American Elephants

There Are Also Consequences to Not Having a Foreign Policy. by The Elephant's Child

In the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan says:

Sept. 11 started the century and brought forward the face of terrorism. It is still there and will continue to cause grave disruptions. Since then we have seen we are living in a time of uprisings, from the Mideast to Africa to the streets of Kiev. We are learning that history isn’t over in Europe, that East-West tensions can simmer and boil over, that the 20th century didn’t resolve as much as many had hoped.

A Mideast dictator last year used poison gas on his own population and strengthened his position. He’s winning. What does that tell the other dictators? What does it suggest about our future?

At the American Enterprise Institute, John Bolton writes:

President Obama has three significant Middle East diplomatic initiatives underway, treating, respectively, Iran’s nuclear weapons program; Syria’s deadly, exhausting conflict; and the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Into these negotiations, Obama and his administration have poured enormous amounts of American prestige, time and effort.

Although rarely considered collectively, these three efforts constitute a significant strategic package for a White House that all too often hardly bothers with foreign policy. These initiatives truly reflect Obama’s view of America’s international role: His is a world of rhetoric and talk, not power.

Thus, Iran has not feared U.S. military strikes against its nuclear weapons program, and now, as a result of November’s interim agreement in Geneva, it does not even fear international economic sanctions. Neither the Bashar Assad regime nor Al Qaeda terrorists in Syria see any prospect of material U.S. intervention. And the main pressure being applied in the Israeli-Palestinian matter is against Israel, heretofore Washington’s strongest regional ally.

The Obama administration’s three initiatives will come to naught because they are based on error. Iran uses negotiations to buy time to continue work on their nuclear program. Obama thought Russia shared his objective of a peaceful transition from the horror of the use of chemical weapons on his own people, to something else. We could have dealt with it directly by helping the opposition in Syria, or tackling the problem’s root cause, the regime of the mullahs in Tehran.

We don’t seem to know who our friends are. The Palestinians have no legitimate governing institutions that are capable of hard decisions, like making compromises or overcoming resistance from Hamas or other terrorists. A regime that trains its small children to grow up to be suicide bombers is not going to make reliable agreements about anything.

Failing to understand reality, and failing to grasp the consequences of such failure weakens the United States and emboldens our enemies.

An interview with Col. Austin Bay pointed out that there are approximately 200 wars going on currently in Africa — real wars.

Venezuela is falling apart. Their foreign minister blames the United States and called US Secretary of State John Kerry a “murderer” who has fomented unrest that has killed 28 people in their country. Since street demonstrations began against President Nicholas Maduro’s socialist government in early February, Venezuelan ministers have been accusing Washington of stirring u[ the country’s worst political troubles in a decade. President Maduro says that a bird is giving him advice from the late President Chavez.

There’s more, of course. Argentina is in deep trouble, our newly appointed ambassador neither speaks the language, nor has ever been to Argentina, but did provide significant funds for Obama’s reelection.

Qatar hosts the forward headquarters of U.S. Central Command, but also supports the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and radical Sunni outfits in Syria. Support for Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels was too much for Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the U.A.E. all recalled their ambassadors from Qatar.

And so the World turns on, altering and illuminating the affairs of man. Or something like that.

Have You Noticed Rising Food Prices? Here’s why: by The Elephant's Child

Food prices are up, and manufacturers are trying hard to keep you from noticing. Cereal boxes remain the same height, but they are thinner. Baker’s chocolate, formerly in 8 oz. boxes, now comes in boxes that are about ¼” smaller in every direction, contains half as much chocolate “NEW! 4 oz. Easy Break Bar, Same great chocolate. ” Still the same great price, for half as much. Sugar packages have lost a pound of content. I don’t like seeing food prices climb, but I object even more to manufacturers’ attempts to fool me.

If we insist, as a nation, on putting most of our corn crop into our gas tanks — the result is food price inflation. Food prices are rising faster than overall inflation. Core inflation is running around 2%, but the USDA said food prices would be up 3% to 4% last year. Corn ethanol does nothing for the climate, and it contains less energy than gasoline.  You’re just paying farmers to grow fuel instead of food. A rise in the price of corn affects the price of other farm commodities such as meat, poultry, dairy and soy products. Congress ended the direct ethanol subsidies in 2011, but the renewables standard remains, and it is the biggest factor. Food prices hit the poor the hardest, and the ethanol mandate is essentially a tax on the poor.

“Organic” foods have been heavily promoted. They cost about 30% more than non-organic foods, but the label “organic” means only that growers used “natural” fertilizers and “natural” pesticides, but pesticide residue does not cross the conservative safety thresholds set by regulators. Natural fertilizer refers to animal manure —pathogen-laden animal excreta. “Organic” is supposed to be better for the natural environment, but it isn’t so, it just uses more land. The term “organic” refers to the practices and procedures a farmer intends to use. It does not indicate superior nutrition, flavor, or healthful qualities. It’s not better for  you, just more expensive.

And for sheer silliness, consider the locavores. Now that with modern transportation we can have summer foods in the winter, plentiful vegetables when it’s snowing out, and strawberries all year around, the purists insist on locally grown food, with the suggestion that it is much fresher. But there’s not much local in the winter, and it may be flown in faster anyway.

Environmentalists are the loons who care more about the environment than about people. Fringe anti-biotechnology activists are hell-bent on banning anything containing a chemical.  Chemicals are bad. A current interest is genetically modified food. Modify people’s genes as much as you want, select the desired sex and attributes of your potential baby, but don’t modify plants to be more resistant to disease, or insert a gene for Vitamin A to prevent blindness, as in “golden rice,”— an incalculable benefit to parts of the world dependent on rice, yet lacking the essential vitamin in their food supply. Better to have blind kids than mess with their food. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) are not GMO skeptics, as they like to portray themselves,  but fringe anti-chemical activists operating on the “precautionary principle” or the theory that if something is ‘suspected’ of potentially causing harm, you have to prove that it will not.

We are growing more food on less land, the green revolution, that will help to feed a hungry world. Food for the Poor is asking for help to feed starving Guatemalan children. Egypt is having trouble feeding their own people. We have over 17 years of successful GMO cultivation, millions of acres, hundreds of millions of servings and not one instance of adverse health or environmental effects. It is a remarkable achievement, and there are far more achievements in the pipeline.

Biotechnology offers an unparalleled safety record and demonstrated commercial success. Remarkably, however, biotechnology might not reach its full potential. In part, that’s because outspoken opponents of GM crops in the U.S. have spearheaded a “labeling” movement that would distinguish modified food from other food on grocery store shelves. Never mind that 60%-70% of processed food on the market contains genetically modified ingredients. In much of Europe, farmers are barred from growing genetically modified crops. Even in Africa, anti-biotechnology sentiment has blocked its application. In Zambia, for example, the government refused donations of GM corn in 2002, even as its people starved.

Opponents of GM crops have been extremely effective at spreading misinformation. GM crops don’t, as one discredited study claimed recently, cause cancer or other diseases. GM cotton isn’t responsible for suicides among Indian farmers—a 2008 study by an alliance of 64 governments and nongovernmental organizations debunked that myth completely. And GM crops don’t harm bees or monarch butterflies.

Anyone who cares about alleviating hunger and protecting the environment should work quickly to remove the bias against GM crops. A good first step is for educated, scientifically literate people to avoid being taken in by the myths about genetically modified food. These innovations have too much potential to empower individuals and feed the world to be thwarted by falsehoods and fear-mongering.

Jobs for the Middle Class, Revisited Again, and Again. by The Elephant's Child

President Obama went to Chattanooga, Tennessee last Wednesday for a big speech on jobs at the Amazon fulfillment center.  Let’s just say it was not one of Mr. Obama’s better efforts. He wants a “better bargain” for the middle class. He has this weird idea that the economy grows “from the middle out,” which nobody understands, but he’s trying to make the middle class feel important.

He said that “over the past four and a half years, we’ve been fighting our way back from the worst recession since the Great Depression.” He’s used this line over and over, but that does not make it true. It was a sharp recession, others have been worse, but we usually recover more quickly from a sharp recession. The recession ended in June 2009. It is the recovery that has been the problem.

From Zero Hedge: “Of 953,000 jobs created in 2013, 77 percent or 731,000 are part time. The U.S. is slowly being converted to a part-time economy.” According to Obama, it is because of the “long-term erosion” that it’s so hard to get the economy growing again. (Not His fault). “Together we’ve righted the ship. We took on a broken health care system.” The health care system was not broken, but the best in the world. There were something like 35 percent who had no health insurance. And we have learned that when Obama Care fully takes effect, there will still be about the same number who have no health insurance.

As Thomas Sowell said “It is amazing that people who think we cannot afford to pay for doctors, hospitals, and medication somehow think that we can afford to pay for doctors, hospitals, medication and a government bureaucracy to administer it.”That’s what  they did not understand. And what has happened is that businesses who have large numbers of low wage people cannot afford what ObamaCare demands that they pay, so they are switching to part time employees, and they will have to hire twice as many part-time workers. There are always consequences.

Obama is going to fix the middle class with lots of construction jobs. You probably remember that he said that “those shovel-ready jobs really weren’t shovel-ready.” Construction jobs are complicated. First you have to get the agreement of the concerned governmental unit. Plans must be drawn up. Long approval process. Environmental impact statement. Long approval process. Legal battles with those who don’t like the project, and there are always those who don’t like the project. Repeat approval process. Construction jobs are not permanent jobs. They attach to a project.

The president added that “we invested in new American technologies to reverse our addiction to foreign oil.”Sigh. We were never “addicted” to foreign oil. We had a government that wanted to buy foreign oil instead of allowing drilling for our own resources, and a government that extended the ban on offshore drilling in the case of Deepwater-Horizon to an absurd extent that sent ten big rigs off to other countries that were more cooperative, with their crews, and shut down the economy in the Gulf for months for no particular reason except that the President was ideologically opposed to fossil fuels, and subsequently forbade any drilling anywhere else, like offshore Alaska, onshore Alaska, West Coast, East Coast, Florida coast.

You don’t make the economy grow from the middle class out. A reviving economy will provide opportunity for all. ObamaCare is the biggest drag on the economy, but the”green jobs” in new 21st Century technology are nonsense. Spain and Portugal are dying from excessive investment in green technology. In Germany, Siemens burned through 21 Billion Euros and is out of the solar business. Wind and Solar are old, old technologies, and sexy new turbines or solar shingles seem like wonderful new technology, but the inherent problems of wind and solar remain the same. Wind is too intermittent, Solar is too diffuse.

How about doing some of the things that actually help businesses to create jobs? Obama has in mind a new “Grand Bargain.” He will reform the corporate tax code. His willingness to cut back the U.S. corporate tax, which is the highest in the developed world which taxes businesses on the income they earn in other countries. It destroys jobs and lowers wages for American workers and is way overdue for reform.

The central purpose of tax reform is to invigorate economic growth. Broadening the tax base (closing loopholes) and subsequently lowering tax rates is a good thing. But Mr. Obama wants to use some of that revenue to increase spending, which turns the whole thing into just another tax hike. He can’t give up the spending, and he needs more revenue to do it.

The Planet Will Boil Over if Young Africans Are Allowed Cars by The Elephant's Child

President Obama speaking to young Africans, on his vacation trip to Africa.

The Optics of the Africa Trip — Not so Good. by The Elephant's Child

President Barack Obama told a town hall in Johannesburg, South Africa on Saturday that “Ultimately, if you think about all of the youth that everybody has mentioned here in Africa, if everybody is raising living standards to the point where everybody has got a car and everybody has got air conditioning and everybody has got a big house, well the planet will boil over — unless we find new ways of producing energy.”

According to Obama global warming constitutes “the biggest challenge we have environmentally,” one greater than all other environmental calamities like “dirty water, dirty air.” Sorry, not true. The World health Organization estimates the “global warming” is responsible for approximately 140,000 deaths each year.

The greatest problem that we can actually do something about is unclean drinking water. According to UNESCO, unsanitized water causes billions of preventable diseases annually: from diarrhea (4 billion), cholera (120,000), malaria (300-500 million), intestinal parasites (25% of world’s population) typhoid (12 million), trachoma (6 million), and schistosomeisis (200 million) — listed from the highest to the least affected. We know how to treat water to make it safe, even in the far abroad. There is absolutely nothing that we can do that will affect global warming in the slightest.

Somehow that just doesn’t come across too well. The president flies in on Air Force One, with a bunch of cargo planes in tow to carry the 12 limousines, and that already puts the trip over $25 million, and he tells the Africans that they can’t have air conditioning and cars and big houses, because he’s still stuck in AlGore fantasy land. He implied several times that the U.S. would only encourage growth in Africa if it is grounded in “clean energy strategies.” I imagine there are a lot of places in Africa where solar energy could provide some energy in a place where none has been obtainable, and the cost of solar panels has been dropping. Some energy is preferable to none at all. But the president apparently has in mind some big investment like Solyndra. Uh huh.

George W. Bush and Laura are in Africa too, but they are quietly helping to renovate a women’s clinic in Zambia, U2 frontman Bono, who is an activist for the poor and sick in Africa is crediting evangelical Christians and former President George W. Bush for saving 9 million from the ravages of AIDS, a campaign the musician says is blessed by God.  Barack Obama cut back on the AIDS funds, last year and this. Priorities.

Ultimately, if you think about all the youth that everybody has mentioned here in Africa, if everybody is raising living standards to the point where everybody has got a car and everybody has got air conditioning, and everybody has got a big house, well, the planet will boil over — unless we find new ways of producing energy.” – See more at:
Ultimately, if you think about all the youth that everybody has mentioned here in Africa, if everybody is raising living standards to the point where everybody has got a car and everybody has got air conditioning, and everybody has got a big house, well, the planet will boil over — unless we find new ways of producing energy.” – See more at:
Ultimately, if you think about all the youth that everybody has mentioned here in Africa, if everybody is raising living standards to the point where everybody has got a car and everybody has got air conditioning, and everybody has got a big house, well, the planet will boil over — unless we find new ways of producing energy.” – See more at:
Ultimately, if you think about all the youth that everybody has mentioned here in Africa, if everybody is raising living standards to the point where everybody has got a car and everybody has got air conditioning, and everybody has got a big house, well, the planet will boil over — unless we find new ways of producing energy.” – See more at:

The Illusion of an Arab Spring is Long Gone. by The Elephant's Child


Sunrise at the Temple of Karnak in Luxor, Egypt

Egypt has problems. Cast your mind back to May of 2011. Egypt is the 15th most populous country at 82,079,636 according to 2011 estimates. Cairo had a population of an estimated 10.902 million, and the median age was 24. Half the population lived on less than $2 a day, and a spike in food prices leads to real trouble. Egypt is the world’s largest grain importer. To rephrase that, they cannot feed their own population. The Peruvian economist Hernando De Soto has estimated that 92% of Egyptians hold their property without normal legal title. Egypt is dependent on revenue from tourism.

If you remember, Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26 year-old Tunisian street vendor helped to start what became known as the Arab Spring, by an act of desperation by setting himself on fire in a public square. That act led to spontaneous uprisings in Egypt, Yemen, Libya and Syria. The White House and the media spoke breathlessly of Western-style democracy sweeping across the Arab desert. They ignored polls that showed that large majorities of Egyptians were yearning to vote in Islamic law. Skeptics pointed out that the Arab world has no experience whatsoever of democracy, and radical Islamists would soon sweep in.

Obama urged on the rioters and pressured Mubarak to step down. They held elections, the Muslim Brotherhood got 60% of the vote, and Mohamed Morsi was elected President, and promptly dismissed the Generals of the Egyptian Army.

President Morsi has now handed over control of a tourist destination to a party that loathes tourists. On Sunday President Morsi appointed Adel al-Khayat of the Gamaa al-Islamiyya party as Governor of Luxor, a region that is home to the ruins of two temples and several monuments. The party holds conservative views against sunbathing, women wearing shorts, alcohol, and is responsible for the 1997 attack in Luxor that killed 60 tourists. The New York Times reported:

“A fatwa, or religious decree, published on the Gamaa al-Islamiyya’s web site advised members of the group not to build tourist accommodations. ‘Because tourist villages have aspects that anger Allah, including alcohol, gambling and other forbidden things, building these hotels and villages is considered aiding their owners in sin and aggression, and is not permitted,’ the decision read.”

Tourism accounts for more than 11% Egypt’s GDP, and 90 percent of Egyptians employed in  Luxor work in industries that depend on tourism to stay afloat. The revolution and the political turmoil following it has already nearly ended the country’s tourist economy, and this move won’t help.

To cap that off, President Morsi has escalated a fight with Ethiopia this week over a dam on the Nile River. Ethiopia is building a dam upstream from Egypt and expects to start filling in a 74 billion cubic meter reservoir in 2015. Egypt fears the dam will choke off its main supply of water.

Speaking to hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Cairo Monday, Mr. Morsi said that Egypt was ready to “protect every drop of the Nile water,” for which it was ready to spill “our blood.” Conjuring up a conspiracy by domestic and foreign “enemies” to impoverish Egypt, he called on Egyptians to face up to the “threats to the country.”

The combative speech turned up the volume on bellicose noises from Cairo. Last week, the president held a meeting with opposition figures who, unaware they were being filmed live, said that Egypt may need to act militarily in Ethiopia to stop the construction of the dam. The video went viral.

Ethiopia dismissed the Egyptian threats as “psychological warfare” and said it will continue to build the dam.

Morsi has been in office for only 12 months, and none of the promises to make the streets safe or revive the economy have been realized. Youth unemployment is extremely high, and the government’s foreign currency reserves have been depleted. Egypt now depends on handouts from friendly nations like Qatar and Libya to buy food and fuel. The opposition has called for mass rallies across the country on June 30.

Secretary of State John Kerry has promised $4 billion in aid, and airplanes, but this is not an Arab Spring, and our government does not seem to grasp the nature of radical Islam. Now Mr. Morsi has turned to conspiracy mongering and nationalistic posturing. Didn’t work for Mubarak and his generals, and is unlikely to work in the current situation.

What our adventures in Syria will add to the mix remains to be seen. Our government seems remarkably naive in their approach to the Islamist governments in the Middle East.

Built For Running: Explaining Cheetahs by The Elephant's Child
June 3, 2013, 5:47 pm
Filed under: Art, Energy, Africa, Freedom | Tags: , ,

Learning How to Be an Elephant by The Elephant's Child

When you are very young, there’s all sorts of stuff you have to learn. You humans have noses with which you breathe and smell; ours does that as well as collecting food, touching, grasping and sound production. We can eventually crack a peanut shell without harming the peanut itself, lift up to 770 lbs., reach up to 23 feet, suck up water both to drink and to shower. When we swim, it’s a snorkel. So don’t go laughing when we have to learn how to use our proboscis, it just takes time.

Ahhh — Morning Coffee, Around the World: by The Elephant's Child


Few people anywhere begin the day without a hot drink. Coffee, chocolate and tea. Yerba maté, (Argentinian). Creative blends of apple cider vinegar, herbs and honey (really?) But worldwide, coffee dominates. And as with all things popular, they’ve been trying to find something wrong with it for years, with little success. Yes, it can keep you awake at night, so don’t drink it at night.

Here’s a great roundup of how coffee is served around the world from Smithsonian magazine. There are two main species of coffee that are grown in nearly every tropical region. Brazil and Vietnam lead production. And coffee is now the second most in demand commodity after oil. Black, with cream, cream and sugar, iced, flavored, and think of the vast array of coffee makers and coffee pots.

I grew up with a percolator, Folgers, and fresh spring water. My dad liked good coffee, cream and sugar. My mother liked HOT coffee. I swear, the woman had an asbestos tongue.  I have a vast collection of demitasse cups, and never use them. Then there’s Starbucks: double shot caramel macchiato with extra foam and sprinkles.

Benghazi: The Scandal Grows Even Worse. by The Elephant's Child

What a depressing day. Defense Secretary Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Dempsey testified on Benghazi. Oh well, nobody to blame here. Just move along.

Under questioning by Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)  Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that President Obama knew “generally” what U.S military assets were deployed in the region, but did not ask for specifics. He left the strategy “up to us” meaning Pannetta and military leadership. Panetta said that after the initial briefing, which took place at about 5 pm Washington time, he had no further communications at all with President Obama that night. The president never even called to ask how the attack as progressing. No one from the White House ever called later that night, according to Panetta, to inquire about the attack. President Obama went to bed that night not even knowing whether the Americans under assault had survived the attack.

U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans died in the assault which went on for six hours. The Obama administration blamed the event on an obscure You Tube video. The video-maker is still in prison.

Senator Graham (R-SC) queried Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey about aircraft available in the area during the attack. “you said the F-16 was not a good platform to defend the consulate. What would have been the appropriate platform?

“The appropriate platform, Senator, would hae been to have boots on the ground ahead of the event. After the event is in conduct, it would be very difficult” Dempsey responded.

Elsewhere it was reported that Dempsey said that they couldn’t respond because they had no request from the State Department. Hillary also, apparently went to bed.

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Angus King (I-ME) asked why forces at the Crete base, across the Mediterranean from Benghazi werent employed to help the Americans at the consular mission.

“The bases that we have in southern Europe, in the Mediterranean area are — generally speaking have aircraft,” Dempsey said. {The first point I made is that it wasn’t the right tool for the particular threat we faced. secondly, the aircraft we have in Europe, generally are there in support of NATO and on a different alert posture. That was not among the forces —the aircraft were not among the forces that we had at heightened alert.”

McCain called the written statement submitted by Dempsey “one of the more bizarre statements that I have ever seen in my years in this committee.”

“When you’re talking about the Benghazi issue, you say, “We positioned our forces in a way that was informed by and consistent with available threat estimates.” Then you go on to say, “Our military was appropriately responsive,” even though seven hours passed and two Americans died at the end of that. Then you go on and say “We did what our posture and capabilities allowed,” McCain said.

It was reported at the time that General Carter Ham, who was AFRICOM commander, received the same frantic calls for help that went to the White House. He was prepared to send in a special forces team, and was abruptly relieved of command. That situation, as far as I can tell, was never publicly mentioned again.

The behavior of this bunch was disgraceful. The attack went on for seven hours, but we are informed that there just wasn’t time. And nobody was very interested, and  the Secretary of State was unavailable and the President just went off to bed.


At Least 10,000 New Crocodiles in the Limpopo River. by The Elephant's Child

An African Safari

South Africa has called out the police to join the hunt for as many as 10,000 crocodiles that have escaped from a crocodile farm during floods and been washed into one of Southern Africa’s biggest rivers. Do not go swimming in the Limpopo River.

Heavy rains and flooding have claimed at least 20 lives in Mozambique and South Africa and led to evacuations. The flood gates at the Rakwena Crocodile farm close to the Botswana and Zimbabwe borders ere opened on Sunday because it was feared that rising flood waters would crush the reptiles, releasing some 15,000 crocodiles. Most are less than 78 inches long.

Crocodile farmers, locals and police have trapped thousands of the reptiles, using plastic bands to tie their legs behind their backs and piling them into pick-up trucks. They have more success at night, because it is easier to see them. Huh.

I have never lived where crocodiles are common, nor alligators, nor do I want to. Someone once sent us a baby crocodile as a  joke. Not funny. Fortunately, a worker at the Humane Society had a husband who was a Herpetologist who was delighted to have the chance to raise one. Took me a long time to get over being angry about that.

A Glimpse of Sheer Beauty. by The Elephant's Child

This is a Hildebrandt’s Starling, unfortunately found  in Tanzania and Kenya. I have no visitors to my bird feeders that can compare. It’s natural habitat is open woodland and thornbrush country.  It’s about 7.1 inches long, and it’s iridescence is derived from the interference of reflected light from the feather structures rather than from pigments, as are the common starlings we have here. who are also iridescent but not particularly colorful. Its song is a long slow “ch-rak ch-rak chee-chee-wee chee-wee rak rak rak.”  (My spell-checker didn’t like that bit at all!) It’s nice to know there are such beautiful birds, even if I’ll see them only in pictures.


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