Archive for February, 2022

Greater threat to the planet: Putin or climate change?

February 28, 2022

Putin is the clear & present danger … so, unleash our oil & gas industry, Joe.
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Analytically speaking, risk assessment boils down to a couple of decision criteria:

> How immediate is the threat?

> How severe are the potential consequences?

> How likely are the consequences?

> How might mitigation change the odds?

Applying these risk assessment criteria, the answer to the headlined question is pretty clear (to me).

Putin is demonstrably a clear, present, proven and potentially nuclear danger.

Just turn on your TV to watch the slaughter of innocent people and the destruction of a nation and a culture.

He’s maniacal (and probably crazy), determined and has planet-destroying nuclear weapons that he might use if he’s cornered.

The climate change threat is murky and prospective (decades off) … with uncertain but potentially severe consequences.

Bottom line: If the choice is binary, Putin must be stopped ASAP.

If the threats need to be “balanced”, then the scale should be tilted to stopping Putin.

Putin is clearly the more immediate threat.

Climate control can wait.

Let’s go through the decision criteria…

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THREAT ASSESSMENT

Immediacy 

The Putin threat is happening now.  Just turn on your TV right now and watch the slaughter of innocent people and the destruction of a nation and a culture.

Even climate control zealots concede that its potential “existential threat” is decades away.

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Severity

Climate control zealots say that, unchecked by draconian mitigation, the planet will be a degree or two warmer in 50 years … and that’s enough to end life as we know it.

Let’s assume that’s true.

Some might argue that the Putin threat is localized and contained..

The Ukraine invasion is tragic and sad, but c’mon man, it’s just Ukraine.

Once Putin gets to the Polish border, the U.N. and NATO will stop him in his tracks.

Might be true.

But, what if Putin is, in fact, crazy and, when cornered, he starts lobbing nukes.

Suddenly, we’re looking at a level of global destruction that gives climate change a run for its money.

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Likelihood

So, what is the likelihood that planetary existence at risk?

Sure, clean energy beats dirty energy and a green mindset makes sense.

But, the case for climate change ending the planet’s existence is a reach.

It is disputable whether the “data is clear” and  “the science is settled” on the consequences of climate change.

For details, see 16 Reasons why I’m lukewarm on climate change

Personally, I’d score the likelihood of Putin unleashing planet-destroying nukes higher than a climate existential threat.

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Mitigation

This is where things get dicey.

I’m confident that the U.S. will become increasing green.

That’s a good thing.

I believe that American ingenuity and technology will — sometime and somehow over the next 50 years — provide game-changing climate control remedies.

But, as Igor Sechin, CEO of Russia’s state-owned Rosneft, has warned

Some ecologists and politicians urge for a hasty energy transition, yet it requires an unrealistically fast launch of renewable energy sources and faces issues with storage, ensuring reliability and stability of power generation. WSJ

And, to this point, climate control initiatives in the U.S. and Europe have largely been virtue signaling … outsourcing fossil fuel production to other countries (including Russia!) … leaving the U.S. and Europe vulnerable.

So, the pivotal question is how to “mitigate” the Putin threat.

Well, maybe Putin will come to his senses and self-control his destructive tendencies.

Odds of that are essentially zero,

Maybe the rational Russian people will rise up and take him out.

I’m betting the under on that one, too

Let’s try diplomacy.

How’s then been working out?

Not to worry, NATO will ultimately use military force to contain the Putin risk.

English translation: NATO nations will encourage the U.S. to kick Putin’s ass.

Military containment might be doable … but, at a high cost with the incumbent risk that a crazy Putin starts a nuclear war.

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So what to do?

Oh yeah, there are other Putin-mitigating options.

How about draining his war-mongering financial resources with sanctions?

In logic-speak: necessary but not sufficient … especially since the current sanctions explicitly rule out any transactions related to the flow of Russian oil.

According to Biden’s Deputy National Security Advisor Daleep Singh:

“To be clear, our sanctions are not designed to cause any disruption to the current flow of energy from Russia to the world” Source

Say, what?

Bottom line: The only non-lethal way  to cripple Putin’s war mongering is to use U.S. oil & gas production as a geo-political strategic tool … the geo-political strategic tool!

As one right-leaning pundit puts it:

Putin’s power comes from money, most of Putin’s money comes from oil and gas.

It stands to reason that if you’re trying to punish him, hitting him in the wallet is the most effective way to do it.

So why would our President specifically exempt what is the best, most effective, and really only significant way to hurt Putin in way that might impact his behavior?

Of course, there’s an explanation…

Biden is boxed by his party’s far left climate control zealots.

Nonetheless, as we’ve said before:

Biden’s only realistic option is to reverse his dumbest decisions.

He has to do an objective risk assessment (see above), stiff-arm his parity’s uber-left loons, restore U.S. energy superiority by unleashing our oil & gas industry.

It’s as simple as that!

News flash: Putin puts his nuclear forces “on alert”.

February 27, 2022

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a televised statement today that he was ordering Russia’s nuclear  forces on alert.

According to Axios:

  • This is the second time Putin has alluded to Russia’s nuclear arsenal while effectively warning the West to back off.
  • In a statement at the onset of the invasion, Putin said anyone who tried to “hinder us” would face “such consequences that you have never encountered in your history.”
  • Fear of a standoff between nuclear powers is a large part of the reason the U.S. and its NATO allies have been so adamant that they will not send troops to Ukraine.

C’mon, Joe. It’s “game on”.

Unleash our oil & gas industry to stop funding Putin’s aggression (and slow the rate of inflation here at home).

For background (and data), see:

Biden’s only realistic option: reverse his dumbest decisions and…

Biden channels Meatloaf: He will do anything to curb inflation (but he won’t pump oil)

Worth Reading: Putin’s motivations and Biden’s responses.

February 27, 2022

Our recent posts with current relevance…
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So, why is Putin so keen on Ukraine?
Here’s some “must know” background on Ukraine

Putin says he doesn’t want to share a border with a NATO member, but …
If he takes all of Ukraine, he’ll share a border with Poland and Romania … both NATO members!

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Biden channels Meatloaf …
He will do anything to curb inflation (but he won’t pump oil)

Biden’s only realistic option: reverse his dumbest decisions.
Pump oil to stop funding Russia’s aggression and slow the rate of inflation … here’s the data!

Bloomberg: Gas tax “holiday” is a dumb idea…
Prices at the pump have already soared and will go even higher given the Russia-Ukraine mess (and Biden’s anti-oil policies).

More: Gas tax “holiday” is a dumb idea… February 24, 2022
Equivalent to cutting the infrastructure bill’s commitment to roads by about 40%.

One cartoon says it all … with only one inaccuracy.

February 25, 2022

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The inaccuracy: In real life, Putin’s playing 3-dimensional chess.

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Thanks to KZ for the feed

Putin says he doesn’t want to share a border with a NATO member, but …

February 25, 2022

If he takes all of Ukraine, he’ll share a border with Poland and Romania … both NATO members!
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Last night, many pundits were saying that Biden (and Ukraine … and NATO) should just concede that that Ukraine will never be granted NATO membership.

Their logic: Putin has intimated that the potential of Ukraine joining NATO is his red lines.

Since there are no known intentions of Ukraine applying for NATO membership … nor of NATO granting membership if Ukraine does apply …  then it’s a moot issue … so why not concede the point and watch the Russian tanks roll back to Mother Russia?

Unfortunately, there are a couple of holes in that argument.

First, if shared borders with a NATO member is really Putin’s flashpoint issue, then taking all of Ukraine doesn’t solve his problem … if he succeeds, Russia will be sharing borders with Poland and Romania.

Both are NATO members!

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Second, Putin has also been demanding that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, former USSR republics, currently in NATO, get booted out of NATO.

The consensus of pundits seems to be that’s a non-starter.

What a mess…

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For the record:

At present, NATO has 30 members. In 1949, there were 12 founding members of the Alliance: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the United States. The other member countries are: Greece and Turkey (1952), Germany (1955), Spain (1982), the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland (1999), Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia (2004), Albania and Croatia (2009), Montenegro (2017) and North Macedonia (2020). Source

In its final years, the USSR consisted of 15 “republics”: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belorussia (now Belarus), Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kirgiziya (now Kyrgyzstan), Latvia, Lithuania, Moldavia (now Moldova), Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.

In 2004, three former Soviet republics — the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were admitted to NATO. Source

Also in 2004, three former Warsaw Pact countries — Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia — joined NATO. They were not part of the USSR, but were politically aligned with it, Source

Poland — a NATO member since 1999 — was an “Eastern Bloc satellite state in the Soviet sphere of interest”, but it was never a part of the Soviet Union.

Biden channels Meatloaf …

February 24, 2022

… and I wish he’d stop doing it!
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Everybody remembers the Meatloaf classic, right?

The tease:” I would do anything for love”

The punch line”: “But I won’t do that !”

If you need a a refresher or just want to kick back and
listen to an all- time great song, clock here

image
click to listen

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Biden (and Psaki) have appropriated a variant of the Meatloaf classic.

Now, every time Joe steps behind the podium, he squints and reads a version of:

Gas prices are high and are going to go higher because of Putin.

I feel your pain and, rest assured, I will use all the tools available to minimize the prices at the pump.

Anything” in Biden-speak includes plays at the margin like temporarily waiving the 18.4 cents per gallon Federal gas tax … and releasing some of the strategic oil reserves.

Reading between the lines is the punch line “But I won’t do that.”

What are the won’t-do-thats?

Well, for openers there are:

  • Buildout the Keystone XL pipeline
  • Enable aggressive fracking (again)
  • Re-open drilling in the Alaskan ANWR Region
  • Fast track off-shore licensing
  • Permanently disable the Nord Stream pipelines (both the NS1 that’s in operation and the NS2 that’s awaiting for final approval)

Those are moves that stand a chance of moderating inflation pressures in the U.S., slowing the flow of oil profits to Putin, providing some oil & LNG to Russian-dependent European countries and restoring. U.S. energy independence.

But, of course, Biden “… won’t do that”

The AOC “squad” and the climate control zealots won’t let him.

Too bad…

More: Gas tax “holiday” is a dumb idea…

February 24, 2022

What about the budget impact?
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Following on to yesterday’s post…

Team Biden has floated the idea of waiving the 18.4-cents-a-gallon federal tax on gasoline through the end of the year.

Bloomberg’s assessment: A gas tax holiday would do nothing to fight inflation but would do lasting harm to the federal budget.

Yesterday we drilled down on the inflation effect, concluding that:

Based on common sense behavioral economics, temporarily waiving the gas tax is a play “at the margins” that is likely to have a minimal effect in curbing inflation at the pumps.

Today, let’s look at the budget effect

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Again, building on the Bloomberg headline…

Keep in mind that revenue from the gas tax ostensibly goes into the Highway Trust Fund, which is the primary way the U.S. pays for repairing and maintaining highways

It is estimated that suspending the tax through the end of 2022 (as the proposed Dem-sponsored bill envisions) would cost about $20 billion).

Hmm.

Didn’t the Feds recently pass a bipartisan infrastructure bill intended, in part, to repair roads & bridges?

Specifically, $110 billion was earmarked and split roughly 50-50 for roads & bridges.

For details,see: What  is in the bipartisan infrastructure bill?

So, jacking $20 billion from the highways budget is the equivalent of cutting the infrastructure bill’s commitment to roads by about 40%.

So much for the commitment to infrastructure rebuilding.

They’re not trying to snooker us again, are they?

Bloomberg: Gas tax “holiday” is a dumb idea…

February 23, 2022

Prices at the pump have already soared and will go even higher given the Russia-Ukraine mess (and Biden’s anti-oil policies).
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But, not to worry …

To offset the pump price increases, Team Biden is trying to get Saudi Arabia, Russia and Iran to supply more oil.

Well, maybe strike Russia from that list now.

And, they’re floating a gamechanger: Waiving the 18.4-cents-a-gallon federal tax on gasoline through the end of the year.

What’s the problem with doing that?

Bloomberg’s assessment: A gas tax holiday would do nothing to fight inflation but would do lasting harm to the federal budget.

Today, let’s drill down on the inflationary impact by considering the relevant “behavioral economics” — what are consumers likely to perceive and how are they’re likely to reacrt..

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Some Behavioral Economics

My take: Temporarily waiving the gas tax is a play “at the margins” that is likely to have a zero or negative effect in the market.

For openers, ask: What’s the impact of 18.4¢ per gallon on consumer’s wallets?

It is about 4.5% off a gallon of gas at current pump prices.

That’s sounds good.

But, it translates to about 2 bucks off at each pump stop … down from around $50 to just under $48.

Assume  a 16 gallon tank, refilled when it’s down to 1/4 of a tank: 75% x 16 = 12 gallons; 12 gal, x 18.4¢ = $2.20 … and assume gas at $4 per gallon at current market prices..

From a behavioral economics perspective, the driving number (<= pun intended) is the $48 … which is still a “piss-me-off” $20 per fill-up more than we were paying pre-Biden.

There’s little likelihood that consumers will start chanting; “Now you’re talking, Joe”.

So, let’s take another slant: What’s the annual impact on wallets?

Teaching point: In my pricing course, I professed that a way to “inflate” the appearance of a small number, simply multiply it by some number, e.g. go from cents per gallon,to dollars per fill-up to dollars per year.

Conversely, to make a big number seem small, simply “bite size it” by dividing it by some number, e.g. instead of $200, make it 4 easy-pay installments of $49.99 … or better yet: only pennies per day … way less than your monthly cable bill.

Let’s assume that an average person drives 12,000 miles each year.  At 20 MPG, that translates to 600 gallons per year.

At 18.4¢ per gallon, that’s a little over $100 in savings this year.

That’s barely enough to buy one of the two shoes in a new pair of Nike Lebron 19 basketball kicks.

The Nike LeBron 19 “Bred” to release this month at select retailers and Nike.com. The retail price tag is set at $200 USD. Source

Sure, we’d all rather get a “free” $100 from the government coffer (i.e. somebody else’s money), it doesn’t stack up as a life-style changing bonanza.

So, Joe, it may not buy you or your cronies  a lot of votes … or neutralize the perception that you haven’t got a clue.

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P.S. What if the above logic is wrong and people do sense that temporarily waiving the 18.4¢ per gallon gas tax is a meaningful price change?

What’s the likely outcome?

Based on past history, people are likely drive more and buy more gas … pushing the pump prices back up … possible negating the entire tax cut.

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To be continued…

Biden’s only realistic option: reverse his dumbest decision.

February 22, 2022

Stop funding Russia’s aggression and slow the rate of inflation.
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Yep, we’re talking about oil …

Remember when Trump got the U.S. to energy independence?

image

Focus on the dark line on the above chart … it depicts the U.S. trade deficit (or surplus) in crude oil & liquid fuels (mostly natural gas condensate).

Biden inherited a trade surplus … exports of crude oil & oil products exceeded the total imports of those goods. (note that the dark line dipped below zero on the y-axis in 2020).

But, in 2021, imports of crude oil turned upward and the trade surplus evaporated.

Said differently, the U.S. was net energy independent in at the end of the Trump administration … but, thanks to Joe’s policies, we’re net energy dependent again.

How did he do it?

By signing executive orders aimed at crippling (or killing the domestic oil industry) by essentially stopping new oil exploration and transport pipelines (e.g. the XL Canada to U.S. pipeline)

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Bottom line, Biden’s decision to curb U.S. oil drilling & production has literally fueled inflation (<=pun intended) and, to a large extent, funded Putin’s war chest.

On the latter point, let’s run the numbers…

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In 2020, the U.S. produced 11.3 million barrels per day (MBPD) of crude oil and liquified natural gas (LNG).

But, the U.S. consumed 17.2  MBPD … and had to import 5.9 MPD (the red number above).

Note that Russia was the 2nd largest producer in the world @ 10.1 MBPD … and exported 6.9 MBPD.

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Let’s dissect the U.S. imports…

In 2021, U.S. oil imports increased to 8.5 MBPD.

Where is that oil coming from?

image

About 1/2 comes from Canada … an ally, close to the U.S. geographically and politically.

So what did Joe do?

Kill the XL pipeline project.

The implication: less oil from Canada … and higher costs (and environmental risk) by trucking that is supplied.

Even more important, the U.S. is now importing almost 600,000 barrels per day of oil from Russia.

At current rates, that’s 217 million barrels of oil bought from Russia each year.

What’s the dollar value of those purchases?

Let’s look at oil prices …

image

Rounding up a bit to simplify the arithmetic, crude oil prices are now at about $100 per barrel.

So, 217 million barrels has a market value of over $21 billion each year. That’s money flowing into Putin’s coffers.

Note: That’s about $9 billion more than the oil would have been market valued on Joe’s inauguration day.

How’s Putin using that windfall?

It’s reasonable conjecture that a fair chunk of it is funding Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

So, what to do?

If Biden wants to send a clear signal to Putin, he should “follow the data” and rescind his oil-crushing executive orders … TODAY.

While not immediate, that move can cut the flow of funds to Putin by reducing our direct oil purchases from Russia … and by, perhaps, depressing global oil prices.

There aren’t a lot of options, Joe.

NYT: “CDC withheld critical data on vax effectiveness”

February 21, 2022

Political “throttling” and fear that data was flawed and might be misinterpreted.
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Point of emphasis: This is coming from the New York Times !

Two full years into the pandemic, the agency leading the country’s response to the public health emergency has published only a tiny fraction of the data it has collected.

The agency has withheld critical data on boosters and hospitalizations.

For more than a year, the CDC has collected data on hospitalizations for Covid-19 and broken it down by age, race and vaccination status.

But it has not made most of the information public.

The performance of vaccines and boosters, particularly in younger adults, is among the most glaring omissions in data the C.D.C. has made public.

When the C.D.C. published the first significant data on the effectiveness of boosters in adults younger than 65 two weeks ago, it left out the numbers for a huge portion of that population: 18- to 49-year-olds, the group least likely to benefit from extra shots, because the first two doses already left them well-protected.

The agency has repeatedly come under fire for not tracking so-called breakthrough infections in vaccinated Americans

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When challenged, the CDC didn’t deny the allegations, but rather, offered up 3 explanations for why they withheld the data:

> Data isn’t accurate enough.

The collected data was “sampling data“ that was “not yet ready for prime time” because “data systems at the C.D.C., and at the state levels, are outmoded and not up to handling large volumes of data.”

> Data might be misinterpreted.

“The agency has been reluctant to make those figures public because they might be misinterpreted (by anti-vaccine groups) as indicating that the vaccines were ineffective.”

> Data is politically throttled

“The C.D.C. is a political organization as much as it is a public health organization. The steps that it takes to get (data) released are often well outside of the control of many of the scientists that work at the C.D.C.”

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But, not to worry since the C.D.C. has received more than $1 billion to modernize its data collection and systems.

That works for the data accuracy defense  … but does nothing to heal the self-inflicted wounds: fear of what the “unwashed” will do with the data … or, screening the data for political reasons.

It’s hard to “follow the data and the science” when the scientists are withholding the data.

Trust but verify, right?

So, why is Putin so keen on Ukraine?

February 18, 2022

Seems like something that we should know, right?
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In a nutshell, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies:

Russian annexation of some or all of Ukraine would increase Russian strategic landmassskilled manpower, industrial capacity, and natural resources to a level that could make it a global threat.

Let’s drill down on some basics…
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Large landmass

Russia is the largest country in the world, covering about 6.6 million square miles, which is one-eighth of Earth’s inhabitable landmass and  almost double the U.S and China.

image

Ukraine is the largest country entirely within Europe.

The country covers an area of 231,661 square miles, which is about twice the size of Italy and slightly smaller than Texas.

Importantly, Ukraine is a buffer between Russia and NATO allies. Specifically, Ukraine (not a NATO member) separates Russia from Poland (a NATO member).

Paradoxically, if Russia were to annex all of Ukraine, there would be no buffer between Russia and NATO nation Poland.

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Skilled workforce

Russia’s population is about 150 million. Ukraine’s population is about 45  million .

Ukraine’s workforce — commonly reported to be highly skilled  — is the product of the country’s educational system.  Source 

Over 70% have secondary or higher education, the literacy rate is near 100% among its youngest generations and the workforce has one of the highest levels of English proficiency in post-Soviet countries.  Source

The Ukrainian education system is intensely focused on technical and scientific disciplines.

With over 130,000 engineering graduates annually, Ukraine is home to the largest IT engineering force in Central and Eastern Europe. Source

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Natural resources

Ukraine has extremely rich and complementary mineral resources that are highly concentrated and in close proximity to each other.

The country has abundant reserves of coal (12th in the world), uranium (10th in the world), natural gas, oil, iron ore, titanium and nickel. Source

And, the rich dark soil and the vast fields of wheat and other food products have earned Ukraine the nickname “bread basket of Europe.”

According to the CIA World Factbook, Ukraine produced 25% of all agricultural output in the former Soviet Union.

Today, Ukraine exports substantial amounts of grain, vegetables, sugar beets, sunflower seeds, milk and meat to Russia and the European Union.

In addition, food processing, especially sugar processing, is an important industrial segment.

Nearly one out of four workers in Ukraine is employed in agriculture or forestry related endeavors. Source

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Language

One measure of cultural affinity is language.

About 85% of the population speaks Ukrainian (68% only Ukrainian, 17% Ukrainian and Russian).

About 30% of the population speaks Russian (13% only Russian, 17% Ukrainian and Russian).

Russian-speaking is concentrated in the southern (Crimea) and eastern parts of the country (along the Russian border). Source

  • Note: Ukrainian and Russian languages are significantly similar. Both are written in close forms of the Cyrillic alphabet and about 60% of their vocabularies are common. But, linguists consider Ukrainian to be closer to Polish (Ukraine’s western neighbor state) than to Russian. Source

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Religion

Another measure of cultural affinity is religion.

In rough numbers, slightly less than half of the Ukrainian population classify themselves as “non-religious believers” or atheists.

Of the half that is religious, about 90% are Ukrainian Orthodox (a variant of Eastern Orthodoxy) and the remainder are Greek or Roman Catholic.  Source

In contrast, Poland is about 85% Roman Catholic.

In Russia, about 1/3 are non-believers or non-religious; about 75% of the religious are Russian Orthodox.

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So what?

Again, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies:

Russian annexation of some or all of Ukraine would increase Russian strategic landmass, skilled manpower, industrial capacity, and natural resources to a level that could make it a global threat.

An invasion and annexation would mark a significant change in international politics, creating a new “Iron Curtain” that begins along Russia’s borders with Finland and the Baltic states and moves south through Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Central and South Asia, and finally to East Asia along China’s southern flank.

Ostensibly, Russia wants “an exclusive sphere of influence in Eastern Europe and the south Caucasus is to meet its security interests.”

Putin’s primary goal is a certainty that Belarus, Ukraine, and Georgia will never belong to a military or economic bloc other than the ones Moscow controls.

So, the Kremlin’s demands are for an end to NATO expansion, a rollback of previous expansion and the removal of American nuclear weapons from Europe.

“In essence, this conflict is about whether 30 years after the demise of the Soviet Union, its former ethnic republics can live as independent, sovereign states or if they still must acknowledge Moscow as their de facto sovereign.”

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Want more?

Read the Center for Strategic and International Studies brief “Russia’s Possible Invasion of Ukraine”.

It backgrounds the situation, outlines Russia’s possible military moves and opines on Western response options.

It’s a good read that cuts through the blah-blah being served up by the mainstream media (and Fox).

What are your chances of dying on the job?

February 17, 2022

Pretty slim if you’re a teacher working in a classroom … even during covid.
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The urban teachers’ unions have tried to position in-classroom teaching as more deadly than lobster fishing … and, I expect them to escalate as student mask mandates gets shelved.

So, let’s put things in perspective.

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According to a BLS report channeled by Statista…

The overall worker fatality rate across all industries is an infinitesimal 3.4 deaths for every 100,000 full-time equivalent workers (0.0034%)

But, among fishermen & hunters, the rate is 132 deaths for every 100,000 full-time equivalent workers (about 40 times the average rate).

I understand commercial fishermen since I’ve watched “Deadliest Catch” … but, I didn’t even know that hunting constituted a profession.

The highest number of deaths are racked up by truck drivers and delivery drivers … mostly a function of their population size.

Infographic: The Most Dangerous Jobs in the U.S. | Statista

It doesn’t surprise me that roofers are high on the list.  We’ve had a couple of roofs replaced and I get scared just watching those guys work.

My bet: If “working from home” constituted a job classification, it would probably make the “most dangerous” list.

Why is that?

According to the CDC,  over 17, 000 people die in the U.S. annually because of falls and 60% of falls happen at home.

Hmm.

Come to think of it, more teachers have probably died from falls while Zooming from home   than have died from Covid contracted in the classroom.

Double hmm…

Finally, the CDC has released some interesting data…

February 16, 2022

In case you missed it, last week the CDC released a study (with data!) on vaccine efficacy.

Specifically, the CDC researchers looked at emergency room and urgent care visits and hospitalizations in large participating medical centers in  10 states.

The data was gathered from August 2021 thru January 2022, when both delta and omicron variants were in circulation.

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WaPo’s headline:

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“mRNA booster shots  lose effectiveness after about four months — but still provided significant protection in keeping people out of the hospital during the omicron surge.”

In numbers, the boosters provide 91% protection from hospitalization right after vaccination … and 78% protection 4 months out.

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My opinion: That’s formidable protection … and, not really new news.

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Drilling Down

What I found more interesting (with some new news) was buried in the report’s exhibits.

Teaching Point: I used to tell students to always start cases by going through the exhibits before even starting to read the case narrative.

Here’s my recap … below are my takeaways…

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> Again. the data was collected from large participating medical centers (and their urgent care affiliates) in  10 states. A representative sample, reporting high quality (consistently defined) data.

> Over the 6-month study period, 241,204 patients (row 3, column 1) visited an Emergency Room (ER) or Urgent Care Center (UC).

> Of the 241,204 … 54% had been vaccinated, 46% hadn’t. That’s roughly the country’s mix with minimal skew one way or another.

Point of interest: That mix doesn’t sync with the widespread narrative that ERs and UCs being entirely overrun with unvaccinated people.

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> Of the 241,204 ER/UC visits … 61,826 (25.6%) tested positive for covid.

The 1 in 4 number strikes me as being low low  since, I presume, the vast majority came to the ER/UC with covid-like symptoms 

> Drilling deeper, 14.4% of the vaccinated patients tested positive; 38.8% of the unvaccinated patients tested positive.

So, in a relatively balanced sample, unvaccinated patients accounted for about 70% of the positive covid results.

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> Of the 241,204 ER/EC patients, 93,408 (38.7%) were hospitalized;

> Of the 110,873 unvaccinated patients, 32.6% were hospitalized; of the 130,131 vaccinated patients 40.9% were hospitalized.

In other words, a higher percentage of vaccinated patients ended up being hospitalized.

Now, that’s interesting, isn’t it?

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Drilling down on Demographics

> Patients visiting ERs & UCs were split 72.5% under 65 and 27.5% 65 and older.

> 73.9% of the 65+ were vaccinated; only 46.5% of the <65 were vaccinated

> Commensurately, only 19.3% of the 65+ tested positive for covid; 28% of the <65 tested positive

> But, 75% of the 65+ were hospitalized; only 24.9% of the <65 were hospitalized

> Of those who were hospitalized, only 23% had tested positive for covid.

Said differently, over 2/3s of the hospitalized patients were admitted to the hospital for something other than covid.

That, in my opinion, is the most interesting number!

Canada: A revolt of the “non-essentials”…

February 15, 2022

Suddenly, they’re starting to seem pretty damn essential.
=============

Flashback to the explicit priority scheme for prioritizing vaccine distribution…

Initially, scarce vaccine supplies were aimed at the elderly in long-term-care facilities (where the vast majority of covid deaths were accumulating) … and to covid-patient-facing healthcare professionals (especially those in direct contact with confirmed covid patients).

Made sense: Protect the most vulnerable and the most exposed.

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But, early on, clinically vulnerable old-timers (like me) were getting bumped by an expanding list of  “essential employees”.

The vast majority of these government-coined “essentials” were under 60 with low consequential covid vulnerability.

And, save for the frontline healthcare workers, many of them were of questionable essentiality (e.g. virtual teachers who had made no near-term commitment to in person teaching).

See What do lawyers, prisoners, government bureaucrats and ‘the media” have in common?

The message to everybody else: You’re not essential (and maybe not that vulnerable) so don’t clog the system.

The message to, say, grocery store checkers and truck drivers: “You’re not essential … so shut-up and work.”

As the infamous Rev. Wright loved to say: “The chickens have come home to roost”.

Apparently, some people take it personally when you tell them they’re not essential.

Case in point: “Non-essential” truck drivers have emerged as very essential … and have not only found a voice but have collectivized determining political clout.

Gee, who could have possibly seen this coming?

=============

P.S. Suddenly, the flow of goods from Canada has become a very big deal.  That is, unless the “goods” are oil flowing through an XL pipeline.

Your move, Joe.

 

 

 

So, was Biden planning to give away “free” crack pipes or not?

February 14, 2022

What if a fact-checker’s “mostly false” is itself “mostly false”?
==============

You just can’t make this stuff up…

Last week a bruhaha broke out when right-leaning media reported:

image

Of course, Jen “Bagdad Bob” Psaki ran to the press room podium to declare that the reports were completely false … fabricated by right-wing conspiracy theorists.

So, Snopes had to step in and do a dispute-resolving fact-check:

image

The bold summary rating: MOSTLY FALSE.

But, Snope’s own fine print doesn’t seem to match their conclusions for the 2 central questions:

1. Were crack pipes part of the program?

2. Were they included as an “equity measure”?

Specifically, Snope’s original fact-check said:

It’s true that the grant description required the provision of harm reduction supplies and listed “safe smoking kits” as an example.

But, those kits constituted just one of several sub-components of an even longer list of requirements for grant recipients.

“Crack pipes” were actually only a very small part of the program.

=============

The grant’s purpose was, quite logically, to reduce harm and infection among existing drug users.

The provision of safer smoking supplies did not have as its primary purpose advancing the cause of racial equity.

However, the grant description did state that priority would be given to applicants who serve communities that are historically underserved.

In other words, the grant’s terms encouraged recipients to advance racial equity while working for harm reduction, not the other way round.

That’s a crucial distinction which many outlets got wrong.

To summarize Snope’s own findings: Crack pipes were in the program and racial equity was an objective.

So, Snope’s “mostly false” headline is itself somewhere between “totally false” or, at best, “mostly false”.

=============

Subsequently, HHS issued a “clarification” that crack pipes would be explicitly excluded from the program … and both Psaki and Snopes started brushing off questions as “outdated”.

==============

Another aspect of the program was questioned by the always-on-target Babylon Bee:

image

The Bee’s punch line:

“If you won’t inject yourself with an experimental vaccine then you can’t be trusted to use anything but black tar heroin,” said Psaki. “No safe zones for crack cocaine until we’re sure you’re not going to infect others with a mild disease.”

I’ll go with the Bee’s account…

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Hat tip to SMH for feeding the Snope’s fact check.

Quick: What, if anything, has Biden done as president that you approve of?

February 11, 2022

If you’re scratching your head, you’re not alone.
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And, that’s from a CNN poll, the results of which CNN’s John King calls “stunning”.

Specifically, the CNN “screen crawl” below reads:

56% of Americans say “nothing” when asked what President Biden has done that they approve of”

image

And, digging into the poll’s “internals”, another 9% answered that question: “Don’t know”.

That bumps the question’s zilch number to 65%.

Said differently, that says that only about 1 in 3 came up with something that Joe did that they approve of.

And what did they approve of?

You guessed it…

About half of the folks who came up with something said some variant of “free money”:

image

Predictably, CNN’s King chalks the poll’s results up to “messaging” issues in communicating the “legitimate successes of the Biden administration” … but, he didn’t delineate what those successes might be.

Either he is in the group that can’t name a success … or he was afraid that the cameraman would burst out laughing during the live shot if he shilled an answer.

=============

Memo to John King

In Marketing 101 lingo, the dogs just aren’t eating the dog food.

Or more accurately, most of the dogs are puking it up…

Remember when Trump advised us to use scarves during mask shortage?

February 11, 2022

Of course, he was eviscerated by the med-science community and the mainstream media
=============

Yesterday, we posted about the absurd “scientific” conclusion that the best way to stop covid spread was for everybody to start wearing panty hose over their faces, under their masks.

And, we asserted that if Trump had recommended pulling panty hose over our heads, he would have been ridiculed, called a science-denying moron and a misogynist for telling people to appropriate a gender-specific piece of clothing.

For a case in point, let’s flashback to a May 2020 HomaFiles post…
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In late March 2020 when community spread of the coronavirus was ramping up…

The WHO, the CDC, US Surgeon General and Tony “Mr. Science” Fauci were advising against wearing masks … saying that they were, at best minimally protective, could exasperate the problem if worn incorrectly and would distract people from handwashing and social distancing.

“The science” of covid transmission was unsettled.  Scientists were unsure how the virus was transmitted … by touch or by air. There were published peer-reviewed studies on both sides of the issue.

That said, the underlying tiebreaker for the science community’s advisories: masks were in short supply and the supply chain was impaired by Chinese hoarding and off-shored manufacturing.

In a Task Force press conference, Trump cut to the chase … said the real reason was the need to supply hospital workers with masks first … and he casually opined that, in the short-run, folks could stop-gap by using scarves or other face coverings as a make-shift protective shield.

click to view video (90 sec.)
image

Of course, Trump said it — and he’s an MSM-certified idiot, so the media pounced:

image
Of course, there’s more to the story…
(more…)

(Practically) guaranteed to stop Covid transmission …

February 10, 2022

The “science of masking” goes full bonkers.
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You know the old, flippant saying: “I’d rather be dead than [fill in the blank].

Well, in the masking debate, we may now be able to fill in the blank.

(Possibly) well-intended researchers at the University of Cambridge tested an array of “mask hacks” that increase the covid protection that masks provide.

For example, they tried adding more and stronger rubber bands around the ears and taping around the edges of the mask.

Those sound reasonable, right?

But, the winner was…

Pulling panty hose over your face before putting on your mask.

image

I thought this was a joke until I spotted a full write-up on NPR’s web page.

The I realized that it wasn’t a joke, it was just absurd.

What’s next clothes-pinning your nose and Duck-taping your mouth?

In my days as a marketer, I learned that it’s very hard to get people to perform unnatural (or embarrassing) acts.

Odds of people (other than home invaders and bank robbers) pulling panty hose over their heads to shield them from covid are slim to none.

So, my big takeaway from the study: Proof positive that cloth masks are like sieves and don’t work very well.

Probably not the message that the researchers (or NPR) intended…

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P.S. Imagine if Trump had recommended that we all pull panty hose over our heads.

My hunch: He would have been ridiculed, called a science-denying moron and a misogynist for telling people to appropriate a gender-specific piece of clothing.

But, this study is “the science” speaking so we have to nod our heads and shout “Eureka”.  Go, figure.

The straw that broke the camel’s back?

February 9, 2022

Some images become iconic.
==============

You know the old saying: A picture is worth a thousand words.

Well this one may be destined to be the one that ultimately symbolizes the mask-the-kids-in-school debate.

A maskless politico posing in front of a room full of small, masked children.

image

For a moment, forget that it’s Stacey Abrams.

Imagine that it’s Tony “I am Science” Fauci posing with the children.

The effect would be the same.

A hypocritical politico caught in the act.

More important, focus on the kids.

If you could x-ray through their masks, I doubt that you’d see many smiles.

They know that they’ve been political (and union) pawns during the pandemic.

They’re not stupid.

They’ve just been under-taught for a couple of years.

At least these kids are in school, and their learning loss is (hopefully) subsiding.

Now, they just have to catch up on what they’ve lost….

JHU Study: Lockdowns didn’t reduce COVID-19 mortality…

February 8, 2022

… but, they did  reduce economic activity and schooling, imposing “enormous” economic and social costs.
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Up to now, Johns Hopkins has been regarded as the Gold Standard for Covid data collection and scientific analysis.

So, it’s disappointing (but not surprising) that the mainstream media has given so little coverage to a study released this week

image

Why so little coverage?

Though the study rigorously “followed the data and the science” … it’s headlined conclusion doesn’t square with the Faucian-driven.  pro-lockdown narrative

==============

The study

The study was a “systematic review and meta-analysis designed to determine whether there is empirical evidence to support the belief that lockdowns reduce COVID-19 mortality.”

The authors defined lockdowns as the imposition of at least one compulsory, non-pharmaceutical intervention (NPI).

NPIs are any government mandate that directly restrict peoples’ possibilities, such as policies that limit internal movement, close schools and businesses, and ban international travel.

This study “employed a systematic search and screening procedure in which 18,590 studies were identified that could potentially address the belief posed.”

After three levels of rigorous, well-documented screening, 24 studies qualified for inclusion in the meta-analysis.

The 24 were separated into three groups: lockdown stringency index studies, shelter-in-place-order (SIPO) studies, and specific NPI studies.

=============

The conclusion

“An analysis of each of these three groups support the conclusion that lockdowns have had little to no effect on COVID-19 mortality.”

More specifically, stringency index studies find that lockdowns in Europe and the United States only reduced COVID-19 mortality by 0.2% on average.

SIPOs were also ineffective, only reducing COVID-19 mortality by 2.9% on average.

Specific NPI studies also find no broad-based evidence of noticeable effects on COVID-19 mortality.

“While this meta-analysis (i.e. review of other studies) concludes that lockdowns have had little to no public health effects … they have imposed enormous economic and social costs where they have been adopted.”

In summary, the authors don’t mince words…

“In consequence, lockdown policies are ill-founded and should be rejected as a pandemic policy instrument.”

Ouch!

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The Rebuttal

Predictably, “experts” are saying that the study has serious flaws and is being misinterpreted.

According to Medscape, the objections being raised are:

  1. The paper hasn’t been peer reviewed
  2. The lead author is an is an applied economist, not an epidemiologist, public health expert, or medical doctor.
  3. The authors are anti-lockdown libertarians.
  4. The studies selected for the meta-analysis were cherry picked to support a preconceived conclusion.
  5. The authors applied a questionable definition of “lockdown.”
  6. The authors fudged the numbers, “deriving some mathematical estimates indicating less benefit than the papers suggest.”

My take: The authors spell out — in excruciating detail — their methodology, sources and mathematics. That’s more than most of the “experts” have done the past couple of years.

I’d love to see the authors and their critics face off in a debate on this one …  that would beat just dismissing a counter-narrative finding.

Update: Joe says my free test kits are in the mail…

February 7, 2022

And, a first in a lifetime email from Costco.
==============

Last Friday, we whined that we still hadn’t received the gov’t supplied test kits that we ordered on Jan. 18.

Based on Joe’s promises — shipped in 7 to 10 days, day or two in the mail — they should have been here by the end of January … when my wife was on the DL with nasty cold symptoms, and we worried that she might be covid-infected.

Well, on Sat. morning, this email hit my e-mailbox:

image

A week late … after our immediate need passed … and a day after the HomaFiles exposé.

Hmm.

Coincidence or surveillance?

Well, at least I have some test kits on the shelf.

Hope thy work on the next covid variant starts circulating…

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On the brighter side, I also got this email Costco (where I scored covid test kits when we needed them).

image

The key lines read:

Recently, our buyers were able to negotiate additional savings for this item.

As a result, we will be issuing you a Costco Digital Shop Card in the amount of $8 per item.

I don’t remember ever getting a proactive, after-the-fact, auto-generated refund when a retailer subsequently got a lower price from their supplier.

Let’s hear it for Costco … and, more generally, for the private sector.

Hey Joe, Where are my test kits?

February 4, 2022

Ordered Jan. 18 … still not shipped … what?
===============

Joe’s promise: Order now, will be shipped in 7 to 10 days, allow 1 to 3 days in transit.

Specifically, I ordered early on Jan. 18 — the day before the full launch —  and before the news hit that the site had opened early.

Got a confirming email:

image

With the early confirmed order, I should have been near the front of the queue, right?

Joe’s promise was: Shipped in 7 to 10 days, allow 1 to 3 days in transit.

So, worst case, should have shipped by Jan. 28 and received by Jan. 31.

It’s Feb. 4 and I haven’t even received a “been shipped” email.

Unlike real online retailers, there’s no way to check the status of the order.

So, where are my test kits, Joe?

Hmm.

==============

To be fair & balanced …

Later on Jan. 18, I entered an order on behalf of one of my sons’ families  (different address, strictly legal) … and they got their Biden-tests last week.

=============

So what?

Kathy (my wife) developed cold symptoms. Covid?

A couple of friends swear that they got infected while waiting in line to get tested

So, we were skittish about getting Covid-exposed at a testing site and wanted to do at home rapid tests.

Local retailers’ shelves were empty.

Then the skies opened.

Costco suddenly had inventory online and was able the deliver 5 test kits in a couple of days.

Good news: My wife’s Covid rapid test was negative … most likely, she just had a cold.

I filed a reimbursement claim with my insurance company … and eager to see how that goes.

Haven’t heard back from them, so I’m betting the under on the reimbursement.

Oh well…

==============

Yesterday, our local Ollie’s Discount Mart — which specializes in closeouts and out-of-date merchandise — advertised that they had received a truckload of Covid tests.

Maybe the Feds can source from Ollie’s to fill their backlog.

Novavax files for vaccine approval…

February 3, 2022

Has potential to be a very big deal.
=============

First, some context…

I’ve been reading:

You Bet Your Life: From Blood Transfusions to Mass Vaccination, the Long and Risky History of Medical Innovation” by Paul A Offit, MD

Dr. Offit, a member of the FDA’s vaccine advisory committee, has been described in The Wall Street Journal as “an outspoken advocate of the science and value of vaccinations,” including the Covid-19 vaccine. WSJ

Offit builds the case that “the first vaccines aren’t always the best, safest, and last”.

For example, Offit recounts the early days of the Salk polio vaccine, which saved lives yet also tragically transmitted the disease to some patients. The Salk vaccines was displaced by the Sabin (sugar cube) vaccine, which was displaced by a refined Salk vaccine, which is the current state-of-medical-art.

Similarly, the first measles vaccine in 1963 caused a high rate of fever and rash and was replaced by a safer, better vaccine in 1968.

And, the first shingles vaccine introduced in 2011 was replaced by a much better one in 2017.

With respect to Covid-19 vaccines, Offit makes 4 major points:

  1. Covid-19 is a novel virus
  2. The (mRNA) vaccines had never before been used against any other virus in history.
  3. The vaccines “had not been subjected to the typical research, development, testing and licensure processes” so longer-term effects weren’t known with any degree of certainty.
  4. Historically, scaling up to mass production of vaccines has had pitfalls, especially “inactivating viruses for mass production”.

Bottom line: Though Offit is pro-vaccine, “his review of the history of vaccination and of its complexities evokes surprising empathy for the vaccine-hesitant.” WSJ

==============

Let’s connect a dot…

Serendipitously, this Medscape article hit my screen:

image

About the Novavax vaccine:

Novavax produces a recombinant protein subunit vaccine that reconstitutes spike without the need for genetic materials (i.e. DNA or RNA).

The upshot here is that this construct has a significant history of use for diseases like pertussis, hepatitis B, and pneumococcus.

In trials, the vaccine showed similar protection to currently available vaccines, and none of the participants experienced severe clotting, anaphylaxis, or myocarditis.

With international authorizations from the WHO and European Medicines Agency, key partnerships with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the Serum Institute of India, the company is well positioned worldwide.

This week Novavax applied for their U.S. emergency use authorization.

Medscape opines that “Novavax’s real value may be in giving the un-jabbed another option.”

Vaccines will continue to be our best means to fight the enemy no matter how many therapeutics are advanced.

But still, millions of Americans refuse to be vaccinated.

Adding a protein subunit construct to the melee finally gives us the much needed, traditional option.  

Many unvaccinated do not see themselves as anti-vaccine, per se.

Novavax may provide a path forward for some who are pro-vaccine, but who drew the line at novel mRNA products.

Or, more broadly, Novavax may be another example of Offit’s observation that “the first vaccines aren’t always the best, safest, and last”.

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For the record, though fully vaccinated and boosted, I’ve been skittish about the possible long-term effects of the current vaccines, especially the J&J viral vector DNA vaccine … and I’ve been very optimistic about Novavax’s more traditional (and road-tested) vaccine modality.

See: Atlantic: “mRNA vaccines are extraordinary, NovaVax is better”

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DISCLAIMER: I’m not a medical professional or scientist — just a curious, self-interested guy.  So, don’t take anything that I say or write as medical advice. Get that from your doctor!

FINANCIAL DISCLOSURE: I own a whopping 100 shares of NVAX stock.

Biden: “Infrastructure bill has money to fix all bridges”

February 2, 2022

Does it? More broadly, what else is in the infrastructure bill?
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When I heard Biden in Pittsburgh asserting that all bridges would be fixed, I chalked it up as the usual political puffery. No big deal.

But, his claim prompted another self-reaction: I should know what’s in the lauded Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill … and, I don’t.

“Millions of us have grown too comfortable pronouncing ourselves passionate about a problem we don’t bother to understand.” Holman Jenkins, WSJ

So, I did some retrospective digging.

First. the numbers …

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The price tag for the infrastructure bill: $1.2 trillion.

About $650 billion of the $1.2 trillion law is earmarked for existing transportation and highway programs.

Think of that portion as routine annual maintenance expense.

That leaves about $550 billion in “new” spending … most of which will be doled out over the next five years.

click chart to enlarge it 
image

Drilling down on the $550 billion of new spending:

> Roughly 2/3’s goes to 5 spending categories: roads & bridges, trains, broadband, electrical grid and water grid

> $110 billion goes to the top category roads & bridges.

An estimated 173,000 miles of roads and 45,000 bridges are in major need of maintenance

Assuming that category’s money is evenly split between roads and bridges, that works out to about $300,000 per mile for needy roads and about $1.25 million per needy bridge.

> About $100 billion (about 20%) of the $550 billion in new spending is sprinkled across initiatives (some specifically listed, some not) that don’t fall in one of the top 10 spending categories listed above.

Call me cynical, but the words that come to mind are “earmarks”, “pet projects”, “kickbacks” and “slush funds”.

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Those are the top-line numbers.

Keep reading for the gory details…

(more…)

Biden: “Overwhelming support for universal pre-K”

February 1, 2022

But, are we talking education or day care?
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The conventional wisdom these days seems to be that government provided universal pre-K is a no-brainer since it fast-starts childhood education and levels the playing field between rich and poor.

Even Joe Machin is on the program.

As Sen. Elizabeth Warren asserts that “the science” is settled on this one:

Study after study has shown that regular access to high-quality child care promotes literacy skills, cognitive development, and healthy behaviors.

These are long-term benefits: quality early education produces better health, educational, and employment outcomes well into adulthood.

Sounds reasonable, right?

But, a recent study throws some cold water on the conventional wisdom.

image

This  report presents the results of a “longitudinal randomized control study of the effects of a scaled-up, government-supported pre-K program.”

The researchers sampled 2,990 children from low-income families who applied to oversubscribed pre-K programs that randomly assigned offers of admission.

They tracked the students who were accepted to and participated in the pre-K programs … and those who didn’t get accepted and didn’t participate in a pre-K program.

They cataloged standardized test results for all of the students from kindergarten to sixth grade.

The chart below displays the results by grade level, 3 through 6.

The gray bars are the standardized test scores for students who attended pre-K … the black bars are for students who didn’t … the asterisks indicate statistical significance.

image

image

The startling conclusion to be drawn from the standardized test results:

Data through sixth grade from state education records showed that the children randomly assigned to attend pre-K had lower achievement test scores in third through sixth grades than control children.

Ouch!

When confronted with “the data” pre-K advocates typically challenge the studies as non-representative outliers or attack the scientific integrity of the studies (or the studiers).

If that doesn’t work, they argue that non-academic outcomes are just as important as academic advances … whether they are immediate or long-run.

The study looked at those effects, too.

And, to make things worse, the researchers found:

In grades 3 through 6, pre-K participants had more disciplinary infractions and lower attendance rates.

Keep in mind that the pre-K students were randomly selected from the same pool of low income families. So, social and familial factors were inconsequential.

Double ouch.

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My take

It’s hard to argue against early childhood education … at home or at “school”.

And, one study does not define “the science” and should be treated as a clue, not a conclusion.

But, this study — which casts doubt on the educational value of pre-K —    should give pause to those expecting a universal, coast-to-coast government pre-K program will be a panacea for educational attainment … especially given the less than stellar track record of many urban public school systems.

If the real motivation is “free” public daycare, then universal pre-K may make some sense.

But even then, it’s hardly “free” … and, if provided, reduces the need for refundable tax credits for child care, right?


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