American Elephants

Arrogance and a Nice Baritone Voice Don’t Make Up for a Lack of Experience. by The Elephant's Child

Scary times, in more ways than one.  The marvelous Michael Ramirez captures the big one, the economic mess that an economically illiterate administration has created.  Another, that often goes unnoticed, is the enormous gap in world view and view of reality between the parties.

I am always amazed at those who claim that there is no difference between the two parties. When we speak of the parties, we are talking about politicians, and, humanity being what it is, there are always miscreants on both sides, and plenty of plain old mistakes. But the difference in worldview, understanding of history, and appreciation for the wonders of the Constitution and it’s success in preserving the American idea, creates a sharp difference.

Case in point: a column at Bloomberg by Jonathan Alter, titled “The Obama Miracle, a White House Free of Scandal.” You could almost hear jaws dropping across the country.

President Barack Obama goes into the 2012 with a weak economy that may doom his reelection. But he has one asset that hasn’t received much attention: He’s honest. …

Although it’s possible that the Solyndra LLC story will become a classic feeding frenzy, don’t bet on it. Providing $535 million in loan guarantees to a solar-panel maker that goes bankrupt was dumb, but so far not criminal or even unethical on the part of the administration. These kinds of stories are unlikely to derail Obama in 2012. If he loses, it will be because of the economy — period. …

The vigilance about wrongdoing has worked better when it comes to oversight of the $787 billion stimulus program. The money might not always have been spent on the right things. But a rigorous process supervised by Vice President Joe Biden, and made transparent with the help of, has prevented widespread fraud and abuse.

There were 1,555 comments to that column, mostly in the nature of — WTF!

On Friday, Politico published an interview with Obama’s chief of staff, Bill Daley.  Daley referred to the first three years of Obama’s administration as “ungodly” and once as “brutal.” Politico pointed out the Real Clear Politics average of leading polls that have Obama at 44.0 percent approval and 50.7 disapproval.

That is due to many factors, Daley says, and he starts reeling them off: trying to stimulate the economy; trying to save the auto industry; trying to increase the debt ceiling; passing health care legislation; fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; and dealing with Syria, North Korea, Egypt and Iran. To name a few.

“It’s been a brutal three years,” he says. “It’s been a very, very difficult three years, an incredible three years. And we are doing all this under the  overhang of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. F—k! It wasn’t like all this was happening in good times.”…

All he has to do, Daley says, is operate in domestic affairs with the same  speed, power and independence that he possesses in foreign and military affairs.

The president’s solution, Daley says, is to figure out what we can do without Congress, to push the envelope.  But Congress is even less popular than the president, so they are trying to “do something in this modern presidency that has been very much engulfed by the legislative process, Democrat and Republican over the last 40 years,” Daley said.

President Obama has said recently that he has done everything right. He is claiming a lot of foreign policy success from the executions of bin Laden and Gaddafi, and finally sending the free trade agreements with Columbia, ,Panama and South Korea to Congress after 3 years on his desk.

Peter Berkowitz begs to differ. Berkowitz, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, takes up Obama’s foreign policy in “The Importance of Being Experienced.”

President Obama’s belief in the supremacy of rhetoric has left him
particularly incapable of drawing lessons from experience. His propensity to chalk up setbacks to deficiencies in explaining himself or, as he recently put it in an interview on Black Entertainment Television, “telling a story to the American people” is hardly surprising. If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If you believe that the essence of politics is speech, then you will perceive failure as failure to communicate.

In 2008, Obama claimed—to the approval of an adoring and credulous media—that running his presidential campaign gave him the necessary experience to be president. He certainly was astonishingly successful in simultaneously appealing to progressives and moderates while obscuring his transformative goals.

But not all knowledge is equal and not all experience is fungible. Knowledge of branding and selling oneself differs from knowledge of the economy, of foreign affairs, and national security. And experience in manufacturing and manipulating words and images is no substitute for the experience of crafting wise policy and executing it responsibly.

Obamanomics has been a disaster. This has not been the worst recession since the Great Depression, much as Obama likes to claim that he inherited a disaster from President Bush. Instead of the actions that have been proven to help an economy recover swiftly, Obama embarked on a round of funneling taxpayer money to his campaign supporters, taking over the automobile industry illegally, pushing an unworkable health care plan on an unwilling public, and squandering public money on his ideological (unworkable) goals.


Paul Ryan Speaks on the American Idea, and Why It’s Under Threat. by The Elephant's Child

Paul Ryan’s speech at Heritage has been much celebrated.  It seems impossible that the American idea, which so many of us take for granted, would be under threat as never before.  The old Chinese proverb says “May you live in interesting times.” We certainly do.

We are extremely lucky to have Paul Ryan as the Chairman of the House Budget Committee.  He’s not only very good at math, good at explaining, but he understands how government works, and is willing to stand up for what he believes in. Many were hoping he would run for president, but he knows that at this moment in time he is most valuable where he can make a difference on our behalf.  We should all drop him a note to let him know how much we appreciate his efforts. He gets plenty of venom from the other side.

Chopin Barcarolle Op 60. Artur Rubenstein, 1928 by The Elephant's Child
October 28, 2011, 7:14 pm
Filed under: Music

In March of 1928, Fred Gaisberg, the famous artistic director of the Gramophone Company (HMV) persuaded Rubinstein to make a few test recordings. None would be released without the pianist’s permission. Those that did not have Rubinstein’s approval would be destroyed. Rubinstein had serious misgivings about recording because he had heard piano recordings that were made using the acoustic process which he said made the piano sound like a banjo. (Perhaps Rubinstein was speaking from personal experience. Circa 1910, he had recorded two selections for the Polish label Farorit. This recording is extremely rare and has never been reissued. There is a tape). Gaisberg told him that the new electrical system captured the piano tone faithfully.

Upon arriving at the studio, Rubinstein was disturbed to find that one of the pianos that he was to play, a Bluthner, was not a full size concert grand.. Gaisberg encouraged him to try it. Rubinstein writes, “Well, this Bluthner had the most beautiful singing tone I have ever found. I became quite enthusiastic and decided to play my beloved Barcarolle of Chopin. The piano inspired me.  I don’t think I ever played better in my life. And then the miracle happened; they played it back to me and I must confess that I had tears in my eyes. It was the performance that I dreamed of and the sound reproduced faithfully the golden tone of the piano. Gaisberg had won.”

Rubinstein went on to record several other compositions, but for some reason the Barcarolle from the March session was not released. Of the compositions that he recorded that day, only the Chopin Waltz Op 34 No.1 (recorded on a full size Steinway concert grand that also was in the studio), and the Brahms Capriccio B minor Op.76 No. 2, were released. The following month, Rubinstein returned to Small Queens Hall, Studio C London, to re-record the Chopin Barcarolle on the Bluthner that had so inspired him. It is this recording that I have placed here. (Years ago I was trying out some pianos one of which was a Bluthner. It also had a gorgeous tone.)

In his biography “Rubinstein, A Life,” Harvey Sachs writes that this recording of the Barcarolle is “amazing in its mixture of quiet intimacy, melodic splendor, mounting eroticism and dazzling explosions of joy.

Is It A Company’s Responsibility to Create Jobs? by The Elephant's Child

An article in the Wall Street Journal today (subscription barrier) tackles the question : Are Companies Responsible for Creating Jobs?, and posits that question as one particularly raised by the Occupy Wall Street protests. Writer John Bussey stipulates that the agenda of the demonstrators is a fuzzy one “ranging from income inequality to poor housing to executive pay.”

 I am, thank goodness, far removed from the protests, so I know only what I have seen in photographs and videos, but the common conception of the protesters as young people and students is inaccurate as well. Lots of old-line communists, middle-aged sixties leftovers, socialist literature and Ché tee shirts, but they may not be camping out. Pavement is hard on old bones.

There is an enormous amount of confusion about creating jobs. President Obama clearly believes in government as a job creator. Others complain about American businesses sitting on mounds of cash, yet not observing their social responsibility to create jobs. Mr Bussey’s article is quite fair and states what the polls show as well as Milton Friedman’s take on the question:

Milton Friedman, the Nobel laureate economist, blasted the very idea of corporate social responsibility four decades ago, calling it a “fundamentally subversive doctrine.” Speaking for many capitalists then and now, he said, “there is one and only one social responsibility of business—to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game.”

Companies shouldn’t spend profits on unrelated job creation or social causes, he said. That money should go to shareholders—the owners of the companies. Pronouncements about corporate social responsibility, he added, are the indulgence of “pontificating executives” who are “incredibly shortsighted and muddle-headed in matters that are outside their businesses.” And that indulgence can lead to inefficient markets.

If a job is created, who pays the bills?  Each job comes with a salary or pay scale, and most add the cost of assorted benefits and taxes. When a new government job is created, it does indeed put food on the table of the new worker, but that salary, those benefits and the food on the table are paid for with taxpayer dollars — not ‘government money’ for in America there is no such thing as government money — for it all comes from taxpayers, and is a drain on the economy.

Who pays for jobs in the private economy? The job is a cost to a business. It is paid out of the profit. Profit is not a bad word, it is the only reason for a business to exist. If a business does not make a profit, someone still has to pay for the costs. That is the reason behind layoffs and the reason behind bankruptcy. Companies create jobs when they expect growth in the economy that will pay for the ongoing cost of the job, and when there is a real need for someone to do the work that the job entails.

Obama’s failed American Jobs Bill proposed to deliver a $4,000 tax credit, one time, for businesses that created a job for someone who had been unemployed.  Even if the job paid only around $25,000 a year, the employer is on the hook for benefits, FICA, unemployment insurance, as well as all the office space, equipment and amenities that the job requires. Why would Obama believe that a one-time $4,000 tax credit would be an incentive for a cost that continues for years?

Jobs are created by a growing economy, not the other way around.

So the question is not how do you create jobs— the question is how do you create a growing economy? You don’t do it with infrastructure banks, nor with government jobs programs, nor by turning government into a venture capitalist to support fledgling businesses that real venture capitalists find too risky.  Creating jobs does not lead to growth and prosperity.  Growth and prosperity create jobs. A growing company has more work than its employees can complete. A growing company needs more hands, more experience and more ideas.

According to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Americans spent 8.8 billion hours filling out government forms in fiscal year 2010. Those hours are sucked out of the productive economy — whoever filled them out was paid for their time. A new regulation for grocery store food labels to indicate which foods are healthy foods would entail endless hours complying with the regulation and endless dollars in expense for producing new lables.When you have government offices full of people who have never worked in a business, they do not understand the costs their ideas involve. At $20 an hour, those 8.8 billion hours wasted on compliance activity would come to $176 billion, which is way more than the cost of stimulus jr. that Obama is trying to flog through Congress.

We have a president and an administration that want to create jobs for the unemployed; they just don’t get how it is done, and they have a mindset that refuses to accept the ways to create a growing economy. They despise corporations, think they have too much power, and cannot conceive reducing the corporate income tax (the world’s highest), reducing regulation (corporations are evil and must be controlled), cannot conceive of a corporation that would not pollute unless forced (by wise regulations) to save the planet.

Conservatives keep explaining how growth is created, and liberals keep turning it down. Go figure.

The Long Nose of Government is Inserted in Your Grocery Cart and in Your Pantry. by The Elephant's Child

More people are planting gardens or raising a few hens, planning to enjoy the bounty of their own fresh food. Not so fast, the judicial system has something to say about that:

You grow a garden; you expect to be able to harvest the food from that garden and eat it. You raise a cow; you expect to be able to milk that cow and consume the milk. You raise chickens; you expect to gather eggs and eat them. It’s uncomplicated, simple, a fundamental right. Perhaps you wouldn’t feel this way if you lived under some other form of government, but here, now, in America and other democratized countries, this is what you expect.

According to Wisconsin Judge Patrick J. Fiedler, you do not have a fundamental right to consume the food you grow or own or raise. The Farm To Consumer Legal Defense Fund, the pioneers in defending food sovereignty and freedom, recently argued before Judge Fiedler that you and I have a constitutional right to consume the foods of our choice. Judge Fiedler saw no merit to the argument and ruled against the FTCLDF. When they asked him to clarify his statement, these were his words:

“no, Plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to own and use a dairy cow or a dairy herd;”“no, Plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to consume the milk from their own cow;”

“no, Plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to produce and consume the foods of their choice

As the judge interpreted Wisconsin law, only a’ license holder’ or an individual ‘who has a bonafide ownership interest in the milk producer’ can make milk available. This seems to be a ruling to conform to the government idea that no one be allowed to drink raw milk.  For those of us who were raised on raw milk this seems especially offensive.

We didn’t use raw milk out of a prejudice against pasteurization, but because it was the only thing available. We bought our milk from a neighboring rancher, and did without when the wild onions came into bloom.  No dairies. There are large groups of people who, for whatever reason, seek out raw milk because they believe it to have some healthier qualities. I don’t understand that either.

The groups supporting raw milk seem to have an unwarrented faith in anything “natural” or “organic,”which if you consider the alternative “unnatural foods” shows a little of how silly these designations are. And yoou’d better check with your doctor before getting into any “natural” cures.

Governmental interference, however, is increasing. The new, new thing is a program to change the labels on food in the grocery store (They never understand that changing labels is not free, but an enormous expense) to indicate which foods are healthy, and which contain too much sugar, salt, fat, trans-fats, corn syrup,or flavor to be considered, by the feds, as healthy. I added the ‘flavor’ to the list because by the time  you eliminate all the other stuff, the food won’t have any flavor anyway.

What this should indicate is offices in the federal government establishment that are ripe for elimination by the Deficit Commission, since they are offices that clearly don’t  have enough real work to do. And the Deficit Commission is having a terrible time trying to find spending that they can eliminate.

How about a new protest movement?  We march on Washington DC to demand the cuts that would cut the government back to size. Members of Congress may have a hard time finding anything to cut, but ordinary citizens would have no trouble coming up with things we can do without.

Class Warfare, Self-Reliance, Envy and The Benefits of Income Inequality by The Elephant's Child

President Obama’s suggestion that if he loses the 2012 election “it might herald a painful era of self-reliance in America,” is still bothering me.  Self-reliant people are those we call — adults. And how interesting that he would come up with that as he praises the Occupy people, proposes to reduce the payments on student loans (by an impressive $10 a month), and in every way suggests that Americans are children who must be cared for.

This is why Liberals promote class war. Hate and envy for “the rich;” the Occupy people separate themselves into the 99% and the 1%.  The 1% are the rich — who deprive the 99% rest of the country — of what? Their money? Their possessions? Their influence?

Well, excuse me. I don’t care to be grouped in any 99% with the economically illiterate freeloaders drumming and chanting in squalor.  They do not represent 99% of anything. There are around 330 million people in the United States.  If you had an Occupy protest in two cities in each state, you would have to have 33,000 deadbeat occupiers at each protest to equal 1% of the 330 million people in the country.  They are just the other not quite 1%.  They have an exaggerated idea of their own importance, but tourists do come to look at the squalor.

Their motivating ideas seem to be their own student loans, or their unemployed state, or just general lethargy. In general the motivation seems to be the idea of increasing inequality. Since the poor cannot get poorer (though this is probably false, since we have very affluent poor, as demonstrated by their iPads and iPods and laptops) if the gap between rich and poor grows, then it’s no fair— the rich must be getting richer. In this recession, the rich aren’t as rich as they used to be either.

The whole thing, however, assumes that equality would be a good thing. Why would anyone assume that? Is it unfair if the fellow who worked long hours all his life to get an advanced education, build a business, and make it grow becomes richer than the deadbeat who dropped out of high school, dabbled in drugs and petty crime and never held a job for long?

Liberals have long focused on inequality and the unfairness of it all.  They cannot get their minds around the idea that inequality might possibly be a good thing.

I am a great admirer of Richard Epstein, Professor of Law, Scholar at the Hoover Institution.  He was invited as a contrarian speaker to the PBS News Hour’s series on “Inequality in America”, making sense of economic news.  This is not a video I can embed here, but here is the link. Professor Epstein is wonderful to listen to, explains clearly why economic inequality is a good thing.  It is a marvelous video, and great fun to watch the PBS host’s head explode. (They must wish they never invited him). Poor interviewer Paul Solman is flummoxed, incredulous, unbelieving!  How would anyone say such things!  But, but.. It’s great fun, and you may want to watch it several times to catch all of Epstein’s ideas.  PBS probably never heard such ideas before.

More College Graduates Aren’t Necessarily a Good Thing. by The Elephant's Child

President Obama stopped in at the University of Colorado on his Wednesday campaign swing, to urge thousands of college students to make their voices heard:

Young people, I need you guys involved. I need you active, I need you communicating to Congress, I need you to get the word out. Tweet `em. They’re all tweeting all over the place, you tweet `em back.

“The president took off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves on the last stop on a 3-day fundraising swing through the West that mixed high-dollar fundraising with new announcements of modest executive actions to circumvent Congress,” reported the AP.

We can’t wait for Congress to do its job, so where they won’t act, I will. I am going to do everything in my power to make a difference for the American people, but Denver, I need your help.

So to get the help of young people, Obama plans to have taxpayers pay for student loans.  He has a lot of opportunity in this area because he early on had the federal government take over the student lending business in America.  He claimed the measure would be a cost-savings measure, saying that the old system of privately-issued, government guaranteed loans reduced the amount of money available for needy students and prevented the feds from making the system more efficient.

Now he is using that new power to obtain a taxpayer-financed stimulus that Congress would not approve.  The idea is to cap student loan rates at 10 percent of a debtor’s income that is above the poverty line, then limiting the life of the loan to 20 years.

So assume that Jerusha Jones gets into Old Ivy University and borrows, in a government loan, the$200,000 she needs to get an undergraduate degree in women’s studies.  Her repayment schedule will be based on her earnings.  If she opts for public service and takes a job as a city social worker earning $25,000, her payments will be limited to $1,411 a year after the $10,890 of poverty-level income is subtracted from her total.  After twenty years at that rate, taxpayers would get back just $28,220 of their $212,000 loan to Jerusha. [Example shamelessly borrowed from Chris Stirewalt because he already did the math.]

Student debtors will be able to refinance and consolidate their loans on more favorable terms, so they pay less.  You can see how this is a major cost-saving measure, for the students at least.Though according to a report on the radio news, student debts from years previous to Obama’s term in office would not be eligible .

This is coming at a time when many economists are warning of a college debt bubble that is distorting the entire picture. Cheap credit on easy terms increases the amount of money chasing the diploma, allowing schools to further increase prices — which have been hugely outpacing inflation for years. Tuition and fees at public four-year colleges and universities jumped 8.3 percent this year. Private, non-profit colleges raised tuition and fees 4.5 percent — still twice the rate of inflation.

So Obama can run up the national debt with a stimulus that Congress would not pass, and buy the votes of gullible college students. He plans the same trick with underwater mortgages — raising the debt by executive order to lower homeowner’s mortgage payments.

Government interference has enabled colleges and universities to raise their rates to ridiculous levels. And of course each institution raises their rates in line with everybody else. Did you never wonder why there isn’t a splendid example of someone holding down costs? Schools have added administrative staff, built new facilities, landscaped, added climbing gyms, theaters, and elaborate labs. Also grade inflation, fun classes, silly studies, and graduates that can’t read well, write clearly, or have any understanding of history.   Go figure.

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