Californians Must Know What NSA Spies Know About Us

President Obama is going to Hiroshima.

When the president travels to Japan later this month for a G-7 summit meeting, he will visit a memorial site that honors the memory of those killed in 1945 when President Harry Truman made the decision to use the atomic bomb to end World War II in the Pacific.

It’s a reminder that the fearsome power of the United States government is under the control of elected civilians.

The atomic bomb was new in 1945, but the structure that controlled its use dates to the 18th century. The U.S. Constitution gives the power to declare war — and to spend or withhold funds for it — not to military leaders or intelligence professionals but to Congress. The president is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, outranking everyone in uniform even if he (or she) never served in the military personally.

The design was intended to ensure that the American people control the U.S. government, and not the other way around.

barack obama nsa phone verizonThat’s why the information that has come to light about the National Security Agency’s secret data collection programs is so troubling. In the name of keeping the American people safe from terrorist attacks, the U.S. government has been collecting and saving the email and Internet activity records of innocent Americans and allowing government agents to search the data without a warrant.

Congress is asking questions, and not getting answers.

Sometime next year, lawmakers will have to decide whether to reauthorize Section 702 of the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) Amendments Act, which is set to expire. The law has allowed the U.S. attorney general and the director of national intelligence to intercept the communications of targeted foreign nationals, but it turns out that data from Americans has been swept up in the process.

How many Americans have had their emails and Internet activity records collected by this warrantless surveillance? The Obama administration won’t say. Last month 14 lawmakers from both parties sent a letter to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper demanding an answer, but Clapper would only say he’s looking at “several options” for providing the information, “none of which are optimal.”

In a recent hearing held by the Senate Judiciary Committee, senators were told that the intelligence agencies are ignoring the required “minimization” procedures, which call for the communications of innocent Americans to be deleted when discovered.

But a report by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board found that the information is never deleted. “It sits in the databases for five years, or sometimes longer,” board chairman David Medine told the senators, and the program “does not just target terrorists” but anyone with “foreign intelligence value.”

Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, expressed concern over the government’s “backdoor searches” of the collected data. Without a warrant, just by filing a “query,” government agents can read every private word.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, of California, insisted that the surveillance program has helped U.S. authorities foil terrorist plots. She said the government should declassify more reports so the public can see the value of the law.

That’s really not enough. The Fourth Amendment protects Americans from unreasonable searches and seizures and requires the government to get warrants. That constitutional right can’t simply be erased by a couple of declassified reports declaring the usefulness of warrantless searches.

If Congress doesn’t get answers to all its questions, lawmakers shouldn’t hesitate to let Section 702 fade into the sunset.

The power of the U.S. government is too great to be uncontrolled.

Obama-Backed CA Solar Plant Literally Incinerates Itself

Ivanpah solar energyThe world’s largest solar energy plant known for incinerating birds just got a taste of its own medicine. A fire at the plant Thursday morning, which may have been caused by “misaligned” mirrors used to reflect sunlight at boiler towers, broke out in the facilities interior — literally scorching parts of the plant.

NRG Energy, the company operating the Ivanpah solar plant in southern California, was forced to shut down one of its generating towers and is investigating if mirrors, or heliostats, failed and torched a boiling tower. Now, the plant which got $1.6 billion from the Obama administration, will only be able to generate electricity from one of its three towers.

An NRG spokesman said it’s too early to say exactly what caused the failure, but it’s likely due to misaligned heliostats, according to Gizmodo. Whatever the cause, workers and firefighters literally went through hell to douse the flames.

Gizmodo reports:

A small fire was reported yesterday morning at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS) in California, forcing a temporary shutdown of the facility. It’s now running at a third of its capacity (a second tower is down due to scheduled maintenance), and it’s not immediately clear when the damaged tower will restart. It’s also unclear how the incident will impact California’s electricity supply.

Putting out the blaze was not easy task, either. Firefighters were forced to climb 300 feet up a boiler tower to get to the scene. Officials said the fire was located about two-thirds up the tower. Workers at the plant actually managed to subdue the flames by the time firefighters reached the spot, and it was officially extinguished about 20 minutes after it started.

The scorched tower is currently shut down, according to the Associated Press, and it’s not clear when it will come online again. It’s also unclear if this setback will affect California’s electricity supply.

This only adds to Ivanpah’s troubles. The plant was nearly shut down by California regulators for not producing nearly as much power as it was supposed to. Regulators have given the plant until the end of July to meet its power quotas, but this fire may make it hard for the plant to meet its goals.

Ivanpah only generated 45 percent of expected power in 2014 and only 68 percent in 2015, according to government data. And it does all this at a cost of $200 per megawatt hour — nearly six times the cost of electricity from natural gas-fired power plants. Interestingly enough, Ivanpah uses natural gas to supplement its solar production.

It wasn’t long after the plant opened, its operators asked the federal government for a $539 million federal grant to help pay off the $1.6 billion loan it got from the Energy Department.

Environmentalists quickly attacked the project for killing thousands of birds since it opened. Many birds were incinerated by the intense heat reflected off Ivanpah’s heliostats.

The Associated Press cited statistics presented by environmentalists in 2014 that “about a thousand… to 28,000” birds are incinerated by Ivanpah’s heliostats every year.

“Forensic Lab staff observed a falcon or falcon-like bird with a plume of smoke arising from the tail as it passed through the flux field,” according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report from 2014.

Ivanpah — which is owned by BrightSource Energy, NRG Energy and Google — uses more than 170,000 large mirrors, or heliostats, to reflect sunlight towards water boilers set atop 450-foot towers that create steam to turn giant turbines and generate electricity.

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This article was originally published by the Daily Caller News Foundation

New Data Shows Obama Least Transparent President Ever

Sunshine Transparency CartoonPresident Barack Obama promised at the outset of his White House tenure that his would be the “most transparent administration in history,” but new data made public Friday suggests it has been the least transparent.

Federal officials said they couldn’t find any records for more than one in six, or nearly 130,000, Freedom of Information Act requests, setting a new record low, The Associated Press reported Friday.

“It seems like they’re doing the minimal amount of work they need to do,” Vice News investigative journalist Jason Leopold told AP. “I just don’t believe them. I really question the integrity of their search.”

Leopold sat on a panel of journalists who shared FOIA horror stories with lawmakers in June and said reporters often need to sue agencies before getting any records.

AP similarly reported instances where the government released tens of thousands of records following a lawsuit, after previously telling FOIA requesters they couldn’t find any documents. The Department of State, for example, told Gawker they couldn’t find any correspondence between Hillary Clinton aide Phillipe Reines and journalists, but found 90,000 records after a lawsuit.

Leopold also recently reported the Department of Justice previously lobbied heavily against FOIA reform moving through Congress.

The Obama administration answered more record requests and reduced its backlog, Department of Justice spokeswoman Beverly Lumpkin told AP. Additionally, the administration completed a 769,903 requests – a 19 percent increase over 2014 and a new record, AP reported.

Also, 77 percent of requests were either redacted or denied. That includes those where the requester refused to pay for records or when the government said they couldn’t find documents or that a request was either unreasonable or improper.

But the White House reported 93 percent, in fact, were released in full or in part, since they don’t include such caveats in their calculations.

Meanwhile, the inability to pay isn’t necessarily a requester’s stinginess. The Department of Defense said one FOIA request would cost $660 million  – the price of an Australian island – the Center for Public Integrity recently reported.

Additionally, more than half of the federal agencies took longer to answer last year’s requests than in 2014.

“It’s incredibly unfortunate when someone waits months, or perhaps years, to get a response to their request – only to be told that the agency can’t find anything,” Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press attorney Adam Marshall told AP.

AP reviewed all 2015 requests to 100 federal agencies.

“It was impossible to know whether more requests last year involved non-existent files or whether federal workers were searching less than diligently before giving up to consider a case closed,” AP reported.

Originally published by the Daily Caller News Foundation

The Problem With Trump-esk Type Candidates

Donald Trump SNLFor months, I’ve wondered why people are attracted to Donald Trump. Is it his celebrity status? Is it his business savvy? Or is it his pure crassness?

While his fans cite all of these as their reasoning for supporting him, one point has been excluded: most Americans feel doomed and hopeless. They want someone who is a Washington outsider. They want someone to be a beacon of hope.

Sound familiar?

We had that same problem in 2008. People, especially those who are politically apathetic, began flocking to Obama. They were dazzled by his desire for “hope” and “change.” Others wanted to make history by voting for someone who could become the first African American president. Not only did they want to watch history, but they wanted to be a part of it.

Obama gained momentum and followers who blindly supported him without knowing what policies he advocated for.

The same thing is happening on the right side of the aisle. People are flocking to Trump without knowing why. My guess? They like his tell-it-like-it-is attitude and his bold policy idea of building a wall along Mexico and making the Mexican government pay for it.

Americans favor someone who is willing to be bold and present new ideas. Americans want a president who is willing to do everything in his or her power to protect the American public. I can get behind those ideas. The problem I see in a Trump type candidates: the ability to appeal to the “ignorant masses” (a political science coined term), something both Trump and Obama have in common.

Both men made the average American feel as though they have a personal connection with each and every one of their supporters. I met a Trump supporter last month who told me Trump called her “darling,” something that had her grinning from ear-to-ear. The glow in her eye was similar to that of an expecting mother. She had no other care in the world at the moment, other than reminiscing on The Donald swooning her.

When the Trump type of candidate comes along, they smile, wink and they’ve solidified a vote. Look what that got us over the last 8 years.

Conservatives complain about the people who flocked to Obama without knowing what he stood for, yet those same people are doing the exact same thing, but with Trump.

Trump scares me just as much as Obama did in 2008. I believe he is just as likely to pick up his phone and pen when he doesn’t get his way. After all, he can’t fire the other 535 people he’ll have to work with to run this country.

Beth Baumann is a public relations professional in Southern California, a contributor at PolitiChicks and former Communications Assistant at the American Conservation Union, who sponsors CPAC.

SCOTUS Showdown: Obama’s Dysfunctional Relationship With Congress

SCOTUSbuilding_1st_Street_SEAfter this week’s news that Republican Senate leaders will not even consider any Supreme Court nominee until a new president is in office, current President Obama is taking it to the streets in an effort to get his yet unnamed pick approved. Or at least to make some much-needed political hay.

In a guest column on the acronymically-named SCOTUSblog, Obama makes his case that he will do his constitutional duty by naming an appointment and he expects the Senate will do the same by giving the Obama nominee a fair hearing and, at least in Obama’s world, the thumbs up in an up-or-down vote.

The president’s implication is that he is fulfilling his duty while a Republican Senate contingent which has clearly stated it will not act on a Supreme Court replacement for Justice Scalia until the next president is in office, would be guilty of a dereliction of duty. If you read between the lines, it almost could be an admonition straight out of Gilbert and Sullivan: “He has done his duty. I will do mine. Go ye and do yours.”

Obama talks about his putative nominee’s virtuous qualities: fierce independence; understanding the role of the judiciary in interpreting, not making law; a keen intellect; faultless integrity. Of course. But let’s cut through the crap. At this stage it’s all political posturing. On both sides.

And in some ways, the president’s predicament reminds me of situations faced by the kids in my high school forensics class who after getting busted by the teacher for some infraction or other were faced with detention or another equally odious punishment. In such situations, Bonnie Miller’s response was invariably the same: “Sorry, hon, you did it to yourself.”

In the past, we have heard criticisms from the White House when Congress passed bills which the president had signaled he would veto. On such occasions it was as if one could hear in the background of the White House declarations Seinfeld’s Larry Thomas deliver one of his lesser-known classic lines with gusto: “Please, you’re wasting everyone’s time.” The president would then go on to veto the bill in question with a slight head-shake, as if to say “kids will be kids.”

On a number of occasions, if the president wanted to be spared the inconvenience of a veto, he got his Senate acolytes to use the filibuster. In this way, for example, he was able to see his recent Iran deal sail through, despite majority opposition in both houses of Congress. While the deal was voted down by the House, it failed to get an up-or-down vote in the Senate.

At that time, of course, it was the Republican Senate leadership which decried the Democrats’ use of the filibuster. As a key element of American foreign policy, the Iran deal, they claimed, deserved a full hearing and an up-or-down vote. The Democrats not only responded with the “waste of time” argument, but also suggested that the use of the filibuster was simply yet another way in which – through their duly elected Senators – the people of the United States were speaking. Sorry, Republicans, you didn’t have the votes. Next!

Now that the shoe is on the other foot, Democrats are crying “Foul!” and trying parse the differences between their own use of the filibuster and the Republicans’ unwillingness to consider any Obama SCOTUS nominee, which is in itself a form of filibuster.

“Ah, but the filibuster is often used when it comes to legislation. It is unprecedented when it comes to Supreme Court nominees.”

This is sheer nonsense, and it is all political game-playing within the wacky, arcane set of rules the Senate in all its old-school glory sets for itself. When you change those rules, as for instance when the Democrats under then-Majority Leader Harry Reid used the “nuclear option” to eliminate the filibuster for lower court nominees, don’t be surprised when the new rules are used against you if ever that shoe moves feet. And be even less surprised when the existing rules are used against you. You’re all playing by the same rules, unless, of course, you change them.

Let me make it clear: I personally believe the Republicans in the Senate should give any Obama nominee a hearing (though I do not feel their “advise and consent” role obligates them to an up-or-down vote). If anything, the Republicans are playing within those old-school rules which allow them to make a decision without actually voting on it. They are not changing the rules, as the Democrats did when they used the nuclear option.

Now it is the president who is on notice that his nominee has no chance of clearing the Senate, as the Senate exercises its constitutionally mandated “advise and consent” role. In this case of reversed fortunes, it is the Senate which effectively is threatening a veto. And yet, just as the Republicans in Congress don’t always pay heed to the president’s veto threat when it comes to legislation, the president himself seems undeterred by the Senate’s veto threat.

It’s a classic game of political chicken. This time the Republicans will want to frame the matter as one of the American People’s right to decide the matter through the upcoming presidential election; they will want to paint the president as “wasting time.”  The president will want to paint the Republicans as “obstructionist” and “derelict in their duties.” Each side will attempt to inflict the maximum amount of political damage on the other in this election year.

In a sense, the president is reaping what he has sowed through his inability to reach across the aisle during his 7+ years in office. Ultimately, the SCOTUS showdown and game-playing are nothing more than a symptom of his dysfunctional relationship with the Republicans in Congress, which has been exacerbated by his own abuse of executive orders. In short: how can Republicans in Congress trust the president to pick a justice who understands the Supreme Court’s constitutionally mandated role when he himself doesn’t seem to understand his own?

Just as Republicans shouldn’t be surprised when the president follows through with a threatened veto, so should the president not be surprised when the Senate, led by the Republicans, exercises its veto. The immortal words of Bonnie Miller seem to ring truer than ever before.

John Mirisch has served on the Beverly Hills City Council since 2009.  He is currently Vice Mayor and will become Mayor next month.  In a previous turn as Mayor he created the Sunshine Task Force to increase transparency and public engagement in local government.

Comity is Dead – A Reflection on the Supreme Court Vacancy

Photo courtesy Envios, flickr

Photo courtesy Envios, flickr

We began this drama with Republicans suggesting there will be no action on any Obama nomination, followed by Democratic outrage.

I have been convinced all along that the Senate will not go down that path; it would be too easy for the Democrats to portray inaction as a willful refusal to do a task required by the Constitution, and thus even worse than the government shutdown.  That could cost the GOP control of the Senate in November, which will be decided by a handful of races, most likely the open seats in Nevada and Florida.

But a vote by the 54 GOP Senators to reject the nomination is more likely and far more justifiable. Senate Judiciary Chair Charles Grassley signaled in his interview on Tuesday that he would consider holding hearings, at least hinting at that strategy.


Despite the many predictions that the court vacancy and deadlock will be a winning issue for Democrats this year, the issue may benefit Republicans just as much. In the opening primaries, the energy on the right was very high (see record turnout in Iowa), and conservatives have long emphasized the importance of the court majority as the last line of defense of their views.  And in general, the side that fears losing something it now has will always be the most passionate – and that is the conservatives. A new liberal justice could, among other things, overturn the Second Amendment right to gun ownership. But it seems unlikely that replacing Scalia with a like-minded jurist would lead to the end of abortion rights or other existing freedoms.

Republicans need to talk about the context behind their strategy. President Obama spent all of 2015 expanding the reach of the Imperial Presidency beyond anything Richard Nixon ever did. His foreign policy initiatives, such as restoration of relations with Cuba, are more defensible, given that presidents have their greatest power in foreign affairs, but he is on shakier ground with his domestic “orders.” His immigration policy and coal rules represent a much broader assertion of new powers, and are being challenged in the lower federal courts, with mixed results so far.

The president believes he has a mandate to enact his views, and despite losing a net of 69 House and 14 Senate seats since 2009, he has basically said, “I’m doing what I believe in because Congress will not act.”

The Senate response is then to reciprocate by voting no on any nominee, which is an explicitly granted constitutional power. It is the same kind of maximalist posture that the president has been employing for a year. So we can say with certainty that comity among the branches of government is dead.

Republicans also need to bring up the history. Democratic politicians insist that a president has the right to have a qualified nominee confirmed. Yet while there has been occasional mention of the 1968 rejection by a Democratic Senate of Abe Fortas, everyone seems to have forgotten the 1987 nomination of Robert Bork, which was rejected on ideological grounds by a Democratic Senate.


If any nominee is doomed, that means candidates for the most prestigious and important legal body in the world are now being weighed and measured on how they will boost election turnout among certain groups – e.g., will Hillary Clinton get a larger boost in key states from an African American or a Latino nominee? That is a sad state of affairs indeed.

This has led many to predict that an African American woman will be chosen. Names floated include Attorney General Kamala Harris and Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of the federal District Court in D.C. And if it were up to me, I might push for Justice Leondra Kruger of the California Supreme Court, who used to work in the Obama administration.

However, the early leader in the speculation derby was Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who has the advantage of having been fully vetted by the Senate.

But court watchers have noted a problem. We know Senate Judiciary will ask for every conceivable piece of information on a nominee, in the hopes of finding something that will make a rejection easy. And the incumbent AG may have internal documents that directly address discussions of or investigations into Benghazi, the email servers or the Clinton Foundation.

If such documents exist, they might reflect unfavorably on Secretary Clinton, or might make it appear DoJ has shown favoritism in its investigations. Justice would then have to choose between withholding the material, giving the Senate a reason to reject Lynch, or releasing it, at a potential cost to Mrs. Clinton.

The other choice facing the president is moderate or firebrand? Most seem to think he will avoid the firebrands – no Sen. Elizabeth Warren types – as that offers the best chance of political success.

Choosing a nominee known to stand for overturning 5-4 decisions that absolutely infuriate the left, especially the Heller case establishing an individual right to gun ownership and the Citizens United decision on campaign spending, will help motivate and turn out core Democrats. But an activist nominee eager to overturn recent rulings could be more easily rejected as someone who lacked the appropriate judicial temperament.

The alternative approach would be to nominate a judge whose views are less known and/or more moderate, and who ideally has already been confirmed. While her defeat would be less motivating to the Bernie Sanders demographic, it would allow Democrats to attack the GOP all year as rejecting a qualified woman for purely political reasons (and perhaps throw in accusations of racism as well). That does seem like a winning strategy for the president. But who knows? If there’s one thing we can count on this election cycle, it’s that what we think we know turns out to be wrong.

Lawrence Molton is an attorney and political consultant in the San Francisco Bay Area.

‘Nothing Historic’ About Paris Climate Deal

Global WarmingThe energy industry is already saying Saturday’s Paris global warming agreement is “unenforceable, underfunded, and non-binding.”

“There is nothing historic about this deal,” said American Energy Alliance President Thomas Pyle in an email to the Daily Caller News Foundation. “The Obama administration clearly doesn’t have the support of Congress or the American people—making the agreement nothing more than a paper tiger. Unfortunately, this won’t stop the president from pursuing a domestic climate agenda that will raise energy prices on American families, but will have no impact on the climate.”

The Obama administration states that the deal will encourage nearly 200 countries to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, slowing global warming. Despite the doubt, President Obama is already celebrating the deal, as shown by this Tweet:

This is huge. Almost every country in the world just signed on to the #parisagreement on climate change — thanks to American leadership.

However, members of Obama’s own cabinet disagree. Secretary of State John Kerry admitted that reducing carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. and developed world will not help the environment or even slow down global warming at the Paris summit Wednesday.

Kerry previously stated that the talks would not deliver a “treaty” that legally requires countries to cut carbon dioxide emissions. However, European Union previously asserted that the deal will be a legally binding treaty, contradicting Kerry’s direct statements.

The current deal allows countries to set “non-binding” CO2 emissions targets for themselves, but contains no mechanism to enforce the agreement. The Obama administration seems to have gotten a deal that contains no legally-binding measures and is thus not a “treaty.” This weakens legal arguments that the agreement needs the approval of the hostile U.S. Senate, which must ratify all treaties.

Environmental groups were skeptical of the deal during the negotiation process, as it contains only voluntary, not mandatory, CO2 cuts. Many environmental groups blame the failure of the 2009 Copenhagen Accords on the lack of mandatory CO2 cuts.

Originally published by the Daily Caller News Foundation

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San Bernardino Shooting: Poor Response by Politicians and Press

California has been hit by two terrorists who caused multiple deaths and injuries. So what was the response of our media and political elites when this happened on Wednesday: hysteria over gun laws.

From the beginning it was clear San Bernardino was not just another nut case shooting; the terrorists were dressed military style, they had bombs as well as guns, and a sophisticated plan to escape. One way or another they were well trained in terrorist techniques.

So how did California’s leading newspapers greet all this?  “Another day, another massacre,” writes Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez.  “We’re reminded that no country in the world has the level of gun violence we do.”   Not to be outdone, the Times lead editorial begins with: “Horror in San Bernardino: The U.S. infatuation with guns is bordering on a society-wide suicidal impulse.”

Up north, the Sacramento Bee editorial begins with: “San Bernardino shooting, shocking yet almost normal.  No matter what you call it, the root of the problem is the same: America allows too many guns to fall into the hands of too many people who should not have them.”

Well, how about bombs and guns in the hands of terrorists; the Bee does not have much to say about that.

This Pollyannaish response extended to our political leaders as well. Gov. Jerry Brown, so full of himself over saving the earth from a few more degrees of heat, had nothing to say about terrorism in his own statement.  President Obama called for closing the gun show loophole.

Perhaps the president should be more focused on the terrorist visa loophole, since the Pakistani-born terrorist in San Bernardino came into this country on a “fiancé visa.”

Throughout Wednesday night and all day Thursday the facts have come out on the terrorist couple, showing that they were experts in al-Qaeda style bomb making, that the American-born male terrorist travelled extensively in the Middle East, had some contacts to people on federal terrorist watch lists, and that the attacks were carefully planned and expertly carried out.

Gun laws had nothing to do with them. It is like saying that if France just had stronger gun laws, the Paris attackers would have been deterred. The San Bernardino terrorists bought their guns legally, and this in California that has been passing gun control laws for almost 30 years.  Lots of good they have done. When people are busy making pipe bombs in their apartment, somehow the gun show loophole seems pretty minor.

When the Republican Congress passed legislation to slow down the influx of Syrian refugees because they cannot be vetted to make sure terrorists have not infiltrated them, the California elite just pooh-poohed the threat and condemned the legislation.  Well, now we have a terrorist allowed into this country from Pakistan, a known hotbed of terrorist training, and what do our elites have to say, let’s pass more gun laws.

For far too long, the attitude of the political and media elite in this state to the very real threat of terrorism has been nothing short of brain dead.  Perhaps San Bernardino will be a wake-up call on the need for more visa and other controls at our borders.  But I am not hopeful; Chicken Little hysteria about gun control is a much easier response.

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Resist the Urge to Politicize Tragedy

This editorial was originally published by the Orange County Register:

Evil reared itself Wednesday morning at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino. That’s when heavily armed husband and wife Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik made their way into Mr. Farook’s office holiday party and unleashed terror.

By the time the shooters fled, 14 were dead and another 17 wounded. It was the most carnage inflicted in the United States since six teachers and 20 children were shot and killed in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

The mass murder in San Bernardino was predictably sensational, as evidenced by the fact that #SanBernadino was shared on Twitter more than 333,000 times Wednesday – notwithstanding that the city’s name was misspelled.

No less predictable were the remarks of several political figures – both anti-gun advocates and foes of settling Syrian refugees in the U.S. – who apparently couldn’t resist the temptation to exploit Wednesday’s tragedy.

That included President Obama, who ranted to CBS News about the need “for commonsense gun safety laws,” while also urging Congress to enact legislation preventing individuals appearing on the government’s “No Fly List” from purchasing firearms.

But even if Mr. Obama got his wishes, it would not have prevented Wednesday’s carnage. That’s because California already has the nation’s strictest gun laws, based on the latest report card issued by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

As to enacting a law to prohibit those banned from commercial flights from legally obtaining guns, that would not have stopped Mr. Farook and his wife from obtaining their assault rifles and handguns.

That’s because neither of them was on the feds’ No Fly List, otherwise Mr. Farook, a Pakistani-American born in this country, could not have recently flown to Saudi Arabia and returned to the Inland Empire with his wife, Ms. Malik.

The myth promulgated by Mr. Obama and other gun control advocates that stricter gun laws will prevent the kind of mass murder that occurred in San Bernardino ignores an inconvenient truth …

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CA Leads Drive to Reverse Focus on Standardized Tests

Standardized TestWhen President Barack Obama declared that “unnecessary testing” is “consuming too much instructional time” and creating “undue stress for educators and students,” it was another sign that the dominant strategy over the past 15 years to use standardized tests to hold children and schools “accountable” in education reform may have reached a tipping point.

California is on course to have a major impact on reshaping the national discourse – and practice – on this issue. The state is in the middle of devising a new accountability system, a massive and complex undertaking in a state as large and diverse as California, that is intended to go far beyond a narrow preoccupation with test scores.

President Obama’s recent anti-testing pronouncements are especially significant because using test scores as the dominant measure of school and student progress has been central to his K-12 education reform agenda.

Arne Duncan, Obama’s departing secretary of education, acknowledged the administration’s contribution to the problem. “It’s important that we’re all honest with ourselves,” he said. “At the federal, state and local level, we have all supported policies that have contributed to the problem in implementation. We can and will work with states, districts and educators to help solve it.”

By contrast, Gov. Jerry Brown has been consistent in challenging the role of testing – and has clashed repeatedly with the Obama administration on this issue, even before he returned to the governorship in 2011.

Brown likes to recount what was apparently a seminal experience while he was a student at St. Ignatius College Prep in San Francisco, when the only question on an exam asked students to give their impressions of a green leaf.

“Still, as I walk by trees, I keep saying, ‘How’s my impression coming? Can I feel anything? Am I dead inside?’ So, this was a very powerful question that has haunted me for 50 years.”

The point, Brown says, is that “you can’t put that on a standardized test. There are important educational encounters that can’t be captured by tests.”

State education leaders have echoed Brown’s deep skepticism about the excessive use of standardized tests.

“We must always be mindful that time spent testing generally comes at the expense of time our students would otherwise have spent gaining the very knowledge and skills that are the goal of education,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson declared three years ago in a report to the state Legislature on Transitioning California to a Future Assessment System.

Torlakson noted that many countries that “lead the world in achievement place little or no emphasis on standardized testing.” When they do test, he said, “they use more open-minded measures, sparingly and strategically, and often sample students rather than testing every child.” He suggested that if the federal government weren’t requiring it, California would do even less testing than it is currently doing.

Other prominent California education leaders have also been at the forefront of questioning how tests have been used in the national education reform agenda. Most significantly they include Linda Darling-Hammond, the president of the Learning Policy Institute, who is also Brown’s appointee as chair of the California Teacher Credentialing Commission. Two-and-a-half years ago Darling-Hammond took aim at what she calls the “test and punish” approach to accountability. “Without major changes, we will, indeed, be testing our nation to death,” she wrote.

But California has done more than talk about the issue.

The state has suspended – and is considering permanently abolishing – the Academic Performance Index, which for 15 years ranked schools based almost entirely on the test score results of students.

This past summer the Legislature suspended the California High School Exit Exam, at least for the next three years – and has even told districts to award diplomas retroactively to students who did not pass the exam and were denied a diploma because of it during the decade the exit exam was in place.

Also gone, for now, are standardized tests in 2nd-, 9th- and 10th-grade math and English language arts, end-of-course math tests in Algebra I, Algebra II, geometry, general math and integrated math; all history tests; and end-of-course tests in high school in biology, chemistry, physics and integrated science. 

One unresolved question is whether California will permanently eliminate these end-of-course standardized tests permanently or whether they will be replaced with ones that are aligned with the Common Core standards.

For now at least, the only standardized tests left that are administered by the state are the Smarter Balanced tests in math and English language arts, which all students in 3rd through 8th grade and 11th grade are expected to take. Students still take a science test in 5th, 8th and 10th grade because they are required to do so under the No Child Left Behind law. (Students with special needs take a variety of tests designed to take into account their specific disabilities.)

What makes what is happening in California especially interesting is that the state is not reflexively against tests in general. In fact, California is a leading backer of the Smarter Balanced assessments aligned with the Common Core – the very same tests that have fueled vehement anti-testing sentiments in some other states, most notably in New York.

That’s because strong backers like Darling-Hammond have argued that the assessments are significantly improved compared to the old multiple-choice tests, measure deeper learning skills, and have the potential to actually drive classroom instruction, not just be used to measure how well or how badly schools or students are doing. California has also prevented Smarter Balanced from becoming a lightning rod for opposition by resisting pressures from the Obama administration to use test scores to evaluate teacher effectiveness.

So rather than being against all tests, the state is moving toward establishing a much broader accountability system, of which tests – improved ones, according to proponents – will comprise just one part. In California, the new accountability system will be based on “multiple measures” rooted in eight “priority areas” established by the state in the 2013 Local Control Funding Formula law championed by Brown.

In addition to scores on the Smarter Balanced tests, these could include measures of middle and high school dropout rates, attendance rates, absenteeism and graduation rates, parent engagement, and “school climate,” as revealed in suspension and expulsion rates and student surveys.

Furthest along in developing a new “multiple measure” accountability system are the six CORE districts, which are  developing a School Quality Improvement Index that could inform what will happen in the state and nationally on this hugely complex task.

By March 2016, Torlakson must present his recommendations for a comprehensive assessment system to the State Board of Education, so the next few months will be crucial in shaping where California as a whole will end up on this issue.

Torlakson is being advised by an “Accountability and Continuous Improvement Task Force” which is mandated by state and is co-chaired by Eric Heins, the president of the California Teachers Association, and Wes Smith, executive director of the Association of California School Administrators. The 29 member task force includes many of the state’s most prominent education leaders.

All this is taking place as Congress, after years of gridlock on the issue, appears to be moving to replace the No Child Left Behind law with one that will move the nation distinctly in the direction California is already going. As task force member David Plank, executive director for Policy Analysis for California Education, said, “There is general agreement that California is in a position to lead, and to set a new course not only for the state but for accountability in general.”

Louis Freedberg is the executive director of EdSource

Originally published by EdSource