Wednesday, September 30, 2009

No Afghanistan Nation Building


While President Obama debates about the future course of U.S. actions in Afghanistan, it might be worthwhile to look back to 2001 at an essay about this subject:

The Folly of Nation-Building in Afghanistan

by Gary Dempsey

This article appeared on on October 17, 2001.

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), recently claimed that an American-led nation-building effort in Central and South Asia is the long-term solution to the terrorism problem. For Biden, this nation-building effort should focus on changing the economic and social climate of Afghanistan and its neighbors, and include something akin to the Marshall Plan's reconstruction of Europe after World War II. Besides setting an awkward precedent -- that harboring terrorists will eventually bring new roads and heaps of foreign aid -- Biden's nation-building recommendation overlooks the obvious: Postwar Afghanistan will look nothing like postwar Germany, or for that matter, postwar Japan.

For starters, the high level of education and industrial know-how in postwar Germany and Japan helped launch an economic recovery in both countries that is inconceivable almost anywhere else. Germany also had a strong tradition of the rule of law, property rights, and free trade before the Nazi era. Japan's elite embraced an honorific culture that respected and obeyed the wishes of the victor in battle. Afghanistan and its neighbors, in contrast, have little in the way of either liberal traditions or cultural attitudes that are agreeable to massive foreign interference.

Read more....

Now in 2009, similar voices are being heard:

Afghanistan: Time to Stop Nation-Building

George Will

WASHINGTON -- "Yesterday," reads the e-mail from Allen, a Marine in Afghanistan, "I gave blood because a Marine, while out on patrol, stepped on a (mine's) pressure plate and lost both legs." Then "another Marine with a bullet wound to the head was brought in. Both Marines died this morning."

"I'm sorry about the drama," writes Allen, an enthusiastic infantryman willing to die "so that each of you may grow old." He says: "I put everything in God's hands." And: "Semper Fi!"

Allen and others of America's finest are also in Washington's hands. This city should keep faith with them by rapidly reversing the trajectory of America's involvement in Afghanistan, where, says the Dutch commander of coalition forces in a southern province, walking through the region is "like walking through the Old Testament."

U.S. strategy -- protecting the population -- is increasingly troop-intensive while Americans are increasingly impatient about "deteriorating" (says Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) conditions. The war already is nearly 50 percent longer than the combined U.S. involvements in two world wars, and NATO assistance is reluctant and often risible.

Read more....

Here's the rub: Iraq represented a real opportunity for so-called nation building in that it has a fairly well educated population and had been held together by Saddam Hussein for decades as a coherent, albeit repressive, political entity. There was a case for Iraq. And just as realization of this effort was within reach, our politically novice President pulled the rug out and that may ultimately cause a severe backsliding away from that goal.

Nearly all agree that Afghanistan is not such a situation, yet our politically novice President wanders aimlessly in a strategy built on quicksand to try to replicate this nation building effort in Afghanistan... while placing our soldiers in greater danger by figuratively tying both hands behind their backs and blindfolding them before sending them into battle.

If the U.S. is to be in Afghanistan, then a more conventional war strategy such as that used in Germany should be be employed... physical destruction of enemy strongholds and emotional destruction of the will to fight. War is over when the enemy's will to fight is lost. In Afghanistan, this will not be achieved by pouring ground troops into mountainous territory. This will be achieved by destruction from the air without notice and without ceasing until surrender is the only option. And yes, this means civilian casualties... especially when the distinction between civilians and combatants is nearly impossible.

If the U.S. has no stomach for this, then it is time to leave, let the current government fall, let the Taliban take over... and then bomb the hell out the Taliban. Let them create their own target for us... if they are our enemy... or harbor our enemies.

War is this...

Not this...

It's time to fish or cut bait... using a totally unrelated metaphor. Maybe it is time to "go fish."

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

President Obama Not Listening To Sen. Obama


The Wall Street Journal had an interesting little tidbit:

WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary Robert Gates pushed back against calls by Congress for the administration to set a timeline for withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan, as unease about the White House's handling of the war grows on Capitol Hill and among the public.

In two television interviews, Mr. Gates argued that the Afghan war was vital to U.S. national security. Laying out a timeline for removing American troops from Afghanistan would be "a strategic mistake" that could embolden al Qaeda and the Taliban, he said on CNN's "State of the Union."

[Robert Gates] CNN

Defense Secretary Robert Gates on CNN's 'State of the Union.'

Mr. Gates waded into the political debate over Afghanistan at a pivotal moment in the eight-year-old war. The Obama administration is conducting a broad review of its strategy for the conflict as it weighs a request from the top American commander in Kabul, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, for up to 40,000 U.S. reinforcements. About 65,000 American troops are now in Afghanistan.

Read more....

Excuse me, but wasn't it the war strategy of Sen. Obama to set timetables for withdrawal. It shouldn't matter if it is Iraq or Afghanistan. Apparently, the Senator's philosophy of "let's all whine before it is time" doesn't come into play when he is in charge. It sure has sounded like President Obama was planning his own version of "Surge" for Afghanistan.

It's time to step up front and tell the world that "ready or not" we're leaving. That's how you run a war! That'll put the pressure on the Taliban to bow to public opinion. Maybe President Obama should use the same approach with nuclear weapons. We'll just disarm and that will put the pressure on Iran to bow to public opinion. Maybe he can get Iran's buddies in Russia to persuade them to go along.

Then he would truly be a great strategist and statesman! What's all that laughing coming from Iran?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Looking At Detroit From The Outside


It's easy to forget about Detroit when you are in California. Different world... seems like different planets.

California has been blessed with a lot of natural advantages that enable an outdoor lifestyle and a focus on things other than heavy manufacturing... although there is some of that. This particular area along the coast is unusual in that it is relatively inexpensive [compared with other parts of the California coastline near large cities]. There are a lot of modest homes that line the few blocks between the ocean and the dusty hills.

So, it was an "I should have expected it" moment when my daughter-in-law handed me the October 5 issue of Time magazine with the Special Report... The Tragedy of Detroit. For those in the Detroit area, it was not a new story... a predominantly white, industrial, wealthy city that had a major influx of poor, less-educated blacks drawn to the industrial jobs after WWII, followed by rising racial tensions, riots, white flight, corrupt black government and, now, on the verge of dissolution.

Former Detroit Mayor and jail occupant, Kwame Kilpatrick

Not a new story and one that it largely ignored or unknown outside of Michigan and northern Ohio.

The Time story was bad enough, but then the weekend edition of The Wall Street Journal showed up and, wow, right on page one was the story: In One Home, a Mighty City's Rise and Fall with the subtitle Price of Typical Detroit House: $7,100.

There have been a number of ideas about how to "fix" Detroit. My own perspective is that Detroit is not "fixable." It has too much geography, too little population, too many non-educated residents, too little knowledge and morality to run a city. Detroit is not salvageable.

Among other related posts:

As long as Detroit exists as its present political and geographic entity, it will remain a cancer to the rest of the state and nearby area.

But one a brighter note, the Detroit Lions ended a losing streak that lasted over three years. Now if Detroit could end a losing streak that has lasted well over three decades.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

California Foggy


Our visit to the coastal area south of San Francisco has been marked by cool temperatures and unremitting fog. A mile or so inland I am told the weather is pleasant and sunny. Still, I have enjoyed the walks with my grandson in the cool, moist weather... especially up some of the steeper hills.


Today was the local "Fog Fest" so guess what happened....


Friday, September 25, 2009

Pass-Fail Education


A few months ago, I ran a spoof post: Detroit Public Schools To Drop Grading System

Occasionally, I get comments on older posts such as this which was obviously serious, but I'm not sure how well thought out.

When hiring prospective employees, a company is more likely to hire students that are driven, who participate in leadership opportunities at the university, students who put tremendous amounts of thought and effort into everything that they do. Those are the real students who are going places.

Most importantly, if the grading system is done away with, students who are serious about their educational careers will take what is really important from their courses: the lessons taught to them.

A new system of rewards based on effort, drive, passion, and talent should be implemented. By using a grading system that ranks a student's performance, it encourages students to "make the grade" as opposed to "make the most of your experience, and grow as much as you can". Students will be more motivated and energetic to learn and acquire skills and knowledge in a friendly, grade-pressure-free, learning environment than in a negative, pressure cooker grade-worry atmosphere. The needed learning and acquisition of knowledge should be in a hand on, semi one-to-one, practical in-class "workshop" atmosphere of practice.

However, instead of an "A" through "F" grading system, a pass or fail might be more effective. This would encourage students to look past the insignificant letter grades but still reward those who put in the required effort. For those that go above and beyond their semester coursework, they won't take home an "A+" but instead what they have learned. Instead of listing a high GPA on their resume, students could point out educational accomplishments.
I believe there may be a few problems with such a system:
  • A simple pass/fail system is seldom used for most human endeavors and even then there are some distinguishing assessments.
  • Human Resource departments would be reluctant to hire someone when their "pass" may mean little more than "showed up."
  • We, as individuals, tend to seek out the best service providers based on distinguishing qualifications... not "got 70% of the answers correct"... 70% of my surgeon's patients live.
  • While there may be variations in the grading standards, even those are recognized after a short time... graduating from some schools with high grades is far more significant than graduating from other schools with high grades... so pass/fail will still have some significance based on the school... but not enough for picking medical students or awarding grants for research or any number of competitive areas
  • Sports are part of school; will teams be based on a simple pass/fail? [maybe they already are to a certain extent, but we still have 1st, 2nd, and 3rd strings.]

Rather than blaming assessment for student failure, it may be wiser to look to the real root causes:

  • Individual effort
  • Parental effort
  • Instructor effort
  • Cultural influences
Pass/fail is a convenient way to avoid responsibility of all concerned and promotes mediocrity. Why bother to work hard if "good enough" gives you the "free pass." That's not to say that the grading system doesn't do that to a large degree already in systems such as Detroit, but it does provide an educational "filter" for those who simply are not qualified for more rigorous demands of more specialized education.

What I believe is more important is a thorough re-examination of our school model.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

California Dreamin'


We're on a quick trip to California to see our grandson... oh, and our son and daughter-in law, too. They say the scenery is extraordinary... and when the fog lifts, it certainly is.

The odd thing about the coast, other than the apparently perpetual fog, is how cool it is versus the inland just a few miles away. I suggested to my wife that she bring heavier clothes, but she insisted that the weather forecast was for quite warm temperatures. Yes, but just not here. You have to walk up the hill to get to those.

But we're having a great time with our grandson while his parents are working. And I'm getting a pretty good workout hauling him up and down those hills in a carrier.

Another observation about the area here.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Rational Approach To Science And Politics


Earlier this week, Dr. Roger Pielke, Sr. posted The Vulnerability Perspective at Climate Science. The bottom line premise was that...

There are 5 broad areas that we can use to define the need for vulnerability assessments : water, food, energy, health and ecosystem function. Each area has societally critical resources. The vulnerability concept requires the determination of the major threats to these resources from climate, but also from other social and environmental issues. After these threats are identified for each resource, then the relative risk from natural- and human-caused climate change (estimated from the GCM projections, but also the historical, paleo-record and worst case sequences of events) can be compared with other risks in order to adopt the optimal mitigation/adaptation strategy.

I sent Dr. Pielke the following:

Part of the problem is getting agreement on the correct approach... and keeping the federal government from mandating some half-baked "solution." Governments should protect their citizens from those who would cause destruction or degrading of our key critical resources... but not try to pick winners and losers based on incomplete information.

What, for example, would be the course of action if reforestation was seen as beneficial to temperature and rainfall, but detrimental to food supplies and general economic well-being [not that such is the case]? The U.S. government has a tendency to believe it can direct worldwide action on any issue. As shown in recent climate talks, unilateral action by the U.S. is like trying to save the world by pushing a rope up a cliff.

Why, for example, is Europe agonizing over CO2 when it has had exorbitant fuel taxes for decades? Maybe because burning coal is more economical than importing solar energy to countries that are generally overtaxed.

Unfortunately, when science and politics get together, we seem to get politicized science rather than science-based politics.
Dr. Pielke offers up a rational approach to examining how climate and other changes are occurring [as opposed to simply using climate model projections] and then assessing the impact on critical resources.

To say the least, this would be a vast improvement over the irrational "blame everything on global warming" politics that we have been subjected to for too many years. We don't need more of the "Global warming is increasing the intensity and number of forest fires across the American West" when the opposite is the real cause.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Strength Through Weakness


In a recent post titled Goodbye Europe , I wrote that "Missile defense is difficult and expensive. Certainly having our ships sitting around waiting for a missile to go off can't be cheap. Maybe the more rational approach is to place them within the borders of our allies... oh, wait, that was the plan."

Yesterday, Ilan Berman, VP for policy of the American Foreign Policy Council, wrote in The Wall Street Journal:

Mobile ground-based defenses in Turkey and Germany would provide nominally greater coverage of Europe than the Poland/Czech Republic plan, and at comparable cost (between $9 billion and $14 billion over two decades). But according to the CBO, such a system would materialize a full two years later than the estimated operational date of 2013 for a Poland/Czech deployment. So would a sea-based missile-defense option, and at considerably greater cost, since it would require additional ships to be sustainable over the long term.
But the additional cost of the system was only the secondary consideration. More important:
Conventional wisdom has it that Iran will be capable of fielding an intercontinental ballistic missile by the middle of the next decade. Iran's space program also has charted serious advances since the Islamic Republic (with Russian help) became the first Muslim spacefaring nation in 2005. There is real reason to believe that—given the similarities between space launch and ballistic missile technologies—the progress Tehran has made on one could lead to quantum leaps in the sophistication of the other.

A long-range Iranian missile capability, in other words, could materialize much sooner than currently projected. And according to a new report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Islamic Republic is now working to marry its ballistic missile arsenal with its nuclear program, fashioning a missile system capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

Read the full article here....

Contrary to Mr. Obama's thought process, we are not dealing with a rational regime. We are dealing with an irrational, messianic regime that is willing to sacrifice everything for Islamic victory and paradise. They have made their intentions known many times and only a fool would ignore them.


And... don't you find it interesting the the Russians, who so vigorously opposed Bush's missile defense system and who so willingly acceded to Obama's plans, were pivotal in establishing Iran's long-range missile program? ... read the article.

Oh, and Jimmy Carter's old sidekick:
Zbig Brzezinski: Obama Administration Should Tell Israel U.S. Will Attack Israeli Jets if They Try to Attack Iran
Of course, Jimmy and his crew were reluctant to do anything that might upset Iran... and anything that might support Israel. Today they'd be called anti-Jewish bigots, but back then they were just "progressives." Well, actually, today they'd be called "the Obama administration."

Monday, September 21, 2009

President Obama Shifting Blame For His Afghanistan Strategy Failure


From The New York Times:

General Calls for More U.S. Troops to Avoid Afghan Failure
Published: September 20, 2009

WASHINGTON — The top military commander in Afghanistan warns in a confidential assessment of the war there that he needs additional troops within the next year or else the conflict “will likely result in failure.”

McChrystal’s Assessment, via

The grim assessment is contained in a 66-page report that the commander, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, submitted to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Aug. 30, and which is now under review by President Obama and his top national security advisers.

The disclosure of details in the assessment, reported Sunday night by The Washington Post, coincided with new skepticism expressed by President Obama about sending any more troops into Afghanistan until he was certain that the strategy was clear.

Read more....
I have to agree with President Obama on this one. What is President Obama's strategy in Afghanistan? President Obama has directed that some kind of action be taken against rural villagers who may or may not be Taliban and who may or may not be supporting al Qaeda... but the action has to be taken in a manner that places our troops in mortal danger so that no non-combatants [who may be supporting the combatants] are placed in danger.

So, President Obama... what is your strategy for conducting military operations? After all, you are the Commander-In-Chief. Time to put on your thinking cap.

It is politically incorrect [and stupid... and treasonous] to send our sons and daughters into a dangerous situation and then deny them available support. You set the rules, President Obama. Now it is your turn to accept the consequences.

We're pinned down:' 4 U.S. Marines die in Afghan ambush


A Waste Of Metal And Paint


What posted speed, officer?


Michigan Is Like Detroit Football


Futility comes in many representations, but for a state such as Michigan with a history of winning college football, it is difficult to accept decades of professional football futility capped with a 19-game losing streak that is the Detroit Lions. It is as if every ill that has beset Michigan is embodied in this one team.

I blame it on the team's top management. Sure, nearly all of the players, save a handful, are mediocre by professional standards... or past their prime and cast-offs from other teams... that's obvious by just watching. But who selected them? Who selected the staffs to coach them for so many decades? Uh, it wasn't the fans who continued to fill the stands and sing the retreat song... backward down the field... a team that never fails to yield.... Meow.

Sorry. It's force of habit. It's been so easy to counter my brother's enthusiasm with "Yeah, sure." Who knows, maybe young Mr. Stafford may become an NFL star before he becomes discouraged or gets traded. He has a powerful throwing arm and he may eventually learn not to stare at his receiver to make it easy for defenders to intercept his passes... mainly under pressure by the better teams... which was the same fault in his college games.

“We didn’t do our jobs in the second half, and that’s very frustrating,” he added. “We’re better than that.”

If the Lions don’t prove it on the field, they may march toward another infamous milestone.

Detroit, which became the NFL’s first 0-16 team last season, desperately hopes it doesn’t approach Tampa Bay’s record of 26 losses in a row set during the 1976-77 seasons.


Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz and defensive tackle Landon Cohen(notes) (98) watch the closing minutes from the sidelines during an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings at Ford Field in Detroit, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2009. The Lions lost their 19th straight game to tie the second-longest skid in NFL history.

Read more....

That's about as obvious as saying the Sahara Desert is hot.

Now back to the State of Michigan, in general. The same thing can be said about the state government's top management and the results. Do you suppose there is something in the water?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Last Weekend Of Summer


The chill is in the air when evening comes. Cool clear nights. Emergence of bonfires. Bundling up with blankets on those languid boat rides. Watching football all day and evening on Saturday and maybe Sunday [except perhaps in Detroit].

Soon there will be the trips to the apple cider mills and walks through the changing colors. Sweatshirts replace shorts. 6:30 am tee times are replaced with pre-inventory sales shopping at golf stores. House gets recorded for viewing later. Duck hunting and deer hunting. Traveling to see the family members in other states. This is really good.

The last weekend of summer is nothing to be sad about. It's just another season along the arrow of time.


Friday, September 18, 2009

Goodbye Europe


From The New York Times:

White House to Scrap Bush’s Approach to Missile Shield

Published: September 17, 2009

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration plans to announce on Thursday that it will scrap former President George W. Bush’s planned missile defense system in Eastern Europe and instead deploy a reconfigured system aimed more at intercepting shorter-range Iranian missiles, according to people familiar with the plans.

President Obama decided not to deploy a sophisticated radar system in the Czech Republic or 10 ground-based interceptors in Poland, as Mr. Bush had planned. Instead, the new system his administration is developing would deploy smaller SM-3 missiles, at first aboard ships and later probably either in southern Europe or Turkey, those familiar with the plans said.

Read more....

Without a lot of specific information about the ship-based missile system, one can only deduce the nature and extent of the protection offered.

  • Time to detect and verify launch direction and hostile intent - 5 to 10 minutes
  • Time to react and launch SM-3 anti-missile missiles - 1 to 2 minutes
  • Distance hostile missile flies in 10 minutes - hundreds of miles (see specs below)
  • Range of SM-3 - about 325 miles
  • Portion of Europe protected - not much
Type Strategic MRBM
Service history
In service 2003–present
Used by Flag of Iran Iran
Production history
Manufacturer Flag of Iran.svg Iran
Variants A,B,C,D
Diameter 1.2 m (3 ft 11 in)

Warhead One (990 kg/2,200 lb) - five cluster warheads in new models (280 kg/620 lb) each warhead, each warhead can target different destinations.

Engine Liquid & Solid (for models made after 2006)
2,100 km (1,300 mi)
Speed 5,500 km/h (3,400 mph), 21 mach in final phase.

Specifications and images from
It seems questionable how much protection any area would be afforded from missiles based in the Mediterranean Sea. One might think that this is just another step in President Obama's effort to undercut the U.S. military presence and effectiveness around the world.

[map from Google Maps]

More protection would be offered by moving from the Mediterranean Sea to the Black Sea, but it is conceivable that Iran could counter that by setting up ship-based launch systems in the Caspian Sea... or the Atlantic Ocean. Just a harmless cargo ship until a few missiles pop out and the ship is scuttled or destroyed itself with a small nuclear device set off by the crew after they abandon ship in a small, high-speed boat. No telling how far the nut-jobs in Iran will go... and how much the nut-jobs in North Korea will help them.

Missile defense is difficult and expensive. Certainly having our ships sitting around waiting for a missile to go off can't be cheap. Maybe the more rational approach is to place them within the borders of our allies... oh, wait, that was the plan.

Of course, it could be argued that Iran's missiles are only for defensive purposes and its nuclear program is only for generating electricity. They could be....

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Medicare Catch-22


Before you rush out to get that "public option" coverage, perhaps you should have some idea how governmental bureaucracy [doesn't] works.

My sister-in-law has been going to physical therapy using her Medicare coverage. She was advised that she would probably need more than the "normal" amount of treatment. That's when she learned about the Catch-22:

1. On Medicare I have $1,800 per annum to cover physical therapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy. That's a total of any combination of the 3, not for each one.
2. any provider who agrees to take Medicare may not under any circumstances provide services that are not covered by Medicare for a medicare patient.

3. providers may not accept payment for any services directly from a patient under penalty of losing their license.

4. one may not apply for an extension of services until after using up the $1,800, so there will be a gap in the therapy.

5. I have recently met people who explain to me that if you stop going, because you've used up your limit and the provider cannot accept your payment, your application for increased services may be denied because you are obviously doing ok without it.

I'm particularly concerned about stroke patients who need either 2 or 3 of those services. at between $100 and $200 these services quickly reach the cap.

you may be able to find out a lot more at their website: I hope that helps.
Just in case you didn't quite get that, let's connect the dots... once again:
If you need more treatment than Medicare considers appropriate, you can't pay to get it because the provider will be punished.

If you finish your treatment, you have to be approved by Medicare for more treatment and that can take awhile because you can't request additional treatment until you are done with the first round of treatment.

If there is a gap in treatment because you are awaiting Medicare approval... and you are surviving... that may be considered evidence that you don't need additional treatment.
Moral of the story: if you think you will be needing treatment for an extended period... don't let Medicare know and pay for it yourself. You may live longer... or at least get the treatment you need so you can enjoy living longer.

dots have been connected for you.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Green Energy... Not So Fast


The other day I was reading the September 21 issue [yes, the pre-dating is getting little out of hand] of Forbes. The story was titled Dead-Tree Hugger. No, it's the tree that's dead, not the hugger.

It's all about this guy, Mark Mathis, who saw an opportunity in disaster and turned it into a thriving company. The disaster is the kill-off of the western pines by the Dendroctonus ponderosae ... bark beetle to the less esoterically educated.

Images from U.S. Forest Service.

Long story short... he determined that with 7-8 million acres of dead trees out west, there was a reasonably adequate supply of raw material for a wood pellet company... each million acres being equivalent to 100 million barrels of oil! Add in another 25+ million acres of trees from Canada and you've got quite a bonfire.

Of course, since his factory is in Colorado and the largest portion of the dead trees are elsewhere, once he uses up the local sources he will start incurring a lot of transportation costs. Now here is where the government comes in....

  1. Until Jan 1, 2011 you can get a tax credit of 40% up to a maximum of $1,500 on the purchase of a wood pellet stove.
  2. The climate change bill that came out of the House in June exempts biomass culled from Federal lands from carbon emissions allowances.
  3. 80% of the land that contains those dead trees is off-limits because it is designated wilderness... with logging allowed on the rest if you live long enough to get a permit.
Okay, just in case you didn't connect the dots. The government encourages the use of wood pellet stoves that spew tons of CO2. And the government exempts trees used for fuel that have been taken from Federal lands from EPA regulations and Cap and Trade caps. And then the government says, "Nah, nanah, nah, nah" you can't have the wood. Left hand... right hand... no communication. Don't you just love government bureaucracy?

Can't you just hear the greenies and the government bureaucrats chanting, "Another one bites the [saw] dust." Yeah, and wait until all of those dead trees lying around the wilderness areas burst into massive forest fires. Try capping the emissions on those babies!

Read the online version here.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Whither Recovery?


I thought I was the only economy grinch. I've tried to be upbeat, but something seems to be missing that keeps bothering me. Jobs? Yes, that's it. Wait... business activity? Yes, that's it. Wait, government fiscal responsibility? Yes, that's it. Wait... housing market? Yes, that's it. Inflation? No, that's not it. Wait... that's not it?

Well, it just seems that without demand, it is hard to have a shortage of supply. And without demand and too much supply, it seems hard to have inflation... because... where is the pricing pressure? Even as the value of the dollar goes down versus other currencies, the prices of most commodities... even oil... seem stalled. That means prices are actually declining worldwide.

Maybe it is just me. Wait... it's not just me. Alan Abelson at Barron's seems to have the same misgivings or similar ones. Actually, he may be more of a grinch. From the September 14 issue of Barron's:

Our lack of enthusiasm for the spirited rally that has lifted hearts and portfolios here and 'round the globe is not, you may have noticed, widely shared. And we're quite aware of John Maynard Keynes' admonition about the wisdom of changing your mind if a change in the facts warrants it.

But the lack of company has never bothered us, and while we don't hold that the crowd is always wrong, more often than not, in the end, it is. Nor have the facts changed. There's nothing particularly startling or profound behind our negative stance. Essentially, it's grounded in the continuing absence of concrete evidence that, as the market action strongly implies, the economy is about to take wing.

Mr. Abelson goes on...

Employing his usual restrained prose, Société Générale's Albert Edwards articulates some of these misgivings in his latest weekly screed: "It's almost as if the biggest credit bubble in history never occurred. Investors are increasingly convinced that a sustainable global recovery is emerging out of the wreckage. All praise to the central bankers for saving the world! I'm waiting till someone writes about the return of the Great Moderation and suggests Ben Bernanke is the new Maestro. Then I'll know the lunatics have taken over the madhouse... yet again."

Take a look, he says, at the ever-shrinking rate of bank lending to the private sector around the world, which "makes it as clear as the nose on my face that the global economy is still very, very sick." The problem, he contends, is that the deleveraging that invariably follows a boom gone bust is starting to unfold in earnest.

Contrary to the prevailing view that the oodles of stimulus that has so thoroughly soaked economies worldwide will lead ineluctably to inflation, he's adamantly convinced deflation is lurking around the corner, poised to pounce next year. He cites the Baltic Freight Commodity Index, now languishing 40% below its June high, as a telltale sign of lagging global demand and an ominous portent of the gathering deflationary trend.

Okay, I feel better now. I'm not nearly as far out there as Mr. Edwards.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Will NYC Be Flooded By 2080


After reading the following in The Wall Street Journal, I contacted the author, Robert Lee Hotz, concerning the suppositions behind New York City's plan to avert inundation by 2080.

[image from the movie "The Day After Tomorrow"]

NEW YORK -- When major ice sheets thaw, they release enough fresh water to disrupt ocean currents world-wide and make the planet wobble with the uneven weight of so much meltwater on the move. Studying these effects more closely, scientists are discovering local variations in rising sea levels -- and some signs pointing to higher seas around metropolitan New York.

Sea level may rise faster near New York than at most other densely populated ports due to local effects of gravity, water density and ocean currents, according to four new forecasts of melting ice sheets. The forecasts are the work of international research teams that included the University of Toronto, the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., Florida State University and the University of Bristol in the U.K., among others.

Read more....

My note:

"Sea level is currently rising at 2.378 mm/year. At that rate, it will take 631 years for sea level to rise 1.5 meters. During that time hundreds of billions of people may have lived and died – the ultimate displacement."

The problem with extrapolating short-term variations in climate is the absurdity of the results. For example, the spike in temperatures in the 1990s has been followed by a general cooling in the 2000s. In the U.S., as measured by temperature extremes, the present decade is wholly unremarkable...
If New York City [or any other coastal urban area such as New Orleans] wants to protect itself against sea surges, it is wholly unnecessary to justify it by bad science or science fiction. In a world with sufficient problems, it is foolish to create additional problems... and solutions... that will cost billions or trillions of dollars and accomplish very little. The Netherlands have shown that living with high seas can be accomplished with relatively simple efforts. There is significant doubt that New York City will be faced with that problem.
His response:
You would be correct in your estimate if the rate of increase remains the same. And that is, of course, the point of all the research on greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. The rate of change is increasing. How quickly it is changing is the argument. With sea level projections, we do know that sea level has risen alreday about one foot during the 20th Century in response to a combination of rising temperatures and, in some areas, land subsidence. To predict the future, the problem is complex because human behavior is the key variable in a range of best-case/worst-case scenarios. All these sea level rise figures are estimates and they all encompass a range of possibilities depending in part on which of the many greenhouse gas emissions scenarios we do or do not embrace.

In the direst scenario, in which both the Greenland ice sheets and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet completely melt, the global sea level could rise 32 feet or more over several centuries. Obviously that's the most extreme possibility and there's no way to know whether it is at all credible or just plain scare-mongering. New York planners have adopted a much more conservative set of parameters based on the best scientific advice they could get. Earlier this year, the city-appointed New York Panel on Climate Change released its formal prediction of how temperature, precipitation and sea level for the metropolitan area might change over the coming century. You can read that report and others by New York's planners on the local climate change and what they are doing about it at:

You mention that the Netherlands lives with high seas "with relatively simple efforts." Not so simple, really. To prevent storm surge flooding, the Netherlands has built 1,500 miles of dikes, 120 miles of reinforced sea dunes, 3,748 miles of drainage canals, sea walls and flood control dams. To name just one part of the system, the Oosterschelde storm surge barrier is 5 1/2 miles long and is composed of 65 moveable piers that each measure up to 100 feet high and weigh 8,000 tons. It cost about $3.2 billion and it took 19 years to build.

Rising sea levels are extremely likely. GCM-based
projections for mean annual sea level rise in New
York City are:

• 2 – 5 inches by the 2020s
• 7 – 12 inches by the 2050s
• 12 – 23 inches by the 2080s

Because GCMs do not capture all of the processes
which may contribute to sea level rise, an alternative
method that incorporates observed and longer-term
historical ice-melt rates is also included. This “rapid
ice-melt” approach suggests sea level could rise by
approximately 41 to 55 inches by the 2080s.
My last response:
Your arguments are persuasive; however, the present data do not seem to justify the projections of increasing ice melt. While there has been some recent reduction of the northern hemisphere ice sheet [with a possible reversal in the last few years], the southern hemisphere has had a slightly opposite trend.

You are correct that predicting the future is complex, especially when the analysis of present data is so difficult. I correspond ... with two well-known authors of climate information on the internet: Dr. Roger Pielke, Sr., climatologist; and Anthony Watts, meteorologist. Anthony tends to be a little dramatic in his arguments, but does back them up with data; Roger is more restrained and accepts that humans do influence regional climates, but primarily from land use changes, not by fractionally increasing CO2 in the atmosphere.
Regardless, I do not expect to alter your views regarding climate change. I do agree that there are actions we can take to lessen the impact on our climate and general environment. NYC plans to address worst-case scenarios are fine. Even spending $3.2 billion over 2 decades would be minuscule compared with costs of the city being inundated with a sudden surge of water from a hurricane... however remote the possibility. Their plans, however well intended, are based on some very shaky "science"... actually some very shaky computer modeling. Therefore, the fact that they have such plans adds no credibility to the projections.

My concern is that the Federal government is pushing forward with policies and programs that will have disastrous results for our economy in the name of preventing naturally-occurring changes to our climate. Energy independence from politically unstable or hostile sources is a worthwhile effort; restricting that effort in a narrow band of alternatives based on scare tactics is the height of stupidity. It is as if a person becomes ill and his temperature rises to 103° temporarily. Using projections from temperature trends would indicate rapid rises to 110° and beyond. Simplistic thinking about climate variation is more of a danger to us than real climate variations. Wet suits will not be the NYC fashion rage of 2080.
The University of Illinois has a site that tracks polar ice in square miles... north and south poles. It does show a modest decline in ice over the past 40 years, including a recent decline which, in large part, NASA attributed to unusual wind conditions in the arctic and which has started to reverse.

It is all well and good for NYC to have solid infrastructure plans and the link to the .pdf documents provided by Mr. Hotz [which I greatly appreciate] shows that NYC has done a significant amount of planning and implementation to manage an urban area that supports 8.5 million people.

It is unfortunate, in my opinion, that it is deemed necessary by NYC to justify such efforts with alarming projections similar to Al Gore's.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Social Security Alternative


Not quite two years ago, I wrote about Social Security funding. I concluded that:

The simple solution:

  • Increase the early eligibility age from 62 to 66 and the full retirement benefits age from the current 67 to 70.
  • Make mandatory retirement illegal before age 72 to ensure no one is forced to leave a job before retirement benefits are available
  • Require legal residence/citizenship for eligibility
The reasons this would work:
  • The funding problem is an actuarial issue, not a cash input one
  • Eligibility has been expanded beyond manageable limits or reasonable limits
This would place any hardship on the aging population as opposed to those who receive benefits from ancillary programs attached to Social Security. Those could and should be reviewed separately.
Just one other thought: delaying the time that social security benefits are available would serve as an incentive to 1) delay starting a working career to 2) become skilled/educated in something that they really want to do for a long time or 3) move to a country that offers nationalized everything like Britain (where you are granted all kinds of benefits, but you have to pull your own teeth to get them).
UPDATED SECTION: There is another way to address Social Security funding. By law, we all have to pay 6.2% [12.4% if self-employed] of gross income, up to a varying amount each year, into Social Security plus 2.9% of an unlimited amount into Medicare. Then, whether you need it or not, you start getting it beginning as early as 62-years old. But over 40 or 45 years of paying into the system, the government has gotten quite a chunk of change from you.
For example, for someone earning the $106,800 in 2009 -- $106,800 x 12.4% which is $13,243.20 plus 2.9% of $106,800 which is $3,079.80 ... a grand total of $16,320.00... exclusive of income tax. For someone earning $2 million a year, they contribute $58,000 PER YEAR just toward Medicare.

At the current rate and current maximum [which won't stay the same, by the way] a person earning $106,800+ would pay $529,728 just toward the Social Security amount in 40 years... not counting the investment value of that amount which would take the total to well into 7 figures! [at just 4% annual compounding over 40 years that would be $1,372,360]
Change the tax code so that you can elect to forego receiving social security payments... but in return the federal government will forego taxes on all pension and investment income received after the age of 67. This tax relief would also apply to spouses and heirs if they receive any part of your pension and investments upon your death.

In essence, you get nothing from the government from all of the payments made by you and your employer... and you give nothing to the government once you have achieve the age of full Social Security benefits.

Fair is fair.

Can"t Find It?

Use the SEARCH BLOG feature at the upper left. For example, try "Global Warming".

You can also use the "LABELS" below or at the end of each post to find related posts.

Blog Archive

Cost of Gasoline - Enter Your Zipcode or Click on Map

CO2 Cap and Trade

There is always an easy solution to every human problem—neat, plausible, and wrong.
Henry Louis Mencken (1880–1956)
“The Divine Afflatus,” A Mencken Chrestomathy, chapter 25, p. 443 (1949)
... and one could add "not all human problems really are."
It was beautiful and simple, as truly great swindles are.
- O. Henry
... The Government is on course for an embarrassing showdown with the European Union, business groups and environmental charities after refusing to guarantee that billions of pounds of revenue it stands to earn from carbon-permit trading will be spent on combating climate change.
The Independent (UK)

Tracking Interest Rates

Tracking Interest Rates


SEARCH BLOG: FEDERAL RESERVE for full versions... or use the Blog Archive pulldown menu.

February 3, 2006
Go back to 1999-2000 and see what the Fed did. They are following the same pattern for 2005-06. If it ain't broke, the Fed will fix it... and good!
August 29, 2006 The Federal Reserve always acts on old information... and is the only cause of U.S. recessions.
December 5, 2006 Last spring I wrote about what I saw to be a sharp downturn in the economy in the "rustbelt" states, particularly Michigan.
March 28, 2007
The Federal Reserve sees no need to cut interest rates in the light of adverse recent economic data, Ben Bernanke said on Wednesday.
The Fed chairman said ”to date, the incoming data have supported the view that the current stance of policy is likely to foster sustainable economic growth and a gradual ebbing in core inflation”.

July 21, 2007 My guess is that if there is an interest rate change, a cut is more likely than an increase. The key variables to be watching at this point are real estate prices and the inventory of unsold homes.
August 11, 2007 I suspect that within 6 months the Federal Reserve will be forced to lower interest rates before housing becomes a black hole.
September 11, 2007 It only means that the overall process has flaws guaranteeing it will be slow in responding to changes in the economy... and tend to over-react as a result.
September 18, 2007 I think a 4% rate is really what is needed to turn the economy back on the right course. The rate may not get there, but more cuts will be needed with employment rates down and foreclosure rates up.
October 25, 2007 How long will it be before I will be able to write: "The Federal Reserve lowered its lending rate to 4% in response to the collapse of the U.S. housing market and massive numbers of foreclosures that threaten the banking and mortgage sectors."
"Should the elevated turbulence persist, it would increase the possibility of further tightening in financial conditions for households and businesses," he said.

"Uncertainties about the economic outlook are unusually high right now," he said. "These uncertainties require flexible and pragmatic policymaking -- nimble is the adjective I used a few weeks ago."

December 11, 2007 Somehow the Fed misses the obvious.
[Image from:]
December 13, 2007 [from The Christian Science Monitor]
"The odds of a recession are now above 50 percent," says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's "We are right on the edge of a recession in part because of the Fed's reluctance to reduce interest rates more aggressively." [see my comments of September 11]
January 7, 2008 The real problem now is that consumers can't rescue the economy and manufacturing, which is already weakening, will continue to weaken. We've gutted the forces that could avoid a downturn. The question is not whether there will be a recession, but can it be dampened sufficiently so that it is very short.
January 11, 2008 This is death by a thousand cuts.
January 13, 2008 [N.Y. Times]
“The question is not whether we will have a recession, but how deep and prolonged it will be,” said David Rosenberg, the chief North American economist at Merrill Lynch. “Even if the Fed’s moves are going to work, it will not show up until the later part of 2008 or 2009.
January 17, 2008 A few days ago, Anna Schwartz, nonagenarian economist, implicated the Federal Reserve as the cause of the present lending crisis [from the Telegraph - UK]:
The high priestess of US monetarism - a revered figure at the Fed - says the central bank is itself the chief cause of the credit bubble, and now seems stunned as the consequences of its own actions engulf the financial system. "The new group at the Fed is not equal to the problem that faces it," she says, daring to utter a thought that fellow critics mostly utter sotto voce.
January 22, 2008 The cut has become infected and a limb is in danger. Ben Bernanke is panicking and the Fed has its emergency triage team cutting rates... this time by 3/4%. ...

What should the Federal Reserve do now? Step back... and don't be so anxious to raise rates at the first sign of economic improvement.
Individuals and businesses need stability in their financial cost structures so that they can plan effectively and keep their ships afloat. Wildly fluctuating rates... regardless of what the absolute levels are... create problems. Either too much spending or too much fear. It's just not that difficult to comprehend. Why has it been so difficult for the Fed?

About Me

My photo
Michigan, United States
Air Force (SAC) captain 1968-72. Retired after 35 years of business and logistical planning, including running a small business. Two sons with advanced degrees; one with a business and pre-law degree. Beautiful wife who has put up with me for 4 decades. Education: B.A. (Sociology major; minors in philosopy, English literature, and German) M.S. Operations Management (like a mixture of an MBA with logistical planning)