American Elephants


Unintended Consequences: by The Elephant's Child

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Unintended consequences. Someone speaks, or takes an action, advocates a policy, and aside from the immediate political response, the world shifts a little, and all  you can do is hope that if there are unintended consequences, they will not be too bad. President Obama famously said “he has a phone and he has a pen” and even today, announced at Monticello that “He is President of the United States and he can do whatever he wants to.”

That’s not the way it’s supposed to work. There is the oath of office, and a long history of presidential terms in office, and the assumption that a president, any president, will struggle mightily to do the right thing for the people of the United States. Why else did he run for office? President Obama had something quite different in mind. He ran a nebulous campaign full of theatrics and empty words like “yes we can” and “we are the ones,” and people fell for it. But finding that now that he no longer has a Democrat-controlled Congress, but has to actually attempt to debate, discuss and compromise with Republicans in the House, like a petulant child, he announces that he will not compromise on anything, but will just act independently— with his pen and his phone.

Well, if the President of the United States can just act on his own, why not governors? Why do we need laws and customs and rules and tradition? Washington State Governor Jay Inslee, noted empty suit, has decided that while he is in office “During my term we will not be executing people.” He has the authority under RCW  10.10.120to commute a death sentence to life in prison at hard labor, and upon a petition from the offender, to pardon the offender, or to offer a reprieve which is to be issued “for good cause shown, and as the Governor thinks proper.”

Washington State does not have a particularly high murder rate with the exception of a couple of really bad serial killers. Ted Bundy’s case was famous. But the one that raised questions about the death penalty was that of the “Green River Killer,” Gary L. Ridgway. King County prosecutors gave up on capitol punishment  in exchange for his cooperation with providing details that helped solve dozens of open murder cases. He pleaded guilty to 48 counts of aggravated first-degree murder  in 2003 and was sentenced to life in prison. Forty-eight murders seemed like a good reason for a death penalty, though there were 48 families who deserved some kind of closure.

Governor Inslee’s actions are again reminiscent of President Obama’s efforts to escape blame for anything. Inslee doesn’t want to be blamed for any executions, and will shove them off on his successor.



The State of The Union: Lawless and Only Selectively Enforced. by The Elephant's Child

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President Obama has curiously made a habit of saying things that it is clear are merely designed to please some voting group, but not to be understood as actual fact. “If you like your health insurance you can keep it, period,” If you like your doctor you can keep your doctor, period.” And then on a number of occasions he claimed that “the average family of four will  save $2,500 a year in premiums.” He didn’t think it mattered whether it was true or not.

Now he is approaching the State of the Union Speech with an announced declaration of “universal presidential authority.” Astonishingly, that oath of office he took didn’t matter either. He didn’t mean it — the part where he solemnly swears that he will to the best of his Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. “Mr. Obama” yesterday’s Wall Street Journal tells us, “will emphasize his intention to use unilateral presidential authority —bypassing Congress when necessary — to an extent not seen in his previous State of the Union Speeches.” The “when necessary” part means when Congress does not do what he wants them to do. This is not only astonishing, but deplorable, unseemly and disgusting.

The president intends to explain to his hosts (he is their guest) how he intends to circumvent their power. He is not an elected monarch. The Constitution is designed to be a slow-moving machine in which the president is just one cog. It is intended to be slow to force honest debate and clear thought. With only a few exceptions, the machine cannot legally work without the House and the Senate whose status is equal to that of the president.

At the Philadelphia convention, with exquisite care and with delicate nuances, they devised a complex constitution that would generate the requisite power but would so distribute its flow and uses that no one body of men and no one institutional center would ever gain a monopoly of force or influence that would dominate the nation.
Bernard Bailyn: The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution

If I were running the show, which I am not, when the president announces that he will circumvent the power of Congress, in the interest of getting his own way, because he “has a telephone and he has a pen,” the Republicans would rise in a body and respectfully leave the chamber.



“Obama’s Imperious Presidency” From the White House Dossier by The Elephant's Child

Those of us who are troubled by the policies of the Obama administration spend far too much time trying to figure out why President Obama does the things he does — semi-psychoanalysis by the unqualified. This president is remarkably reticent about himself, and we end up trying to figure out what he can possibly be thinking.

Keith Koffler, veteran White House reporter offered his bit of pop psychology recently to discuss one of the reasons why Obama wants to rule, to the greatest extent possible, from the Oval Office, and I found  his take really interesting.

Sure, contempt for Congress and the Constitutional process – as well as the absolute certainty that his motives and agenda are unquestionably right and just – all plays into it. But there’s another critical piece to this: Obama is, for a politician, a relative loner who doesn’t want to be bugged by members of Congress. Of either Party.

He has no famous chums in Congress. He has few relationships of any sort with lawmakers. Really what he wants to do is make his decisions in the Oval Office, have a few meetings, give some speeches on college campuses and at high schools, and play golf. And then send Jay Carney out to talk about how Republicans are intransigent, politically motivated hacks who don’t even wear deodorant. …

Unfortunately, Obama’s temperament will now have serious consequences for the nation. We’ll be in a constant state of Constitutional subversion for the next three years as Obama issues edicts and bullies the private sector into doing his bidding. At any point, with some particularly outlandish act, he can kick things up to a major Constitutional crisis. It’s a sad thing to see.

Messy as our system is, the Founders designed it that way so our representatives would have to argue and debate issues and spend time thinking deeply about them. It’s a lot better than having the nation run by a loner who wants to do it all his way because he thinks he knows what is best for us.



Spend It All. Spend It All. Tax the Rich and the Poor, Spend It All by The Elephant's Child

“The U.S. has become the single largest debtor nation on the planet, as welfare dependency rises, government spending continues to increase and economic growth slows. However, what is ironic about this situation, is that it is the continuing increases in debt which is directly responsible for the decreases in economic growth. ” This chart shows government debt as a percentage of GDP compared to the annualized rate of change in economic growth:  From Zero Hedge.           (click to enlarge)

Debt-vs-GDP-101713

“The most disturbing sentence uttered during the debt ceiling debate/government shutdown, that should raise some concerns by both political parties is:

“We must increase our debt limit so that we can pay our bills.”

“Since the beginning of 2009 very little of the increases in government debt, which was used to fill the gap created by excess expenditures, returned very little in terms of economic growth. In fact, as of the second quarter of 2013, it required $5.61 of debt to create just $1 of economic growth.”        (click to enlarge)

Debt-vs-GDP-Obama-101713

In other words the Keynesian idea of pumping money into the economy to breed and multiply is horsefeathers. Janet Yellen, newly nominated to head the Federal Reserve is, we are told, a devout Keynesian.

President Obama said in his remarks following the resolution of the shutdown, that one of the three things the government should focus on in the short term is budget reform. I think he means raise taxes so he can spend more. I just don’t think he can conceive of a presidency where he does not generously spend. I hope I’m wrong.

U.S. debt jumped a record $328 billion on Thursday, the first day the federal government was able to borrow money under the deal President Obama and Congress sealed this week. The debt now equals $17.075 trillion, according to figures the Treasury Department posted online on Friday. The $328 billion increase shattered the previous high of $238 billion set two years ago.

The giant jump comes because the government was replenishing its stock of “extraordinary measures”— the federal funds it borrowed from over the last five months as it tried to avoid bumping into the debt ceiling.

Under the law, that replenishing happens as soon as there is new debt space.

I’m not big on charts in general, but these two are pretty explanatory and reward a little study.  The real battle lies ahead.



“I Will Not Negotiate!” by The Elephant's Child

Heard a lot of congressmen interviewed briefly on the radio today, about the meeting with the president. The sticking point seems to be that the President simply does not understand negotiation. When two groups have irreconcilable positions in government, the object is to do a little horse trading, — each gives a little here and there, painful, but something they can give a little on — if they get a little from the other guy. That’s how progress is made.

This is the same process that is the very basis of trade as an economic concept. If Barg, whose tribe lives near the seashore covets a pot made by Jrak whose tribe lives far inland, they can probably arrange a trade of fish for pot. Barg has plenty of fish and jrak can make another pot. Each leaves the negotiation richer by something they didn’t have before, and pleased with the trade. And so economics was born. OK, silly example.

But Obama seems to understand only “I win.” Not that if both parties cannot walk away feeling that they won, but simply that they got something that they value in the exchange. Even if both sides end up feeling that they lost a little, it can work as long as both believe the trade to be fair.



Common Sense, Briskly Expressed! by The Elephant's Child

A short piece by Bob Krumm caught my eye this morning. titled “IT’S NOT BUSINESS; IT’S STRICTLY PERSONAL”

Republicans want a delay in Obamacare.  Because of the many significant problems with the rollout of Obamacare, and because he has delayed parts of the law himself some 19 times, President Obama should want a delay in Obamacare too.  One year gives Democrats an opportunity to fix systemic errors in the software, the regulations, and the law.  One year gives nothing at all to the Republicans–nothing–except the opportunity to crow a little bit.

That the President can’t compromise in a way that gives him everything he wants, plus the extra time he needs, is not about business.  It’s strictly personal.

I love it when someone sums up all the arguments of the past few weeks, wraps it up in a brief package and sums it up in a quotable manner. Nice going.

 



War and Empathy and Unbeliveably Small Strikes. by The Elephant's Child

It is 9/11. and the mind goes back twelve years to that terrible day, and to Benghazi on 9/11. The President and Vice President and their wives and the entire White House staff were photographed on the White House Lawn where they observed a moment of silence, and then the president went off to pass out food to the needy — in his continuing push to make 9/11 a “Day of Service.”

I don’t get it. I see no relation between mourning those we lost and doing some volunteer work. But then I’m not much on “moments of silence,” which I guess are to be seen as a one-minute collective observance of sorrow. If we do it collectively it is more meaningful? I’ll just go on mourning all day, the images don’t stop replaying in my head. I guess if you are a collectivist, you think collectively.

It is another day in the War on Terror. Yes, terror is a tactic, not the producer of terror, but that is simply semantics. What do you want to call it — a war on jihadists?

Americans are confused by World War II, when we had clear enemies — Germany, Japan and Italy. They expanded into conquered territory and we had to drive them out. The War was a total effort. Civilians did war work, bought war bonds, raised victory gardens and did without a wealth of things to which we were accustomed. The war lasted a neat four years, the victory was clear and surrender abject and total, followed by occupation.

Now there remains for Americans an expectation that a proper war will have those characteristics. In World War II people were thoroughly weary of war, but they knew that it had to be won and the enemy defeated utterly. There was no talk of “war weariness.” You even heard people during the War in Iraq or in Afghanistan complain that civilians weren’t asked to buy bonds or accept rationing. They weren’t proper wars because the home front just went on with ordinary life, undisturbed.

Richard Cohen, liberal columnist for the  Washington Post, asked plaintively “Where’s the moral outrage?”

The civil war in Syria has cost more than 110,000 lives. It has produced a humanitarian calamity — well over 2 million refugees.

Bashar Assad has massacred his own people by conventional means and is accused of using poison gas several times, most recently on Aug. 21, when his military murdered 1,429 people, including more than 400 children. …

I pick on the American left because it is liberal and because that suggests empathy, concern and internationalism.

The American right is now going through one of its periodic bouts of lunacy, reverting to a comfy isolationism-cum-selfishness that has often characterized it. (I should note, though, that back in the late 1930s, Norman Thomas, the six-time socialist presidential candidate, supported the isolationist America First movement.)

Isolationism-cum-selfishness? Hardly, but then empathy, concern and internationalism are not reasons to go to war either. War is a serious business, and with Iran in full-fledged support of Assad, must be considered seriously. An “extraordinarily small ” strike is not a serious response. And the president’s speech last night indicated that he is not serious.

My point is that the more military action departs from the example of World War II as it exists in memory, and movies, the more reluctant the people. You need the Draft, War Songs, Bond Drives, and some kind of deprivation for the people so they feel involved.  Americans want to support their president, but when offered only an “extraordinarily small” reprimand, the people sense that there is no clear strategy there at all.



The Consequences of Drawing Red Lines by The Elephant's Child

I have been an opponent of President Obama’s policies from the beginning. I didn’t believe he had the necessary experience for the highest office in the land, and he has lived up to that expectation. He does not understand economics, even the most basic economics, and his attachment to Keynesian theory and pump-priming have waged disaster on our economy. He has been sure that just spending more money is the answer to most any problem. It’s not.

His early statement that we were “five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America” sent chills down my back. His view of what is wrong with this country and needs to be transformed is completely at odds with my views. His insistence that the United States is not an exceptional country — or at least no more exceptional than any other — shows an unusual unfamiliarity with our history.

I will excuse quite a bit in most people because we are only imperfect humans, vain, ignorant, self-important, conceited, occasionally clever, jealous, greedy, the list goes on and on. There are no perfect people — even those we love most dearly have flaws which we choose to ignore. We speak and all too often say things we shouldn’t have said. But a president does not have that option.

The United States remains a powerful nation, and the words a president uses have consequences. That’s why presidents have many speechwriters, and senior advisers, and teleprompters too. To keep them from making clumsy international mistakes.

The President is now saying that he was elected to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I don’t recall that. He was elected to be the first black president, and hope and change. We just didn’t know what he meant by change. He even mentioned his laughable Nobel Peace Prize today as some sort of resume enhancement. I do remember his claim that Iraq was a “dumb war” and his apparent belief that the only reason we were in Afghanistan was to “get Osama bin Laden.” Which he (The Seals) did, so now we’re done over there and we should just quit? Well, you don’t just “quit” wars. You win them or you lose them.

Yes, the President clearly opposes war. I don’t know of anyone that wants wars, but nations have interests and through misguided policies and ill-defined statements, and red lines, and bumbling, and dithering — wars have started that nobody wanted.

The Secretary of State also has speechwriters, but he wandered off track to say that we weren’t going to War in Syria, we were just going to do something “unbelievably small,” which prompted John McCain to note that was “unbelievably unhelpful.” Kerry added that Assad could turn over his chemical weapons to an international authority within the next few days ,and then we’d see. So Vladimir Putin immediately jumped on that and demanded that Assad turn over his weapons, then Hillary, forgetting that she no longer is the Secretary, chimed in to urge Assad to turn over the weapons, and blathered something about “holding Assad and the Russians to account.” The usual Hillary talk. President Obama may see an “out” in Putin’s demand. Another flip.

I believe that in international affairs you have to support your country, and keep  your policy disagreements with the president at home. President Obama is not making that easy. He’s all over the map, and as usual, it is all about him, not the nation. He has destroyed his credibility with his own party, he never really had any with Republicans, and he is losing what credibility he had internationally.  He is sending a message that he is not serious.

The president needs to learn that his words have consequences internationally. His statements are reported internationally. When he dithers, that is reported internationally too.  This time it isn’t about you, Mr. President. It is about America. There are consequences. When you find yourself in a hole, the best advice — is to stop digging.



He’s Going Around Congress Again, To Get His Own Way! by The Elephant's Child

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One of President Obama’s favorite “big ideas” is universal pre-kindergarten. It has long been a cherished liberal idea that the poor suffer from the absence of the advantages of the stuff that the middle class takes for granted. If you give them free phones, free food stamps, free housing vouchers, and free pre-kindergarten with breakfast and lunch, then they will become happy middle class people.

Republicans believe in a safety-net for those in need, but believe that you can best help people to get out of poverty by offering opportunity. We have lots of examples of accomplished black Americans who climbed out of a childhood of poverty through the encouragement of a strong mother, a grandfather, who saw to it that the child had the opportunity and insisted on the dedication and struggle to make the best use of it. Celebrated Neurosurgeons, CEOs, Supreme Court Justices, Scholars, Economists, Writers, Society’s elite.

Head Start was established in 1965, as part of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society poverty program. It originally was a summer school program that would help poor children catch up to their age-group with what they needed to know to start kindergarten. A federal program is forever.

It quickly grew to a year-round program, funded a program that would become Sesame Street. The program has provided education, health and social services for nearly 30 million children between the ages of 3 and 5.  There’s also an Early Head Start Program for prenatal outcomes, healthy families and infant and toddler development. There are programs for migrant and seasonal farm workers as well as Native American children.

Just before Christmas, Health and Human Services (HHS) were preparing to release their  long-overdue evaluation of the Head Start Program. Since it’s inception in 1965, taxpayers have spent more than $180 billion on the program. The HHS scientifically-rigorous study tracked 5,000 children who were randomly assigned to a group receiving Head Start  services or a group that did not participate. It followed their progression from age three or four through the end of third grade.

The first-grade study found that any benefits the children may have accrued while in the Head Start program were gone by the time they reached first grade. It also found that Head Start failed to improve the literacy, math and language skills of the four year-old cohort and had a negative impact on the teacher-assessed math ability of the three-year-old cohort. The results of the third-grade evaluation were even worse.

HHS sat on the study for  four years. They had finished collecting all the data in 2008.  In spite of prodding from Congress, they did not make the study public until the Friday before Christmas. A possible attempt to attract no attention at all?

Well, my goodness. $180 billion on a program that produces no benefits at all. Would you be surprised that many members of Congress argued that the way to fix this would be to appropriate more money? So they did. You will find another $100 million in new funding for Head Start tucked into the Hurricane Sandy relief bill — ostensibly to provide funds to Head Start centers in the Northeast  affected by the storm. The $100 million will be divided up among 265 centers at more than $377,000 per center.

Head Start fails children and costs taxpayers exorbitant amounts of money every year. And it’s just one of 69 federal preschool programs.

Congressional Republicans looked at the evidence and refused to finance a new expensive universal preschool proposal from President Obama, even with the president’s proposal to fund it by raising tobacco taxes. As the president has told us — if Congress won’t cooperate with his big ideas, he will just go around Congress — and so he has.

Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have turned to discretionary funding allocations in Race to The Top, a federal education grant to the states and even to ObamaCare. A provision in ObamaCare set aside money for both state and federal authorities to fund school readiness programs for at-risk children. There’s a $500 million pile of money for state education projects, and the Education and HHS have doled out $89 million to six states for early childhood education.

A far better opportunity would be if they just let the kids take their share of Head Start funding to a private preschool provider of their own choosing.  But we all know that’s not going to happen — even if we have all these piles of money sitting around in one program or another.

Just one of 69 federal preschool programs!!!



Monday’s Best of the Web: by The Elephant's Child

Today’s Must-Read Columns:

Silicon Valley Doesn’t Just Help the Surveillance State—It Built It

Mounting Controversies Are All About Trust

Obama is Just Obama



There’s No Paper Trail. No Smoking Gun. But… by The Elephant's Child

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To understand the current scandals, the big ones — the IRS targeting of conservative groups, the Verizon telephone hacking, and the Prism cyberhacking of nine major internet companies servers for data  — you have to understand some basic differences between the two major political parties. No, Republicans are not pure as the driven snow and the Democrats are not (quite) pure evil. Get real. They are all politicians whose primary interest is being reelected.

Democrats don’t just disagree with Conservatives, they hate them. They want them defeated utterly and completely so they are not there anymore and the Democrats are totally in charge and don’t have to suffer disagreeing people who keep dragging up studies and examples of why Democrats’  ideas won’t work, who get all stuffy about spending money, are unfailingly mean, don’t understand the need to help the poor, and don’t want to repay blacks for all their years of suffering.

Republicans do disagree with Democrats, about almost everything.  This is what the founders intended. Republicans would prefer to win the arguments, but they do recognize that the arguing serves a purpose.  I have never seen any indication anywhere, ever,  that Republicans want to do away with Democrats,  or ban them permanently from government. The ultimate goal of Democrats is winning. They want power. Republicans want a free society and smaller, more efficient government.

With the current scandals, Democrats insist that there is no paper trail, nor no “smoking gun” to connect President Barack O’Blameless to the scandals. Of course not. Obama does not like meetings, avoids them whenever possible, and prefers to make speeches. Why do you think he has all those Czars?

There might not be a paper trail, but Obama “spent months in 2010 warning Americans about the ‘threat’ to democracy posed by conservative groups, right at the time the IRS began targeting these groups.” The only useful thing produced by the inspector general’s audit of the IRS was the timeline, as laid out in the Wall Street Journal by Kim Strassel.

It was August 9, 2010 when the IRS first issued its “Be On the Lookout” list, flagging key conservative words and issues. The president named a group that he was obsessed with — Americans for Prosperity (founded by the Koch Brothers). “Right now all around this country there are groups with harmless-sounding names like Americans for Prosperity, who are running millions of dollars of ads…And they don’t have to say who exactly the Americans for Prosperity are. You don’t know if it’s a foreign-controlled corporation.”

Aug. 11: DCCC sends out fundraising emails warning about “Karl Rove inspired shadow groups.”

Aug. 21: Weekly radio address: “shadowy groups with harmless-sounding names. …You don’t know if it’s a foreign-controlled corporation…The only people who don’t want to disclose the truth are people with something to hide.”

Aug. 23: The New Yorker’s Jame Mayer: Hit piece on Koch brothers titled “Covert Operations: in which she accuses them of funding ‘political front groups.’”

Aug. 27: White House economist Austan Goolsbee accused Koch Industries of being a pass-through that does “not pay corporate income tax.” Inspector General investigates how Goolsbee got that confidential tax information.

Same week: Democrat Party files complaint with IRS claiming Americans for Prosperity is violating tax exempt status.

Sept. 16: Obama in CT, says “foreign-controlled entity” might be funding “millions of dollars of attack ads”

Sept 20: Obama in Philadelphia; “nobody knows who is behind conservative groups.”

And it continued.  IRS employees in the Cincinnati office are now telling investigators that they took their orders from Washington DC. With this kind of commentary coming continually from the president and his spokespeople, you might not have the presidential signature on a formal order, but people probably got the idea. That’s how politics worked in 2010.

If you want to know something about shadowy dark secret groups, just Google “Democracy Alliance.”



Awkward Conversations: Please Stop Stealing Our Secrets! by The Elephant's Child

There are some quotations that come quickly to mind, when observing politics: This one is from Sir Walter Scott’s Marmion  about the battle of Flodden Field in Northumberland in 1513 — border wars with Scotland. I heard a lot of Marmion at the dinner table when I was young. I think my father had to memorize vast quantities in prep school.

“Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”

Just when President Obama was going to have an important meeting with President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China, and perhaps have a little conversation about, um, cyber-hacking, and then it turned out to be right in the middle of the revelations of Obama’s cyber-hacking of Americans with the Prism program and cyber-hacking the nation’s telephone calls through Verizon.  Makes it a little awkward.

AP White House correspondent Julie Pace:

Thank you, Mr. President. How damaging has Chinese cyber-hacking been to the U.S.? And did you warn your counterpart about any specific consequences if those actions continue? And also, while there are obviously differences between China’s alleged actions and your government’s surveillance programs, do you think that the new NSA revelations undermine your position on these issues at all during these talks?

And President Xi, did you acknowledge in your talks with President Obama that China has been launching cyber attacks against the U.S.? Do you also believe that the U.S. is launching similar attacks against China? And if so, can you tell us what any of the targets may have been?

President Obama:

What both President Xi and I recognize is that because of these incredible advances in technology, that the issue of cybersecurity and the need for rules and common approaches to cybersecurity are going to be increasingly important as part of bilateral relationships and multilateral relationships. …

But I think it’s important, Julie, to get to the second part of your question, to distinguish between the deep concerns we have as a government around theft of intellectual property or hacking into systems that might disrupt those systems — whether it’s our financial systems, our critical infrastructure and so forth — versus some of the issues that have been raised around NSA programs.

Oh, schadenfreude of course. I just find it  — amusing.




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