling, but it’s way too early to claim success.

RH: What was the impetus for this effort?

RR: I believe the gap between the top well-connected students and the top disconnected students has grown tremendously in the last ten to 15 years. Moreover, AoPS bears some responsibility for the growth of that gap: The connected students have leapt due to programs like ours. This realization spurred the start of BEAM. However, we have found that while BEAM’s middle-school students are just as dialed-in and excited about math as the students we work with online, they are years behind the AoPS online students in their mathematical understanding. We can close that gap somewhat when starting in middle school, but we’re looking for ways to reach the students earlier. When the Montgomery Blair High School Magnet Foundation learned of our AoPS Academy plans in their area, they asked to be our pilot program in that effort.

The AoPS Academy STEM Talent Pipeline is supported largely by AoPS with some support from the Montgomery Blair HS Magnet Foundation. The AoPS Initiative’s BEAM programs are supported by a variety individual and institutional donors. The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation is the largest BEAM supporter and is responsible for our expansion to Los Angeles this year.

RH: And final question: In more than two decades of doing this, what are a couple things you’ve learned along the way that surprised, frustrated, or delighted you?

RR: We’re coming to appreciate the limits of online education. As a “dot-com” guy, I’m supposed to say that online education will be revolutionary for everyone. I don’t think that’s true. It works fantastically for some students, but for many students, education is a fundamentally human problem, which will require human solutions. This is why we’ve started our AoPS Academy learning centers, and in coming years will explore partnerships with schools to learn how best to deploy our work in a traditional school settings. Meanwhile, for those students for whom online education shines, we are starting to partner with schools and school systems to provide avenues to allow appropriate students to take their math classes from us rather than in a traditional classroom.

This post originally appeared on Rick Hess Straight Up.

America is not a racist nation - AEI - American Enterprise Institute: Freedom, Opportunity, Enterprise

Fri, 04/20/2018 - 10:30

I don’t normally watch the GLAAD Media Awards. Not that there’s anything wrong with them. GLAAD, by the way, originally stood for “Gay & Lesbian Alliance against Defamation” before the organization declared that GLAAD was its name and not an acronym.

@lelia_milaya via Twenty20

But I did see a video of Britney Spears’s acceptance of GLAAD’s Vanguard Award last week.

“I feel like our society has always put such an emphasis on what’s normal, and to be different is unusual or seen as strange,” Spears said.

She added some other stuff about how we’re all individuals together, or something. There was a time when I might have had a bit of fun with Spears about some of the inconsistencies. But I’ve mellowed. It’s all good. It was a nice speech, and she seemed sincerely honored to receive her award and grateful for the support of her fans.

But there’s one thing that vexes me. I could have picked a thousand other examples from any given week to illustrate it, but this one got my attention.

“Those who only know one country, know no country,” the legendary political scientist Seymour Martin Lipset observed.

What he meant is that if you don’t know what distinguishes one country from other countries, you can’t know what is normal about your country and what is exceptional about it.

For instance, these days we hear a great deal about America’s deep-seated racism, as evidenced by various legitimately horrible incidents, particularly excessive force by police. Discrimination exists. But there’s a difference between saying, one one hand, that discrimination or other injustices exist and there’s more work to be done, and, on the other, saying that America is the most racist country in the world and that things haven’t gotten better. (Search Twitter for “most racist” and “America” and scroll through the results.)

First of all, things have gotten better. In 1958, 44 percent of white Americans said they’d move if a black family moved in next door. Forty years later, that number had dropped to 1 percent. Were some whites lying? Probably, sure. But most probably weren’t. When the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, only 18 percent of white Americans said they had a black friend. By 1998, that number was 86 percent. Some people were probably fibbing, but the mere fact that they wanted others to believe they had a black friend is a kind of progress.

There is one sure sign that white attitudes have changed: Rates of marriage between races have been trending up for decades. In 1967, only 3 percent of newlywed marriages were interracial. The rate has risen more than fivefold, to 17 percent in 2015. Presumably, people willing to spend the rest of their lives with people of another race — never mind have children with them — aren’t lying.

But let me get back to my point. When I hear people say things about America — it’s racist, it’s sexist, etc. — or when I hear them say that America is the most this or the most that, I always want to ask, “Compared to whom?”

By no plausible objective standard is America the most racist or bigoted country in the world, even just among industrialized countries. On a 2014 list of countries ranked by opposition to having a racially different neighbor, America ranked 47th (with 6 percent of the population saying they were opposed). In raw numbers, we admit more immigrants than any other country. And as Amy Chua notes in her new book Political Tribes, “No other major power in the world has ever democratically elected a racial minority head of state.”

I dwell on race because that’s where so much of the passion is these days. But let’s get back to Ms. Spears. She says that our society puts so much emphasis on being “normal.” And again, one has to ask, “Compared to whom?” Does America have a history of discrimination toward homosexuals? Absolutely. Quick: Name a country that doesn’t have such a history. Meanwhile, attitudes on homosexuality have followed the same trend as race.

More broadly, the idea that America is uniquely hostile to “being different” is an interesting thesis, and it might have had some basis in fact 50 or 100 years ago (though I’m skeptical).

America is not without its problems. And the fact that we’re not nearly as bad off as people claim doesn’t erase the need to tackle them. But perhaps those problems would be alleviated somewhat if we stopped insisting they’re so much worse than they really are.

Improving internet security through awareness and risk management - AEI - American Enterprise Institute: Freedom, Opportunity, Enterprise

Fri, 04/20/2018 - 10:00

The RSA security conference took place this week in San Francisco with keynotes, tutorials, and training sessions to help guide the cybersecurity community toward new tools for information and network security. While these cyber warriors are learning how to protect large companies from cyber criminals, there are plenty of lessons from these experts that individuals and businesses can learn from to stay safe online.


A recent study on cybersecurity and privacy shows that 82 percent of respondents worry more about cybersecurity than they did five years ago and that 63 percent are more concerned about being hacked in the next five years. Two weeks ago, it was made public that 26 of the email domains connected to the White House were vulnerable to phishing attacks and that the email addresses could be easily spoofed.

Hijacking emails is one of the easier methods that scammers and criminals use as part of cyberattacks, online crimes, and the spreading of malware on computer networks. That the White House was as vulnerable as the average business after the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) required all federal agencies to implement a protocol to prevent these types of problems shows that almost everyone can benefit from a cyber checkup.

Expertise, budget, and time commitment tend to be the main reasons why appropriate security is not implemented and maintained by both individuals and institutions. DHS has recommended enterprises implement programs that use “white hat” and “black hat” list authentication to ensure legitimate web addresses correspond with emails associated to that address. This also expedites the reporting of networks that are serving up spoofed web addresses and allows network operators to block bad addresses.

While that works for large network operations with cybersecurity workforces, here are a few ways to use tools to keep you and your system protected from cyberattacks and scams.

For the individual user, a few simple steps can help with cybersecurity awareness and protect the information on the multiple devices the average person interacts with daily, such as laptops, smartphones, and tablets. These devices capture information all day that can be easily protected with a few basic tips and habits.

  • Back up your information, using an automatic backup option if available.
  • Install anti-malware software and firewalls to keep from being a target of known phishing attacks. Many internet service providers offer this to their customers.
  • Use multifactor authentication whenever it’s offered, especially for e-mail, social media, and financial transactions.
  • Don’t open attachments from unknown senders, as they can easily seed malware on your device.
  • Use and change passwords frequently.

These basic tools can be an on-ramp for improving security and keeping unauthorized users out of your digital world. Risk identification, threat reduction, reducing vulnerabilities, and mitigation of hacks or breaches are the four priorities for keeping a system up and running, even if a device or system has been penetrated. Think of what information could be at risk and how you will recover. Having an incident-response plan can help mitigate the damage of an attack or a breach and minimize the damage and potential loss of data.

Cybercrime is estimated to cost the global economy more than $600 billion per year. We are all part of the same internet ecosystem. We challenge the network with each key stroke and click through, and cybersecurity awareness in this digital age is imperative. Several presidents have called for strengthening our cybersecurity networks, and with congressional support, policymakers aim to make the federal government compliant with best practices. Federal advisory committees have issued extensive reports to encourage incentives for enterprise operators to strengthen their cybersecurity systems to manage the risks of disruption and data breaches.

Citizens who want a strong digital infrastructure should do their part to keep the digital economy strong and recognize the importance of each individual managing the risk factors around their digital lives. Learn more about security solutions and how to stay safe online to keep you and your business from being a victim of online fraud, theft, and cybercrime. While you’re enhancing your own security, you may want to check on your privacy settings too.

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BP and the Earth Day prayers of the rent-seeking corporation - AEI - American Enterprise Institute: Freedom, Opportunity, Enterprise

Fri, 04/20/2018 - 09:00

Earth Day is upon us yet again, and it is difficult not to notice its transformation into a vehicle for corporate virtue signaling: Full-page ads in national and local print media, yielding a revenue stream for which the newspapers and magazines are sincerely grateful. Advertisements on broadcast media and heavily trafficked websites. Booths at ubiquitous Earth Day events. Participation in conferences, teach-ins, community events, marches, lectures, and the other myriad types of gatherings at which elites and ordinary Joes and Joannes—and their children, grandchildren, and pets—can show they are one with enlightened opinion. Press releases from the PR departments expressing deep concern about the environmental cause du jour, and messages from the chairmen and CEOs making it very clear that their companies care deeply about the environment, a top priority for investment and planning.

People hold up inflatable world globes during World Environment Day celebrations in central Sydney June 5, 2009. Reuters

This Earth Day parade of corporate logos has been going on for decades, and it is unsurprising that endless repetition leads the suits to believe their propaganda, and thus the companies to an orientation toward particular kinds of viewpoints in hiring and promotions. This peculiar form of Stockholm syndrome—they wither in the face of attacks from the environmental left—is strengthened by the internal bureaucratic interests of those very same PR and environmental departments. At the same time, self-interest matters, as the corporate decision makers have shareholders and a capital market to whom they must answer. And so where they stand—the specifics of their environmental posturings—depends on where they sit, a reality illustrated beautifully by BP, formerly British Petroleum Company, these days a decidedly uncool corporate name.

For several years BP promoted the slogan “Beyond Petroleum,” a rather curious stance for a petroleum company, and so both amusing and striking as a blatant form of cheap penance for an environmental and accident record that was not sterling. But that was then. In the here and now BP is very proud of its efforts at “Advancing the Energy Transition,” the title of a brand-new report from BP released just in time for, yes, Earth Day. It details BP’s determination to prove its bona fides in terms of political correctitude, in particular its central goal of aiding a global transition toward a “low carbon” future through the use of less coal, more natural gas, and more wind and solar power, for which natural gas will be a “valuable back-up” due to the inherent “intermittency” of the renewables.

So BP wants everyone to know that BP stands foursquare against “carbon,” a term appearing 149 times in 24 pages. It cannot be repeated enough: “Carbon” is bad. Coal is bad. Natural gas is good. Wind and solar power backed up with natural gas plants are good. It is essential that the Paris (COP-21) goal of limiting temperature increases to 2 degrees C be achieved, and so “carbon” must be priced, that is, a (presumably global) carbon tax must be imposed.

Because gas consumption produces a bit more than half of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of coal (per btu of energy output), BP’s carbon tax would yield a competitive advantage for gas production. As Pravda in its glory days would have put it: Is it an accident that BP produces no coal, but does produce about 6.4 billion cubic feet of natural gas (and 1.4 million barrels of oil and natural gas liquids) per day? The massive subsidies for wind and solar power, both explicit and implicit, represent another subsidy for natural gas producers, as BP acknowledges implicitly, because the unreliability of renewable electricity means that the wind farms and solar facilities must be backed up with conventional plants so as to avoid blackouts, and it is gas plants that are the most suitable for that function.

BP is proud to note that its renewables business in 2017 reduced GHG emissions by 2.9 million tons. Annual worldwide GHG emissions are about 49 billion metric tons; the temperature effect of that cut in GHG emissions yields a temperature reduction in 2100 very close to zero. Precisely whom does BP think it’s fooling?

And about that renewable energy that BP claims to be “clean”: There is nothing clean about it. There is the heavy-metal pollution created by the production process for wind turbines. There are the noise and flicker effects of wind turbines. There is the large problem of solar panel waste. There is the wildlife destruction caused by the production of renewable power. There is the land use both massive and unsightly, made necessary by the unconcentrated nature of renewable energy.

And above all, there is the increase—yes, increase—in the emissions of conventional effluents and GHG emissions caused by the up-and-down cycling of the natural gas backup generation units needed to avoid blackouts, a reality that BP fails to note.

BP fails to tell us how high the carbon tax ought to be, what environmental effects it would yield, or the massive policy failures and distortions it would engender. But BP is certain that, again, it is crucial that the COP-21 goal of limiting temperature increases to 2 degrees C be achieved. Actually, the Paris agreement is an absurdity, but it is interesting that it established a secondary goal of limiting warming by 2100 to 1.5 degrees C rather than the original 2 degrees C as advertised. Given that the evidence on climate phenomena is inconsistent with the “saving the planet” view and given that atmospheric temperatures have been rising at about 0.1 +/–0.03 degrees C per decade since 1979, the secondary goal is a tacit admission that limiting temperature increases to 2 degrees C already has been “achieved” without any GHG policies at all.

The term “carbon,” however solidly embedded in the public discourse, is a misnomer in that carbon dioxide is not “carbon” and it is not a pollutant. By far the most important GHG in terms of the radiative properties of the troposphere is water vapor; why does no one call it a “pollutant?” Obviously, it is because ocean evaporation is a natural process, but so are volcanic eruptions, the emissions from which of fluorine, sulfur, mercury, and ash are pollutants by any definition.

Earth Day is a classic religious holiday: The interpretation of destructive weather as the gods’ punishment of men for the sins of Man is ancient. And just as the pagans for millennia attempted to prevent destructive weather by worshipping golden idols, so do modern environmentalists now attempt to prevent destructive weather by bowing down before recycling bins. And thus do we find the recycling logo on innumerable corporate web pages and products. At a more general level, a simplistic but accurate summary of the underlying tenets of modern environmentalism can be stated as follows: Once upon a time, Earth was the Garden of Eden. But mankind, having consumed the forbidden fruit of the tree of technological knowledge, has despoiled it. And only through repentance and economic suffering can we return to the loving embrace of Mother Gaia.

BP is hardly the only sinner in this congregation. But is a prominent one indeed, and it is distressing that so many corporate officials are willing, indeed anxious, to jump on the environmentalist bandwagon in the hope that the green alligator will eat them last. That such groveling before the environmental left—anti-human, anti-capitalism, anti-freedom, and in reality anti-environment—has been combined with rent-seeking for government favors is a measure of the social and economic destructiveness of the green-corporate alliance that is the core of Earth Day.

Related reading:

Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics Is Destroying American Democracy - AEI - American Enterprise Institute: Freedom, Opportunity, Enterprise

Thu, 04/19/2018 - 19:58

Buy the book.

Read the graphic novel.

Available April 24, 2018

With his trademark blend of political history, social science, economics, and pop culture, two-time New York Times bestselling author, syndicated columnist, National Review senior editor, and American Enterprise Institute Fellow Jonah Goldberg makes the timely case that America and other democracies are in peril as they lose the will to defend the values and institutions that sustain freedom and prosperity. Instead we are surrendering to populism, nationalism, and other forms of tribalism.

Only once in the past 250,000 years have humans stumbled upon a way to lift ourselves out of the endless cycle of poverty, hunger, and war that defines most of history — in 18th-century England when we accidentally discovered the miracle of liberal democratic capitalism.

As Americans we are doubly blessed that those radical ideas were written into the Constitution, laying the groundwork for our uniquely prosperous society:

  • Our rights come from God not from the government.
  • The government belongs to us; we do not belong to the government.
  • The individual is sovereign. We are all captains of our own souls.
  • The fruits of our labors belong to us.

In the past few decades, these political virtues have been turned into vices. As we are increasingly taught to view our traditions as a system of oppression, exploitation, and “white privilege,” the principles of liberty and the rule of law are under attack from left and right.

At a moment when authoritarianism, tribalism, identity politics, nationalism, and cults of personality are rotting our democracy from within, Goldberg exposes the West’s suicidal tendencies on both sides of the ideological aisle. For the West to survive, we must renew our sense of gratitude for what our civilization has given us and rediscover the ideals that led us out of the bloody muck of the past — or back to the muck we will go.

Suicide is painless; liberty takes work.

Praise for “Suicide of the West”

“Populist and identity politics are not just unpleasant; they are an existential threat to the American way of life. With characteristic wit and erudition, Jonah Goldberg argues that if you value democracy and a free society, you must stand against ideological tribalism, no matter what your politics. ‘Suicide of the West’ raises an alarm everyone needs to hear and makes clear the path we need to take.”

— Arthur C. Brooks, president, American Enterprise Institute

“Understanding where America stands calls for someone with an intellectual lens that can integrate Schumpeter and ‘Fight Club,’ Karl Marx and Walter White. In ‘Suicide of the West,’ Jonah Goldberg begins with a compelling thesis, expounds it with massive evidence, and led me to a new and deeper understanding of our predicament. And yet I found myself reading the book for fun. How is it possible with a book this serious? Jonah Goldberg is that good.”

— Charles Murray, author, “Coming Apart”

“Jonah Goldberg’s ‘Suicide of the West’ is a tour de force. As ever, Goldberg wears his extraordinary erudition lightly as he demonstrates how the ideas that have animated free societies for the past 250 years are the greatest creations of humankind — and how we are imperiling our posterity by the way we mishandle, ignore, and belittle them. This is a very important book.”

— John Podhoretz, editor, Commentary magazine

“No book better explains this perilous American moment than Jonah Goldberg’s ‘Suicide of the West.’ Deeply researched, beautifully written and brilliantly argued, Goldberg uses trademark logic and humor to explain how the ‘miracle’ of liberal democracy and capitalism created the conditions for Western thriving and how complacence about the system could hasten its collapse. Equal parts history and polemic, ‘Suicide of the West’ is a bracing and necessary reminder that the success of the West is neither accidental nor inevitable. It will be one of the most important books of the year.”

— Steve Hayes, editor-in-chief, The Weekly Standard; contributor, Fox News

Inconvenient weather fact for Earth Day: the frequency of violent tornadoes fell to a record low in 2017 - AEI - American Enterprise Institute: Freedom, Opportunity, Enterprise

Thu, 04/19/2018 - 14:45

Earth Day 2018 will take place this Sunday (April 22) and I’ll put up an updated version of my annual Earth Day post (“18 spectacularly wrong predictions made around the time of the first Earth Day in 1970, expect more this year”) within a few days. For now, in preparation for Earth Day, let me present an “inconvenient weather fact” displayed graphically above of the annual US tornado count from 1954 to 2017 based on data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Centers for Environmental Information.

In 2017, there were only 15 tornadoes in the US that registered in the strong to violent categories of F3, F4 or F5 (there were 13 F3 tornadoes, 2 F4s, and no F5s), which was the fewest annual number of F3+ tornadoes in more than 60 years going back to 1954 when NOAA started collecting annual US tornado data, and below the previous record low count of 17 F3+ tornadoes in 1987. In addition to setting a new record low, last year’s strong/violent tornado count of 15 was slightly less than one-third of the 45.25 average number of annual violent tornadoes since 1954. The trend line in the chart above shows that the frequency of strong/violent tornadoes in the US has been declining consistently since the 1950s. For example, the average number of annual F3+ tornadoes in the first half of the sample above was almost 56 compared to an average annual count of 34.5 tornadoes during the second half of the sample.

As James Taylor wrote in Forbes in 2012 (five years before the record-setting low last year):

Tornadoes are becoming less frequent and less severe as our planet modestly warms. Yet global warming alarmists focus attention on the few tornadoes that still do occur and say that global warming is causing these increasingly rare tornadoes.

For example, here’s what Brad Johnson of the progressive activist organization Center for American Progress wrote in 2012 trying to link global warming to tornadoes (“Poisoned Weather: Global Warming Helped Fuel Killer Tornadoes“):

Carbon pollution from fossil fuels is poisoning the weather, helping drive the conditions that created the killer tornado outbreak last week across the heart of the United States. “It is irresponsible not to mention climate change,” climatologist Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research told ThinkProgress Green. “The environment in which all of these storms and the tornadoes are occurring has changed from human influences (global warming). As spring moves up a week or two, tornado season will start in February instead of waiting for April.”

Scientists have not found a measurable trend in tornado intensity and number. However, with greater greenhouse pollution scientists expect changes. “The number of days when conditions exist to form tornadoes is expected to increase” as the world warms, atmospheric scientist Robert Trapp told Reuters. NASA climate scientist Anthony D. Del Genio wrote in 2011: “As the climate warms, we might experience fewer storms overall, but more of the strongest storms.” They have identified the risk of longer tornado seasons with stronger thunderstorms.

Bottom Line: The frequency of strong to violent tornadoes in the US has declined consistently and significantly over time, especially since the peak decade between 1965 to 1974 when there were more than 700 F3+ tornadoes at an average rate of more than 70 per year. It’s also important to note that the decline in violent tornadoes has taken place despite the improved scientific ability over time to find, track, and measure tornadoes. At least based on the evidence to date, I think we can dismiss the connection between “poisoned weather and tornadoes” suggested by Brad Johnson and the earlier predictions of Al Gore (and others) that global warming would cause tornadoes to increase in frequency and intensity. We can add Gore’s prediction to the list of many other spectacularly wrong predictions that have been made about the climate and environment since the time of the first Earth Day in 1970, and I’ll highlight those predictions in a later post closer to Earth Day 2018 on Sunday!

Banter #311: Nat Malkus on the DC Public Schools graduation scandal - AEI - American Enterprise Institute: Freedom, Opportunity, Enterprise

Thu, 04/19/2018 - 14:38

This week on Banter, AEI Resident Scholar Nat Malkus joins the show to discuss the DC Public Schools graduation scandal. After posting a record graduation rate in 2017, an audit revealed that one-third of graduates received diplomas in violation of the District’s attendance policy. If the District’s attendance policy had been followed, the graduation rate would have fallen from 73 percent to less than 50 percent. What implications does this have for education reform and what systems should be developed to ensure this doesn’t happen in the future? Read more about the scandal at the links below.

Learn More:

Washington, DC graduation scandal: A canary in the coal mine? | In 60 Seconds | AEI | April 12, 2018 

DC’s dishonest record graduation rate is a disgrace—here’s how to fix it | Nat Malkus | Washington Examiner | March 12, 2018

Don’t assume high school graduation fraud is only in DC. It’s not. | Nat Malkus | USA Today | February 17, 2018 

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Wishful thinking - AEI - American Enterprise Institute: Freedom, Opportunity, Enterprise

Thu, 04/19/2018 - 14:07

Late last year, the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University released a worrisome report. Giving by younger Americans, researchers found, has markedly declined in just the last decade and a half. Under 40 percent of households headed by someone under 40 now give any money to charity.

These results were anticipated by sociologist Jean Twenge, who examined 40 years of surveys of twelfth graders and students entering college and found that giving patterns reached “an all-time low in 2015.”  Young people born after 1995 may feel like they are “dreaming big and including an altruistic vision in those dreams,” she writes in her recent book iGen, but they are not making those dreams a reality. Indeed, few of today’s young people “express empathy for those unlike themselves”—which raises the possibility that philanthropy in America could take a nosedive when this generation enters the national driver’s seat.

@gorgeousguerilla via Twenty20

For a completely opposite perspective, Sharna Goldseker and Michael Moody claim in Generation Impact that we are about to enter “a new Golden Age of Giving.” One root of their excitement is the simple fact that young Americans are going to inherit a lot of money from their parents. A 2014 Boston College study found that there will be $59 trillion of wealth transferred across generations between 2007 and 2061. The authors breathlessly predict that millennials will channel much of this largesse into personal giving, and in the process “revolutionize giving,” “channel their historic potential,” “forge bold new paths,” and “be the most significant philanthropists ever.”

If you can get past the hype, there is some revealing material in this book. Interviews the authors conducted with a number of young monied donors produce the most telling information. Much of it, alas, is delusional.

One theme uncovered in these discussions is impatience. While this is not a new trait in action-oriented donors, today’s young philanthropists are operating with a markedly different time frame. Many of them have made their money quickly and have arrived at success at a very young age. Even those who have inherited their money, like Alexander Soros and Justin Rockefeller (both interviewed in the book), are gaining access to resources earlier than counterparts in decades past.

Millennials are also showing little interest in established charities, preferring to find or start their own group they can strongly influence. “If I work with a small organization, I can make a significant impact,” as one donor told the authors. Younger philanthropists believe they have valuable insights as well as money to share. And they are often willing to blur the lines between nonprofit and for-profit ventures.

As one example of those impulses coming together, the authors profile Hadi Partovi, an Iranian-American entrepreneur who made money as an early investor in Facebook, Dropbox, and Airbnb. He started giving by writing checks through a donor-advised fund, then started his own organization to accomplish philanthropic goals. With 50 employees, aims to bring computer-science instruction to every school in the country.

The book contains a good deal of well-intentioned naiveté and smugness. For example, “Next-gen donors…find many faults in old-school philanthropy, the greatest of which being that many of our most troubling social problems persist despite decades of philanthropic giving.” There is no acknowledgment that, to borrow a phrase, the poor will always be with us. These young people seem driven by the notion that human beings and society are perfectible—if only we can put the right policies and resources and brain implants in place.

This certitude extends to the book’s characterization of the past as less politically active and progressive than the present. “The desire to find strategies that address root causes and result in system changes leads some next-gen donors to fund advocacy, policy-reform efforts, and movement organizing, especially at the grassroots level. They see previous generations of donors as wary of such giving in part because they wanted to avoid sticking their necks out and taking a public stand with their giving.”

Okay, wipe that smile off your face.

These young donors are said to be braver than those who preceded them: To draw more attention to their own causes “many in the next gen want to be ‘louder’ about their giving, whether in social media or otherwise.” They are nobler as well, lacking any interest in giving “to gain social status or participate in the right social circles.”

No word on when they’re going to turn off the “like” buttons on their social media.

We’re betting this next generation will prove no better or worse in motivation than their parents or grandparents. And if the harder research cited at the opening of this essay proves out, their actual behavior may end up being a lot less generous. No matter what the rich young Americans interviewed for this book may proclaim, real-life practice is what matters.

Contributing editor Naomi Schaefer Riley is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, where she focuses on child welfare and foster-care issues.

School and home - AEI - American Enterprise Institute: Freedom, Opportunity, Enterprise

Thu, 04/19/2018 - 14:07

Until a few years ago, Emily Bloomfield had not thought much about the needs of children living in foster care. She had been working hard on education policy in Washington, and had served on the board of the local charter-school authorizer. But then she was suddenly given a front-row seat to the problems faced by kids who have had to be separated from their parents. The aunt and uncle of her husband took custody of their two grandchildren, after the mother and father’s parental rights had been terminated by a court. The grandparents, at their advanced age, weren’t sure they could manage full responsibility. But they knew the children needed someone to step up. So they did, and began seeking help from extended family and others. “This got me pretty obsessed” with the problems of children in foster care, says Bloomfield.

@ahammond via Twenty20

She points out that this situation is becoming increasingly common, thanks to family breakdown and drug addiction. More and more grandparents and other family members are being asked to step in for incapable parents, and they need help from their communities.

In her education-policy role, Bloomfield also saw a niche for a specialized school. Despite a thriving charter movement and a voucher program in D.C., foster youth still often found themselves without schooling options that matched their specific problems. So she founded a school just for them—a boarding school, where they live five days a week.

The charter school Monument Academy started its third year of operation in 2017 and currently has a fifth-, sixth-, and seventh-grade class, with plans to add one more grade each year until it serves kids through high school. Bloomfield says that when it comes to this population, “a lot of money is being spent on failure. The outcomes are terrible.” But she is hoping that Monument can “provide a proof point” that there is a way to educate these children effectively.

Lisa Bernstein, a member of Monument’s board and one of the early supporters of the school, made the same observation. Having been a coach and literacy teacher at various schools throughout the city, Bernstein tells me, “I had experienced personally that kid in your class who took up so much more energy and oxygen than all the other kids.” She remembers asking herself, “What can I do for this child? I am not enough.” Even “with the best-run schools and resources and the best principals, there is not enough bandwidth or programming or knowhow to address what these kids need.” As behavioral issues pile up, “their education slows down or pauses.”

To tackle these deep challenges, Monument has adopted a more personalized system of learning, used smaller classrooms, and built “de-escalation spaces” where kids can go to calm down (with an adult) if their behavior veers out of control. The school provides intense mental-health counseling and has formed a partnership with Georgetown University to address physical-health concerns. “So many kids come in with little or no medical attention,” Bloomfield tells me. Undiagnosed asthma that causes difficulty in breathing. Untreated tooth infections. “One child was so upset he pulled a tooth right out of his head.”

These problems, taken one at a time, can be addressed by a team of adults around a table. Monument works with each student’s foster parents—and biological parents if they are available. There is also an effort to work with caseworkers from family services, although current privacy laws make it difficult to share information between educators and caseworkers. (Another obstacle is D.C.’s very high turnover rate among caseworkers.) These challenges have led to Monument organizing more care “in-house.”

Monument uses a house-parent model in which ten students live with two adults in a wing of the school building during the week, eating their meals together and learning discipline, mutual support, and life skills like doing the laundry and setting a table. “We want to show them that this is what it’s like to live in a stable, collaborative family structure.” And, says Bloomfield, “we can ensure that they get a good night’s sleep, decent food, and hygiene.”

The boarding aspect of the program also addresses one of the biggest challenges for foster students—the frequency with which they move. As foster kids get transferred from home to home (sometimes back to their biological parent or simply between foster families) they are often forced to change schools. While many jurisdictions have legislation that allows a foster child to remain in the same school even if he or she moves outside of the neighborhood, this can be a logistical challenge if the school is too far away. Plus, many of the students who come to Monument have been expelled from previous schools.

Even with a strong team of adults, it’s a roller-coaster ride. Within the first six weeks of Monument’s opening, five kids out of the class of 40 were hospitalized. Monument found beds for them “in a place that knew what they were doing.” It got them stabilized, perhaps had their meds changed. “And then we got them back into the classroom.”

There’s no place like school

The school is spending more than $50,000 per child on average, including room and board. That’s almost three times the amount spent on the typical D.C. student. More than half of the students qualify for special-education services, so that drives up the per-pupil costs. But D.C. also has a fairly generous charter program that covers most of the cost (including the additional allocations for special ed). The rest is supplied by private philanthropy.

Monument was launched with financial backing from the CityBridge Foundation, the family philanthropy of David and Katherine Bradley. CityBridge picked Monument as one of the winners of its competition for new schools and new-school models. It was looking for ideas that combined personalized learning with financial sustainability. Mieka Wick, CEO of CityBridge Education, a nonprofit the foundation started in 2017, tells me that the foundation was attracted to “an academic environment that will allow the teacher to be more of a coach and personalized partner.”

CityBridge Education sees its mission as getting schools off the ground, not sustaining them indefinitely. One of the first issues addressed is real estate. “Finding a building is one of the biggest barriers,” says Wick. This is true of most charter schools, but schools that cater to foster kids feel this problem more acutely.

Monument found an old D.C. public-school building, but it had to be renovated completely in order to make a separate space for the dormitories and de-escalation rooms. Schools for children with serious behavioral issues need a lot of space. Though Bloomfield is glad she found the building she did, she notes that there is not much outdoor space beyond a small courtyard. “These kids need to get out and run.”

CityBridge does not pick up ongoing costs, and has instead focused on helping Bloomfield assemble a board that will contribute financially and in expertise. This is part of its role as “an angel investor.”

Thanks to D.C.’s charter-school laws, about 93 percent of Monument’s costs are paid for by tax dollars. But the school has depended on private funding in order to make its environment more hospitable to students and to hire an appropriate amount of staff. There are also ambitions to provide more comprehensive health care.

The chances of replicating the model of Monument in other states depend in significant part on charter funding laws. Arizona, Florida, and North Carolina all have voucher programs for kids in foster care. And last fall, Oklahoma expanded a program for special-needs kids to include foster children as well. The school has committed since its inception to sharing its plans and best practices openly. There is a “knowledge center” on the Monument website that offers information to people who want to start something like this in their own community. While Bloomfield does not see herself creating another Monument—she might consider adding grades below fifth at some point—she would like to add a residency program that would train principals and teachers who want to do something similar. Monument already hosts social workers who are looking to do some clinical hours for their training.

No time like the present

There seems to be a new national urgency to efforts like this. There are over 400,000 children in foster care, and some states, including California and West Virginia, have seen a large surge in this population connected to the opioid epidemic.

Many foster children face chilling futures. According to the National Foster Youth Institute, one fifth of the 23,000 foster children who reach age 18 each year have nowhere to live. Only half will find gainful employment by the time they are 24. There is only a 3 percent chance they will earn a college degree. One recent survey showed 14 percent of prison inmates in California had at one point spent time in foster care. All of this costs society a significant amount of money—an average lifetime cost of up to $300,000 for individuals who age out of the system.

New efforts to head off these costs and human heartaches have been launched in several cities. Haven Academy, a charter school for kids who are or have been in foster care, was established ten years ago by the New York Foundling, a 150-year-old Catholic charity that helps children in need, and expanded this fall to include a new middle school. Around the same time, Philadelphia became home to Arise Charter School focused on foster kids, which in 2015 converted to a private school called C.B. Community. Optimist Charter School in Los Angeles opened in 2013 to serve probation and foster youth. A school called Da Vinci RISE High in Los Angeles was one of ten schools in 2017 to win a Super School grant, a contest funded by Laurene Powell Jobs.

The RISE school started small—serving 30 students on one campus—but it will eventually grow to 500 students. The plan is to offer personalized learning to students who are moved along as they demonstrate mastery of their subjects, instead of the traditional movement through age-based grades. A project-based curriculum will focus students on real-world experiences, and internships and other practical experiences will provide a way of earning course credits.

Another project in the works is Sisu Academy, dreamt up by a former homeless kid himself. With an absent father and mentally ill mother, Jabez LeBret relied on friends for places to stay throughout high school, and teachers and counselors for support. Despite their best efforts, he did not graduate. “The system wasn’t set up to manage my situation,” LeBret says.

But his story wasn’t over yet. He beat the odds and earned his GED, and then a college degree. He eventually launched a successful career in marketing. All the while he was trying to help kids who were like him—homeless, in foster care, or otherwise at risk.

“I can speak firsthand to what it’s like to be in a new home every two or three weeks. It creates constant stress and uncertainty.” What these children needed, he realized, was a place just for them—one that would help them “develop important life skills.”

So LeBret is working on a boarding school in San Diego. He cites programs like Wasatch Academy in Utah (where boarded students work on a farm) and the Milton Hershey School in Pennsylvania (which has long educated orphans and poor children) as models for his proposed Sisu Academy. He envisions two business incubators and a working farm, and chances for kids to start their own business ventures that could ultimately provide some revenue flow for the school. His goal is for Sisu to be tuition-free. To that end, he’s secured corporate in-kind donations of furniture and software, and he is working on raising $16 million to welcome its first class of 80 students.

But residential schools are not the best option for every child, and experts in the field recommend keeping most foster children close to their biological or foster parents. A child entirely removed from his or her extended family or community is often more vulnerable to disorientation and abuse. And LeBret says “there is a direct correlation between the distance from family and the rates of foster-care kids going AWOL and disengaging from the system.”

But for children in extremely disorganized or dysfunctional families, a boarding school can be a saving grace. If the combination of a stable home and a decent education are the main predictors of adult success, then schools that offer these two things have a chance of dramatically improving life for some foster children, especially if they can expose the youngsters to a consistent group of adults who will care for them outside the classroom. Partial boarding also offers a respite for caretakers of these children, who are often under tremendous pressure.

A few years ago, some researchers at the University of Rochester revisited the famous “marshmallow test,” which evaluates a child’s ability to wait for a larger reward instead of grasping for a quick payoff. They determined that it was not simply some innate ability to delay gratification that allowed some children to wait. It turned out that the kids who came from homes where they had reliable adults, adults who delivered on their promises, were the most likely to succeed at the test. Children who came from environments where adults were constantly letting them down actually made a rational choice by grabbing resources quickly and running—because who knows if the offerer will really come back and fulfill the promise?

Bloomfield says it is these students who need places like Monument the most. “They live in a constant state of anxiety and watchfulness. Their lives are full of unpredictability. They keep experiencing loss.” Bloomfield hopes to give these students the social and academic tools they need to rebuild their lives on more stable ground. She doesn’t promise miracles, just improvement. “We can provide respite.”

Contributing editor Naomi Schaefer Riley is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, where she focuses on child welfare and foster-care issues.

Pompeo to North Korea proves Trump follows his own playbook - AEI - American Enterprise Institute: Freedom, Opportunity, Enterprise

Thu, 04/19/2018 - 13:43

How should the revelation that CIA director and secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo met with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un be understood?

Clearly, the Trump administration is prepared to throw out the old playbook in dealing with the rogue state. And why not? The past decades of North Korea policy have been a failure: Kim has nuclear weapons and many types of ballistic missiles that can devastate the Asia-Pacific, and has proliferated weapons of mass destruction to a devil’s den of countries without paying a single meaningful price. A new approach is needed — but there are many potential minefields that, if not carefully managed, can leave the United States worse off for holding a summit meeting.

The Trump administration succeeded in scaring the Kim regime to the negotiating table. Kim was spooked by constant allied military pressure and credible threats of military force against him. The array of sanctions and the campaign of international isolation have acted as a noose around his neck, and Kim wants to loosen that noose. His only way out is through diplomacy.
However, the potential trouble ahead is that this is the meeting that the Kim dynasty has always wanted and has been “gaming out” for many years. Pyongyang’s playbook is now well-known: draw out negotiations for as long as possible while demanding a peace treaty and other concessions, recognition as a nuclear state and the normalization of relations with the United States. Until recently, North Korean’s chastened patrons — the Chinese — went along with the Trump campaign of pressure against Kim, themselves fearing that Trump was capable of anything.

But now the Chinese will support any negotiations that may break the United States’ alliance with South Korea. Kim and China’s leader, Xi Jinping, find themselves in alignment once again in seeking to remove U.S. troops from the Korean peninsula and gradually “de-couple” Seoul and Washington. As it does this, North Korea and China will aim to isolate Japan as the last remaining place in the Asia-Pacific where U.S. troops are permanently stationed. Kim and Xi know exactly what they want and will use these negotiations as a platform to achieve these goals.

Washington must do the same. It wants complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, an improved human rights situation and an end to nuclear proliferation. At the negotiating table, President Trump will quickly gauge how serious Kim is about denuclearization if he confronts Kim with all that he knows about North Korea’s weapons program and offers to send U.S. cargo planes to remove those weapons from the country as soon as possible. North Korea has already received many security assurances from the United States, but if the North agrees to these conditions, Kim can receive another one.

The summit can serve other purposes as well. The United States can make clear to Kim what the United States can do about North Korean proliferation and other provocations; Kim likely does not receive accurate information from his cowed national security establishment. The North simply does not know all the damage the United States can inflict.

Washington thus has an opportunity to delineate exactly where maximum pressure will lead — it can send the North Korean economy into shock and remove the sources of Kim’s criminal revenue. In addition, the United States should identify and reveal all it knows about about Pyongyang’s slave-labor camps and discuss in detail the findings of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry of Human Rights in North Korea, which chronicles the Kim regime’s abuses. In bringing up the entire portfolio of Kim’s wrongs, Washington can put both Kim and Xi on the defensive — indeed, the U.S. needs to maintain the initiative — and send the message to Kim’s delegation that the world now knows about their crimes.

This is all to say that direct talks can be part of a strategy of coercive diplomacy. If Kim balks at immediate denuclearization, the U.S. can increase the pressure even more until he is ready. Trump and his team are tough-minded pragmatists capable of hard-headed diplomacy and decisive action. Indeed, the U.S. team should be ready with a set of new initiatives to pressure both China and North Korea, should the summit not bear fruit.

But Team USA is going up against a regime that has been on a roll in outwitting the United States across many administrations, and that is supported by a China that wants the United States out of Asia. The key to success is to push for immediate denuclearization while preparing for a long-term parallel strategy of coercive diplomacy against North Korea and continued pushback against Chinese moves to break U.S. alliances in Asia.

However, if the North succeeds in drawing out the talks with promises of future denuclearization, engaging Washington in endless fights about verification or demands for concessions without any immediate actions in return, Washington will have lost important time that otherwise could have been spent strengthening the coalition of pressure.


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