American Elephants

What We Can Learn From Spaghetti Sauce by The Elephant's Child

Malcolm Gladwell, author of Tipping Point and Blink, talks about the food industry’s search for the perfect spaghetti sauce, and makes some larger points about human happiness, and the nature of choice.

It’s Not Easy Being Green, And It’s Hard to Stop. by The Elephant's Child

Predictions: This one comes from Carlos Ghosn, the chief executive officer of the Renault-Nissan Alliance. Michael Economides, in an essay at the Energy Tribune describes him as a man who has a firm grasp on the big picture. Ghosn told an industry gathering that “several paradigm shifts” have the potential to severely disrupt the auto industry — and the planet. He predicts that, by 2050, there may be as many as 2.5 billion vehicles on earth, compared with fewer than 1 billion now. China and India will account for half the growth. The transportation sector is overwhelmingly dependent on fuels derived from crude oil and will be for the foreseeable future.

On the other hand, the ideologically blinkered Obama administration continues to behave as if it can magically banish the fossil fuel economy with more Solyndra-like subsidies to cronies, punitive taxes on U.S. energy producers, and politically motivated delay tactics.

For three years, the White House has declared war on fossil fuels, which is like saying it has declared war on the U.S. economy. The ideologues in the White House are marching in lockstep with their masters in the environmentalist movement. They are dangerously ignoring the “demand shock” that has characterized energy markets in recent years, and the warning from the International Energy Association (IEA) recently that, “In a world full of uncertainty, one thing is sure: rising incomes & population will push energy needs higher.”

By its deeds – not its flowery words and talking points – we saw last year how the White House failed to develop energy policy according to this new global reality. President Obama punted on the crucial and urgent need to greenlight the Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring 700,000 barrels per day of Canadian crude oil and would ignite $20 billion in related economic activity, knit the U.S. into the vast Canadian oil sands, and dramatically strengthen our energy security.

In Europe, governments have been crippled by European Union requirements that a significant percentage of their energy come from “renewable” sources. With a succession of very cold winters, and suffering economies, they are taking a hard look at those requirements. The Dutch, for whom those wonderful old windmills are an iconic symbol, have thrown in the towel on offshore wind power. They cannot afford subsidies for expensive wind turbines that cannot produce electricity at economically competitive prices.

Germany, in love with solar energy because the get so little sun, has found that solar power is at least four times more costly than the energy from fossil fuels. And, of course, it has the habit of not working at night just when electricity is needed most. They are cutting their subsidies, and planning to completely phase out taxpayer support over the next five years.

In Britain, 101 Tory Members of Parliament have written to the Prime Minister demanding that the £400 million-a-year subsidies to the “inefficient” onshore wind turbine industry are “dramatically cut.”Joined by some MPs from other parties, they have called on Mr. Cameron to tighten up planning laws so that local people have a better chance of stopping wind farms from being developed and protecting the countryside.

Chris Huhne, former Energy Secretary, was an enthusiast for wind farms. At least 4,500 more turbines are expected to go up as required by the government’s legally binding targets for cutting carbon emissions.

The IPCC scared governments with their computer projections of global warming. Those have proved to be fraudulent, and the IPCC has moved on, but governments are not ready to admit that they were mistaken. Freezing winters that play hob with power supplies, kill people from the cold, and troubled economies are bringing a new caution. Renewable energy is turning out to be very costly and is not producing the energy promised.

Here in the U.S. the majority of states have required their utilities to get a significant portion of their energy from “renewable” sources. They will not meet those goals. The EPA requires 8.65 million gallons of cellulosic fuel to be blended into gasoline for 2012. The only problem is that no cellulosic fuel is being produced — it’s still a fantasy.  But nevermind. The Obama administration pushes on. They do not grasp the nature of the big energy picture, nor do they have an energy policy.  Neither rain nor snow nor scandals nor bankruptcies will slow their drive to be ever more green.

Don’t Make Promises That You Don’t Intend to Keep by The Elephant's Child

   President Obama’s Promises — Under the Presidential Bus

President Obama said “If you misrepresent what is in this [health care] plan, we will call you out.” So we’re calling him out.

PROMISE: “If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan, period.”
UNDER THE BUS; Research shows that as many as 30 percent of employers will dump their employees out of their existing health care coverage. New coverage mandates are forcing plans to change, even for those who have moral objections.

PROMISE: “I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits—either now or in the future.”
UNDER THE BUS: The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reports that the deficit reduction associated with PPACA is based on budget gimmicks, sleights of hand, accounting tricks, and completely implausible assumptions. The new law is actually a trillion-dollar budget buster.

PROMISE: “I will protect Medicare”
UNDER THE BUS: Medicare costs are to be held down by severe cuts in payments to physicians and other medical suppliers. Taxes on makers of medical equipment will reduce availability, and the Independent Pay Advisory Board will decide what tests will be available. Bureaucrats will decide if operations will be available or only palliative care.

PROMISE: “I will sign a universal health care bill into law by the end of my first term as president that will cover every American and cut the cost of a typical family’s premium by up to $2,500 a year.
UNDER THE BUS: Heritage lists 12 ways that ObamaCare will increase premiums instead of reducing health care costs, like allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ coverage and offer preventive services with no cost sharing.

PROMISE: “Under my plan, no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase.”
UNDER THE BUS:  A list of new taxes and tax hikes shows an increase of more than $500 billion in 10 years. The 2.3 percent tax on manufacturers and importers of medical devices will raise $20 billion between 2010 and 2019.

If People Won’t Do What You Want, Just Make it a Law, So They Have To! by The Elephant's Child
February 28, 2012, 4:20 pm
Filed under: Politics

A pair of major light bulb manufacturers, Philips and OSRAM, are teaming up with the United Nations in an attempt to pressure countries into participating in a “global transition” to more energy-efficient light bulbs. The two companies are both major manufacturers of the types of bulbs that would replace incandescents under the plan.

How utterly and completely offensive! Stupid people aren’t rushing to buy our new CFLs and LEDs fast enough, so let’s just get governments to mandate their use. Incandescent light bulbs have been cheap (a problem for light-bulb companies) and excellent in their ability to supply good light for general purposes, and for reading and fine work. CFLs are not up to that standard. Nasty light. LEDs are fine for outdoor light, but not ready for prime time for ordinary lighting purposes. But the manufacturers make a lot more money on CFLs and LEDs than on incandescent bulbs.

Governments have no business telling consumers what to buy, let alone what they must buy. Of course, getting your product mandated by the state will enhance the bottom-line. But politicians aren’t smart enough to make those decisions. The impulse to tyranny lies within us all. If people don’t seem to want to do what you want — just order them to.

At some point, LED or other light bulbs may prove to be superior and be offered at a desirable price. You win consumers over with the excellence of your product. People revolt against tyrants, big or little.  It takes a degree of restraint and wisdom to recognize those simple facts.

The United Nations needs to successfully master any of the tasks which the world has assigned to them, before it embarks on an effort to garner more power to itself. They do not have a record of accomplishment.

Obama’s Got the Economy Running on Empty by The Elephant's Child

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels was on Fox News Sunday, and remarked” Let’s give the president credit for one domestic policy that works. He wanted higher gas prices and he got them.”

Gas prices are on the rise and nobody is happy about it.  President Obama hastened to explain that it wasn’t his fault, there were no quick fixes, we can’t just drill our way to lower gas prices, there is no silver bullet that will bring down gas prices or reduce our dependence on foreign oil overnight — what we can do is get our priorities straight, and make a sustained, serious effort to tackle this problem — and then he suggested — algae.

Leftist loon, Edward Markey (D-MA) promptly suggested opening the spigots of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. I think it was just last week that he sponsored a bill to cut funding for our nuclear arsenal by $100 billion, which would result in unilateral disarmament. He’s also a true believer in global warming, and supports every effort to defend ourselves from the horrors of CO2. But I wander astray. Why don’t these people understand “strategic?” Is it too big a word? The reserve is not there to be used every time people get upset about gas prices.

President Obama’s story on gas prices is priceless: 1) Gasoline prices are beyond his control, 2) but  oil and gas production is rising in America due to his energy policies, 3) higher prices are another reason to raise taxes on oil and gas drillers, and 4) investing in algae will be just the brilliant new idea we need. Oh, and since people are so angry about the Keystone XL pipeline, he’ll let them build the Southern part, from Cushing, Oklahoma to next-door Texas. An attempt to pacify the perturbed, that accomplishes nothing much.

Oil prices are futures prices and depend on the outlook for the future price of oil. When the Middle East is afire, Iran is threatening to close the Straits of Hormuz, Syria is in chaos, and the world is trying to cut off Iran’s sales of oil to deter them from making a bomb, it gets a little dicey. On the other hand, when Reagan cancelled a moratorium and Bush cancelled a moratorium the price of oil immediately dropped. Actually, if President Obama simply guaranteed …nevermind. He doesn’t understand the laws of supply and demand, and what he offers with one hand, he taxes with the other.

Today’s price is $3.89.  I don’t know if that is with or without state taxes. The average state tax is 48.8¢ per gallon. New York is the highest at 67.4¢ followed closely by Connecticut, California, Hawaii and Michigan. The lowest are Alaska 26.4¢ and Wyoming at 32.4¢. But for Obama to claim he has nothing to do with gas prices ignores history:

  • In 2008, Senator Ken Salazar (D-CO) refused to vote for any new offshore drilling.  In a conversation with minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Salazar objected to allowing any drilling on America’s outer continental shelf—even if gas prices reached $10 a gallon.  Obama named him Secretary of the Interior.
  • In 2008, Steven Chu, head of the Lawrence Livermore Laboratories at U. of California Berkeley, told the Wall Street Journal that “Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe.” he also said “We have lots of fossil fuel; that’s really both good and bad news.  We won’t run out of energy, but there’s enough carbon in the ground to really cook us.” Obama named him Secretary of Energy.
  • During the 2008 campaign, candidate Obama said “Under my plan of a cap-and-trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket.” And “So if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can.  It’s just that it will bankrupt them.” He was elected president.

Energy production is up, but because of drilling on state and private lands, and offshore on permits granted by previous administrations. On the other hand, when oil prices ramp up, it brings into production more costly resources around the world, increasing the world supply which drives down the price. It also lets the world become less dependent on cheap Mideast oil.

At today’s price, gasoline has reached  a price that in real inflation-adjusted terms it has reached only a few times in history. It fluctuates with global events. We cannot put Obama’s solar and clean wind energy in our gas tanks, biofuel is a flop, switchgrass never got off the ground, ethanol is an expensive flop but still required, and algae is years away from becoming a fuel and unlikely to boot. Here in the Seattle area, gas is up by 44¢ this month.

(The picture is from I Own the World. They suggest carrying a pack of post-it’s and a marker with you to leave your small protest at the pump)

Gloom, Doom, and Pessimism — in Prodigious Amounts. by The Elephant's Child

Headline at Business Insider: “Americans Are Incredibly Pessimistic About the Future of  The Country.” It refers to a Politico poll that asks “Do you believe that the next generation will be better off economically than the current generation.?” The answer was No/strongly 49%, Yes/strongly 20%. No information on the sample.

Headline from Wyoming’s  Star-Tribune: “Wyoming House advances doomsday bill. CHEYENNE— State representatives on Friday advanced legislation to launch a study into what Wyoming should do in the event of a complete economic or political collapse in the United States.”

House Bill 85 passed on first reading by a voice vote. It would create a state-run government continuity task force, which would study and prepare Wyoming for potential catastrophes, from disruptions in food and energy supplies to a complete meltdown of the federal government.

The task force would look at the feasibility of Wyoming issuing its own alternative currency, if needed. And House members approved an amendment Friday by state Rep. Kermit Brown, R-Laramie, to have the task force also examine conditions under which Wyoming would need to implement its own military draft, raise a standing army, and acquire strike aircraft and an aircraft carrier.

Adjacent headlines on the Drudge Report this morning:

— Credit Card Debt Nears Toxic Levels
— Oil Price rise causes specter of global recession
— U.S. Water bills to Triple
— 3 Doomsaying experts who foresee economies devastation ahead

Many reports of gun sales up dramatically. Ads for emergency food for long-time storage— survivalist food.

Not a cheerful, optimistic start for a Monday. People are not confident, they are worried. Gas prices are up, and more increase ahead. President Obama is threatening massive tax increases.

Nevertheless, the sun is shining, there’s blue sky for the first time in days. There’s a Townsend’s Warbler with his flash of bright yellow at the bird-feeder, and a varied thrush cleaning up the spilled seed. Long term, I’m an optimist. Short term — not so much.

Can You Remember When You Were in the Fourth Grade? by The Elephant's Child
February 27, 2012, 6:52 am
Filed under: Environment, History, Science/Technology | Tags: , ,

When you were in fourth grade, did you love dinosaurs?  Jack Horner, Curator of Paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies and Regent’s Professor of Paleontology at Montana State University in Bozeman illustrates in this talk for TED how scientists got it all wrong to begin with, and how they got it straightened out.

Jack has published more than 170 professional papers, 9 popular books, and more than 100 popular articles. His book Digging Dinosaurs was described by New Scientist Magazine as one of the 250 most important science books of the 20th Century. Jack also directs the largest dinosaur field research program in the world. He was the technical advisor for Steven Spielberg on all of the Jurassic Park movies, and has worked with National Geographic, and The Discovery Channel on numerous dinosaur specials.

Try to feel like a fourth grader again and enjoy this video.  Great fun.

Tax Hikes Don’t Mean More Revenue, or So the Evidence Says. by The Elephant's Child

Across the waters, the Labour government in its last days increased the marginal tax rate to 50%, in a tax-the-rich move, and the Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition kept it in place. The tax rate which kicked in at £150,000 a year was the first increase since then Chancellor Nigel Lawson cut it to 40% from 60% in the late 1980s.

The argument (does this sound familiar?) was that “rich bankers” were responsible for the economic crisis and should pay for the clean-up. Mr. Cameron preferred to say those with the “broadest shoulders” should bear the heaviest burden.

Well, once again, it didn’t work. Preliminary figures show that there has been ‘manoeuvering’ by well-off Britons to avoid the new higher rate. Revenue has dropped by around 5%. The Treasury had projected that monthly revenues would actually increase by more than a billion pounds.  When will they ever learn?

The state of Illinois, Obama’s home state, increased its corporate tax rate to 7.0% from 4.8% in January 2011. (Yes, if you want the economy to recover, raise taxes). That’s a 45% increase in the overall corporate rate. Caterpillar made it clear to Illinois officials that it chose to build its newest manufacturing plant outside of Illinois due to the “business climate and overall fiscal health” of the state. And took 1,000 jobs with it. They have also threatened to move their corporate headquarters. Modern Drop Forge and FatWallet have taken their jobs and moved. Canadian National Railway moved its locomotive repair shop and 250 jobs to Indiana. Other major corporations’ threat to move, with their 8,500 jobs, have gotten tax breaks over the next ten years to remain in Illinois.

High taxes and mandatory union membership participation have forced over 800,000 residents to leave Illinois for neighboring states over the past 15 years. But the most growth has occurred in no income tax, right-to-work states Texas and Florida. Illinois has led the country in job losses — over 100.000 — since the increase in taxes, and raised the unemployment rate to 10.1%.

U.S. taxes really are unusually progressive, and more progressive that almost every other rich country. And the rich have options. Steeper tax rates are a dumb way to try to improve fairness and raise revenue. The high-tax states are losing businesses and losing high income residents. California has a huge out-migration. Indiana has lowered rates and become a right-to-work state and is gaining businesses and driving the unemployment rate down.

Small business is not hiring because they are concerned about rising health care costs, government regulations, and the economic climate. Twenty-four percent are worried about being in business in 12 months. 85% say they are not hiring. 61% say they’re worried about economic conditions. But nobody listens.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says that “If you don’t try to generate more revenues through tax-reform, if you don’t ask, you know, the most fortunate Americans to bear a slightly larger burden of the privilege of being an American, then you have to —the only way to achieve fiscal sustainability is through unacceptably deep cuts in benefits for middle class seniors, or unacceptably deep cuts in national security.”(This is the throw Granny over the cliff gambit)

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) rejects President Obama’s oft-repeated argument that in order to lower the deficit, it is mathematical certainty that taxes must go up. If President Obama and Congress set spending to match its historical level of 20 percent of GDP and keep it at or below that level, the deficit would be at its historical level in 2017, and the debt would fall as a share of the economy over time.  All that without raising taxes a dime.  Deficits are unsustainably high because the government is spending too much, not because it is collecting too little revenue.


Bambam needs a new campaign slogan… by American Elephant
February 26, 2012, 2:20 pm
Filed under: Election 2012, Humor, Politics | Tags: , ,

…so let’s help him out. I just slapped the above together, using a brilliant Death Star photoshop that’s been floating around (artist unknown), but I’m not sure I’ve got the best slogan. Got something better? Let me hear it in the comments.

But don’t feel limited to Star Wars. Got other ideas? Throw ’em out there; I love the inspiration!

Good mockery is a powerful weapon!

Richard Lindzen Speaks to the House of Commons: by The Elephant's Child

Professor Richard Lindzen of MIT is one of the world’s greatest atmospheric physicists. He spoke to the House of Commons this last week. As James Delingpole says:

“Dick Lindzen does not need to raise his voice.  He does not use hyperbole. In a tone somewhere between weariness and withering disdain, he lets the facts speak for themselves.  And the facts, as he understands them, are devastating.

Here is how he began his speech, which was organized on behalf of the Campaign to Repeal the Climate Change Act:”

Stated briefly, I will simply try to clarify what the debate over climate change is really about. It most certainly is not about whether climate is changing: it always is. It is not about whether CO2 is increasing: it clearly is. It is not about whether the increase in CO2, by itself, will lead to some warming: it should. The debate is simply over the matter of how much warming the increase in CO2 can lead to, and the connection of such warming to the innumerable claimed catastrophes. The evidence is that the increase in CO2 will lead to very little warming, and that the connection of this minimal warming (or even significant warming) to the purported catastrophes is also minimal. The arguments on which the catastrophic claims are made are extremely weak – and commonly acknowledged as such. They are sometimes overtly dishonest.

The full text of Professor Lindzen’s speech is available here.

ObamaCare: Myths, Lies and Backroom Deals by The Elephant's Child

How did we get into this dreadful health-care mess anyway? We were told that runaway spending on health care was having a terrible effect on the national budget, and if we didn’t fix it, disaster would occur.That seems to have been a convenient myth. The growth rate of national health expenditures has been declining for a decade  driven by better medical care and consumer choice.
This chart is from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency in charge of that sort of data. From the Wall Street Journal:

“New data show that health spending over the past several years has been normalizing toward the rate of general inflation, rather than growing higher and higher, as had been the case almost continuously since the 1970s. This moderation in the growth rate of spending predates the national recession. And it puts the lie to the claim that we need government to put the brakes on an “out-of-control” health-care system.”

“The moderation has been driven by cumulative improvements in medical care and by insurers, and by marketplace disciplines on the demand for medical care. Consumers are finally getting more involved in managing and paying for their own care.”

We have new breakthrough drugs for chronic disease, mental illness, HIV and cancer. Many are generics. The market works. You will notice that the spending starts back up again in 2010.

It took a lot of lies and misstatements to get us into ObamaCare, and ObamaCare is full of illusions and pipedreams. Before ObamaCare, you had three parties—the patients, the medical establishment, and the health insurance companies. ObamaCare assumes that those three groups cannot manage to care for the sick and the well without direction and supervision by many assorted bureaucracies full of smart people who went to all the right schools telling them what to do and how to do it. And those many bureaucracies (over 100 agencies) filled with all those smart people will make ObamaCare cost less? They cannot deny care to the elderly and the frail fast enough to compensate for the added expense of all that bureaucracy.

The goal of the system shifts from improving care for those who need it, to getting paid. In Britain, doctors are on salary and work for the state. Rules and regulations descend from the state. You will cut costs here, you will cut wait times there. So some hospitals parked patients in ambulances, so they wouldn’t be registered as entering the system and messing up the wait-time records. In other hospitals, sheets were used over without washing to save money, and patients were left soiled in their beds. Do the jobs in the medical establishment depend on the excellent care they give to patients or do they depend on meeting budget limits?

But back to ObamaCare: A single committee — the United States Preventative Services Task Force — is empowered to evaluate all preventive health services and decide which will be covered by health-insurance plans. They rate services with grades of ‘A’ through ‘D’. Colon cancer screening for adults age 50-75 must be covered by health-care plans without co-pays. Screening for ovarian or testicular cancer that get ‘C’s and ‘D’s may get eliminated. In 2009, it decided that women age 40-49 shouldn’t get routine mammograms. More recently it cancelled routine prostate-cancer screening and the use of tests that detect the viruses that can cause cervical cancer. Doctors are inclined to look at family history, symptoms, that kind of thing. People are not all the same and can’t be divided up by age categories.

Its advice is often out of sync with conventional medical practice. For example, it recommended against wider screening for HIV long after such screening was accepted practice…Only in 2009 did it finally recommend aspirin for the prevention of stroke and heart attack among those at risk — decades after this practice was demonstrated to save lives and had become part of standard medical practice.

That’s a perfect example of the problem of liberal belief in the overwhelming superiority of the liberal mind. Whatever it is, they just know better.  They went to the right schools, you see. They know the right people. They’re friends of your friends. They don’t require any specialized knowledge of medicine, pharmacology or administration. They’ll just look at some statistics and make the hard decisions.

No problem, unless you don’t fit the statistical norm, then you’re out of luck.

Governing America With Chicago-Style Politics by The Elephant's Child

Michelle Malkin exposes today how the Obama administration’s “new loyalty rewards program for progressives” is a program to appease the far left who were disappointed in furious with ObamaCare because it did not go straight to single-payer government-run health care — better known as socialized medicine.

Obama has never settled in as the president of all Americans, nor just as president of Democrat Americans. He seems to see himself as the leader of the most powerful country in the world, and his job is to bring it down to size. He is unconstrained by the Constitution, ordinary laws, custom or tradition. It is an extremely odd position, and there is a vast army of people trying to figure it out. The position is so different from that of any other president we have known. We want to know what makes him tick, and he is unprepared to reveal any such thing.  He brought to the office a vast confidence that his speech would move the masses around the world, that he had “a gift,” and an insider’s knowledge of Chicago politics and its requirements.

I have never been to Chicago, so my information is all from what I read, and from my long-time next door neighbors who are from Illinois. It is crony capitalism at its worst. But that is a feeble term to describe the problem. You give me large amounts of campaign money, and I will give you access.  If you have a project, a business, a startup, or an investment — I will reward you with funding obtained by taxing the public. Your project doesn’t have to be legitimate, and you can cook your books, but we will try to keep you from being hauled into court. You can give yourself and your friends huge salaries and bonuses, just follow the rules so you don’t get in trouble or get us in trouble. In return, I expect more donations next time, and your efforts to get me re-elected, in which case we will repeat the process. If you mess up and get indicted, you go right under the bus. That’s the story of all those “green” investments. Taxpayer money for cronies.

Now, the White House will create a $6 billion network of non-profit “CO-OPs” that will “compete” with private insurers. They celebrated the release of nearly $700 million in taxpayer-funded low-interest loans for seven CO-OPs in eight states. They will be administered by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The fund will finance more money into CO-OP plans nationwide over the next year. In 2014, the plans will be offered on the federally approved and federally monitored state health exchange “marketplace.” Of course, in the Chicago way, campaign donors get special ObamaCare waivers.

This is a direct attack on non-subsidized, for-profit insurance companies. Obama has been falsely demonizing them for 4 years as greedy outfits that force people into bankruptcy if they get sick. The program’s overseers predict a nearly 40 percent default rate for the loans. Obama has done an outstanding job of destroying the best health care system in the world. Do read Michelle Malkin’s whole article.  She has a sharp eye for what is really going on. Corruption, Chicago style.

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