American Elephants

The Worst Drought Since the Dust Bowl, Global Unrest, Expensive Food. by The Elephant's Child

That corn is certainly not as high as an elephant’s eye— at least not any elephants around here. A far cry from what healthy corn is supposed to look like.

In the last five years, rising food prices twice have caused global waves of social unrest.  Drought in the Midwest  is raising prices for corn and soybeans, and commodity speculation could make it worse. Prices here in the United States will be up, but for many nations it can be disastrous. The ongoing drought is the worst since the Dust Bowl and is expected to last until  October. America is the world’s largest exporter of corn, wheat and soy beans and global prices for those commodities have already surged to record levels. There is some rain in the forecast, but it may not be enough.

The exact role that food prices play in unrest is hard to isolate, but the New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI) has found biofuels responsible for a slow upwards rise in prices, and speculation responsible for the spikes. With drought-triggered price rises, the grim forecast becomes even worse. NECSI has found that the geographical character of violence changed immediately after the price spikes, changing from ethnically localized to widespread. The amount of unrest in the Arab Spring caused by rises in food prices is hard to determine. Experts have said that “In the short run, USDA needs to figure out a way to remove the mandate on ethanol use from corn. If we could free up 20 to 30 percent of the U.S. crop, reduced as it is, it would bring corn prices down very quickly.”

A major contributor to the problems is the U.S. Congress. Agribusiness in 2008 spent $173.5 million lobbying for farmers to become rent-seekers. In the case of the 2008 Farm Bill the recipients of subsidies of $30,000 or more, had average household income of $210,000. “Government-granted privilege,” says Matthew Mitchell of the Mercatus Center, “is an extraordinarily destructive force:” because it not only results in a misallocation of resources and slower growth, it undermines civil society and the legitimacy of government by providing a rich soil for corruption.

The greatest plague to the honest Midwest farmer is not unfavorable weather, pestilence or disease.  Far worse is the plague of politicians who create an artificial market in which only those with influence can truly compete. A monopoly protected by the government has little incentive to  provide good service, and in the long run, the result of anti-competitive policies is less innovation, lower growth and a smaller pie to share. The farm bill represents the capture of the legislative process by special interests.

Everybody knows that the Farm Bill  is a bad thing. Politicians condemn it. But nothing changes. Next year  we will still agree that it is a bad thing. Politicians will condemn it, and nothing will change except a higher national debt number.

Meanwhile, while hunger stalks the Middle East, the U.S. Air Force spent $50 per gallon on biofuels for a demonstration last month, intended to show “the promise of the alternative energy source.” That’s more than double what the U.S. Navy spent as part of its so-called Great Green Fleet demonstration.  For the Green Fleet demonstration the Navy spent $12 million on 450,000 gallons of fuel, or approximately $26 a gallon. Combining the fuel with petroleum in a 50-50 mixture reduces the cost per gallon to around $15, more than four times the cost of petroleum alone. The company that provided the Navy’s biofuel, Solazyme, was a recipient of a $21.8 million stimulus grant to build a biofuel refinery. So this proves the usefulness of the biofuels industry?

“Our use of fossil fuels is a very real threat to our national security” the Navy insisted in defending the purchase. The Navy has apparently not heard that the U.S. sits on enough oil and natural gas to power the country for hundreds of years. The administration seems to e looking for ways to push alternative fuels without congressional action, so the military is a logical place to start, if that is your goal.

Assumptions about economies of scale and commercial-size refining capabilities, the Pentagon still expects to pay a $2.2 billion premium on annual fuel costs by 2020. This makes an extraordinary amount of common sense in an era when they are slashing military spending to levels described as dangerous. I have to assume that this is just direct orders from Obama. He seems to be one of the last adults to still believe in global warming, and to believe that his move to replace fossil fuels with corn ethanol will save the planet. Everybody has their own personal fantasies. That is Obama’s.

Wow! I Didn’t Know Africa Was So Big! by The Elephant's Child

(Click to enlarge, you have to see this big)

This handsome graphic representation of the continent of Africa gives us a whole new understanding of the size and potential of the continent in a way that verbal descriptions cannot. Many kinds of graphic representations become easier on the computer and more shareable. The right combinations of visual and text can add to learning in new ways that we don’t understand well yet.

For example, there is a YouTube video that is a representation of wars throughout history and the change that the wars bring about, that really impressed me. It is much too brief, and too fast in the speed-up of centuries, to be very useful; but there is a tantalizing glimpse of the potential for a new and better understanding of history in seeing visually the sweep of armies and population shifts. Bill Gates is involved with something like this, but the little I have seen is different but interesting.

When my youngest was in high school world history, the teacher called everything to a halt and inserted a class in geography. He found his class was clueless about basic geography which made any attempt to explain history meaningless.

We were being transferred frequently, and my oldest missed telling time completely.  He left his old school just before they reached that section, and the new school had already completed it. Took ages for us to discover that he had no idea how to tell time.

In any given group, we do not know what knowledge is missing unless some accident exposes the missing information. If we know a thing, we assume that those around us do as well, and it is not always apparent that they do not. Kids especially have lots of missing knowledge, but as they are unaware of it, cannot tell anyone that they don’t know.  And we don’t think to ask.

If you have school age kids, have you read their books to see what they are learning and what is missing?

100 Pictures Taken From Airplane Windows —Beautiful! by The Elephant's Child
December 9, 2011, 7:14 am
Filed under: Africa, Australia, China, Developing Nations, Europe, Middle East, United Kingdom

 11. New York, New York

Here is a collection of pictures taken out of airline windows. Sounds like looking at a bunch of clouds, but they are quite amazing, as  you tour the world.  Enjoy.

Friday Night News Dump: Monday Morning Confusion. by The Elephant's Child

— It’s all so confusing. There had been talk for weeks about CLASS, the long-term care benefit in ObamaCare,  primarily that it simply was not financially feasible. It wouldn’t work. So in the Friday news dump, the Obama administration admitted that it wouldn’t work and they were shutting it down. Congresspeople said that they’s better repeal it, because there would still be some provisions in effect. To which Obama objected and said no you can’t repeal the CLASS provision.

—The Iraq War was one of Obama’s main issues in the campaign.  He said he would work with military commanders and in consultation with the Iraqi government to end the war and bring the troops home—by the end of 2009.  Then everybody was supposed to be home by the end of last summer, except for some troops who were working with training the Iraqi military, and now everybody has to be home by the end of the year, except for those attached to the embassy.  Except today Obama said, no that’s not true, we’re still negotiating with the Iraqi government. But we are sending troops to Uganda to quell the Lord’s Resistance Army which has been wreaking havoc with guns and machetes over a wide swath of central Africa, except the troops we are sending can only use weapons in self-defense.

— Not all solar power companies have gone bankrupt, some are managing to stay in business thanks to renewable energy mandates from the states and restrictions on cheap energy. More than $7 billion in financing has gone to the solar industry to create a mere 250 permanent jobs, and taxpayers are on the hook for $28 million for each permanent job created. In California, Jerry Brown has approved legislation that requires all private and municipal electric utilities to get at least one-third of their power from non-fossil fuel sources by 2020.

That apparently doesn’t count the fact that the fossil-fuel sources have to keep going all the time to back up the times when the wind isn’t blowing at the right speed, and in the case of solar — night, and times when there are clouds. If wind and solar were viable sources of energy, they wouldn’t need mandates, and investment would be attractive. The renewable energy mandates are supposed to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 80% by 2050. Europe’s experience is that all their investment in renewable energy has not cut their emissions at all, possibly because the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rises from the oceans, not from SUV tailpipes.

—  Obama is back out on the campaign trail blaming Congress for not passing his jobs bill, which is not a jobs bill, but another stimulus, and ignoring the fact that it was Democrats who balked at passing his bill.  He complains that Republicans have no ideas about jobs, though the House and the Senate have each produced specific proposals, in writing. Mr. Obama can’t seem to understand that when the government pays for jobs to be created with taxpayer money, it is still a net drain on the economy. His campaign trip is also a net drain on the economy, as it’s being charged to taxpayers.  It’s not a campaign trip, you see, because he’s talking about jobs, which is a Presidential duty.

— It seems as if a lot of government spending would jolt the economy in some favorable direction,but such is not the case. When you raise taxes, you get less revenue.  When you lower taxes, you get a more productive economy and more revenue.  A lot of economics is counterintuitive.

Obama Has Sent 100 Troops to Africa by The Elephant's Child

Friday afternoon news dump: President Obama notified Congress today that he is sending about 100 U.S. troops to central Africa to help battle a rebel group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army.  According to USA Today,:

The troops arrived in Uganda this week and will ultimately be deployed to South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Obama said in a letter to congressional leaders.

The Lords Resistance Army is accused of a two-decade spree of murder, rape and kidnapping.

The troops will be combat-equipped, but will fight only in self-defense, Obama said.

Excerpts from Obama’s letter are here. (emphasis added).

Is this the way it is done now? You send troops off on a mission that has no effect on our national security, but is purely a humanitarian effort, and you notify Congress by letter after the fact?  And don’t bother mentioning the whole thing to the American people? Richard Epstein said that Obama has no respect for the separation of powers as prescribed by the Constitution, and thus it does not act, in his case, as it was intended, as a brake on his or government actions.

So the Constitution doesn’t act as a brake, nor does precedent, custom or  history.  Our forces already have a problem with the rules of engagement costing lives.  Obama wants to do what he wants to do when he wants to do it, and the heck with following the rules.  I find this very troubling.

When Electricity Comes, It Brings Progress and Promise. by The Elephant's Child

In a story posted recently at Watts Up With That, Paul Driessen writes about the coming of electricity to the veld, South Africa’s outback, and what it meant.

for 16 years Thabo Molubi and his partner had made furniture in South Africa’s outback, known locally as the “veld,” using nothing but hand and foot power. When an electrical line finally reached the area, they installed lights, power saws and drills. Their productivity increased fourfold, and they hired local workers to make, sell and ship far more tables and chairs of much higher quality, thereby also commanding higher prices.Living standards soared, and local families were able to buy and enjoy lights, refrigerators, televisions, computers and other technologies that Americans and Europeans often take for granted. The area was propelled into the modern era, entrepreneurial spirits were unleashed, new businesses opened, and hundreds of newly employed workers joined the global economy. …

Thousands of other African communities want the same opportunities. But for now they must continue to live without electricity, or have it only sporadically and unpredictably a few hours each week. Over 700 million Africans – and some two billion people worldwide – still lack regular, reliable electricity and must rely on toxic wood and dung fires for most or all of their heating and cooking needs. (continue reading)

What these people most need is clean water and reliable power. Modern coal-fired power plants have few environmental or health problems, except in the minds and propaganda of eco-activists. Africa would appreciate less aid, not more. And the chance to improve their lives with their own industry.

Environmental do-gooders  want Africa’s poorest nations to worry more about CO2 than about cholera, tuberculosis and malaria. It’s self-serving nannyism. Help them to get the energy technologies that will give them a chance.

Michael Ramirez Comments on Libya, Even if Obama Won’t. by The Elephant's Child

(click to enlarge)

Michael Ramirez draws with a sharpened stiletto, and this time directs his piercing attention to the Obama Administration’s reactions to the Libyan revolt against Gadaffi’s brutal administration and his even more brutal response to the protests.  Michael Ramirez’s ability to create visual metaphors is amazing.  See more of his work here.

The Obama Doctrine: Surely There is One? by The Elephant's Child

Elliott Abrams spoke out about “Obama’s Pathetic Response to Libya:

With a thousand Libyans (and perhaps many more) dead already from the Qaddafi regime’s attacks on its own population, and with reports of thousands of mercenaries and militiamen streaming toward Tripoli, President Obama finally spoke to the nation about this violence on Wednesday afternoon. He announced solemnly that he was sending Secretary of State Clinton to Geneva to visit the U.N. Human Rights Council and “hold consultations”—next Monday!

As did John Podhoretz at Commentary: “Better He Should Have Said Nothing

After days of silence, the president of the United States took to the microphone and, in a statement of almost unbelievable pointlessness, said as little as he could. He condemned the violence, said he was sending Hillary Clinton to Europe, said he had instructed his team to look at all options, and said that the “most basic aspiration” of people was (and here he quoted a Libyan) “to be able to live like human beings.” Crises either elevate leaders or make them look shrunken and unequal to the task history has assigned them. I think there’s little question which of these two categories describes Barack Obama right now.

And over at the Doug Ross Journal it’s All Summed-Up with “The Obama Doctrine Cheat Sheet,” to help you to keep everything straight in your mind.  Don’t miss it.

When Is a Pirate Not Really a Pirate? by The Elephant's Child
August 23, 2010, 1:19 pm
Filed under: Africa, Law, National Security | Tags: , ,

Six Somali men were alleged to have fired on U.S. naval warships in the Indian Ocean. They were captured, and brought to the Virginia civilian court of federal judge Raymond A. Jackson, to be tried for piracy, under Section 1651 of the federal penal code.   Judge Jackson was appointed to the bench by President Clinton in 1993.

U.S Attorney Neil MacBride explained:

“since the earliest days of this country, piracy has been a serious crime…privacy threatens human lives and disrupts international commerce. When pirates attack U.S. vessels by force, they must face severe consequences.”

But Judge Jackson looked at Congress’s definition of piracy.  Instead of spelling out just what constituted piracy, Congress referred to “the crime of piracy as defined by the law of nations.”  The judge looked at a Supreme Court case from 1820 (United States v. Smith) that involved robbery on the high seas, in which the Court ruled that such a robbery fit the law of nations concept of piracy.  That does not eliminate attempts, conspiracies or other forcible acts.  But the judge decided that pirates have to succeed in robbing or killing to be a pirate.  If they try and fail, then they aren’t pirates.

Attacks in international waters are one of the very few reasons to have “a law of nations.”  But courts have become willful, and like to make law — the duty assigned to the Congressional branch — rather than just apply it. You can see why they used to just string pirates up from the yardarm.

There Were Humpty-Backed Camels, and Chimpanzees, Green Alligators, and …Long-Range Ballistic Missiles? by American Elephant
May 18, 2010, 6:32 pm
Filed under: Africa, News, Politics, Terrorism | Tags: , , ,

Mass-murderer, Zimbabwean Dictator Robert Mugabe, is making overtures toward Kim Jong Il, who has absolutely nothing whatsoever of  value to give in return except nuclear and missile technology, and the left is outraged over animal welfare!???

We are doomed!

Kind of makes you feel like building an ark of your own.

“The Snows of Kilimanjaro” by The Elephant's Child
December 4, 2009, 1:42 am
Filed under: Africa, Environment, Global Warming | Tags: , ,

Netherlands newspapers and news sites  broke the story today about the findings of a research team led by Professor Jaap Sinninghe Damste — a leading molecular paleontologist at Utrecht University — about the icecap on Mount Kilimanjaro, which has become a symbol of anthropogenic global warming.

Their research shows that the icecap of Kilimanjaro was never the result of cold air, but rather of large amounts of precipitation which fell about 11.000 years ago, at the beginning of the Holocene period.  The melting and freezing of moisture on top of the mountain appears to be part of “a natural process of dry and wet periods.”  The current melting is not the result of manmade environmental damage.

In the dry period between 12,800 and 11,500 years ago, Kilimanjaro was ice-free.  At the end of this period, a dramatic climate change from dry to very wet took place — driven by changes in solar radiation — which resulted in the creation of an icecap.

The website of Elsevier magazine, the most widely circulated Dutch political weekly carried the headline “Dutchman discredits Al Gore’s climate evidence.”

Get a Little “Uncommon Knowledge”. You’ll Be Glad You Did. by The Elephant's Child
June 24, 2009, 3:36 pm
Filed under: Africa, Cool Site of the Day, Developing Nations, Foreign Policy, Freedom

Uncommon Knowledge is back this week as host Peter Robinson interviews Dambisa Moyo, author of Dead Aid; Why Aid Is Not working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa. Dambisa Moyo grew up in Zambia.  She holds a master’s degree from Harvard,an MBA from American University, and a doctorate from Oxford, and has worked for the World Bank and Goldman Sachs.

$1 trillion in aid to Africa over the last 50 years, she says, has done positive harm.  Ten percent of Africans in the 1970s lived in dire circumstances.  Today 70 percent of Africans live on less than $2 a day.  Life expectancy is declining and poverty is endemic.  The “glamor aid” business, so beloved by celebrities, is malignant.  The Chinese, on the other hand, are there to do business and create jobs.

Fascinating discussion, and well worth your time.  Each segment (of 5) is only about 7 minutes.  I recommend them highly. You will find all sorts of interesting people in previous interviews: Former Prime Minister of Australia John Howard, Thomas Sowell, John Bolton, Andrew Klavan are just a few.


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