American Elephants


The Current Measles Outbreak Is “100 Percent Connected” To The Anti-Vaccine Movement! by The Elephant's Child

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The majority of current measles cases in 14 states are linked to an outbreak traced to Disneyland. Reported in Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Washington State. From January 1, to January 28 there have been 84 cases reported— representing 64% of reported cases, according to the CDC

In 2014, the U.S. experienced 23 measles outbreaks, totaling 640 cases, including one large outbreak of 383 cases, occurring predominately among unvaccinated Amish communities in Ohio. Many of the 2014 cases were associated with cases brought in from the Philippines.

measles-cases-616pxIn spite of cases brought in from other countries, the U.S. seemed on the road to eradicating the disease entirely.  2014 saw the worst outbreak in two decades. What happened last year? More than 13,000 parents nationwide claimed on forms that vaccinating their children from preventable diseases like measles violated their “personal beliefs.”

Before 1963, when the measles vaccine became available for public use in the U.S., there were more than 500,000 reported measles cases every year, according to the CDC. On average 432 cases a year resulted in death. After an effective vaccination campaign, that number shrank to 86 measles cases by 2000 with zero fatalities.

Measles is one of the most infectious diseases on record, incredibly contagious among those who have not been vaccinated. The virus can linger on surfaces for up to two hours, and before those infected have any symptoms they can be spreading the disease. Aside from the blotchy red rash, you can get pneumonia, croup and diarrhea. The worst complication, which only occurs in about one in 1,000 cases is encephalitis which can lead to permanent brain damage or be fatal. The elderly or children under five are more prone to complications.

The current outbreak is “100 percent connected” to the anti-vaccine movement among the ill-informed. Most children are required to receive vaccinations to attend schools, but misinformed parents cite ‘health,’ ‘religious’ or ‘philosophical’ reasons in order to get an exemption. They are not only putting their own child at risk, but many other children as well. Oddly enough, it’s some of the wealthiest communities that are most unvaccinated, and have the most cases, like Marin County, California. and Orange County in Southern California, where unvaccinated students are not allowed to attend classes. Bad parenting.



Dang! Taxing the Rich Is Harder Than Obama Thought! by The Elephant's Child

Oops! President Obama’s scheme for redistributing wealth by taxing 529 Plan distributions when they were actually withdrawn to pay the tuition bill, was just cancelled. Somebody told him that really rich people don’t save their money in a 529, they pay the tuition for their kids out of petty cash. It’s the middle class who have to save up, and it was a struggle.  This wealth redistribution bit is more complicated than one might assume.

When you want to garner votes by giving people stuff, it has to be paid for — somehow. If the support for your political party depends on giving voters free stuff, then you have to take the cost out of someone else’s pocket. As the Wall Street Journal pointed out:

The move is a setback for the president. He sought in the run-up to last week’s State of the Union address to reframe a long-running debate over the tax system by issuing a set of proposals to address middle-class anxiety over wage and income stagnation. …

But the blowback over his call to scale back the tax advantages of 529 plans showed the political difficulty of making such changes.

A White House official said the 529 proposal was “a very small component of the president’s overall plan to deliver $50 billion in education tax cuts for middle-class families. We proposed it because we thought it was a sensible approach, part of consolidating six programs to two and expanding and better targeting education tax relief for the middle class.”

The main reason why college costs are so high is that the federal government keeps upping the amount that students can borrow. That frees up the universities to raise tuition and hire more administrative staff, add some more amenities like climbing walls or improving the landscaping. And professors expect to be better paid. After all they have PhDs and look how much those corporate CEOs and government bureaucrats make!

There comes a point when people would rather be free than have their votes purchased with free stuff that only costs them more in the long run. But it takes a while to learn that. Liberals never learn that lowering taxes brings in more money, that less regulation sparks creativity, or that the free market does a better job of figuring out what works and what doesn’t.  Pity.

You really can’t get more money by increasing taxes on “the rich.” Wealthy people have lots of options, and lots of legal ways to shelter their money, and they can hire the best accountants and lawyers to help them do it. Works better to let them keep more of their own money — they will invest it in growing businesses, building things and hiring workers. And that makes the economy grow.



Handwriting, Printing, Cursive or Keyboard? by The Elephant's Child

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The late Richard Mitchell, the ‘underground grammarian’ wrote that “the business of writing is to stay put on the page, so you can look at it later and see where you have been stupid.”

I learned in college that handwritten notes help you to learn. The act of writing helps to fix things in your mind. Now comes a study from researchers at Princeton and UCLA that shows that taking notes on the computer is detrimental to learning. Handwritten notes are dramatically more effective at helping students retain information. Laptop use can negatively affect performance on educational assessments, even when the computer is used for its intended function of easier notetaking.

The majority of students would tell you just the opposite. Yet the study shows that students who take direct notes retain significantly less information. In recent years, the public schools have decided that children will do all their writing on a computer and they need only learn keyboarding. Cursive is out. Children not only don’t learn to write, they don’t learn to read handwriting.

Most adults who have learned cursive as children abandon it as adults for a mixture. The fastest, clearest handwriters join only some letters, making the easiest joins, skipping others, using print-like forms of letters whose cursive and printed forms disagree. I switched to a mixture in sixth grade—I remember distinctly because I got in trouble for it with a teacher who was a Palmer-method purist. I was lucky to have a father and an aunt with impossible handwriting, which I mastered, and I have seldom been stymied by anyone’s handwriting.

The benefits of handwriting, learning cursive, is shown to improve brain development in the areas of thinking, language and working memory. The physical act of writing leads to increased comprehension and participation. The College Board found a few  years ago that students who wrote the essay portion of the SAT in cursive scored slightly higher than those who printed, which experts believe is because the speed and efficiency of writing allows students to focus on the content of their essays.

If you are an opponent of Common Core, cursive is no longer included in the Common Core State Standards, which I believe to be an important mistake.



Increased Communication: Blessing or Burden? by The Elephant's Child

4986d76bc1365c018aa601e6a4ed1a52 It was just 100 years ago Sunday that the first commercial transcontinental phone line opened on January 25, 1915. Alexander Graham Bell made the call to his assistant Thomas Watson.

Only 39 years earlier, Bell had spoken to Watson in the first phone call ever, in Boston — just after Bell had  patented the telephone.

By 1915, the American Telephone and Telegraph Co. network crossed the continent with a single copper circuit 6,800 miles long. It could only carry one call at a time — but hearing another person’s voice from the other side of the continent was truly astonishing. There were already 8.6 million phones served by AT&T, but the first intercontinental call was a major public event. The call went from New York to San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition., where they were celebrating the completion of the Panama Canal.

We are inclined to forget that, for example, our founding fathers if they wanted to communicate with someone at a distance, had to send a rider carrying a message. Their days were uninterrupted by such things as the telephone, a radio, TV, computer, cell phones that we take with us so we don’t spend a moment unconnected.

We are so accustomed to multi-tasking and a constant flow of voices and opinion, sales and entertainment, that we don’t recognize the loss of silence, uninterrupted contemplation, time to think deeply. That blessing greatly contributed to the care that went into the writing of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution itself, and that clear thought, perhaps impossible today, may well be why it has lasted so well.

The current presumption is that all our equipment will go away and we will have wearable technology or implants so that we are never, never disconnected.

That must be contrasted with what seems to me our increasing inability to deal with the information age. What has come along with the increased flow of information is too much choice, and way too much stuff for which the word “information” does not really apply. Our educational system is not yet directly addressing information management, how to select that which is important, how to tell truth from falsehood, sense from nonsense, and how to form, from that flow, a life-enriching body of knowledge.



“Middle Class Economics” Also Known as Income Redistribution by The Elephant's Child

Obama is in the sixth year of his presidency, and he has just discovered that the middle class is not doing so well. So he wants to take up what he calls Middle Class Economics. He seems to describe his economic programs based on their origin, so middle class economics begins with the middle class and expands outward to benefit everyone. Just how this works is unclear.

The number of food stamp beneficiaries exceeds 46,000,000 for the 38th straight months. Republicans consider this a shocking comment on the continued slow recovery. Democrats consider it to be a remarkable accomplishment. It ‘s worthwhile to keep that difference in mind.

Another problem afflicting the middle class is stagnant wages. We are just not seeing the growth in wages that we should  six years after the official end of the Great Recession. Some would attribute that fact to a plentiful supply of workers looking for jobs, but the Obama administration wants to go directly to the cause. They will just force employers to pay workers more.

Hence Obama plans a massive expansion of overtime, raising the cut-off for overtime from the current $23,600 to $50,000, a significant jump— time-and-a-half for anything over 42 hours, and of course he’s got the employers over a barrel on the other side with ObamaCare penalties.

Have you been saving money for the kids’ college education? The money (already taxed) that you put into a  529 plan might have had the audacity to grow, so it’s only fair that you tax the growth — Right? And just in case they have missed anything, they want to raise taxes on capital gains. And he ‘s still plumping for an increase in the minimum wage.

Republicans would consider any request to raise taxes dead in the water, but just what Mr. Obama might attempt to do by executive order remains an unknown.

Nobody thought he’d try to do the things he already has done by executive order or executive memo which is the same thing and carries the same force of law.

Nobody is quite sure what to do with a president who deliberately ignores the constitutional separation of powers. He’s supposed to see that the laws are carried out, and the Congress is supposed to make the laws. The Judicial branch is not supposed to be making laws either, but that’s a separate story.



There’s More Than One Kind of Bubble! Here We Go Again! by The Elephant's Child

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No More Keynesian Economics, Obama is Turning the Page! by The Elephant's Child

Obama’s State of the Union speech claimed 2014 as a “breakthrough year for America,”with a growing economy and job creation at the fastest pace since 1999. Clever word tricks. If you count only jobs created, which he does, and leave out the jobs destroyed, the people who are so discouraged that they have dropped out of the workforce and  the growth in the population — you can get some pretty good job creation numbers, but they are meaningless except to fool the folks who don’t pay attention.

At this moment — with a growing economy, shrinking deficits, bustling industry, and booming energy production — we have risen from recession freer to write our own future than any other nation on Earth. It’s now up to us to choose who we want to be over the next fifteen years, and for decades to come.

It’s clear that all the happy talk did not resonate with the American people, who are seeing something different from the news of the day.

Mr Obama then began to make his pitch for “Middle Class Economics.” Unfortunately he tried to make it with Rebekah and Ben Erler of Minneapolis. Rebekah turned out to be a campaign staffer who he has used for “evidence” before.

At every step, we were told our goals were misguided or too ambitious; that we would crush jobs and explode deficits. Instead, we’ve seen the fastest economic growth in over a decade, our deficits cut by two-thirds, a stock market that has doubled, and health care inflation at its lowest rate in fifty years.

Middle class economics, he said, is the idea that this country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone lays by the same set of rules. He really likes that phrase, it’s been in every speech for years. And it is meaningless. What is a “fair shot?” What is doing your “fair share?”

Apparently you don’t have to do anything, for the government will give you money. Paid sick leave, higher minimum wage, quality childcare, free community college, and if you have managed to save up for your kids’ college in a 529 plan (with money that has already been taxed) he plans to tax the distributions when you take it out to pay for the tuition.

It’s all a game of gotcha. Taxing 529 plan distributions is not going to pass Congress. The average account size of assets in 529 plans is $20,671. Saving that much up in a troubled economy is a real accomplishment. Why would you tax the same money once again?

So there you have “Middle Class Economics.” The right hand giveth and the left hand taketh away. It isn’t really supposed to accomplish anything, it’s just supposed to sound good.




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