American Elephants


Fake News and the Hunger for Information by The Elephant's Child

Johannes Gutenberg is widely credited with the invention of the first printing press in 1455. However Chinese monks had been using block prints even earlier, by A.D, 600, and there were attempts to create type as a means of conveying information. Too many characters in the Chinese language, and conveying important messages with blockprints didn’t really go anywhere.

The first newspaper in America was Public Occurrences, Both Foreign and Domestic, and the first (and last) issue was published in 1690. The 1st Amendment to the Constitution says “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom…of the press.” The Constitution establishes a government with three branches, but it does not establish a press or a media. What it does do is try to prohibit the government from trying to control what people say in the press or outside the press. Free speech.

It’s more useful to think about the way news was disseminated before there were a wide range of newspapers and subscriptions. Try to imagine a town crier, shouting out news of marriages, births and big events as he strolls around the town. People depended on riders to convey the news from one town to another. News of war and the battlefield had to wait until a rider could be sent back to town, and farmers and small communities were out of luck until someone happened by.

Illustrated news came to be long before photographs were invented, and depended on artists who could make reproducible engravings or blockprints. Americans yearned for news of the old country, but had to wait until a ship came in. Gold was discovered in California in January of 1848, but it wasn’t until December that the first rumors reached New York. Sailing ship going around the horn — the Panama Canal did not yet exist.

Samuel Morse invented the telegraph in 1844, and Morse code, but it wasn’t until 1860 that a bill was passed in Congress to authorize the telegraph to be built across the continent. They built from each coast with fascinating stories of Indians, the pony express, and the trans-continental line was completed on October 24th, 1862, linking the continent.

So here we are with “Fake News” and a profession is disrepute. The telegraph was followed by the telephone, the Atlantic Cable, photography, radio, movies, recordings, sailing ships were replaced by steam, the Panama Canal was built. Wars intervened, and news from the battlefield, but the front lines had to communicate with Division headquarters, and the medics, so there were runners. Then there were walkie-talkies. Each improvement in communication meant changes in the way things were done. Lives were saved.

With the advent of television, everyone said it was a great step forward, the American people would watch symphonies, the best of the New York stage, lectures, history. Uh huh.  They thought the same thing when we first got computers. You can watch porn online, and pretend comedians holding up an efigy of the head of a newly elected president. A goodly percentage of the people do not pay any attention to the news, and are open to the most partisan claims because they don’t understand what is happening. Cell phones, and people get mowed down on the street because they are paying attention to their phone instead of where they are going, and ditto for cars.

Victor Davis Hanson writes on the Media Meltdown between 2008 and 2016 at the Hoover Institution’s ‘Defining Ideas,’ and how it all happened. We are being manipulated by a partisan media, and the Left is capitalizing on focus-tested vocabulary and pictures to influence the unwitting—and unfortunately all of us are unwitting at least part of the time. I emphasize “the Left,” but of course the Right tries to do it too, but is not as skilled at manipulation, and more inclined to explanation.

So now we have reached a point telephone calls are made by robots, we have the immensely annoying telephone trees when you just want to shriek “I want to speak to a human.” We can turn on the air-conditioning or close the shades at home—from the office. Ordering anything online is killing the retail industry and you no longer have to go out to get dinner, you can have it delivered, as a kit to produce your own, or as a fully prepared meal. There’s a lot going on in that sector, and we can probably look forward to a time when we don’t have to cook at all.

What is becoming very clear is that new inventions will not develop in the way we assume. Our schools are making us dumber, and human nature being what it is, we probably won’t become wise consumers, very well-informed, or lifelong learners striving to know as much as we possibly can. After all, we’re still watching movies about comic book characters and playing silly games on our computers—rather than listening to symphonies and the finest Broadway productions.



20,000 Regulations To Control You and Your HealthCare Provider by The Elephant's Child

Along with millions of others, I’m really frustrated with Congress. When the Democrats rammed through the Affordable Care Act, most Republicans recognized instantly that it was not going to work. Way too much bureaucratic control. It was clearly a step towards single-payer health care like Britain’s National Health Service. Of course there are probably not all that many Americans who read the British papers, but the failures of the system were apparent. Physicians have become government employees, hospitals so short of money that ambulances are parked in long lines on the street, waiting their turn to dislodge their desperately ill patients, and old people dying of neglect in the hospital, from dehydration, lack of food, dirty sheets. You have to pay attention to the symptoms of failure.

I know, most people just think that the medical care establishment is just way too expensive, they can’t afford it and want the government to pay for it. The thing everyone must remember is that government has no money of its own. Congress can raise taxes, especially on the rich, but you can’t take enough money away from the rich to take care of everybody who is not rich, and in the meantime, the rich stop becoming rich. High taxes mean less economic activity, fewer people getting rich, and everybody getting a little poorer.

What should have happened is that the moment ObamaCare passed, Republicans should have started planning how to reform health care in a way that was good for the most people and did the least harm. Instead, they did regular grandstanding votes of repealing ObamaCare when there was no chance of the vote succeeding in passing Congress nor being signed by the President. So, here we are seven months into a new administration, and the Republicans said they have been working on it for 8 months, but they can’t agree on a bill. They had eight years.

Part of it is that although Republicans boast of believing firmly in the free market, when push comes to shove, they are loath to lose control. We need to remember, first of all, that we are not talking about health care — we are talking about health insurance, and who is going to pay for what, who is going to receive what under what circumstances and what the insurance companies are going to offer at what price. What medicines and treatments you can have and how much that will cost.

Here’s an example of the actions of the free market: A long established pharmacy discovered a box in a back room that was full of bottles of old pharmaceuticals. Really old. Instead of just throwing them out, someone there decided to test them for efficacy. Was it possible that any of them could still work after so many years? Most of them were still effective. Yet when a new drug is approved, it gets assigned an expiration date because they have tested for 3 or 5 years, because the rules say they don’t have to test beyond that. Must they test for longer? Do the rules prevent more realistic expiration dates? It could obviously be cheaper if they didn’t expire so soon.

In 2016, it was pointed out that when the patents expire on a medicine it means that other manufacturers can produce the medicine at a lower cost. Yet last year a few companies that acquired the rights to lifesaving medicines  immediately jacked up prices, which helped make the situation far worse. Federal policies facilitate monopolies by erecting regulatory barriers to new entrants.

There are a few physicians in Congress who understand in part the flaws and failures of Government health care, but I don’t know that they understand the problems of insurance companies. And who understands the pharmaceutical industry and it’s problems? Bureaucrats want to make rules, they often believe the rules they make are sensible, protect the people, etc. but that isn’t often true.

Here’s an example of market-driven innovation—the free market at work —from 2012, about a group of doctors  who posted a list of prices for 112 common surgical procedures online, founded the Surgery Center to escape from the bureaucracy of a major hospital center. A provision in ObamaCare effectively prohibits doctors from starting their own hospitals or expanding hospitals (which was widely interpreted as a give-away to the American Hospital Association.)  I assume it’s still going strong, I haven’t followed through.

And here’s a fascinating article from The Atlantic, this morning, that points to new scientific studies that may lead to new medicines, that are still in stage of basic new exciting discoveries —with unknown promise. Free people and free markets can come up with amazing solutions. That’s what created the dynamic American economy, and drives innovation. Surprise —it’s not more regulation and more control.

Democrats are congenitally programmed to demand control. They are afraid of the free market, hate capitalism, and make a mess of everything they attempt to govern by that philosophy.  You cannot effectively attempt to change human nature. Human nature is fixed and unchangeable. Most free market ideas we come up with will fail or never be tried, but some will succeed brilliantly and society will advance a little more.

 



Why Intellectuals Hate Capitalism by The Elephant's Child

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods explains why Intellectuals hate Capitalism. Professors at our Universities have long seethed with envy when they see the published income of corporate CEOs. After all, they have PhDs, it is their ability to pass on real knowledge that made these upstarts able to become corporate big shots. If you wondered why college tuition has so far eclipsed any rise in the economy, part of it is the demands of professors to receive what they believe to be their due emolument. This video is from August 2015, pre-Amazon, but illuminating nevertheless. It explains a lot.



The Interesting Relationship Between Online Business and American Retail Business. by The Elephant's Child

It’s pretty clear that online business is playing hob with retail in general. Retailers are hurting as consumers turn to online sources where they can get quick service, particularly from Amazon, and not have to go trailing through a mall to try to find what they need.

A story in the Wall Street Journal today exposes an uncomfortable relationship between the federal government and Amazon. “The U.S. Postal Service delivers Amazon’s boxes well below its own costs. Like an accelerant added to a fire, this subsidy is speeding up the collapse of traditional retailers in the U.S. and providing an unfair advantage for Amazon.”

This arrangement is an underappreciated accident of history. The post office has long had a legal monopoly to deliver first-class mail, or nonurgent letters. The exclusivity comes with a universal-service obligation—to provide for all Americans at uniform price and quality. This communication service helps knit this vast country together, and it’s the why the Postal Service exists.

But people went online too, and first class mail is down some 40% from its peak. I contact many friends by email now, rather than writing a letter, and you probably do too. The post office still visits each mailbox each day, but there’s less traditional mail, so the service has filled its spare capacity by delivering more boxes. But when the post office delivers 10 letters and one box and a passel of junk mail to one mailbox how do they allocate the cost of the postal worker, the truck, and the network and systems that support the postal worker?

In 2007 the Postal Service and its regulator determined that, at a minimum, 5.5% of the agency’s fixed costs must be allocated to packages and similar products. A decade later, around 25% of its revenue comes from packages, but their share of fixed costs has not kept pace. First-class mail effectively subsidizes the national network, and the packages get a free ride. An April analysis from Citigroup estimates that if costs were fairly allocated, on average parcels would cost $1.46 more to deliver. It is as if every Amazon box comes with a dollar or two stapled to the packing slip—a gift card from Uncle Sam.

Amazon is big enough to take full advantage of “postal injection,” and that has tipped the scales in the internet giant’s favor. Select high-volume shippers are able to drop off presorted packages at the local Postal Service depot for “last mile” delivery at cut-rate prices. With high volumes and warehouses near the local depots, Amazon enjoys low rates unavailable to its competitors. My analysis of available data suggests that around two-thirds of Amazon’s domestic deliveries are made by the Postal Service. It’s as if Amazon gets a subsidized space on every mail truck.

I don’t know which stores will be gone in a few years, or if they will survive. Right now, it’s clear that retail is hurting, and some retailers are in trouble. Will our malls survive? The federal government has”had its thumb on the competitive scale for far too long.” They need to stop picking winners and losers. I believe that the country will be better off if online and retail  compete and continue to survive.

I don’t know if the retail problems cover all kinds of goods or just some. Are Home Depot and Best Buy as much affected as say, Nordstrom and J.C. Penney? I need more evidence. Amazon just bought Whole Foods, in anticipation of making a big push for the grocery business, but Amazon is planning to build stores, where everything you select is tallied up automatically on your card as you take it off the shelf. We tried Amazon’s online groceries when too sick to get to the store, and it was prompt and  good service. Someone remarked that they saved money because they weren’t tempted with impulse items online. I prefer to go to the store.

The Government is subsidizing Elon Musk as he has fun with new engineering ideas, but Tesla is running into major problems, and solar is turning out to be a flop, just as his first experiments with this big vacuum tube thing for moving people has had it’s first success in a miniature version. All very interesting, but I don’t understand why he gets government subsidies. One might assume that we got an early lesson with Solyndra.

 



Enforcing Immigration Law and the Number of Deadbeat Countries by The Elephant's Child

ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has been working with the State Department to improve cooperation from other nations that have blocked our transfers of illegal immigrants. Their efforts have reduced the number of nations refusing to cooperate from 23 to 12. The Trump administration expects to continue to reduce the number of noncompliant countries even further.

The problem, of course, is that not only are these people illegal immigrants, but they have been convicted of a crime, and their own nation doesn’t really want them back. Sorry. That just doesn’t work.

Jessica Vaughn, ddirector of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies said:

I am confident that the number of deadbeat countries can be reduced even further – for starters, China and Hong Kong should be the focus of pressure. On the at-risk list, there is no way places like Bermuda should be stiff-arming us. Others, like Brazil, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and Pakistan, have a lot to lose if they don’t cooperate more fully. There are plenty of visa programs that could be turned off in a heartbeat if they do not improve very soon.

ICE and State have the authority to punish recalcitrant countries, but it was almost never used in past administrations. President Trump seems to understand that if people think they can come here and stay on even after being caught—it will only encourage more illegals. If we don’t want illegal aliens, we should not be hanging out a big welcome sign. Conservatives, of course, are accused by the left of being cruel and bigoted, racist, etc. for refusing to welcome illegals.

We have immigration laws, though they need updating, and we can expect them to be obeyed. We have something well over a million people on the wait list—waiting their turn to be admitted legally to become American citizens. Illegals should not be able to jump the queue. It will greatly help to discourage illegals if the rules are clear and clearly observed.



O Harvard Fair Harvard, Let The Puritans Die — They’re Not Inclusive! by The Elephant's Child

Harvard University will delete “Puritans” from alma mater song. Sheesh. Every time you think that our colleges cannot possibly get any nuttier —they do so  promptly. The Harvard University Presidential Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging (Stop and read that phrase again) is now taking submissions for a new line to replace the one referencing Puritans.

Harvard University will delete the reference to Puritans from its alma mater song, saying the word is not inclusive.
Its Presidential Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging is now taking submissions for a new line to replace the one referencing Puritans.The final verse of 181 year old  “Fair Harvard” currently reads:

Let not moss-covered Error moor thee at its side,
As the world on Truth’s current glides by;
Be the herald of Light, and the bearer of Love,
Till the stock of the Puritans die.

According to the task force, the alma mater as it stands “suggests that the commitment to truth, and to being the bearer of its light, is the special province of those of Puritan stock. This is false.”

The task force states it is looking for a more inclusive phrase that will appeal to all members of the community, “regardless of background, identity, religious affiliation, or viewpoint.”

A  professor who will be one of the judges said they are looking for more inclusion, but with “literary flair”— and maybe with new musical variants, choral, electronic, hip-hop, etc.I happened to copy down some words from Tom Sowell this morning which seem particularly appropriate:

History is what happened, not what we wish had happened, or what a theory says should have happened. History cannot be prettified in the interest of promoting “acceptance” or “mutual respect” among people and cultures. There is much in the history of every people that does not deserve respect. Whether with individuals or with groups, respect is something to be earned, not a door prize handed out to all. … If everything is respected equally, then respect has lost its meaning.

Harvard University just lost another measure of respect.

 



The Trump Agenda for Achieving 3% Economic Growth by The Elephant's Child

The overarching goal of the Trump administration is to Make America Great Again, which means promoting MAGAnomics—sustained 3% economic growth. That’s Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, writing in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.

For most of our nation’s modern history, a healthy American economy meant one that grew at roughly 3.5%. That was the average growth rate between the late 1940s and 2007. Since then, it has hardly topped 2%.

The difference between those two growth rates is staggering. If the American economy had grown at only 2% between the end of World War II and 2000, average household income would have been roughly $26,000 instead of $50,000.

Over the next 10 years, 3% growth instead of 2% will yield a nominal gross domestic product that is $16 trillion larger, federal government revenues $2.9 trillion greater, and wages and salaries of American workers $7 trillion higher.

What’s involved? Tax Reform: Encouraging capital investment will boost productivity. When businesses have more money to invest in plants and equipment, it means hiring more people who produce more. Lower tax rates reduce the cost of capital and thus ignite economic growth. 70% of business income goes to wages, so the benefits flow to workers as well.

Controlling unnecessary regulation: Regulations often turn out to be far more burdensome than the regulators realized, and they increase the cost of doing business. The EPA has been extravagant with overzealous environmental regulations and have pushed many businesses overseas. Realistic cost-benefit analysis helps to protect jobs as well as keeping the environment.

Welfare reform: Many people who could be working are staying home. We need them to go back to work, but the welfare system creates disincentives for those who seek work. Welfare reform will ensure that those who are truly in need of help will get it, but does not encourage people to stay home.

Smart energy strategy: Cheaper, cleaner, more abundant energy will increase investment and employment across many industries. Reliable supplies and stable prices will reduce uncertainty especially in the manufacturing sector and reduce the risks of building new plants and hiring more workers.

Fair Trade is already beginning to work. Government spending restraint is currently visible in the White House budget, and has the entire government at work figuring out how to accomplish more with less waste and more efficiency. Private investment allocates capital more efficiently than government. Rebuilding America’s infrastructure will create more jobs, but environmental restrictions and bureaucratic red tape can play hob with the best intentions.

The Founders may never have expected in their wildest dreams the enormous bureaucracy of our nation’s capitol, but they were very familiar with human nature and its flaws—and that doesn’t change. The Constitution was intended to slow things down, to require more consideration and more responsibility. MAGAnomics is intended to set the stage for the greatest revival of the economy since the early 1980s. It will remind people what a great America means.

Sounds like a good plan to me.




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