American Elephants


Ranking the States for their Fiscal Reliability by The Elephant's Child

Here in greater Seattle, following national publicity surrounding the Seattle debacle with raising the minimum wage, the Seattle City Council has determined that it would be a good idea to raise taxes on the rich.  They passed an ordinance.  It will be challenged in court, for the Washington state constitution says they can’t have an income tax, and their plan clearly defines who is rich and who is richer, and has to pay even more.

Several states have decided to raise taxes this year to cover budget shortfalls. A new study suggests that the states might find themselves in worse financial shape after the money starts rolling in. (Leftists do not understand the free market. That’s why they are Leftists.)

According to the latest ranking of states by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, the most fiscally sound states in the country are all low-tax, GOP strongholds, while the 10 least-solvent states are almost all high-tax and heavily Democratic.

The rankings in the fourth-annual “Ranking of the States by Fiscal Condition” report, which was released this morning, are based on an review of audited financial statements for 2015 covering five measures that gauge the states’ ability to pay their bills, avoid budget deficits,  meet long-term spending needs and cover pension liabilities.

Cash solvency measures a state’s ability to pay immediate bills. Budget solvency focuses on whether states will end the year with a surplus or deficit. Service-level solvency gauges a state’s ability to meet a demand for increased spending. Long-run solvency concerns a states’ ability to meet longer-term spending commitments. Trust fund solvency  examines the states’ unfunded pension liabilities and state debt.

The 25 most-solvent states are solidly Republican except for four. Of the bottom least-solvent states, all but five are solidly Democratic. The most fiscally sound states also tend to have the lowest tax burdens, according to a separate analysis by the Tax Foundation.

The Mercatus Center Analysis can be found here, along with a map which includes more separation of the states into groups. The bottom line seems to be that the more money the state government takes from taxpayers, the worse they do in handling it. That should be surprising, but it’s not.



Draining the Swamp at the Veterans Administration by The Elephant's Child

Our Veterans seeking care from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) can perhaps breathe a little easier. Five hundred and forty-eight VA employees have been terminated since Donald Trump took office and David Shulkin  took over as secretary of what was called “probably the most incompetently run agency in the United States.”

Another 200 VA workers have been suspended and 33 have been demoted. Those disciplined include 22 senior leaders, more than 70 nurses, 14 police officers and 25 physicians. A program analyst dealing with the Government Accountability, which audits the department, a public affairs specialist, a chef of police and a chief of surgery were also disciplined.

Food service workers, housekeeping aides were also fired.  Lower level jobs in which the deportment has employed felons and convicted sex-offenders were also fired. You could call it a rigorous housecleaning.

The record of failed care for veterans has become a national scandal. Mr. Shulkin was initially appointed by former president Obama as a VA undersecretary, but by the end of the Obama administration he was increasingly frustrated with the American Federation of Government Employees union which defended the rights of bad employees to a government paycheck even when they are harming the veterans they were there to serve. Managers were reluctant to vigorously pursue firings, and firings were often overturned by the federal Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB).

Put in charge by President Trump, Shulkin asked Congress for new legislation to reduce the role of MSPB, especially when firing senior leaders. Congress passed the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act in response, and Trump signed the bill in June.

The VA has been found to be a prime abuser of extended paid leave. Two or more years seems excessive, but it was not unusual. Here’s how bureaucracy works: the inspector general’s staff is designed to avoid conflicts of interest in internal investigations. Their work can lead to criminal charges, but they become involved only in an internal review finds evidence on criminal activity. VA internal investigative policies are designed to see if policies and procedures are followed, not to look for criminal activity.

In a 2013 case where an elderly hospitalized veteran died at a Louisiana hospital, in March of 2013. A VA internal investigation found that Harris, a nurses aide, had violated no policies and was not negligent, so was returned to patient care, in April.  However, the local coroner found that the veteran had died of blunt force trauma to the head, and witnesses told him and the VA inspetor general that they saw Harris striking the man. Harris was arrested on December 10, 2013. Harris was out on bail, and on extended (2 years) paid leave until just 3 days before his trial. It was the coroner’s intervention that led to a criminal probe by the IG.

It seems that when the VA wants to appease congressional critics or media critics or even just prevent poor-performing employees from doing further damage, the department paid them to stay home instead of firing them. Even during the campaign Trump talked about “draining the swamp” and the care we owed to our veterans. There is no excuse for such irresponsible practices. Looks like the swamp is finally starting to drain. 548 terminated, and that may be only the beginning. The organization has been put on notice that our veterans will be faithfully served.



A Fine and Moving Speech Celebrating a Strong Europe and Western Values by The Elephant's Child

There’s an odd kind of disconnect going on. President Trump spoke to the people of Poland yesterday, reaffirming the long-standing bond between our two countries, and the bond with our European allies. He reaffirmed his commitment to Article 5, the NATO mutual defense pact, and noted that the United States had demonstrated not just with words, but with our actions, our commitment  to our allies. When our commitment to our allies is unsaid, the media climbs all over it, when it is included, it gets no mention at all. One might be inclined to think there is something to President Trump’s complaints about his treatment by the media.

If you recall, President Trump criticized the members of NATO who were not paying their agreed-upon share of the costs of NATO. NATO countries have agreed to spending  2% of their GDP to support NATO, but only 5 nations are contributing that much. It’s a longstanding complaint. Defense Secretary James Mattis warned NATO members back in January that if they do not boost their commitment, the United States might “moderate” its commitment to the alliance.

“I owe it to you all to give you clarity on the political reality in the United States and to state the fair demand from my country’s people in concrete terms,” Mattis said during a meeting in Brussels with defense ministers from other NATO countries. “America will meet its responsibilities, but if your nations do not want to see America moderate its commitment to the alliance, each of your capitals needs to show its support for our common defense. No longer can the American taxpayer carry a disproportionate share of the defense of Western values.”

The U.S contributes 3.61 % of GDP. Greece 2.39%. UK 2.21, Estonia 2.16, and Poland 2.00. Canada contributes only .99%. The amount contributed is a goal — not a legal pact. America spent an estimated $650 billion on defense in 2013 which is more than double the amount contributed by the other 27 nations put together.

The problem is not just the defense spending, but underlying attitudes. Europe has been unwilling to face up to Russian aggression, and the problems of Islamic migration. The European Union has ordered EU nations to accept large numbers of migrants, and only a few are firmly resisting. Much of Europe is dependent on Russian natural gas and oil. The initial push to accept heavy migration was based on the idea of “refugees,”empathy and compassion.

In his speech to the Polish nation, and to the world, President Trump offered a “determined and affirmative defense of the Western tradition. He assured Poland that it would not be held hostage to a single supplier of energy. He exhorted Russia to stop destabilizing Ukraine and elsewhere, to stop supporting Syria and Iran and ‘instead join the community of responsible nations.”

He identified the most immediate security threat as an “oppressive ideology.” He was talking about radical Islam, but it is worth noting that he never mentioned radical Islam or Islamic State. Instead, he described the recent commitment by Saudi Arabia and other Muslim nations to combat an ideological menace that threatens the world with terrorism. He compared this idea of mutual defense to the alliance of free nations that defeated Nazism and communism.

But the speech’s most provocative argument was about our way of life. It came when he described how a million Poles stood with Pope John Paul II in Victory Square in 1979 to resist Soviet rule by chanting, “We want God!”

“With that powerful declaration of who you are,” Mr. Trump said, “you came to understand what to do and how to live.”

Donald Trump was taking a firm stand against the fuzzy multiculturalism and globalization of Barack Obama and Western intellectuals who are all too ready to surrender to the critics of the traditions of the West. He spoke of a nationalism rooted in the rule of law, freedom of expression, religious faith and freedom from oppressive government. It was an important speech.

Peter Beinart, who I was astonished to discover is an associate professor of journalism and political science, wrote for the Atlantic about “The Racial and Religious Paranoia of Trump’s Warsaw Speech.” It’s the clearest example of what sometimes passes for thought on the left that I’ve seen in some time, and even more silly than usual. It reminds me of what one might expect from a college freshman in love with his own newly discovered intellectual promise, and trying to impress a lefty professor, might produce. See, see how I can tear this speech apart—embarrassing.

Beinart found George W. Bush’s 2003 speech in Poland useful for contrast, because Bush referred to democracy 13 times, and Trump mentioned it only once. By taking each word very, very literally, and insisting that since “the West” is not correctly a geographic term nor ideological or economic, then obviously it’s a white nationalist screed. The editors at National Review summed it up nicely:

It’s a strange day when praising the Warsaw uprising, the Solidarity movement, and Pope John Paul II makes you a neo-Nazi, but that day is, apparently, today, following President Trump’s speech to an assemblage of dignitaries, alongside a cheering crowd, in Poland, on his way to the G20 summit.



Just What Is Fake News Anyway? by The Elephant's Child



City vs. Country—The Same Old Story by The Elephant's Child

People who don’t pay a lot of attention to political news, and there are lots of them, often wonder about the real difference between parties. There are many who at least claim that they vote for the man, not the party. I ran across a good example in Politico Magazine. I had no idea that Politico had a magazine. Short piece by the editor, one Stephen Heuser, to introduce their “Cities Issue” — “One Nation, Divided by Density”

Pick a city in America, any city. Chances are it’s younger, more diverse and more educated than the countryside around it—and way, way more liberal. The resurgence of the city has been one of the most striking reversals in modern America, as the bleak streets of the 1970s have turned into magnets for a new kind of young, hyperconnected professional, and even wealthy retirees flocking back from their suburbs. It has also created a widening split in a country now wondering what “indivisible” is really supposed to mean.

If you were to pluck a person at random out of the fictional city on our cover, odds are overwhelming that you’d find a Hillary Clinton voter. (In real life, there are big cities—Boston, Washington, San Francisco—where not a single precinct went for Donald Trump.) If you toured the rural landscape below, you’d find nothing but Trump signs in front yards. Politics has become another symptom of a growing cultural gulf. Think pickup trucks vs. subway cars. Church vs. brunch. Diner coffee vs. single-origin beans roasted by a guy selling vinyl LPs. We are one nation, divided by density.

The new president exploited that divide with the genius of someone who understood cities from the inside and was willing to sell them out. It worked, but at what cost? Rural America needs cities to thrive. Cities depend on the people and land around them, more than they like to think. The modern city might feel like a kind of island in a global archipelago, a nucleus of prosperity and avocado toast, but urbanites can no longer afford the smug assumption that the future is theirs. You can smell the fires outside the walls.

Do read the whole thing, there are only 4 more short paragraphs.

It wasn’t just Hillary calling small town and rural America “Deplorables”— it’s what the Left believes. (We’re smart and you’re dumb.) You see it in the media constantly.  The Left does not understand human nature, doesn’t like it, and wants to fix it. They will fix it with other people’s money, giving alms to the poor, food stamps to the hungry, and sending all black children to college. It’s just socialism, as Margaret Thatcher said, “sooner or later, you run out of other people’s money.” So when they run out of money, they expect to have converted everyone to Democrat voters, by giving them stuff.

Smart people don’t have to be “educated” to be knowledgeable. Lots of people graduate from college and remain remarkably ignorant. Silicon Valley billionaires may be technologically brilliant with things cyber, and not very bright about the rest of the world. There are lots of people with degrees in rural America, and there are lots of  prosperous cities in flyover country.

Mr. Heuser goes on about city people and the “creative class”— Lefties like to think of themselves as “the creative class.” They either don’t notice, or don’t care about the wreckage they leave in their wake. In any case, if you are feeling annoyed by the Left, this is quite a splendid example of just why you find them so completely annoying.



Stop The Presses! The President Just Tweeted! by The Elephant's Child

Twitter first gained public attention only in 2006, and has grown in popularity. Those who cry “It’s not Presidential” when the president tweets, are ignoring the simple fact that Obama is the only other president who could possibly have tweeted. Twitter has been especially popular among celebrities, because big numbers of followers can warm celebrity hearts. Celebrities, as we all know, are famous for being known.

The thought initially was that Twitter could be sort of an early-warning signal of upcoming political trends, but that’s giving it far too much credit. Mostly, it seems to be a channel for insults and snide remarks. Those who can manage a truly cogent remark in such limited words are celebrated—most cannot. President Donald Trump’s tweets are the focus of far too much attention. I would bet that you know far more about President Trump’s most recent tweet striking back at a remarkably nasty broadcast by Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, than you do about the accomplishments that the president is pushing through with members of his cabinet and through his own Executive Orders.

The fact that you know more about what he said about Mika’s facelift than you do about Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s efforts to find out whether all the regulations, taxes and subsidies that benefit “green energy” providers were harming the power industry and forcing the premature retirement of baseload power plants. This was a study, an effort to get some clear information, and predictably, the Solar Energy Industries of America and the Advanced Energy Economy, the New York Times and allies in Congress even went after the economist overseeing the study planning how to debunk it. That gives  you a clue about what the study will turn up, and how the media will address it.

What is a tweet—140 characters? I don’t tweet, so I’m not well informed. But that brief emanation from the White House was the focus of almost every journalist in the country.  Important things happening could go a  glimmering. Trump tweeted! Feminists shouted “objectifying women.” Republicans gasped, because Republicans don’t insult people directly, just behind closed doors so they can maintain their decorum.

Democrats are desperate to attack Trump in any way possible. They have no real policies to challenge what Trump is accomplishing and proposing, only defense of Obama’s failed programs. So Trump’s tweets are hugely welcome targets, and at just 140 characters—hardly challenging. They don’t even have to read any long pieces or do research—or even worry about being called “fake news.”

As far as being shocked by Trump’s tweets, you can find far worse in any comments column. Democrats are becoming notable for potty mouths. Language has dropped several rungs closer to the gutter. As far as “not presidential” we can recall LBJ holding conversations and meetings while sitting on the toilet.

There are far worse things that have gone on in the White House than some unmannerly tweets. There are far worse things and far more important things going on around the world, but harder for lazy journalists to write or speak about. It would require research and a knowledge of history and world affairs that these lightweights don’t seem to possess.



EPA Director Scott Pruitt Moves to Rescind the Absurd “Navigable Waters of the United States” Rule by The Elephant's Child


In the picture above, behold the “Navigable Waters of the United States,”absurd, of course. Scott Pruitt, the new director of the EPA, announced Tuesday  that the Trump administration is moving to rescind the Obama administration’s absurd “Waters of the United States” regulatory overreach. The idea, was a massive power-grab by the Obama EPA that gave the federal government effective authority over millions of acres of American farmland and all sorts of other privately owned acreage.

Under the Clean Water Rule,  the EPA was given authority over the “Navigable” Waters of the United States and all “tributaries”  would be regulated by the federal government. Broadly defined, this meant that anything moist that eventually flowed into something that could be defined as a tributary because it eventually flowed into a “navigable river” could be controlled and regulated by the EPA for the federal government.  More than a bit of a stretch.

That put rural America in panic mode. Farmers, ranchers, dairymen and all sorts of rural people recognized what havoc such a rule could cause.

But the American Farm Bureau Foundation warned that a plain-reading of WOTUS meant that federal regulatory control could be asserted over any land surface that had ever experienced rain flow, had been flooded, or had irrigation ditches. Farmers argued that the federal regulatory redefinition could usurp state control of water use for America’s entire 247,417,282 acres used in row-crop cultivation.

The origin of the rule is found in the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, which was expanded with the “Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act of 1899,” and then the “Clean Water Act of 1972” which aimed to protect America’s public drinking water from contamination. There’s a good example of federal rulemaking and how it can worm its way through agencies and committees.

The proposed rule change will be published in the Federal Register, under Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2017-0203, the public will have a 30-day comment period to “review and revise “the definition of the “Waters of the United States’ Rule.”

This is consistent with the Executive Order signed by President Trump aimed at “Restoring the Rule of Law, Federalism and Economic Growth by Reviewing the Waters of the United States’ Rule.”




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