American Elephants


A Vast Self-Inflicted Tragedy Has Struck Greece. There Are No Easy Answers. by The Elephant's Child
July 5, 2015, 8:59 pm
Filed under: Communism, Economy, Socialism, Statism | Tags: , , ,

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Well, the matter of Greece. Janet Daley describes the problem in The Telegraph.

There is no point any longer in trying to make sense of this. It has gone beyond sense. It is now incomprehensible in the strict technical meaning of the word. The “options” available are all catastrophic and delusional in varying degrees and combinations, and nobody is actually going to get to choose between them anyway – at least, nobody in Greece. To the extent that they have had any involvement – or culpability – in this matter, the Greek people must come to terms with the consequences of electing Russell Brand to head their government. Voters do have some responsibility for the choices that they make. That is what distinguishes mature democracy from the students’ union. But given the price that they are paying for that moment of mad frivolity, it seems harsh to condemn, especially as the prospect of fiscal rationality had already been ruined by the fecklessness of previous governments and external forces beyond their control.

It’s a marvelous example, once again, of the failure of socialism. We have seen it over  and over, and the empty stores in Venezuela were only a harbinger of the empty stores, already, in Greece. Spare the empathy, the Greeks brought it upon themselves. A new book from James Angelos:The Full Catastrophe, looks at the widespread tax evasion and benefit fraud. How about an island where everybody pretends to be blind? Or  doctors who earn only €12,000 a year — yet live in the most exclusive neighborhood in Athens?

It was rumors of the ‘Island of the blind’ that brought journalist James Angelos to Greece. Turned out that 61 of the supposedly blind residents of Zakynthos, were quite happily driving around the island, and an astonishing 496 of the 680 blind residents were not blind nor partially sighted. It was all a scam that could be traced back to one ophthalmologist and one official who cost the government €69 million. Being blind got you €724 paid in benefits once every two months, and a reduction in utility bills.

When the government called for those claiming disabilities to present themselves at government offices so official records could be updated, 36,000 failed to show up.That scam saved the government €100 million a year. When they began to check the rolls, they found that 8,500 unlikely pensioners claimed to be over age 100.

Neighborhoods of opulent mansions with their own pools were apparently occupied by virtual paupers who were living on a paltry €12,000 or only €8,000 since they were allowed to declare their own incomes for tax purposes. Official records showed that just over 300 homes in Athens most exclusive neighborhood  had swimming pools, and had paid the tax for the luxury. When the bureaucrats looked at Google Earth, it appeared that the real number of pools was closer to 20,000. But well-to-do home owners promptly bought camouflage tarpaulins to conceal their existence from tax inspectors flying over.

The picture of a pensioner crying in the street when he learns that his pension has been reduced to €120 is heartwrenching. Stores are empty, medicine short, and the government is projected to run out of cash this week. Nobody plans to rescue them. Much of Southern Europe is already coping with floods of refugees from Africa and the Middle East. Bureaucrats like to buy votes with their empathy. We care about  you and we will give you stuff. But bureaucrats need to stay in power, so they exert more and more control, which needs larger departments and higher salaries for the bureaucracy. And so it goes. Inflating and inflating the balloon with the inevitable result.



I Think The Times And Obama Are Wrong. Can I Possibly Be Right? by The Elephant's Child

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The New York Times is, as usual, a little off. When ideology trumps journalism, you get these embarrassing slip-ups. The headline is “As Cuba Shifts Toward Capitalism, Inequality Grows More Visible.”

What shift toward capitalism? Raul Castro has stated firmly that Cuba is not moving one centimeter away from Communism.

As Cuba opens the door wider to private enterprise, the gap between the haves and have-nots — and between whites and blacks — that the revolution sought to diminish is growing more evident.

That divide is expected to increase now that the United States is raising the amount of money that Cuban-Americans can send to the island to $8,000 a year, up from $2,000, as part of President Obama’s historic thaw with Cuba.

This was not any kind of agreement with Cuba. Cuba offered nothing, and was pleased that America surrendered to them. If Cuban-Americans send more remittances, they will only enrich the Communist government. Cuban citizens are limited to a maximum income of $20 a month, and anything over that goes to the government.

This was just another of Obama’s big ideas. He was going to liberate Cuba, expand trade, and the tourist business will improve the Cuban economy.

Remittances, estimated at $1 billion to nearly $3 billion a year, are already a big source of the capital behind the new small businesses. The cash infusion has been one of the top drivers of the Cuban economy in recent years, rivaling tourism revenues and mineral, pharmaceutical and sugar exports.

Fidel Castro has been estimated in the past by Forbes to be one of the world’s wealthiest men, and I’m sure that covers his little brother as well. Cuba has been trading the use of their doctors to Venezuela in trade for oil. The reason Cuban’s maximum income is so low is because they are offered free medical care and a ration card for food. If they have to go to the hospital, they need to supply their own sheets and blankets, their own medicine and even iodine, if needed. According to the Times:

The river where Jonas Echevarria fishes cuts through neighborhoods brimming with new fine restaurants, spas and boutiques, springing up in Cuba’s accelerating push toward private enterprise.

Tattered mansions and luxury apartment blocks speak of old wealth and new. A bounty of private restaurants known as paladares serve pork tenderloin, filet mignon and orange duck to tourists, Cuban-Americans visiting relatives and a growing pool of Cuban entrepreneurs with cash to spend.

I’m sure the Cuban government is building tourist facilities in expectation of lots of tourist business, bringing more revenue to the government, but this report from the New York Times has no relation to what I have read elsewhere about Cuba. Previous tourist hotels are run by a Spanish company, who pays the government for their Cuban workers. The government gives the workers their $20 a month, and pockets the rest.

The Times article extolls the Obama effort and assumes that everything in Cuba will improve as a result —in spite of Raul Castro’s firm declaration that nothing whatsoever was changing.  Interesting. Somebody is very wrong. We’ll see.



Once Cubans Get a Taste of Prosperity? How Does That Work? by The Elephant's Child

President Raúl Castro, Fidel’s little brother, declared victory for the Cuban Revolution in a televised speech before Parliament and a group of favored guests —including Elián Gonzales (remember him?) — reaffirming that any restored relations with the United States did not mean any change in Communist rule in Cuba. He added “We won the war.”

Obama didn’t check in with any of the Cuban community here or with the Cubans who are fighting for freedom in Cuba. They are pretty unanimous in saying that the way Obama has gone about this is a major mistake. The Ladies in White who march in support of political prisoners each week in a major display of courage, said “betrayal” and didn’t understand why Obama had gone back on his statement that “significant steps toward democracy” must precede any liberalization.

As usual, Obama does not learn from history. Engagement does not necessarily promote freedom — see China, Vietnam, and increasingly less freedom in those countries.

In an official announcement in the state newspaper Gramma. government officials announced a system in which employees of corporations with foreign capital will be paid two Cuban Pesos for every Convertible Cuban Peso (CUP) which are used exclusively for tourists and is the equivalent of an American dollar and 26.5 Cuban Pesos. The 24 Cuban Pesos that workers will NOT receive amount to 92% of their salaries. So 92% of the value of Cubans’ work will go to prop up the Communist state. How that is supposed to be an important entry in the history books for Mr. Obama is not clear.

Cuba’s major benefactors —Russia and Venezuela — are in deep trouble from the declining price of oil. The current price is far below their ‘break-even’ point. Some Conservatives welcome the change in policy, believing that free trade will make great changes in Cuba. Raúl Castro doesn’t think so. “Once they see better goods and services” they say, but at roughly 67¢ a day in income Cubans cannot buy “better goods.” I don’t know what they have to trade. Reportedly, even their cigars aren’t that good any more.

Will Cuba suddenly allow their people to travel to the U.S.? Not likely. Any visitors to the U.S would be likely to seek asylum. The Cuban Adjustment Act says that any Cuban who is granted parole into the U.S. may, after one year apply for adjustment to permanent resident status. In the past every Cuban who made it here got parole and a green card.

I firmly believe in free markets and free people — but the “free” part seems to be completely missing here.



Big Change in Cuban Relations, No Change In Cuba’s Police State by The Elephant's Child

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There has been no indication whatsoever from the Cuban police state that they have any intention of lessening the oppression of the Cuban people., but nevermind, Obama wants to “normalize” relations. Build an embassy, appoint an ambassador, open up trade. Our Chamber of Commerce is all for it. Lots of tweets from Lefties wanting to go to Cuba before it is inflicted with McDonalds, Taco Bells and Starbucks to “ruin the country.”

Cuban salaries are pegged at about 67¢ a day, according to Michael Totten. What a treat it will be for them to be able to buy a Big Mac for only a month’s income. Cuba has a maximum wage of about $20 a month. Professionals such as doctors or lawyers can make an extra $10 a month

“The government contracts with Spanish companies such as Meliá International to manage Havana’s hotels. Meliá wanted to pay its employees a decent wage, the government said fine, so the company pays $8−$10 an hour.” The firm pays the government, which then pays the workers after pocketing the rest of the money. The workers get 67¢ a day. How is it that McDonalds, Taco Bells and Starbucks are going to prosper in Cuba? Are tourist dollars enough to keep them going?

“The government,” Totten says, “defends its maximum wage by arguing that life’s necessities are either free or so deeply subsidized in Cuba that citizens don’t need very much money.” Commuters must pay for public transportation out of their $20. Cubans must wait in line for up to 2 hours each way to get on a bus.” A round trip to the other side of the country can cost a year’s salary. As for the free health care, patients have to bring their own medicine, their own sheets and their own iodine to the hospital. Cuba has sent so many doctors abroad, especially to Venezuela in exchange for oil, that there is now a shortage of doctors.

Obama is very impressed with Cuba sending their doctors to help in the fight against Ebola in Africa, but their salaries are paid to the government. Medical slaves. Like all Communist countries, there is an elite that lives very well, and an oppressed population.

Elliott Abrams wrote in National Review:

The American Left has loathed the embargo and overlooked all  of Castro’s repressive actions since the 1960s. They have blamed the U.S.−Cuba deadlock entirely on the United States and have sought the end of the embargo whenever a Democrat was in the White House.”…

When the Soviet Union fell, the Castro regime was in dire straits. It survived through sheer repression — until it was sustained by Venezuelan oil money sent by Hugo Chávez. Today Chávez is dead, oil is under $60 a barrel, and Venezuela is reeling.

Many conservatives simply acknowledge that the embargo has been in place for 50 years with little gain. Cuban-Americans will find it easier to send remittances, but the government may confiscate those. Mexico and the Central American countries depend on remittances from the U.S. for nearly half of their national budgets.

Obama told the Cubans they had to let Alan Gross out, and one other, and we turned over three Cuban spies who were serving life sentences. Obama doesn’t really have the authority to do this, nor to build embassies, nor to approve Ambassadors without Congress. Doesn’t seem to be much of a bargain. We have sanctions on Venezuela, Iran and Russia. If we establish some sort of trade, we can always yank it away. I hope Obama isn’t planning to turn Guantanamo Bay back to the Cubans.

Cuban President Raúl Castro declared the changes a step towards  “prosperous and sustainable socialism.”

The Washington Post editorial board
Fox News
The National Journal
Marco Rubio, Wall Street Journal
When Socialists Promise a Utopian Paradise,” American Elephants

 

 



You Want Social Justice? Who Decides Who Gets What? by The Elephant's Child

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Funny how some things in common parlance become so common that we really don’t pay attention to them any more. The protesters in some  cities across the country claimed to be protesting for “justice” for Michael Brown. Justice is a matter of our nation’s laws and the Constitution, as determined  in this case by a Grand Jury investigation, which was conducted at length according to the law. The results of the labors of the jury are justice.

What the protesters were demanding was, instead,”social justice.” Social Justice is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “justice in the form of the distribution of wealth, opportunities and privilege within a society.” There’s the rub. We are not talking, as the Declaration of Independence states, of the equal opportunity to pursue Liberty and Happiness — but of an equal outcome.

The Urban Dictionary defines social justice as:

Promoting tolerance, freedom, and equality for all people regardless of race, sex, orientation, national origin, handicap, etc… except for white, straight, cisgendered males. Fuck those guys, they’re overprivileged no matter what. “In the name of social justice, check your privilege.”

Same source, second definition:

Mob violence, usually associated with a victim group.
1969 Stonewall riots.
1992 LA riots.

Mostly the term is undefined, but it sounds good doesn’t it? The academics who used to have to teach at least 15 hours a semester now have a lot more free time, and the faculty lounge is afloat with theory. The distribution of advantages and disadvantages in society. This supposes that there is some normal state to which everything must be distributed to make things fair and equal.

The word equal, in English, is derived from the word equitable, suggesting fairness, but what is fair doesn’t necessarily mean equal, but what is proportionate to the efforts of each.  In France, on the other hand, the word is Égalité which means the “equals sign.” What is on one side must be equal to that which is on the other side. This is very different from the English idea of “equitable.”

Social justice is often associated with the idea of the “common good.” Which brings up some questions. Who decides what is fair? Who determines what is equal? Who decides what must be distributed from who and to whom? If these questions are turned over to the government, as the idea of “the common good” would suggest — because who else is going to do it — then you’ve got trouble, or more accurately Socialism, Communism, Dictatorship, Tyranny in one form or another. Giving someone or some group the power to decide, and once decided, it must  be enforced, and there you go.

Free Market Capitalism does not promise equal outcomes, only the opportunity to do with your life what you choose to do, or what you can do with the opportunities you find. We have  plenty of  examples of those who have been born into poverty, and the ghetto and who rise through hard work and determination to the very highest levels of society. You can probably come up with a list easily. And we are a society with a lot of empathy and compassion and arrange to help those who are in need of help. Americans are the most generous people on Earth.

That said, I don’t get the envy part. Isn’t life a struggle with yourself to see what you can make of it? Is life suddenly made wonderful if you win the lottery? The stories of those who did suggest that it doesn’t work out so well. What makes life good is not the material things you are given, but what you accomplish with what you’ve got in your own determination and character.



The Fall of the Berlin Wall, November 9, 1989 by The Elephant's Child

This video included the thrilling moment when the first people spilled across the border, twenty-five years ago.  The wall was erected to keep the people in the Russian Sector of a divided Berlin in. And so it did for forty-four years. The Wall stood 13 feet high and was augmented with watchtowers, alarms, trenches, mines, guard dogs and guards with machine guns all to keep the people of East Berlin in. More than 100 people were killed trying to cross the wall.

In Berlin, Christopher and Marc Bauder, light artists,  created ten miles of lighted white helium balloons to mark the route of the wall through Berlin, as a reminder of how the city used to be.The 8,000 balloons began at Bornholmer Street border crossing, one of the former checkpoints between East and West Germany, and were released into the night sky as a symbol of liberation.

As former National Review editor John O’Sullivan has noted “Communism had failed to retain enough true believers who would murder on its behalf.”

At the end of the War in Europe, a ruined Berlin was occupied by the three Allied powers: Britain, France and the United States, and the Soviet Union. A discovery of archival photographs in 2010 demonstrates the ruined, starving city and signs of life in the struggle for survival. The devastation of war was nearly complete. Here is the gallery of 20 pictures from der Spiegel. Here is a post from 2009 recounting German Chancellor Angela Merkel who spoke before a joint session of Congress  remembering the American and Allied pilots who flew food to a starving Berlin.

Does anyone remember the Berlin Blockade and the answering Berlin Airlift today? It was an incredible accomplishment made possible with courage and split-second timing. On June 24, 1948, Soviet forces blockaded rail, road and water access to the Allied-controlled sector of Berlin. The United States and United Kingdom responded by airlifting food and fuel to Berlin from Allied Airbases in western Germany.

It was a very tense time. The Soviets wanted to drive the Allies out of Germany. Airlifting food and fuel seemed nearly impossible to meet the desperate need. But Allied efficiency saved the day. Gradually the number of aircraft increased, At the height of the campaign one aircraft was landing every 45 seconds at Templehof Airport. Timing was so strict that a plane that was not able to land  had to turn back to make way for the next. As the Allies showed that they could maintain the airlift indefinitely, the blockade fell apart. Moscow lifted the blockade on May 11, 1949.

Mikhail Gorbachev spoke in Berlin today, warning of the potential for a new Cold War. It was the ordinary people of Eastern, Soviet controlled Europe who rose up in protest and deserve pride of place.  But history records, for different reasons, two major figures: Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. John Fund notes the Reagan effect:

Reagan first saw the Wall in 1978, when he told his aide Peter Hannaford: “We’ve got to find a way to knock this thing down.” After he became president, he returned in 1982 and enraged the Soviets by taking a couple of ceremonial steps across a painted borderline. Then, in 1987, he overruled his own State Department by giving a momentous speech in which he implored the Soviet general secretary directly: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

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Here’s the lighted balloon wall. It must have been very moving to see them drift away, one at a time.

They did tear down the Wall and Berlin was unified only two years later.  In the wake of learning that a number of students at Texas Tech have no idea who won the Civil war, a little history seems appropriate. It’s a day and a history worth celebrating.



Down With Capitalism: The Glorious Socialist Future Is Here! by The Elephant's Child

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China Climate Change

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It’s always a good idea to take a hard look at what you think you are wishing for. Sometimes you’re just caught up in a romantic fantasy, and the reality isn’t quite so…… optimistic.




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