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Miss Virginia was named Miss America thanks to a fun science experiment

Westlake Legal Group supernova-miss-america-miss-virginia-science-experiment-feature Miss Virginia was named Miss America thanks to a fun science experiment Virginia Tech virginia commonwealth university SUPERNOVA super nova Science pageants pageant Miss Virginia Miss America Education Culture Features Culture Biochemistry
Miss America, Camille Schrier of Virginia, took home the crown after performing a colorful chemistry experiment on stage as her talent. (AP Photo / Charles Krupa)

In the 21st century, an era that has so far brought us the #MeToo movement, the Women’s March and more women than ever running for political office, the Miss America pageant (not to be confused with the Miss USA pageant once owned by Donald Trump) has not been without its challenges. Facing criticisms for its failure to modernize and move away from its focus on the male gaze, the 99-year-old organization announced in 2018 it was doing away with its swimsuit competition and, in its place, contestants would deliver a social impact presentation.

Then, this winter, on the eve of the show’s centennial, Miss Virginia 2019, Camille Schrier, confidently stepped onto the stage in a white lab coat for the talent portion of the show. “Science is a talent,” she told the live audience at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut. “And it’s my mission to show kids that science is fun, relevant and easy to understand.” She then demonstrated what the catalytic decomposition of hydrogen peroxide looks like when you mix hydrogen peroxide, dish soap and, most importantly, food coloring. (Spoiler: It creates a rainbow-foam explosion on stage.) The science experiment, coupled with Schrier’s social impact platform of combating the opioid epidemic through drug safety and abuse prevention (and, let’s be honest, her TV-ready good looks), won her the 2020 crown.

The newly minted Miss America (which the organization has dubbed Miss America 2.0 on its website) has deep ties to Virginia. She earned her undergraduate degree in biochemistry and systems biology from Virginia Tech, and she’s currently pursuing a doctorate of pharmacy at Virginia Commonwealth University. Schrier grew up near Richmond and, as she told the audience, the Virginia resident has “loved science since I was a little girl.” It looks like the Miss America pageant may modernize yet—with a woman from Virginia leading the way.

This post originally appeared in our February 2020 issue. For more local coverage, subscribe to our weekly newsletters

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Ryan Bourne: The core challenge that Johnson’s Government won’t face up to. Boosting growth.

Ryan Bourne holds the R Evan Scharf Chair in Public Understanding of Economics at the Cato Institute.

Boris Johnson famously wants to “unleash Britain’s potential.” But where economic growth is concerned, the Bank of England thinks the problem is too little potential in the first place.

Last week, it revised down “potential output growth” for the next three years, from 1.4 per cent to 1.1 per cent per year, implying less capacity for growth without overheating. That’s a stark contrast with the historic 2.8 per cent growth rate that Sajid Javid aspires a return to.

Potential growth is calculated by making judgments on potential additional hours worked economy-wide and on potential labour productivity growth (i.e. improvements in output per hour worked). On both, the Bank’s judgment is grisly.

With unemployment low, employment high, and EU immigration slower, the Bank revised down growth attainable by simply adding people or hours. More worryingly, it has given up expecting a productivity growth rebound, instead judging our post-crash performance a kind of “new normal.” For 2020-23, it expects productivity growth of 0.5 percent per year; far below the 2.2 per cent per year seen pre-crash or even the above one per cent forecast last year.

If this seems dry and arcane, the implications are not. If accurate, worse potential growth driven by weak productivity means less robust improvements in living standards, a worse “structural” budget deficit, and macroeconomic “stimulus” becoming more impotent. Indeed, trying to “boost the economy” through Government spending or monetary stimulus would more likely just generate inflation.

As Javid prepares for his March Budget then, the Bank’s verdict should trouble him. Last March, the Office for Budget Responsibility itself forecast potential growth at 1.5 per cent for 2020, rising to 1.6 per cent through 2023. But that assumed productivity growth jumping to 1.3 per cent per year. If the OBR now agrees that 0.5 per cent is likelier, Budget day will bring terrible economic headlines.

Now we should not take the Bank’s judgment as gospel, of course. Economists understand less about “potential” than reporting suggests. Defining “capacity” for companies, let alone large economies, is hard. As Chris Dillow has written, in a world of intangible assets and digital technologies it’s not even clear what capacity means. What is Google’s “capacity”? The Bank may prove as unduly pessimistic as it recently was overoptimistic.

But that doesn’t make its intervention unimportant. Olivier Blanchard, Guido Lorenzoni and Jean Paul L’Huillier’s work suggests negative judgments from forecasters about potential growth can become self-fulling. If consumers and investors expect to be poorer, they might cut their cloth now. They find, internationally, that a 0.1 per cent downward revision to potential growth leads to a fall in consumption growth that year of anywhere between 0.4 and 0.7 per cent. Just what the Chancellor needs.

Few can deny too the problem that the Bank’s revised judgment reflects. As years since the financial crisis roll by, it becomes ever easier to conclude that Britain is in a productivity growth slump with no sign of returning to pre-crash trends. The question really is: does the government intend to do anything meaningful about it?

It feels tired to posit this question. Commentators like me having been making the case for trying to raise the potential growth rate since 2010, to little avail. Partly this reflects a helplessness from policymakers in the face of trends beyond their control; partly it’s disagreements about what pro-growth policy is.

So let’s recognise uncomfortable truths upfront. Yes, slower growth across countries since the crash suggests something about the bank crisis or the unsustainability of what went before has impaired growth. Yes, an ageing population is another headwind. And, yes, Brexit has slowed growth to date, though how much due to pure “uncertainty” chilling investment, as opposed to negative expectations about future trade policy, is unclear.

But acknowledging all this shouldn’t induce fatalism. In fact, it strengthens the imperative for other pro-growth policies in recompense. We shouldn’t just treat the economy’s weak potential as a fait accompli – an unwelcome external force that affects budgets. No, given its importance, we should see weak growth as a failure of collective current policy. At the very least, sustained poor growth gives reason to review programmes tolerable in “good times” that we suspect come with a growth trade-off.

Is the government really prioritising growth today? Javid’s ambition is commendable, but actions must follow words. Prioritising something means willingness to accept trade-offs in its pursuit. Yet last week, ministers were asked to consider cutting programmes that didn’t fulfil the Government’s stated priorities – tackling crime, funding the NHS, or “levelling up” regions. Growth got no mention. Indeed, if growth is a priority, why not ask “does this programme improve the economy’s potential?”

Often, it seems that the Government thinks talking about any economic policy is synonymous with being pro-growth. But, listening to recent announcements, it’s difficult to conclude that rapid growth is a guiding star.

True, in some areas people like me just disagree with them on what might boost growth – little surprise given how contentious the literature is. Dominic Cummings thinks a British ARPA will generate loads of spillovers from public science and R&D spending. Javid thinks a further education skills push will raise human capital in the long-term. The whole government seems sold on regional infrastructure being transformative (Japan through the 1990s colours me sceptical). We can debate this, while recognising that government noises on planning have been well-evidenced and unambiguously pro-growth.

In other areas though, growth is clearly a secondary concern, at best. No coherent tax reform agenda appears likely, and Ministers are prioritising a broad-based National Insurance cut that will do little for potential growth. Boris Johnson talks up the benefits of using regulation to strengthen environmental outcomes and worker protection; there’s little mention of growth trade-offs here, or a pro-growth review of repatriated EU laws.

Though Johnson laments mercantilists and tariffs, last week his government briefed on using them to encourage countries to make trade deals with it – an approach that has seen Donald Trump cripple U.S. manufacturing productivity by raising its input prices. Public service reform ideas seem non-existent. The minimum wage keeps being raised. On infrastructure, HS2 is being prioritised over schemes with bigger estimated economic bang for the pound. And whatever your view of climate change, it’s undeniable that rapid decarbonisation impairs an economy’s growth potential, despite fairytales of win-win “green growth.”

Now, setting all dials to maximise growth is neither easy nor politically viable. Governments, understandably, have other aims and electoral mandates. But given its central importance – not least how it can make all other challenges easier – it still gets insufficient attention. With the government’s healthy majority, anti-growth headwinds, and leaving the EU, there’s surely never been a more necessary or better time to act on the Bank’s warning and try to see what sticks.

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WATCH: Raab outlines plans for Huawei’s role in UK’s 5G network

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Alan Mak: We had a technological revolution in the 1980s, delivered by a strong leader. We have the same chance now.

Alan Mak is MP for Havant and Founder of the APPG on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

To secure the Blue Wall, Conservatives must invest in the Fourth Industrial Revolution
Our new voters will judge us on whether we deliver new jobs, rising wages and better infrastructure by making the most of new technologies.

Winning former Labour-held seats in the North, the Midlands and Wales was key to our success in last month’s general election, creating a new “Blue Wall” from Wrexham to Wakefield, Bolsover to Bishop Auckland, and beyond. “Get Brexit Done” and “stop Jeremy Corbyn becoming Prime Minister” were two messages devised by Boris Johnson that cut through with voters, enabling the Conservatives to win seats we had either not held for decades, or never held before at all.

At the next general election (and in local, county and Mayoral elections before then) Corbyn and Brexit will not be the dominant doorstep issues. Instead, we Conservatives have to deliver rising wages, new jobs, better living standards and economic renewal if we are to hold on to our Blue Wall seats.

This will only happen if the economy is growing, new businesses are starting or expanding, and new industries are replacing those that have left or are in decline. The only policy that delivers all these outcomes is investment in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) – the new, advanced technologies that are already changing our economy from clean energy and advanced manufacturing to driverless vehicles and precision medicines. Our future electoral success across the Blue Wall will be inextricably linked to driving up productivity, creating new high-wage jobs and bringing dignified work back to communities that feel disaffected by globalisation.

A pro-Leave electorate that has backed another party for so long will need to be reassured that we Conservatives are on their side for the long term, not just whilst Brexit is being delivered. They will be looking to the Conservatives to ensure they are not left behind by the next big technological revolution. As I said in a previous article, this commitment must be a central tenant of Conservatism 4.0 – Conservative ideology for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The last time our country went through a technological revolution we had another strong leader with a large electoral mandate. The computing revolution of the 1980s powered Britain to economic success – and political success for Thatcherism. The City of London prospered from the Big Bang, and our economy was transformed into a services-based powerhouse. In the North, Nissan was incentivised to open its first UK factory in Sunderland in 1986 whilst other international car makers would establish bases in Britain – another example of a Conservative government securing the jobs of the future.

Today’s Conservative Government has a similar opportunity – and responsibility – to harness the 4IR for the benefit of communities across the Blue Wall as artificial intelligence, big data and automation transform our economy and society beyond recognition. To keep our majority at future elections, we cannot allow the positive impact of the 4IR to be absent from any region or for its benefits to be inaccessible to any social group.

The 4IR will radically change how we work, regardless of sector or industry. Instead of dockers and miners being at risk of automation, in the near future it will be call centre operators, shop assistants, lorry drivers and factory workers. With a path to electoral victory that increasingly runs through industrial towns, every factory closure or job lost to robots without alternatives emerging, will make a majority harder to retain. As the 4IR accelerates, today’s Conservative Government already recognises that it must act quickly, working through the Northern Powerhouse, Midlands Engine and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) to re-industrialise those regions, creating new jobs and more prosperity.

The policy interventions needed to make a success of the 4IR across the Blue Wall will be diverse, ranging from the installation of full-fibre broadband to every home and business to the local retention of business rates. However, three areas of focus should include:

  • Better transport within – and between – Blue Wall towns and cities. Local economies are more productive when people can get to work efficiently within their own town or city, and when travelling around their region, especially using public transport. However, our biggest cities outside London such as Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham are less productive than almost all similar-sized cities in Europe, and less productive than much smaller cities such as Edinburgh, Oxford, and Bristol. Poor transport links are an important factor in dragging down productivity in our regions outside London, and European cities and large towns are often more productive than our own in large part because they have better infrastructure. Leeds is the largest city in Western Europe without a light rail or metro system. Manchester and Lyon (France’s second largest city conurbation) have similar-sized tram systems with about 100 stations each, but Marseille (three tram lines) and Lille (two tram lines) have substantially more than Birmingham (one line) and Leeds (no lines). Likewise, trade between Northern towns is hampered by poor inter-city connectivity. One study showed that services from London travel at average speeds of 65-93mph, compared with 20-60mph elsewhere. That includes routes such as Liverpool Central to Chester, which takes 41 minutes to make a 14-mile journey. Meanwhile, passengers travelling from London Paddington to Reading cover a distance more than two-and-a-half times longer in 17 minutes less, at 93mph. Blue Wall towns and cities – and areas around them – need funding to upgrade their bus, tram and train services to make them as good as London’s, with more electrification and smart ticketing. If people cannot move around easily, we will be unable to match skilled workers to new businesses which is key to creating jobs and prosperity in the 4IR.
  • Local 4IR technology adoption funds. Local Enterprise Partnerships need to help Blue Wall businesses adapt to the 4IR. Only by rapidly adopting 4IR technologies and embedding them into everyday business life across every community and region can we ensure that these areas will not fall behind. Every LEP should come up with a regional Industrial Strategy that sets out how that region will embrace the 4IR. The Liverpool City Region 4.0 programme operated by the Liverpool LEP is an example for others to follow. The LCR 4.0 project provides assistance to manufacturing SMEs wishing to adopt new and emerging technologies to improve their productivity and develop new products and services using 4IR technologies. By helping traditional manufacturers upgrade their technology, they enable firms to stay in business and keep their workers employed by becoming more productive.
  • Local political leaders taking responsibility for the 4IR. Councils play a key role in making a success of their communities, from attracting inward investment and funding regeneration to granting planning permission for businesses to expand. The impact of the 4IR needs to be handled strategically, with local government taking a long-term view of local employment patterns as machines replace workers, new businesses spring up in new industries such as 3D printing, and patterns of work change as remote-working enabled by technology increases. Every local council should task one of its Cabinet members with specific responsibility for the 4IR, and create a taskforce of local councillors and officers to devise a pro-active strategy to help their local economy benefit from the 4IR, rather than reacting to changes brought on by technology.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is already happening, and it is the defining political and economic issue of the next ten years, just as the financial crisis shaped the last decade. Not only is the 4IR the field on which we must fight the next great battle over the value of free markets at a conceptual level, but it is also the real-world driver of growth which we must harness to deliver rising wages and good jobs.

The 4IR is the latest phase of globalisation, and our task in Government is to manage it better, harness its economic benefits, and avoid some communities behind left behind as it transforms our way of life.


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Ryan Bourne: The limits of weirdos and misfits

Ryan Bourne holds the R Evan Scharf Chair in Public Understanding of Economics at the Cato Institute.

It is fast becoming one of the most discussed employment advertisements ever. Dominic Cummings’ call for No. 10 job applications from data scientists and software developers, quirky economists and policy experts, and other assorted “weirdos and misfits” has drawn reaction from global public intellectuals, former civil servants, and experience-weary ex-government digital experts.

Now, civil service employment practices, SpAds’ competences, and government project management, are outside my “circle of competence,” as Cummings might say. Without in-house experience, I’ll avoid passing judgment on whether better physics and maths skills or expertise in the economics of auctions might improve Downing Street’s performance. Others who I respect seem positive about his proposals, particularly as it pertains to quantitative skills and institutionalising analysis of uncertainty.

Likewise, some of Cummings’ broad proposals for Civil Service reform seem sensible as an outsider: “red teams” to push back on conventional wisdom; rewards for officials actually seeing through on delivering government projects; redundancy for poorly performing officials; more specialism, less generalism. All have clear rationales, though are easier said than delivered. And some tensions clearly exist between them. Greater longevity for brilliantly specialist civil servants, for example, surely creates an institutional impediment to radically adaptive change.

Given all the ink spilt debating these ideas, however, an obvious point has been missed. Cummings’ ideas here are for personnel and structural changes to a technocracy. For “better” management and people to deliver systems for a large enterprise (the state). They do not tell us anything, per se, about what he perceives to be the correct role of government – of when it should act, what it should do, and why. Yet without knowing what recruits and the civil service will be working on, it’s impossible to assess claims of the supposed “trillions of dollars lying on the sidewalk” from the “low-hanging fruit” of improved government performance.

Yes, yes, we have breadcrumbs signalling towards certain “ends.” This site’s editor thinks Cummings seeks a world of politics as “enterprise association,” harnessing AI, science, big data, cutting-edge communications in pursuit of regional rebalancing, science-led industrial strategies, and value-for-money procurement. Brexit, as Cummings acknowledges, brings necessary major policy change in other areas too, not least the promised immigration system.

But reading Cummings’ blog suggests a more romantic and expansive view of what an effective technocracy can achieve. He places central importance on “people,” reading as if tons of government failures would dissipate, and other projects become viable, if only more brilliant physicists, data scientists, or mathematicians, armed with cutting-edges models of uncertainty and understanding of non-linearities, were in government. Policy failure and other challenges, in other words, are downstream. “Bad management” or “the wrong skills” or “incompetent people” are held up as the root cause of bad government; better rational planners could be transformative.

My central gripe is that I doubt this is true. Government action ultimately reflects a decision to deliver collective action through the political process. And politics causes a range of structural problems that explain government failure, particularly on economics, irrespective of the brilliance of officials and project managers:

  • Political incentives and short-termism: civil servants ultimately work for politicians, and politicians can be myopic and ignorant, while wanting results conducive to re-election or pleasing interest groups. How else to explain prestige projects such as HS2 when other transport projects clearly could deliver better bang for the buck? Or moving from hugging huskies to denouncing “green crap” to meeting Greta within a decade? Or police spending levels with inflexion points at elections? If civil servants come and go, so do Ministers. There have been five transport secretaries alone since 2010. It’s all very well lamenting a lack of error correction in the civil service, but what about politicians continually demanding things with little record of success in their role as local champions (see current debates about high streets and activist government regeneration).
  • Knowledge problem: Data can help inform better policy, of course. But some significant economic problems are complex and intractable, even to the smartest brains or the newest methods. Politicians and planners seek “a solution,” often creating huge unintended consequences. Markets, by being open forums to fulfil individual wants and needs, instead find tailored solutions for different people. Economies are not predictable systems – if they were, then machine learning could make socialism a reality. Even “the best people” or “the best models” can’t forecast the macroeconomy with decent accuracy because “the British economy” is really 66.4 million people and 6 million businesses, each acting relatively freely.
  • Centralisation: Cummings might want to replicate successful private sector innovation. But market-based activity tends to start small and expand when signals like profits or consumer surveys suggest success. The public sector usually doesn’t have these signals. They could be mimicked by experimentation at local level, or hospital level, or school, with best practice spreading organically. That though, means decentralising power and accepting “post-code lotteries,” which governments are reluctant to do. Instead, project failure is met with new money and large-scale solutions. Without profit and loss, and the threat of financial failure, finding the correct “efficient scale” for much government activity is difficult, no matter what modeling or expertise you have.
  • Scope: Government engages in an extraordinarily diverse range of activities. Yes, individual-focused projects, such as the Apollo programme Cummings highlights, can be successful; but healthcare is more complex. Different policy areas often have conflicting objectives too (see the lower VAT rate on domestic fuel vs. policies to make fossil fuels less attractive). Reformers constantly run into Chesterton Fences – not least because no man can account for all of what the state does. Having a framework of what constitutes core activities and why (whether it’s delivering public goods, solving other market failures, redistributing or more) is, therefore, an important prerequisite for the type of management, resources and approach required.
  • Crowd out: government projects or the hiring of more “brilliant people” would suck individuals and resources out of the private sector, where they could benefit society more. It also disincentives individuals and businesses from finding their own solutions to problems, often creating de-facto monopolies less responsive to users/consumers and technological change.

Now, if Cummings is just laser-focused on improving delivery of core functions or projects, necessary Brexit-related change, or solving market failures, then this critique is neutered somewhat. His ideas could well generate improvements to delivery of activities government would be undertaking anyway.
But my fear, reading between the lines, is that these hires reflect an ambition for projects encompassing greater government economic activism. In that case, it’s worth revisiting why governments fail where markets succeed. There are limits to what talented weirdos and misfits can achieve.

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Dean Godson: What Johnson should do now in this Government’s first hundred days

Dean Godson is Director of Policy Exchange.

How does a newly re-ascendant Conservative Government maintain the momentum of the greatest electoral success since Margaret Thatcher’s triumph over Michael Foot in 1983?

This is the question posed and answered in a new Policy Exchange briefing paper, The First Hundred Days – published today with a foreword by John Howard, the former Australian Prime Minister. Howard is of course a great friend to the United Kingdom and a leading light in the broad “Conservative international”; he is always willing to offer solidarity and counsel to the global centre-right. He greatly admires Boris Johnson, and this is reciprocated.

His words are of particular interest since this is the golden era of the Australian way in UK politics – witness the leading roles of Lynton Crosby and Isaac Levido in successive Conservative election campaigns. Few, if any, American political consultants have enjoyed comparable influence in British elections.

Early on in the Conservative leadership race this summer, Crosby addressed Policy Exchange to invoke the example of the great Robert Menzies, the Australian Liberal Prime Minister whose leadership spanned the 1930s and 1960s – and who spoke of “the forgotten people”. If ever there was an election for the forgotten man and woman in Britain, this was surely it.

But how to make the bond between Johnson’s Conservatives and the “forgotten people” permanent? How to forge this into a governing programme?

In his foreword, Howard praises Johnson’s leadership skills and notes that he connected to wide sections of the British public by giving people hope during the election campaign. He also urges him to “seize the moment” – to take advantage of his new power in Parliament to implement the ideas and promises contained in the Conservative manifesto. Prime Ministers who don’t move fast to take advantage of electoral triumphs regret it, he notes.

The First Hundred Days offers a roadmap for how to do just that – across our four key research themes of Prosperity, Place, People and Patriotism. It reflects the content of the winning manifesto and builds on the theme of a new national consensus, as there seems to be on getting Brexit done among other issues.

There are some simple things that need doing. We need a date for a Budget. Local authorities in devolved countries cannot set their budgets until devolved governments have set theirs; devolved governments cannot set their budget until the UK Government has done so.

There are bigger themes too. Drawing on the research paper of last summer, Modernising the United Kingdom – a landmark in think tank terms – we urge the Government to publish its English Devolution White Paper and bring forward its National Infrastructure Strategy, focusing on cross-border projects as well as connectivity within the four nations of the Union. It is clear that levelling up the United Kingdom, so that London does not leave the regions behind, will involve – as Howard puts it – “stepping forward with the right investment in transport and other infrastructure where needed… but stepping back so that decisions are not always imposed from the top by central government”.

There are opportunities in housing and planning policy too – not just to overcome Nimbyism by building beautiful homes and places, but to provide some public sector workers, such as police officers and nurses, with affordable key worker housing. As a chapter on housing, outlines, the Government should announce that the next Affordable Homes programme will allocate more capital grant funding to schemes that provide a significant proportion of submarket rental homes for local key workers.

Science, as the Prime Minister made clear in his early speeches on the steps of Downing Street and in Manchester, will be a priority for this Government. We outline how a Defence Advanced Researcy Projects Agency-style agency, for high-risk, high-payoff research – at arms-length from ministers – can be created in shadow form within months at UK Research and Innovation, with funding from April next year, while a Bill creates the genuine Advanced Research Projects Agency.

The chapters on the constitution explain that the Government will need to do more than simply repeal the Fixed Term Parliaments Act in order to restore constitutional norms in Parliament. A new Bill will have to show that it is clear that the Prime Minister (subject to the Sovereign’s approval) is to have the ultimate responsibility to dissolve Parliament and call a general election. The Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission must be set up quickly as well. But it should not mean delaying, for example, the amending of the Human Rights Act to protect UK forces from a sustained and illegitimate legal assault in the form of lawfare.

There are more fronts that can be opened within the first hundred days. There is a chance for the greenest budget ever, by announcing seed funding for three new British battery gigafactories, to accelerate conversion from fossil-fuelled vehicles to electric vehicles. The Government could protect academic freedom and free speech on campuses, with a Bill to establish beyond doubt in law that academic freedom means that opinions and speakers considered unwelcome by a small number of students cannot simply be banned or no-platformed. With an eye to 1st February, when we should have left the EU, the Government could also start negotiations to enter into the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (an idea supported explicitly by Howard).

The good news is that, although the Tories have a parliamentary majority comparable to 1983 or 1987, they have in Number 10 Downing Street a sharper team of policy experts than Margaret Thatcher did. Whether or not there are calls for a new Department of the Prime Minister – as there were in the early 1980s – it is clear that this policy operation will be central to this Government’s reforming agenda. It has its work cut out for the next 100 days but the stunning election result gives it a strong mandate for its mission of modernisation and consensus-building.

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Rachel Wolf: I co-wrote this Conservative manifesto. And so can say that its focus was on neither the rich nor the poor.

Rachel Wolf is a partner in Public First. She had co-charge of the 2019 Conservative Manifesto. She was an education and innovation adviser at Number 10 during David Cameron’s premiership and was founding director of the New Schools Network.

Labour has responded to this election with arrogance. The Conservatives, with humility. This is, given the result, extraordinary – and is a reminder of why we won.

Jeremy Corbyn and his acolytes won’t accept that people disliked him and thought that his programme was  undeliverable. Boris Johnson, meanwhile, has made clear that those who have – for the first time – voted Conservative must now be convinced they made the right decision.

This is clearly correct. There is no deep bond between the Conservatives and these voters. One must be forged.

I spent the election campaign co-writing the manifesto (a major team effort). The programme focuses on the needs and priorities of the new Conservative voter.

This is a greater mental and policy shift than many realise. In my experience, with well over a decade doing policy work for the party and government, we Conservatives too often slip into thinking of the world in terms of wealthy and poor. In that world, the job of a compassionate One Nation Conservative is to provide help and support for people in dire need. Often, it presupposes they have chaotic and desperate lives.

This is a useless picture of the nation. The vast majority of people are not poor or wealthy. They are competent, good parents. They want criminals to be punished. They work and contribute to society – financially and in other ways. They rely wholly on the state for daily services and if things go wrong, but most of the time they cope. They are – to use the phrase that my husband and another ConservativeHome columnist James Frayne coined – Just About Managing. (Remember that?)

These are our new voters. And there are three areas that we had in mind and wove through the manifesto which are particularly crucial if they are to trust us again.

The first is fairness. More specifically, a system that recognizes effort and reward, but also bad luck and real need. For example, the manifesto promised what David Cameron tried and failed to achieve in his EU negotiation: to require migrants to contribute for several years before being able to claim benefits.

It promised to give local people discounted homes, and to build local infrastructure such as schools before people move into new developments.

It promised a much clearer link between crime and punishment, while also focusing on rehabilitation for those that are willing to work for it.

This is all about recognising the contract between people and the state: we expect everyone who can to contribute, we will look after those who need help, and we will punish those who break the rules. A huge proportion of our new voters think that contract is broken – on welfare, on immigration, on crime, on housing. The Conservative government must show it is restored.

The second area is public services. In five years, people need to find it easier to get a GP appointment, think A&E and social care is better not worse, and not believe that their schools are struggling with budgets. This was a huge focus of the manifesto. It requires looking at the entire system of delivery – recruitment, retention, incentives, performance: an enormously complex task to deliver simple but vital results.

The third area is place. There has been far more conversation on this topic than on either of the other two, and I’m not going to rehash the communitarian, or the ‘somewhere/anywhere’ debate.

But there is a reason why this manifesto had a massive focus on towns, on buses and local transport and reversing Beeching cuts, and also on all the civic and cultural infrastructure that makes a town worth living in. There is a reason that the increases in the science and R&D budget is focused not only on high risk new ideas but on regional growth. We should expect a lot more infrastructure spending in this area in the coming years.

These are all big challenges – and crucial to their delivery are two other great reforms.

Constitutional affairs: how do we make elections fair, how do we balance parliament, the executive, and the judiciary. How do we ensure that decisions are made in the optimal way?

Government itself: what does the civil service need to look like to deliver? Who gets recruited, how are they trained, how are they rewarded and held accountable?

The manifesto pledges sounded deliberately simple. Delivering on them is achievable, but unquestionably a five year project. We now have the chance, for the first time in more than 20 years to demonstrate what a majority government is capable of, and in that process help the people that Labour has left behind.

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“Get out of London.” Now watch Johnson and Cummings turn the world upside down. Or try to.

“You guys should get outside London and go to talk to people who are not rich Remainers’.” (Dominic Cummings, September 2019.)

– – –

Britain’s political and economic model from Margaret Thatcher through Tony Blair to David Cameron had roughly the following in common.

A dominant capital city, London, with its south-eastern hinterland.  A flourishing City of London.  An economy based on services rather than manufacturing.  A high level of immigration, at least recently, to service its needs – both internally and externally.  Pressure in this wider South East on schools, hospitals, roads, rail, cohesion, and especially the price of housing.

An Ascendancy class of civil servants, lawyers, journalists, academics, and media workers doing well out of this system, whichever of the main parties governed.  Government focus on message and spin to feed the London-based newspapers and media.  A recent Ministerial and Whitehall preoccupation with Parliament, reflecting the unwillingness of voters to elect a government with a strong majority since 2005 – and the increasing rebelliousness of backbenchers.  A currency that some believe to have been overvalued (further reinforcing this system).

Outside this greater South East, a provincial Britain in relative or sometimes absolute recession.  A growing gulf between its view of this system’s success and London’s.  A sense that it has done less well out of the growth of the capital city, the universities, the media, services, the law – and infrastructure spending.  A less favourable view of immigration.  Less expensive housing but also lower wages.  Skills and employment gaps.

– – –

All this is about to change – at least, if a new post-Brexit Conservative Government based broadly on Thursday’s results, serving at least two terms and with Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings in place, has its way.

Perhaps wrongly, I read the briefing in much of Sunday’s papers about the new Government’s intentions as Classic Dom.  In the short to medium term, expect to see the following:

  • Less of a focus on Parliament and the media.  Johnson has a majority of the best part of a hundred.  He won the election despite, even arguably because of, intense media scrutiny, opposition and pressure.  I suspect that the Prime Minister won’t care much what Labour, which is likely to vanish into chaotic opposition for the best part of a year, or the Liberal Democrats, who have just lost their leader, do or say in the Commons, at least for the moment. Furthermore, Philip Hammond, Rory Stewart, David Gauke, Amber Rudd, Oliver Letwin, Dominic Grieve* and his most persistent critics are no longer there.  And Cummings won’t be remotely flustered by what’s said on a Today programme or a Newsnight or by an Andrew Neil that, in his view, only the Westminster Village bubble is bothered about.
  • A Government restructuring to concentrate on delivery.  Johnson and Cummings thus won’t worry too much if Ministers flounder in the Commons or TV studios – at least in the early part of this Parliament.  They will want delivery, delivery, delivery for the new blue seats in the Midlands and North.  That will mean tearing up the Government reshaping undertaken by Nick Timothy for Theresa May and starting all over again.  Briefing that Business and Trade will be amalgamated; that the Environment and Climate Change, a Johnson and Carrie Symonds preoccupation, will again have its own department, and that the Foreign Office will absorb much of DfId sounds about right.  A post-January post-Brexit reshuffle will reveal all.
  • Ministers appointed to govern rather than perform.  Monday’s reshuffle will see gaps filled at Culture – which will have an important role with regard to digital and the media – and Wales.  I expect the bigger January shuffle to see Cabinet Ministers appointed who Number Ten expects to work with outsiders to transform Whitehall.  There will be a big emphasis on NHS spending, police numbers, border control, northern infrastructure, skills and, maybe especially, Cummings’ spoor: the words “Invest in Science”.The sort of names to look out for include Matt Hancock, Rishi Sunak, Oliver Dowden, Robert Jenrick, Jesse Norman, maybe Chris Skidmore and the rehabilitated Michael Gove.
  • Expect the unexpected.  All those are men.  Johnson will want to appoint a lot of women – an intention made all the more intriguing by the fact that many of the Ministers currently being tipped for the sack are female.  The most senior women outside Cabinet itself are Esther McVey, Caroline Dinenage and Lucy Frazer, who could easily slot into one of the Law Officer posts.  But there is no way of knowing what Johnson, Cummings, Downing Street and the Whips will come up with. And other names in the mix include Victoria Atkins, Anne-Marie Trevelyan and a revitalised Penny Mordaunt.  Cummings’ instinct will be to bring in good outsiders as Ministers and promote quickly from the massive new intake of Tory MPs if necessary – over the head of convention and perhaps advice.

There are some oddities about bits of the briefing, or at least parts of what’s being written.  For example, if a new department for Borders and Security is to be set up, what becomes of the Home Office – which under the Theresa May/Timothy reforms became a department for security and borders?  Is it to be amalgamated once again with the Justice Department?  Might Johnson want to mull reviving an updated Lord Chancellor’s department?

And if the SNP is to campaign for a second independence referendum, with Northern Ireland undergoing huge post-Brexit change, wouldn’t it make sense to have a Secretary of State and department for the Union – perhaps headed by the ubiquitious Gove?  What becomed of the traditional power of the Treasury?

Finally, Johnson could do all the restructuring and appointing available to him with his near three-figure majority…and find that the economic and political model he inherited is too entrenched to be shifted.  Because the commanding heights of our culture have so big a stake in it that they won’t willingly let it go.  Buy your ringside seat now for the clash between the Ascendancy’s instincts and Cummings’ Nietzschean plans. With Johnson refereeing.

– – –

* Mr Grieve…we’ll see what he is right about.” (Cummings, August 2019.)

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Have a loved one diagnosed with Alzheimer’s? Here’s what you need to know

Westlake Legal Group elderly-couple-talking-to-man Have a loved one diagnosed with Alzheimer’s? Here’s what you need to know seniors Senior Living Science Research Medical Features healthy living Health Family diagnosis Alzheimer's Disease Alzheimer's Adults
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As of this year, an estimated 5.8 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s—the most common form of dementia—with the majority being over the age of 65, according to data from the Alzheimer’s Association. While there is no cure for the disease, researchers, scientists and psychologists alike are consistently developing new ideas and techniques for coping with the symptoms, for both those directly affected and their caretakers. 

Mike Behrmann, CEO of Arlington-based IT service management company Segue Technologies, Inc., is one of the many who recently took an interest to the topic, ultimately creating the company’s subsidiary, Caring Village, LLC, which creates products and services for caregivers of the elderly. And this past July, Behrmann and his team worked with experts in the field to publish, Enduring Alzheimer’s, providing readers with educational resources and personal perspectives surrounding all phases of the disease. 

Want similar content sent directly to your inbox? Subscribe to our weekly newsletters.

From the medical diagnosis to preparation necessary for a caregiver, there are a lot of misconceptions and essential details those affected by Alzheimer’s need to be aware of. Here, co-author of Enduring Alzheimer’s Bruce A. Kehr, MD, of Potomac Psychiatry and Behrmann share their take on it all.  

Medical details with Dr. Kehr

Tell me about the progression of the disease and how it affects the brain.
It begins 20-25 years before it is diagnosed. It’s based on an accumulation of abnormal proteins in the first phase, which is called the biochemical phase. The proteins begin with accumulation of one called amyloid beta, and at a later stage it begins with an accumulation of tau. The tau almost behaves a bit like a virus, in that it moves from cell to cell. So in this early biochemical phase, we have an accumulation of what is called misfolded proteins that trigger inflammation, and as you can imagine that inflammatory response begins to damage the brain cells and its connections. It also triggers a disruption of cellular machinery. For example, there are elements in a cell that are like a structural support—a frame of a house—and they transport molecules, genetic material and ions within and between cells. So as the proteins accumulate, they damage the transport system, moving into the cellular phase of the disease. The cells become damaged and they try to compensate for the damage, overtime overwhelming and destroying the cells. When enough have been harmed, that’s when the diagnosis is made. 

Are there ways to treat Alzheimer’s?
The best treatment is to prevent the biochemical phase in the first place with a healthy, Mediterranean diet, lots of intellectual stimulation, social engagements and cardiovascular fitness exercise. Also, getting a good night’s sleep. The glymphatic system in the brain is the brain’s waste management system, it takes away a lot of waste products, and 80% of the glymphatic activity occurs during sleep. The other way to prevent Alzheimer’s is to effectively treat high blood pressure, high cholesterol, reduce insulin resistance and lower weight. Each of those factors independently is associated with higher rates of Alzheimer’s disease. 

Caregiving tips with Mike Behrmann

There’s a chapter in the book titled, “How to Prepare to be a Caregiver for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s.” Can you tell me some key points and revelations on that subject?
First and foremost is the need for a primary caregiver, usually a spouse or a daughter, to understand the immense impact the care will take on themselves personally. Often the caregiver’s health will deteriorate, and the challenges are then compounded even further. So it’s necessary to understand that you need help and need to dole out tasks to others to lessen the load. We describe the need to pull together key documents (insurance policies, medical prescriptions, wills, medical appointments/locations, financial accounts, power of attorney, etc.).  It becomes extremely burdensome to confront the organization of these documents as they are confronted, rather than understand and prepare in advance. Family members will be impacted both mentally and physically, in some situations for quite a long period of time, so often the family will experience guilt, frustration, and even anger. It is normal to have these feelings and we try to explain the need to understand it will happen, so they are aware. 

What are some of the biggest misunderstandings people have surrounding care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s?
The single greatest misunderstanding people have when confronting care of a loved one with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is that they think the patient will be incoherent and non-communicative from day one of the diagnosis. This couldn’t be farther from the truth! Alzheimer’s is an extremely insidious disease and stages progress in no predictable way.  Caregivers can learn the symptoms of stage progression and educate themselves on these in advance. 

Other misunderstandings involve treatment options and safe keeping of medications, when and how to alter patient independence (driving, living alone, cooking, etc.), and lastly most caregivers don’t anticipate the life-changing commitment and financial costs associated with care.

How do you suggest people go about talking to an individual with Alzheimer’s about the next steps in care and approach to the disease?
People who are confronting Alzheimer’s disease as a family need to continually remind themselves that the loved one with the diagnosis is a gift to them and will always be loved as they continue the journey. It is paramount to communicate with the loved one from this foundation. Everything that will be done as next steps should be described in as much detail as possible, without scaring the loved one, and it should always be done in a calm, firm and loving tone. Communication with medical professionals should be interpreted by the caregiver to the loved one, always.  

Want to get involved? Here are a few opportunities to help those affected by Alzheimer’s this November. 

National Family Caregivers Month
Nov. 1-30
Throughout November, the Alzheimer’s Association is honoring the millions of family members, friends and neighbors alike who serve as Alzheimer’s caregivers. Do you know someone who deserves recognition for his work? Make a tribute, today. // Click here to leave a tribute

Partnership with CVS Health
Nov. 3-23
This month, CVS Health joined the Alzheimer’s Association as a corporate partner by making a three-year, $10 million commitment to the fight against the disease. In honor of the partnership, CVS Health is offering a three-week, in-store fundraising campaign at all its locations, giving you the chance to donate upon check out. // Locations vary 

2019 RivALZ
Nov. 16, time to be announced
Since 2005, this volunteer-driven, flag football event has taken place across the country in an effort to inspire fundraising, awareness and action in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease. While the Blondes vs. Brunettes competition originated in Washington, DC, the event has since grown to more than 40 cities, raising over $13 million for the cause. // Georgetown University Cooper Field: 37th Street NW and O Street NW, Washington, DC; $25 donation to play

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A $2 Drug Test Identified Bird Poop as Cocaine. But Law Enforcement Continues to Use it, and People are Being Wrongly Imprisoned

Westlake Legal Group cocaine-396751_1280-620x534 A $2 Drug Test Identified Bird Poop as Cocaine. But Law Enforcement Continues to Use it, and People are Being Wrongly Imprisoned wrongly accused Uncategorized Science prison meth law enforcement law Government Front Page Stories Featured Story Drugs crime cocaine Allow Media Exception



Do you need a hit?

Of that white powder?

That Columbian booger sugar?

I’m talking, of course, about bird poop (they have lots of birds in Columbia).

If so, you might get arrested — for possession of cocaine.

According to a Vice report, cops across America have been using the same type of $2 test to determine whether any given suspicious substance is the ol’ 80’s standby or other illegal doorways to euphoria.

And that test has come up positive when supplied with bird droppings.

Additionally, it’s interpreted doughnut crumbs as meth and vitamins as oxycodone.

Man — that’s making want a dozen glazed meth.

In every case known to Vice, drug trafficking charges were eventually dropped, thanks to further testing by a state lab.

But the initial tests — known as “presumptive field tests” — have, as stated by Vice, “a history of being almost laughably wrong — if they weren’t putting people behind bars, even temporarily. And the follow-up lab tests that eventually clear people’s names can take weeks, if not months.”

During that interim, the article asserts, some who are innocent may be scared into accepting a plea deal rather than risking worse at trial.

Furthermore, those who can’t afford bail are stuck in jail as they decide which to do.

The article spotlights Cody Gregg, a homeless Oklahoma City man. He pleaded guilty, purportedly to get out of the city’s terrible lockup. He was charged with possession after a janky test identified powdered milk as Satan’s Snow.

The guy was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

It took nearly two months of jail time before he was cleared.

Claflin University Biology Professor Omar Bagasra insists, “You cannot indict somebody — put somebody in jail — over something you know has a very high rate of false positives.”

He knows a thing or two about it — he once partook in a Marijuana Policy Project study that determined a common field test wrongly identified spearmint, eucalyptus, and patchouli as the Devil’s Lettuce.

His research team pinpointed “the serious possibility of tens of thousands of wrongful drug convictions.”

To stress their point, the group repeatedly produced false positives before the National Press Club — from common substances such as chocolate bars.

As per a 2016 ProPublica investigation, the cheapo tests lead to thousands of arrests each year.

Fortunately, they’re frequently inadmissible in court, hence the follow-up in a proper lab.

But here’s how the little critters work: An officer drops a sample of something into a small pouch, then he breaks a capsule containing compounds which ignite a chemical reaction. A few moments later, your Kool-Aid Pixie Stick may have just snagged you a deuce in the joint.

The problems with the tests aren’t unknown to the powers that be, but they don’t always trickle down:

In 2000, the Justice Department issued guidelines requesting the tests’ manufacturers include warning labels telling cops that the tests could produce false positives and therefore require appropriate training. But ProPublica’s investigation found those guidelines were largely ignored. Newer, more accurate tests are available, but police departments don’t typically buy them because they can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

“If officers are not trained to get the message that a positive drug test is more equivocal than the label would make you think, you’ll have police officers thinking, ‘Positive means it’s definitely drugs,’” said Carl Takei, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s Trone Center for Justice and Equality. Instead, a positive result means that the presence of drugs can’t be ruled out but should be weighed with plenty of other evidence before officers proceed.

The pouches’ flaws were considered — to a degree — amid the arrest of aforementioned homeless Cody Gregg:

Oklahoma City Police told VICE News that the officers did weigh other evidence in Gregg’s August arrest for possessing the powdered milk that tested positive for cocaine.

For example, Gregg had a prior history of drug convictions and ran from police when they attempted to stop him for a missing taillight on his bicycle. Once they retrieved the backpack he was carrying, they found the clear bag of a “white powdery substance” and a scale, too. All of those things factored into his arrest — not just the presumptive drug test.

Tulsa County public defender Natalie Leone claims she handles a drug case with false positives about once a month.

One such was that of Calamitous Carl:

This past May, Tulsa police found one of her clients, Carl Fisher, with a glass container of liquid that tested positive for meth in the field. Fisher, who’s homeless, was asleep in a car in a residential parking lot when officers approached him with guns drawn because they considered the car stolen. They tased him multiple times and dragged him out of the car, body-camera footage shows.

Fisher was arrested on drug charges, resisting arrest, and assault on a police officer. He was behind bars for nearly two months on what was initially a $160,000 bail before state lab results cleared him. He then remained in jail until October, when he agreed to plead no contest to the charge of resisting arrest.

So we’ve learned a few things: Firstly, don’t sleep in strange cars.

And as for your wacky substances, you’re out of luck initially, if a cheap test points the wrong way.

You may need to bolster your case to the popo. So maybe keep those vitamin bottles. And candy bar wrappers. And that doughnut box.

As it turns out, Mitch Hedberg was wrong:



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Manure Mania: North Koreans Are Fighting Over Feces As The Government Demands Every Citizen Produce 200 Pounds Of Human Waste

Tragedy In Texas: Police End Up Shooting A Woman During A Welfare Check On Her. Some Are Calling It Murder

Find all my RedState work here.

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Thank you for reading! Please sound off in the Comments section below. 

The post A $2 Drug Test Identified Bird Poop as Cocaine. But Law Enforcement Continues to Use it, and People are Being Wrongly Imprisoned appeared first on RedState.

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