American Elephants

Class Warfare: How the Game is Played! by The Elephant's Child

President Obama can’t let go of the executive jet theme.  He must regard an executive jet as a fat cat accessory that will really offend ordinary folk.  The left is deeply invested in “equality” and most of their policies are designed, in theory, to make people more equal — except, of course for those bright, dedicated, incorruptible people in government who will decide — everything.

A corporate jet is meant to get executives to corporate meetings, corporate locations with as little wasted time as possible. Yes, they are expensive.  Corporate executives’ time is expensive. Attacking corporate jets is attacking an important American industry which employs thousands of Americans. Guess who gets hurt? Not the executives, but the people who design, build and sell airplanes, who face layoffs, lost sales, a damaged industry.

The left maintains that inequality in the U.S. has increased dramatically in recent decades.  Since 1979, they claim, only those at the top have seen their income rise significantly.  Thirty-six percent of all after-tax gains went to the most affluent 1% of the population.  Over 20% of those gains went to the top thousandth (0.1%)of the income distribution. Thus, they say, Economic inequality in the U.S. is now greater than at any time since the beginning of the Great Depression.

Why is this important? The poor have not been getting any poorer. Zero remains zero, if the poor earn no income.  The definition of the poor has changed, because the government “poverty line” below which one is “poor” keeps being raised to include more people. So although more people may now be considered “poor” their situation is not getting worse.  We have all sorts of programs to make sure that the poor don’t have to live poor, and statistics show us that they don’t. The poor are not poor because the rich are rich.

More importantly, the poor, over time, are not the same people. Young people, going out on their own for the first time are usually poor, share living quarters and work in beginning jobs. Over time, they move up. The rich also are not the same people over time. You can check that out on Forbes‘ annual list of the richest people in the country and in the world. People move in and out of the list quite regularly.

At the upper end of the income distribution, you have Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs, and many others. Has the definition of “the rich” changed since 1979?  Oh yeah!  Bill Gates and Steve Jobs (and a lot of others) labored in a new industry that went from strange little machines that only geeks were interested in, to putting computers into most homes, offices, schools, stores and laps. They were in the right place at the right time with the right ideas. Some people are lucky and skillful enough to bring all three elements together.

That has happened many times, over and over in history. The fact that some people get rich doesn’t deprive anyone else. They usually create a lot more wealth for others.  There is not a money pie wherein if one person gets a bigger slice— everyone else gets cheated. When growth like that happens, the economy expands. We’ve had oil barons, cattle barons, railroad barons, movie moguls, rock stars, and on and on. There are new things out there waiting to be invented that will make other people rich.  Are we supposed to hate anyone who becomes rich through his own efforts or his own luck?  Why?

Wealth and poverty are the result of choices: hard work, persistence, determination, education and luck. If a young person graduates from high school, waits to get married until after they have graduated from high school, and waits to have a child until after they have married, in general, they will do alright.

A new study from the Pew Research Center trumpets a new wealth gap between Whites, Blacks and Hispanics.  “The median wealth of white households is 20 times the median wealth of black households and 18 times that of Hispanic households.”  Call this playing politics with statistics.  A “median” number is just the number in the middle, not an average.

The collapse of the housing market and the recession took a far greater toll on blacks and Hispanics than on whites. Much of the housing bubble was caused by government policies that encouraged minorities to buy homes that under normal prudent rules of lending, they would not have been able to afford. Most of the wealth of blacks and Hispanics was in their home equity, and they were hit hard.

The study is based on an economic survey distributed by the Census Bureau that compiles data about household wealth by race and ethnicity.  Plummeting home values were the principal cause of the erosion in wealth among all groups, with Hispanics the hardest hit. A disproportionate number of Hispanics were located in California, Florida, Nevada and Arizona, states hardest  hit by the decline in housing values. Blacks and Hispanics have also been harder hit by unemployment numbers in manufacturing and construction.

Expect this study to make political  headlines across the country.  A president who is already anxious to  campaign on class warfare and the race card will not be able to resist.

A growing economy would change the picture.  How do we get a growing economy? Stop wasteful government spending, and remove the regulation and uncertainty that are hamstringing business.

Set them free.

Senator Marco Rubio Speaks on the Debt Crisis. by The Elephant's Child

This young Senator is an impressive addition to the Senate.

We’ve got three things going on. One is, of course the debt limit. We have to raise it to allow the government to borrow enough to pay the bills that we have already racked up.

Senator Rubio clarifies the second. The government is spending $300 billion a month.  The government receives $180 billion each month. And each month they need to borrow $120 billion. These are round figures, but close enough.

The third element is the rating agencies who have said that they will downgrade our credit rating from AAA if we don’t get our spending under control. They aren’t interested in the debt ceiling, but only in seeing that we are making a serious effort to get the spending under control.That shouldn’t be difficult  with our bloated, wasteful government.

The battle continues.

Overcriminalization: You May be the Next Felon! by The Elephant's Child

For decades, lawyers, academics and government officials have attempted to count the total number of federal criminal laws. The best attempt was way back in 1982, when Justice Department lawyers undertook the effort as part of a long and ultimately failed campaign to persuade Congress to revise the criminal code, which by the 1980s was scattered around among 50 titles and 23,000 pages of federal law. They were trying to expose the idiocy of the system.

The effort spanned two years, and in the end produced only an educated estimate of something around 3,000 criminal offenses. Subsequent efforts by computer searches didn’t produce a specific estimate.

John Baker, a retired Louisiana State University law professor who has tried just counting the number of new federal crimes created in recent years said:

There is no one in the United States over the age of 18 who cannot be indicted for some federal crime.  That is not an exaggeration.

Even those who have never attended an auto race, like me, are probably familiar with the name Bobby Unser, three-time winner of the Indianapolis 500.  He also survived sub-zero blizzard conditions in the mountains and faced down every challenge until he encountered the U.S. Forest Service.

Uh huh.  Eddie Leroy Anderson of Craigmont, Idaho is a retired logger, a former science teacher and now a federal criminal.  In 2009, the 68 year-old Mr. Anderson and his son went hunting for arrowheads near a favorite campground of theirs.  They didn’t find any arrowheads that day, but unfortunately they were on federal land.  The law, the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979, doesn’t require criminal intent and makes it a felony punishable by up to two years in prison to attempt to take artifacts off federal land without a permit.

The two men, faced with that reality pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and got a year’s probation and a $1,500 penalty each.

The Andersons are two of hundreds of thousands of Americans who are charged and convicted in recent decades under federal criminal laws — as opposed to state or local laws — as the federal justice system has dramatically expanded its authority and reach.  As the laws have increased,  it has become ever easier for Americans to end up on the wrong side of the law. Many laws set a lower standard for conviction than in the past. Prosecutors don’t necessarily need to show that the defendant had criminal intent.

The first federal criminal statute, signed into law April 30, 1793 listed just a few offenses: treason, counterfeiting, piracy and murder, maiming and robbery in federal jurisdictions.  It’s easy for legislators to respond to the cry of  ‘We need a law,” and much more difficult to pause and realize that perhaps we don’t really need another law. And when Big Government grows so bloated and intrusive that ordinary citizens become federal felons over something that they had no conception could even be a law— can we whittle down the size of government and particularly the intrusiveness, or are we doomed to all end up in prison?

There are many organizations working on trying to remedy the situation, and several authors have detailed the problem.  If you want to see if you are at risk:

One Nation Under Arrest by Paul Rosenzweig and Brian W. Walsh
Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent by Harvey Silvergate
Go Directly to Jail: The Criminalization of almost Everything by Gene Healy

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