American Elephants


The Inexorable Growth of Big Government Continues Apace by The Elephant's Child

us-capitol-sky-brightening-apIf you understand thoroughly the proposition that the Federal Government has no money of its own, you are on the way to economic enlightenment. It’s true, and failing to understand that simple fact leads to all sorts of economic confusion. The government gets its money—all its money — from the taxpayers.

I mention this because we are inclined to forget it when politicians are promising nice things around election time. You will have to pay for those “nice things.” That was what Democrats wanted you to ignore when they started promising health care for all, and health care for the needy. They weren’t offering health care, but only government control of health insurance, and through the 20,000 pages of regulations for the entire medical establishment, control of  the doctors and nurses and technicians and hospitals and medical equipment and services and anyone connected to the medical establishment that I forgot to mention. It was not about health, but about control.

The Democrats in Congress believed that medical care cost too much. They claimed that if they just told everybody what to do and how to do it, things would get cheaper. [Well, not really. What they really wanted was single-payer health care like the care that has been financially ruining Britain for years, but they didn't think Americans would go for it right off the bat.] If you take out all the carefully constructed language, and just flatly describe the project, it doesn’t sound so appealing at all, and with good reason.

The Affordable Care Act was supposed to make health care more affordable, but a study of insurance policies before and after ObamaCare shows that average premiums have skyrocketed  — for some groups as much as 78%.

Average insurance premiums in the sought-after 23-year-old demographic rose most dramatically, with men in that age group seeing an average 78.2 percent price increase before factoring in government subsidies, and women having their premiums rise 44.9 percent, according to a report by HealthPocket scheduled for release Wednesday….

The premium increases for 30-year-olds were almost as high as for 23-year-olds — 73.4 percent for men and 35.1 percent for women — said the study, titled “Without Subsidies Women & Men, Old & Young Average Higher Monthly Premiums with Obamacare.”

Between higher healthcare premiums, lower quality health care, higher food costs, ever more taxes — there goes the standard of living. How are people supposed to save for retirement, for their kids education, for their own home?

Democrats favor big government, not because they are particularly enamored of bigness as such, but because they keep ‘improving’ everything with more laws and regulations, which requires more workers, and more agencies and first thing you know, government has just grown bigger and bigger. I touched on this with a quotation from Rob Stein, founder of the Democracy Alliance — who candidly explained the importance of being in control of government to the Democrats, and I’ll repeat it here, because it’s important.

The reason it is so important to control government is because government is the source of enormous power,” Stein continued. “One president in this country, when he or she takes office, appoints…5,000 people to run a bureaucracy, nonmilitary nonpostal service of 2 million people, who hire 10 million outside outsource contractors–a workforce of 12 million people–that spends $3 trillion a year. That number is larger than the gross domestic product of all but four countries on the face of the earth.

So the reason we’re doing what we’re doing…and the way we get progressive change, is to control government,” Stein said. “That’s what this is about.

Ah, but there’s the rub. Philip K. Howard explains:

Modern government is designed to be a kind of legal machine.But it is badly designed. Indeed, it may be one of the worst machines ever invented. Its core flaw is that it aspires to make choices without human judgement at the moment of action. …

Grinding public decision through a legal apparatus is not the handiwork of a demented management theorist. It’s a philosophical mandate. Government decisions, we believe, must comply with what is known as the “Rule of Law.” This hallowed concept is universally regarded as the foundation of a free society.

The Rule of Law aims at making sure government uses its powers properly, in an orderly fashion, and not by the whim of some official. By drawing boundaries of prohibited conduct, law limits the scope of state power and assures citizens of a protected zone of their freedoms.

“Automatic law,” Howard says, “causes public failure. A system of detailed dictates is supposed to make government work better. Instead it causes failure.” And when things don’t work, the response of government is to make another law or add some more regulations.

The goal of preventing action by the whim of some official leads to an inability to make decisions, even truly necessary ones. Agencies have formal budgets, and the goal becomes to spend enough to use up all budgeted funds, for that makes it possible to get an increase for the next fiscal year, rather than being cut back. There is no goal of cutting expenditures.

Now and then there is a push for cutting back. President Obama proudly proclaimed eliminating the law that classified spilled milk in the farmyard as an oil spill. (EPA regulated milk as it does petroleum because of butter fat content. Ditto vegetable oil) But it didn’t go much beyond that. Philip Howard proposes a 15 year limit attached to all legislation. At the end of 15 years, a law would have to be revisited, and either renewed for another 15 years, or dumped. Makes sense to me. Congress always means well, but never ends up discarding useless laws. Anyone have a better suggestion?



American Government Grinds Slowly to a Halt. by The Elephant's Child

The essential battle takes place at the decision whether a free people should remain free or whether they need to be controlled and managed — for their own good, of course. At least that’s what the controllers believe. The Left has a deep need to control. You never know what a free person might decide to think, or to do.

If you are alert to this tendency, you begin to see it everywhere. Consider creativity. The government is sure that they can foster new ideas, but we see the result in all the wasteful grants hopeful government agencies make. Creativity is not a collective action. People must be free to make decisions, take action, decide.

The more government grows, the worse it gets. How many different agencies must sign off on one small piece of a project before the next one can even be considered? We started out with law to keep bad people from doing bad things. then we started making laws to tell people how to do things, and laws to tell people what things they must do and when they must do them, and what materials they must use and how many people they must hire and slowly, slowly, government grinds to a halt of its own weight, and it becomes impossible to do anything or get anything done. ‘

We have an outbreak of a deadly disease, and we find that those who were supposed to be in charge don’t know what to do. The hospitals don’t understand the protocols, the press demands that the president appoint an Ebola Czar, but nobody seems to know that there is already an Ebola Czar, and the new man knows nothing about medicine or disease and is not the Ebola Czar, although everyone keeps calling him that, he’s the Ebola Response Coordinator, and a long-time political hack who was chief of staff to both Al Gore and Joe Biden, which is not exactly a recommendation. And that is how government works today.

When you are a true believer with a managed, controlled people, you are sure that whatever problems come up will be solved by another law, or more regulation.  As the economy and the government grind more and more slowly, layer on a large dollop of political correctness so that no one will be offended by incorrect speech, add multiculturalism and race and gender to muck up the mix, and you are getting close to modern society.

When government becomes such a slow-grinding machine, what difference does it make if you reward your supporters and cronies with special projects or special funds. Who’s going to know and who’s going to do anything about it anyway. Then you have a president who, exhausted by Congress’s failure to do what he wants, simply takes matters into his own hands. Because nobody knows how to stop him.



Collectivism: “We’re All In This Together” Doesn’t Work. by The Elephant's Child

Andrew Klavan summed it up pretty well today:

Whatever its pretensions, whatever its claims, statism — progressivism, leftism, socialism — is based on the idea that a small elite intelligentsia can run your life better than you can. They know how to spend your money. They know how to educate your children. They know how to run your health care. They know how to protect you from yourself.

You do not have to talk to a statist very long before he will profess an intense dislike, distrust and even fear of ordinary people. Ordinary people spend money on what they want (TV’s restaurants and cars) rather than what the elite know they ought to want (aluminum foil climate change reversers). Ordinary people teach their children that God created the world rather than a random pattern of mathematic realities that came into being through another random pattern that came…  well, the elite know: it’s random patterns all the way down! Ordinary people will give jobs and business to those who earn them rather than those the elite, in their greater understanding, know are historically deserving because of past oppression. And so on.

Now, of course, with the very elite of the elite running the country, we find that — what do you know? — this statism dodge doesn’t really work all that well. And there are two reasons for this. The first is that the statist premise is wrong. In fact, ordinary people left at liberty to do as they will are actually better at running their lives and businesses and country than the geniuses in Washington. Central planning works great in the imaginations of the elite, but in the real world…  not so much.



Pipelines, Fundraisers and Campaign Cash. Canada’s Had Enough. by The Elephant's Child

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The Obama administration has been holding up for six long years, any real decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline that would bring oil from the oil sands of Alberta to Gulf Coast refineries. Approving the project would have provided 20,000 well-paying  construction jobs, boosted the economy and helped to lower the price of oil on the world market, and reduce the influence of Russia and OPEC  in world affairs. The whole project was a huge win-win for both the United States and Canada.

Well, Canada has had just about enough. They are in the process of developing alternatives —one of which is a 2,900 mile pipeline that would carry a million barrels of oil a day from the oil sands region to the ice-free port of St. John, New Brunswick on the Bay of Fundy. There it would be refined and then shipped to customers around the world on supertankers. The Energy East Pipeline is a $10+billion (US dollar)project where an existing oil superport and refinery could export that oil to world markets, including India which is hungry for more energy.

Canada has already approved their Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline to Kitimaat British Columbia, a 1177 kilometer pipeline. That one is waiting approval from the many First Nation tribes that it would cross. There is also a 710 mi long Trans Mountain pipeline system operated by Kinder Morgan Energy Partners running from Edmonton, Alberta to terminals and refineries in British Columbia, Vancouver and the Puget Sound region in Washington. Kinder Morgan says expanding the existing pipeline, which they want to do by twelve times, is cheaper than Northern Gateway.

It is hard to over emphasize how annoyed the Canadians are over our failure to proceed on a mutually beneficial project because Obama wants campaign money from wealthy ideologues. Reuters says Canadian crude exports to the United States topped three million barrels per day last week. Much of this oil is moving by rail. Without a pipeline to a refinery and supertanker port, the U.S. is virtually Canada’s only buyer. Canadians are subject to price discounts of as much as $43 a barrel that cost Canada something like $20 billion a year.

The White House’s blockade of the Keystone XL hasn’t stopped domestic Fracking or development of Alberta oil sands. Instead, the industry transports oil and natural gas with 19th century technology — rail. Seven out of every ten barrels from North Dakota’s Baaken shale move by rail, and total carloads of crude have increased 4000% since 2008.

So naturally the president’s regulators are looking at the dangers of trains. The 2003 Lac-Mégantic oil explosion killed 47 people and destroyed parts of the Quebec town, an agency called the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is imposing new rail tank car design standards. Within three years, most of the 334,869 cars in the North American fleet must be retrofitted with thicker steel jackets, heat shields, better brakes and so on. Regulators, of course, claim to be acting in the name of rail safety, but according to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) 99.9977% of potentially dangerous cargo arrives without incident.

Hardening of tank cars might prevent 0.0023% of accidents. Most (88%) of derailments are the result of cracked, split or washed-out tracks and welding. The need is for more track maintenance and inspection. The other major cause of derailment is human error. The real motive seems to be to force tens of thousands of tanker rail cars off the rails and slow the oil and gas development to which the enviros object.

Bloomberg has a long and fascinating article on Canada’s efforts to solve Obama’s intransigence over the Keystone XL, and their own need to bring their mother lode of crude oil to market. With one project, Energy East will give Alberta’s oil sands not only an outlet to eastern Canadian markets, but to global markets. Canadian oil and government interests feel they’re being played by Obama as he sweeps aside a long understood “special relationship” between the world’s two biggest trading partners to score political points with environmental supporters at home. (The Bloomberg piece includes maps that explain the pipelines).

It’s clear that his will be a huge benefit for Canada. The projects span the whole country, uniting Western oilfields with coastal shipping. The Keystone XL may still be built sometime, but failure to deal with our close friend and neighbor to the north in a timely and honest manner has deeply damaged a longstanding relationship and we missed out on jobs and economic growth for the sake of Democrat politics.



So We Are Fighting A Politically Correct War? by The Elephant's Child

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This last week,  Bill Gertz reported that “The Obama administration is failing to wage ideological war against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS or ISIS) terrorists over fears that attacking its religious philosophy will violate the constitutional divide between church and state, according to an in-depth inquiry by the Washington Free Beacon.”

“While the government has tried to counter terrorist propaganda, it cannot directly address the warped religious interpretations of groups like ISIL because of the constitutional separation of church and state,” said Quintan Wiktorowicz, a former White House counterterrorism strategist for the Obama administration.

“U.S. officials are prohibited from engaging in debates about Islam, and as a result will need to rely on partners in the Muslim world for this part of the ideological struggle,” he said in an email interview.

In his speech to the UN on September 24, President Obama asked the world body to come up with a plan over the next year designed to counter ISIS and al Qaeda’s ideology. He said ending religious wars through an ideological campaign in the Middle East will be “generational” and led by those who live in the region. No external power, he said, can change “hears and minds,” and as a result the U.S. would support others in the unspecified program of “counter extremist ideology.”

Because officials cannot engage in debates about Islam, it makes it a little difficult to clearly define the religious doctrine you’re talking about. And there seems to be a problem there. Statements by the president and administration spokesmen indicate that they don’t understand ISIS ideology, which would be a needed first step.

Most senior administration officials hold “post modern” or “secular” views, and as a result have almost no ability to understand the religious views of violent terrorists. If you don’t take religion seriously yourself, it is impossible to understand the philosophy of a suicide bomber or someone who cuts off peoples’ heads in the name of jihad.

Senior State Department officials have expressed the idea that ideology does not play a role in Islamist terror which comes from endemic causes like poverty and economic privation or social injustice.

The latest issue of the ISIS English-language magazine Dabiq reveals a bit of their logic. “The Islamic State has long maintained an initiative that sees it waging jihad alongside a dawah [proselytizing campaign] that actively tends to the needs of its people.” The magazine added that the group “fights to defend the Muslims, liberate their lands, and bring an end to tawaghit [the evil corrupt system]. It also sought to legitimize its mass executions, beheadings, and other atrocities as religiously justified responses to all opponents who refuse to submit to its ideology.

President Obama claimed in his September 20 anti ISIS strategy speech that the group is “not Islamic” because it kills Muslims and innocents, something he said no religion condones. A claim disputed by most experts on Islam.

The Obama administration, under pressure from domestic Muslim advocacy organizations, has adopted a politically correct approach toward Islam and terrorism that has removed talk of Islam from current policies and programs — instead they are carrying out policies under the less-specific and DHS-approved title of “countering violent extremism.” If you can’t even call something by its name, you’re not going to have much luck defeating it in the field.

The word Islam has mostly been eliminated from policies and programs, and discussing Islam has been placed out-of-bounds — which means that Islamist ideology cannot be addressed in a significant way. This leads to claims that the U.S. and the West are at war with Islam, which leaves our officialdom tongue-tied. How they have managed to conflate cutting off the heads of American journalists and aid workers with First Amendment constitutional religious issues shown nothing so much as the triumph of either fuzzy thought or no thought at all.

The terrorists, says James Glassman, former undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, have constructed a phony ideology and are trying to take over a whole region. The president must address that. “It is very late in the game, and he needs to devote resources, not just words, to the war of ideas.”

The administration’s point man for propaganda is Rick Stengel, a former Time magazine reporter who is now undersecretary for public diplomacy said in a recent speech “I wold say that there is no battle of ideas with ISIL. ISIL if bereft of ideas, they’re bankrupt of ideas. It’s not an organization that is animated by ideas. It’s a criminal, savage, barbaric organization.” But, oddly, recruits are flowing to ISIS, moved to join in jihad because they are inspired by their ideas.

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Armed vehicles are mostly Toyota pickups with guns mounted in the back. Not so much on ISIS bases or fighters. I don’t know if Obama is approving each strike,  as he said he might do. But we cannot say “war of ideas” and we cannot do anything to “prohibit the free exercise of religion.” Talk about fuzzy thinking!



Seattle City Council In a Fit of Political Correctness Abolished Columbus Day by The Elephant's Child

The Seattle City Council is on track to rival the Berkeley City Council for sheer lunacy. They have just declared that the upcoming Columbus Day shall be abolished in favor of a renamed “Indigenous Peoples Day.” Newly elected Socialist City Council member Kshama Sawant, is an Indian immigrant, a part-time instructor in economics at Seattle Community College, and a bit of a firebrand.

Ms. Sawant’s first big issue was the minimum wage, and she demanded that the Seattle minimum wage at $9.32 (significantly higher than the national minimum) be raised to $15.00.  It passed, but has not yet gone into effect. Highly celebrated by fast food workers and by the folks at Momentum Machines who have a robotic machine that can produce 360 custom hamburgers to order an hour, custom meat grinds for every customer, and never complains, demands a higher wage, nor more benefits or time off.

The Indigenous People’s Day idea suffers from a common Leftist delusion. They choose to judge the people of the past by today’s morality, and flawed ideas of history.  Columbus wasn’t particularly nice to the native people he encountered, but Columbus Day was never a celebration of the man, but of the “discovery” of the Americas. Columbus had nothing to do with North America, anyway. First encounters between stone age native peoples and more advanced Europeans often did not go well. Europeans assumed that illiterate people who could not speak their language or understand their ways were somehow inferior. You can be indignant about that, but it was an understandable reaction.

Contemporary Leftists sneeringly condemn George Washington, the indispensable man, without whose valor and probity, the country we love would not be the country we know today—because he was a slave owner. Slavery, at that time, was the way of the world and completely normal. Machines that replaced human labor were still far in the future.

Blacks owned slaves. Native Americans owned slaves. It was the way things had always been in the world, and was not thought to be wrong or unusual.  Oddly enough, Leftists are very contemptuous of George Washington, but have no problem with Andrew Jackson  (the Father of the Democratic Party) who was one of the largest slave owners in the South, and responsible for the “Trail of Tears” as well. They were citizens of their world and their time, and cannot be judged by today’s morality, or more properly today’s political correctness.

Canada more correctly calls their aborigines “First People,” or “First Nation,” which is more accurate. Native Americans kept slaves, took scalps, lit forests on fire for fun, fought bloody wars, and in some cases were cannibals. Human nature is messy, and that goes for all races. Some are good people, some are not. We struggle to improve, and morals change. Unfortunately, changes are often accomplished by force by the courts or by city councils or state legislatures, who take it upon themselves to force their own ideas on everybody else.

Kshama Sawant, who got her PhD in economics from North Carolina State, apparently joined a movement called “The Socialist Alternative” devoted to “Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism,” fairly recently,  and neglected the part of her economics education devoted to Free Markets and Free People — or considering the state of today’s universities, perhaps that’s just not included anymore. Pity.



They Are Not “Undocumented People” but Illegal Aliens Who Have No Right to Be Here. by The Elephant's Child

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi took issue with the term “Illegal aliens” during a Wednesday press conference. She “corrected” the reporter who used the term “illegal aliens.”

“Are you referring to undocumented people who are in the United States?” Pelosi questioned. (Can’t you just hear her? San Francisco snippy.)

The Left goes to great lengths to control the language and the words we use.  But most of us when trying to clarify meanings turn to the dictionary.

Words have meaning that is not determined by the Democratic party, but by the dictionary. In this case — Merriam Webster:

illegal, il•le•gal, adjective:  not allowed by law.
……………………………..not according to or authorized by law.

That’s pretty straightforward, and descriptive. The meaning is plain, solid fact. Do you see anything demeaning there?

alien, noun:  a person who was born in a different country and is not
………………      a citizen of the county in which he now lives. A
………………….foreign born resident who has not been naturalized
………………….and is still a subject or citizen of a foreign country.

Also, straightforward and accurately descriptive.

Ms. Pelosi is incorrect and the reporter was right in the first place. Don’t let the Left get away with changing the language to suit their aims. Did you know that most Americans do not want illegal alien children enrolled in our schools? They want those who have crossed the border illegally returned to their nation of origin. Over 70% of American Hispanics want the illegals sent home, according to Rasmussen surveys.

This is not mean nor cruel. We have a legal immigration system through which people can gain admission to the United States, and eventually become citizens. Whenever we allow one of Ms. Pelosi’s undocumented people to stay and vanish into the general population, or offer them benefits, or education, we are telling them and people in every other country in the world that we do not enforce our borders, we won’t do anything  to remove them, so everybody is invited.  The influx will not stop until we insist that it does. There is no other way. There are no half measures. It’s that simple.




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