American Elephants

April, 2010’s Nanny of the Month Award. by The Elephant's Child
April 30, 2010, 8:04 pm
Filed under: Democrat Corruption, Law, Politics, Progressivism | Tags: , ,

I yield to no one in my distaste for bureaucrats who think they must regulate everything.   But there is a serious side to all this nit-picky nannyism.  Excessive regulation leads to disrespect for the laws,  When regulations are silly, and unnecessary, people lose respect for both the regulations and for the regulators.

It seems strange for a government to outlaw incandescent lightbulbs because of a false idea that we are short of energy, as government officials build themselves multiple homes of ridiculous size, and demand private plane service.

The regulators seldom have any intent of being regulated themselves, nor of obeying any regulations.  The regulations are meant to apply only to the distasteful masses — us.

Photoshopping Nancy Pelosi! by The Elephant's Child
April 30, 2010, 6:11 pm
Filed under: Humor, News of the Weird, Politics, Progressivism | Tags: , ,

Do we all have friends whose communications mostly consist of emailed  jokes?  I know I do. Here’s one I got today from an old friend:

A 54 year-old woman had a heart attack and was taken to the hospital.

While on the operating table, she had a near-death experience.  Seeing God, she  asked “Is my time up?”

God said, “No, you have another 43 years, 2 months and 8 days to live.”

Upon recovery from her heart attack, the woman decided to stay in the hospital and have a face-lift, liposuction, breast implants and a tummy-tuck.  She even had someone come in and change her hair color and brighten her teeth!  Since she had so many good years ahead of her, she figured that she might as well make the most of it.

After her last operation, she was released from the hospital.  While crossing the street on her way home, she was hit and killed by an ambulance.

Arriving in front of God, she demanded: “I thought you said I had another 43 years?  Why didn’t you pull me from out of the path of the ambulance”?”

God replied:  “I didn’t recognize you!”

More on the Deepwater Horizon Disaster: by The Elephant's Child
April 30, 2010, 4:54 pm
Filed under: Capitalism, Economy, Energy, Environment, Politics | Tags: , ,

A process called cementing is being scrutinized as a possible cause of the explosion on the Deepwater  Horizon oil rig  in the Gulf of Mexico, drilling experts said Thursday.  The procedure is supposed to keep oil and natural gas from escaping, by filling gaps between the outside of the well pipe and the inside of the hole bored into the ocean floor.

Cement is pumped down the well from the drilling rig.  It is also used to plug wells after they have been abandoned, or when drilling is finished and production hasn’t yet begun. In the case of Deepwater Horizon, workers had finished pumping cement, and had begun temporarily plugging the well with cement.  It isn’t known if they had completed the plugging process before the blast.

“The initial likely cause of gas coming to the surface had something to do with the cement,” said Robert MacKenzie, managing director of energy and natural resources at FBR Capital Markets and a former cementing engineer in the oil industry.

Several other drilling experts agreed, though they cautioned that the investigation into what went wrong at the Deepwater Horizon site is still in its preliminary stages.

The problem could have been a faulty cement plug at the bottom of the well, he said. Another possibility would be that cement between the pipe and well walls didn’t harden properly and allowed gas to pass through it.

A 2007 study by three U.S. Minerals Management Service officials found that cementing was a factor in 18 of 39 well blowouts in the Gulf of Mexico over a 14-year period. That was the single largest factor, ahead of equipment failure and pipe failure.

The spill volume will probably be much less than the massive spill from the infamous Exxon Valdez, but the Exxon Valdez oil was all spilled in Prince William Sound, and thus somewhat contained, and the sound had rocky beaches that could be steam cleaned.  The oil headed into the Louisiana marshes can’t be contained in the same way. The Exxon Valdez spill happened on the surface.  This is bubbling up from leaks 5,000 feet down, and once on the surface, can drift.  Apparently BP’s safety record isn’t so good, and lots of litigation can be expected.

Robert Bryce said that he left out of his piece on the risks of offshore drilling what is probably the biggest risk:  the public relations risk.  What is bad for the oil and gas industry will be good for the corn ethanol and wind industry.  On Wednesday, President Obama was in an ethanol plant in Missouri, singing the praises of ethanol:

I may be the President these days, but I want to remind everybody I was the senator from Illinois. I didn’t just discover the merits of biofuels like ethanol when I first hopped on the campaign bus. I was telling Steve this was not the first ethanol plant I visited. And I believe in the potential of what you’re doing right here to contribute to our clean energy future, but also to our rural economies.

Robert Bryce suggests that the Obama administration will soon approve a bailout for the ethanol industry in which the EPA will remove the “blend wall” which will raise the amount of ethanol in US gasoline from 10% to 15%, an amount that supposedly will damage most car engines.  Only 3% of the automotive fleet have flex-fuel engines.  The Energy Tribune says:

Corn ethanol is the biggest scam to hit America since the days of Charles Ponzi. Making subsidized motor fuel out of the most subsidized crop in America borders on fiscal insanity. No matter how you slice it, corn ethanol cannot provide enough fuel to displace imported oil. In 2005, U.S. farmers produced about 11.1 billion bushels of corn. If the U.S. turned all of its corn into ethanol, it would only supply about 6 percent of America’s total annual oil needs.

ADDENDUM: ExxonMobil is sending equipment and experts to help with cleanup efforts in the Deepwater Horizon disaster.  The company has offered a drilling rig as a staging base, two supply vessels, and underwater vehicle and support vessel.

Exxon has sent experts to respond to BPs request for technical advice about blowout preventers, dispersant injection, well construction and containment options, the company said in a statement.  Nice move, when the crisis is such a public relations disaster for the oil industry.

Iran (Iran!) has Been Elected to the UN Commission on the Status of Women! by The Elephant's Child
April 29, 2010, 9:10 pm
Filed under: Freedom, Islam, Middle East | Tags: , ,

The United Nations is a remarkable organization in many bizarre ways:

Without fanfare, the United Nations this week elected Iran to its Commission on the Status of Women, handing a four-year seat on the influential human rights body to a theocratic state in which stoning is enshrined in law and lashings are required for women judged “immodest.”

Just days after Iran abandoned a high-profile bid for a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council, it began a covert campaign to claim a seat on the Commission on the Status of Women, which is “dedicated exclusively to gender equality and advancement of women,” according to its website.

And back home, Tehran’s police chief said a national crackdown on opposition sympathizers would be extended to women who have been deemed to be violating the spirit of Islamic laws.   He said:

The public expects us to act firmly and swiftly if we see any social misbehavior by women, and men, who defy our Islamic values. In some areas of north Tehran we can see many suntanned women and young girls who look like walking mannequins.We are not going to tolerate this situation and will first warn those found in this manner and then arrest and imprison them.

Well, there you go.  Human rights.  Words fail me.

Tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico by The Elephant's Child
April 29, 2010, 8:43 pm
Filed under: Capitalism, Economy, Energy, Environment | Tags: , ,

The explosion, fire and sinking of BP and Transocean’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico eight days ago has been a tragedy that took the lives of eleven workers. “The preliminary assessment of the accident indicates that the rig was hit by an uncontrolled blowout — an unexpected surge in pressure in the well bore — that sent oil and gas rushing to the surface and onto the rig floor” That led to the terrible explosion and fire.   There are blowout preventers on the rig,  but why they didn’t work is unknown.  Perhaps there was something wrong with the equipment, perhaps there was human error. It will probably never be known just exactly what went wrong.

President Obama announced today, eight days after the disaster, that Department of the Interior Swat Teams will be inspecting every oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.  “Swat Teams” from the Interior Department?  Ken Salazar has his own swat teams?  And these “swat teams” are so much more knowledgeable than two of the world’s most experienced companies — Transocean and BP?  Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar are taking charge.  The White House released photos today of President Obama being informed.

In spite of efforts by submersibles, they have not succeeded in capping the well, and the oil slick is approaching the Louisiana coast.  It is, of course a terrible tragedy.

Robert Bryce, Managing Editor of the Energy Tribune, explains some of the risk in offshore drilling in a most informative article:

The fire and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon earlier this week provides yet another example of just how complex and dangerous the energy business can be. Sure, poker players in Vegas can wager tens of thousands of dollars at a time. But consider this: the lost revenue to BP – just from the loss of the oil production from the well being drilled by the Deepwater Horizon – amounts to about $600,000 per day. …

The accident on the Deepwater Horizon reminds me of a brief conversation I had a few years ago with James Mulva, the CEO of ConocoPhillips. I asked Mulva to name the most difficult part of his job. His reply: assessing risk. He said that ConocoPhillips had so many different businesses in so many different parts of the world, that he had difficulty in figuring out all of the regulatory, political, currency, and other risks that the company was facing. That conversation led me to think about risks facing companies that are drilling offshore.

Bryce lists, and explains, some of the kinds of risk and in so doing explains a lot about the oil business.  There is Geologic risk, Engineering risk, Technology risk, Capital risk, Weather risk, Human error risk and Market risk.  A very risky business, but essential.

Also just announced, is Secretary Salazar’s approval of the Cape Wind Project.   Robert Bryce notes in his new book:  Power Hungry, that:

More than 2,500 skyscraper-sized wind turbines, spread over 500 miles of terrain, and a passel of natural gas units at 90 percent of wind’s maximum output — and hundreds of miles of new transmission lines/voltage regulation — would be required to provide parity with the capacity of a single 1500 MW nuclear facility.

That sort of puts things in perspective.  Opponents of Cape Wind  promise a long legal process to defeat the project entirely.  The administration seems to believe all the hype.

Do read the whole thing.  We ordinary folk are far too ignorant about energy policy.  The hype and misinformation are far too prevalent, and they get away with the misinformation because we don’t know any better.  Besides, it’s really interesting.

Strange, and Quite Wonderful. by The Elephant's Child
April 28, 2010, 10:58 pm
Filed under: Politics | Tags: , ,

I borrowed this video shamelessly from Ace of Spades, simply because it is so fascinating.  I have no information beyond what is shown in the video.  Apparently there is a nightly ceremony of closing the gates between Pakistan and India, so  elaborate that it attracts a large and partisan audience.

There is so much more one would like to know.  What do they do the rest of the day?  Are they simply regular border guards, or is a special team hired for the display ceremony?  It is almost like the mating dance of rare tropical birds. Does the ceremony take place at all border crossings, or is this one special?  Any travelers to India among our readers?  It’s nice to have such a peaceful ceremony when there has been so much unrest between the two nations.

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs. Lots of Talk, Little Action. by The Elephant's Child
April 28, 2010, 10:03 pm
Filed under: Capitalism, Economy, Freedom, Politics | Tags: , , ,

Economic freedom helps to create jobs.  For over a decade, the Wall Street Journal and The Heritage Foundation have tracked the march of economic freedom around the world with the Index of Economic Freedom. Now there is more evidence from a state-level study from the Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis.  The authors state:

Our results suggest that policy-makers concerned with employment should seriously consider the degree to which their own labor market policies, as well as those of the national government, may be limiting economic growth and development in their respective states.

Economic freedom is the fundamental right of every human to control his own labor and property.  In a society that is economically free, individuals are free to work, produce, consume and invest in any way they please, with that freedom both protected by the state, but unconstrained by the state.

In economically free states, governments allow labor, capital and goods to move freely, and refrain from coercion or constraint of liberty beyond the extent necessary to protect and maintain liberty itself.                                          (click to enlarge)

The stimulus was supposed to bring back the jobs and keep unemployment below 8.8 percent. The reality is something quite different.   Long- term unemployment has been growing significantly, and the stimulus bill and other “job bills” didn’t change the trend.  There are another 5.8 million  workers who want employment but are excluded from BLS unemployment statistics.

Texas significantly continues to outperform the rest of the American economy, especially California.  The reasons can be summed up in three little words:  unions, taxes and spending. The role of unions, particularly public unions is huge in California.  Texas has a relatively low rate of unionization — about a third of Californias.

Texas has had a good long run of small-government, low-tax conservatism.  Texas has a trillion-dollar economy that would make it the 15th largest national economy in the world if it were a country.  By one estimate, 70 percent of the new jobs created in the United States in 2008 were created in Texas.  That’s economic freedom, and it works.

The Obama administration had spent lots of words on job creation, but the legislation passed has favored unions, higher taxes, and lots of spending.  For example, the Democrats’ student-loan “reform” which was tacked onto the health-care reconciliation bill caused student lender Sallie Mae to close a call center in Killeen, Texas, eliminating 500 jobs.

The health-care bill itself will eliminate many jobs.  Higher taxes, higher premium costs, an ineffective small business credit, and the high cost of complying with health care regulations will hinder growth of small business and make increased hiring unlikely.

The inclination and beliefs of the administration lean toward big government.   Few in the administration have any significant experience in the business world, and they do not grasp the fact that government jobs are just another drain on the pocketbook of taxpayers.  They are jobs, but it simply doesn’t count as job growth.

Try explaining that to a Democrat.

It’s International Laugh at San Francisco Day! by The Elephant's Child

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom announced today an absolute moratorium on official city travel to Arizona. The ban on travel takes effect immediately, well, except for law enforcement officials investigating a crime, officials said. And they’re not quite sure what to do about planned trips.  But they really want to emphasize how indignant they are.

The move comes in the wake of Arizona’s new immigration law. Surely a wave of crime on the border, a recent murder of a long time Arizona rancher on his own land, drug wars, smuggling, and constant incursions of illegals is just no reason to ask people, stopped for some other reason, to show some identification. The fact that the federal government has invested most of their border control effort on California’s short border with Mexico, and when the border patrol attempts to do their job in Arizona, the Interior Department is standing in their way, has nothing to do with anything.

There are also online boycott campaigns calling for everything from a boycott of the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team to a boycott of the Grand Canyon.  (The average tourist visit to the Grand Canyon only lasts for 20 minutes).  There was talk of banning Arizona Iced Tea, but it seems that is bottled and manufactured in New York.

Supervisor David Campos and the City Attorney Dennis Herrera have called for a boycott of Arizona businesses.  If the Board of Supervisors’ resolution passes, Herrera will try to identify any contracts with Arizona companies that could legally be terminated.

Well, asking someone for identification is certainly an immensely discriminatory step.  I haven’t done any traveling lately, so I only have to show my driver’s license when I write a check or use a credit card.  I’ve been very careful not to exceed the speed limit as well.

To emphasize the urgent nature of the potential boycott, the mayor today convened a taskforce that includes representatives from the City Attorney’s Office, Controller, City Purchasing Office and his Chief of Staff  to look at a “smart and effective” targeted boycott, Newsom’s spokesman said.  Well, big boycotts do distract attention from a $483 million budget hole.

Arizona’s law, carefully constructed by constitutional scholars to conform to federal immigration law, is a direct result of long federal inaction, and federal failure to enforce current immigration law.  Seventy percent of Arizona voters support the tough new law, and a majority of citizens of Latino heritage do as well.

Victor Davis Hanson, who lives in an area heavily impacted by illegal immigration and legal immigration, and who has Mexican-American family members, deconstructs the outrage in a post at National Review that is very worth your time (it’s short) to help understand the problems and the politics.

Town Called Malice by American Elephant
April 28, 2010, 12:49 pm
Filed under: Music, Pop Culture, United Kingdom | Tags:

The Jam (1982). Don’t know why, but I’m on a 1980’s Brit pop/punk kick lately.

Conflict of Interest or Crony Capitalism? Take Your Pick. by The Elephant's Child

Assistant Secretary of Energy Cathy Zoi, as revealed by disclosure documents, has a huge financial stake in companies likely to profit from the Obama Administration’s “green policies.”

Zoi was previously CEO of the Alliance for Climate Protection — founded by Al Gore — and left that position to serve as assistant secretary in charge of energy efficiency and renewable energy.  She manages billions in “green jobs ” funding.  Disclosure documents show that she is  in a position to affect the fortunes of her previous employer — former Vice President Al Gore — but she has large holdings in two firms that could profit directly from policies proposed by the Department of Energy.

Zoi and her husband hold 120,000 shares in Serious Materials,where he is  in charge of public policy operations, as well as stock options.  Zoi also holds between $250,000 and $500,000 in “founders shares” in Landis+Gyr, a Swiss “smart meter” firm.  She also still owns between $15,000 and $50,000 in ordinary shares.

Smart meters are electric meters that return information about customer power usage to the power company immediately and allow the power company to control the amount of power that a customer can consume.  Note that control is the key word.

Obviously, DoE funding to encourage the adoption of smart meters would lead to increased sales by Landis+Gyr and a windfall for Zoi.  And insistence on insulated windows will lead to increased sales by Serious Materials.  After all Serious Materials has received visits and endorsement by both the President and the Vice President — something their better-known competitors have not received.

This is what I have always understood to be called a conflict of interest.  John Stossel did a show on what he calls crony capitalism — featuring —  Serious Materials.  This is problematical.

As a condition of employment with the Obama Administration, while Ms. Zoi maintained her holdings, she promised that “she would not participate personally and substantially in any particular matter that has a direct and predictable effect on their financial interest” without obtaining a waiver first.  Uh huh.

People in government usually divest themselves of problematic investments. Given the often verbalized interests of the Obama administration’s Department of Energy it would seem impossible for her to avoid a serious conflict of interest.

San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors Strikes Again. by The Elephant's Child

City councils are an interesting phenomenon.  Some are excellent, taking care of potholes and keeping taxes low.  In other cases, they get grandiose ideas of their purview.  For example, the Seattle City Council famously passed a resolution demanding that the dams on the Columbia River be breached so the river could be free flowing once again — or something like that — at any rate they decided it was a good idea.  This ignored the fact that the Columbia was located across a major mountain range, the Cascades, in a completely different county, and quite clearly none of the city council’s business.

Well, of course, resolutions don’t mean much, and it was not only absurd — but supremely embarrassing.  Come summer, and they happened to venture across the mountains to look at the great river and some of the dams, and were astounded at how big they were.  Back at the start of the Iraq War, they debated a resolution condemning the war, but by the time they finished debating, the march-up to Baghdad was over anyway.  Where do they get such overblown ideas of their own importance?

The Berkeley City Council comes out with frequent bloopers, many so preposterous that they make the national news; and across the bay, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors yields to no other in passing resolutions, banning this and that, and passing silly measures.

Their latest is a legislative endorsement of healthy, eco-conscious  living.  They are asking residents to go without meat on Mondays.  They cannot stop citizens from consuming meat, but it is meant, according to the AP, to call attention to the relationship between diet, health and — climate change. Why Monday is unknown.

The measure passed April 6, urges “all restaurants, grocery stores and schools to offer a greater variety of plant-based options to improve the health of San Francisco residents and visitors and to increase the awareness of the impact a green diet would be on our planet. ”

The measure was accompanied by a resolution praising businesses that use cage-free eggs.  Sigh.

“It seems the supervisors would have better things to do — like deal with the budget” said resident Buzz Bense, 61, as he enjoyed a pork sandwich at Memphis Minnie’s, a lower Haight barbecue joint.

San Francisco is struggling with a $483 million budget hole, according to a recent report by budget analysts.

These things get laughed off, and they are very soon old news, and nobody pays much attention anyway.  But where do they get the idea that they are entitled to tell everyone else how to live?  Manage your own life successfully, and then resist any impulse to instruct others.

ADDENDUM: A $483 million budget hole?  How can this be?  More than 1 in 3 San Francisco city workers earned $100,000 or more last year; when such extras as overtime are included the number of workers jumped to 9,487.  The average city worker salary is $93,000 before benefits.  Salaries are driven by “inflation, a persistent reliance on overtime and generous contracts in a city known for its politically potent unions.”

Amazing Things Are Found in the Most Unlikely Places. by The Elephant's Child

High in the Mackenzie Mountains in Canada’s Northwest Territories, archeologists are finding a treasure trove of ancient hunting tools.  Warming temperatures melt patches of ice that have been in place for thousands of years.

Ice patches are accumulations of annual snow that usually remained frozen all year.   Caribou, looking for relief from summer heat and insects made their way to  ice patches where they bed down until temperatures cool.  Ancient hunters noticed that caribou were clustering on these ice islands and took advantage.

Sheep hunters in the Yukon in 1997 discovered a 4,300-year-old dart shaft in caribou dung that had become exposed as the ice receded.  Scientists who investigated the site found that there were layers of caribou dung buried between annual deposits of ice.  And there they found a repository of well-preserved hunting tools.

Tom Andrews, an archaeologist with the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife and the lead researcher on the International Polar Year Ice Patch Study wondered, when word of the Yukon study leaked out, if they might have the same phenomenon in the Mackenzie Mountains.

In 2000, he cobbled together enough funds for satellite imagery of specific areas in the mountains, and began to look for likely ice patches.  In another five years, he had raised enough to support a four-hour helicopter ride to investigate two ice patches.

They found a willow bow.  That discovery led to a successful application for International Polar Year funds which have allowed an interdisciplinary team to explore eight ice patches for four years.

They have found 2,400 year-old spear-throwing tools, a 1.000 year old ground squirrel snare and bows and arrows dating back 850 years.  Biologists are examining caribou dung for evidence of pollen, plant parts, and caribou pests; others are studying DNA evidence to track the lineage and migration patterns of caribou.  The team is working closely with the Shutaot’ine or Mountain Dene natives drawing on their traditional knowledge.

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