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Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Girjalva Letter

Jason Samenow reports at The Washington Post:
As The Post’s Joby Warrick reported earlier this week, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D- Ariz.), the ranking member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, asked seven universities for detailed records on the funding sources for seven scientists, many of whom are unconvinced that humans are the driving force behind recent climate change.
In a letter to Grijalva released this afternoon, the American Meteorological Society (AMS) — a scientific and professional society representing atmospheric and oceanic scientists — expressed strong opposition to the inquiry.
“Publicly singling out specific researchers based on perspectives they have expressed and implying a failure to appropriately disclose funding sources — and thereby questioning their scientific integrity — sends a chilling message to all academic researchers,” the AMS wrote.
One the scientists, Roger Pielke, Jr., writes:
...I  have no funding, declared or undeclared, with any fossil fuel company or interest. I never have. Representative Grijalva knows this too, because when I have testified before the US Congress, I have disclosed my funding and possible conflicts of interest. So I know with complete certainty that this investigation is a politically-motivated “witch hunt” designed to intimidate me (and others) and to smear my name.
Steve Hayward is another target.  He writes:
Pepperdine’s administration will produce their own proper response since the letter is addressed to them rather than to me, but Rep. Grijalva and his McCarthyite witch hunters are in for a disappointment: there are no undisclosed financial supporters of my writing. I’ve received—and am receiving—no grants, honoraria, consulting fees, good karma baubles, or even Christmas cards from any fossil fuel interest, though I’d be proud and open about it if I did. And I didn’t consult anyone for the content of my congressional testimony over the years, though so what if I had? Is the good congressman really telling us that he is incapable of assessing factual claims and judgments about the wisdom of policy on the merits alone? That doesn’t speak well of his probity.

I do hope the House Committee on Natural Resources will hold a hearing on this topic, because I’d love to ask Rep. Grijava some questions in return, such as which contacts at Greenpeace ginned up the particulars of his complaint (since I doubt the worthy Rep. or his staff actually read Power Line, which is cited in his letter). Further, it will be fun to ask a series of questions about the incentives of government-funded scientists, such as what might happen to their government research grants if they didn’t report a result congenial to Rep. Grijalva. More to the point: why pick on the seven of us at universities? Does he really just say “how high?” every time Greenpeace asks him to jump?

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Netanyahu, the Constitution, and Public Opinion

Alan Dershowitz writes at The Wall Street Journal:
As a liberal Democrat who twice campaigned for President Barack Obama , I am appalled that some Democratic members of Congress are planning to boycott the speech of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on March 3 to a joint session of Congress. At bottom, this controversy is not mainly about protocol and politics—it is about the constitutional system of checks and balances and the separation of powers.
Under the Constitution, the executive and legislative branches share responsibility for making and implementing important foreign-policy decisions. Congress has a critical role to play in scrutinizing the decisions of the president when these decisions involve national security, relationships with allies and the threat of nuclear proliferation.
Congress has every right to invite, even over the president’s strong objection, any world leader or international expert who can assist its members in formulating appropriate responses to the current deal being considered with Iran regarding its nuclear-weapons program. Indeed, it is the responsibility of every member of Congress to listen to Prime Minister Netanyahu, who probably knows more about this issue than any world leader, because it threatens the very existence of the nation state of the Jewish people.
Gallup reports:
Even as relations between the leaders of Israel and the United States reportedly deteriorate over disagreement about how to handle Iran's nuclear program, Israel has retained its broadly favorable image in the U.S. over the past year. Seventy percent of Americans now view that country favorably, and 62% say they sympathize more with the Israelis than the Palestinians in the Mideast conflict. By contrast, 17% currently view the Palestinian Authority favorably, and 16% sympathize more with the Palestinians.
A key reason Americans' sympathy for Israel has solidified at a sizable majority level is that Republicans' support for the Jewish state has increased considerably, rising from 53% in 2000 to more than 80% since 2014 -- with just 7% choosing the Palestinian Authority. A particularly large jump in GOP sympathy for Israel occurred in the first few years after 9/11 and at the start of the 2003 Iraq War.

Democrats' support for Israel has also risen since 2000, but not quite as sharply as Republicans'. Additionally, the percentage of Democrats sympathizing with Israel fell 10 points this year to 48%, possibly reflecting the tension between Obama and Netanyahu.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Civic Education in South Dakota

AP reports:
South Dakota education officials agree improving civics knowledge among high school students is important, but they don't think a mandatory test is the way to do it.
The Senate Education Committee unanimously approved a resolution Thursday to help ensure South Dakota students are learning the content "reflected in" the U.S. citizenship exam. It's part of a national effort to improve civics knowledge among high school students, but doesn't go as far as North Dakota, which became the second state in the nation last month to require the same test that immigrants must pass to become a U.S. citizen to get a high school diploma.
"We need to do it in a methodology that works for South Dakota," said Republican Sen. Deb Soholt, who is sponsoring the resolution. "We were not for tying one test to successful graduation."
South Dakota Secretary of Education Melody Schopp said the state's graduation requirements, which include a half-year U.S. government course, already entail students learning the content. New social studies standards that are under review also contain the same information that's part of the test, she said.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Americans Are Not Keen on the UN

Gallup reports:
Although there is no shortage of threats to peace and security around the world today, Americans do not see the United Nations doing any better at solving the problems it has had to face than has been the case in recent years. The majority of Americans continue to say the UN is doing a poor job, while slightly more than one-third say it is doing a good job.
 Do you think the United Nations is doing a good job or a poor job in trying to solve the problems it has had to face?

Polarization has long affected views of the UN:

Do you think the United Nations is doing a good job or a poor job in trying to solve the problems it has had to face, by Party ID

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Family and Educational Disadvantage

Kaitlin Mulhere reports at Inside Higher Ed:
Spending your teenage years in a single-parent family puts you at a larger educational disadvantage today than it did 40 years ago, claims a new study.
In 2009, young adults who spent time living in single-parent families had completed 1.32 fewer years of schooling than their peers from two-parent families, according to a paper published last week in the academic journal Education Next. The college completion rate also was 26 percentage points lower for 24-year-olds who lived in single-parent homes as teens.

Both gaps have more than doubled since 1978, when there was a 0.63-year difference in schooling completed and a 12 percentage point difference in college completion rates.
Income accounts for a lot of the relationship between family structure and educational attainment, according to the study. But income doesn't account for all of it, and the authors had no answer for why single-parent family structure matters more now than it did a few decades ago.
The paper is part of a series Education Next is publishing on the state of the American family to mark the 50th anniversary of the release of late New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s report on black families.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A 116 Percent Default Rate

Michael Grunwald writes at Politico:
If you’re curious just what kind of risks the US government is taking with its $3.3 trillion in loan programs — a portfolio considerably larger and significantly stranger than any private bank’s — the best place to start is the Federal Credit Supplement, an obscure batch of tables stashed in the back of the annual White House budget proposal.
But the weirdest number lurking in this year’s credit supplement was in Table 3, where the White House budget office explains the assumptions behind its cost estimates for various loan programs. What caught my eye was the default rate for an Agriculture Department program called Broadband Treasury Rate Loans: 116.37 percent.

A default rate above 100%? Was that a typo?
It was not a typo.
So what was it? The average default rate for bank loans is about 3 percent. The troubled student loan program has lifetime default rates around 25 percent. How on earth could a credit program, even a risky one, get to 116 percent? Were the recipients defaulting en masse, then stealing an extra 16 percent from the Treasury?
The explanation I eventually got from the Obama administration was not that damning. But it wasn’t exactly comforting, either. The crazy number was apparently produced by flawed execution of a flawed model of a flawed program. In reality, the Agriculture Department expects to recover about 80 cents of every dollar it lends to telecoms to extend high-speed Internet to undeserved rural areas. Administration officials couldn’t pinpoint the actual default rate, but it’s much lower than 116%. They say the main culprits for that wrong number were a radically overbroad definition of “default,” as well as some inappropriate double-counting.
Basically, it’s complicated, which is true of all federal credit programs—which is a problem with federal credit programs.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Philanthropy and the State Department

Many posts have discussed the political use of philanthropic contributions. James Grimaldi and Rebecca Ballhaus report at The Wall Street Journal:
The Wall Street Journal identified the companies involved with both Clinton-family charitable endeavors and with Mrs. Clinton’s State Department by examining large corporate donations to the Clinton Foundation, then reviewing lobbying-disclosure reports filed by those companies. At least 44 of those 60 companies also participated in philanthropic projects valued at $3.2 billion that were set up though a wing of the foundation called the Clinton Global Initiative, which coordinates the projects but receives no cash for them.
Mrs. Clinton’s connections to the companies don’t end there. As secretary of state, she created 15 public-private partnerships coordinated by the State Department, and at least 25 companies contributed to those partnerships. She also sought corporate donations for another charity she co-founded, a nonprofit women’s group called Vital Voices.
Corporate donations to politically connected charities aren’t illegal so long as they aren’t in exchange for favors. There is no evidence of that with the Clinton Foundation.
In some cases, donations came after Mrs. Clinton took action that helped a company. In other cases, the donation came first. In some instances, donations came both before and after. All of the companies mentioned in this article said their charitable donations had nothing to do with their lobbying agendas with Mrs. Clinton’s State Department.