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Friday, January 31, 2014

Do The Math

Remember those "word problems" that we all did in math back in middle school (junior high, if you are older)?  Well here is just one more to consider:

If there are 18,000 starving people in the Yarmouk Palestinian camp located in Syria and the UN delivers 900 food parcels, how many people will still be hungry?

Okay, I realize that there is not enough information to come to a final answer.  But this is not a math problem; it is reality.  For the last six months, the Assad regime has been systematically starving the Palestinians who live in Yarmouk.  They have been denied food, medicine and even water.  To be clear, those who are being starved are not part of the rebel forces fighting Assad.  The Palestinians, however, are Sunni Moslems, so they are suspected of supporting the rebels.  As time has gone by, the situation has gotten worse and worse until now, it is critical.  Latest reports say that over 100 people in Yarmouk died of starvation in the last two weeks.  Absent a massive relief effort, hundreds of thousands more will die.

This morning, the United Nations relief organization finally made a delivery of food to the camp.  It brought in 900 small boxes of food.  That is not even enough to feed those in the camp for one day.  Of course, to make matters worse, it seems that the people who run the camp have taken most of the food to feed themselves.

Think about this.  Assad and his backers from the Islamic Republic of Iran and all too happy to starve nearly 20,000 Palestinians to death.  The armed faction of Palestinians which rules the Yarmouk camp is also ready to starve the same Palestinians to death just so its fighters can be fed.

Next time you hear some dispute about the evil of an Israeli company operating a factory in the West Bank and providing jobs and livelihood for the Palestinians in the area, remember how the Shiite Moslems of Syria and Iran treat Palestinians.  Remember also how the armed leaders of the Palestinians in Syria treat their own people.  It certainly puts things into the proper context.

We cannot sit here and ignore the true war crimes of Assad's forces and of the Palestinian forces while criticizing activities by Israelis which actually help Palestinians.  (But don't wait for the strong condemnation coming from the US Department of State -- you would be waiting forever.)


The Fundamental Transformation of America

It was just over five years ago that then candidate Obama told us that his goal as president was to fundamentally transform America.  Let's look an see how well he has done.

1.  We have to start with healthcare, the principal focus of Obama since he has been in office.  Today, four years after the passage of Obamacare, three important things have happened.  First, a smaller percentage of Americans have health insurance than did on the day Obama took office.  Second, the cost of healthcare to the nation has continued to rise.  Third, the numbers of doctors leaving the profession has soared.  Fourth, the incursions into the healthcare system by Washington have skyrocketed.  In short, the healthcare system has continued to decline with less coverage for fewer people at greater cost, and the trend is accelerating.

2.  Next we need to turn to the economy.  In 2008, America was in a terrible fix, but by the time Obama took office in 2009, the worst of the crisis had passed.  In the old America, the one before Obama, we would have seen a strong economic bounce as the country recovered from the recession.  With the Obama transformation, we have seen only stagnant, slow growth.  We have seen millions upon millions of discouraged people who have just given up on the idea of getting a job.  We have seen individual initiative decline and reliance on government support grow.  We have watched a big chunk of a new generation learn that their future is not bright; they need to continue to live at home while they struggle to find a way to make it on their own.  It has been quite a transformation.

3.  Then we have America's position in the world.  When Obama took office, America was the dominant world power everywhere on the globe.  Obama has changed that.  In the Middle East, America is now almost irrelevant.  Due to his plans (or lack of them), Syria has changed from a tightly controlled autocratic state which was held in check, in part, due to fear of what America might do into a killing ground replete with a mad dictator slaughtering tens of thousands of his own people, equally mad rebels who seek the reappearance of the Islamic Caliphate run by al Qaeda and its murderous thugs, and the presence of both Russian forces and Iranian troops and advisors to help with the killing.  Saudi Arabia, once the closest of allies, is now estranged from America because of Obama's transformation of our foreign policy.  Israel, another close ally, is now threatened more and more at the behest of Washington than anyone could have thought imaginable.  Iraq, where thousands of Americans died to bring peace and freedom, is once again under assault by the Islamic terrorists we had driven out, all thanks to the Obama transformation.  Even in Afghanistan, Obama's "good" war, we have watched as the killing has spiked and unrest has spread.  Despite the surge in Afghanistan (or maybe because of it), Obama has managed to transform what had been a backwater battle area into a major killing ground.

4.  Obama also promised a transformation to a more open and tolerant society.  What did he bring?  The level of intolerance coming from the political elites and their allies is at an all time high.  Look at MSNBC.  In the last few months, we had one host fired for threatening reporters and shouting gay slurs, another fired for literally calling for governor Palin to be force fed excrement, another who tearfully apologized for a prepared segment that mocked interracial adoption because the family involved was Mitt Romney's, and the official Twitter feed of the network that called conservatives all racists.  This is a new low not a new high.  Then there is all the spying being done on folks across the land.  Did anyone realize that when Obama said he would transform America that it was into a police state where reporters are spied on and even called criminals in the courts just for doing their jobs?  Did anyone realize that the transformation was to modify the government so that the treatment citizens get from agencies like the IRS depends on their political affiliations?

5.  Obama has also succeeded in transforming the office of the President of the United States.  Forty years ago, it was a big deal when the president lied during the Watergate era.  Since then, there have been ups and downs in respect for the president, but Obama has now set a new standard.  The nation has been divided into two camps:  one which supports and believes Obama and another which neither supports Obama nor believes anything he says (and with good reason).  But it is not just the honesty of the president that Obama has modified.  Americans used to think that the president could achieve things; he was in control and could really take steps to help.  Obama, however, has created a new mantra for the Chief Executive.  Instead of "Here's what we need to do," Obama presents "I knew nothing about it."  There has never been a president who has been "surprised" more often by bad news in modern history.  Oh each president has had bad moments.  Think of 9-11 or Pearl Harbor.  But Bush and Roosevelt reacted and took care of it.  Look at Obama's response to the "surprise" of Benghazi.  Look at his response to the "surprise" of the IRS targeting of conservatives.  Look at his response to the "surprise" surveillance of the AP and Fox News.  Look at his response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria.  There was no response.  Oh, there were statements and a lot of talking points, but there was no ACTION.  NOTHING WAS DONE.  The president has been transformed from an action figure to a talking head.  Americans no longer believe that their president will do anything to help.

So Obama has actually made good on his pledge.  He has fundamentally transformed America.  Sadly, he has made things much, much worse.


Thursday, January 30, 2014

What Fracking Really Means -- Pennsylvania

If you listen to the propaganda from the extreme environmentalists who oppose the use of any fossil fuel, fracking and the resulting production of natural gas is a terrible thing.  These extremists tell us that the only reason why fracking is done is to feed the obscene profits of the huge and evil oil/gas companies.  We are also told that fracking has resulted in massive pollution of water aquifers whenever it has been undertaken. 

All of this is false, and it is worth looking at the real facts to get a sense of just what fracking and natural gas actually mean.  To do this, I want to focus on the state of Pennsylvania.  Ten years ago, essentially no natural gas was produced in the Keystone State.  Then came fracking and the start of production in the Marcellus Shale which underlies much of the state.  The boom in gas production in Pennsylvania is so great that the state is now the second largest producer of natural gas after only Texas (and it may catch an pass Texas before too long).  Was this just to enrich evil oil companies?  That would certainly be a hard claim to make.  On average, one eighth of the revenues from the natural gas produced goes to the folks who own the land where the gas comes from.  That means that in the last year about two billion dollars has gone to farmers and other landowners across much of rural Pennsylvania.  This flow of cash has enabled hundreds of thousands of families to raise their standard of living in dramatic fashion.  In fact, the effect of this natural gas production has probably been the single biggest cause of raising the income of a large group in America over the last few years.

Then you have all the jobs that the gas production in Pennsylvania has created.  Right now, the latest estimate is that there are roughly 120,000 additional jobs in Pennsylvania because of the local gas production.  That is enough jobs to cut the unemployment rate in the state by about 2.5%.  Once again, this is a major source of income for the middle income groups in the state.

On top of this you have the taxes gained by the state from all of this gas production and the resulting economic activity.  One estimate is that the net increase in revenue for the state is about half a billion dollars per year.  Just think what is done with that money.  Of course, there is also a massive amount of money paid to the federal government, but we are trying to focus just on the state of Pennsylvania so we will not discuss that in detail.

But what of the terrible costs from the pollution of ground water resulting from the fracking.  Here's where it gets really surprising.  Both the EPA and the state environmental department investigated complaints about the supposed contamination and determined that there is no evidence at all that any contamination exists.  Now before you tell me about the scene in the movie "Gasland" where someone lights tap water on fire, let me add that both EPA and the state found that there were some area where aquifers had naturally been infiltrated with natural gas.  It was in these areas where the gas got into the water naturally where the Gasland scene was filmed.

The truth is that natural gas drilling has been a major benefit to Pennsylvania and its residents.  There is more traffic in certain areas due to increased economic activity; that is certainly true.  Other than that traffic, however, the effects have all been good.


Another Status Update on the Success of Obamacare

Anyone who pays even some attention to the news understands that the announced reason for the passage of Obamacare was to help those Americans who lacked health insurance.  As president Obama put it (over and over again), no one ought to be living just one illness away from bankruptcy.  The emphasis on health insurance in Obamacare was so overwhelming, that changes that might improve healthcare or reduce the cost of care took a back seat to plans to provide insurance to a much larger group than before the law.  What this all means is that the Americans who ought to like the Obamacare law the best are the same people who were intended to benefit from it, namely those who were uninsured.

The Kaiser Family Foundation is out today with a new poll of public attitudes and knowledge about the Obamacare law.  One key finding came when Kaiser asked the people who had been uninsured in 2013 how the law had affected them.  A majority of 54% said the law had not made much difference for them; 30% said they were worse off because of the law; and only 13% said they were better off due to Obamacare.  Fewer than one in seven of the uninsured saw a meaningful improvement due to the law while two and a half times as many were harmed by it!

Another key question asked by Kaiser was how the uninsured viewed Obamacare.  By a margin of 2 to 1 (47% to 24%), these people who are the intended beneficiaries of the law viewed it unfavorably.  It is an astounding finding.  The people targeted for help don't like the law.

When Kaiser asked the population in general about how they had been affected by the law, there was again a 2 to 1 margin who said that they and their families had been harmed rather than helped by Obamacare.  We always hear about the anecdotal evidence in the media.  One favorable story is followed by one unfavorable story.  Now we have an actual country wide sampling about the effects of Obamacare.  The results are truly terrible.  To be fair, the largest group of respondents did say that the law has had no effect on them, but roughly half agreed that their lives had been touched by the law.

What these poll results actually show is that it will not be very long before the Democrats abandon the sinking ship of Obamacare.  They may have to overcome the stubborn insistence of Obama that the law is here to stay, but the upcoming elections are most likely to motivate these politicians to get rid of this mess.

Fantasy or Reality?

What would you think of a foreign policy expert who advocated a course of negotiations between two adversaries that required the political leader of one side to abandon his ties with his biggest supporters (including his own party) and to affiliate with his current opponents in order for a deal to be concluded successfully?  Okay, I know that is a bit confusing.  Let me say it differently.  How likely is the successful conclusion of negotiations that require the leader of one side to change both his policies and his supporters?  Hopefully that is clearer.

The question may be confusing, but the answer is not difficult.  A successful conclusion to the negotiations is highly unlikely.  In fact, for anyone to attempt to pull off a deal that depends on the complete reversal of one of the leaders could best be described as a victory for fantasy over reality.

Of course, what I have just described is not some esoteric philosophical question.  It is the recounting of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations as described by Tom Friedman of the New York Times.  Before going further, I have to point out that the fantasy may well be coming from Friedman; he has a history of being oblivious to the actual facts.  Nevertheless, Friedman ascribes to John Kerry the tactics in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations of seeking to have Israeli prime minister Netanyahu abandon his party and his coalition partners while seeking support from other parties the gain a majority for the peace plan envisioned by Kerry.

Let's just stop here for a moment.  Israel is a democracy.  It has a parliament with 120 members which governs the country.  Netanyahu's party (the Likud) and its coalition partners control a clear majority of the parliament.  If Netanyahu abandons the Likud and his allies, there are not enough members of parliament left to form a majority.  In other words, Kerry's plan cannot work because of simple mathematics.  But it gets worse.  In Israel, the parliament is roughly 10% composed of Arabs in three different parties.  Israeli politics is such that it is highly unlikely that an Israeli prime minister would make the most important decision in the history of the Jewish state based upon minority support of the Jewish members of parliament.  That means the number of potential new allies for Netanyahu is even lower, and the chances for Kerry's plan to work are even worse.

Now we all realize that some of the current members of the governing coalition might move with Netanyahu into a new grouping, and Kerry's plan must be based upon that hope.  But really, does Kerry think that any Israeli leader would enter into a deal with the current sclerotic Palestinian leadership, a group that has shown itself incapable of governing?  President Abbas just began his tenth year of a four year term.  That is not a mistake.  Abbas should have left office six years ago, but has just hung on to power without there being a peep out of the Palestinians.  Under his rule, the terrorists from Hamas have taken over the Gaza Strip, a control which continues today.  Why should the Israelis believe that the autocratic (and kleptocratic) Abbas and his people will be able to keep a new Palestine free from the terrorists once a deal is structured?  Would Israel actually enter into a deal only to be forced to retake control of that state to rid it of terror groups?

In fairness, there are so many problems facing the negotiations that Kerry's plan is just one of many flaws in that mess.  Still, if Friedman is correct (always a big if), then the Secretary of State is delusional. 


Some Really Good News For Once

Congressman Henry Waxman of California is retiring.  All I can say is let the joyous news be spread, the wicked Old Witch at last is dead! 

Okay, to be fair, Waxman has no magic powers.  He is just a totally partisan, nasty Democrat who has spent 40 years warming a seat in Congress.  Because of his seniority, he has gotten to be chair or ranking minority member of some important committees.  As a result, many people across America have been hurt by his endless political posturing.

Waxman announce his retirement today.  He is not running for re-election.  This will not change the party balance in Congress; Waxman's district is extremely liberal and very strongly supports the Democrats.  But Waxman will be gone!  That's quite an improvement for the nation.  Further, Waxman's retirement means that he has come to recognize that the Democrats have no hope of taking back the House in the elections in November.  Otherwise, Waxman would have hung around to have the chance to inflict more pain on the country during the next Congressional term in office.



Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Global Warming GIF -- Oh the Horror!

Yahoo is promoting what it describes as a "horrifying" GIF that shows global warming since 1950 in just 15 seconds.  Strangely, though, the animation is far from horrifying. 

The article that comes with the animation explains that the mean global temperature in 2013 has risen by 1.1 degrees Fahrenheit since 1950.  (1950 is used because that is the date most commonly accepted as the start of humanity's pumping of excess carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.)  Normally, the warming trend is measured in degrees Celsius, so we ought to convert the difference to 0.6 degrees on that scale if we are to discuss the scientific literature.  This gives rise to two important comments:

1.  The global warming models that were being used during the 1990's predicted that by now, the average temperature would have risen by way more than twice the amount actually measured.  Rather than horrifying anyone, the temperature rise ought to reassure observers that we are not seeing the rapid rise that was predicted. 

2.  During the years 1910 to 1940, temperature records show that the average global temperature rose by nearly as much as in the 63 years between 1950 and 2013.  For those 30 years prior to the onset of the supposed cause of global warming, temperature rose by just over 0.5 degrees Celsius. Those same temperature records show that between 1940 and 1980, a date 30 years after the onset of people pumping excess carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, there was actually a slight decline in average global temperatures.  So over the last 100 years we have 30 years of relatively quickly rising temperatures before the supposed cause began, forty years of declining temperatures during a period which mostly falls into the era of excess carbon dioxide, and a period from 1980 to 2013 when temperatures were again rising.  Of course, one needs to factor in also that from 1997 until 2013, the temperatures stopped rising.  The simple truth is that the models that predicted major global warming cannot explain the temperatures of the last 100 years.  That means that these models are incomplete, incorrect, or both.

It would be nice if the people in the media who report on climate change would at least learn something about the subject.  It won't happen, but at least we can dream.