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 €8,00 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.



Pin the Tail On the Donkey! by The Elephant's Child

Over the Fourth of July weekend in Chicago, 30 people were shot in 8 hours overnight. A 7 year-old boy and two men were killed. The Confederate flag has been withdrawn from store shelves and public display because it has suddenly been decided that it is a racist symbol and might offend someone. No one is particularly offended by 30 people being shot in a city with very strict gun control. Chicago has not had a Republican mayor since 1931.

Even before the Baltimore riots, gun violence was up more than 60% compared with last year. Protesters from Ferguson were reportedly sent to Baltimore by a George Soros associated group. There were 32 shootings over Memorial Day weekend.  Baltimore has been run by Democrats since 1967.

In Milwaukee, homicides were up 180% by May 17 over last year. Shootings in St. Louis were up 39%. robberies 43% and homicides 25%. St.Louis Alderman Joe Vacarro said “Crime is the worst I’ve ever seen it” in a May City Hall hearing. Milwaukee’s last Republican Mayor left office in 1906, St. Louis’s last Republican Mayor left office in 1949. Just a coincidence, I’m sure.

Murders in Atlanta were up 32% as of mid May, Democrat Mayors have run Atlanta since 1942.

What has happened is a relentlessly dishonest campaign against law enforcement, which the Wall Street Journal called “the Ferguson Effect,” beginning with Trayvon Martin, who was pictured as an innocent young boy in a hoodie, instead of the huge violent young man, and extending through one innocent young black man after another, with out-of-control violent policing supposedly at fault.

Shooting incidents were up 500% in East Harlem, 100% in South Central Los Angeles. And in many cities, police are afraid to confront suspects for fear that they will be attacked or wrongly accused of misbehavior. Cops are not perfect. There are bad apples. There are racists, but the majority of police across the country are trying to keep the peace and forestall crime. Attacking the police, making poor neighborhoods believe that they cannot trust the very people who are trying to protect them is a vast disservice. When that protection is lessened or withdrawn because police are fearful for their own lives, crime and murders go up and trust drops even more.



Why Don’t They Ever Learn? Socialist Economies Never, Never Work. by The Elephant's Child
July 5, 2015, 6:37 am
Filed under: Economy, Freedom, Socialism | Tags: , ,

Greece-Sanders-copy“Twenty-five years after the most oppressive empire in human history collapsed because socialist economies don’t work, 49 percent of American youth , according to a recent  Pew poll; think socialism is a good system. …We won the Cold War, but we didn’t drive a stake through the communist heart. As a result the vampire of “social justice” has risen to fight another day.” ..
…………………………………………………(David Horowitz: Take No Prisoners)



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.



“Let’s Make a Deal” vs. “Of Course, yes, Death to America” by The Elephant's Child

436c1a3e-ef75-4fcc-8820-11966b177712We have a bit of a hiatus in the nuclear arms talks with Iran, for the Persian New Year (Nowruz) on Thursday. And then for the weekend. because President Rouhani’s mother died.

President Obama released a happy Nowruz video timed for the celebration, and urged Iran’s  people to push the regime in Tehran to agree to the “reasonable deal” that he is offering the on its nuclear weapons program.

“Iran’s leaders have a choice between two paths,” Mr. Obama says on the video. They can accept his deal, or stay on “a path that has isolated Iran, and the Iranian people, from so much of the world, caused so much hardship for Iranian families, and deprived so many young Iranians of the jobs and opportunities they deserve.”

Obama is clearly hoping that young Iranians have forgotten how in June 2009, he met their appeals for support when they were protesting the election stolen from them by then President Ahmadinejad and the mullahs. Young Iranians took to the streets in huge numbers and they were ruthlessly crushed. When the violence became too bloody to ignore, Obama did say he was “deeply troubled.” His message was not really for young people who have no influence, but about the March 31 deadline for a deal.

Supreme leader Ali Khamenei responded “Of course yes, death to America because America is the original source of this pressure. They insist on putting pressure on our dear people’s economy” he said, referring to economic sanctions aimed at halting Iran’s nuclear  program. “What is their goal? Their goal is to put the people against the system. The politics of America is to create insecurity,” he added.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that “France wants an agreement, but a robust agreement. That is to say, an accord that really guarantees that Iran can obviously have access to the civil nuclear (program.)”  “But to the atomic bomb? No.”

French diplomats have been urging their counterparts not to give in on key elements, like easing sanctions before serious progress is made, and arguing that the March 31 deadline was an “artificial” deadline.

Officials said the Obama administration is looking for a deal that commits Iran to a 40 percent cut in the numbers of centrifuges used to enrich. They want a deal that stretches the time Tehran would need to make a nuclear weapon from the present two or three months to a least a whole year.

That’s their goal?

The break-even price for Iranian oil is somewhere in the vicinity of $130 a barrel. Iran subsidizes gasoline for its citizens. How far can they go in deficit spending?

According to MEMRI, Ali Shirazi, the representative of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps elite Qods Force promised at a Feb. 26 ceremony attended by the families of martyrs that:

We will not rest until we have raised the banner of Islam over the White House. The Islamic nation is determined to enter the arena with all its force, backed by Allah’s will and his grace, and to stand fast against the world of arrogance. They will not suppress us with sanctions and threats. You did not succeed in harming the regime on the day it emerged, and now that the regime is 36 years old, you, the enemies of Islam, must expect and realize that every day [you] will be beaten, across the world.

Myron Magnet, City Journal’s editor-at-large reminds us of the history of Jimmy Carter ‘s dealings with Iran, and offers another historical remembrance:

So now President Obama wants to make an agreement that will ensure that Iran can produce an atom bomb essentially overnight. He has not seen fit to explain his reasoning to the American people, and it is hard to imagine what it might be. But all I can think of is Churchill’s rebuke to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain when he returned from his infamous appeasement of Hitler in Munch in 1938. “You were given the choice between war and dishonor,” Churchill thundered in Parliament. “You chose dishonor, and you will have war.” Certainly President Obama is choosing dishonor. What kind of war he might unleash, the world watches with dread.

In an important Wall Street Journal piece, Douglas Feith adds:

Iranian leaders have a long record of shameless dishonesty. Their aid to the tyrannical Assad regime has been massive since the Syrian civil war began, but they routinely deny it. And they make a practice of lying to United Nations weapons inspectors. Commenting on how the inspectors have repeatedly been surprised by what Iran hides, Olli Heinonen, former deputy director-general of the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency, told this newspaper in 2013, “If there is no undeclared installation today . . . it will be the first time in 20 years that Iran doesn’t have one.”



The Nature Of Bureaucracy Is To Grow. They Must Be Stopped. by The Elephant's Child

The EPA has awarded a grant of $15,000 to the University of Tulsa for devising a low-cost wireless device for monitoring the water usage of hotel guest room showers. The device is meant to fit most existing hotel shower fixtures and should wirelessly transmit data to a central hotel accounting system. The system will provide hotels with the ability to determine how much water  is used, and how to assist hotel guests in modifying their behavior to help conserve water.

The EPA is remarkably interested in modifying the behavior of the American people. Theoretically, their tasks were defined by the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, which Congress enacted but failed to clearly define, probably because they thought at the time — that it was simply common sense.

When doing their job and making law, Congress needs to keep in mind the nature of bureaucracy. Bureaucrats are well paid (presently much better than their equals in the private sector) and they want that to continue. To make it continue they must use up their budget in the current fiscal year so they can request more for the next fiscal year. They also need to show what important things they are accomplishing with their current budget, and thereby what they could accomplish in the next fiscal year with more money. Accomplishing their assigned tasks is not enough — they must establish their importance and prestige.

Tyler W.Johannes PhD is an associate professor in the University of Tulsa’s School of Chemical Engineering told the Washington Free Beacon that researchers hope to see the technology adopted by all major hotels and used across the country.

They begin with an assumption that the average hotel shower lasts 8.2 minutes, and using 17.2 gallons of water per guest per shower. they want to get than down initially to 7 minutes. A link to Home Water Works recommends five-minute shower, and suggests using discarded cold water for watering plants. Actually they just recommend a Navy shower — ask any sailor of your acquaintance.

The EPA press office quickly realized that this was not going down well, and insisted that the EPA is not monitoring how much time hotel guests spend in the shower, it’s meant to provide the hotels with technology to do the monitoring, and the hotels can figure out how to encourage their guests to think of water conservation. And if they don’t… we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. “This is part of a People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) a student design competition for sustainability. The marketplace will decide if there is a demand for this type of technology.”

There’s a little disconnect here. Under the Al Gore rules of Climate Change, the melting glaciers and polar ice is supposed to result in rising waters that will flood the coastllines, and we’re supposed to have a water shortage? They could always work on desalinization plants.



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.”




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