American Elephants

You’re Paying The Wages of Deadbeats. Make You Mad? by The Elephant's Child
March 31, 2013, 11:33 pm
Filed under: Capitalism, Economy, Law, Taxes | Tags: , ,

One of my most frequent complaints is that the people in government think of the funds they have to expend as “government money.” They do not recognize it as the fruit of the labors of the rest of us, the money we didn’t have to buy those new shoes, the trip we didn’t get to take, the new appliance we decided would have to wait.

Most taxpayers file accurate tax returns and pay the taxes they owe on time. But figures show that more than 100,000 federal employees owe more than $1 billion in federal taxes. What they get to spend is “government money,” what they are supposed to pay — they will just put off. We have had some examples from Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and others who have had to quickly pay up before assuming office. That is really setting a bad example.

Apparently federal employees not only don’t have to pay their taxes, they don’t always have to actually go to work, or work at all. A House committee has introduced legislation that would require the firing of government workers who are “seriously tax delinquent.” We need a definition of “seriously.” Democrats on the committee opposed the bill.

According to Washington DC radio station WTOP, about 312,000 employees owe the government a total of $3,519,410,517  in unpaid 2011 taxes.( A surprisingly large number of them in the White House). The number has increased by more than 11 percent since  2011. The number of delinquent civilian taxpayers is the highest since 2005. Roughly 9.8 million people work for the federal government. Now we learn that — not only are they not paying their taxes — they aren’t going to work either.

Too Many Administrators, Not Enough Students. by The Elephant's Child

The news has been full over the past few years of a flood of politically correct nonsense emanating from our public schools, large amounts of it to do with a zero tolerance policy for guns, violence, or anything threatening.

So we have had small boys removed from school for biting a Pop Tart into the shape of a gun (more a case of non-artistic bites, he was trying for a mountain). Small children have been banished for drawing pictures of guns, bringing the inch-long guns from toy soldiers to school, decorating a cake with toy soldiers, the silliness goes on and on. Teachers and administrators are unable to distinguish between a real gun and a plastic squirt gun, or a picture of a gun.

Now some clues to the absurdity are emerging. In the last 20 years, the number of K-12 administrators has increased 2.3 times faster than the number of students in school, according to the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. Teacher employment has also outpaced student growth, though not as rapidly as the numbers of administrators.

Since 1950, administrative positions at K-12 schools have increased by 700 percent— seven times faster than the growth in student enrollment. Benjamin Scafidi, a senior fellow at the Friedman Foundation and associate professor at Georgia College& State University said there is scant evidence that such an employment surge has done anything positive for student achievement.

The burden of proof is now on those who still want to maintain or even increase the dramatically larger staffing levels in public schools,

 The expansion in numbers is a clear clue to increasing bureaucracy, increasing busy work, more rules. If there are not increasing numbers of students to justify a need for more administrators,  then somebody is doing some empire building, and you have to find work for the new people to do.
Colleges and universities are suffering from similar administrative bloat. Even as the numbers of administrators have increased, the average workload for professors has declined, leading to higher costs per student. Between 1988 and 2004, there has been a 25 percent decline in the course load for professors. The American Council of Trustees and Alumni and Education Sector produced a study that estimates that more than 80 percent of tuition increases could have been prevented if universities simply maintained the same course load for instructors. A pretty sad commentary for all those young people graduating from college with no employment prospects and immense student loans. The study’s author said:
If education loads had not declined, and universities used that savings to offset tuition increases, they could have not done 54 percent of the tuition increases.
For those who work in  higher education, the incentives prioritize research over instruction. Grants go to those who can write a good grant proposal. Of course much important research is done i our universities, but you will also find some startling examples of research grants that are held up as examples of funding that should have been dumped, in place of sequester cuts Obama has made. I suspect that Obama had no idea that there would be so many prime examples of waste and malfeasance paid for by the taxpayers.

Sunshine and Blue Sky, Oh My, Oh My. by The Elephant's Child
March 31, 2013, 8:01 pm
Filed under: Freedom, Heartwarming | Tags: , ,

This was a glorious day in the Puget Sound Region. After a l-o-n-g, dismal winter of grey skies, drizzle, and more grey skies, it was over 60°, sunny, and a cloudless blue sky. Northwesterners were out on their bicycles, sailboats, on foot, in parks and on the beach.  Cherries, plums and magnolias all in bloom. It seems like a different world.

You Can’t Go Hunting In a Walmart Parking Lot! by The Elephant's Child
March 29, 2013, 8:28 pm
Filed under: Environment, Humor, Law, Terrorism | Tags: , ,

A man in Indiana County, Pennsylvania is facing several charges, after wildlife officers say he went deer hunting in a Walmart parking lot. Where I grew up they used to call that “buck fever.”

Arcangelo Bianco Jr. dropped by the Walmart Plaza last November. He spotted a 10-point white-tailed deer in the parking lot.  “He got out of his car and chased the deer down through the parking lot, and I believe even across Route 22,” said the Indians County District Attorney.

According to charging documents, the deer ran around a corner of the store, and Bianco hopped out of his truck, pistol in hand and “began firing multiple rounds at the deer.” Concerned shoppers called 911 to report a man with a gun running through the parking lot.

Mr. Bianco faces a misdemeanor count of reckless endangerment, as well as several hunting violations, including hunting without a license, shooting on or across highways and unlawful killing or taking of big game.

Obviously you can’t run around a Walmart parking lot firing a handgun with people all around.

I remember when I was a kid, a pickup pulled up in front of the lumber yard in our little town and a guy jumped out and began shooting up the street. He was sure he saw a deer at the end of the street about a block away. Wherever there are hunters and deer season begins, there are funny stories about someone with buck fever.  And the folks who don’t hunt exercise a little more care about venturing into the woods, until the season and the fever have passed.

How To Catch The Easter Bunny. by The Elephant's Child
March 29, 2013, 6:23 am
Filed under: Heartwarming, History, Humor, Sports | Tags: , ,

Re-posted from last Easter:

You need some preparations first. The Easter bunny comes in the early morning hours, right at dawn, when the sun is just coming up and the dew is still shining on the grass. You have to find a likely spot which seems as if it might be a bunny path. You will require a standard bushel basket, a long straight stick of kindling, and a good strong straight pin or slender nail. And you will need a nice fresh young carrot with its greens still intact.

You must set up the trap the night before Easter, just when it is about to get dark. Turn the bushel basket upside down, and prop up one side with the stick of kindling. Attach the carrot so it hangs on the front of the stick of kindling. You many have to take the kindling out and attach the carrot with a hammer.  It must be well attached, and yet still look enticing. When the Easter bunny comes hopping along, he will spot the carrot right away. Bunnies cannot resist nice fresh carrots. When he takes a bite of the carrot, the stick of kindling will fall and the basket will land on top of the bunny, and he is captured.

Then he needs only love and care.  Bunnies are particularly fond of carrots, of course, and soda crackers, and rabbit chow, grass and clover.

It always worked for me. You can tell if it is the real Easter bunny because he will have a blue ribbon around his neck.


What Did the Founders Mean By Advice and Consent?” by The Elephant's Child

“The Constitution of the United States of America, Article.II., Section . 2. …(First part makes the President Commander in Chief, require reports from officers in executive departments, and power to grant pardons)…He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors,other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law…”

Here’s my question: What did the founders intend by “Advice and Consent of the Senate?” Republicans in the Senate usually seem to think that a president should have whoever he has picked unless — what? Granted, the Republicans are in the minority, but does the two-thirds requirement not apply to appointments? Democrats filibustered Robert Bork, not because he was unqualified— for he was undoubtedly one of the most qualified men ever appointed— but because he was conservative. Same thing when George W. Bush appointed John Bolton Ambassador to the U.N. Bush reappointed him during a recess, and he was a wonderfully effective ambassador.

So why have Republicans in the Senate consented to the appointment of President Obama’s nominees? Worst bunch of nominees I can remember, singularly unqualified, of radical leanings, (which is why they were appointed), and sure to damage the country.  It’s hard to pick out just one or two who should be filibustered., or who is the worst.  Rand Paul’s filibuster was greatly admired, but essentially just getting the Attorney General to back down in his language, and trivial in the long run.

I understand that Republicans are a minority of 47 to the Democrats’ 53, with two Independents. Were the Founders serious about Advice and Consent? Did they not expect it to be taken seriously and used to rid us of poor nominees?


The K-12 Implosion: by The Elephant's Child

This video is based on Instapundit Glenn Reynolds Encounter broadside by the same name. Our schools are not doing a good job. That is hardly news, it’s been going on for years, but it seems to be getting worse. We know we don’t fare well in international comparisons. Our schools are far more concerned with absurd political correctness than with drilling the basics of reading and math into small heads.

Private schools seem to do a better job — but think about it— if they don’t, families won’t pay the tuition. And teachers’ unions, proclaiming “it’s for the children,” fight tooth and nail to prevent any real innovation. As one national head of the teacher’s union remarked, ‘when the kids start paying dues, we’ll be for the kids.’ (paraphrased)

So why can’t we learn from the countries who are doing so much better than we are? Why has the left been so intent on dumbing down the schools? Why do they get so excited over a kid eating his Pop Tart into the shape of a gun (when he was trying to make it into a mountain)? It’s because our public schools have become a giant bureaucracy. There are more administrators than teachers. There are more rules than there are children. We put too much emphasis on the wrong things. The left keeps trying to indoctrinate our kids. Teachers who enter the field full of passion lose the passion all too soon. Parents who home school are getting better results than the public schools. Kids are graduating from high school who cannot read.

School choice seems to be the best answer we currently have — just get them out of the public schools. Then what? See Glenn Reynolds’ The Higher Education Bubble as well.

ADDENDUM: How about this one? “In Corpus Christi Texas, Kara Sands noticed a question on her son’s fifth-grade test “Why might the United States be the target of terrorism?” Possible answers were: (A) Other people just don’t like Americans (B) Decisions we made in the United States have had negative effects on people elsewhere (C) Terrorists hate everyone, (D) None of the above.  The “correct” answer was (B) although any other choice might have been closer to the truth.  What happened next?

A Big Victory for School Choice, and For the Kids. by The Elephant's Child

Indiana has had one of the country’s largest and most inclusive school voucher programs. Naturally, the teachers’ unions objected. The Indiana Supreme Court ruled unanimously yesterday in Meredith v. Pence that the Choice Scholarship Program (CSP) is constitutional. This is a great victory for the families currently participating in the program and for the 600,000 children who are now eligible to receive scholarships to attend a private school that meets their unique learning needs. The court sided 5-0 with educational freedom. The Institute for Justice notes that:

the unions’ legal claims focused on two types of constitutional provisions that are common in most other state constitutions: 1) provisions requiring that states provide a “general and uniform” system of public education; and 2) provisions forbidding state support of religion.

The court answered the provision prohibiting state support of religion:

the unions’ legal claims focused on two types of constitutional provisions that are common in most other state constitutions: 1) provisions requiring that states provide a “general and uniform” system of public education; and 2) provisions forbidding state support of religion.

The Indiana ruling ends the challenge to the voucher program in the state, but also is an important victory for school choice, and “solidifies the growing body of case law supporting school choice and exposes the flaws in the teachers’ unions’ favorite legal claims.

The court’s declaration the CSP reflects “the private, independent choice of the parents’ perfectly encapsulates the concept of school choice. It builds on the notion that public education doesn’t have to mean government-run schools. School choice is about funding children, not institutions, and allowing children to take their share of funding to an educational environment that meets their unique learning needs.

History, Told by a Participant. An Explanation of the Cold War. by The Elephant's Child

Here is a fascinating take on Grenada, Poland and the Pope — and the history of the Cold War. This is from a lecture Herbert Meyer recently gave to the Young Americans Foundation on the occasion of the 100th birthday of William Casey, Ronald Reagan’s extraordinary CIA director. I was so interested in this (he’s a good storyteller) that I wish I had been there to hear the whole speech. And the next segment is equally good.  So who is Herb Meyer?

Herbert E. Meyer served during the Reagan Administration as Special Assistant to the Director of Central Intelligence and Vice Chairman of the CIA’s National Intelligence Council. In these positions, he managed production of the U.S. National Intelligence Estimates and other top-secret projections for the President and his national security advisers. Mr. Meyer is widely credited with being the first U.S. Government official to forecast the Soviet Union’s collapse — a forecast for which he later was awarded the U.S. National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal, which is the Intelligence Community’s highest honor.

Steven Hayward has posted these three videos over at Powerline, and his comments are certainly worth reading in their entirety. We are so apt to have little knowledge or understanding of fairly recent history, because we have always to a certain extent been low-information voters. I don’t use the term in a pejorative way. We are all busy our lives and work and activities and keeping up with news, politics and world affairs is why we elect representatives to do it for us, as they make the laws that will govern our lives. (Our hope is that they will do a better job of it than we do. Uh huh). But how many, even of those who lived through it, have any real understanding of the Cold War?  Steven Hayward said:


Bill Casey

American Cold War policy might be said to have begun with the famous “Long Telegram” from George (“Mr. X”) Kennan, and then NSC 68, the equally important strategy document written largely by Paul Nitze.  Both of these documents routinely find their way into nearly every history of the Cold War that has ever been published.

But a third document deserves to take its place next to Kennan’s “Sources of Soviet Conduct” and Nitze’s NSC 68: Herbert Meyer’s November 1983 memo to Casey (and Reagan) on “Why the World Is So Dangerous.” ¹ It was in this remarkable document that Meyer predicted that the United States under Reagan was on its way to winning the Cold War, and why.  His analysis of what was going to happen in the USSR (before Gorbachev, remember) was dead on.  The memo was later leaked in an attempt to embarrass Casey and Meyer (and Reagan, of course), but we can see who ended up embarrassed.  The CIA bureaucracy sniped at Meyer, but Casey told Meyer: “Not to worry.  You have two important fans and allies.  Me, and the president.”

Meyer’s description of Casey explaining why being a member of the Soviet Politburo in the 1980s was “not a lot of fun.”

¹ Herb Meyer’s memo is hard to read. It says “OCR scan of the original document, errors are possible.” Which is an understatement. But it’s kind of interesting to take run-together words apart and translate where they are missing.  Worthwhile anyway.

The Most Persistent Economic Fallacy of All Time by The Elephant's Child
March 26, 2013, 10:53 pm
Filed under: Capitalism, Economy, Freedom, History, Taxes, The United States | Tags: ,

Milton Friedman, lecture in Erie PA 1978

We are troubled by economic fallacies that seem so reasonable, yet just don’t work. Milton Friedman was wonderful at explaining with great good humor just why they are fallacy. Thank goodness so many of his lessons have been preserved.

The Polar Bears Are Just Fine! by The Elephant's Child


Biologist Susan Crockford gives us ten good reasons not to worry about polar bears.

1. Polar bears are a conservation success story. Their numbers have rebounded remarkable since 1973, and there are more polar bears now than there were 40 years ago. Polar bears join a long list of marine mammals whose populations rebounded spectacularly after unregulated hunting stopped: sea otters, all eight species of fur seals, walrus, elephant seals, whales (grey, right, bowhead, humpback, sei, fin, blue and sperm whales.

2. The only polar bear subpopulation that had a statistically significant decline in recent years is the one in Western Hudson Bay. A few others have been presumed to be decreasing based on suspicions of overharvesting, assumed  repercussions of decreased sea ice and/or statistically insignificant declines in body condition— not actual population declines.

Figure 1. A map of the 19 polar bear subpopulations (courtesy the Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG), with a few additional labels).

3. Sea ice in the Bering Sea has rebounded from record lows over the last ten years, a good reason not to be worried about polar bears in the Chukchi.  A recent survey suggests that Chukchi bears are doing very well. Sea ice coverage has been higher than average.

4. A survey by the Nunavut government in 2011 showed polar bear numbers in Western Hudson Bay have not declined since 2004 as predicted and all available evidence indicates that Hudson Bay sea ice is Not on a steadily precipitous decline.

5. Population decreases in bear numbers attributed to earlier sea ice breakup in Western Hudson Bay have not been anywhere near as severe as the catastrophic decline that took place in 1974 in the eastern Beaufort Sea, which was associated with exceptionally thick sea ice.

6. Polar bears need spring and early summer ice (March through June) for gorging on young, fat seals. Documented declines in sea ice have rarely impinged on that critical feeding period.

7. There is no plausible evidence that regulated subsistence hunting is causing polar bear numbers to decline.

8. Global temperatures have not risen in a statistically-significant way in the last 16 years, a standstill not predicted by climate models, and a phenomenon even the chairman of the IPCC has acknowledged. This suggests that the record sea ice lows of recent years are not primarily due to CO2-caused increases in global temperatures. Such changes in Arctic sea ice appear to be normal habitat variations that polar bears have survived before.

9. Survival of polar bears over a hundred thousand years of variable sea ice coverage indicates that biologists who predict a doomed future for the bears have grossly underestimated its ability to survive vastly different conditions than those that existed in the late 1970s when Ian Stirling began polar bear research.

10. Polar bears are well-distributed throughout their available territory, which is a recognized characteristic of a healthy species.

Polar bears have evolved into a highly efficient predator of ice-associated seals. They are excellent swimmers compared with other bear species, the use the sea ice to travel, hunt, mate and rest. They have adapted to the annual loss of sea ice in the summer by migrating onto land. While there, they cannot hunt seals and must rely on their fat reserves to see them through until the ice returns. Though I assume they eat fish and berries.

Polar bears can swim for long distances (60 miles or more). Arctic sea ice grows in the winter and melts in the summer. Polar bear science is surprisingly new, and there is much that we don’t know about the species yet. Counting them is hard and inaccurate.Female bears have been tagged, but you can’t collar male bears as their necks are bigger than their heads.

The bears are very beautiful, and the cubs cute as can be, which is probably why environmentalists got all panicky about declining numbers. In general many  supposedly endangered species turn out not to be endangered. Many times declining numbers are due to unregulated hunting or uncontrolled predators. Preservation of species is complicated,  and we’re just beginning to get the hang of it. This is derived from a much longer and more informative post at Anthony Watts’ wonderful What’s Up With That website, which explains sea ice and  what we know about bears and climate.



Obama’s High Speed Rail Boondoggle by The Elephant's Child

When Barack Obama was elected to office, he seems to have been little interested in fixing problems, but rather in the really big accomplishments that would crown his presidency. Health care, such as it is, was one. Another was a network of high speed railroads connecting America’s major cities. It is apparent how little Obama was interested in the financial crisis that was wreaking havoc on the economy. That was Bush’s fault, and Obama was irritated to have to devote energy to cope with it.

Die-hard Keynesians don’t care how government spends money to boost the economy as long as it gets spent. With the stimulus, it was assumed that was taken care of, and the government could get on with more important things.


Here is Obama’s vision, a 1970’s era technological marvel on which we would spend all sorts of money, curing the economy in Keynesian fashion, and creating a suitable monument to the Obama presidency in the process.  Not going to happen.

Florida’s Governor Rick Scott said that the only thing high-speed about what Obama envisioned for his state was the guaranteed rate of cost overruns that Florida would be stuck with. So, he declined. We’re now down to two corridors, the obvious Northeast one where anything beyond the slow pace of highways can be considered progress, and California.

California is the nation’s most populous state, where people have shown not the slightest interest in abandoning their cars. There are 22.7 million licensed drivers in California, but 32 million motor vehicles. Jay Leno accounts for some of the extras, but not all. I have lived in Los Angeles, and you can drive for nearly three hours in any one direction without leaving the city. That’s spread out. The original estimated cost was around $45 billion, but without a foot of track being built, the estimate is already up around $100 billion. They also estimated that about 10,000 people would ride the high-speed railroad between Fresno and Bakersfield every twenty-four hours.

Railroad enthusiasts boasted that the trains would go upwards of 200 miles an hour, which is half the speed of airline jets that travel the same transportation corridor, departing every few minutes from a number of airports at both ends of the state.

Here in Washington state, we got $800 million from the federal government to improve the track between Seattle and Portland. It has shortened the trip by 10 minutes. You can go cheaper and faster by Greyhound. The “high-speed”varies between 50 mph to 79 mph. It is my understanding that you cannot have a high speed train that operates at high speeds and a regular-speed freight train on the same track, but I’m not sure of that.

We are currently awaiting the enjoyment of having much of our streets torn up to accommodate light rail, which was vote in by large numbers of people who had no expectation of ever riding it themselves but thought it would be nice for the others. It’s gone to court over routing, but blasting through a well settled neighborhood too close to existing houses, won out over using a recently abandoned railroad grade that stands empty and does not affect existing neighborhoods.

The usual plaintive cry is something about “Don’t you want a twenty-first Century city?”

%d bloggers like this: