American Elephants

The Attention Is All on Iowa. It Begins. by The Elephant's Child


Soon the returns from the Iowa Caucuses will be coming in. As someone online remarked today —”the results of the Iowa Caucuses don’t determine the result of the election —  just ask President Santorum.”

It’s a strange year. I forget that there are reporters from all over the world following the candidates and the campaign, not just our own journalists. I was really excited about the campaign at the beginning with such an outstanding bench of Republicans — Scott Walker, Rick Perry, and Bobby Jindal who had all been such successful governors. Uh huh. Apparently the media didn’t like successful governors.

I’m increasingly convinced that the media plays far too large a role in our primary campaigns as do probably meaningless polls when most Americans are just beginning to find out who the candidates are. I’m a political junkie, always have been, but I recognize that most people don’t pay much attention until it’s time for an election. I understand that. You come home tired from work, and want nothing so much as to just relax with something good on TV.

In the Saturday Essay at The Wall Street Journal, John O’Sullivan pointed out “two long-term shocks to the American political system, both gradually coming to a boil in recent decades, and in one short-term shock, which has turned up the gas on them to produce today’s bubbling over.”

The first was the end of the Cold War. But didn’t that happen in 1989? Yes, it did, and it began to loosen the discipline that had kept political parties world-wide either anti-Soviet or “peace-minded,” as their primary orientation. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, they have been released to follow their other instincts.

Mr. O’Sullivan suggests that “behind the two-party curtain, America’s social classes have been changing places in politics. Highly educated and very rich people used to lean Republican, they now increasingly vote for Democrats. Working class Americans no longer feel well represented by the Democrats…and have shifted sharply to the GOP.”

I certainly had not thought in those terms, but it seems possible. We have a big chunk of mega rich here — Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks, and Costco, and they are certainly reliable Democrats. I would suggest that the mega rich have done quite well under the Obama regime, but the working class clearly have suffered.  Everybody I know complains about having lost some of their favorite small businesses, and everyone knows someone who has been laid off.

You have probably seen the results: High turnout. Ted Cruz won significantly with 28 percent. Trump, second at 24 percent with Marco Rubio, a very close 23 percent. Martin O’Malley on the Democrat side and Mike Huckabee have suspended their campaigns. Hillary and Bernie Sanders are essentially tied, in a dead heat. A setback for Hillary, who is not qualified to run.  Technically there are 30 Republican delegates and 44 Democratic delegates. (I don’t know!) Ben Carson placed 4th and Rand Paul 5th.

Also pertinent is an article from the Washington Examiner: Confronting the hard truths of America’s civic illiteracy

Recently, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) released a major report: “The Crisis in Civic Education.” ACTA’s curricular survey of over 1,100 colleges and universities shows that only 18 percent of them require students to take a course in U.S. history or government. In secondary education, the results are equally dismal. In 2014, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) revealed through their civics test that one in four high-school seniors did not have “proficient” civic knowledge. Moreover, over one-third of 12th-grade students did not have “basic” knowledge of American civics. The NAEP governing board has since shot the messenger that brings such bad news by eliminating the high school civics test.

To spell it out, fewer “than 20 percent of American college graduates knew what the effects of the Emancipation Proclamation were; nearly half could not identify the correct term lengths of Congress; and almost 10 percent thought…”Judge Judy” served on the Supreme Court.” Apparently the Millennials are very enthusiastic about Bernie Sanders, but have no clue what socialism is. Perhaps it’s the offer of tuition -free college (not going to happen). Bernie is even more unfamiliar with economics than the Millennials. Do read the whole thing.

The Mystery and Magic of Ethanol and the Renewable Fuels Standard by The Elephant's Child

10020841+1ethanol092114Back in the dim reaches of the 20th Century, when scientists discovered the eternally expanding global warming grant proposal that gave them prestige; fun world conferences; better furnished departments; assistants and best of all they became Climate Scientists instead of just some PhD in an obscure part of the science building—the IPCC was founded, the EPA was founded and equipped with the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, so someone or other decided it would be a good idea if we started adding large quantities of Iowa corn to our gas tanks as a biofuel called Ethanol.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 established the first Renewable Fuels Standard that required 7.5 billion gallons of renewable fuel to be blended into gasoline by 2012. The idea was that it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as reducing reliance on imported oil.

Sounded like a good idea. But ethanol has also raised the cost of driving. It seems that the renewable fuel has cost drivers an extra $83 billion to fill their gas tanks while doing little if any good for the climate. 40 percent of the corn grown in the United states goes into ethanol.  Current ethanol blends produce fewer miles per gallon, so drivers pay more to go the same distance.

Ethanol adds more CO2 to the atmosphere than it eliminates by replacing fossil fuels. Beyond that it has led farmers to plow up more land to grow corn.  And thanks to shale gas and fracking, America no longer needs renewable fuels to reduce dependence on foreign oil. We are the richest oil producing state in the world. Farmers and ethanol producers were hoping to increase the amount of ethanol required in gasoline to 15% or more, but automobile engines cannot take that amount without damage.

If we replaced the 18 billion gallons of ethanol required under the EPA’s 2016 RFS, it would reduce the oil glut and improve the nation’s carbon footprint even more. Nevertheless, this is an issue in the campaign in Iowa. You will be hearing about corporate welfare.

The Iowa Caucuses Don’t Make Any Difference! by The Elephant's Child

It’s caucus night in Iowa. That event has dominated the news for weeks, yet Iowans do not choose a nominee. It isn’t a primary.  All it offers is “momentum.”  Those who come out on top get momentum for the next primary, and the results inform the political establishment of their preferences, but otherwise they are meaningless.

How do we decide?  Who influences us? Are we informed on our own hook, or do we fail to get good information, and how do we decide. I just saw a video comparing Dr. Ron Paul to Dr. Zachary Smith in  “Lost in Space.” That was a TV show from 1965-1968. Even those who watched it when they were little kids are over 50 now.

People now talk to each other with movie and TV references as kind of a cultural shorthand — Star Trek, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter are important sources, and, of course, anything from Monty Python. Does this cultural shorthand fail when used with a generation that did not experience those shows?  When it comes to politics, we should probably refer more to Yes, Minister — which has some important lessons for us, as it was intended to do, but that belongs to the Thatcher administration, which was also a long time ago.

I am fascinated with trying to put myself into the mindset of the age of the Founders when there were no radios, no telephones, no TV, no movies, no recorded music, and there were not all that many books.  I have seen reproductions of the newspapers of the day, and they were a far cry from our newspapers of today.

But we err if we assume that people were not literate.  In 1776, one book written in complex language, sold over 120,000 copies which would be equivalent to 60 million copies today. A Boston bookseller’s stock in 1700 included no less than eleven dozen spellers and sixty-one dozen primers.

Philadelphia, by 1776 had become second only to London as the chief city in the British Empire.  Between 1740 and 1776 over one hundred and twenty-five private schoolmasters advertised their services in local newspapers. Instruction was offered in Latin, Greek, mathematics, surveying, navigation, accounting, bookkeeping, science, English and contemporary foreign languages. One schoolmaster, Alexander Porter, a mathematics teacher, had over one hundred students enrolled in 1776. There were also, by 1767, sixteen evening schools catering mostly to the hardworking German population. There were also schools for women, blacks and the poor.

If you want to feel really ignorant, look up a school examination from a century or more ago.  When TV first arrived on the scene, it was assumed that it would be a great step forward in educating the ordinary citizen, with exposure to symphonies, opera, history and we all know how well that has worked out. We prefer being entertained and amused.

Does that roll over into politics? Are we informed voters? To what extent are we influenced by the media? I haven’t seen estimates of how many people watch the debates, nor of the extent to which the debates influence their choices.

I”m currently reading Amity Shlaes’ The Forgotten Man, which is a new history of the Great Depression, and an absolutely fascinating one. I cannot recommend it highly enough. It has a lot to offer that is particularly pertinent to today’s politics. The account of the election of 1932 and the First Hundred Days in 1933 is enlightening, to say the least.  But time waits for no man.  On to New Hampshire.

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