American Elephants

Good Photoshop, Appropriate Commentary. by The Elephant's Child

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Big Government And The Invisible Hand. by The Elephant's Child

Republicans talk a lot about Big Government, when they aren’t talking about Jobs and Free Enterprise, complaining about Spending and ObamaCare, Solyndra, Fast and Furious, and Defense, and a few other things as well.  So what’s the big deal about Big Government?

The United States of America was devised as a country of free people who granted certain limited powers to their government. Politicians, being what they are, are by their very nature inclined to think that they ought to do something about whatever seems to be a problem. Liberals — or Progressives as they prefer to style themselves, since ‘liberal’ has become a tainted word — as the perpetually discontented party — are  convinced that government is capable of solving all problems.

If you are going to buy that, then you probably believe that there are real experts, that the masses of ordinary citizens aren’t too bright and need governmental help. And that’s where we get into trouble.

The private business of health insurance is not going to be so private anymore.  Insurance companies that want to raise their rates will have to publicly justify their actions if they want to raise rates by 10% or more, according to Kathleen Sebelius HHS Secretary.  The Obama administration will decide what are acceptable rates.  Maybe Ms. Sebelius can speak to the packing companies about the price of bacon — it’s really gone up!

The Obama administration will also design a basic benefits package for the private insurance companies, telling them what they must cover,  The “essential benefits package” will be designed by “independent experts” from the Institute of Medicine and will be built on mid-tier plans currently offered by small employers, expanded to include certain services such as mental health, and squeezed into a budget. Private insurance companies will be required to follow the rules if they want to sell policies to small business.  You’ll be pleased to know that officials will hold “listening sessions” around the country before final decisions are made. Uh huh.

The newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) got its first director, and President Obama has declared that” Bank of America’s decision to impose a $5 debit card fee is exactly why we need somebody whose sole job it is to prevent this kind of stuff from happening.” I yield to no one in my annoyance at the new fee, but it isn’t President Obama’s job to tell a private bank what fees they may or may not offer. All power rests in a single director. Bad idea.  Scrap the agency. There are no consumer safeguards and it’s an unnecessary agency.

There is a crisis faced by many hospitals that can’t get their hands on a growing list of both routine and life-saving drugs.  Doctors are rationing, clinical trials interrupted and black markets have emerged.  What’s happening? Lots of excuses, but it boils down to governmental ignorance of the invisible hand described by Adam Smith in 1776. The free market solves supply and demand, over time, by adjusting price. High prices call forth more supply, large volume users get discounts. It is a natural self-organizing marketplace. Instead, government experts have fixed prices by specifying Medicare reimbursement which also sets the benchmark for private insurers.  Remove the ability to raise prices when demand exceeds supply and shortages will follow.

The drive to force kids to eat the foods of which Michelle Obama approves continues. The Department of Agriculture wants to limit starchy foods to one cup a week per student. That is potatoes, lima beans, corn and peas.  Having eliminated donuts, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, soft drinks and high-fructose corn syrup they are on to new territory.  They want kids to try new vegetables. (American Samoa, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands may serve yams, plantains or sweet potatoes to meet the grains/ bread requirement).  US officials admit that the proposed regulations “may pose a particular challenge to implement.” What they don’t seem to grasp is that the federal government has no business dictating the food choices of our kids.

The Obama administration is seeking new power over hiring and firing at religious institutions.  Americans hear constantly about the threats posed by the religious right who want to offer a short nondenominational prayer at graduations or football games. The Obama administration wants to control who religious institutions can hire or fire, and are declaring that the ‘ministerial exception’ is not grounded in the First Amendment, and that the free exercise clause nor the establishment clause have nothing to do with a church’s relationship with its own employees. Injecting itself into personnel matters is way over the line.

Thanks in part to environmental rules, electricity rates are about to get double-digit increasesJust as Obama promised.  Utilities are seeking permission to pass on hundreds of millions of dollars in new charges to customers for the cost of upgrading and retrofitting power plants so they won’t emit any of the carbon dioxide  that our planet needs so much. The costs due to “tougher environmental regulations” are avoidable. They are the product of choices, most of them unsound. Trying to scrub and eliminate CO2 emissions is counterproductive.  CO2 is not a pollutant but a naturally occurring gas necessary for life.

Most of these government encroachments would take place without much notice, but when you look at the big picture, the continuing grasp for control is pretty scary.  It isn’t any one regulation, it’s the spider web of big laws and little regulations, the proliferation of agencies and departments designed to control this or that aspect of citizens lives. It is the impulse to tyranny, devised by those who think they are smarter than everybody else, think they know better what people need.  Then layer on the one “expert” put in charge, the regulations designed to favor supporters, the laws foolishly devised by those who have no idea how the economy works, and suddenly you awake one morning in 1984.

They aren’t smarter.  Their laws aren’t going to work— as has been proven over and over by the evidence they won’t bother to investigate — and the only question become can we stop it before it all collapses?

The Nobel Prizes for Physics, Chemistry and Medicine: by The Elephant's Child

The Nobel Prizes in Chemistry, Physics and Medicine have been revealed.  Popular Mechanics announced the prizes:

The first three 2011 Nobel Prizes went to scientists who helped to show how the  body’s immune system works, that the structure of crystals is weirder than  scientists had believed, and that the universe is flying apart at an ever-faster pace.

Three American-born astrophysicists will split the $1.5 million award for PhysicsSaul Perlmutter at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Adam Riess, at Johns Hopkins University, and Brian Schmidt at the Australialnl National University. This prize is a little different.  It celebrates the discovery of another mystery.  During the 90s they worked on two separate teams, Riess ond Schmidt on one, pearlmutter on aother to track how the universe was expanding.

What they expected to find was that the expansion of the universe, going on for 13.7 billion years since the big bang, was slowing, because the 100 billion universes are all pulling on one another.

But when they tracked the speed of supernovae, they saw that the universe’s rate of expansion is actually speeding up. Doubt and skepticism, but subsequent studies confirmed the find. They still don’t know why the universe is resisting gravity’s pull but expanding outward faster and faster.

The Nobel Prize for Chemistry went to Israeli scientist Daniel Shechtman at the Israel Institute of Technology who discovered quasicrystals, a chemical structure previously believed impossible. Shechtman was examining a mixture of aluminu and manganese unerr a microscope when he waw a pattern of crystals tht seemed to contradict the laws of chemistry.  Doubt and skepticism.  Shechtman was even kicked out of his research group.

Chemists believed that crystals were an orderly arrangement of atoms that formed a r epeating pattern. The crystals Shechtman saw had a different kind of symmetry — pentagonal symmetry.  This overturned a fundamental belief about chemistry. Other chemists remembered seeing similar patterns in the past, but dismissing them as mistakes. Now quasicrystals have been synthesized in labs for many years, and in 2009 the first naturally occurring quasicrystals were discovered in a new mineral in an eastern Russian river. Quasicrystals are extremely hard and poor conductors of heat, so scientists are experimenting with them for use in things like razor blades and surface coatings for frying pans.

The Nobel Prize for Medicine went to Bruce Beutler at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, and Jules Hoffman, who headed a research laboratory in Strascbourg, France, for revolutionizing our understanding of how our own immune systems protect us from disease. They discovered the receptor proteins that recognize a foreign invader such as bacteria and activate the body’s immune response. Twenty years earlier, RalphSteinman of Rockefeller University discovered dendritic cells, responsible for the next stage of our body’s defense— our adaptive immune response. Dendritic cells are present in tissues that make contact with the outside environment like the skin and lungs. They produce antibodies that destro infections. Once the infection has been destroyed, the body remembers it, and produces antibodies the next time more quickly.

These discoveries, together, make it possible to develop new vaccines to fignt infections and to encourage the immune system to attack tumors. Steinman prolonged his own life as he battled pancreatic cancer by using a treatment devised from his own research. Sadly, he passed away last week before learning that his work had been honored with a Noble Prize.  The prizes are not awarded posthumously, but because the committee had made its decision before learning of Steinman’s death the award will stand.

Student Loan Debt Needs Some Cost-Benefit Analysis. by The Elephant's Child

Many of the young protesters in the OccupyWallStreet demonstration are complaining about their huge student loan debt.  Apparently none have ever done a cost-benefit analysis. You have to feel a little sorry for young people with a hundred and twenty-five thousand dollar debt for college certification. That’s absurd. Has no one noticed that every time fhe federal government ups the Pell Grants and amounts students can borrow, tuition and costs go up? It is not an accident.

At the same time, students are graduating, fully certified, who seem to know nothing about economics, history, math or science, and may  not read well or write coherently..  Whatever happened to core requirements? The public pronouncements of many professors offer unintentional explanations for the ignorance of graduating seniors. Professors complain that high school graduates are unprepared for college work, and require too much remedial study before they are prepared.

Since 1982, the cost of attending college has increased 439 percent, more than four times the rate of inflation.  Increases in college costs exceed increases in health care costs which have risen more than 250 percent in the same time period.

Pell grants (which don’t have to be repaid) average $3,865 for the 8.3 million students who received one.  The maximum award is $4,860.  Pell Grant funding has nearly doubled in the last two years, and the Obama Administration wants another $5.7 billion. New student loan legislation passed as part of the ObamaCare Act and included $13.5 billion in mandatory Pell funding through 2012.

Andrew Gillen, an expert in higher education financing, has dubbed the  dysfunctional higher education market an “arms race” where vast resources are targeted toward non-academic purposes such as athletics, building renovations, and administrative overhead costs in order to compete for students.

Students and their parents who have forked over somewhere in the vicinity of  $100,000 to $200,000 for their diploma have high expectations for that certification. Hence vast grade inflation.  A piece in the Harvard Crimson a while back said that 77 percent of graduating classes graduated with honors. Desperate employers just want proof that a potential employee can actually read whatever written material they are given, and write in clear language.

For those who are organized and determined, there’s a perfectly good college education available for free.  Try your friendly public library. They have most of the important books, and can get you anything you want by interlibrary loan. There are documentaries and language instruction tapes.  You can even look at catalogues from colleges and universities across the country, see what they want you to read, and make up your own course of study.

President Obama wants every child to go to college.  I disagree. Many are not college material. We have some splendid examples of college dropouts in Steve Jobs and  Bill Gates.  Governor Rick Perry has asked Texas Universities if they can’t come up with a college program for no more than $10,000 a year, and they said they could.

Now that would be real progress.

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