American Elephants


Recessions, Depressions, Recoveries, Repudiations and Pretensions. by The Elephant's Child

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Obama has been working hard to emphasize how much he has done for the economy. He took a victory lap when he announced that the 2015 deficit will be only $483 billion.

‘The deficit has gone down by two-thirds since I was president of the United States,” President Obama said, calling his budgeting “responsible.”

My understanding is that the deficit has gone down because John Boehner outfoxed Obama in the negotiations regarding the sequester. Remember Obama’s attempt to stop the sequester spending cuts by shutting down national parks, airports and food-safety inspections? The decrease is a big deal, because under Obama’s fiscal management the debt had risen by more than $7 trillion — including the three largest deficits since World War II. Federal deficits don’t usually decrease, they just grow, and grow.

The Democrats have, in general, believed in Keynesian economics and the value of pumping money into the economy where it will circulate and like other noxious contagious diseases — multiply. Obama inherited a recession, added $830 billion in deficit spending right off the bat. Then the auto bailouts, cash for clunkers, green jobs, renewable energy, subsidies, food stamps, increased unemployment insurance, ObamaCare, and now, besides amnesty, he wants to give out free Community College, free sick leave, and undoubtedly some other goodies he will surprise us with on Tuesday night in the SOTU. He likes giving away stuff we have to pay for. Makes him feel magnanimous. He also wants to raise taxes on the rich. But that’s just an attempt to portray Republicans as the party of the rich, because he knows Republicans won’t raise taxes. (See the  last paragraph)

He’s restored full diplomatic relationship with Cuba, although he can’t do the embassy and ambassador part without Congress, and it’s not at all clear how this benefits anyone but the Castros, who have been trading their doctors for Venezuelan oil. But the Castros welcome our generosity, and our surrender.

It’s getting really hard to tell what is real and what is not. Improving employment numbers are touted, but then you find out that a larger number of potential workers have dropped out of the workforce. Jobless claims rise to 316,000. If the number of people receiving unemployment payments drops, it may turn out to be because they used up their benefits, or perhaps they retired.  And the number of Americans of working age no longer in the workforce keeps climbing. That number of people 16 years of age and older who are not employed and not making an effort to find employment hit a record 92,898,000.

So the numbers of employed are a segment of a larger and larger number of dropouts, and new jobs are a segment of a smaller and smaller work force. And in the meantime more young people are entering the work force, but not finding jobs. How do you get any real numbers out of that moving and growing ill-defined multitude? Of course you don’t, and the president will simply tell you what he wants you to hear anyway, and the media will repeat it until you’ve got it.

The big claim was about the big jump in GDP growth in the fourth quarter to 5%. Finally, the press announced, the Recovery! Except that number was apparently phony, since they did some tricks with the numbers — and the increased consumer spending and confidence turned out to actually be the higher costs of ObamaCare.

Numbers just out say that retail sales for December were down by 9%. and more American businesses are dying than new ones are starting up.

The good news is that the big reduction in the price of gas is a savings for every family budget, and will reduce some of the costs of business. Obama will undoubtedly take credit for that, though he has fought fossil fuels with everything he and the EPA could come up with.

You have surely noticed how often President Obama has referred to the Great Depression of the 1930s. He likes to compare his depression to President Roosevelt’s. Trouble is that his recession ended in June of 2009, while Roosevelt’s went on until World War II. Our political leaders have always tried to claim it was the result of capitalism run amok, but it was the result of Roosevelt’s bad  policies and endless tinkering.

But did you know about the Financial Crisis of 1920-21? The situation was grim, unemployment had jumped from 4 percent to nearly 12 percent, and GNP declined by 17 percent. Despite the severity of the contraction, the Fed did not try to turn the money supply around and fight the downturn.

Instead, Harding cut the federal budget nearly in half between 1920 and 1922, He slashed tax rates for all income groups. The national debt was reduced by one-third. And then he allowed the economy to adjust. No pump-priming, no increased expenditures. Just the old-fashioned view that government should keep taxes and spending low and reduce the federal debt. And so he did. And the economy swiftly recovered, and hardly anyone knows that there was a recession in 1920-21. So there you go.

ADDENDUM: I corrected a spot in the third paragraph where I said deficit when I meant debt. My bad. It’s confusing enough without my brain freezes. I regret the error.



A New Antibiotic is a “Game-Changer” in The Fight Against Antimicrobial Resistance by The Elephant's Child


A report from the United Kingdom government estimated that by 2050, antibiotic resistance would cost the world a projected 10 million lives, and $8 trillion a year.

Projections of the future don’t always turn out to be accurate, but the current state of antibiotics is indeed dire. In the U.S alone, antibiotic -resistant bacteria infect more than two million people  year, killing around 23,000 of them. Bacteria evolve to resist our drugs faster than we can discover new ones. Researchers at Northeastern University have discovered a new antibiotic that may buy us some time.

Antibiotics are discovered in a variety of places. Penicillin came from moldy bread. The first member of the cephalosporin class was discovered in a sewer in Sardinia (and you thought your job was bad). Erythromycin comes from a class of bacteria called actinomyces. Tetracycline was originally isolated from a fungus that grows in soil. Many of today’s drugs were first isolated from a wide variety of natural products, such as plants and marine organisms.

It is something that is derived from soil that is all over the news—a novel new antibiotic called Teixobactin—that was is isolated from soil by a clever new method which has implications far beyond this particular drug. It’s being called a “game-changer” which could open up a whole field of natural products research. About 99 percent of soil microbes are “unculturable”— they could not be grown in laboratories. Resistance to Teixobactin is not believed to develop for at least 30 years. It operates by a different mechanism that seems to make the generation of resistant mutants more difficult.

It’s not perfect, it kills only gram positive bacteria, not the tougher gram negative variety, but it offers a lot of new possibilities, and hope for future discoveries.



Harvard Professors Are Furious About the Cost of ObamaCare by The Elephant's Child

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Sometimes the Democrats are simply a gift that keeps on giving. Unions did everything in their power to get the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed, and then they found out how it actually affected them and they started screaming. Now it’s the Professors at Harvard. Harvard health experts helped to craft the law, and now they are finding out that it actually affects their own pocketbooks.

Harvard administrators say that ObamaCare pushed them to make cost-saving — for Harvard — changes to their health benefit plan.

Harvard provided ridiculously generous benefits to its faculty. Elizabeth Warren is said to have been paid $400,000 a year for her position on the Law School faculty as an ‘ethnic minority.’  Tuition, room, board and fees for  2014-2015 year for the student who pays full freight, adds up to $58,607. Harvard’s endowment falls just between the GDP of Jordan and Latvia at $36.4 billion. So you can see that one could reasonably expect generous benefits.

Now these poor faculty members face a $250 deductible and out-of-pocket costs that could top out at $1,500. Imagine!

Harvard economics professor Jerry Green complained to the New York Times that this is “equivalent to taxing the sick” — completely exposing why no one should study economics at Harvard. By Professor Green’s comparison, making people pay for food is the equivalent of “taxing the hungry.” Will this horrid experience with ObamaCare cause the Harvard faculty to look a bit more askance at Big Government proposals?

Don’t count on it any time soon.



In a Difficult Climate, Republicans Have Some Stellar Accomplishments! by The Elephant's Child

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I wrote a couple of days ago:

Conservatives everywhere constantly wonder what is the matter with the left, and try to find a satisfactory answer. We just had what can fairly be called a “wave” election.  Republicans will control the House of Representatives by 247 to 188 Democrats. They will control the Senate, by 54 to 44 with 2 independents. The GOP controls the governorship and the legislature in 23 states compared to 7 states for the Democrats. Legislative power has slipped from the hands of the American left.

This is a marvelous accomplishment. Even if you give all the credit to Obama’s policies (He did say that his policies were on the ballot) instead of to the Republicans, it is something to celebrate. Yet what I am reading and hearing is how awful John Boehner is, and that the Republicans should dump him. This is not the people’s choice, it’s the choice of the members of the House about who they choose to lead them.

Back in October, the House had passed more than 200 bills, which Harry Reid promptly tabled, and the Senate passed a mere 59 bills. That’s possibly a record low. I think the Senate ended up passing 111, and the House over 400, but I’m not sure of those numbers. The point is that bills do not become law with just the vote of the House.

Much has been made of the fact that we won the election, and how come they didn’t repeal ObamaCare, slash the national debt and stop Obama’s executive illegal immigrant amnesty? Doesn’t work that way. Even with both House and Senate, a bill does not become law without the president’s signature, or enough votes to override his veto.

Did you notice that John Boehner outsmarted Obama in the 2013 budget negotiations and because of John Boehner federal spending has declined over a five-year period for the first time since the post World War II cutbacks. The sequester has decreased total federal spending 1.5%-2.0% in real inflation-adjusted dollars, and it will do the same in 2014.

Largely because of Boehner, and also the much maligned Mitch McConnell, the unfolding catastrophe of ObamaCare is fully a Democrat disaster. There has not been a single Republican vote for any part of it. They own it! That may be the reason Republicans regained the House and Senate.

Obama has told our enemies publicly just what our strategy will be and when we will leave the battlefield, which has made every military person cringe. John Boehner does not reveal Republican strategies in advance. His job is not to lead the nation, nor to act as a cheerleader for the conservatives or the establishment — but to weld a bunch of fractious politicians into a political band that can accomplish as much as possible in difficult circumstances. That means accepting losses where they are inevitable, horse trading, and trying to squeak some important stuff through in spite of the odds.

Nearly two million fewer Americans are receiving jobless benefits than a year ago, in part due to the elimination of an extended benefits program last December. Economists on both left and right agree that generous jobless benefits keep people from looking for work and discourages employers from offering work. Businesses have to pay higher wages to urge people away from benefit programs, and taxes go up to pay for the benefits.

The Cromnibus bill, that 1,603-page bi-partisan $1.2 trillion federal funding bill prevents the EPA from regulating farm ponds under navigable waters legislation. Not a big deal? Andy Johnson received a state permit to build a little dam to create a watering hole for his cattle along the Six Mile Creek that crosses his property. He did not get a separate permit from the Army Corps of Engineers because the creek flows into the Black Forks River which flows into the Green River which the EPA had designated under the 1972 Clean Water Act as a “navigable interstate water of the United States.” Fine from the EPA — $75,000 per day! The EPA’s attempted power grab is both far-reaching and outrageous.

The EPA can’t implement a White House proposal to cut dairy industry methane emissions by 25% by 2025. Their attempted listing of the greater sage grouse and the Gunnison sage grouse as endangered can’t be done until studies prove it necessary. There’s the poultry poop posse attempting to regulate chicken poop, and  an order to limit cow plop to eliminate 500 liters of individual cow emissions of methane. Reined in.

Obama promised $3 billion to poor countries in retribution for climate damage caused by our fossil fuel pollution — that got cut. Even Michelle Obama was reined in — school lunch programs will not be restricted by standard low-sodium and whole-grain menus. Kids will be relieved.

I complain a lot that this regulation business is getting out of hand. Credit John Boehner tor reining them in and for doing some hard bargaining.



Bewilderment And Anger From The Left! What Went Wrong? by The Elephant's Child

Conservatives everywhere constantly wonder what is the matter with the left, and try to find a satisfactory answer. We just had what can fairly be called a “wave” election.  Republicans will control the House of Representatives by 247 to 188 Democrats. They will control the Senate, by 54 to 44 with 2 independents. The GOP controls the governorship and the legislature in 23 states compared to 7 states for the Democrats. Legislative power has slipped from the hands of the American left.

“Never have liberal ideas been so firmly entrenched within America’s core elite institutions. Never have those institutions been so weak and uninfluential,” said Walter Russell Mead. Democrats were sure that the policies they believed were good government would assure eternal liberal success, instead they turned out to be political poison.

Eric Alterman, a reliable man of the Left, writing in the Nation, cited two core reasons for the disaster — ObamaCare and immigration amnesty.

The Affordable Care Act and the executive order expanding the rights of undocumented immigrants were certainly the right thing to do from the perspective of Democratic values, but both are politically poisonous at present. Obamacare undermines a key Democratic constituency badly in need of help: labor unions. The immigration order fires up anti-immigrant passion among working-class voters while benefiting an ethnic group—Latinos—whose voter-participation levels remain anemic, even allowing for the restrictive election laws passed by Republicans. 

Back to Walter Russell Mead:

Modern American liberalism does its best to suppress dissent and critique (except from the left) at the institutions and milieus that it controls. Dissent is not only misguided; it is morally wrong. Bad thoughts create bad actions, and so the heretics must be silenced or expelled. “Hurtful” speech is not allowed, and so the eccentricities of conventional liberal piety pile up into ever more improbable, ever more unsustainable forms.

This is a pretty heady admission from a man of the Left., and he goes even further.  He admits that liberals “live in liberal cocoons, read cocooning news sources, and work in professions and milieus where liberal ideas are as prevalent and as uncontroversial as oxygen.”

What liberals have lost is any connection to common sense. They don’t have any.  So cocooned that they have no idea what Republicans think or stand for. There is no anti-immigrant passion on the right. It isn’t about immigrants, who are welcomed; it is about the “undocumented” part. We have immigration laws and expect them to be obeyed.

The Affordable Care Act was a complete fraud from the beginning. Useless benefits were piled at the front end to get people signed up for bad insurance, and then paid for by cutting payment to physicians and hospitals so much that no one could find care, and the “insurance” became clearly unaffordable. The solution to that would be to nationalize all doctors and hospitals, and turn it into a single-payer plan of the kind that everyone else in the world is trying to get out of because it doesn’t work, and kills off its participants.

Other than that, in his criticism of the liberal project, Alterman mentions that Republicans are anti-immigrant; restrict voting rights; are fanatics; their views of science, economics and pretty much anything else are crazy; are only the party of “Hell No!”; against policies that would help the poor such as Medicaid, and Democrats are barely less dependent on big-money donors than Republicans. Whew! Wrong on every point — and embarrassingly so, proving the “cocoon.” Falling in love with an idea rather than the reality is typical of the Left. A patient is unfortunately better off with no insurance than with Medicaid.

And the “party of the rich” is not Republicans. Democrats took in 71% of the $128 million spent by the top 10 individual donors. Among group donations of more than $100,000, the GOP doesn’t even appear on the list until #14. The National Education Association topped the list at $22 million. The much reviled Koch brothers (who are not even Republicans but Libertarians), came in at 23rd. Global warming activist Tom Steyer blew at least $74 million on the midterms. And that’s not even mentioning George Soros’ secretive Democracy Alliance.

Mead says: “In that sense the Obama administration may represent “Peak Left” in American politics, and what we are getting from the left these days is a mix of bewilderment and anger as it realizes that this is as good as it gets.”



About That Big Jump In GDP Numbers: Another Lie. by The Elephant's Child

Headline, Politico: “Everything Is Awesome!” December 24th

Good news! The U.S. economy grew at a rollicking 5 percent rate in the third quarter. Oh, and it added 320,000 jobs in November, the best of its unprecedented 57 straight months of private-sector employment growth. Just in time for Christmas, the Dow just hit an all-time high and the uninsured rate is approaching an all-time low. Consumer confidence is soaring, inflation is low, gas prices are plunging, and the budget deficit is shrinking. You no longer hear much about the Ebola crisis that dominated the headlines in the fall, much less the border crisis that dominated the headlines over the summer.

Headline, Center for Immigration Studies: “Despite Recent Job Growth, Native Employment Still Below 2007:  BLS Data show all net employment growth has gone to immigrants.

President Obama recently announced plans to give legal status and work permits to millions of illegal immigrants. Many members of Congress and the president continue to support efforts to increase the level of immigration, such as Senate bill S.744 that passed that chamber last year. Yet data published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) on its website (see Table A-7) show that all of the net gain in employment since 2007 has gone to immigrants (legal and illegal), also referred to as the foreign-born.1 Native employment has still not returned to pre-recession levels, while immigrant employment already exceeds pre-recession levels. Furthermore, even with recent job growth, the number of natives not in the labor force (neither working nor looking for work) continues to increase.

Headline: Daily Caller: “Fewer US-Born Americans Have Jobs Now Than in 2007″ Dec. 19, 2014

The amazing drop in employment highlights President Barack Obama’s slow recovery from the deep 2008 shock, but also spotlights many companies’ growing reliance on foreign migrant labor.
Almost one in every two jobs added since 2009 have gone to foreign-born workers.

Headline: Powerline:“About That 5% GDP Growth” Dec 26.2014

Tyler Durden at Zero Hedge takes a closer look at the data, and recalls a prediction he made at the end of the first quarter:

Back in June, when we were looking at the final Q1 GDP print, we discovered something very surprising: after the BEA had first reported that absent for Obamacare, Q1 GDP would have been negative in its first Q1 GDP report, subsequent GDP prints imploded as a result of what is now believed to be the polar vortex. But the real surprise was that the Obamacare boost was, in the final print, revised massively lower to actually reduce GDP!

Fast forward to today when as every pundit is happy to report, the final estimate of Q3 GDP indeed rose by 5% (no really, just as we predicted), with a surge in personal consumption being the main driver of US growth in the June-September quarter.

But no: the “personal consumption” that drove the supposed economic boom in the third quarter was the increased cost of Obamacare, spending that had been moved from the first quarter to make the third quarter look better: (emphasis added)

Smoke and mirrors. We have learned that we cannot believe anything Obama says. We cannot believe the IRS, the VA, HHS, EPA, or most other federal agencies, and now we cannot believe the BEA, the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Told that personal consumption was way up in 3rd Quarter, and expected to be over 5% in the 4th Quarter, we discover that it was not a more confident public, encouraged by the drop in the price of gasoline, stepping up their buying because employment was rising. It was the BEA manipulating the statistics to make Obama look good. And can you really call the ObamaCare costs you are forced to pay with penalties, and/ or subsidies, for not paying “personal consumption?”

Calling jobs that go to legal and illegal new immigrants while ordinary Americans drop out of the Labor market, too discouraged to keep looking for work is not really a positive development, no matter in what carefully chosen dialogue you portray it.

Do read the linked articles. There are graphs to emphasize reality. And you might enjoy one more linked post from David Harsanyi: “Let’s Talk About Obama’s Imaginary ‘Winning Streak.’

 



Improving Health Care One Step At a Time by The Elephant's Child

The Wall Street Journal in their regular “Notable and Quotable” column featured an excerpt from Dr. Atul Gawande’s radio talks for the BBC’s annual Reith Lectures, delivered December 2 in London:

And so we were approached by the World Health Organization several years ago with a project to try to reduce deaths in surgery. But how can you possibly do that? But it was exactly the same kind of problem—the basics were known but not necessarily followed. And so we worked with a team from the airline industry to design what emerged as just a checklist—a checklist, though, that was made specifically to catch the kinds of problems that even experts will make mistakes at doing. Most often basically failures of communications. The checklist had some dumb things—do you have the right patient . . . But the most powerful components are: Does everybody on the team know each other’s name and role? Has the anesthesia team described the medical issues the patient has? Has the surgeon briefed the team on the goals of the operation, how long the case will take, how much blood they should be prepared to give? Has the nurse been able to outline what equipment is prepared? Are all questions answered? And only then do you begin.

We’ve all seen the scene in movies, and watched the pilot and copilot go through the checklist, no matter how urgent the takeoff is, and we can probably assume that the movies get that right, it’s the kind of thing they like to get right or they would get calls and letters from thousands of pilots, and be laughed at.

After they tested the checklist in eight cities around the world, London, Toronto, Seattle, Delhi, Tanzania, and in every hospital that used it complication rates fell by an average of 35%. The average reduction  in deaths was 47%. Scotland implemented it and taught it at the frontlines and they demonstrated that 9,000 peoples lives have been saved over the past four years.

They asked surgeons for their opinions after using it for three months. About 20% really disliked it, thought it a  pain in the neck. Asked “If you’re having an operation would you want the team to use the checklist?” Ninety-four percent did. “The discipline,” Dr. Gawande said, “is what makes daring possible.”

Atul Gawande M.D., MPH is a general and endocrine surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, professor in the Department of Health  Policy and Management and the Department of Surgery at Harvard Medical School.




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