American Elephants


President Obama Doesn’t Understand Consequences. by The Elephant's Child

Reactions in Canada to Obama’s decision to put off a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline until after the American election in 2012 have been extremely negative, according to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.  The Canadian leader is taking part in a summit in Hawaii hosted by the American president.  Mr. Harper has discussed oil exports with Chinese President Hu Jintao. If America is not interested, China assuredly is.

President Obama is a little weak in the consequences department.  He seems ill prepared to recognize that he is not president of the world and everyone else does not jump to follow what he deems convenient for his reelection campaign. Putting off the decision on the pipeline until 2013 involves a lot more than kill thousands of expected American  jobs, but TransCanada is supposed to sit around waiting for another year or two for a decision?

The pipeline has been completely vetted by all government departments involved, but then nothing is ever vetted enough for environmentalists who want to stop anything to do with oil.  Do remember that there are no qualifications whatsoever to be “an environmentalist.” No degree in science, no course of study, only feelings about the environment. There are more qualifications to be a meter maid.

The oil comes from tar sands, which environmentalists claim means that it produces high levels of carbon emissions which are falsely blamed for global warming.  If they put off the decision long enough, perhaps they can find an endangered species in the pipeline’s path.

The 1700 mile pipeline is good for America and for Canada, and would provide America with a stable source of energy from an ally and create thousands of jobs.  Mr. Harper said he “remains optimistic that the project will go ahead because it makes eminent sense.”

ADDENDUM: A spokesman for the president said that :”The president said he will not trade the health and safety of the American people for a few thousand jobs.” What offensive hooey. The pipeline project had been approved by the EPA, the Energy Dept, the Department of the Interior and whatever other regulating bodies had any smidgen of authority.



Ignorance of the Past Leads to Folly in the Present! by The Elephant's Child

Investors Business Daily has a column today suggesting that the burgeoning theme in Washington, quietly whispered among the power brokers is — the “new normal.” I recognize that one.  We’ve been here before.  The American Dream is over, Japan is Number One.  Oh wait — that was way back in January, 1990.

I have seen articles suggesting that unemployment is destined to remain high—permanently. Manufacturing will continue to shrink. A home is not a good investment. There will be no more high paying jobs (well, except in government of course, where all the bright people are).   The U.S. is not going to be a fast-growing superpower, and we need to stop acting like one.  We need more government agencies run by the best and brightest  to take care of all the people who are displaced by the ‘new normal.’  It is unfortunate, but we must resign ourselves to double-digit unemployment.

The world is running out of energy, so we must live more sustainable lives. We must use less energy, less precious water.  We can no longer afford to squander space and energy and wealth on strip malls and suburbs. We need more sustainable communities and more  sustainable lives in more compact sustainable cities. All stuffed in there, cheek to jowl. That’s “the new urbanism.” Another lefty dream. See this interesting graph!

China could pass the United States as the world’s largest economy as early as 2016.  The International Monetary Fund said that back in April.  This assumes that if China is growing at 10% today, it will always grow at 10%.  China made a big mistake with its one child policy.  By 2040, China’s elderly population will exceed the total population of Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Japan. Every elderly person will be supported by two workers. Good luck with that. Will they dispose of their elderly as they have disposed of those unfortunate girl children? And what about all those young men who cannot find wives? Will they fill up their empty cities?

This is straight line thinking. If unemployment is high today, it will always be high.  If we are short of energy today, we will always be short of energy.  Nothing will ever change. You will notice that men are still wearing powdered wigs and writing with quill pens. The ships that ply the ocean are propelled by canvas sails, and it takes a long time to get anywhere.  And we are still a small nation of 13 states.  Nothing will ever change.

We have an unusual number of people invested in predicting the future, not only in silly media columns. They have devised computer models to predict the climate in 50 years and 100 years, and are busily trying to make regulations and laws to prepare for the future predicted by their computers. Odd, when our best weather forecasters have trouble predicting the weather for the following week.  Seven days is about their limit.

America was settled by people who had the courage and independent spirit to pack up and cross a vast ocean in a voyage that lasted months rather than days. They knew little about the wilderness that awaited them.  They built their own communities and made up their own rules.  And once the towns got too big or the rules too onerous, they packed up and moved on to where they could again build their own communities and make up their own rules.

Because it was a new country, they had to find ways to adapt, to create and  invent to cope with a new land and new surroundings.  There was no heavy hand of government to spell out what they could and could not do. They started out trying to create what they already knew, and as they changed the land, the land changed them. American exceptionalism derives from that creative, independent spirit.  How odd that our current president should see this country as no more exceptional than any other.

How very strange that the left insists that the American Dream is to be found in “the new normal” and in “the new urbanism.” Have to stamp out all that independent spirit! The government will nurture the creativity, we just need an agency to direct it into the correct path.

Ignorance of the past leads to folly in the present. Freedom and democracy require a modicum of truth to survive. I like these lines from Bruce Thornton’s Plagues of Mind:

The importance of history lies in its ability to give a sort of visual depth to our expectations and ideas, to place them in the only context that matters—the dense and intricate record of what humans have thought and attempted and experienced, their successes and failures, their nobility and pettiness.  History gives us ideals to strive for and failures both practical and moral to avoid. By familiarizing ourselves with the record of humanity’s deeds and crimes, we achieve a critical distance from the manifold passions and interests of the present, and we win a calm space in which we can judge with a cooler eye, the hectic novelties and temptations bombarding us.  Without that, we fall into the trap of judging everything from the standards and “knowledge” of the present.



Huge Deposits of Rare Earth Minerals Found in Pacific. by The Elephant's Child

Dysprosium, gadolinium, lutetium, terbium and dysprosium, neodymium, xenotime, cerium and lanthanum are the names of just some of the rare earth minerals that most of us have never heard of, yet are suddenly extremely important.  Rare earths are vital for making a range of high-technology electronics, magnets and batteries.  China accounts for 97 percent of global rare earth supplies and has been tightening the trade in strategic metals and causing an explosion in prices.

Introduction to economics—supply and demand.  When there’s lots of demand and one source controls the supply— they can charge whatever they want.  Conversely — high prices send others looking for more supply.

Unexpectedly — Vast deposits of rare earth minerals have been found on the floor of the Pacific Ocean and can be readily extracted, Japanese scientists said last week.

“The deposits have a heavy concentration of rare earths.  Just one square kilometer (o.4 square mile for Americans) of deposits will be able to provide one-fifth of the current global annual consumption,” said Yasuhiro Kato, an associate professor of earth science at the University of Tokyo.

The team led by Kato and researchers from the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology found minerals in sea mud extracted from depths of 3,500 to 6,000 meters (11,500-20,000 feet) below the ocean surface at 78 locations.  One-third of the sites yielded rich contents of rare earths and the metal yttrium. The deposits are in international waters in an area stretching east and west of Hawaii, as well as east of Tahiti in French Polynesia.

Kato estimated rare earths contained in the deposits amounted to 80 to 100 billion tonnes, compared to global reserves currently confirmed by the US Geological survey of just 110 million tonnes that have been found mainly in China,Russia and other former Soviet countries and the United States.

Japan accounts for a third of global demand, and  has been looking to diversify their supply sources, particularly of heavy rare earths such as dysprosium used in magnets. “Sea mud can be pumped up from the ocean floor to ships and we can extract rare earths right there using simple acid leaching, and the process is fast,” Kato said.

The sea mud is especially rich in gadolinium, lutetium, terbium and dysprosium which are used to manufacture flat-screen TVs, LED valves, and hybrid cars.   Here is a visual guide to some rare earth elements that shows how they are used, and what they look like.

I know only slightly more than I did before I heard of these elements, but if I hear someone in conversation mentioning gadolinium, I can smile brightly and say,”Oh yes, rare earths. Used in my flat-screen TV,” That will impress them.



The Democrats’ Insane Lightbulb Ban Approaches! by The Elephant's Child

The big lightbulb companies, GE, Phillips and Sylvania, are showing off their new LED bulbs. The GE Energy Smart LED Bulb does the best to imitate the features of a conventional incandescent bulb, including brightness and lighting angles.  Since it is based on light-emitting diodes, rather than a heated-up filament, it will use only one-fourth of the typical power  of an incandescent bulb to put out 450 lumens— the brightness equivalent of a 40-watt incandescent bulb.

GE expects its LED bulb to last 17 years—or a 25,000 hour life—if run for four hours a day, every day.  And the GE Energy Smart LED Bulb fits normal incandescent sockets,  which is a nice touch for anyone who is worried about having to rewire their whole house.

There is “one little drawback,” they are expected to cost $50 each. What? I expected this to be bad, but this is unbelievable. The brightness equivalent of a 40-watt bulb? They are replacing a 100 watt incandescent bulb with the brightness equivalent of a 40 watt bulb?  I don’t even use many 60 watt bulbs.  Let’s see,  I need 9 bulbs for my kitchen, 4 for my bedroom, 4 for my bathroom, and that’s $850 without considering the living room, dining room, the study, and the other bedrooms, other bathrooms, the front hall, and the outdoor lighting.  Just last year LED bulbs were being quoted to cost $80—at a minimum.

What do I want with a bulb that lasts for 17 years? You could buy a bulb for a baby gift, and then give the kid another when he graduates from high school.  Sylvania expects that two-thirds of all consumers will consider switching over to a non-incandescent for future lighting purchases. Well, yes, since you fixed it so that we have to buy your product that clearly is not ready for prime time.

U.S.Federal lighting efficiency standards come into effect January, 2012, which mandate a “gradual” phasing out of incandescent bulbs over a two-year span. 100 watt bulbs go first, 75 watt bulbs are scheduled to be banned in 2013 and 60 and 40 watt bulbs in 2014.  In return I get a 40 watt bulb that will last for 17 years (they say) or I can have twisty CFL bulb that takes forever to warm up, gives nasty light, may explode or catch fire, must call the hasmat crew if I drop it, and when it burns out I’m supposed to drive all over town to find a place that will recycle it without charge.

Look at the picture— those baffles or whatever they are on the sides are supposed to imitate the lighting angles of an incandescent bulb. LED bulbs don’t spread their light naturally. The baffles mean they won’t fit a lot of fixtures. Neither kind of bulb—CFL or LED—is a satisfactory replacement for an incandescent bulbs.They have trouble putting out warm color temperatures, the warmer the temperature of an LED bulb, the less efficient the bulb is. Does that mean even less than 40 watt?

No wonder GE Sylvania and Phillips wrote the bill banning incandescent bulbs. Nobody would buy their damn bulbs if they weren’t forced to. We’ve had a lot of claims about energy savings, and I don’t know of any one that has measured up. Claims for insulation do not measure up. Claims for insulated windows don’t measure up. Energy Star appliances don’t measure up. But we’re supposed to believe their claims for lightbulbs enough to spring for $50 a bulb?

Bob Karlicek, the director of the Smart Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute thinks the price can be brought down to $10 eventually. He also said “it’s not necessarily clear to people in the lighting industry that LED chips were ever meant to go into a bulb.” What’s really needed, he said, is a new approach to lighting.  Oh.

You apparently had three separate companies colluding to get a government mandate to help rid them of  their high-cost incandescent factories, undoubtedly union factories, and send their bulb operations to China where they can get bulbs made for pennies.  Were they sure they could come up with a satisfactory substitute in the allotted time? The bulbs on offer do not seem to be satisfactory substitutes in any way.

The governmental idea that people will drive to bulb recycling centers and pay to recycle their CFL bulbs, is nice, but people will just put them in the garbage.  The government has offered a $10 million prize for an energy efficient replacement for the 60-watt bulb— another proof that this all started with “energy saving” which is necessary—not to save you money on your light bill, because it probably won’t—but to keep fossil fuel fired electricity plants from emitting CO2.  I will refrain from my usual rant about how utterly insane (incompetent) this is.

And we will soon need a new federal program to help the poor buy lightbulbs.



Why is Obama Wooing China? And Why the Grand Tour? by The Elephant's Child

The lack of concern for existing law by the Obama Administration is beyond puzzling.  Is this something they teach at Harvard Law? Or do the current occupants of the White House simply assume that they know better?  Investor Business Daily, in an editorial today, notes that :

In violation of U.S. law, the administration plans to give China’s top military leaders a tour of our most sensitive military installations and projects.  The knowledge gained will aid their military buildup.

Who needs spy satellites when the Obama administration is willing to give guided tours of our military secrets to a China that is involved in a military buildup beyond its legitimate defense needs and is neither a friend nor ally?

General Chen Bingde, China’s military chief of staff, has arrived in Washington on Monday for a high level military exchange, the first since China cut off military ties early last year to protest U.S. arms sales to a genuine ally, Taiwan.

A little history.  In a similar visit in the late 1990s, a visiting Chinese official learned of a key vulnerability of U.S. aircraft carriers, which led them to purchase carrier-killing guided torpedoes from Russia.  This was based on intelligence learned on the trip. That mistake led to the passage of restrictions in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2000, which banned “inappropriate exposure” for military visitors from China in a dozen key areas, which included force projection, nuclear operations, advance joint warfare, surveillance and reconnaissance and military space operations. Hello?

Where is the Obama administration taking General Chen Bingde and his entourage and staff? Why it’s one to fulfill any spy’s dreams. On Thursday the visitors will tour our naval base at Norfolk, Virginia and board a Navy destroyer and see a Navy air wing before continuing with a visit to Fort Stewart, Georgia to see the activities of the Army’s Third Infantry Division.

On Friday the Chinese delegation will visit Nellis Air Force Base in the Nevada desert to see our latest aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles. Nellis, of course, is our center for space defense activities, cyberwarfare training and the place where we conduct combat exercises against potential cyberwarfare.

The Chinese have announced their military budget will rise 12.7% in 2011, resuming a long series of double-digit increases. The Chinese, on the other hand are quite protective of their military secrets, harassing our surveillance aircraft or ships in international waters. I wonder if they asked the Chinese what they would like to see on their visit?

China is testing advanced anti-satellite weapons, deploying land-based carrier-killing ballistic missiles, building a blue-water navy to project power, and conducting test flights of a stealth fighter that some experts will rival our F-22 Raptor,  but Obama has shut down the production of that.  If we keep helping them, will they love and appreciate us? I wonder whose carriers China plans to kill with their missiles?

We understand that Obama is amazingly naive about national security and international relations. Remember when he claimed to be our most experienced candidate in foreign relations because he had grown up for five or six years in Indonesia, and visited Africa and Pakistan? Uh huh.  That didn’t work out too well. When his naivety leads him to ignore the law, that’s cause for more worry.



How Do You Solve a Problem Like the EPA? Here’s a Solution! by The Elephant's Child

The economy is still in the doldrums and unemployment remains at a troubling 8.9 percent, gas prices are high and creeping higher, consumer confidence is falling and nothing is expected to improve anytime soon.  This would seem to be the ideal time to reduce rules and regulations on the economy that might threaten growth and new jobs.  Not this administration.  They simply do not seem to understand the connection.

So, naturally, this is the time that the Environmental Protection Agency has chosen to increase their regulation of greenhouse gas emissions.  Like all EPA rules, the new regulations will adversely affect traditional power plants and prop up administration-favored renewable energy.

According to the EPA we will all be able to breathe easier, while up to 17,000 premature deaths per year will be prevented.  This is absolute nonsense. “Reducing toxic power-plant emissions will cut fine-particle pollution and prevent thousands of premature deaths and tens of thousands of heart attacks, bronchitis cases and asthma attacks.  The EPA estimates the value of the improvements to health alone would total $59 billion to $140 billion in 2016.  This means that for every dollar spent to reduce pollution from power plants, we get $5 to $13 in health benefits.”

When economist Christina Romer went back to Berkeley, she must have left her computer programs that came  up with “numbers of jobs created and saved” to the EPA, where they are coming up with all sorts of mythical deaths prevented.  I have never seen a single article that points out an epidemic of people dying from fine-particle pollution.

The EPA says the annual cost to meet the new regulation will be about $11 billion in 2016, and it will only increase customers electric bills by three or four dollars a month. Only.

The American Council for Capital Formation puts the cost of the EPA’s rules at 46,000 to 1.4 million lost jobs and $25 billion to $75 billion in lost capital investment by 2014, along with a $500 billion reduction in GDP, while boosting gasoline and electricity costs by 50%.

Sen. Max Baucus has introduced a bill to exempt agricultural sources from the rules, which should take care of EPA’s push to regulate farm dust.  Sen. Mitch McConnell’s amendment would strip the EPA of authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.  His amendment has a chance of passing the Senate,  but it probably does not have enough votes to override a presidential veto.

Our commenter Rachel Jimenez suggested that the EPA should be defunded and sent to China. That sounded like such a good idea that I went to the EPA website to investigate.  The interactive timeline they have of EPA activities certainly shows a big increase in EPA regulation and rules under Administrator Lisa Jackson, which seemed a little odd since reports of the quality of our air and water have been remarkably positive.

In prowling around a little more,  I found that Administrator Lisa Jackson has a staff of 17,000 busy workers. Seventeen thousand!  Some 30 EPA employees shared a Nobel Peace Prize in October, 2007 for their work with the IPCC on global warming. There are 15 Offices under Administrator Jackson, 10 Regional Offices, 7 Research and Development Labs, 3 Air and Radiation Labs, 4 Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention Labs.

There is a Chesapeake Bay Program, a Great Lakes Program, A Gulf of Mexico Program.  There are 10 Labs supporting the 10 Regional Offices.  There are 8 Science Advisory Organizations, and a Columbia River Basin Program, a Puget Sound Georgia Basin Program and a U.S. Mexico Border Program to start next year.  That is a very large organization, and impressive.

Most of our nation’s major environmental problems have been solved.  The EPA  in searching for something more to regulate,  is down to very fine particles in the air, unnoticed up to now, and I’m sorry, but I don’t buy all the deaths they are going to prevent.  Sounds like bureaucratic busywork to me, and pretty ephemeral busywork at that.

China, on the other hand, has enormous environmental problems: thick smog, poisonous air, poisoned lakes, you name it. Their problems are so severe that other nations complain that their own good works hardly matter with China belching out huge amounts  of noxious fumes.

China needs the Environmental Protection Agency to solve their enormous environmental problems. The EPA needs a real job to do.

This is what the EPA was designed for: fixing the environment. They’re good at that. They could go on finding ever more microscopic particles to regulate, but it simply costs too much and is too damaging. Sell them to China.

Our economy improves from reduced debt and the absence of the EPA.  The Chinese economy improves from a cleaner environment and healthier workers.  It is a Win—Win solution for both nations.



And What Message Will President Hu Take Back to China? by The Elephant's Child

The line from Twitter was “The 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner holds a State Dinner for a man who has the 2010 winner under House Arrest.”  A senior U.S. official tells the Telegraph that Obama did bring up Liu Xiaobo’s case with Hu privately, and Hu told Obama not to interfere in China’s internal affairs.

Other Chinese dissidents are Gao Zhisheng, a human rights lawyer who disappeared in 2009. The account of his mistreatment in prison has been released this year, by his wife Geng He.   Hu Jia, a Chinese AIDS activist, disappeared in 2006, and reappeared 6 weeks later with kidney damage.  He was  put under house arrest with his wife Zeng Jinyan.  She maintained a blog in support of her husband which was shut down.  She and her daughter disappeared in 2008.  Ziao Llianhi organized a support group for children sickened by tainted milk.  He was found guilty of inciting social disorder and sentenced to prison.  There are 5,700 political prisoners in China.

President Obama apparently believes that State Dinners are an occasion to flatter other nations into a warmer relationship.  It is not working.

We have had state dinners for Mexico and India.  Our closest allies like England, Australia, Canada, France and Japan are studiously ignored, although Obama has proclaimed Nicholas Sarkozy as his new best friend.

We believe, apparently, in engagement.  I wonder how many attendees at that state dinner could tell the difference between the $398 bottles of wine and a slightly more thrifty choice?

The Chinese crave recognition and power, so for them a state visit is extremely important.  Did we get any resolution of the issue of the valuation of currency or the theft of intellectual property? China’s disrespect for intellectual property is legendary.  G.E plans this week to sign a joint-venture agreement under which it will share its most sophisticated airplane electronics with China’s state-owned Aviation Industry Corp of China (AVIC).  Another urgent matter for discussion was North Korea and the problem of their nuclear proliferation. Results?

China has offered to allow us to keep the pandas in the National Zoo for another five years.



The End of Corn-Based Ethanol? Good Riddance! by The Elephant's Child

The energy sector has been a busy place in the last two years.  Oil has been at $150, collapsed to $40 after the economic meltdown in 2008, and is now heading back towards $100.  We have had the election of a decidedly anti-fossil-fuel president in Barack Obama.  We have had huge talk of a future constraining carbon, which was supposed to be celebrated in Copenhagen last December, but was frittered away completely.  China will never agree to a carbon cap, and the American public probably will not either.  The Energy Tribune reports:

In the unreasonable environmentalist fervor of the last few years, imbued by alarmism after alarmism, preposterous solutions like wind and solar have been offered, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that they cannot substitute for fossil fuels for decades, if ever. It is not just the costs which, the only conceivable source, governments, can no longer afford; thermodynamics is simply prohibitive.

Corn-based ethanol has been an even more spectacularly silly idea. It is of course supported heavily by the agricultural lobby in what my colleague, Robert Bryce, has routinely called the ethanol scam. With a very adverse impact on food prices, this ethanol is both highly inefficient (as it is done today it takes 1.6 gallons of gasoline equivalent to produce one gallon of ethanol) and much ado about nothing. If we use all of the corn grown in the United States to produce motor vehicle ethanol it would amount to about 20 percent of our gasoline demand.

The Celanese Corporation announced on November 10 that it has developed an “innovative process technology — to produce ethanol using basic hydrocarbon feedstocks,” using anything from coal to natural gas to pet coke. This is a most interesting announcement.  It is currently suggested as a means to produce ethanol for industrial use.  It can produce massive quantities of ethanol using an economically advantageous process that could fulfill global needs without resorting to any corn-based ethanol.

Celanese will start its production in China with one and then two complexes capable of producing about 400,000 tons a year from coal, which China has in abundance, and convert it to an environmentally benign fuel.  Celanese will also build an industrial ethanol  production unit in its Clear Lake, Texas, facility with natural gas as a feedstock.

Mr. Economides says the Celanese announcement contains multiple win-wins, it is a real energy solution, and a deployment of the quintessential American strength — technological ingenuity.




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