American Elephants

The Total Absurdity of ObamaCare, Explained. by The Elephant's Child

Another comment on changing times: In 2012 and in 2013, roughly $34 billion went into venture capital deals in the United States. The cities were what you would expect, Silicon Valley, Boston, Austin, Seattle, New York and Los Angeles. Innovation is fast and varied.

One sector that is seeing a rapid drop in investment is in healthcare and devices. ObamaCare has a big medical device tax buried in it, and money has pulled back from taking a risk in healthcare while ObamaCare gets sorted out. Once again, it is all about incentives. When you tax something, you will get less of it. What Obama is taxing is not “devices” — but innovation.

What this appears to relate to is a vague idea that insurance companies are greedy rip-offs, doctors get paid way too much and hospitals charge outrageous amounts for an aspirin — which seems to be the impetus behind ObamaCare. That is, a bunch of people, with no qualifications for the job, have devised regulations — the impact of which they do not understand — for a business, the workings of which they do not understand in the slightest.

Next time you are in a doctor’s office or in the hospital, assuming it’s routine, look around and count up the “devices,” from the stethoscope around the doctor’s neck, to the examination table, the sink, the thermometer and blood pressure monitor to the $1 million CT scanner or the $4 million radiation machine. Take a serious look at one of the Stryker hospital beds.

Consider the absurdity of developing a new government-run health care plan — because health care costs too much, (a health care plan that actually increases cost and decreases care), that increases the cost of everything used by the medical profession with a tax on each item — and then expects costs to go down in the future because of medical innovation.

Hospitals across the country are engaged in cutting costs wherever they can. This will have the inevitable effect of gradually diminishing quality and care. The incentives for the medical establishment become how to get adequately paid for their services. The incentive for the government is reducing costs in a system in which they have guaranteed a rising spiral of expense.

Gibson Guitar Company Fights Back With Mockery. by The Elephant's Child

The Gibson guitar company in Nashville Tennessee was raided by the Feds in February 2012, with a SWAT-team who shut the whole company down, allegedly for possessing illegally imported wood. I wrote about it at the time because it was so absurd. A federal agency flexing its muscles — because they could. The agency experienced no restraint from the executive, who made it clear that war on the right was the mode of the day.

They confiscated stocks of tonewoods from the factory on dubious grounds, and Gibson eventually settled for a $300,000 fine, a “community service” payment of $50,000 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (?), not to mention lost business from being shut down, and legal fees. Do read the article on the settlement to see just how absurd the federal actions were. Gangster government indeed.

This is another reason why the economy has not recovered. Business does not know what the federal government might do next. What new regulations? Every agency seems to have their own SWAT team. Who is next, and on what grounds? Uncertainty.

The Feds have returned their wood, the case is resolved, and Gibson is celebrating the end of the investigation with the introduction of a striking new guitar: The Government Series II Les Paul.

From its solid mahogany body with modern weight relief for enhance resonance and playing comfort, to its carved maple top, the Government Series II Les Paul follows the tradition of the great Les Paul Standards—but also makes a superb statement with its unique appointments. A distinctive vintage-gloss Government Tan finish, complemented by black-chrome hardware and black plastics and trim, is topped by a pickguard that’s hot-stamped in gold with the Government Series graphic—a bald eagle hoisting a Gibson guitar neck. Each Government Series II Les Paul also includes a genuine piece of Gibson USA history in its solid rosewood fingerboard, which is made from wood returned to Gibson by the US government after the resolution.

I love the “distinctive vintage-gloss Government Tan finish.” A nice drab bureaucratic style. (click to enlarge)


The Facts About The Minimum Wage That Obama Forgot to Mention by The Elephant's Child

At The Federalist, 11 Facts About the Minimum Wage That President Obama Forgot to Mention.” Excellent summary.

Most interesting: A full-time minimum wage worker in 2014 will make 24 percent more than the federal poverty limit. A single individual who earns the current federal minimum wage and works full-time will earn $14,500 in a year (50 weeks per  year x 40 hours pe week x $7.25 per hour. The federal poverty limit for 2014 for a one-person household is $11,670.

One third of minimum wage workers either dropped out of or never attended high school. Educational attainment is clearly a significant factor in determining a worker’s hourly wage. According to BLS, over 36 percent of minimum wage earners — 568,000 our of more than 1.5 million — lack a high school diploma. Do read the whole thing.

In The Wall Street Journal: “The Employee of the Month Has a Battery: Minimum wage hikes are accelerating the trend toward automation — and fewer workers — in services.” (pay wall)

Ten years ago it might have seemed far-fetched that a customer could order food in a restaurant without speaking to anyone. But it’s a reality now as service employers across the country—including Chili’s, Chevys Fresh Mex and California Pizza Kitchen—introduce tabletop ordering devices. A few clicks on an iPad-like device and the food is on its way.

Technology has made these changes possible, but that’s not what’s driving their implementation. Steady federal and state increases to the minimum wage have forced employers in retail and service industries to rely on technology as the government makes entry-level labor more expensive. Now Democrats are pushing to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 from $7.25 at the behest of President Obama, who argued in his State of the Union address that the increase would “help families.” Lawmakers should consider the technology trend a warning.

When you stop and think about it, mechanization has been creeping along without our really noticing. First there were vending machines for candy and pop, eliminating a clerk, and then vending machines started offering all sorts of different things — ice machines, coin exchanges, maps and books. Cash machines, gas stations ( I can remember when gas stations had helpful young men who washed  your windshield, checked the oil, filled your gas tank and checked your tires). Now grocery stores and Home Depot stores have automated check out lines.

Tablet-based ordering is coming into vogue at U.S. restaurants: Chefs polled by the National Restaurant Association recently ranked computerized menus as the top tech trend for 2014. Airports in locations like New York City and Minneapolis now feature “restaurants” that are waitstaff-free. In 2011, McDonald’s announced it was replacing human cashiers with touch-screen alternatives at more than 7,000 European locations.

>Customers may find the new technology convenient, but the thousands of young adults who used to earn money filling these roles won’t. The data suggest employers are acting from economic necessity rather than spite. Profit margins in restaurants range from 3%-6%. They are even more modest at grocery stores, at 1%-2%.

Where this is all going, I don’t know. People are increasingly more reluctant  to have interaction with other real people. They are absorbed in their smart phones. Now we have Google glass. Surgery is increasingly done by robot. But that is done to increase precision. Jeff Bezos is talking about delivering your packages from Amazon to your doorstep by drones.

Companies must choose between increasing their prices or reducing costs to maintain limited profit margins.  It’s a Brave New World. Prepare for the burger-flipping robots from Momentum Machines that replace three full-time kitchen staff, make no wage demands and stage no walkouts.

Why Hasn’t The Economy Recovered? Here Are Answers. by The Elephant's Child

When a business wants to hire someone, they would prefer someone who has done the same job previously and successfully. Someone who wants to step up to your  company. They would be charming, have an excellent resume, excellent academic record with good grades in an applicable field, and a stunning list of notable accomplishments.  Good luck with that.

There is a cost to a bad hiring decision. According to a study by the Society for Human Resources Management, it could cost up to five times a bad hire’s annual salary. The higher the person’s position and the longer they remain in that position, the more it will cost to replace him or her. Recruiters say that if you make a mistake in hiring and recognize the mistake within six months, the cost of replacing that employee is still going to cost two and one-half times the person’s salary.

For every two students that U.S. colleges graduate with STEM degrees (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) only one is hired into a STEM job. Half of all graduates are not hired into STEM positions. Thirty-two percent say it is because IT jobs are unavailable, 53 percent say they found better job opportunities outside of IT occupations. These responses suggest that the supply is larger than the demand for them in industry. The annual inflow of guestworkers amounts to one-third to one-half the number of all new IT job holders, in spite of stagnant or declining wages.

The immigration debate is complicated and polarizing, but the implications of the data for enacting high-skill guestworker policy are clear: Immigration policies that facilitate large flows of guestworkers will supply labor at wages that are too low to induce significant increases in supply from the domestic workforce.

Only about of a third of the IT workforce has an IT-related degree. 36 percent of IT workers do not hold a college degree at all. Only 24 percent of IT workers have a four-year computer science or math degree. But then, Bill Gates was famously a college dropout. I searched for “hiring tests for high tech jobs,” and the variety of tests — aptitude, skill, social, drugs, personality — and some companies have devised their own tests of intelligence and thinking to weed out the unsuitable.

Meantime, the government is stepping in to promote “fairness.” The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has said it will crack down on employers who use the criminal histories of job applicants to discriminate against them illegally. The EEOC’s new guidance requires companies to establish procedures to show they are not using criminal records to discriminate by race or national origin. There’s some leeway for criminal convictions that are “job-related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity.”

President Obama on Friday formally announced a deal with some of the nation’s largest companies to institute new hiring practices that do not “disadvantage” those who have been jobless for several months or longer.

Companies such as AT&T, Apple, Wal-Mart, Ford and others have agreed to the president’s initiative which will also extend to the federal government and its interview process.

They just need that chance, somebody who will look past that stretch of unemployment, put in context of the fact that we went through the worst financial and economic crisis in our lifetime which created a group of folks who were unemployed longer than normal,” Mr. Obama. “All they need is a fair shot … giving up on the unemployed will create a drag on our economy we cannot tolerate.

The agreement means that companies will not favor one prospective employee over another based solely on the length of time each has been unemployed. On Tuesday Mr. Obama used executive power to hike the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 for all federal contractors.

President Obama’s closest adviser and liaison with corporate America is Valerie Jarrett, although she has no knowledge or experience to help her understand the concerns of those with whom she is dealing.  Financial sector insiders and corporate executives reportedly stopped having meetings with the White House because any such meetings were pointless. They found that Ms. Jarrett was interested only in pushing the administration’s agenda, rather than engaging in any kind of dialogue about how to foster better economic  growth. But the White House does not want input, nor do they want to work with business. They want obedience.

If you want to know why the recession has dragged on so long, why the economy has not come roaring back, the answers are all to be found here. Everything is best fixed by a government policy emanating from the White House. They know better, and don’t have to listen to the people.

Tom Sowell: The Myth of Female Pay Inequality by The Elephant's Child

The bottom line is, Michelle and I want every child to have the same chance this country gave us. But we know our opportunity agenda won’t be complete, and too many young people entering the workforce today will see the American Dream as an empty promise, unless we also do more to make sure our economy honors the dignity of work, and hard work pays off for every single American.

You know, today, women make up about half our workforce, but they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment.

Women deserve equal pay for equal work. (Cheers, applause.)

Thomas Sowell has been debunking this myth for years. The female wage gap is a major economic myth.  It is, however, necessary fodder for the Democrats’ goofy claim that there is a “War on Women.” It is also a little embarrassing that the White House actually pays the women on staff less than the men.

Democrats are looking for things with which to attack Republicans. A new Kaiser poll finds that only 24% of Americans approve of ObamaCare. Liberals are in deep trouble with the voters, and they know it. We can expect vicious attacks on every front. The best Liberal ideas are not working. The policies recommended by Republicans have a long history of success, but to the left they are hated enemy ideas to which they have always been opposed. Unfortunately for all those millions of people who have quit looking for work, the Democrats would rather continue class warfare and accusations of racism that actually try things that have succeeded with Calvin Coolidge, John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush.

Economists point out that if you want business to grow, hire, and expand you need to eliminate the problems that the government has put in their way. When we have the highest corporate income tax in the world, at a time when so many are unemployed, you have to wonder — what can they be thinking? Corporations don’t pay taxes, they pass them through to the consumer in the form of higher prices on their products.

The Left believes that everything can be fixed and improved by more regulations and more rules concocted by the wise people in government. They just aren’t as smart as they think they are.

Bad Economic Ideas Aren’t Going to Create Lots of Jobs. by The Elephant's Child

Democrats mostly don’t read Republican stuff, whether history, economics, or foreign policy. We are the enemy and our opinions and our writings are suspect. A liberal member of the family refused to read a piece I had extracted from the Wall Street Journal because he considered the Journal to be right-wing territory — even though only the Opinion page leans right and the news pages lean left. Anecdotal, of course, but typical of many on the left.

Do you suppose that many Democrats have watched the great videos of Milton Friedman explaining troublesome ideas like the minimum wage, or extending unemployment benefits. They just don’t. And they would reject it, not because it didn’t make sense, but because they were enemy ideas.

Republicans study issues to determine what works. Democrats cite studies that they believe will help them win. Republicans are looking for growth in the economy and successful strategies to get there. Democrats are looking for issues that will sway their voting groups, and testing potential language to see what words will be most effective.

Many studies over time have shown that increasing the minimum wage is an unemployment act for young people. Many states have minimum wage rates that are higher than the national minimum wage. It is meant as a starter wage for people just learning to work, not as a wage to support a family. The official poverty level for a one person household is $11,490. A full-time worker earning $7.25 an hour is above the poverty level. For a two-person household, the poverty level is $15,510, and two people earning the minimum wage would not qualify as being below the poverty level. In most cases, the person who earns the minimum wage belongs to a household where the family income is $50,000 or more. Most people who earn the minimum wage get an increase within a year. Most businesses that hire people at the minimum wage are finding it advantageous to replace workers with self-checkout aisles, and mechanization and robots will soon be replacing more. Then where do beginners learn how to work?

New research shows that extending unemployment benefits is a net economic drag. The liberal case for extension of benefits rests on the supposedly stimulative effect of greater disposable income for the unemployed. The new study conducted by economists at the University of Pennsylvania and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York contends that any such stimulus is dwarfed by the economic damage done by extending jobless benefits. People respond to incentives, and unemployment benefits reduce one’s incentive to look for a job. They allow some people to wallow in discouragement longer than they otherwise would, or encourage the recipients to wait for a better job.

The White House pays women less than it pays men.

Universal pre-kindergarten does not improve outcomes. There are modest positive effects during the preschool era, but they do not last even into kindergarten, much less through elementary years.

There is no evidence that Michelle Obama’s obesity initiatives for children have reduced obesity. Mostly, the kids won, because they hate the lunch menus.

Maybe some people spend a lot of time worrying about those who make more money than they do. It has always seemed to me that it is only a challenge to yourself. What matters is your own success at the things that matter to you. Some mothers take a part-time job so they can be home with their kids when they aren’t in school. When you retire, you and your company part company, They are through with you and concerned with current employees. When you ponder your accomplishments in your old age, it will have more to do with your family and friends than with what you did at work. I just don’t think people spend a lot of time envying those who make more money, though the federal government it insistent on encouraging envy.

“Illegals Have Earned a Right to Be Citizens” Huh? by The Elephant's Child

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson spoke to the United States Conference of Mayors on Friday. He told his audience that the approximately eleven million people who are in the country illegally have “earned the right to be citizens.” This was one of his first public speeches since being confirmed as the chief of the Department of Homeland Security in December.

“It is also, frankly, in my judgment, a matter of who we are as Americans,” he said to offer the opportunity to those who want to be citizens, who’ve earned the right to be citizens, who are present in this country — many of whom came here as children — to have the opportunity that we all have to try to become American citizens.”

They have not “earned” any such right. They are illegal. The rule of law means something in this country, and if you break it you have to face the consequences. Children of parents who break the law usually have consequences — depending on their crime. They are taken away from their parents and dumped in foster care, suffer the shame of the parent’s crime. Why are illegals who were brought here as children any different? And just how did they earn any such right?

If Mr. Johnson cannot uphold the laws of the country, then he needs to resign. We have no obligation to those who are here illegally — even though the Democrats badly want their votes. Our obligation is to those who are legal immigrants who wait their turn and come to this country according to the rules. Those people we welcome with open arms.

It’s lawlessness all the way down.

The Marvelous Michael Ramirez Strikes Again! by The Elephant's Child


What more needs to be said? (click to enlarge) IBDeditorials.

The State of The Union: Lawless and Only Selectively Enforced. by The Elephant's Child


President Obama has curiously made a habit of saying things that it is clear are merely designed to please some voting group, but not to be understood as actual fact. “If you like your health insurance you can keep it, period,” If you like your doctor you can keep your doctor, period.” And then on a number of occasions he claimed that “the average family of four will  save $2,500 a year in premiums.” He didn’t think it mattered whether it was true or not.

Now he is approaching the State of the Union Speech with an announced declaration of “universal presidential authority.” Astonishingly, that oath of office he took didn’t matter either. He didn’t mean it — the part where he solemnly swears that he will to the best of his Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. “Mr. Obama” yesterday’s Wall Street Journal tells us, “will emphasize his intention to use unilateral presidential authority —bypassing Congress when necessary — to an extent not seen in his previous State of the Union Speeches.” The “when necessary” part means when Congress does not do what he wants them to do. This is not only astonishing, but deplorable, unseemly and disgusting.

The president intends to explain to his hosts (he is their guest) how he intends to circumvent their power. He is not an elected monarch. The Constitution is designed to be a slow-moving machine in which the president is just one cog. It is intended to be slow to force honest debate and clear thought. With only a few exceptions, the machine cannot legally work without the House and the Senate whose status is equal to that of the president.

At the Philadelphia convention, with exquisite care and with delicate nuances, they devised a complex constitution that would generate the requisite power but would so distribute its flow and uses that no one body of men and no one institutional center would ever gain a monopoly of force or influence that would dominate the nation.
Bernard Bailyn: The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution

If I were running the show, which I am not, when the president announces that he will circumvent the power of Congress, in the interest of getting his own way, because he “has a telephone and he has a pen,” the Republicans would rise in a body and respectfully leave the chamber.

Garden Porn by The Elephant's Child
January 28, 2014, 6:39 am
Filed under: Art, Environment, Freedom | Tags: , ,

What could be sexier than pollination? With the weather freezing in much of the country, our weather here in the Puget Sound area is mild, but nippy (in the high 40°s) and it’s been foggy for days. Still, a nice pollination video is just what the doctor ordered. Reposted from last year.

Obama’s Approach to Economics by The Elephant's Child

One of the problems is that President Obama learned his economics from Saul Alinsky, I guess. We are not allowed to see his transcripts, so no one knows if he ever had a course in economics. He was reported to be the best student of Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals ever.

Andy McCarthy summed up the Alinsky approach in his excellent book, The Grand Jihad.

Alinskyites, though, are more sophisticated, patient, and practical. They bore in, hollowing out the system from within, taking on the appearance and argot of the heartland. Their single, animating goal is to overthrow the capitalist social order, which they claim to see as racist, corrupt, exploitative, imperialistic, etc. Everything else — including the cultivation of like-minded Islamists — is negotiable. They reserve the right to take any position on any matter, to say anything at any time, based on the ebb and flow of popular opinion. That keeps them politically viable while they radically transform society. Transform it into what, they haven’t worked out in great detail — except that it will be perfect, communal, equal and just.


The State of the Union? Not Good, Not Improving. by The Elephant's Child
January 27, 2014, 7:12 pm
Filed under: Politics

“President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night will seek to shift the public’s souring view of his leadership, a challenge the White House sees as critical to shaping the nation’s policy direction over the next three years,” the Wall Street Journal reported.

He will emphasize his intention to use unilateral presidential authority to bypass Congress when they won’t do what he wants. And he thinks that what will fix the public’s very sour view of his leadership is more failure to abide by the Constitution he swore to defend? More gangster government? Well, yes, that’s apparently what he has in mind.

Mr. Obama will stress that he intends to take unilateral action on a host of other issues: infrastructure development, job training, climate change and education. Administration officials hinted broadly at the assertive new direction Sunday.

Mr. Obama has been saying for 4½ years that he was going to save the country with “infrastructure development,” “job training,” “climate change,” and “education.” He developed no infrastructure, except an airport that got one flight a week, guardrails by a dry lake, and a sheepish announcement that there weren’t any shovel ready projects after all.

Last I heard was that there were 47 different federal job-training programs, and no evidence that they were successful in putting people to work. Mr. Obama doesn’t need to work on climate change. The climate stopped warming 17½ years ago. The climate is always warming and cooling, and there is no need for alarm. If he paid attention to what is going on, he would notice that the Europeans are getting out of the climate change business as fast as they can. They have decided that they cannot afford big investments in wind and solar energy.

Mr. Obama has repeated this list endlessly, but it means nothing. He says what he thinks will please — he tells Americans that they can keep their doctor, that their new insurance will cost $2,500 less, that they can keep their hospital, and none of that was true and he knew it when he said it.

His main issues will be immigration reform, because his business supporters want more foreign workers. If he is concerned about employment he might work on improving the employment situation instead. Hiking the minimum wage is an unemployment act for young people. In recent weeks White House adviser Valerie Jarrett has “reached out to chief executives seeking commitments that they won’t discriminate against the long-term unemployed in hiring practices.” Companies, of course, are not obligated to hire the long-term unemployed.

And, you will not be surprised to hear that Mr. Obama will attempt to follow through by hitting the road for campaign speeches in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Tennessee. He is always more comfortable when he is campaigning.

In our brilliant system, the government is constrained by a network of checks and balances. Each branch prevents the others from tyrannizing the citizenry. The legislative branch cannot make a law without presidential approval — except in the rare event of an override. Neither can a president create a law by whim — he can only sign into law legislation that’s been passed by Congress. …

Principled members of Congress should spend the next days and weeks challenging his usurpation of power in the court of public opinion — and in a court of law. Americans are not subjects of a king.

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