American Elephants

A $14 Trillion Debt Prompts A Bipartisan Effort to Cut Waste! by The Elephant's Child

Bipartisanship at work.  Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Mark Udall (D-CO) have proposed a new congressional committee focused specifically and only on eliminating duplicative and wasteful government spending. This is one of the rare moves by a Democrat, a moderate one, to embrace spending cuts.

The federal government has made at least $125 billion in improper payments in the last year.  It spends $25 billion every year, maintaining unused or vacant federal properties.  Washington DC runs 342 economic development programs, 130 programs serving the disabled, 130 programs serving at-risk youth, and 90 early childhood development programs.

Government excels at creating new programs, but they seldom eliminate one. Democrats, who are impervious to evidence, are loath to end any program, and their inclination when faced with a faltering program which was created with good intentions, is to simply appropriate more money.

The bill would create a committee modeled after the successful “Byrd Committee” that cut domestic spending in the 1940s to help finance World War II.  This committee would regularly produce legislation to eliminate government waste.  Waste reduction bills would be given ‘fast-track” authority, guaranteeing a congressional vote that could not be filibustered.

Nearly all congressional committees make it a priority to protect their turf from spending cuts, and such a committee would provide a counterbalance.  Cutting waste is important, but isn’t going to balance the budget.  Waste cut from existing programs means fewer dollars that have to be cut from more essential programs. A common sense way to protect taxpayers.

And beyond that, it would impose a discipline on Congress, reminding them that their excesses were being monitored, and might well end up being designated as “waste.” Something that would occupy a prominent spot in the opposition’s campaign ads.  Sounds good to me!


Some Nuclear Facts to Keep in Mind: by The Elephant's Child

It is natural for the media to try to dramatize their stories to provoke public interest.  Sometimes that tendency is a negative. Many people are frightened by nuclear energy, and media gasps of “meltdown,” are not helpful.

Even more unhelpful are the reactions of some of the more excitable members of Congress such as Edward Markey(D-MA) , a longtime opponent of nuclear energy, who compared the current situation to Chernobyl, but then he’s usually even more fearful about the potential global warming catastrophe that might raise global temperatures by a degree or two.  There are some frightening headlines like “Radioactive Releases in Japan Could Last Months.”

The Japanese have good reason to be worried about the safety of nuclear energy, and they have skilled engineers and trained experts dealing with the events in Japanese nuclear plants.  Here are some cold hard facts to keep in mind as you listen to media coverage:

  • The low levels of radiation currently being released will likely have no biological or environmental impact. Humans are constantly exposed to background radiation that likely exceeds that being released.
  • The Chernobyl disaster was caused by an inherent design problem and communist operator error that is not present at any of the nuclear plants in Japan.
  • There were no health impacts from any of the radiation exposure at Three Mile Island .
  • The Nuclear Regulatory Commission does not need to regulate more in response to this. It already regulates enough.
  • The plant in trouble in Japan is over 40 years old. Today’s designs are far more advanced.
  • No one has ever been injured, much less killed, as a result of commercial nuclear power in the U.S.

William Tucker, author of Terrestrial Energy explained in the Wall Street Journal:

Early speculation was that in a case like this the fuel might continue melting right through the steel and perhaps even through the concrete containment structure—the so-called China syndrome, where the fuel would melt all the way to China. But Three Mile Island proved this doesn’t happen. The melted fuel rods simply aren’t hot enough to melt steel or concrete.

The decay heat must still be absorbed, however, and as a last-ditch effort the emergency core cooling system can be activated to flood the entire containment structure with water. This will do considerable damage to the reactor but will prevent any further steam releases. The Japanese have now reportedly done this using seawater in at least two of the troubled reactors. These reactors will never be restarted.

None of this amounts to “another Chernobyl.” The Chernobyl reactor had two crucial design flaws. First, it used graphite (carbon) instead of water to “moderate” the neutrons, which makes possible the nuclear reaction. The graphite caught fire in April 1986 and burned for four days. Water does not catch fire.

Second, Chernobyl had no containment structure. When the graphite caught fire, it spouted a plume of radioactive smoke that spread across the globe. A containment structure would have both smothered the fire and contained the radioactivity.

So far the danger to the population in Japan from the damages nuclear reactors seems to be minimal.  People are all exposed to radiation in modern society with little consequence.  Recognize media dramatization for what it is, and search for information from responsible sources.  And you might remember that the USS Ronald Reagan, aiding in the rescue effort in Japan along with her strike force, is a nuclear aircraft carrier.

The Obama Doctrine by The Elephant's Child

The Wall Street Journal wrote on Saturday in an editorial called “The Obama Doctrine:”

Whatever else one might say about President Obama’s Libya policy, it has succeeded brilliantly in achieving its oft-stated goal of not leading the world.  No one can any longer doubt the U.S. determination not to act before the Italians do, or until the Saudis approve, or with a U.N. resolution.  This White House is forthright for followership.

That message also couldn’t be clearer to Moammar Gadhafi and his sons, who are busy bombing and killing their way to victory against the Libyan opposition.  As the U.S. defers to the world, the world can’t decide what to do, and the vacuum is filled by a dictator and his hard men who have concluded that no one will stop them.

White House National Security Council spokesman Ben Rhodes, March 10, 2011, as quoted in the Washington Post:

This is the Obama conception of the U.S. role in the world—to work through multilateral organizations and bilateral relationships to make sure that the steps we are taking are amplified.

From James Carafano and Kim Holmes in a Heritage Backgrounder last year:

Ineffective presidential doctrines also have characteristics in common. The most common elements are an overconfidence in international entities, a disregard for the importance of American independence, and far less emphasis on American exceptionalism as it was traditionally understood. …

President Obama believes that his outward orientation will improve America’s standing in the world and thus its security, but America’s policies and interests can never mirror those of other countries. No other country has the caliber of military and economic resources to compare to ours, and no other country accepts the kind of responsibility we have for assuring the security of free people around the world. Our interests will always be at odds with those of other nations, no matter how much we try to conform to them.

From Eliot Cohen at the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies:

This is a disaster for the people of Libya. It is a moral and political calamity for a generation of Western leaders whose reactions to Rwanda and Srebrenica consisted of ineffectual squeaks of dismay. It may deflect the Arab awakening into directions that will horrify us. And it says dangerous things about American foreign policy. Unless it is reversed, the administration’s Libya policy will convince the world that the U.S. is a feeble friend and an ineffectual foe, paralyzed by its own ambivalence.

The Associated Press says:

Call it an above-the-fray strategy.  On hot issues that Democrats and Republicans have found cause to fret about—from spending reductions to state labor disputes—President Barack Obama is keeping a low profile. …

Administration officials have shown little enthusiasm for such a step [imposing a no-fly zone in Libya]. They don’t want to act unilaterally and would only consider it if it had widespread international support.

[Obama said] Anytime I send United States forces into a potentially hostile situation, there are risks involved and there are consequences. And it is my job as president to make sure that we have considered all those risks. It’s also important from a political perspective to, as much as possible, maintain the strong international coalition that we have right now.

Obama will dither and consider and defer and keep a low profile, unless or until a situation turns out well, then he will rush to the front and claim credit for whatever happened. That’s the Obama Doctrine.

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