More: Is Europe toast?

March 23, 2022

In 2018, Trump tried to warn NATO members …
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But, it took Putin’s Ukraine invasion to force a long overdue realization that reality bites.

As we posted yesterday:

Western European NATO nations have dug themselves into two very deep holes.

First, they have green-thought themselves into energy dependence on Russia … largely by declaring nuclear and non-Russian fossil fuels to be existential threats.

Second, they have de-prioritized security and grossly underspent on their own defense … apparently assuming that Putin’s Russia and China were just misunderstood nice guys … and that, worst case, the U.S. would swoop in and save them (again).

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Regarding the European energy hole, we channeled the WSJ’s Kimberly Strassel who opined that “Putin’s shocking violence in Ukraine — his willingness to wield energy as a weapon — sobered the Continent overnight”  … and optimistically pointed out that several European nations are already taking decisive remedial steps to minimize their Russian-energy dependence.

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Today, let’s look at the European security & defense hole

From the get-go, Trump chastised NATO nations for underspending on defense — if effect, shifting their responsibility to the U.S. and he threatened to withdraw the U.S. from NATO if other member nations didn’t increase their defense spending to at least 2% of their GDP.

At a NATO summit in 2018, Trump literally doubled down on his criticism of defense spending among NATO members by upping the target for defense spending to 4% of GDP.

At the time, left-leaning analysts and European leaders dismissed Trump’s 4% defense spending targets because he did not indicate specifically how the money would be spent or why such a massive increase in defense spending was needed. Brookings

I guess that Putin’s Ukraine invasion summarily and conclusively answers the “why” question.

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The most important current question is how the European nations will now act to fill their conspicuous security & defense hole.

According to the WSJ:

European NATO allies and Canada have increased defense spending, but many still don’t hit NATO’s commitment to contribute 2% of gross domestic product to defense.

The good news :

European Union heads of state or government said in a March 11 declaration that “we must resolutely invest more and better in defence capabilities.”

The leaders vowed to “increase substantially defence expenditures” and “invest further in the capabilities necessary to conduct the full range of missions.”

More specifically:

Germany, Europe’s biggest economy and its most notorious defense free rider, has pledged to meet its 2%  commitment … starting with an immediate €100 billion down payment.

Smaller countries are stepping up too. Poland, which already meets the NATO target, recently passed a law increasing defense spending to at least 3% of GDP in 2023.

Frontline nations Romania, Latvia and Lithuania have publicly set clear goals or passed legislation to boost.

Better late than never … but they’d better get hopping … Putin is on his way west.

Given the turn of events, Trump has every right to say “I told you so”.

Is Europe toast?

March 22, 2022

Putin’s Ukraine invasion has forced a long overdue realization that reality bites.
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Western European NATO nations have dug themselves into two very deep holes.

First, they have green-thought themselves into energy dependence on Russia … largely by declaring nuclear and non-Russian fossil fuels to be existential threats.

Second, they have de-prioritized security and grossly underspent on their own defense … apparently assuming that Putin’s Russia and China were just misunderstood nice guys … and that, worst case, the U.S. would swoop in and save them (again).

Brings to mind an old saying regarding the French: “We’ve saved their asses twice and they still haven’t forgiven us.”

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Let’s take first things first…

Regarding the European energy hole, Kimberly Strassel wrote in the WSJ:

The Europeans have embraced the climate religion with a fervor to rival Bernie Sanders.

Yet Mr. Putin’s shocking violence in Ukraine — his willingness to wield energy as a weapon — sobered the Continent overnight.

No one is giving up on renewables, but nobody is any longer pretending they are the basis of energy reliability or security.

Fossil fuels will remain for decades a currency of global power, and Russia’s invasion highlights the stupidity of being broke.

Strassel offers evidence that European nations seem to have gotten the message:

Germany’s is stockpiling coal and expediting terminals for liquefied natural gas.

Europe is working to get more gas through pipelines from Norway and Azerbaijan.

Poland plans new nuclear plants.

The U.K. may restart onshore fracking and ramp up North Sea drilling.

Norway plans to expand Arctic exploration.

Of course, Europe would now be willing to replace all of their Russian oil & gas with U.S. produced oil & gas … but, Joe says “no”

Apparently, he still hasn’t gotten the message … .

See: Greater threat to the planet: Putin or climate change?

But, Biden does seem to eventually follow Europe’s leads — albeit with a frustratingly long time-delay — so there’s still faint hope.

Most oil production: U.S. or Russia?

March 21, 2022

The question came up in casual(?) conversation over the weekend.

Of course, it prompted me to do some digging.

Here’s the latest top 10 list according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration database.

The volumes in the table represent crude oil and “lease condensate” (aka natural gas), the hydrocarbon liquids collected at or near the wellhead.

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> The U.S. tops the list, followed closely by Russia and Saudi Arabia

> Canada and Iraq hold the #4 and #5 positions.

> China is only produces about 40% of the the U.S. and Russian totals

Editorial note: Tell me again why the XL pipeline is a bad idea. Canada is a friendly, proximate ally, right?

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Most interesting (to me) are the historical trend lines.

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> Note that US oil production (the blue line)  declined during the Bush years  … but turned upward in the Obama years … took the top spot under Trump … and has fallen under you-know-who

> Also note that the old USSR led the league when it existed … Russia accounted for a majority of the USSR production before the USSR dissolved …. and has steadily increased its production to now produce roughly the same quantity of oil as the entire USSR was producing in its final years.

> Finally, note that if Russia controlled the former USSR republics, it would be at the top of the list … e.g. Kazakhstan alone produces 1.75 million barrels per day

Think that last point is a motivator for Putin?

My marathon day at Disney…

March 18, 2022

Let’s take a break from Ukraine and inflation today.
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In March 2020, one of my sons and one of his appropriately aged sons (i.e. one of my grandsons) were booked for a Spring Training trip to Florida.

Then came Covid and  the lockdown.

Despite our non-cancellable reservations, Southwest gave us flight credits for future use. Thanks SWA.

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Finally. with Covid in remission, we dared to try again.

This time, a second grandson met the age cut-off and made the travel team.

Minor set-back: the MLB lockout.

So, the “Homa Party of 4” shifted gears and headed for Disney.

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Another setback: Rain on 3 of the 4 days (isn’t Florida supposed to be the “Sunshine State”?) and thermometers hitting the 30s (where’s global warming when you need it?).

Undeterred, on the one good weather day, we set out — big & little men on a mission — to make the most of it.

Man, and did we ever!

By my iPhone numbers:

  • 13 hours
  • 22,821 steps
  • 7.8 miles

Infographically, over 25 activities (as recorded by my grandson and me):

IMG_1241

Bottom line: Mission accomplished … probably more (way more?) than a “normal” family does in 4 days … nothing I would have rather been doing on that day … great for “Pops” mental health … blessed with a great son (and even greater grandkids) who were willing to include me.

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A couple of trip notes:

> Flights were full … oversold going and returning … SWA’s $900 in credits for waiting until the next flight were tempting (well, not really)

> Masks required on the flight … all passengers  complied (some wearing their non-N95 masks passive aggressively)… no flight attendants hassled by passengers (or vice versa)

> HUGE crowd and long lines at Disney

Example: We were thru the gates when the park officially opened at 9 o’clock … we sprinted to Mine Train … by the time we got to the ride, the posted wait time was 90 minutes.

Note: I suspect there was a backdoor into the park that we didn’t know about.

> Disney’s new pricing schemes make gas pumps look like oases.

In rough numbers, $150 gets you through the gates and 4 “lightning passes” that allow you to cut some lines (with reservations that may or may not be available) … a couple of “top tier” rides require an additional $12 ante (per rider) 

> Disney’s attention to customer service and cheerful “cast members” is still intact

Example: When my grandson’s  $8 ice cream cone was bumped out of his hand, a cast member immediately gave him a complementary replacement. Saved the moment.

> Much of the huge crowd was HUGE … tagging overweight as “highly vulnerable” to severe Covid consequences doesn’t seem to have put America on a mass weight reduction program … hmmm.

> Kids love Disney … our kids, for sure … and universally, from what I observed.

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So, would I do it again?

You bet I would!

Biden: “I will welcome the Ukrainian refugees.”

March 17, 2022

Finally, I agree with him on something!
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My ancestry is 100% Polish and Ukrainian.

So, emotionally, I have a dog in this fight and I was pleased that…

Last week, following the lead of Poland and other western European nations, President Biden remarked:

I will welcome the Ukrainian refugees. 

We should welcome them here with open arms. 

To that end…

> The Administration has granted temporary protected status to some 75,000 Ukrainians already in the U.S.

> CNN reported that the White House may expedite the resettlement process for Ukrainian refugees with ties to the U.S.

> The WSJ opined that “if small and relatively poor Eastern European nations can take in hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians, a country as large and wealthy as the U.S. can also do its part.”

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As the WSJ points out, the humanitarian need is clear … and, as a country, we have the wherewithal to accommodate Ukrainian refugees.

And, for background, as we previously posted:

Ukraine’s population is about 45  million.

Over 70% of Ukrainian workers have secondary or higher education.

The literacy rate is near 100% among its youngest generations.

The workforce has one of the highest levels of English proficiency in post-Soviet countries.  Source

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

Bring ‘em on, Joe.

An old adage sums up the responses to Putin’s invasion…

March 16, 2022

Here’s the oft-repeated metaphor:

Question: In a bacon and egg breakfast, what’s the difference between the chicken and the pig?

Answer: The chicken is involved, but the pig is COMMITTED!

Explanation: The pig puts its life on the line for “the cause”. The chicken stays a safe distance away … just making a low cost contribution to support the cause.

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Obviously, Zelenskyy and his fellow Ukrainians are the pigs … facing a literal and immediate existential threat … they’re fighting for their lives and their country.

The chickens?

Think: The UN, NATO, Western Europe, U.S.

They’re the ones who laid the groundwork for this mess … largely pooh-poohing the Putin threat for decades, becoming energy dependent with many (most?) of their energy eggs  in the Russian basket, prioritizing the ever-elusive climate control agenda and social spending over national, regional and global geo-political security.

Now, they’re adopting the role of chickens … hesitant to confront the lethal bully… staying largely on the sidelines … offering up best wishes and ineffective rhetoric … funneling aid, but keeping their distance to preserve some semblance of deniability.

That approach may work … or the chickens may morph into pigs as Putin keeps escalating his war and expanding his territorial appetite.

In that case, another old adage comes to mind … something about a cooked goose.

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P.S. Keep “bacon & eggs” in mind when Zelenskyy addresses the joint session of Congress today.

Biden’s “big lie” re: domestic oil production …

March 15, 2022

… and, what he can do to prove that he’s not lying through his dentures.
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Last week, Biden defiantly read from his teleprompter:

“It’s simply not true that my administration or my policies are holding back domestic energy production.”

Oh, really?

Apparently, Biden’s handlers and his teleprompter scribes aren’t aware of the technology known as video recording.

Here — from Biden’s own lips — is his pledge to contain (and ultimately kill) the U.S. oil & gas industry:

click to view (18 seconds)
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Biden’s pledge:

To ensure “no ability for the oil industry to continue to drill. Period. End.”

Q.E.D.

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So, how can Biden prove that he’s not lying when he says that he’s not handcuffing domestic oil production?

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According to Bloomberg:

Senate Energy Chairman Joe Manchin called on the Biden administration to use the Defense Production Act  to rush completion of a stalled pipeline through his state to help Europe replace Russian natural gas supplies.

The pipeline is more than 90% complete but has been challenged by environmentalists, and a federal court in January rejected its permit to cross a national forest.

Manchin said the 303-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline, which crosses his home state of West Virginia into Virginia, could transport two billion cubic feet a day and be up and running in four to six months.

The Defense Production Act would be justified to expedite it so the gas can be quickly converted to liquid form and shipped to Europe.

Manchin also has urged the administration to repeal his inauguration day executive orders that imposed constraining regulations on the oil and gas industry.

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Bottom line: If you’re really pro-domestic energy production, Joe, repeal your energy-throttling EO’s and use the Defense Production Action Act to “make” the  evil-minded, supply-withholding, profit-motivated oil companies start cranking out more oil & gas ASAP.

Or, just admit that you’re lying like a rug…

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P.S. The WSJ suggests that this question be posed to Biden the next time that his handlers allow him to unplug his teleprompter:

Mr. President, will you do everything in your regulatory power to make it easier for American companies to produce more oil and gas to make the U.S. and its allies in Europe and elsewhere less dependent on Russian energy?

Don’t hold your breath for the question or a truthful answer…

 

Dilbert asks: "Who wants a bully in the White House?"

March 14, 2022

Is it really better to have a groveler-in-chief dealing with our adversaries?
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Over the weekend, Bill Maher made news by asking a simple question:

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Maher’s question reminded me of the above headlined post from the  HomaFiles archives, circa 2016 …

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During the 2016 Presidential campaign, cartoonist Scott Adams hit the nail on the head on his Dilbert blog

Adams observed that, during the campaign, Hillary’s constant refrain was that we can’t have a loose cannon bully in the White House.

Of course, Dems and their media friends kept that notion front-burnered during the campaign.

clip_image002

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Adams cut to the chase on on “Dangerous Trump”:

Read the rest of this entry »

Hitting Putin where it hurts him the most …

March 10, 2022

No, we’re not talking oil sanctions … we’re talking burgers and lattes … but not chips.
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After McDonalds investors and consumers called for the chain to cut ties with Russia, the company announced that it is temporarily closing its 847 restaurants in Russia.

Announcing the action, McD’s CEO told employees:

Our values mean we cannot ignore the needless human suffering unfolding in Ukraine.

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Some other companies are following suit…

> Coke and Starbucks pledged to suspend all business activity in Russia

> PepsiCo said it was halting sales of its big soda brands there … but would continue to sell potato chips.

Apparently, Pepsi concluded that stopping the flow of Lays, Doritos and Fritos might trigger Putin to further accelerate his atrocities.

Kamala: “End dependence on oil tyrants … get an EV”

March 9, 2022

The rub: Our EV future is dependent on batteries from Asia … mostly CHINA!
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According to an SNE Research analysis channeled by Statista

At present, the ten manufacturers with the highest market share in terms of battery capacity are all headquartered in Asian countries, mainly China, South Korea and Japan.

The top five manufacturers – CATL, LG, Panasonic, BYD and Samsung – together account for over 80 percent of global automotive battery production.

The Chinese company Contemporary Amperex Technology (CATL) alone controls about 1/3 of the market.

Infographic: Asian Batteries Power Global EV Fleet | Statista

If that isn’t scary enough, consider that about 97% of lithium is currently refined in China. Source

Ditching Russian energy is a great idea … but putting our eggs in China’s basket strikes me as jumping from the pan into the fire.

 

Woody Allen: “Mankind is at a crossroads”

March 7, 2022

Woody’s 1979 “Speech to Graduates” seems eerily on-point today.
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I’m not a big Woody Allen fan, but one of his long ago quotes has always stuck in my memory.

The Ukraine crisis brought Woody’s words front-of-mind:

More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads.

One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness.

The other, to total extinction.

Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.

Unconsciously applying Woody’s admonition, the WSJ puts it this way:

Europe is learning a hard “Ukraine changes everything” lesson.

In the U.S. we’re shocked at the images from Ukraine.

Whether we’re willing to change our own complacent status quo in the face of manifestly real external and internal threats to our security is less clear.

At least now we have a baseline for discussion:

Do nothing, and disorder descends.

For a deeper cut,, see my prior post…

Greater threat to the planet: Putin or climate change?

… that argues Putin is a clear, present, nuclear threat …  that prevails over climate change on immediacy, likelihood, severity and game-changing mitigation.

So, climate control should take a backseat to stopping a manic who is killing masses of people, destroying a country and postured to threaten nuclear blackmail as long as he’s in power.

In other words, shelve the elitist idealism and “drill, baby, drill”.

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Worth reading

Woody’s entire speech …. as published in the New York Times, August 10, 1979 … is a quick read … pithy, funny and on-point

The key elements:

We are a people who lack defined goals.

We have never learned to love.

We lack leaders and coherent programs.

Unfortunately our politicians are either incompetent or corrupt. Sometimes both on the same day.

We have no spiritual center.

Religion has unfortunately let us down.

Feeling godless then, what we have done is made technology God.

We’re counting on computers and electricity to solve our problems.

Eventually, energy will be in short supply and each car owner will be allowed only enough gasoline to back up a few inches.

We are adrift alone in the cosmos wreaking monstrous violence on one another out of frustration and pain.

Violence breeds more violence.

It’s a 3-minute read … and worth the time.

 

It’s time to reprioritize energy security and independence by unleashing U.S. oil & gas production!

March 4, 2022

Objectives: (1) Stop funding Putin’s aggression with Russian oil & gas revenues (2) Replace U.S. and European countries’ Russian purchases with U.S. oil & gas (3) Support the Canadian oil industry (4) Dampen domestic (and world markets) inflation rates

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A prior version of this post was published on February 22, 2022

Some necessary background …

Remember when Trump made the U.S. a net exporter of oil products?

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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, LNG).

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 Biden’s policies, we’re net energy dependent again.

How did Biden do it?

By signing executive orders aimed at crippling (and ultimately killing the domestic U.S. oil industry) by essentially stopping new oil exploration and shackling oil production and transport (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 and transport 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 70% of its production (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?

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

So what did Biden do to cause this unfortunate turnaround?

For openers, killing the XL pipeline project.

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

Why screw our allied neighbors?

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

Annualized 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 …

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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 Biden’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.

It’s time for another Operation Warp Speed … one that unleashes the U.S. oil & gas industry.

There aren’t a lot of options, Joe.

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If you think that climate control should trump energy security, read Greater threat to the planet: Putin or climate change?

Greater threat to the planet: Putin or climate change?

March 4, 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.

Putin is 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 (sorry, but the science is even more unsettled than it is on Covid) and prospective (decades off) … with asserted and uncertain long-term consequences.

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

If the Putin and climate 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 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” from climate change 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 climate change puts 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 that “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.

Update: Yesterday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky issued a dire appeal for help as Russia’s attacks across the country intensified and the Russians set afire the largest nuclear power plant in Europe.

In Zelensky’s words: “The end of the world has arrived.” 

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Mitigation

This is where things get dicey.

I’m confident that the U.S. will become increasingly 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 (most notably Russia!) … putting the U.S. and Europe in a vulnerable security position.

Question: Is Russian oil cleaner than U.S. or Canadian oil?

Answer: Nope!

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

Well, maybe Putin can be jawboned and shunned … and will come to his senses and rein in  his destructive tendencies.

My opinion: 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 at the Polish border.

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

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-military 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:

It’s time to reprioritize energy security and independence by unleashing U.S. oil & gas production!

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!

 

Biden: “Next week, you can order more free Covid test kits”

March 3, 2022

During his SOTU address, Biden made another game-changing announcement:

Starting next week, we can all order another set of “free” Covid tests at COVIDtests.gov

Hmm.

You may remember my whining that the ones I ordered — when Omicron was raging — took several weeks to arrive … after Omicron peaked and stated to ebb.

A friend of mine ordered on the first day (Jan. 18) and received her’s on Monday … just as she was following CDC guidance and ditching her mask.

Omicron is pretty much in the history books, so why is Biden offering free tests now?

It’s not because a new variant has been ID’ed that might spread wildly.

If there were such a variant, the CDC wouldn’t have “guided” us to ditch our masks, right?

So, what’s up?

Simple: OVERSTOCK.

The original Biden offering was 500 million test kits.

Turns out that take-up has been low.

To date, folks have only ordered about 1/2 of the 500 million tests.

So basically, Biden is running a clearance sale to get rid of the inventory he’s holding for a product that he’s giving away for free.

Reminds me of the Mr. Pillow guy…

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P.S. Have you tried to get reimbursed for a store bought test kit?

Joe promised that insurance companies would reimburse for them.

I’ve got Medicare, a Supplement and an Rx plan.

So far, all 3 are claiming that it’s the other guy’s responsibility.

Apparently they didn’t get Joe’s memo.

I’ll keep you posted…

Biden: Staying the course after a successful first year … say, what?

March 2, 2022

One chart continues to say it all…
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In case you missed it, Biden’ SOTU wasn’t a “reset” … it was a serving of refried beans.

  • Rooting for the Ukrainians … from the sidelines
  • Reaffirmed the sagacity of diplomatically “leading from behind” … despite the brutal outcomes
  • Determined to kill oil & gas … unless it’s produced in Russia and fuels Putin’s atrocities
  • Asserted that inflation is caused by greedy companies … certainly not out-of-control spending and constraints on energy production
  • Still wants to throw more money at more things.

In other words: same old, same old.

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Raises an obvious question:

Is Biden unaware that the dogs aren’t eating the dog food?

Current RCP poll-of-polls says that less than 30% of the country thinks that Joe is taking the country in the right direction.

image

Time for a “reset”?

No way, it’s time to stay the course…

Yipes!

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

P.S. Did you notice?

> Biden’s didn’t showcase his chief political scientist, Anthony Fauci at his SOTU speech.

> In a passionate call to support Ukraine, mistakenly referred to Ukrainians as “Iranians.”

For the record, I thought that he said “Uraniums”.

Supporters are claiming that the gaffe is attributable to his childhood stutter. Axios

 

Biden: “As promised, I crushed the virus … and you can take your masks off”

March 1, 2022

Will he dare to say that?
==============

It’s ok to cheer on the latter point.

Miraculously, the science changed last week … and the CDC was able to issue new guidance that let’s most people (including school kids!) to toss their masks.

About a year late and, coincidentally, just in time for Biden’s SOTU address.

Whatever.

Let’s cheer the revised guidance!

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

But, what about the broader claim: “I crushed the virus”?

Remember when Biden taunted that Trump was responsible for all the Covid deaths while he was president?

Soon America will have accumulated 1 million Covid-tagged deaths … currently at 973.119 and counting.

I doubt that Biden will point out that the majority of the deaths have happened under his watch … despite Trump handing him 2 approved vaccines that were in production and ready for distribution.

image

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

And, I doubt that Biden will mention CNN’s headline:

image

Point-of-fact, almost 1,500 people are still succoring to Covid-tagged deaths each day … many because Biden had put the development and distribution of therapeutic drugs on the back-burner.

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

And, I doubt that he’ll mention that his CDC was forced to admit that it had been hiding data on Covid hospitalizations, vaccine effectiveness and breakthrough infections … politically fearing that the information might be “misinterpreted” by non-government scientists … and the public at large.

image

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

Finally, I doubt that that Biden will spotlight the Johns Hopkins study that concluded:

Lockdowns have had little to no effect on COVID-19 mortality.

But, they imposed enormous economic and social costs.

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

Bottom line: We’re finally at a good spot on Covid … but I’ll cringe if Biden claims that he “crushed the virus”.

We’ll see if “Straight- shooting” Joe shoots straight on this one.

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.
=============

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…

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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…
=============

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!

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

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

image

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!
=============

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!

image

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…

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

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!
=============

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

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

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?
==============

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

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

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).
==============

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..

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.
==============

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)

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

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…

image

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.

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

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.
=============

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

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

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.”

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

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?
=============

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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.”

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

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.
=============

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.

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

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.

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

WaPo’s headline:

image

“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.
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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?

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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”.

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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:

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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”

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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”:

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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.

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

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Of course, there’s more to the story…
Read the rest of this entry »

(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.

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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.
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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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.
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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:

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.
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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

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Let’s connect a dot…

Serendipitously, this Medscape article hit my screen:

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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 
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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…

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

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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

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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?

WaPo piles on: “Weak, old, wishy-washy, incoherent, lazy, needs a nap”

January 31, 2022

Yipes! When the obvious becomes evident to the Washington Post, you’re in deep yogurt.
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The news isn’t so much in the details … it’s  that the obvious has become evident to the Washington Post … and that paper published it … signaling to readers that it’s ok to jump ship.

The fodder for the story was research on “suburban women swing voters” conducted by a Democratic pollster “on behalf of several liberal organizations”.

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Here are my Cliff’s notes on WaPo’s article The Long Slide:

> “Almost nobody voted for Biden — they voted against the other guy.”

> Biden presented himself as an antidote to his predecessor, offering the promise of “strong, steady, stable leadership”.

> But a cascade of crises have badly eroded Biden’s image of restoring calm.

> “He’s always hoping for best but failing to plan for the worst.”

> The administration has repeatedly underestimated the magnitude of the nation’s challenges, including failing to anticipate the  coronavirus variants, supply chain disruptions and persistent inflation.

> The president and his team have stumbled in offering a clear and reassuring message, unable to convince many Americans that they understand their travails or that better days are ahead.

> Biden often looks callous, uncaring, incompetent, and failing in a key moments of leadership.

Ouch!

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So, what’s team Biden doing about it?

In a word: “Denial”

According to administration operatives:

> The strategy for the year ahead is the same formula we followed for the past year, which is keep working, keep getting things done, keep moving the ball downfield.”

> We’ve got to make people see that “President Biden inherited an epic mess from his predecessor and deserves credit for a range of victories”

> We have to convey that “President Biden is somebody who thinks about what they’re worried about every single day when he wakes up and walks into the Oval Office, and is doing everything in his power to make their lives better.”

In other words, it’s not the product it’s the communication.

At least one White House operative — said Jen O’Malley Dillon, a deputy White House chief of staff — opinds:

It’s important to take stock of where we’ve come and where we are.

This isn’t a time to, you know, spike the football.

Message to Jen: Maybe it is time to quit fumbling the football…

The origins of Covid … smoking guns?

January 26, 2022

Great piece of reporting by Bret Baer, based on emails and other docs obtained through FOIA requests.

click for 11 min. video<= must see TV … Cliff notes below
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Here’s my Cliff notes recap (with screenshots from the video report):

> Initially, virologists queried by Fauci, argued (in writing) that the Covid source was a lab leak.

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> Fauci immediately tasked a lieutenant to see if if there was evidence that NIH was complicit in the WUHAN lab work.

image

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> NIH (and Fauci as the grant awarder) was complicit, having channeled money through the Eco Health Alliance to the Wuhan Lab. 

> Efforts quickly focused on damage control, labeling the lab leak as a conspiracy theory that was a threat to “the science”.

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> NIH awarded almost $9 million in research grants to two of the virologists who were initially adamant that the virus originated in the lab.

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> The award winning scientists “evolved” their thinking on the subject.

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Bottom line: It’s hard to “follow the science” when the scientists are covering their butts and “following the money”.

Biden: “The unemployment rate is way down to 3.9%”

January 26, 2022

… that is, when you take the 2.3 million who left the work force out of the calculation.
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Today, let’s take a 3rd whack at Biden’s economic bravado.

True, the unemployment rate is down to 3.9%.

image

And, that’s a big decline from the 14.7% unemployment rate during the most intense Covid lockdown period.

But, it’s still .4 percentage points higher than the 3.5% pre-Covid unemployment rate.

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And, the current unemployment rate is understated since about 2.3 million people have left the labor force … and aren’t counted in the unemployment rate calculation.

image

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Combining the current unemployment rate (3.9%) and the number of people who have left the workforce (2.3 million), current employment is only 149 million … about 3.6 million lower than pre-Covid employment.

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Bottom line: To stay grounded when the statistical shells start moving,  total employment  is the number to focus on …

Biden: “Wages are finally increasing.”

January 25, 2022

Not “real” wages, Joe!
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Yesterday, we data-tested Biden’s claim that he “created 6 million new jobs more jobs in one year than any time before.”

The fundamental conclusion: They’re not new jobs.  They’re just old jobs that are being re-filled as lockdowns end and the economy re-opens.

The fun conclusion: By Biden’s measure of job creation, Trump, in his last 6 months,  “created” jobs at a rate 4 times Biden’s rate.

The metric to watch: How many people are employed … and, we’re still 3.7 million jobs below pre-Covid employment levels.

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Wage Gains

Today, let’s look at Biden 2nd most touted claim: “Workers are getting raises. Wages are (finally) going up.”

Let’s unpack that claim…

According WaPo, channeling BLS numbers, nominal average hourly wages did rise  4.7% last year.

But, “real” wages — adjusted for inflation, fell 2.4%.

image

Note that:

> During the Obama years, nominal wages (the blue line) were flat … and real wages dipped below the “stay-even” with inflation line

> During the Trump years, nominal wages increased at a slow but steady rate … and real wages stayed above the stay-even line.

> During Biden’s year, nominal wages did increase (by 4.7%), but raging (non-transitory!) inflation more than ate up the gain … so real rages dropped far below the stay-even line (by 2.4%)

So what?

In plain English, according to an NBC poll, over 60% of Americans do not think that their family income is keeping up with the cost of living.

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Also, according to the NBC poll:

“Overwhelming majorities of Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction.”

Coincidence?

Biden: “I added 6 million jobs”

January 24, 2022

By Biden’s measure, Trump added 12 million in his last 6 months!
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In last week’s press conference, Biden boasted about his economic record.

Top of the list: Biden touted “record job creation” during his presidency.

He said, “We created 6 million new jobs more jobs in one year than any time before.”

Hmm.

Let’s look at the numbers focusing on “employment”…

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> Before Covid hit 152.5 million were employed

> During the intense Covid lockdown period, employment dipped 22.4 million (14.7%) … down to 130.2 million

> Between the lockdown employment trough in May 2020 until Biden’s inauguration in January 2021 (i.e. Trump’s last 6 months in office), employment increased by 12.6 million (9.7%) to 142.7 million.

> From Biden’s inauguration until now,  employment increased by 6.2 million (4.4%) to 149 million.

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“Job Creation” or “Ending Lockdowns”?

So, does the 6.2 million employment increase represent the “creation of new jobs” or “refilling old jobs” by removing the Covid lockdowns and re-opening the economy?

To that latter point, note that employment is still 3.7 million (2.3%) lower than the pre-Covid level (152.5 million).

Hmm.

Bottom line: We’re still 3.7 million below the pre-Covid employment level … and relatively few new jobs have been created … we’re just filling the pandemic hole.

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Biden vs. Trump

And, note again that in the 6 month period from the Covid trough until Biden’s inauguration, employment increased by 12.6 million.

Using Biden’s bogus logic and semantics, that means that Trump, during that period “added” jobs at an average rate of 2 million per month … 4 times Biden’s rate of 500,000 per month.

Hmm

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Takeaway

As even CNN observes:

Biden is free, of course, to boast about how quickly the hole is being filled.

But his claims about setting records should be viewed with contextual caution.

Redefining “invasion”…

January 20, 2022

… and other head-scratchers from Biden’s presser.
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Glutton for punishment,  I watched all 2-hours of Biden’s press conference …

Here are a few more of my takeaways…

> Biden redefined “invasion”, coining a new phrase “minor (territorial) incursions” … which many observers interpreted as green-lighting Putin to breach the Ukraine border.

Shades of the domestic version: “mostly peaceful protests” that cause billions of dollars of damage without prosecution.

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> Biden praised U.S. technology and science (with no shout-out for Trump’s Op Warp Speed) for fast development of covid vaccines … but added that he (Biden) did the hard part: “getting shots into arms”.

Further, he said that his highest Covid priority for a return to normalcy is to vaccinate the rest of the world 

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> He condemned GOP senators for voting as a bloc … because they’re afraid of retribution by Trump.

On the split screen, Dems were threatening to primary Manchin & Sinema for breaking with the Dem bloc on the filibuster and BBB.

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> He warned that the 2022 mid-terms might be illegitimate if his voting rights bill isn’t passed.

Moments earlier, he touted the record-setting voter turnout in 2020  … non-sequitur?

Isn’t it wrong to question the legitimacy of elections?

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> He asserted that retail shelves are 89% full … only down 1% from a year ago

Generalizing from our past week of shopping: no bread, milk or produce on the shelves, empty sections of  OTC cold and flu medicines and, of course, no covid test kits.

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> He conceded that he might have been a month late igniting the push for in-home covid tests … who would have known?

Vanity Fair reported that in January 2021, the incoming Biden Administration was “handed” a national rapid-testing strategy … positioning  rapid testing as the most powerful tool to reduce transmission and case counts.

Then, on October 22, a group of COVID-19 testing experts presented the Biden administration with a detailed strategy for overhauling America’s approach to testing … by putting rapid at-home COVID-19 testing into the hands of average citizens, allowing them to screen themselves in real time and thereby help reduce transmission.

Hmm…

Who would have known?

Biden: “Best 1st year ever … my team is competent … full steam ahead”

January 20, 2022

Begala: “Not bad leaders, bad followers”
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Anybody who was hoping for retrospective humility, a course correction, an olive branch or a good old fashioned house cleaning was probably disappointed by Biden’s press conference yesterday.

Instead, he went full Begala, adopting the view that: “Democrats’ Problem ‘Is Not That They Have Bad Leaders. They Have Bad Followers’.

Joe’s view:

  1. He was dealt a bad hand
  2. Not lurching left
  3. No mistakes, no apologies
  4. I didn’t say what I said
  5. Exceeded expectations, great progress
  6. Best presidential first year ever
  7. Entire team doing a good job
  8. Has an agenda, GOP doesn’t
  9. Heading in the right direction
  10. Blame Covid, “Big meat” and Trump
  11. People just need to be informed
  12. The polls are wrong

Oh, my…

For the record:

In the latest RCP poll-of-polls. only 27.6% of Americans think that he country is moving in the right direction…

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And, in this week’s Morning Consult poll, half of self-identified independents gave Biden either a “D” or an “F” grade for his first year performance.

So much for data-driven…

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P.S. Best news for GOP…

Biden said: “I’ll be hitting the campaign trail to support Democratic candidates in the mid-term elections.”

COVID Math: So, how accurate are rapid tests?

January 19, 2022

Best guess: If you test negative, the likelihood is very high that you’re not contagious.

If you test positive, the likelihood is high that you are contagious … but there’s about a 1 in 4 chance that you got a false positive, so assume that you are contagious and re-test the next day to be sure.

Keep reading for the math and the underlying assumptions…
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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!
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In a prior post, we outlined the logic that CDC Director Walensky laid out regarding antigen rapid tests in a 2O2O paper (i.e. before she started walking the political mine field).

Her fundamental conclusion at the time:

“The antigen rapid tests are ideally suited for surveillance testing (i.e. determining if a person is contagious) since they yield positive results precisely when the infected individual is maximally infectious.”

OK, we’ll take that as our qualitative starting point.

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What exactly is “accuracy”?

Keying off Walensky’s conclusion (above), we’ll focus on the use of antigen rapid tests for surveillance testing (i.e. determining if a person is contagious).

In that context, antigen rapid test accuracy has two components: sensitivity and specificity:

> Sensitivitysometimes called Positive Percent Agreement (PPA) —is the probability that a contagious person’s test result is positive. When it isn’t, it’s called a false negative.

> Specificitysometimes called Negative Percent Agreement (NPA) —is the probability that a a person who is not contagious gets a negative test result. When it doesn’t, it’s called a false positive.

IMPORTANT: Keep in mind that we’re focusing on surveillance testing … whether or not a person is contagious.

For early-on diagnostic testing (i.e. whether a person may need treatment or quarantine), the above criteria would be “infected”, not “contagious” … and the answers are different.

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Now, let’s add some real life parameters and do the math

Johns Hopkins maintains a website that reports sensitivity and specificity for all Emergency Use Approved test kits.

For example, Abbott’s BinaxNOW — one of the most popular — is listed as scoring 84.6% on sensitivity (if contagious, the test result is positive) and  98.5% on specificity (if not contagious, the test result is negative).

That’s testing accuracy, but it’s only part of the story.

What we really care about is the tests’ predictive value.

As JHU puts it…

Positive predictive value (PPV) and negative predictive value (NPV) provide insight into how accurate the positive and negative test results are expected to be in a given population.

Predictive value is based on test accuracy and existing disease prevalence.

OK, so to calibrate predictive value,  let’s assume that Covid prevalence is 5% (i.e. 1 in 20 people that a person runs into is infected) … and plug the Abbott sensitivity and specificity numbers into the below Bayesian table.

For a detailed walk-through of a comparable Bayesian table, see our prior post: If I test positive for COVID, am I infected?     

image

The key numbers — the predictive values — are in the bottom rows of the yellow and orange boxes:

> Less than 1% of the negative test results are false negatives (the orange box)

> But, 25.2% of the positive test results are false positives (the yellow box).

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My take:

If a patient gets a negative test result (based on these parameters), it’s virtually certain that they’re not contagious … but they may have small traces of the virus in their system.

If a patient tests positive, there’s high likelihood (74.8%) that they’re contagious … the likelihood is higher if they are symptomatic.

But, if a person is asymptomatic and tests positive, there’s a 1 in 4 chance that they got a false positive and might not be contagious.

Before going out & about, it would make sense to take a second test to validate (or refute) the positive result.

A second positive test (taken a day or 2 later) reduces the chance of a false positive to essentially zero.

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IMPORTANT: These Bayesian estimates are dependent the sensitivity and specificity of the test …  and on the assumed prevalence of of the virus.

For example, if the prevalence rate jumps from 5% (1 in 20 people are contagious) to 25% (1 in 4 people are contagious) … then the positive predictive vale soars to 95% and the negative predictive value decreases to 95%.

Conversely, likelihood of a false positive drops to 5% and the likelihood of a false negative increases from near-zero to 5%

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RIGHT NOW: Order your “free” at home covid tests

January 18, 2022

The government web site is up and running:

COVIDtests.gov – Free at-home COVID-19 tests

I just ordered our’s … took less than 2 minutes … just enter email address and shipping address … no insurance or ID info required … even get a confirming email — just like the real online guys.

I’m amazed that the site is up & running … and that the process was so simple.


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