Saturday, February 25, 2012

Quick Hits - February 24 and 25, 2012

Double post for today - between a very busy day and being under the weather - didn't get the QH out yesterday.  Fortunately, or maybe it's unfortunately, there is plenty to discuss...

In Syria, a local and temporary cease fire around the beseiged city of Homs took effect, allowing the Red Cross to begin to evacuate injured women and children. 

Saudi Arabia has walked out of a meeting involving 60 nations taking place in Tunisia seeking to address the violence of the Syrian regime against those opposing the government.  Complaining about the 'all talk, and no action' that was coming from the conference, Saudi Arabia hinted that it was time to start arming the opposition forces to better fight the Assad dictatorship.

The US State Department has spent much of the last week quietly warning the region about Syrian's Weapons of Mass Destruction....
This week, the State Department sent a diplomatic demarche to Syria's neighbors Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia, warning them about the possibility of Syria's WMDs crossing their borders and offering U.S. government help in dealing with the problem, three Obama administration officials confirmed to The Cable. For concerned parties both inside and outside the U.S. government, the demarche signifies that the United States is increasingly developing plans to deal with the dangers of a post-Assad Syria -- while simultaneously highlighting the lack of planning for how to directly bring about Assad's downfall.

Syria is believed to have a substantial chemical weapons program, which includes mustard gas and sophisticated nerve agents, such as sarin gas, as well as biological weapons. Syria has also refused IAEA requests to make available facilities that were part of its nuclear weapons program and may still be in operation.

Many also believe that substantial stocks of Saddam Hussein's chemical and bio weapons stocks were transported from Iraq to Syria for storage prior to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.

2 US Military advisers working at the Afghanistan Interior Ministry were shot and killed today by an Afghan police officer reacting to the burning of desecrated Qurans by American forces.  This is the 5th day of major violence in Afghanistan as Taliban forces continue to use the action of the US to destroy Qurans that were desecrated by Taliban prisoners.  Taliban and Islamist organizations continue to focus on the acts to destroy the desecrated Qurans as opposed to addressing the original acts by their members to desecrate the books - assisted by much of the Western media and politicians like President Obama who continues to apologize for the decision to destroy the books used by Taliban prisoners to communicate with each other - and promote jihad.

The regular series of apologies from both the White House and the Pentagon for the efforts to destroy the desecrated books is being attacked from many on the right as evidence of the weakness of Obama Administration's foreign policy...and they are absolutely correct.  Our troops undertook steps to respectfully destroy desecrated Qurans - desecrated by Islamist Jihadists - in a manner not dissimilar to how we would respectfully destroy a severely damaged US Flag.  Rather than putting the blame on the jihadists who desecrated the book - the default position of the US is that the US is at fault.

Why aren't we demanding an apology from Afghani President Karzai for the violence being perpetrated, for the lack of support despite the US treasure being expended to support him, his failures to stand up to the corruption in his country, and his complete lack of leadership?

US Intelligence Agencies seem to be at work making excuses for Iran - as the NY reports in 'US Agencies see no move by Iran to build a nuclear bomb'...
Even as the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog said in a new report Friday that Iran had accelerated its uranium enrichment program, American intelligence analysts continue to believe that there is no hard evidence that Iran has decided to build a nuclear bomb.
Let's go back to an old analogy - a person pulls a pistol from his pocket, aims it at your face, and says that if you do not immediately give him your valuables, he will shoot you.  You don't have any hard evidence that the pistol is loaded - you can't see inside the magazine - so do you act based on the assumption that it is not loaded since you don't have 'hard evidence' that it is loaded?  Or do you act based on the facts - his words that he will kill you if you don't comply, his ease at making threats, his apparent comfort and experience with armed robbery, and combine this with the assumption made about the status of his weapon?

Wouldn't the prudent course of action to be to assume that the gun is loaded until one has 'hard evidence' that it is not loaded or capable of being fired?

Unfortunately, that's not how too many of our US agencies are looking at the world - and politics / ideology seem to define far too much of the viewpoint around seeing the world as they believe it is versus seeing the world as it actually is.

Then there is the price for being wrong...

In Greece, the Greek Parliament has started the process for the debt swap with private investors of Greek debt obligations that is a major part of the 2nd bailout that the EU is providing the country.  Greek fears that they would have to give up sovereignty appear real - as the EU is now demanding 28 specific changes in Greek tax, spending, and wage policies to be confirmed by the end of February - and laid out additional reforms needed that will result in EU micromanagement of Greece for at least the next 2 years.

Among the reforms being demanded by the EU, overhauling judicial procedures, centralizing health insurance, completing an accurate land registry, building a new computer system for tax collectors, and changing the way drugs are prescribed.
“The programme is much, much more ambitious than economic reform,” said Mujtaba Rahman, Europe analyst at the Eurasia Group risk consultancy. “This is state building, as typically understood in traditional low-income contexts.”
Will this ultimately result in 'fixing' Greece?  Doubtful - unless they also fix the built in bureaucracy and inefficiencies that prevent Greeks from starting a business - as this article details about several Greeks trying to start an online store in Greece...
It took 10 months, a fat bundle of paperwork, countless certificates, long hours of haggling with bureaucrats and overcoming myriad other inconceivable obstacles for one group of young entrepreneurs to open an online store.

Antonopoulos and his partners spent hours collecting papers from tax offices, the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the municipal service where the company is based, the health inspector’s office, the fire department and banks. At the health department, they were told that all the shareholders of the company would have to provide chest X-rays, and, in the most surreal demand of all, stool samples.

Once they climbed the crazy mountain of Greek bureaucracy and reached the summit, they faced the quagmire of the bank, where the issue of how to confirm the credit card details of customers ended in the bank demanding that the entire website be in Greek only, including the names of the products.

“They completely ignored us, however much we explained that our products are aimed at foreign markets and everything has to be written in English as well,” said Antonopoulos.

Eventually, Antonopoulos and his associates decided to use foreign banking systems like PayPal, and cut the Greek bank, with which they had been negotiating for three months, from the middle. “It’s their loss, not ours. We eventually solved the problem in just one day,” explained Antonopoulos.

Greece - already enjoying the benefits of 'Hope and Change'...

Speaking of 'Hope and Change' - Rush Limbaugh made the point in his broadcast yesterday that President Obama seems to hold the viewpoint that America has never worked as a nation...
RUSH: Late yesterday afternoon, this is in the Coral Gables, this is at a fundraiser, this is after Obama sang the praises of pond scum as the next substitute for oil.

OBAMA: We’ve gotta make sure that everybody’s doing their fair share. Everybody needs a fair shot, everybody’s gotta play by the same set of rules, everybody’s gotta do their fair share. Everybody’s gotta do their part! Everybody in this room, we are here, successful, because somebody down the road have not just thinkin’ about themselves, they were takin’ responsibility for the country as a whole.

RUSH: What an absolute crock! That is the exact opposite of what goes on. That is his translation of Karl Marx: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” This is absolutely full of it. “Everybody gotta do their part. Everybody in this room, we’re here, successful, ’cause somebody down the road was not just thinkin’ about themselves, they were takin’ responsibility for the country as a whole.” That is not what propelled this country! This country was propelled by rugged individualism and rugged self-interest, and it was made possible by virtue of the freedom this country offers its citizens thanks to our Constitution, founding documents, and Founding Fathers.

Now, this may be a fine line. Obama wants you to think that everybody that he deems “successful” is first thinking of government and then, second, thinking of government, and then the last thing they think of is government, and everything they do is oriented toward making the government better. And that isn’t true. Most people today are finding a way to avoid the government! Because of guys like Obama, most people are trying to find a way to evade the government. Because the government, run by guys like Obama, is an obstacle. It’s in people’s way.

Here’s the next sound bite.

OBAMA: We’re not gonna win the race for new jobs and new businesses and middle class security if we’re responding to today’s challenges with the same old, tired worn out “you’re on your own” economics that hasn’t worked. What these other guys are peddling has not worked. It didn’t work in the decade before the Great Depression. It did not work in the decade before I became president. It will not work now.

RUSH: Do you believe this? The country has never worked. Capitalism has never worked. America was not great until the New Deal, and then America plunged into the abyss again, and only is on the path to reclaiming its greatness now that Obama is replicating the New Deal by a factor of ten. Has he ever heard of the Roaring Twenties? Has he ever heard of the boom in the fifties and the sixties and the seventies? Has he ever heard of what happened in the 1980s? It never worked? This is the second time he’s said this in such a prominent way. Last time was when he made his speech, I guess it was in December, might have been January, the days run together so quickly now, in Osawatomie, Kansas, where he said, America, as founded, hasn’t worked.
President Obama's Energy Speech at the University of Miami on Thursday was probably one of the most arrogant and clueless speeches delivered by this President.  The speech contained some unbelievable lies and misconceptions....the 5 biggest according to the Investors Business Daily were:

  1. 'We're focused on production.'
  2. 'The US consumes more than a fifth of the world's oil.  But we only have 2% of the world's oil reserves.'
  3. 'Because of the investments we've made, the use of clean, renewable energy in this country has nearly doubled.'
  4. 'There are no short term silver bullets when it comes to gas prices.'
  5. 'We need to double down on a clean energy industry that's never been more promising.'
The main message from the President is apparently 'It's Not My Fault' and 'Suck it up and stop whining'.   That and the fact that the future for lower gasoline prices is pond scum.

Focused on Production?  The Wall Street Journal notes -
Approval of an offshore drilling plan now takes 92 days, 31 more than the historical average. And so far in 2012, an average of 23% of all drilling plans have been approved, compared to the average of 73.4%.

Oh, and don't forget the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have increased the delivery of oil from Canada and North Dakota's Bakken Shale to Gulf Coast refineries, replacing oil from Venezuela.

The reality is that most of the increase in U.S. oil and gas production has come despite the Obama Administration. It is flowing from the shale boom, which is the result of private technological advances and investment. Mr. Obama has seen the energy sun rise and is crowing like a rooster that he made it happen.
America only has 2% of the world's reserves?  Another canard...
[A]lthough the U.S. is said to have only 20 billion barrels of oil in reserves, the amount of oil that is technically recoverable in the U.S. is more than 1.4 trillion barrels, with the largest deposits located offshore, in portions of Alaska, and in shale in the Rocky Mountain West. When combined with resources from Canada and Mexico, total recoverable oil in North America exceeds 1.7 trillion barrels, or more than the world has used since the first oil well was drilled over 150 years ago in Titusville, Pennsylvania. To put this in context, Saudi Arabia has about 260 billion barrels of oil in proved reserves.

One reason to view “reserves” estimates with caution is the fact that they are constantly in flux. In 1980, the U.S. had oil reserves of roughly 30 billion barrels. Yet from 1980 through 2010, it produced over 77 billion barrels of oil. In other words, over the last 30 years, the U.S. produced over 150 percent of the proved reserves that it had in 1980. If the massive quantities of U.S. oil are made available to explore and produce, the current estimated reserves of 20 billion barrels would certainly increase, providing much more production over decades to come. In other words, reserves are not a stagnant number.
Clean renewable energy?  Like the example of Massachusetts and it's cap and trade legislation?

As noted by the Investors Business Daily, after decades of government subsidiaries for clean renewable energy, when it comes to electricity, wind power only provides 1% of our electricity as compared to 49% for coal, 22% for natural gas, 19% for nuclear, and 7% for hydroelectric.  Wind turbines operate at only 20% efficiency compared to 85% for coal, gas, and nuclear power plants.

In terms of prices, wind power for Massachusetts costs start at 18.7 cents per kilowatt hour - compared to the average Mass electrical rate based on traditional power sources of 8 cents per kilowatt hour.  With the built in price hikes for the rates, this is going to rise to 31.3 cents per kilowatt hour in 15 years - or nearly 4 times the current cost of electricity.  Meanwhile, natural gas, which because of the massive increases in supply being made available via fracking technology, is at record low prices - selling at an equivalent oil price of $18 per barrel.

No short term silver bullets?  But pond scum is a solution?
To give you an idea how impractical this is at its current stage, let's look at a couple of numbers. In 2010, the U.S. produced about 138 billion gallons of gasoline. At $3.00/gallon, that's a market worth north of $400 billion annually.

Obama's magical solution? Spending $0.085 billion on researching algal fuels now with a proposed increase to this research of $0.014 billion.

He says algal fuels can replace "up to" 17% of a $400 billion revenue stream yet proposes to invest $0.099 billion to achieve this? We either need to be investing several orders of magnitude more in this miracle technology or zero. Given the Federal government's track record as a venture capitalist and our current financial situation, I'll go with zero. 
This is more laughable than a call to inflate your tires, which at least has the advantage of being something you can do immediately and for free (or thereabouts). 
We may bitch about our choices to replace this clown, but none of them, not even Luap Nor, are as unserious about the problems we face and the solutions to them as Obama is.
Doubling down on renewable energy?  Like Solyndra, or A123 Systems in Michigan?

A123 Systems is a green company, an electric car battery company once touted as a major stimulus success story by the former Governor of Michigan, Jennifer Granholm (D) has gotten $390 million in stimulus dollars from the Federal and State governments.  Since getting these funds, it's laid off 125 employees, lost $172 million in the first 3 quarters of 2011, and has given its top executives raises of 10%-20%...

Another interesting comment by Obama in his energy speech -
“Some politicians, they see this as a political opportunity. I know you’re shocked by that. Last week the lead story in one newspaper said, ‘Gasoline prices are on the rise and Republicans are licking their chops.’ That’s a quote. That’s the lead. Licking their chops. Only in politics do people root for bad news. They greet bad news so enthusiastically,” Obama said.
And the Dems never celebrated bad news about the economy for political purposes?

Well, I've got to go a make sure my tires are properly inflated... and deal with the algae in the fish tank - the car needs a fill-up.

On This Day in History - Feb 24th

1868 - US House of Representatives votes 11 articles of impeachment against President Andrew Johnson - who becomes the first US President to be impeached.

1917 - British officials give the US Ambassador to the UK a copy of the 'Zimmerman Note' - an intercepted and decrypted telegram from the German Foreign Secretary to the German Ambassador to Mexico - instructing the Ambassador to ask Mexico to enter the war alongside of Germany if the US joins the war promising the return of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona to Mexico once the Allies are defeated.

1968 - The Tet Offensive ends as US and South Vietnamese forces recapture the ancient capital city of Hue.  Despite suffering a catastrophic military defeat, Tet turned the tide in favor of the North Vietnamese as popular opinion in the US, influenced by those like Walter Cronkite, declared the war unwinnable.

On This Day in History - Feb 25th

1570 - Queen Elizabeth I is excommunicated by Pope Pius V

1913 - The 16th Amendment to the US Constitution is ratified.  It authorizes the income tax.

1940 - The New York Rangers and Montreal Canadians play in the first US televised hockey game - aired by W2WBS in NYC using a single camera

1942 - The Battle of Los Angeles - The varying reports of the morning’s events represent the mass confusion and paranoia of the time. Some reported there were just a few planes, while others claimed to have seen several dozen aircraft. There were even reports that planes were shot down, when in reality, nothing was hit by the AA guns—except three civilians killed and a few buildings damaged by friendly fire. Guns fired at the flying object for more than an hour between 3:15 and 4:15 a.m. on 25 February 1942

1964 - Cassius Clay shocks the boxing world by knocking out heavyweight boxing champion Sonny Liston.  After joining the Nation of Islam, Clay changed his name to Muhammed Ali.

1986 - Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos flees the country and takes up exile in the United States as popular support turns against his dictatorship

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