American Elephants


If You Cannot Believe What You Are Told, You Have Lost Your Freedom. by The Elephant's Child

Lies matter. If you cannot believe what you are told, it changes your life for the worse. Kevin Williamson had an excellent column on Sunday about the real price of lies. He said “There can be no free society without trust.”And he’s right. He begins with U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen who was deliberately lied to by Obama’s lawyers acting for the president in the matter of Obama’s unconstitutional amnesty program.

More than that, I suspect that is a big part of what is wrong with the dysfunctional societies of the Middle East. They are societies built on lies and distrust, but that is true to one extent or another on all dictatorial societies. Americans’ First Amendment rights are the envy of the free world, but other nations have found such rights too scary to adopt in full. Remember that those rights came in an amendment. The Constitution did not fully protect the rights Americans believed that they should have.

Increasingly, we are coming up against a culture of lies. The Obama administration’s push for more bureaucratic control is in direct opposition to our freedoms. The belief that a government run by those who have confidence that they are smarter than the  rest of us is not quite what the framers had in mind.

We are slowly learning that our  president frames his comments  in terms to flatter himself. Naturally, to mark the 5th anniversary of ObamaCare, its backers used the occasion to congratulate themselves on its many successes. Investors took the occasion to point out the five biggest told about ObamaCare:

  1. In many ways, it’s working better than anticipated.” That was the president himself. We know the whoppers— the $2500 everybody was going to save on their premiums went up instead. You weren’t able to keep your plan or your doctor, and were forced to find something new and less favorable or in many cases much worse. Enrollment is less than expected and the government is lying about the numbers. It is costing many their jobs, covering fewer uninsured, and hurting part-time and low wage workers.
  2. It has slowed the increase in heath cost increases to the lowest rate in 50 years.” Health care costs have been going down steadily since before ObamaCare, as new drugs, new diagnostic techniques and new organizations have improved. ObamaCare has little to do with the decreases.
  3. Sixteen million have gained insurance thanks to ObamaCare.” This is not a credible estimate, but based on a dubious analysis of a Gallup survey of the uninsured.
  4. The law has been a boon to the economy The economy appears to be growing, but the growth is hard to find. Annual growth in real GDP since ObamaCare became law has averaged just 2.2%—the weakest recovery since the Great Depression. Job growth has been poor, and much of it has gone to immigrants. Household income is way below  pre-recession levels.
  5. Its helping reduce the deficit. The Congressional Budget Office has stopped trying to figure out what ObamaCare’s impact on the deficit will be because there are too many moving parts. The administration has made improper changes to the law, lawsuits are in the courts, and a lot of things just aren’t working. The long term forecast is bleak.

Obama sold the law to the public on false promises, it was passed by Congress using legislative tricks and back-room bribery. It has never won public support. Emergency room use is up, not down. People on Medicaid cannot find doctors. Computerizing everything has only made patient records available to anyone, changed the practice of medicine so that doctors are interacting with computers instead of patients, and completely failed to connect hospital communities across the country.

It has been a disastrous program for the American people, and its flaws are both predictable and immune to fixing by tinkering. The Left will not give up on it because they hope to change it completely into a single-payer plan, the mother of all failed health care systems.



President Obama is not Commander in Chief of Foreign Policy by The Elephant's Child

Alan M. Dershowitz wrote this week that  “Politicians should stop referring to the President of the United States as the Commander in Chief. And Barack Obama frequently refers to himself in those terms. Mr. Dershowitz has tried to clarify the situation:

But the president is not the Commander-in-Chief for purposes of diplomatic negotiations. This characterization mistakenly implies that President Obama — or any president — is our Commander, and that his decisions should receive special deference. This is a misreading of our constitution, which creates a presidency that is subject to the checks and balances of co-equal branches of the government. The president is only the commander in chief of “the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States.” This provision was intended to assure civilian control over the military and to serve as a check on military power.

The only people he is empowered to command are soldiers, sailors and members of the militia — not ordinary citizens.

This important limitation on the president’s power is highly relevant to the current debate about Congress having the authority to check the president’s decision to make the deal that is currently being negotiated with Iran. The Constitution is clear about this. The President is not the Commander-in-Chief of our nation’s foreign policy. When he is involved in “high-stakes international diplomacy,” his involvement is not as Commander-in-Chief of our armed forces, but rather as negotiator-in-chief, whose negotiations are subject to the checks and balances of the other branches.

As President, he cannot even declare war, though he can decide how a war should be fought after Congress declares it. He cannot make a treaty without the approval of 2/3 of the Senate. He cannot appoint Ambassadors without the consent of the Senate. And he cannot terminate sanctions that were imposed by Congress, without Congress changing the law. Were he the “Commander-in-Chief” of our country — as Putin is of Russia or as Ali Khamenei is of Iran — he could simply command that all of these things be done. But our Constitution separates the powers of government — the power to command — into three co-equal branches. The armed forces are different: power is vested in one commander-in-chief.

A president is the head of the executive branch, one of three co-equal branches. As head of the executive branch, he can negotiate treaties, agreements and other bilateral deals, but Congress has a say in whether to approve what the president has negotiated. If the deal constitutes a “treaty” within the meaning of the constitution, then it requires a formal ratification by congress. Executive agreements can be undone. Any impression that the president alone can make an enforceable and enduring deal with Iran regarding its nuclear weapons program is incorrect.

Alan M. Dershowitz is a Professor of Law emeritus from Harvard Law, and a frequent commenter on matters legal and constitutional.

 



The Federal Bureaucracy Hard At Work by The Elephant's Child

It’s a new record for improper payments dished out by federal agencies — an all time high of $125 billion in questionable payments after years of declines.

There were tax credits for families that didn’t qualify for tax credits, unemployment benefits for people who were employed, Medicare payments for treatments that might not have been necessary. This is  up by $19 billion over the previous year. The overpayments were spread across 22 federal agencies, though Medicare and Medicaid fraud and the Earned Income Tax Credit together accounted for more than $93 billion in improper payments.

I heard on the radio that we apparently have some of the world’s oldest people receiving Social Security benefits. Since they are apparently older than the oldest woman who was celebrated in the media at 117, it’s fairly safe to assume that they are illegal immigrants receiving benefits by stealing someone’s identity.



Outrage and Protests, Fuss and Furor Over Nothing Much. by The Elephant's Child

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Seattle is an interesting city, sinking slowly in the West¹. but still reliably, environmentally green. This is the city that insists that grocery store customers use cloth bags for their groceries, or pay for the other kind. That fines citizens $50 for putting any foodstuff in the garbage can instead in the yard waste can. Nearly 98 percent of its energy comes from renewable sources, thanks to Columbia River Dams, which the County Council wanted to tear down until they took a field trip and found out how big they were.  Now, a national furor has erupted over Foss Shipyards’ lease of their docks to Royal Dutch Shell for the regular maintenance and repair of their Arctic drilling rigs. (Shown above a 2012 photo of Shell’s Kulik leaving Seattle)

In the first place the green loonies assumed that they were going to start drilling for oil in their beloved Puget Sound. Seattle always has indignant protesters willing to come out and demonstrate. But when it turned out that it was just for the repair of their Arctic Ocean drilling rigs, they switched their environmental angst to the Arctic Ocean. The City Council was up in arms, a court challenge was filed by environmental groups, and protesters have vowed to block the rigs arrival with a flotilla of kayaks in Elliott Bay.

“You have signed a lease that will amount to a crime against the planet,” said Zarna Joshi, 32, a Seattle resident who was first to speak at a raucous three-hour public meeting this week before the port’s commissioners. The meeting was packed mostly with opponents and punctuated by the occasional dissenter, pointing out the hypocrisy of protesters who had arrived to denounce Shell in vehicles running on gasoline.

Officials at the publicly owned Port of Seattle have strongly defended the lease, saying that the two year contract will bring in millions of dollars in revenue and create hundreds of good jobs on 50 acres that Shell would use just west of downtown. In any case, the decision to allow oil exploration in Arctic waters is federal policy, and not anything that the port or the city or the state can alter.

It’s all about climate change, of course, and politics, and the politics of climate change — science is not involved, only emotion and Democratic talking points.

“Hosting the Arctic drilling fleet in the city of Seattle is an activity that, if successful in drilling and extracting oil from the Arctic, will almost certainly mean that all of the industrial land in Seattle will be under water, and is completely inconsistent with the region’s and even the port’s goals,” said Mike O’Brien, a Seattle City Council member.

¹Seattle has long had an elevated roadway along the water front to let drivers bypass much of downtown Seattle if they choose, but it is old. Almost as long has been the fight over a replacement. Freeway, tunnel, street-level replacement. Property owners of lots facing the waterfront have always fought for a tunnel to remove the unsightly Alaskan Way Viaduct, and they eventually won the argument. Digging began, giant tunneling machine “Big Bertha’ went to work, drilled a few feet and ran plumb into a huge old drainage pipe that they didn’t know was there. They apparently cannot proceed, they cannot remove the pipe, and the people in those waterfront properties are finding that their buildings are sinking, slightly, but regularly. No answers.



About that $15 Minimum Wage In Seattle by The Elephant's Child

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If all other factors remain equal, the higher the price of a good, the fewer people will demand it. That’s the Law of demand, a fundamental idea in economics. The idea refers to the minimum wage — the price of a worker, as well as the price of a pound of butter, or a bottle of shampoo.

President Barack Obama claimed that increasing the minimum wage would “grow the economy for everyone” by giving “businesses customers with more spending money.” Economics was clearly not a feature of that mysterious transcript.

There is a lot of confusion about just what a “minimum wage” is. It is the least amount of money that can be offered to a worker for their labor as decided by the government. It is illegal to pay anyone less for their labor. “But you can’t support a family on the minimum wage!” they cry. You are not supposed to. It’s a starting wage for beginners.

It’s for a first job. It’s for learning how to work. When young people have savvy parents that tell them about the basics, and how to dress and how to act when applying for a job, and some kids don’t. But there is so much to learn: arriving before your shift begins. Dressing appropriately with appropriate grooming. Learning how to wait on a customer, how to operate the cash register, how to keep your workplace immaculately clean. How to treat customers so they want to return, keeping the restrooms clean, picking  up, cleaning up, smiling at customers. That’s aside from learning how the establishment works. When they have learned successfully how to become a worker instead of a beginner, they will probably have had a raise (statistically most do within 6 months). And they have skills that they can take to another workplace. A new worker learns those skills from a manager or another worker who must devote their time to teaching. A new worker is a cost, rather than a benefit.

Seattle, a city of the left, has had some experience with the minimum wage. Sea-Tac, the district surrounding the Seattle-Tacoma International airport raised their minimum wage to $15 on January 1. 2014. Its a district of hotels, restaurants and bars and lots and lots of parking lots. The results were predictable. Leftists crowed that hardly any businesses shut down, and most people didn’t lose their jobs. What happened is that brand new workers didn’t get a job.

At the Clarion Hotel off International Boulevard, a sit-down restaurant has been shuttered, though it might soon be replaced by a less-labor-intensive cafe…

Other businesses have adjusted in ways that run the gamut from putting more work in the hands of managers, to instituting a small “living-wage surcharge” for a daily parking space near the airport.

The publisher of the Northwest Asian Weekly had a conversation with two hotel employees who have been affected:

“Are you happy with the $15 wage?” I asked the full-time cleaning lady.

“It sounds good, but it’s not good,” the woman said. “I lost my 401k, health insurance, paid holiday, and vacation,” she responded. “No more free food,” she added.

The hotel used to feed her. Now, she has to bring her own food. Also, no overtime, she said. She used to work extra hours and received overtime pay. “I have to pay for parking,” she said.

I then asked the part-time waitress, who was part of the catering staff.

“Yes, I’ve got $15 an hour, but all my tips are now much less,” she said. Before the new wage law was implemented, her hourly wage was $7. But her tips added to more than $15 an hour. Yes, she used to receive free food and parking. Now, she has to bring her own food and pay for parking.

When the law changes, businesses adjust in different ways. They no longer have the staff time to hire brand-new workers. Youth unemployment goes up.

Seattle voted for a $15 minimum wage, which took effect on January 1. Several restaurants have closed, and economists have made much of it, but a local blogger claims to have spoken to the owners of the closing businesses, and says they were closing anyway, and it has nothing to do with the minimum wage. That may or may not be true. We are only 2 months into this government-mandated wage floor, and there will be inevitable effects. Young people will find it harder to find that first job. Hours and benefits will be cut back. More computers, more robots.

The Panera Bread CEO supports raising the minimum wage — as long as it is applied equally to all. CEO Rob Shaich, a Democratic donor recently announced that he will be replacing cashiers with computers.

Companies like Costco and Walmart are supporting hikes in the national minimum wage, knowing that will adversely affect their smaller competitors.

McDonald’s had a 30% drop in quarterly profits last year, on a 5% drop in revenue. Unions have made McDonald’s a target of their campaign for a $15 minimum wage. Internationally they are experimenting with replacing cashiers with computers. But they are also under attack from the food police. Low income families don’t eat out as much in the current economy. The WSJ said: “As many contributors to these pages have warned, forcing businesses to pay people out of proportion to the profits they generate will provide those businesses with a greater incentive to replace employees with machines.”

The Minimum-Wage Stealth Tax on the Poor” Wall Street Journal. When a fast-food business is forced to raise pay, it also raises prices. Guess who gets hit worst by the increase.

“We Can Predict the Effects of Seattle’s $15 An Hour Minimum Wage” Forbes. We can get a good idea of what it is like before that wage comes in. And then we can go back when it’s fully implemented and see what the effects have been.

ADDENDUM: Here’s another take on Seattle Restaurants, from Seattle Magazine: Why Are So Many Seattle Restaurants Closing Lately?” Ouch! The reasons vary, but the restaurant business is never an easy one. Operational cost increases and failure to thrive. I apparently erred. The wage hike does not take effect till April 1.

The Washington Restaurant Association’s Anton says “It’s not a political problem, it’s a math problem.” A a common budget breakdown among sustaining Seattle restaurants so far has been the following: 36 percent of funds are devoted to labor, 30 percent to food costs and 30 percent go to everything else (all other operational costs).  The remaining 4 percent has been the profit margin, and as a result, in a $700,000 restaurant, he estimates that the average restauranteur in Seattle has been making $28,000 a year. If restaurant owners made no changes, the labor cost in quick service restaurants would rise to 42 percent and in full service restaurants to 47 percent. “Every operator I’m talking to is in panic mode trying to figure out what the new world will look like.”



It Was Just 100,000. Only A Minor Misstatement Of Fact. by The Elephant's Child

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U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen who blocked  President Barack Obama’s executive amnesty action on immigration, has ordered the Justice Department to respond to allegations that the government has misled him about part of the President’s plan.

The judge has ordered federal government lawyers to appear in his court on March 19 in Brownsville, Texas. The hearing is in response to a filing last week in which the government acknowledged some deportation reprieves were granted before Hanen’s February 16 injunction. Government attorneys has said that officials wouldn’t accept requests for reprieves for DACA (deferred action for childhood arrivals) illegals until February 18, and would start DAPA (deferred action for parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents) in May of 2015.

On March 3, Obama’s lawyers admitted to the judge that officials had already given three-year DACA amnesty to 100,000 younger people. Only off by 100,000.

Out of an abundance of caution, however, Defendants wish to bring one issue to the Court’s attention,” said the administration’s document given to the judge. “Between November 24, 2014 and the issuance of the Court’s [Feb. 16] Order, USCIS granted three-year periods of deferred action to approximately 100,000 individuals who had requested deferred action under the original 2012 DACA guidelines.”

The government claimed that the 100,000 illegal immigrants who were granted three-year reprieves and work permits were already eligible under a previous immigration plan from 2012.

The 26 states suing over Obama’s amnesty plan requested more information.

It’s not nice to fool U.S. District Judges. They may be annoyed.

Estimates of the cost of Obama’s amnesty program run from half a billion to expand the workforce by more than 3,000, up to $2 trillion over the long term in benefits and increased government expenditures. That’s just for the federal government, there will be billion of dollars for costs for the states.



Punching Back Twice As Hard! by The Elephant's Child

urlPresident Obama, since the Republican ”wave election” has been irritable. Republicans clearly had no right to take over the Senate and increase their power in the House. He has things he wants to do, and he has no intention of allowing a bunch of uncooperative dummies in Congress to interfere with his executive right to finish fundamentally transforming the United States of America to his own particular tastes.

Naturally as President of the United States, he feels called upon to comment on anything within his purview, which is everything. In this case, he noticed that one of his states has signed a right-to-work bill into law, without his permission. He issued a written statement condemning the law:

“I’m deeply disappointed,” he said, “that a new anti-worker law in Wisconsin will weaken, rather than strengthen, workers in the new economy.”

Obama then claimed that Walker’s action was part of an “inexcusable assault on unions, led by powerful interests and their allies in government.”

The bill that Governor Scott Walker signed was the result of twenty hours of debate in the Wisconsin legislature, a vote by the state’s duly elected representatives 62-35 to pass the bill. Democracy at work.

Governor Scott Walker promptly responded to Mr. Obama’s bad manners, and his need to recall basic civics.

On the heels of vetoing Keystone pipeline legislation, which would have paved the way to create thousands of quality, middle-class jobs, the president should be looking to states, like Wisconsin, as an example for how to grow our economy,” Walker told National Review Online.

Despite a stagnant national economy and a lack of leadership in Washington, since we took office, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate is down to 5%, and more than 100,000 jobs and 30,000 businesses have been created.

Pow! Want to compare economies and just who is helping workers?

Walker said that the legislation, “along with our investments in worker training and our work to lower the tax burden, will lead to more freedom and prosperity for all of Wisconsin.”

 




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