John Solomon, the editor of the Washington Times, opened the privacy panel at CPAC with a clip of Edward Snowden, and the question, “Is he a traitor?”
Bruce Fein, a lawyer hired by Snowden’s family, replied, “Snowden is more of a patriot in Thomas Paine’s sense: someone who saves his country from his government.” Solomon stuck to the theme by asking Fein, “If he were a traitor, how would you defend him?” Fein pushed back on the appropriateness of these questions, saying it made no sense to let a discussion of laws Snowden broke eclipse the discussion of “the lawlessness of the government that he exposed.”
Fein added, that, if the government was so keen on the rule of law, it had no need of extradition to prosecute the National Director of Intelligence, James Clapper, for perjury before Congress. Arguably, he said, Clapper’s offense and the overreach he covered up was more serious since, “When the government becomes a lawbreaker, it invites every man and woman to become a law unto themselves.”
The fear of governmental lawlessness was a central concern for Charlie Kirk, the executive director of TurningPoint USA. After allegations that the IRS selectively audited conservative groups, he said, it was impossible to hear the president promise that these programs target “enemies foreign and domestic” and be confident that the kinds of groups and people in attendance at CPAC weren’t in danger of increased scrutiny as retribution.
Former Governor of Virginia Jim Gilmore, who served as a U.S. Army Counterintelligence Agent, said that Snowden’s disclosures put the country at unacceptable risk. When spy programs go too far, he said, they should be opposed through official channels, not subverted through broad, illegal disclosures. Gilmore had opposed the Total Information Awareness program, he pointed out, and he didn’t put anyone’s lives in danger to do it.
Fein replied that the secrecy of these NSA programs made them hard to oppose using conventional means. He pointed out that Rand Paul’s class action lawsuit against the NSA could never have been filed, but for Snowden’s leaks. Without access the specific details Snowden revealed, Paul’s lawsuit would have been thrown out as speculative.
As the audience weighed the tradeoff between liberty and security, Gilmore drew applause when he argued that intelligence operations are needed to defend national security. But when the moderator asked the attendees to raise their hands if they felt safer as the result of NSA surveillance, barely twenty or so hands were visible in a room packed more than two hundred strong. The lively crowd booed Gilmore when he called Snowden “a coward as well as a traitor,” and one attendee yelled “You lie!” when Gilmore said, “I understand pretty well what the Fourth Amendment is about.”
Fein spoke up against appeals to 9/11 and said that terrorist attack shouldn’t necessarily be answered by giving the government new powers. According to Fein, “People are saying the laws prior to 9/11 didn’t work, but that’s like saying that our laws against murder don’t work, since there are still murders.” Ultimately, he concluded, an increased risk of attacks is the price America pays for liberty.
Which of these text messages do you think would be more likely to get a conservative voter out to vote?
- Tomorrow is Election Day for Governor! Your Voting Record is Public. Be a good citizen, be a Voter!
- Will we let them beat us? Friendly reminder to Vote for Gov tmrw.
Adam Schaeffer, the Director of Research and the co-founder of Evolving Strategies, posed that question to CPAC attendees at a panel titled, “Vaccines vs. Leeches: Using Experiments to Win Hearts, Minds, and Elections.”
He and his team have sent out both these messages to randomized subsets of voters, and it turned out that the first message had a statistically insignificant effect on voting, but the second turned out to raise turnout by 6.8 percentage points.
Schaeffer and others (including the growing team at Para Bellum) are trying to use experiments to guide outreach, testing tiny variations in messaging to find big, unexpected advantages. The Democrats, relying on the research of Alan Gerber and Donald Green, have been using experiments to increase turnout and maximize fundraising, and have outpaced the GOP’s efforts.
Experiments have the power to subvert the conventional wisdom of campaigns, since it’s easy to try out a new idea cheaply. In 2012, the Obama team found that they could maximize the chance that one of their emails would be opened with a simple, enigmatic subject line: “Hey.” Small changes can make a big difference.
In Schaeffer’s experiments, timing was critical. Although the second message produced good results in the morning, when the same message was sent in the afternoon, the results were still significant, but they were significantly negative. Voters who were contacted in the late afternoon had their turnout rates drop by -11.4 percentage points as a result.
Testing so many hypothesis and checking the impact of messages on so many tiny subgroups leaves candidates vulnerable to being mislead by statistical artifacts. Most commonly used significance tests have a one in twenty chance of being false positives. When a campaign tests hundreds of variations, some results are bound to seem significant in pilot tests but fail to preform when they’re applied to the whole electorate. Read More…
“Off with Obamacare’s head!”
Such was the battle cry at the first day at CPAC, woven into nearly every speech, from Ted Cruz’s opening remarks at 9AM to the afternoon panels, regardless of whether the topic at hand was healthcare-related or not. Repeated demands were made to repeal or abolish Obamacare, each new iteration met with enthusiastic applause. Obamacare was criticized, attacked, and ridiculed with palpable glee. Speculation abounded about what would happen when Obamacare collapsed under its own weight. But few solutions were offered to replace a defenestrated Obamacare, which will cost Republicans with potential voters in the midterms, and in 2016.
CPAC is not known to be a breeding ground for policy initiatives, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t or shouldn’t be. Try as Republicans might, they have been thus far unsuccessful in their attempts to repeal Obamacare, leaving them with only one viable alternative: reform. In an environment like CPAC, words like reform aren’t “sticky” or in line with the talking points drilled into participants’ heads. But it is necessary, and may even be crucial to our health care system having a fighting chance of recovery. The health care system is in desperate need of overhaul, and Republicans should be leading the charge of how to fix it, not simply pointing out that Democrats broke it most recently. Senator John Barrasso from Wyoming, who had a career as an orthopedic surgeon before becoming a politician, stressed the additional burden placed on patients on having to travel farther to see doctors on a government mandated health insurance program. “Obamacare is patient, heal yourself,” Senator Barrasso said, indicating that it will be harder for seniors to get to hospitals and receive the consistent care they need. “They’re aren’t enough people to take care of the patients, and it’s actually making things worse.”
The silver lining to the grim prognosis is that there is, at last, Republican legislation surfacing. The Coburn, Burr, and Hatch plan is one example of such legislation. The bill takes practical measures to reform Medicaid by allowing patients to keep their own health care plan, reforms medical malpractice law, and allows patients to make their own choices when it comes to their own health care plans, as opposed to government regulations dictating what providers are available to them.
CPAC may be about hitting those talking points, but it can also be a meeting of minds and the beginning of substantive conversations that could put a derailed healthcare system back on track. Republicans need to act quickly, though. Time is running out, and the final phases of Obamacare implementation are on the horizon.
In assessing the motives and actions of Vladimir Putin, Hillary Clinton compared them to Adolf Hitler’s. Almost always a mistake. After 12 years in power, Hitler was dead, having slaughtered millions and conquered Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals. And Putin? After 13 years in power, and facing a crisis in Ukraine, he directed his soldiers in the Crimea to take control of the small peninsula where Russia has berthed its Black Sea fleet since Napoleon. To the Wall Street Journal this is a “blitzkrieg.”
But as of now, this is a less bloody affair than Andrew Jackson’s acquisition of our Florida peninsula. In 1818, Gen. Jackson was shooting Indians, putting the Spanish on boats to Cuba and hanging Brits. And we Americans loved it.
Still, there are parallels between what motivates Putin, a Russian nationalist, and what motivated the Austrian corporal. Hitler’s war began in blazing resentment at what was done to Germany after Nov. 11, 1918. The Kaiser’s armies had defeated the Russian Empire, and the Italians at Caporetto, and fought the Western Allies to a stand still in France, until two million Americans turned the tide in 1918. When Berlin accepted an armistice on President Wilson’s Fourteen Points, not a single Allied soldier stood on German soil.
But, at Paris, the Allies proceeded to tear a disarmed Germany apart. The whole German Empire was confiscated. Eupen and Malmedy were carved out of Germany and given to Belgium. Alsace-Lorraine was taken by France. South Tyrol was severed from Austria and given to Italy. A new Czechoslovakia was given custody of 3.25 million Sudeten Germans. The German port of Danzig was handed over to the new Poland, which was also given an 80-mile wide strip cut out of Germany from Silesia to the sea, slicing her in two. The Germans were told they could not form an economic union with Austria, could not have an army of more than 100,000 soldiers, and could not put soldiers west of the Rhine, in their own country. Perhaps this Carthaginian peace was understandable given the Allied losses. It was also madness if the Allies wanted an enduring peace. Read More…
Republicans who don’t want to be doomed by demographics were likely to be found at “Reaching Out: The Rest of the Story,” a panel discussion of strategies for engaging with non-traditional voting blocks at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference. In their consideration of model behavior and missteps, the panelists revealed how politicians’ fears and errors feed each other in a vicious circle.
When politicians head out of the “country clubs and rotary clubs” that Jason Roe, the panel’s moderator said that some of his colleagues were reluctant to leave, they’re moving from a place of strength to uncertainty. Ed Gillespie, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, tried to correct a misapprehension that holds politicians and activists back from reaching out, “There’s a misconception that, in order to be on Univision you need to be able to speak Spanish, and that’s not true, you can have a translator.”
Relying on a translator is a humbling act. Barack Obama and the other attendees of Nelson Mandela’s funeral didn’t have the expertise to realize that the supposed ASL interpreter was, in fact, miming meaninglessly. That error was at least egregious enough to not be misinterpreted, but, when politicians need translation, they may end up being subtly misunderstood, so that damage is done without calling attention to itself or prompting a correction.
Attempts at self-reliance can be just as perilous as placing your trust in others. Michael Bloomberg’s attempts to use his elementary Spanish to connect with the people he served as mayor of New York City were treated as a running joke, even inspiring a parody twitter account (@ElBloombito) who was prone to utter Spanglish phrases like, “El nuevo mayoro shovelingo no es un big dealo. Yo use shovelos all el time! How else can yo buildo castles de sando at mi Bermuda beachcasa?”
And if this weren’t enough to scare politicians away from going beyond the cultures in which they’re fluent, they would have been truly disheartened if they had stopped by one of the panels later in the afternoon, “Opposition Research in the Age of the Grid” where Lloyd Miller of Directive Research was ready to how any momentary gaffe could be retrieved and exploited. Read More…
Concerns expressed at CPAC’s “Common Core, Choice, and Accountability” forum are much touted in conservative debate: there is widespread fear that Common Core is a guise for the centralization of education. What was thrown into sharp relief at the panel was the great growth of this viewpoint amongst conservatives, tea partiers, and libertarians at the grassroots level.
Panelists worried mainly about the centralization of standards (and how that will affect curricula), the widely protested promotion of informational texts in English classes, and the gathering of student information, supposedly tracking kids through the entirety of their school and college education (Phyllis Schlafly, Founder of Eagle Forum, compared this to George Orwell’s 1984).
Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke was the panel’s moderator. She said Common Core’s supporters in the conservative party are “well-intentioned,” but added that the standards have been “heavily incentivized by the Obama administration,” and are “setting us on a course for national curriculum.”
Schlafly said this issue has gained a lot of steam on the local level: “The moms are coming out of the woodwork on this issue.” She warned against the Common Core English Standards’ new emphasis on informational texts: “informational reading morphs into liberal propaganda,” she said, pointing to the College Board’s new “Spring Board” curricula as an example.
Robert Enlow, President of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, called Common Core “yet another mechanism by which those who think they know more can tell parents what to do.” Jim Stergios, Executive Director of Pioneer Institute, denied that the initiatives are truly state-led, calling it “a remarkable claim.” He pointed to Obama’s Race to the Top initiative, and the strong incentives (in the form of grants and waivers) offered to those who adopted Common Core. He believes these incentives were, in actuality, arm-twisting bribes and blackmail. “There are friends among us who say this is truly conservative. That is ludicrous,” he said.
Stergios also criticized the standards’ emphasis on informational texts: “Reading between the lines of literature teaches kids about meaning,” he said, adding that it teaches important lessons on irony and nuance. “When’s the last time you read a textbook and laughed?”
The panelists received a strong and passionate reception from their audience. There were several Tea Partiers and mothers in attendance, all of whom expressed strong agreement with Schlafly’s points. One mother expressed great fear over Common Core, and what it may encourage in the future.
Unfortunately, many of her fears may not be grounded. Common Core is a creature touted and rebuked across party lines, and myths cluster around it like a deep fog. The panelists expressed some realistic concerns with Common Core—but their rhetoric was perhaps too strong on certain points. One of the reasons Common Core has become the “most heated debate over education,” as Burke put it, may lie at the fault of such rhetoric. There is need for more “informational texts” on Common Core itself, before the debate can achieve any real lucidity.
Gentrification has consequences, as Ed Leibowitz’s Wednesday piece in Politico Magazine makes clear. Los Angeles is notorious for its rampant homelessness problems, and Skid Row was one of its most prominent corners of poverty, “an economic black hole in the middle of the city, where the helpless and hopeless washed up and would remain, very much out of sight and out of mind.” But as an urban boom has swept the U.S. in the past decade, things are changing:
… for several decades, the only signs of commercial life along this stretch of Main Street were dive bars, grimy convenience stores and gritty “single-room occupancy” hotels, home to the poorest of the city’s poor. Yet today the sidewalks bustle outside shops selling vegan cinnamon ice cream, $50 bottles of Rioja, artisanal cupcakes and those designer products for one’s pooch. Hipsters with beards worthy of Brooklyn’s Williamsburg emerge from lobbies of restored loft buildings where a two-bedroom apartment can go for as much as $3,000 a month … Skid Row, the homeless capital of the United States, is going upscale.
Where will the homeless go if Skid Row becomes an expensive hipsterville? This is a key question in Leibowitz’s story. He points to several efforts by non-profits and government agencies to procure housing for the homeless. Yet their efforts are often expensive—consider Gateway Apartments, a new $28 million housing complex just opened for the homeless. Leibowitz says its units “look like dorm rooms for college students who have won the campus housing lottery.” Homeless applicants must be chosen from a pool of applicants to live here. Is this better than procuring cheaper housing for a greater amount of people? Will Gateway housing be permanent, or do organizers intend to eventually cycle out current tenants to make room for more? How do they fairly judge which homeless people are “worthy” of housing?
Alice Callahan, director of Las Familias Del Pueblo in Los Angeles, has some of these concerns: ”We’re just choosing this homeless person over that homeless person, and we are saying the other one will stay on the sidewalk because we’re not offering them anything,” she tells Leibowitz. Callahan has helped numerous homeless procure cheap housing through her efforts. She sees a finite amount of housing available, and 5,000 Skid Row inhabitants who need a home.
In his excellent piece ”The Answer to Homelessness,” published in the March/April edition of TAC’s magazine, John Stoehr reported on Utah’s efforts to help the homeless—an initiative many conservatives are applauding due to its considerable success. Although the state gives away free housing, it’s still saving money: “When Utah officials added up the amount going into medical treatment and law enforcement, the cost to the state per homeless individual was more than $216,300 a year in 2007 dollars, according to Housing Works. The cost of housing, rent assistance, and full-time case management, meanwhile, was just $19,500.”
The state has decreased homelessness by 74 percent, and has saved money in the process. The problem, however, is that Utah is currently targeting a homeless population of 3,000 statewide—Skid Row alone has 5,000 homeless residents. Additionally, housing in Utah is likely to be cheaper overall than housing in Los Angeles. Nonetheless: there ought to be ways in which L.A. could imitate Utah’s efforts. By transitioning people into permanent housing, creating fair rent agreements, and offering the assistance of a full-time case worker, Utah has created a replicable model. The key, in L.A.’s case, may be figuring out logistics in a city where cheap housing is quickly diminishing.
To Callahan, the gentrification of Skid Row paints a rather callous portrait of the encroaching elites. But this urban growth needn’t become opportunity for apathy and cruelty. Much depends on the way Skid Row’s new inhabitants treat their homeless neighbors. While some may desire to push out the homeless, others may help support them.
“There’s a price that we are paying for homeless,” Sam Tsemberis said in 2012. “Not noticing is costing not only the people still homeless on the streets but it’s costing us. If we take for granted the feeling of seeing a homeless person and walking by, we have to shut down part of ourselves in order to tolerate the pain we’re walking past.”
Urban growth in L.A. is good—but the plight of the homeless mustn’t be ignored in its wake. Such disinterest doesn’t just affect the homeless: it has detrimental consequences for the elites, as well.
A glut of Ph.D.s and endlessly rising college tuition prompted Hollis Robbins to wonder in the Chronicle of Higher Education if we should revive the tradition of the private tutor at the post-secondary level.
As a matter of economics, why not consider the option of hiring a single professor to teach a first-year curriculum to a small number of students? At the level of the individual student, it may make sense to some families. Rather than spend $50,000 for a year of college at a selective private institution, one could hire a single Ivy League-trained individual with a doctorate and qualifications in multiple fields for, say, two-thirds the price (far more than an adjunct professor would make for teaching five courses at an average of $2,700 per course).
The idea becomes more attractive with multiple students. A half-dozen families (or the students themselves) could pool resources to hire a single professor, who would provide all six students with a tailored first-year liberal-arts education (leaving aside laboratory science) at a cost much lower than six private-college tuitions, and at the level of a real salary for a good sole-proprietor professor.
If Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) like those offered by Udacity and Coursera assume that education is primarily a question of transferring skills, which can be learned and practiced with or without personal supervision, the latter-day Septimus Hodges envisioned by Robbins reinfuse the idea of apprenticeship to education.
An apprentice, immersed in the work of her mentor, has the chance to learn things that her teacher may not know how to verbalize. In Edward Frenkel’s memoir Love and Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality, he describes his apprenticeship in mathematics, where professors set him problems to work, and invited him to departmental lectures where he could learn not only how to use the theorems that had been threshed out of conjecture, but the process by which they were generated and tested, and the aesthetic standards that many of his fellow mathematicians believed were a guide to truth.
Trying to teach Frenkel mathematics solely though textbooks and lectures, brilliant as he was, would have made as much sense as teaching blacksmithing out of a book. No matter how detailed the diagrams and instructions, the book would capture only the elements of the discipline we knew how to pin down into what Daniel Kahneman would call System Two thinking—the work we do deliberately, not instinctively.
Many college classes feel like they could be eclipsed by MOOCs because they’re taught at such a remove from the teacher’s own experience of their discipline that apprenticeship is impossible. Apprenticeship is more common in the last two years of college and graduate school, when students have worked through the introductory material in their hundred person lectures and move on to seminars with professors. Robbins’s reform would be intended to bridge this gap (he imagines that after one or two years with a tutor, students would join normal universities as transfer students). Read More…
Rarely do opinion pieces in college newspapers emerge as subjects of national controversy, but a recent essay by Harvard student Sandra Y.L. Korn has generated widespread denunciation among conservatives. Her essay—entitled “The Doctrine of Academic Freedom“—argues for dispensing with longstanding commitments to “academic freedom” in favor of what she calls “academic justice.” Academic freedom permits the airing and defense of any and all views, but she rightly notes that some views have come to be largely unacceptable in academia today. Since such views are not only socially unacceptable, but often discouraged or even prohibited as a matter of university policy, why should they not also be banned when they are articulated as findings of faculty research?
If our university community opposes racism, sexism, and heterosexism, why should we put up with research that counters our goals simply in the name of ‘academic freedom’? Instead, I would like to propose a more rigorous standard: one of ‘academic justice.’ When an academic community observes research promoting or justifying oppression, it should ensure that this research does not continue.
As might be expected, Ms. Korn’s essay has provoked strenuous criticism, including accusations of “academic totalitarianism,” investigations into her personal background aimed at exposing her as a limousine liberal, and criticism from at least one highly visible blusterer in the conservative media.
The default position of these conservatives is that Ms. Korn is attacking the sacred holy of the academic enterprise—academic freedom. In other words, mainstream conservatives have adopted the view of … John Stuart Mill, the lion of liberalism. The same John Stuart Mill who stated that most stupid people are likely to be conservative. And perhaps he had a point. Because academic freedom is not a particularly conservative principle. Academic freedom has been the vehicle by which the universities have been transformed into liberal bastions today, but it is now the inviolable principle that conservatives are rallying around in their denunciation of a Harvard undergraduate. True to form, and as I have argued in a previous column, American conservatives tend to be subject to drift, and almost inevitably end up occupying the territory once held by liberals when they move leftward. Their rallying to apparently contentless “academic freedom” is a particularly vivid case in point.
I agree with Ms. Korn—academic institutions inevitably are dedicated to some substantial commitments, and (often with difficulty) attempt to “patrol” those boundaries, if not with sticks, more often by populating their institutions with people who generally share those commitments. “Academic freedom” was the means by which the substantial commitments once held mainly by religious institutions were initially destabilized and eventually rejected, and provided the cover for their replacement with a new set of commitments. “Academic freedom” purports to be an openness to all views and opinions, but itself contains an implicit philosophy that eventually becomes manifest in, well, Sandra Korn (who is entitled to the confident assertion of the victory that has been won on today’s campuses by her teachers). Read More…
Late last night, McClatchy reported that the CIA inspector general has asked the Justice Department to investigate allegations that the CIA illegally monitored Congressional staff investigating the Agency’s secret detention and interrogation programs. The Senate Intelligence Committee spent four years and $40 million investigating the use of waterboarding and enhanced interrogation techniques in secret overseas prisons, producing a reportedly “searing” 6,300 page finding excoriating the Agency’s actions.
As part of this investigation, intelligence committee staff were required by the CIA to use Agency computers in a secure room in Langley to access millions of sensitive documents. Congressional investigators reportedly agreed to use those computers under the condition that their work not be monitored by the CIA, in accordance with due respect for the separation of powers and the integrity and independence of the investigation. Apparently, the spy mentality proved too strong to resist, as earlier this year the committee determined that their work had in fact been monitored in possible violation of their agreement.
The Senate Intelligence Committee report was finalized 15 months ago, and submitted to the CIA for classification vetting. Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) is now asking President Obama to strip the vetting control from the CIA, which may have been dragging its feet in allowing the release of a document that, according to McClatchy,
details how the CIA misled the Bush administration and Congress about the use of interrogation techniques that many experts consider torture, according to public statements by committee members. It also shows, members have said, how the techniques didn’t provide the intelligence that led the CIA to the hideout in Pakistan where Osama bin Laden was killed in a 2011 raid by Navy SEALs.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) apparently was referring to this situation back on Jan. 9 when he asked CIA Director John Brennan whether the federal statue banning unauthorized computer access applied to the CIA. Brennan demurred.
McClatchy describes the situation following the criminal referral by the Inspector General to be “an unprecedented breakdown in relations between the CIA and its congressional overseers.”