American Elephants

The Truth About Polar Bears, Hidden in a Footnote! by The Elephant's Child


When you are trying to build an international movement, you need good publicity, big donations and lots of members. Environmental organizations went for the polar bear, understandably. Beautiful animals, baby polar bears are remarkably cute, and polar bears make great stuffed toys for children and iconic art work for everything from tee shirts to jewelery and Christmas tree ornaments.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature estimated in 1966 that there were 10,000 polar bears in the world. In 2006, the same source estimated the population had risen to 20,000 -25,000 bears. In places like Churchill, Manitoba, organizations like Polar Bears International use the imagined plight of the polar bear to raise money, push propaganda at young people about changing their lifestyles and those of their parents. An activist explained:

We’re empowered to teach these kids how to make a difference. It’s an enormous responsibility. Saving the polar bear is in their hands.

They count polar bears by flying over defined areas representing populations of bears,and photograph them and then count them on the photos. Can they see and photograph all the bears, white against white, swimming, sleeping. diving — who are not staying put? Probably not an accurate count, but perhaps an informed estimate.

Dr. Susan Crockford is an evolutionary biologist and an expert on polar bear evolution. She has been working for 35 years in archaeozoology, paleozoology and forensic zoology. She is an adjunct professor at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. In a new paper, she offers ten good reasons not to worry about polar bears. She says:

Survival of polar bears over a  hundred thousand years (at least ) of highly variable sea ice coverage indicates that those biologists who portend a doomed  future for the polar bear have grossly underestimated its ability to survive vastly different conditions than those that existed in the late 1970s when Ian Stirling began his polar bear research.

Elsewhere, she says that she received an unsolicited email from Dr. Dag Vongraven, the current chairman of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG). They wanted to clarify some of the , um, misunderstandings about polar bear global population estimates. They intend to place this footnote in their forthcoming Polar Bear Action Plan draft:

As part of past status reports, the PBSG has traditionally estimated a range for the total number of polar bears in the circumpolar Arctic. Since 2005, this range has been 20-25,000. It is important to realize that this range never has been an estimate of total abundance in a scientific sense, but simply a qualified guess given to satisfy public demand. It is also important to note that even though we have scientifically valid estimates for a majority of the subpopulations, some are dated. Furthermore, there are no abundance estimates for the Arctic Basin, East Greenland, and the Russian subpopulations. Consequently, there is either no, or only rudimentary, knowledge to support guesses about the possible abundance of polar bears in approximately half the areas they occupy. Thus, the range given for total global population should be viewed with great caution as it cannot be used to assess population trend over the long term.”

S0 all that business about declining populations, not enough sea ice, threatened species, was merely “A guess to satisfy public demand” wrapped up in the useful “settled science” category (which means do not question). Along with all the other environmentalist claptrap, it should be placed in the “nevermind file.”

The polar bears have survived for over a hundred thousand years. They’re just fine.

Meet Obama’s Straw Man Pals! Quick, Before He Knocks Them Down. by The Elephant's Child


We talk a lot about “straw men,” usually in the case of a speech by President Obama. It’s one of his favorite rhetorical tricks. At Breitbart, Charlie Spiering pointed out five specific straw man arguments from the president’s much disparaged West Point foreign policy speech. Obama presents these positions  as a radical extreme, while carefully placing himself in the middle.

  1. Those who believe America is in decline
    Obama assured cadets that America has rarely been stronger relative to the rest of the world” and those who think differently are just wrong.
  2. Those who warn against foreign entanglements
    Throughout history, foreign policy has fallen into two camps, one wo which were self-described realists who were reluctant to go to war.
    This apparently no longer applies to Obama
  3. Those who want to intervene around the globe
    A different view from interventionists on the left and right, says we ignore these conflicts at our own peril. Obama says “neither view fully speaks to the demands of this moment.”
  4. Those who will send troops into war to avoid looking weak
    Obama boldly knocks down this straw man with a swift stroke. :I would betray my duty to you, and to the country we love, if I sent you into harm’s way simply because I saw a problem somewhere in the world that needed fixing, or because I was worried about critics who think military intervention is the only way for America to avoid looking weak.”
  5. Those who are skeptical of multilateral action
    These straw men think that going to NATO and the UN is futile and a waste of time. Not Obama. “Of course, skeptics often downplay the effectiveness of multilateral action. For them working through international institutions, or respecting international law, is a sign of weakness. I think they’re wrong”

The clue to a “straw man” argument is usually “those who”— a nebulous, unidentified and probably non-existent opponent who probably wouldn’t think that anyway. It’s a self-aggrandizing trick for those who find it easier to argue with a straw man than a real person. Unattractive.

Desperately Seeking Scapegoats! by The Elephant's Child

Veterans Medical Care

Why am I not surprised? A long list of Democratic Senators are now calling for the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki. The theory is that if you get rid of the guy in charge, then you can assign the whole scandal to him, and put the rest of it in the nevermind file.

The Senators demanding General Shinseki’s resignation completely, coincidentally, just happen to be those who are all up for reelection in November. Once the inspector general’s preliminary report came out, with the stunning wait-times at the Phoenix VA of 115 days, and “systemic” problems at VA medical facilities the Senate’s most vulnerable Democrats jumped promptly on the bandwagon.

You have Democratic Senators Mark Udall of Colorado, John Walsh of Montana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina who released separate statements that the Secretary must go. Al Franken of Minnesota, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Mark Begich of Alaska, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. The Senators were joined by Rep Scott Peters of California, Bruce Braley of Iowa and Ron Barber of Arizona. Three Republicans who are influential on military affairs, House Committee on Veterans Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL), House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) and Sen John McCain said Shinseki must step aside.

If General Shinseki were to depart today, it would not fix anything. The problems predate his tenure. Assigning the scapegoat role to General Shinseki might well be used as an excuse to avoid a real housecleaning, prison sentences for the guilty and a deep analysis that considers whether or not a government-run health care system can adequately address the needs of our veterans.

The VA has some remarkable expertise in medical needs specific to military veterans. Advances in the technology of prosthesis, in ptsd care, have responded to injuries in an age of IEDs. The veterans dying because of wait-times seem not to be the young healthy vets of Iraq and Afghanistan, but of older vets with cancers and tumors needing immediate attention which never came. It sounds like the medical staff is caring and skilled, but the tests and scans their patients need—wait months for scheduling. Their complaints cannot get past hospital administration, and nothing changes.

The problems seem to lie in the administrative ranks, and in the union. The fiddling with requests for appointments and treatments reach far beyond one hospital, which would seem to point to some collaboration among hospitals. Sloth, indifference, greed, corruption and deceit— bonuses, promotions. It is the Civil Service System that is the culprit—the bureaucracy. Bruce Walker sums up the possibility of reform:

The Civil Service was created more than a century ago to prevent an incoming administration from firing government employees and replacing them with party operatives who helped to win the election. However noble the original intention of this change may have been, the practical effect was that Civil Service employees became almost impossible to fire.

We’ve had a lot of scandals, but no one has yet gone to prison that I know of. They get parked in something called “administrative leave.” at full-salary.

So far more than 40 hospitals have been implicated, and a full criminal investigation may actually happen. In Phoenix an estimated 1,700 veterans and their families were wrongly placed in waiting list purgatory. The inspector general’s interim report reveals “that delays, hidden by the fraudulent manipulation of records have long been business as usual throughout the health care system charged with serving nearly 9 million veterans.”

The Center for Investigative Reporting last year found that after the VA’s July 2012 promise to shrink its benefits backlog “right now” — coming in the midst of the presidential campaign — long waits actually increased by about 18,000 over roughly the next six months.

Americans care about their veterans, and aren’t going to stand for mistreatment.

If You Want The Truth, Talk To The Doctors Who Trained at VA Hospitals! by The Elephant's Child

A watchdog report from the VA’s independent inspector general focuses on the Phoenix VA Health Care System in Arizona, where wait times for patient appointments were improperly reported, but it also  points to widespread scheduling problems throughout the VA health care system. The report said “Our reviews at more VA medical facilities…have confirmed that inappropriate scheduling practices are systemic,” the report said. The inspector general said it had identified potential criminal and civil violations, and is coordinating efforts with the Justice Department.

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal by Dr. Hal Scherz, a pediatric urological surgeon at Georgia Urology and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and member of the faculty of Emory University Medical School,  members of Congress who are attempting to get to the bottom of this, instead of calling  for the resignation of General Shinseki, should be talking to the doctors who trained there.

There are 153 VA hospitals, most of them are affiliated with the country’s 155 medical schools, and they play an integral role in the education of young physicians. These physicians have borne witness to the abuses and mismanagement, and when they attempt to fight against the entrenched bureaucracy on behalf of their patients, they meet fierce resistance.

Most doctors have their personal VA stories. In my experience at VA hospitals in San Antonio and San Diego, patients were seen in clinics that were understaffed and overscheduled. Appointments for X-rays and other tests had to be scheduled months in advance, and longer for surgery. Hospital administrators limited operating time, making sure that work stopped by 3 p.m. Consequently, the physician in charge kept a list of patients who needed surgery and rationed the available slots to those with the most urgent problems.

Proponents of the Affordable Care Act have long used the VA to showcase the benefits of federally planned and run health care. Doctors know otherwise—and it is no surprise that a majority of them have opposed a mammoth federal regulatory apparatus to control health care in this country. The systemic problems with the VA bureaucracy are a harbinger of things to come.

He suggests providing veterans with federally issued insurance cards, allowing them to receive their care in the community, where it can be delivered more efficiently and far better.

Clean out the swamp. Send appropriate bureaucrats to prison, and fix this national embarrassment directly and promptly. Let’s not have any more of our honored veterans die of neglect and inattention. 115 day wait for an appointment indeed!

The President Spoke To The Graduating Cadets at West Point. by The Elephant's Child


What coalitions? President Barack Obama’s speech to the graduates at West Point was a defense of his foreign policy against detractors. America must lead the world by example, through coalitions and  collective action.  NATO and the UN will dominate American foreign policy, Obama said; ‘This is American leadership, American strength.” Wrong speech, wrong audience.  The speech was less a foreign policy speech for graduates of the military academy than a defensive response to critics.

He bravely attacked an army of straw men and subdued them to tepid applause from the cadets. “I’m not weak,” he said firmly. He also repeated the tired refrain that he was not elected to start wars but to end them. Wars are fought to achieve some goal. As a result of his feckless foreign policy, his belief that foreign policy should be subordinate to partisan politics, the war which was won in Iraq has become a sad loss due to an inability to get a status of forces agreement, and Afghanistan looks to follow in that path.

Obama spoke confidently of diplomacy as a resolution to all problems, but diplomacy only works when reaching an agreement is more desirable than the alternative—which means a perception of American power standing firmly behind the offer to talk. Iran’s mullahs  are confident that there is nothing to prevent their continuing effort to build a bomb.

“Power in world politics is perceived power , and perceived power is a vector that results from perceived military capability and perceived political will”l………………………………………………(Michael Lind)

The president has been cutting back on our perceived military capability and our perceived power because  there is no political will. The credibility of American power has diminished because of distinct choices which he has made.

I was looking up that quotation in my homemade quotation book, and I ran across the following:

The President and his advisers have been desperately eager to maintain good relations with Russia and China and willing to overlook almost any transgression to do so. Confronted by compelling evidence that North Korea is still building nuclear weapons, that China is exporting missile components to Pakistan that Russia is doing the same to Iran, Clinton officials have repeatedly lapsed into denial and distortion. The Clinton inner circle is in the grip of misguided faith in arms control. Preserving the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty has become an end in itself despite the need to build a national missile defense system. ………..(Bill Gertz)

Here is the President’s speech at the United States Military Academy Commencement Ceremony on May 28, 2014,  in its entirety.

The Federal Government is Incapable Of Managing a Health Care System by The Elephant's Child


About time. The Senate Indian Affairs Committee held field hearings in Billings, Montana. And they got an earful from representatives of seven Montana and Wyoming reservations. Rusty Stafne, chairman of the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of northeast Montana’s Fort Peck Indian Reservation. said:

We have lost fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers and future leaders because they were unable to get the health care they need.

Yvette Roubideaux, acting director of the Indian Health Service said federal health care spending on American Indians lags far behind spending on other groups such as federal employees, who receive almost twice as much on a per-capita basis.

In Montana, life expectancy for Native American women is 62 years, compared to 82 years for white women. Native men have a life expectancy of 56 years in contrast to 75 years for white men. There are 566 American Indian and Alaska Native tribes, with around two million members.

The tribes have been complaining for years about a shortage of trained medical personnel in government-run clinics, misdiagnosed illnesses, denied payments. They described an agency with a bloated bureaucracy that could not perform its basic duty of providing health care for more than 2 million American Indians and Alaskan Natives. Health care is part of the U.S. government’s trust responsibility.

This is not new, but publicity at the same time as the government’s complete failure in the case of America’s veterans may help to get some action. Tuesday’s hearing followed complaints about delayed and poor care on reservations from the Crow Tribe.

Former Indian Affairs Chairman Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota conducted a similar investigation in 2010. Dorgan found that a “chronic state of crisis” plagued health care services for American Indians. Problems included a lack of providers, hospitals at risk of losing their accreditation, improperly licensed staff and missing or stolen narcotics.

This is how bureaucracies work. Hearings are held, complaints registered, apologies, promises, more hearings, investigations, growing files, published reports, and nothing changes, nothing at all. The federal government does almost nothing well, and many things badly. Encouraging an incompetent government to take on more tasks is an exercise in futility.

Obama’s Going to Spend 2 Weeks on Foreign Policy? by The Elephant's Child


The Daily Caller headline: Iran’s Supreme Leader: Jihad Will Continue Until America is No More.

“Those [Iranians] who want to promote negotiation and surrender to the oppressors and blame the Islamic Republic as a warmonger in reality commit treason,” Khamenei told a meeting of members of parliament, according to the regime’s Fars News Agency. Khamenei emphasized that without a combative mindset, the regime cannot reach its higher Islamic role against the “oppressors’ front.”

“The reason for continuation of this battle is not the warmongering of the Islamic Republic. Logic and reason command that for Iran, in order to pass through a region full of pirates, needs to arm itself and must have the capability to defend itself,” he said.

“Today’s world is full of thieves and plunderers of human honor, dignity and morality who are equipped with knowledge, wealth and power, and under the pretense of humanity easily commit crimes and betray human ideals and start wars in different parts of the world.”

America has placed sanctions on Iran that were harsh, and brought the country to the bargaining table. The administration believed that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was more moderate, and open to reform. Not so. Iran has no intention of halting the expansion of the country’s research and development program, nor of continuing enrichment, and the country’s ballistic missile program is not up for negotiation. Now that the sanctions have been removed, their economy is functioning again.

IAEA officials met with their Iranian counterparts in Tehran to discuss information on the work on detonators and the outstanding issues on its nuclear program as part of seven transparency steps Iran had agreed to fulfill by May 15. They apparently lied.

Michael Ramirez commented succinctly.

Mr. President, You’ve Got Some Explaining to Do! by The Elephant's Child


“At a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee event in Maryland, President Obama accused Republicans of putting politics above the good of the nation and hinted that because of that they aren’t patriotic,” Warner Todd Huston relates.

We’ve got one party in Congress right now that has been captured by ideologues whose core premise is “no” — who fundamentally believe that the problem is government; who don’t believe that we as a community, as a country have any serious role to play in giving people a hand up; whose budget reflects an interest in cutting back commitments to the most vulnerable and freeing the most powerful from any constraints; and whose principal focus at any given point in the day is trying to figure out how can they make people sufficiently cynical, sufficiently angry, sufficiently suspicious that they can win the next election.

I hate to be blunt about it, but that’s the play. And, by the way, when I say a party has been captured, it’s because I actually want an effective, serious, patriotic, capable, sober-minded Republican Party. And we’ve had that in the past.

Oh please, Mr. Obama. You don’t want anything of the kind. You want a Republican party that does not question your policies, does not question your budgets, and gives you free rein to go on damaging the country and spending us into poverty.

Most conservatives think of President Obama as, more than anything, a radical who seeks to “fundamentally transform the United States of America” to what? That isn’t quite clear, but he seems well on the way to doing so. The failures and scandals were all blamed on Bush, or Republicans, or unfortunate videos.

I have come to assume that to have always been the Obama way, boy and man, of dealing with disapproval. “It’s not my fault.” Until the White House clamped down on photographers and allowed no photos other than those taken and approved by the White House photographer, one of the most characteristic Obama facial expressions was a childish pout, lower lip thrust out. There have been instances when he accepts credit for things done by someone else, but he is never, never to blame.

Now he’s pivoting again. Time to distract from the VA scandals. “Barack Obama will kick off an ‘intense’ two week focus on foreign policy beginning with a commencement address at West point tomorrow. He will then head to Europe, commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day, and stop by Poland just to let everyone know America is still, well, alive.”Danielle Pletka adds:

So unless the president is planning on explaining that the United States is on hiatus from global leadership, he will be challenged to answer the questions piling up about why the US seems AWOL on the world stage. And once answered, those listening will expect action. Daniel Pletka offers a list of ten questions about foreign policy, but you could add your own, as this is certainly not an exhaustive list.

After inadvertently outing a CIA chief of station, the president announced his timetable and numbers for getting all troops out of Afghanistan, so the Taliban will know when to take over.


The VA Scandal Is Caused By the Perverse Incentives of Socialized Medicine. by The Elephant's Child


Memorial Day just calls more attention to the scandal of the Veterans Administration hospital system. Democrats are in panic mode. This is a bad one. Nancy Pelosi is trying to blame it all on Bush, the usual fall-back position. She would have it that it is all the enormous influx of young veterans wounded in Bush’s wars. Nice try, but that’s not the case. It isn’t the young guys that are dying of inattention, despite their sometimes grievous wounds, they are younger and healthier. The problem is socialized medicine.

The reason Democrats are attracted to government-run health care is that the left is always focused on intent, not results. They believe in government by experts, the best and brightest, and ever more experts to get it right — in other words, in big government. Their intent is what matters. If the results aren’t right, they will fiddle and tweak until they get it fixed.  But they intend a bright and shining success.

When you guarantee beneficiaries free treatment which is open-ended in terms of cost, more patients are apt to seek treatment for less important reasons. They have no idea of the cost—they are guaranteed care. For the government, the patients are now their responsibility and the incentive is entirely to cut costs.

Doctors and nurses may well be wonderful, and choosing to work with veterans indicates a caring intent, when they could probably do as well or better in the private sector. But for the bureaucratic staff, the incentive is to force the medical staff to cover more patients in less time, to prescribe cheaper medicines, to do less costly procedures. Success at bringing down costs results in bigger bonuses and career advancement for the bureaucrats.Some are represented by unions. The incentives for unions are to gain bigger bonuses, better retirement, and better pay, not better care for vets.  Which results in long wait lists, hidden because they are embarrassing and certainly not resulting in career advancement— or exactly what we’ve got.

Democrats don’t really understand what all the fuss is about, because they are focused on their intent. The results can be tweaked to prevent such problems.

You can see  the intent of ObamaCare being tweaked daily by the president, as he issues executive orders and rewrites the law to overcome problems. But we have had added the United States Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) which issues decisions on what preventative services will and will not be covered and for whom they are indicated. Got that? You don’t get to decide, it will be decided for you by a new agency filled with unaccountable bureaucrats.

The Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) is tasked with cutting Medicare costs either through a reduction of services or by cutting the payments to providers. They simply don’t understand that they cannot cut payments to providers below a certain point or there will be few or only poorly qualified providers.

Whether with Medicare, Veterans Care or Medicaid, Obama and his advisers were particularly concerned with the higher costs of health care for older people. Statistically, the biggest expenses for health care are in their final years. If you can cut back on those expenses, and old people have fewer worthwhile life years ahead of them, then you are more apt to meet your budget.

And again, whenever care is free at the point of service, the more care people will demand. I wrote this in an earlier post, but this is what Obama said:

Obama did say that people might be better off taking a pain pill than getting surgery. He also said “the chronically ill and those toward the end of their lives are accounting for potentially 80 percent of the total health care bill out there.” Excuse me, but isn’t that what health care is for?


Memorial Day: War and Remembrance by The Elephant's Child


The first Memorial Day, which they then called Decoration Day, was celebrated May 30, 1868. The date in May was selected because flowers were in bloom then, and the day was set aside to decorate graves and to remember the fallen. The numbers were appalling. The national population in 1860 was about 31.4 million. The Civil War dead, both Union and Confederate, are now roughly estimated at 750,000, and possibly even more. Memorial Day became an official national holiday in 1971.

Memorial Day now remembers the fallen from all our wars. Robert Samuelson “lists the war dead from the “Historical Statistics of the United States (Millennial Edition)”by conflicts as follows” the Revolutionary War, 4,435; the War of 1812, 2,260; the Mexican War, 13,283; the Spanish-American War, 2,446; World War I, 116,516; World War II, 405,399; the Korean War, 36,576; the Vietnam War, 58,200; the Persian Gulf War, 382. And the Pentagon reports 6,809 deaths in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and related combat zones as of May 22.” Mr. Samuelson has a fine column about the surrender at Appomattox to Ulysses S. Grant.

The Civil War, for all its horrors was represented by the world’s first true war photographers, with a relatively new technology recording the bloodiest conflict in U.S. history. Here’s a slide show of Matthew Brady’s photos as well as others. Here is another from the Library of Congress. They are a good accompaniment to Victor Davis Hanson’s brilliant lecture on War.

The photo is of the 6th Maine regiment.

Victor Davis Hanson:. Why War? by The Elephant's Child
May 26, 2014, 1:37 pm
Filed under: Politics

Especially right and necessary for Memorial Day, Victor Davis Hanson talks about War. Why do we have wars? What makes men start wars? How do you end a war? How can we avoid war? Is war simply natural to the human condition? Is there no hope? He spans the entire history of the wars of civilization and shows how the study of the history of war  can be a torch to light our way through the darkness.  Absolutely brilliant. It’s 20 minutes long and worth every minute.

Reposted from the same time last year.

The New World of Bacon! by The Elephant's Child


I assumed that I was done with the food posts, but the current mania for all things bacon interfered. I made the mistake of searching for an image of bacon on Google images. Ooops! We have bacon dresses, bacon bras, a bacon man’s suit, a bacon basket for scrambled eggs, bacon candy, bacon ice cream, bacon gumballs, a child’s bacon costume, bacon cupcakes, chocolate covered bacon, a bacon attaché case, bacon soda, bacon toothpaste, Kevin Bacon, bacon deodorant, and a few other things that would spoil your taste for bacon for some time.

Another search produced a cooking site: endless simmer which features” 100 ways to use a strip of bacon” (with pictures) and recipes to go with each picture, some of which look really good.  The Food Network does “50 Things to Make with Bacon” again with recipes.and has “Bizarre Bacon: 12 Weird Bacon Products You Won’t Believe.

At that point I’d had enough. I knew that there was a major food fad going on with bacon, but I had no idea how extensive it was.There are websites just about bacon. There are uses too embarrassing to mention. We never quit bacon during all the talk about saturated fat, but it was more Sunday morning with sourdough pancakes. Long ago I used to stuff a hot dog with a long skinny piece of cheddar cheese and then wrap the whole thing in a slice of bacon, but that was a really long time ago. It was really good too.

ADDENDUM: I should mention that the price of bacon is climbing sharply from bacon enthusiasm and a virus that affects baby pigs with a fatal diarrhea. As they say in the investment business, buy on dips.

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