“KENNETH HOMA, do you drive an EV?”

June 13, 2022

That’s the subject line of an email I got from BGE – our electric company”
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I opened the email expecting either:

(a) a lecture that I will be personally responsible for high gas prices and the climate-induced end of the world because I drive a mid-sized SUV, or

(b) a congratulatory note profiling me (post-grad degree, blue state resident) as a likely Tesla owner.

Neither was the case.

It was an emergency alert that my electricity usage had spiked … and my relative efficiency had dropped from the “good-great” borderline, all the way down to the orange “fair” category.

“BGE is sending you this alert to let you know that you are using more energy than usual and may be trending towards a higher bill.”

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As the subject line indicated, they naturally assumed — since temps have been COOLER than average (i.e. relatively low A/C usage) — that the likely suspect for a drop that drastic had to be in-home EV charging.

Interesting, right?

Well, in fact, my Tesla-owning son had had been visiting and occasionally overnite charging the car’s battery.

Not a big deal once we ID’ed an outlet that wouldn’t trip a circuit breaker or dim the house lights.

Recollecting, I did get one “What the hell is going on at your house?” email from BGE … but, I didn’t connect the dots.

BGE’s EV email did that for me.

Interesting that BGE assumed that EV charging was a likely suspect of high energy use.

Hmm.

What does that suggest we’re in for this summer when temps finally rise above average and HVACs are running full-steam.

Blackout warnings are already being headlined.

Add EV charging to the mix, and Biden have his next “Putin’s fault, nothing I can do”  crisis.

That may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back re: Biden’s “incredible transition from fossil fuels”…

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PS Remember when red used to be the color assigned to the lowest performing category?  Now, to be politically correct, it’s orange

Hmm

Wonder how orange became synonymous with “bad”?

Think about it…

“My high school SRO’s nickname was Barney Fife”

June 9, 2022

What’s reasonable to expect from School Resource Officers?
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In a prior post  we asked the question: “So, would YOU have charged the Uvalde school shooter?”

I admitted that I probably wouldn’t have … and laid out 4 criteria that might have motivated me to act:

  1. A threatened family member, e.g. a grandkid
  2. Some probability greater than zero that the periled life would be saved
  3. Enough physical might and equipment to. conceptually, get the job done.
  4. A probability greater than zero that charging wouldn’t  simply be a futile suicide mission.

Draw your own conclusion as to whether those criteria are reasonable and compelling.

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I ended that post with WSJ, columnist Peggy Noonan’s opinion regarding the first police officers on site at Ulvade — namely, the SROs:

It was their job to go in.

If you can’t cut it, then don’t join and get the badge, the gun and the pension.

We can’t let it settle in that the police can’t be relied on to be physically braver than other people.

An implicit agreement in going into the profession is that you’re physically brave.

Let’s add some perspective to Noonan’s castigation….

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An armed SRO in every school?

There seems to be a consensus building that all school’s should have an armed law enforcer on site.

I’m OK with that but…

Keep in mind that are over 130,000 K-12 schools in the U.S. Source

  • Elementary schools: 87,498
  • Secondary schools: 26,727
  • Combined schools: 15,804

Assuming an average of $50,000 (per year, per SRO) in wages, benefits and equipment, that works out to about $6.5 billion annually.

But, it’s not about money, it’s about kids’ lives, so let’s push that number aside and move on.

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How to staff those 130,000+ positions?

Ideally, I personally would like to see a former Navy Seal, Army Ranger or Green Beret … well-armed (yes, with a so-called “assault rifle”) … standing (not sitting) at the single (locked) access door to my grandkids’ schools.

But, that’s not a reasonable expectation.

First, there aren’t enough of them to staff 130,000 schools

Second, even if there were, they wouldn’t take the job … it’s not in their DNA to hang out waiting for lightning to strike.

So, who do we get to fill the SRO positions?

Newbie or “pastured” police officers?  Retired military? Rent-a-cops?

As former Democratic Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. put it: “My high school SRO’s nickname was Barney Fife”

For younger readers, Barney Fife was a self-confident but inept police officer on the Andy Griffith Show.

He was on the police force in the rural, crime-free town of Mayberry RFD … and, for fear that he might hurt himself (or somebody else), he was only allowed to carry an unloaded gun with a single bullet tucked in his shirt pocket. Source

That’s a bit harsh, but realistically, probably more representative than, say, Rambo-clones.

SROs draw relatively small paychecks  … and, given the long odds of being confronted with a crazed active shooter, don’t really anticipate that they’ll need to put their lives on the line.

If they did, many wouldn’t want the job … and most would want higher pay.

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And, how will they be equipped?

Will SRO’s carry automatic weapons, wear body armor and have ready access gun fire shields?

My hunch is that many (most?) folks would understandably find that sort of personal protection equipment to be emotionally disturbing to the school students.

So, the SRO’s would have to make do with handguns and bullet-proof vests.

Not exactly a fair fight against a well-armed active shooter.

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Bottom line

All of the above not withstanding, I’m all for SROs in every school.

But, I think we need to constrain our expectations about what they’re able to do.

Going mano-a-mano to neutralize a crazed assault-gunner isn’t a realistic expectation, Ms. Noonan.

It’s not part of the “implicit agreement”.

Rather expect SROs to train teachers & students, red-flag (aka, “profile”) trouble-makers, keep the doors locked and call. for help if and when hell breaks.

That’s not all bad … and, in fact, can be a critical part of providing school security.

More on that in a subsequent post.

So, would YOU have charged the Uvalde school shooter?

June 8, 2022

Think hard before you answer the question.
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Last week in the WSJ, columnist Peggy Noonan opined:

I don’t understand those saying with nonjudgmental empathy, “I’m not sure I would have gone in.”

Hmm.

I understand that nonjudgmental empathy completely, Peggy.

I hate to say it, but I doubt that I would have run in.

For perspective, here are some things that I would do:

  • I’d donate a critical organ to one of my grandkids … even if the likelihood of my survival was far less than 50-50
  • I’d run in front of an oncoming bus to try to save an inattentive grandkid who wandered into harm’s way.

OK, so what makes those situations different than charging the Uvalde shooter?

  • First, they’re my grandkids … literal “skin in the game”
  • Second, there’s some likelihood that I might save the periled kid
  • Third, I think (maybe mistakenly) that I would be physically equipped to succeed.
  • Fourth, both “rescues” would be risky, but they’re not certain suicide missions.

Remove any of those 4 conditions and the likelihood of my intervening goes down.

Does that make me a coward … or a bad person?

Maybe, but I don’t think so.

Just shows that I’m human … and, reasonably rational, right?

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An Uvalde case example

For the record, there was one local law officer (who was not part of the official rescue team) who did run in with a shotgun to save his wife (a teacher) and his daughter (a student).

Run that case against my 4 personal criteria.

His immediate family was involved, his wife & daughter were not in the shooter-barricaded classroom, he was armed (albeit with only a shotgun), and he had law enforcement training.

He had his family’s “skin in the game”, there was a reasonable likelihood of success, and he had some training & equipment … so it wasn’t a certain suicide mission.

So, with this perspective, would you have gone into the school?

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BTW: Noonan dismisses my argument.

She’d argue that my criteria don’t apply to law enforcement officers since:

It was their job to go in.

If you can’t cut it, then don’t join and get the badge, the gun and the pension.

We can’t let it settle in that the police can’t be relied on to be physically braver than other people.

An implicit agreement in going into the profession is that you’re physically brave.

Whoa, Peggy.

In a subsequent post. I’ll offer an alternative point-of-view on the “implicit agreement” that Noonan asserts …

How many gun-related deaths in the U.S. last year?

June 7, 2022

And while we’re at it, how many Fentanyl-related deaths?
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With the understandable recent concern about gun-related deaths, I did some data digging.

For the record:

I consider each and every homicide to be a tragedy.

I have never owned a gun or shot a gun … and I have no plans to do either.

But, I do support Constitutional rights that are explicit in the Constitution.

Gotta follow “the science” and the data, right?

Pew — an unbiased source if there is one — has crunched the numbers, compiled mostly by the “scientists” at the CDC.

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The answer to the headline question:

In 2021 — according to the CDC — there were 45,222 firearms-related deaths in the U.S.

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The 45,222 is a much lower number than I expected … and drilling down further…

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Suicides – Homicides

According to Pew & the CDC, more than half of the 45,222 gun-related deaths were suicides (24,292) …  homicides totaled 19,384 – about 50 each day.

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There were 611 law enforcement-related gun deaths in 2021 (they’re lumped into the 3% “other” category).

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Mass murders.

The Gun Violence Archive, an online database of gun violence incidents in the U.S., defines mass shootings as incidents in which four or more people are shot, even if no one was killed (excluding the shooters).

Using this broad definition, 513 people died in these incidents in 2020.

Pew’s conclusion: The fatalities in mass shooting incidents in the U.S. account for a very small fraction  of all gun murders that occur nationwide each year.

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Firearms

According to FBI data analyzed by Pew. Handguns were the instrument of death in the vast majority of gun-related deaths.

“Rifles” – the category that includes guns sometimes referred to as “assault weapons” – were involved in 3% of firearm murders.

Note: Though Pew doesn’t draw a correlation, it’s probably not coincidental that the “rifle” numbers and the “mass murder” numbers are essentially the same.

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School Killings

According to James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University who has been tracking these events for decades and helps keep the AP/USA Today/Northeastern Mass Killing database:

School massacres like the one in Uvalde are exceptionally rare events. They actually occurred more often in the 1990s than recently.Source

Prof. Fox notes that school shootings are undeniable tragedies, but that “the annual odds that an American child will die in a mass shooting at school are nearly 10 million to 1, about the odds of being killed by lightning or of dying in an earthquake.” Source

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Drug Overdose Deaths

For perspective, let’s draw a comparison…

According to WebMD – channeling the CDC:

U.S. deaths attributed to drug overdoses topped 100,000 last year for the first time.

Specifically, in 2021, drug overdose deaths increased 15% to 107,622 … more than double the number of gun-related deaths … and quadruple the number of gun-related homicides.

Fentanyl accounted for 71,238 deaths … almost 3 out of 4 drug overdose deaths

In 2022. with Fentanyl flowing freely across the southern border, it’s widely expected that Fentanyl-related deaths will soar.

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Something seems out of whack, doesn’t it?

Biden: “Reduced the ruble to rubble”

June 6, 2022

Shades of Bush’s “Mission Accomplished”
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After (kinda) imposing supposedly draconian sanctions, Biden claimed a quick victory when the Russian ruble tanked in the financial markets.

Perhaps, a premature end zone dance by the “Big Man”.

Here’s where we stand now.

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True, immediately after the initial round of sanctions were announced, the ruble — which was trading around 80 rubles per dollar — devalued to about 150 rubles per dollar.

Said differently: Before the sanctions, $1 could “buy” about 80 rubles.  Soon after the sanctions were announced, $1 could buy 150 “devalued” rubles.

Yep, started to look like rubble.

But, not so fast…

After about a month, the ruble was right back where it was pre-sanctions — trading at about 80 rubles per dollar.

Now, it’s trading at 63 rubles per dollar …

English translation: The ruble has gained value (vs. the U.S. dollar) since the sanctions were initiated.

How can that be?

Couple of reasons offered up by pundits:

  • Many of the sanctions were announced but still haven’t been fully activated.  For example, Germany is still dragging its feet on oil sanctions.
  • Some large countries aren’t on the sanctions’ bandwagon … think China and India, which are now buying Russian oil at a discount
  • Putin has gone big time on currency manipulation … e.g. boosting interest rates, restricting bank withdrawals, and…
  • And, Putin has started requiring that oil and gas sales be transacted in rubles (not dollars or euros)

The last point is particularly problematic since countries that are dependent on Russia for oil and gas … are still buying oil and gas from Russia at historically high rates.

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A couple of teaching points:

> Until the U.S. re-ramps domestic oil & gas production — to satisfy domestic & foreign demand — the bad guys will continue to rake in the dollars (err, rubles)

> Putin may be crazy … is certainly evil and ruthless … but he’s not stupid … so he shouldn’t be under-estimated … on the battlefield and in the financial markets.

So, whose economy is taking the hit — our’s or Putin’s?

Biden: “Don’t blame me, blame the Pandemic and Putin”

June 3, 2022

“And, by the way, it’s a global problem, not just a U.S. problem.”
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That’s the gist of Team Biden’s “message” as it is stumping hard this week to let Americans know that Joe’s economic plan is working splendidly …. and that any perceptions of a bad economy are simply that: “perceptions”.

In a prior post, we channeled an analysis done by the the San Francisco Fed (FRBSF) that concluded:

In 2021, a relatively “normal” level of inflation (around 2%) was evident   in the major OECD countries — Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the UK, but…

During the same period, inflation was more rampant in the U.S.  Specifically:

During the 1st 3 quarters of 2021, U.S. core CPI grew from below 2% to 4.7%.

In contrast, the OECD average increased at a more gradual rate from around 1% to 2.2% (over the same period).

image_thumb[2]

That clever analysis by the FRBSF demonstrates that:

In the 1st 3 quarters of 2021, about 80% of the U.S. core inflation rate increase is statistically attributable to factors specific to the U.S. That is, only about 20% is attributable to globally common pandemic effects.

We ended the prior post with a question…

So, what are those specific factors?

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Well, the FRBSF analysts took a statistical whack at that question, too.

Their underlying analytical logic focused on fiscal stimulus programs in the U.S. and the OECD countries:

One way to get a read on this tangle of support programs is to directly measure disposable personal income in each country.

This measures the amount individuals have left to spend or save after paying taxes and receiving government transfer payments.

It is a relatively comparable measure across countries that incorporates the overall magnitude of net pandemic transfers

And, the answer is…

image

Real disposable personal income for the OECD countries increased only moderately during the pandemic (2020 & 2021).

But, there are 2 obvious spikes in the amount of disposable income that Americans “enjoyed” during that same period:

Specifically, the two peaks in U.S. disposable personal income reflect the CARES Act, signed into law (by President Trump) on March 27, 2020 … and the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act, signed (by Biden) in March 2021.

Both Acts resulted in an unprecedented injection of direct assistance with a relatively short duration.

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OK, let’s overlay the above 2 charts…

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The visually obvious conclusions that can be drawn:

1. The Trump era stimulus (CARES Act) appears to have been absorbed by the economy … with transfer payments (e.g. stimulus checks) largely offsetting lost wages … hence little impact on inflation in 2020.

2. But, the Biden ARP stimulus (passed with no GOP votes) appears to have literally broken the inflationary camel’s back … by infusing an unnecessary (and excessive) level transfer payments in the U.S. economic system … igniting a rampant surge in inflation (that was not comparably realized in OECD countries).

And, keep in mind, that this analysis was pre-Putin’s Ukraine invasion.

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Bottom line: Sorry, Joe …  your excessive stimulus program — coupled with your war on domestic oil & gas production — account for the lion’s share of our current inflation woes.

Man-up and fix the problem!

Biden: “Inflation is a global problem!”

June 2, 2022

“Don’t blame me, blame the Pandemic and Putin”
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OK, I paraphrased the 2nd quote a bit, but that’s the gist of Team Biden’s “message” as it is stumping hard this week to let Americans know that Joe’s economic plan is working splendidly …. and that any perceptions of a bad economy are simply that: “perceptions”.

Today, let’s look at the Biden’s lead assertion … that inflation isn’t isolated to the U.S. … it’s a worldwide problem.

He implies — and sometimes says — that’s proof positive that his policies have nothing to do with the problem.

Really?

True, inflation is evident in the major OECD countries — Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the UK — but there’s a “but” … and it’s a big “but”.

The economic research group at the San Francisco Fed (FRBSF) recently published an analysis that concluded:

Before the pandemic, U.S. core CPI inflation remained, on average, about 1 percentage point above the OECD sample average.

Early in 2021, however, U.S. inflation increasingly diverged from the other countries.

U.S. core CPI grew from below 2% to  4.7% (in Q3, 2021).

In contrast, the OECD average increased at a more gradual rate from around 1% to 2.2% (over the same period).

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First, a couple of technical points:

  • For data comparability, the FRBSF analysis focuses on the core CPIwhich excludes energy and food.
  • Restricted by the timing of data availability, the FRBSF analysis only runs through the 3rd quarter of 2021 … all before Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
  • Since 2021-Q3, the year-over-year core CPI has increased from 4.7% to 6.2% … and, including food & energy, the year-over-year inflation number is over 8%

Those points notwithstanding, the FRBSF analysis is quite revealing.

  • During 2019, pre-pandemic, the core inflation rate hovered around 2% in the U.S.
  • In 2020,  the U.S. core inflation rate actually dropped to about 1.5% … lower than the pre-pandemic rate.
  • Post-Biden’s inauguration in early 2021, the U.S. core inflation rate increased from 1.5% to 4.7% in Q3, 2021 … an increase of 3.2 percentage points.
  • During that same period, the average OECD core inflation rate increased from 1.5% to 2.2% … an increase of .7 of a percentage point.

Bottom line: Given a U.S. core inflation rate of 4.7% … and using the 2.2% OECD average as a baseline for “global inflation” …  only about 20% of the U.S. core inflation rate increase since early 2021 is statistically attributable to common global inflation pressures (.7 percentage points divided by 3.2 percentage points equals 21.8%).

Said differently, about 80% of the U.S. core inflation rate increase since early 2021 is statistically attributable to factors specific to the U.S.

Sorry, Joe.

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Next up: So, what are those specific factors?

Biden: Greatest job creator … blah, blah, blah.

June 1, 2022

Here’s a handy de-coding chart for you…
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Team Biden is stumping hard this week to “message” that Joe’s economic plan is working splendidly …. and that any perceptions of a bad economy are simply that: “perceptions”.

About those “perceptions”…

Biden has a 35.5% approval rating on handling the economy in the RealClearPolitics average because:

(a) Ordinary families are feeling the pain first-hand and they “believe their lyin’ eyes” every time that they pass a gas station price sign or (try to) shop at a grocery store.

(b) Everybody knows deep down that jobs have returned because pandemic shutdowns are ending, not because of anything constructive that Biden has done.

Let’s dive down on that second point: new job creation.

Below is the Fed chart of total non-farm employment going back to the start of the Trump administration … with a couple of defining milestones.

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click chart to enlarge

(A) Employment was 143.2 million when Trump took office.

(B) Prior to the Covid lockdowns, total employment reached 152.5 million … an increase of 9.3 million

(C) The Covid lockdown sidelined 22 million workers … employment dropped to 130.5 million

(D) In the  final year of the Trump administration, about 12 million jobs were regained … pushing employment back up to 142.5 million (which was 700k lower than when Trump took office)

(E) Currently — after a about a year of Biden — employment is at 151.3 million … up 8.8 million since his inauguration … but still 1.2 million lower than the pre-Covid level

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My take

(1) Seems reasonable to credit Trump with about 9 million jobs created during the “normal” period preceding the Covid pandemic.

(2) Less reasonable to tag Trump with “causing” the destruction of 22 million jobs during the Covid pandemic … true, he OK’ed the lockdowns … but, it’s reasonable to argue that the job losses were transitory, i.e. regainable once the pandemic passed.

(3) To that last point, during Trump’s last year, about 12 million of the Covid-related job losses were regained (i.e. not “created”)

(4) Since Biden’s inauguration, another 8.8 million jobs were regained from the Covid drop … pushing employment up to 151.3 million … still more than 1 million shy of the the nation’s pre-Covid employment level.

So, is Biden — as he claims —  the greatest job creation president ever?

Those are the numbers … draw your own conclusion.

My stress-reducing weekend.

May 31, 2022

I don’t like to get personal, but…
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It has been a couple of high stress weeks (months?) for everybody, given runaway inflation, a diving stock market,  out-of-stock baby formula … and, of course, last week’s school tragedy.

So, it was with enormous personal relief that I had a stress-free Memorial Day weekend (save for picking between the pepperoni and cheese pizza).

The essence of the weekend formula:

First, no TV news … and almost no internet (save for fact-checking disputed word-spelling and sports bets).

Specifically, the only TV “look-ins” were the NCAA Women’s Lacrosse Championships … only Netflix was a PG-friendly comedy … except for Wordly (usually played in small groups), no video games … nobody glued to their phones.

Key point: no TV or internet news.

Amazing how liberating from stress that is…

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Second ingredient: family!

We’re very lucky to have 8 wonderful grandkids … ranging from 1-1/2 to 13 … with 3 hovering around the 2 year-old mark.

Note: Their parents are pretty great. too.

My most time spent was sitting on the beach watching  the cousins playing together in the water.

Most active(?) time was fishing off the dock with the kids.

Maddie (9) caught 5 fish and had a big one get away.

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Note: I never dreamed that I’d be bonding with my grandkids by fishing — an activity that I’d never done until they coaxed me into it.

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The “lucky guy” moment to remember: boating with the 5 oldest grandkid-cousins.

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Yes, I do know how lucky I am and I cherish all these moments.

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Honorable Mention: While family and a TV blackout were the primary stress-reducers, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shout-out to Mike’s Hard Lemonade.  Cheapskate that I am, I’m hustling to reverse-engineer Mike’s recipe. Any ideas?

WSJ: “When young men snap”

May 26, 2022

The recurring cause of mass shootings.
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Earlier this week, I posed the question: How much stress can Americans endure before cracking?

My central thesis: My point: Escalating stress levels are evident … and spreading like wildfire across geographies, demographics, and age groups.

I ended by asking: Where’s the breaking point — individually and collectively? … and, What will “the great break” look like?

Mine was a cosmic-level question.

Then came the tragedy at Robb Elementary School which made the question very real, and very specific.

Dem politicos immediately seized the opportunity to call for stricter gun control laws.

GOP politicos called for more police and “hardening” school access.

IMHO, the WSJ hit the nail on the head in their editorial Young Men, Guns and Guardrails which argued, in part:

The problem of how to stop mass shootings by disturbed young men is one of the hardest in a democratic society.

Stopping mass shooters like the one in Uvalde, Texas, will be harder than passing a law.

The societal challenge is anticipating when a young man — and it is nearly always a young man — will snap.

Today’s young killers … are typically from middle-class families.

They  with access to smartphones and X-boxes.

Their deficit is social and spiritual.

The rise of family dysfunction and the decline of mediating institutions such as churches and social clubs have consequences.

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My take:

Two of the most disparaged social institutions in America these days are religion , which provides a moral compass …  and the nuclear family, which traditionally provided youngsters with nurturing, moral support and a grounding in right and wrong.

Now, actualizing the mantra that Hillary Clinton coined that “It takes a village”, there’s a reliance on “the  village” … an amorphous array of institutions, individuals and values that muddles mores and liberate parents from their  responsibilities.

When “right & wrong” are muddled, there is no moral clarity.

When  “the village” is responsible, nobody is responsible.

And, when “the village” fails us, we’re screwed.

And, we wonder why things are going haywire…

Biden promises “an incredible transition” from fossil fuels…

May 25, 2022

Translation: Suck it up and pay at the pumps.
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Let’s go to the verbatim:

When it comes to the gas prices, we’re going through an incredible transition that is taking place that, God willing, when it’s over, we’ll be stronger and the world will be stronger and less reliant on fossil fuels when this is over.

Here’s the video:

image

Gotta love it when Biden goes off the teleprompter and blurts the truth.

> What most people surmised: not only does he not care about the spike in energy costs, his handlers have convinced him that it’s a good thing since it’ll force people to buy $60k EVs, ride “safe” subways, and lace-up their walking shoes.

> The cost is certain and immediate — especially to lower and middle-class Americans — and the hypothetical benefits are disputable and, at best, decades off.

See 16 Reasons why I’m lukewarm on climate change … and Greater threat to the planet: Putin or climate change?

> But, it’s worth the certain pain since “we’ll be stronger and less reliant on fossil fuels when this is over.”

> Biden’s caveat: “GOD WILLING”

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That makes me feel a lot better, Joe.

How much stress can Americans endure before cracking?

May 23, 2022

Or, aggregating the question: How much stress can America endure?
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Recently, I’ve noticed a couple of trends.

Practically everybody I know has gotten sick in the past couple of months … some Covid, but mostly prolonged colds and intestinal “issues”.

And, everybody seems stressed out.

Think those 2 “indications” are related?

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Stress factors

Inflation is gnawing at everybody and forcing hard choices.

Every trip to the grocery store is what a friend euphemistically calls “an unfulfilling experience” … with noticeably higher prices (every week), smaller packages and empty shelves.

The gas price spike may be the straw that will break the economic camel’s back … with neon signs every couple of miles reminding people that prices are are out of control

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Housing costs

Next up will be housing costs.

Last week, I chatted up the Amazon Prime driver who was handing me a package.

He said he loves his job, loves living in the area …  but just had his rent bumped up to $3,800 a month.

That’s almost $50 grand a year, sports fans.

My bet: He’s not making much more than that driving the truck … if he’s even making that.

The driver frowned when I opined that the sky-rocketing real estate prices of the past few years still haven’t fully made their way thru the system … and higher interest rates will eventually be passed through to rental rates.

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Retirement nest eggs

For awhile, our retirement nest egg sheltered us a bit .. making all of the above inflation effects annoying, but not sleep shattering.

But, a 20% drop in the stock market has quickly deflated financial cushions and pushed a lot of retirees into the inflationary pool (cesspool?) with everybody else.

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Social pressures

Then there are the “social issues”.

Many people have residual Covid fears — still being stoked by Fauci & Friends — and have anxieties when going to sporting events, restaurants or even weddings & funerals.

Understandably, nobody seems eager to head into crime ridden urban centers for a night of entertainment.

The lockdowns took a toll.

Many (most? all?) companies are having a hard time coaxing employees back to the office (and getting productivity back on track).

Parents are legitimately concerned about their kids’ education.

As one soccer mom put it recently: “My daughter is dumber now than she was 2 years ago.”

Charge that to virtual schooling … and changed curricular emphases in the schools … less reading, writing and arithmetic … more “social awareness”.

A case on point…

From a trusted source: Girls at one local middle school try to avoid using the school’s (“girls”) restroom ever since a gender-fluid, biological male started using their facilities.

If they can’t “hold it”, they make restroom stops a group activity.

And on … and on … and on.
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My point: Escalating stress levels are evident … and spreading like wildfire across geographies, demographics, and age groups.

Where’s the breaking point — individually and collectively?

What will “the great break” look like?

Geez, it’s hard to be optimistic…

Musk tags Biden: “Anchorman”

May 19, 2022

It would be funny if it weren’t so true … and so sad.
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Remember when Trump tagged Jeb Bush as being “low energy”?

Those 2 words effectively ended Bush’s well-funded, well-staffed run for the presidency.

That gets us to Musk’s musings about Biden.

In less then a minute, Musk shredded Biden … saying out loud what we’ve all been thinking.

Referencing  the classic comedy “Anchorman”, Musk opined that the real president is whoever loads the teleprompter … in effect, labeling Biden as “Anchorman”.

Flashback: In “Anchorman”, Will Ferrell plays Ron Burgundy –  a buffoonish. clueless TV newsman — who simply reads whatever shows up on his teleprompter … with often shockingly  hilarious results.

Here’s the 1-minute clip … well worth watching.

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Musk’s shots-across-the-bow:

  • “It’s hard to tell what Biden is doing to be totally frank.”
  • “The real president is whoever controls the teleprompter. The path to power is the path to the teleprompter.”
  • “I do feel like if somebody were to accidentally lean on the teleprompter, it’s going to be like ‘Anchorman.’
  • “Biden is being held captive by the “Squad”, unions and trial lawyers — unlike Barack Obama, who was quite reasonable”
  • “The Trump administration, leaving Trump aside, there were a lot of people in his administration who were effective at getting things done.”
  • Biden’s administration, doesn’t seem to get a lot done. It doesn’t seem to have the drive to just get stuff done. That’s my impression.”

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Musk’s observations are an “Emperor’s new clothes” moment.

Next time you see Biden at a podium or on the fake oval office set, just think of Ron Burgundy.

Then, things will make a lot more sense.

Elon may have rung a bell that can’t be unrung…

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Again, the 1-minute clip is well worth watching.

Biden: “Don’t blame me, blame the Pandemic and Putin”

May 18, 2022

“And, by the way, it’s a global problem, not just a U.S. problem.”
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In a prior post, we channeled an analysis done by the the San Francisco Fed (FRBSF) that concluded:

In 2021, a relatively “normal” level of inflation (around 2%) was evident   in the major OECD countries — Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the UK, but…

During the same period, inflation was more rampant in the U.S.  Specifically:

During the 1st 3 quarters of 2021, U.S. core CPI grew from below 2% to 4.7%.

In contrast, the OECD average increased at a more gradual rate from around 1% to 2.2% (over the same period).

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That clever analysis by the FRBSF demonstrates that:

In the 1st 3 quarters of 2021, about 80% of the U.S. core inflation rate increase is statistically attributable to factors specific to the U.S. That is, only about 20% is attributable to globally common pandemic effects.

We ended the prior post with a question…

So, what are those specific factors?

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Well, the FRBSF analysts took a statistical whack at that question, too.

Their underlying analytical logic focused on fiscal stimulus programs in the U.S. and the OECD countries:

One way to get a read on this tangle of support programs is to directly measure disposable personal income in each country.

This measures the amount individuals have left to spend or save after paying taxes and receiving government transfer payments.

It is a relatively comparable measure across countries that incorporates the overall magnitude of net pandemic transfers

And, the answer is…

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Real disposable personal income for the OECD countries increased only moderately during the pandemic (2020 & 2021).

But, there are 2 obvious spikes in the amount of disposable income that Americans “enjoyed” during that same period:

Specifically, the two peaks in U.S. disposable personal income reflect the CARES Act, signed into law (by President Trump) on March 27, 2020 … and the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act, signed (by Biden) in March 2021.

Both Acts resulted in an unprecedented injection of direct assistance with a relatively short duration.

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OK, let’s overlay the above 2 charts…

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The visually obvious conclusions that can be drawn:

1. The Trump era stimulus (CARES Act) appears to have been absorbed by the economy … with transfer payments (e.g. stimulus checks) largely offsetting lost wages … hence little impact on inflation in 2020.

2. But, the Biden ARP stimulus (passed with no GOP votes) appears to have literally broken the inflationary camel’s back … by infusing an unnecessary (and excessive) level transfer payments in the U.S. economic system … igniting a rampant surge in inflation (that was not comparably realized in OECD countries).

And, keep in mind, that this analysis was pre-Putin’s Ukraine invasion.

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Bottom line: Sorry, Joe …  your excessive stimulus program — coupled with your war on domestic oil & gas production — account for the lion’s share of our current inflation woes.

Man-up and fix the problem!

Biden: “Inflation is a global problem!”

May 16, 2022

“Don’t blame me, blame the Pandemic and Putin”
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OK, I paraphrased the 2nd quote a bit, but that’s the gist of his inflation speech last week.

Today, let’s look at the Biden’s lead assertion … that inflation isn’t isolated to the U.S. … it’s a worldwide problem.

He implies — and sometimes says — that’s proof positive that his policies have nothing to do with the problem.

Really?

True, inflation is evident in the major OECD countries — Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the UK — but there’s a “but” … and it’s a big “but”.

The economic research group at the San Francisco Fed (FRBSF) recently published an analysis that concluded:

Before the pandemic, U.S. core CPI inflation remained, on average, about 1 percentage point above the OECD sample average.

Early in 2021, however, U.S. inflation increasingly diverged from the other countries.

U.S. core CPI grew from below 2% to  4.7% (in Q3, 2021).

In contrast, the OECD average increased at a more gradual rate from around 1% to 2.2% (over the same period).

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First, a couple of technical points:

  • For data comparability, the FRBSF analysis focuses on the core CPIwhich excludes energy and food.
  • Restricted by the timing of data availability, the FRBSF analysis only runs through the 3rd quarter of 2021 … all before Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
  • Since 2021-Q3, the year-over-year core CPI has increased from 4.7% to 6.2% … and, including food & energy, the year-over-year inflation number is over 8%

Those points notwithstanding, the FRBSF analysis is quite revealing.

  • During 2019, pre-pandemic, the core inflation rate hovered around 2% in the U.S.
  • In 2020,  the U.S. core inflation rate actually dropped to about 1.5% … lower than the pre-pandemic rate.
  • Post-Biden’s inauguration in early 2021, the U.S. core inflation rate increased from 1.5% to 4.7% in Q3, 2021 … an increase of 3.2 percentage points.
  • During that same period, the average OECD core inflation rate increased from 1.5% to 2.2% … an increase of .7 of a percentage point.

Bottom line: Given a U.S. core inflation rate of 4.7% … and using the 2.2% OECD average as a baseline for “global inflation” …  only about 20% of the U.S. core inflation rate increase since early 2021 is statistically attributable to common global inflation pressures (.7 percentage points divided by 3.2 percentage points equals 21.8%).

Said differently, about 80% of the U.S. core inflation rate increase since early 2021 is statistically attributable to factors specific to the U.S.

Sorry, Joe.

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Next up: So, what are those specific factors?

Biden: Greatest job creator … blah, blah, blah.

May 12, 2022

Here’s a handy de-coding chart for you…
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Below is the Fed chart of total non-farm employment going back to the start of the Trump administration … with a couple of defining milestones.

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click chart to enlarge

(A) Employment was 143.2 million when Trump took office.

(B) Prior to the Covid lockdowns, total employment reached 152.5 million … an increase of 9.3 million

(C) The Covid lockdown cut employment by 22 million … down to 130.5 million

(D) In the  final year of the Trump administration, about 12 million jobs were regained … pushing employment back up to 142.5 million (which was 700k lower than when Trump took office)

(E) Currently — after a about a year of Biden — employment is at 151.3 million … up 8.8 million since his inauguration ,,, but still 1.2 million lower than the pre-Covid level

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My take

(1) Seems reasonable to credit Trump with about 9 million jobs created during the “normal” period preceding the Covid pandemic.

(2) Less reasonable to tag Trump with “causing” the destruction of 22 million jobs during the Covid pandemic … true, he OK’ed the lockdowns … but, reasonable to argue that the job losses were transitory, i.e. regainable once the pandemic passed.

(3) To that last point, during Trump’s last year, about 12 million of the Covid-related job losses were regained (i.e. not “created”)

(4) Since Biden’s inauguration, another 8.8 million jobs were regained from the Covid drop … pushing employment up to 151.3 million … still more than 1 million shy of the the nation’s pre-Covid employment level.

So, is Biden — as he claims —  the greatest job creation president ever?

Those are the numbers … draw your own conclusion.

Pew: 38% believe that “human life” begins at conception…

May 10, 2022

… and thus, they believe that a fetus is a person with rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
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Some interesting survey data from Pew

Let’s start with the overall context.

Should abortion be legal in all or most cases?

While there has been a recent upward trend in the percentage of Americans who think that abortion should be legal in all cases, the current percentage is now the same as it was 25 years ago.

image

Similarly, the current percentage of Americans who think that abortion should be illegal in all cases is now the same as it was 25 years ago.

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Does human life begin at conception?

Probably not coincidental to the above findings, the “illegal in all cases” percentage is practically identical to the overall percentage of Americans who believe that “human life begins at conception, so a fetus is a person that has human rights” to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

image

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The question of when human life begins is central to the abortion debate.

Of the 44% of Republicans who do not think that life begins at conception (100% minus 56%), 86% agree that abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

Among Democrats, 77% do not think that life begins at conception …. 80% think that abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

Hmm.

It’s likely that the 20% of Dems who do not think that abortion should be legal in all cases are those in the 23% who think that life begins at conception.

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Note that the percentage of Democrats thinking that abortion should be legal in all cases has trended upward in the past 15 years … the percentage of Republicans thinking that abortion should be legal in all or most cases has stayed constant over the same period.

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What about mother’s health and rape cases?

While percentages are higher among Democrats, a majority in both political parties agree that abortion should be legal when a mother’s health is threatened … and in rape cases.

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Note: There are varied interpretations of “threatens the woman’s health” … ranging from serious disability or death … to minor depression or lifestyle changes.

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What about unhealthy babies?

A slim majority thinks that abortion should be legal in all cases when the baby is likely to be born with severe disabilities or health problems … an additional 25% thinks that “it depends” … only 1 in 5 firmly rule it out.

image

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Bottom line

The question of when life begins is central to where people stand on the abortion issue.

Reminder: Hillary Clinton, in a classic Freudian slip, acknowledged of “unborn persons deserving rights” … and President Biden, has recently referred to “unborn children”.

Draw your own conclusions…

Maher: “Ending Rowe v Wade won’t set the U.S. back 50 years.”

May 9, 2022

And, a few other shots across the narrative’s bow.
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On his show last week, Maher — a usually reliable darling of the left — opined:

Pro-choice protestors’ claim that ending Roe V. Wade would send U.S. abortion rights back 50 years is ‘factually inaccurate.’ 

The ruling is not ‘settled law’ and it would not have the drastic impact pro-choice defenders believe it would.

‘Most abortions now, even when you go to a clinic, are done with the pill’. 

The pill. And pills are easy to get in America.’

‘So, you know, for the people who say we’re going back to 1973, we’re not. That’s just factually inaccurate.’

More specifically, Maher confessed:

I learned things this week that are pretty basic things that I did not know about abortion.

Like in Europe, the modern countries of Europe — way more restrictive than we are or what they’re even proposing.

If you are pro-choice, you would like it a lot less in Germany and Italy and France and Spain and Switzerland.

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Here are the facts that support Maher’s claim:

14 weeks is the cut-off for “abortion on request” for practically all Europen0an countries.

Maher noted that the majority of the U.S. still has more abortion freedoms than a lot of countries in Europe, where they set a shorter time-frame on abortion limits
Source

Hmm.

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P.S. Maher also claimed that most pro-lifers are women.

Gallup’s numbers don’t support that claim:

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Gallup: 49% "pro-choice", 47% "pro-life"…

May 6, 2022

… with partisan and regional skews.
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Let’s stick with the numbers…

For the past 15 years or so, roughly an equal number of people have self-identified as “pro-choice or pro-life..

In its most recent polling, Gallup pegs the split at 49%  pro-choice, 47% pro-life … within the margin of polling error … and tracking with respondents’ views on “moral acceptability”.

image

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So what to do?

About 1 in 5 (19%) think that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances … that’s about 40% of the pro-lifers.

About 1 in 3 (32%) think that abortion should be legal in all circumstances … that’s about 60% of pro-choicers.

But, a near majority (48%) — made up of some pro-lifers and some pro-choicers — think that abortion should be legal “only under some circumstances (e.g. rape, incest, health of mother).

image

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Spinning the numbers

Both pro-lifers and pro-choicers try to lay claim to the 48% who think abortion should be legal in some cases.

Pro-lifers emphasize that roughly 2 in 3 80% (19% + 48%) favor restrictions on abortion.

Pro-choicers emphasize that 80% (32% + 48%) are in favor of allowing abortions … neglecting the part about some restrictions.

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The partisan divide

No surprise, abortion views vary by political identification.

About 3 in 4 Republicans (76%%) think that abortion is morally acceptable.

But, about 2 in 3 Democrats think that abortion is no harm, no foul.

And. of course, Independents are split down the middle with 51% thinking that abortion is morally acceptable.

image

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State to state

Gallup acknowledges that abortion views on morally acceptability and restrictions varies state-to-date … but doesn’t provide polling numbers.

Seems reasonable to expect that the bluest  West Coast and coastal Northeast states are pro-choice and favor fewer restrictions (if any).

And, it seems reasonable to expect that the redest Heartland and Bible Belt states lean pro-life … and favor restrictions (some total).

So, the question boils down to: Is either group entitled to force its views and laws onto the other group.

Good luck forging a consensus on that question…

Irony: Abortion debate heats up right before Mother’s Day…

May 4, 2022

That’s among many head-scratchers…
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Listening to pundits on both sides of the abortion issue following the the leaked Supreme Court document, I’ve been struck by a couple of head-scratchers.

Let’s start with…

> “Happy Mother’s Day” … surely, the timing was motivated by politics but, coincidentally, it hit in the week running up to Mother’s Day.

Really?

BTW: To be politically correct, should we be saying “Birthing People’s Day”?

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> Women’s Rights … We’re in a new age of gender ambiguity and fluidity … with a SCOTUS appointee saying that one need be a biologist to to define “woman”.

If we can’t pin down “woman”, how there be “women’s rights?”.

Shouldn’t it “people’s rights”?

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> “My body, my choice” …. that is, unless you’re talking about vaccine mandates.

Strikes me that many in the pro-choice contingent were among the most ardent supporters of vax mandates.

Hmm

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> “An unborn child” … In his extemporaneous reaction to the leaked document, President Biden remarked about decisions “to abort a child”.

Oops.

The media is just playing the comment to be another case of Biden’s sloppy tongue (and thinking).

Apparently, they forget that in 2016, addressing the abortion issue, Hillary Clinton declared that “the unborn person doesn’t have constitutional rights” — like the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of justice. Source: NYT

Did she say “person’?

I see a pattern here…

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> “Rule of Law” … When protesters breached the Congressional Halls on January 6, it was broadly and understandably condemned by most people as violating the Constitution and “rule of law”

But, when a leaker violates the SCOTUS process — trying to “motivate the base” and intimidate  Justices before a final vote — it’s a case of ends justifying means.

Situational ethics?

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> Misinformation… For the past week, the chatter has been about the need for a Federal “Misinformation Panel”.

Hmm.

The leaked SCOTUS opinion draft clearly states that the proposed ruling does not “make abortion illegal”. It simply relegates abortion decisions to the states.

And, it makes clear that abortion is fundamentally unique issue in that  “abortion destroys . . . potential life”.

So what?

Other issues — such as the right to interracial marriage, the right to obtain contraceptives, the right to engage in private, consensual sexual acts, and the right to same-sex marriage — do not “involve the critical moral question posed by abortion.”

Therefore, the draft abortion ruling would not apply to or set precedent for the other flashpoint issues.  Source

Of course, that hasn’t stopped Pelosi, Schumer, et. al., from hitting the air waves bellowing that the proposed ruling would jeopardize those other issues.

Misinformation?

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I could go on, but this is making me dizzy…

Fail: Getting reimbursed for Covid in-home test kits…

May 2, 2022

But President Biden promised…
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Flashback to January when Covid was running rampant.

Belatedly (as usual), President Biden announced a 2-pronged “bold” program to get “free” Covid testing kits into the homes of all Americans.

Prong #1: Distribute 500 million testing kits via the USPS.

Prong #2: Require all insurance companies to reimburse for kits purchased at retail.

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We previously posted about #1 — the “free” test kits that Joe was going to send right to my mailbox.

For the gory details, see:

Here comes the USPS … with 500 million free test kits

Hey Joe, Where are my test kits?

Joe says my free test kits are in the mail…

In a nutshell…

At the time time of Joe’s announcement (mid- January), nasty cold & flu symptoms were hitting my family. We wanted to test for Covid but didn’t want to stand in a line with other potentially contagious people.

On the first possible day (Jan.18), I ordered our gov’t supplied test kits … promised delivery in 7 to 10 days.

They finally arrived in mid-February, long after our family symptoms had passed …and as the Covid rampage was starting to wane.

But…

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Being a belt & suspenders kinda guy,  I backstopped Joe’s mail program with prong #2 and bought some test kits at Costco … expecting, since Joe promised, that I’d be reimbursed by one of my 3 health insurers (Medicare, Blue Cross & Shield, UHC – Rx).

The good news: the Costco supplied test kits arrived in the mail a day or 2 later.

The rest of the program (the reimbursement part) was, as I largely expected, a complete train wreck.

Let me explain…

Read the rest of this entry »

Memo to Netflix: Password-sharing is a symptom, not the disease.

April 28, 2022

Like cable, you’ve got lots of listings, but relatively few that are worth paying for.
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Last week, Netflix announced that it, in its last quarter, lost 200,000 subscribers when analysts were expecting a gain of more than 2.5 million users.

Whoa, Nellie.

That’s a “statistically significant” miss for sure … not a smaller than expected gain, a loss!

And, the company gloomed that it will lose another 2 million in its current quarter.

Understandably, “the market” was “disappointed” and immediately shaved a cool 1/3 off the Netflix market cap.

image

Hate to pile on, but that’s on top off a prior (and bigger) 1/3 drop earlier in the year.

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So, what’s the problem?

NFLX management chalks it up to to password-sharing … to many freeloaders who aren’t paying for the value that they’re getting from the NFLX “product”.

I beg to differ.

I think NFLX has an inflated view of how much continuing value it delivers … and, even if that’s not true, it’s value is eroding by the day.

Let me explain.

Read the rest of this entry »

For Elon, now comes the hard part.

April 26, 2022

Will his noble intentions get “trumped”?
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Last week, we asked the question: Will Elon be the dog that caught the bus?

We opined that — of the key assets that Musk is buying — all are a bit problematic.

  • The brand name is polarizing and arguably passé
  • The subscriber base is largely populated by left-leaning media and politicos …  and woke, pro-censorship loyalists who are likely to defect from an open information platform.
  • Ditto for advertisers, many (most?) of which are likely to “go Disney” and run for the hills rather than risk being outed as inadequately woke … or worse than that, being taint-branded as supporting free speech.
  • The hardware infrastructure — computers and communications network — are in place and operation .. but replicable.
  • The softwarethink: message transmission and control algorithms — are up & running … and being managed.
  • The human assets — proficient and mission-dedicated — are the biggest question marks given their zeal for progressive politics and “moderated discourse”

That gets us to Musk’s biggest challenge: Getting the organization aligned with his “open forum” vision … and, operating for (not against) Musk’s goals.

Consider an analogy: Trump’s efforts to mobilize the Federal government to his America First agenda.

Please, let’s stipulate to, but put aside, Trump’s personality issues and focus on his policies.

Trump was actively sabotaged by the enforcement agencies — think: “Intelligence Community”, FBI, IRS — and slow-rolled by the career bureaucrats who make “the system” work (or, not work depending on your perspective).

Remember Chuckie Schumer’s admonition to Trump:

“Let me tell you, you take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you.” Source

It’s easy to imagine Musk running into similar roadblocks as he tries to shift Twitter 180 degrees from politically moderated  discourse  to an open forum of alternative views.

Twitter has about 7,000 employees that will need to buy into Musk’s vision.

That’s a reach given their numbers, their technical expertise, their access to the algorithms … and, oh yeah, their deeply embedded political leanings.

Getting them on board (or replaced) will be a monumental organizational transformation.

The good news: If anybody can do it, it’s probably Musk.

Go get ‘em, Elon.

What goes around, comes around…

April 25, 2022

The crash & burn of CNN+
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Just in case you missed it…

CNN announced last week:

“CNN+, the streaming service that was hyped as one of the most significant developments in the history of CNN, will shut down on April 30, just one month after it launched.”

A couple of twists to the story…

It’s reported that a former employer of mine, McKinsey, strategy study for CNN.

Specifically, it’s reported that McKinsey forecast that CNN+ would attract 2 million subscribers within 2 years … and 4 million by 2026 when the streamer had its mojo working at full speed.

That forecast struck many pundits as “rosy” since CNN currently gets less than 1 million viewers … free in cable bundles.

The rapid crash & burn is epic.  It’ll be an oft-taught case in b-schools.

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To put things in perspective…

A (former) CNN+ producer preemptively chastised prospective gloaters …

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Ms. Smith was promptly taken to the hoop by SD Gov. Kristi Noem:

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Check and mate!

So you don’t cry too many tears for the CNN+ employees, rest assured that they’ll be getting severance packages that make Biden’s Build Back Better scheme look frugal.

According to CNN:

All CNN+ employees will continue to be paid and receive benefits for the next 90 days to explore opportunities at CNN, CNN Digital and elsewhere in the Warner Bros. Discovery family.

Staffers who aren’t absorbed elsewhere in the company will receive a minimum of six months of severance.

In other words: 21 months pay for 12 month’s works.

In comparison, most of the Keystone workers were sub-contractors who got diddly-squat when Biden abruptly shut down the project.

There’s no record of Ms. Smith tweeting that folks should show compassion for the Keystone workers…

Will Elon be the dog that caught the bus?

April 21, 2022

Good intentions, but what exactly is he buying … and what are chances for success?
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These are the questions that I’d usually pose to my MBA students when we were doing an M&A case in class.

Let’s apply them to Elon Musk’s bid for Twitter.

So far, most the reaction to Musk’s bid for Twitter has been at the philosophical / political level: Will his purchase open the town square for open information exchange … or, open the floodgates for existence-threatening “misinformation”.

I buy that Musk’s goal of open discourse is on the up-and-up, so I’m all for his acquisition.

That said, my questions are at more tactical level:

> What exactly is he buying?

> What are his chances of success if he gets “it”?

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On the first question, the simplistic answer is that he’d be buying control of  “an up and running communications platform”.

OK, but let’s dissect that a bit.

What are the key component parts?

  1. A well recognized, valuable brand name?
  2. An established base of subscribers and advertisers?
  3. An in-place infrastructure of  hardware, software and people?

Which of the above offer enough enough value to justify a $43 billion outlay?

Let’s take them one at a time from a Musk perspective…

Read the rest of this entry »

Manchin for President?

April 20, 2022

Conspiracy scenarios to shelve Sleepy Joe.
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This headline caught my eye:

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According to CNBC:

A group of his bipartisan donors have privately said they hope Manchin changes parties and runs for president as a Republican against Biden in 2024.

Some of the donors, who once supported Trump, look at Manchin and his stances against some of his party’s policies as someone who could successfully run in a Republican primary and then possibly defeat Biden.

Hmm.

A couple hurdles: (1) Winning the GOP primary (against, say, Trump or DeSantis) and (2) Facing a more formidable Dem candidate than Old Joe if he was the GOP candidate (though I can’t think of one off the top-of-my mind).

OK, scratch that idea.

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Here’s a quicker path to the Presidency for Manchin:

1. GOP takes the House and Senate in November.

2. Dems throw Harris under the bus … She graciously resigns as VP and takes a cushy position as Ambassador to Slobovia (Note: Would have to promise her that she wouldn’t have to really go there or do any work) … or give her a lifetime appointment as a Federal judge in California (Note: Try to contain the damage there).

3. Biden’s puppeteers cajole him to nominate Manchin to replace Harris as VP … GOP majority Congress approves the pick.

4. Biden gets slapped with the 25th Amendment (Note: odds are good that he wouldn’t have seen that coming in the prior steps)

5. Senator Manchin becomes President Manchin.

6. President Manchin nominates another moderate Dem (again, I can’t think of one off the top of my head) to re-fill his vacated VP slot.

7. Manchin runs against DeSantis in 2024 … best candidate wins.

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OK, there’s no chance of either scenario materializing … but, you gotta give me credit for creativity and admit that it would be fun to watch.

WSJ: The global elite has an unhealthy obsession with climate change.

April 18, 2022

And, the “fixation” has consequences.
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For a long time, I’ve been lukewarm on the climate control hysteria … and recently, I’ve argued that Putin’s nukes pose a more likely (and timely) existential risk than climate change

See: 16 Reasons why I’m lukewarm on climate change and Greater threat to the planet: Putin or climate change?

On cue, the WSJ published a great minds, same track opinion piece:

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Russia’s invasion should be a wake-up call that war is still a serious danger that requires democratic nations’ attention.

Nuclear weapons — not climate change — are posing the biggest risk of literal mutually assured destruction in half a century.

More broadly they opine:

There are many serious threats in the world today.

But most won’t get the attention they deserve until the political classes drop their hyperbole about climate change

It should be treated like what it actually is — only one of the many problems to be solved in the 21st century.

in the world’s poorest countries, the international community’s focus on putting up solar panels coexists with a woeful underinvestment in solutions to massive existing problems.

Beyond the nuclear geopolitical threats are infectious diseases like tuberculosis and malaria that kill millions; malnutrition that afflicts almost a billion people; and more than three billion lack access to any form of reliable energy.

Couldn’t have said it better…

Barely noticed: COVID deaths pass the 1 million mark in U.S.

April 18, 2022

The good news: Daily deaths down to historic flu levels.
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Everybody has covid fatigue and wants to get on with getting on … Inflation, Ukraine, border crisis, and Hunter’s laptop have been stealing the headlines … finally, Fauci seems to be less omnipresent on TV … so it’s understandable if you didn’t notice that U.S. covid-related deaths passed the tragic  1 million milestone in late March.

image

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From the get-go, I’ve argued that we should all stay focused on the number of Daily New Deaths as the key Covid metric.

See: How will we know when we’ve turned a COVID-19 corner?

So how are we doing on that measure?

For reference, a high flu season averages about 500 deaths per day during the roughly 4 month flu season.

We’re now running at a rate of about 400 daily Covid-related deaths … in line with historic flu death rates.

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My take: We’ve passed a tragic milestone … and while any deaths are too many … we can finally breathe a little easier.

Biden: “Reduced the ruble to rubble”

April 15, 2022

Shades of Bush’s “Mission Accomplished”
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After imposing supposedly draconian sanctions, Biden claimed a quick victory when the the Russian ruble tanked in the financial markets.

Perhaps, a premature end zone dance by the “Big Man”.

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True, immediately after the initial round of sanctions were announced, the ruble — which was trading around 80 rubles per dollar — devalued it to about 150 rubles per dollar.

Example: Before the sanctions, purchasing $100 of dollar-denominated goods would have cost a Russian 80 rubles … soon after the sanctions were announced, those same goods would cost 150 rubles.

Yep, started to look like rubble.

But, not so fast…

After about a month, the ruble is right back where it was pre-sanctions — trading at about 80 rubles per dollar.

How can that be?

Couple of reasons offered up by pundits:

  • Many of the sanctions were announced but haven’t been activated
  • Some large countries aren’t on the sanctions’ bandwagon … think China and India.
  • Putin has gone big time on currency manipulation … e.g. boosting interest rates, restricting bank withdrawals, and…
  • Requiring that oil and gas sales be transacted in rubles

The last point is particularly problematic since countries that are dependent on Russia for oil and gas … are still buying oil and gas from Russia at historically high rates.

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A couple of teaching points:

> Until the U.S. re-ramps domestic oil & gas production — to satisfy domestic & foreign demand — the bad guys will continue to rake in the dollars (err, rubles)

> Putin may be crazy … is certainly evil and ruthless … but he’s not stupid … so he shouldn’t be under-estimated … on the battlefield and in the financial markets.

 

 

Biden channels Meatloaf (again)…

April 14, 2022

He did it again in this week’s Iowa speech

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Shades of the late, great Meatloaf…

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Everybody remembers the Meatloaf classic, right?

The tease:” I would do anything for love”

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

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

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click to listen

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

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

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

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

Anything” in Biden-speak includes plays at the margin like temporarily waiving the 18.4 cents per gallon Federal gas tax, releasing some of the strategic oil reserves and diluting gas with corn mash (aka ethanol).

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…

One chart debunks the “Putin Price Hike” malarkey…

April 13, 2022

Biden is still refusing blame and stiff-arming meaningful corrective actions.
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Yesterday, Biden was in Iowa touting his many accomplishments (huh?) and channeling Bart Simpson to explain inflation. Transcript

  • It’s not my fault … blame Putin
  • I’m doing everything I can to stop it
  • Adding more corn mash to gasoline
  • I’m not joking …

Regarding the “Putin Price Hike”, apparently Biden’s team of crack economic advisers havn’t shown him this chart:

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In the run-up to Joe’s inauguration (i.e. during Trump’s reign), year-over-year inflation was running at or below 1.5%

On inauguration day (January 20, 2021), Biden signed an Executive Order stopping construction of the Keystone XL pipeline … and, in effect, declaring war on the U.S. oil & gas industry.

On March 11, 2021, Biden signed the Democrats-only $1.9 trillion spending bill.

Between inauguration day and unleashing the $1.9 trillion. the inflation rate more than doubled … from 1.5% to 3.5%.

As Joe would say: ”No joke .. I’m not kidding”.

From the passage of the $1.9 trillion until Putin invaded Ukraine (February 24, 2022), the inflation rate more than doubled again … from 3.5% to 8%.

That means that from inauguration day until Putin’s invasion, the inflation rate increased more than 5-fold … from 1.5% to 8%.

Since Putin’s invasion, the inflation rate increased from 8% to 8.5% … that .5 percentage point translates to about a 6% increase in the inflation rate.

Bottom line: Doing some simple math (i.e. not complicating things with compounding and carryover effects), of the 7% increase in the inflation rate since inauguration day (1.5% to 8.5%), Biden gets over 90% of the blame and Putin gets less than 10%.

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Not even the birds that were flying around in the barn where Biden gave his speech bought into his malarkey.

As he was reading from the teleprompter — in a perfect metaphor — a bird literally called BS on him (where the B stands for “bird”, not “bull”).

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click to view the video clip

Some critics have opined that Biden’s presidency is “for the birds” .

Apparently, birds take offense at that notion.

Oh no, not more ethanol…

April 12, 2022

Biden’s energy solutions go from dumb to dumber.
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OK, I’ve got a personal ax to grind in this one.

Instead of encouraging a restoration of U.S. based oil & gas production, Biden has decided to “temporarily” increase the allowable ethanol content in gasoline from 10% to 15%.

Note: “Temporarily” is a synonym for “transient” … as in “transient inflation”.

Ostensibly, the move is intended to stretch U.S. oil supplies by, in effect, diluting the oil content in gas … as a means of curbing inflation at the pumps.

Oil industry execs oppose the move, arguing that it will shave, at most, one thin dime off a gallon of gas … and may have a net zero effect since gas refiners will incur higher costs shifting over to the 15% mix.

Greenies oppose the move since vehicle smog emissions increase as more ethanol is added to the gas blend.

Legal eagles point out that “A three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has already ruled that the EPA had improperly reinterpreted legal language in the Clean Air Act long understood as limiting ethanol to 10% of the content of gasoline.” Source

But, Biden administration lawyers say that Biden’s decision is based on a “different authority”.

You know, that wormy “We’ll do as we please with executive orders … and you can try to stop us.”

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And, what’s my beef?

Anybody with a car, a lawn mower or a boat knows that that ethanol literally gums up engines … hurting engine performance and often damaging engines.

I know that firsthand … having spent mucho buckos to “remediate” the ethanol effects on my boat’s engine.

The latter is a well known, wide spread and costly problem as evidenced by the springing up of ethanol-free gas pumps at marinas.

In effect, Biden’s move shift costs from the pumps to repair shops.

That said, I expect Psaki to throw shade for Biden with a variant of her “Boo-hoo your Peloton is trapped in the supply chain” wise crack.

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P.S. Corn farmers love the move to increase the ethanol content in gas.

Why?

It increases the demand for and price of corn.

In economics, it’s called “trading nickels”.

In strategic analysis, it’s called “going for the capillaries instead of the jugular.”

WaPo perplexed by Hunter Biden cover-up … say, what?

April 6, 2022

Paper mulls: Why was the Hunter Biden story buried in the run-up to the 2020 election?
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Duh!

Let’s recap the story…

In October 2020 (i.e. a month before the election), the NY Post broke a story that a laptop belonging to Hunter Biden had surfaced which contained emails and other documentation that Hunter had “earned” millions of dollars by trading on his father’s name and political clout … with the Ukrainians and Chinese.

The story was conveniently ignored or dismissed by Biden-supporting media (i.e. all but the NY Post and Fox) as “Russian misinformation”.

A couple dozen “intelligence officials”  lent credence to the disinformation claim in an open letter …   though many of them admitted they had no evidence of Russian involvement.

So, the story was effectively blacked out … Twitter banned the NY Post and squashed posts that referenced the laptop story … Facebook’s algorithms buried the story.

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But, last month — a year and a half after the NYP’s story broke — the New York Times published an article indicating that they had confirmed that the laptop story was essentially true … and that there was hard evidence that Hunter had been profiting by trading on his father’s position as then-VP.

Holy Smokes, Batman … America’s self-proclaimed newspaper of record says there’s fire under the smoke.

Following the Times’ authentication, the Washington Post apparently felt some need to dig into the story and “discovered” evidence of Hunter’s misdeeds.

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Apparently, those revelations stirred some ethical angst at WaPo … whose editors wrote a mea culpa of sorts:

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A “reckoning”?

The editorial fessed that the essence of the laptop story was true … but, it threw shade, arguing that Joe was oblivious to Hunter’s alleged misdeeds … and, articulated a journalistic dilemma:

The lesson learned from 2016 was evidently to err on the side of setting aside questionable material in the heat of a political campaign.

The lesson learned from 2020 may well be that there’s also a danger of suppressing accurate and relevant stories.

Who could have ever imagined that suppressing accurate and relevant stories might pose a danger?

What kind of danger?

Tilting an election to the media’s candidate of choice? Away from a candidate that they loathed?

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For the record

After the election, Democrats who voted for Biden were polled.

> More than 1/3 (36%) said that they didn’t know about the Hunter laptop and his influence peddling

> Of the “know nothings” about 1 in 8 (12.7%) said that they “would not have voted for Joe Biden had they known this story”.

> Doing the math, that means that 4.6% of all Democrats wouldn’t have voted for Biden if  they were aware of the story

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Remind me: What was Biden’s margin of victory in Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin?

And WaPo — channeling George Costanza — asks: Was it wrong to to bury a story that might have turned an election?

Fail: Obama visits White House to prop Joe…

April 6, 2022

Plan backfires (badly) and cues up the 25th Amendment.
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Yesterday, former President Obama made a triumphant return to the White House … ostensibly to tout ObamaCare … and to boost Biden’s cred and tanking approval numbers.

But, instead of boosting Biden through association, Obama — by just being himself — provided a sharp contrast between an energetic, charismatic, competent leader and, well, Joe Biden.

Here’s a 1-minute video clip the captures the moment.

Warning: Images may be disturbing to some viewers

If ever there was video evidence for the 25th Amendment …

But wait a minute.

Forgot that Joe’s got an insurance policy:

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P.S. Mark yesterday’s date on your calendars as the date that, for all practical purposes, Biden’s presidency ended.

Bloomberg: Biden’s SPR move may be less than it seems … and risky!

April 4, 2022

SPR: Strategic Petroleum Reserve
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I had an interesting experience at the Costco gas pumps on Friday …

Note: I always try to fill-up at Costco since their prices tend to be at least a half-a-buck per gallon cheaper than other local stations.

The guy in the pump next to me — dressed in camo-accented working duds, filling his MAGA-stickered pick-up truck — says to me: “Finally, Biden has done something right.”

I say; “What’s that?”

He says; “Releasing oil from the reserves.”

I say: “Won’t help much.”

He says: “At least it’s something.”

Score one for Joe.

We quick-fill and get on with our days.

The convo prompted me to do some digging…

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First, it helps to put the numbers in perspective…

Biden authorized the release of 1 million barrels per day (BPD) for 180 days.

Total: 180 million barrels of oil coming out of the U.S. SPR.

Is that a little or a lot?

We Americans consume about 20 million barrels of oil per day … so, it’s about a 9-day supply of oil.

Worldwide, oil consumption is just under 100 million barrels per day … so, a million BPD potentially increases the global supply of oil by 1%.

The Strategic Petroleum Reserve — which was conceived in 1975 after the infamously disruptive Arab oil embargo — has a capacity to hold about 725 million barrels of oil.

It’s designed to protect the U.S. energy needs if foreign nasties cut-off our dependent supplies.

From 2000 to 2020, the SPR was essential full to it’s practical capacity … hovering between 600 and 700 million barrels.

Note: It’s not clear to me why the level “hovered” instead of staying fixed near 700 million barrels.

Last fall (i.e pre-Ukraine), Biden released 50 million barrels from the SPR … drawing the inventory level down to about 550 million barrels.

OK, with that as background…

The one certainty is that the SPR will be drawn down to under 400 million barrels … about half of the previously defined “strategic need”.

That means that the tanks will eventually need to be re-filled — increasing future demand for oil … which will likely increase future oil prices during the replenishment period.

Hmm

Or, Team Biden can let the SPR linger with the tanks half-full and hope that there isn’t a catastrophic disruption to oil supplies.

Frame of reference: That would be kinda like allowing our strategic reserve of medical supplies and medicines dwindle and and hope that an epidemic doesn’t happen.

How did that work out?

Bottom line: Net long term effect is just a shifting of 180 million barrels of oil demand down-the-road.

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What about the near-term price effect?

Bloomberg points out that: SPR ”interventions have a spotty record. It’s as common for them to be followed by increases in prices as reductions.”

For example:

Even before Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine in late February, West Texas Intermediate crude increased 18% since Nov. 23, when 50 million barrels were released to calm oil markets.

How can that be?

Bloomberg’s simple answer: The SPR doesn’t produce any oil … it’s just an unusually large pile of inventory, and in commodity markets, shrinking inventories are almost always bullish for prices.

Ouch.

Plus, The Russian oil sanctions may eventually cut oil supply by a million barrels per day if they’re ever really enacted … or non-Russian oil suppliers (think OPEC) may just dial back their production to keep prices high.

Again, the certainty is that the SPR will be drawn down and need to eventually be replenished … the uncertainty is what will happen to gas prices at the pump.

Bloomberg’s conclusion:

The U.S.’s dominance of energy markets could be in jeopardy in a way it hasn’t been since the 1970s.

With Biden’s oil reserve weapon heading toward half-full levels, he risks looking like a naked emperor.

Whatever, I’ll still be pumping at Costco…

Quick: What percentage of the U.S. adult population is Black?

April 1, 2022

The question is a statistical one, not social, politcal or philosophical.
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Recently, YouGov asked people to guess the percentage of American adults who are “members of 43 different groups, including racial and religious groups, as well as other less frequently studied groups, such as pet owners and those who are left-handed”.

And the answer is…

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If you guessed that 40% of American adults are Black, then your answer is close to to poll’s average response (41%).

You’re with the herd, but…

Actually, Blacks are only 12% of the American adult population.

So much for the oft-touted “wisdom of crowds”.

And,  the estimates vary when the queried “crowd” is divided into racial groups:

  • Black Americans estimate that, on average, Black people make up a majority (52%) of the U.S. adult population
  • Non-Black Americans estimate the proportion to be roughly 39%, closer to the real figure of 12%, but still way off

Hmm.

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More generally, YouGov’s survey results conform to a common statistical finding that…

Americans generally over-estimate the size of minority groups and members of the minority groups tend to way overestimate the size of their group.

Conversely, Americans generally under-estimate the size of minority groups

Below are more results from  the YouGov Survey.

Note: A high estimate to actual ratio is an indication of the degree of over-estimation.   An E to A ratio under 1 indicates a case of over-estimation

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Still more: Is Europe toast?

March 30, 2022

WSJ: “If Mr. Biden and the Europeans don’t get Ukraine right, Europe’s future is finished.”
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Last week, we first posed the question: Is Europe toast?

We argued that Western Europe has dug itself two very deep holes by increasing its energy dependence on Russia … and by deprioritizing (and defunding) security & defense.

Neither of these holes are candidates for quick filling.

Over the weekend, following right on cue, the WSJ’s Dan Henninger opined:

If Mr. Biden and the Europeans don’t get Ukraine right, Europe’s future is finished.

Henninger provided the poignant historic backdrop:

World War II was fought largely because Europe was experiencing the indiscriminate murder of civilians under Nazi military doctrine.

Since coming out of the ruins in 1945, the collective European memory has sustained an aversion to allowing the reappearance of that horror on its soil.

But, it’s happening now, again.

(That horror) is being revived by Mr. Putin who is attempting the extermination of a people and the obliteration of their cities.

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The rub, as articulated decades ago by Donald Rumsfeld:

If you look at the entire NATO Europe today, the center of gravity is shifting to the east.

Specifically, according to Henninger, Rumsfeld was referring to  Poland and the Baltics (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), the NATO members that for years warned France and Germany — and U.S. presidents — that Mr. Putin’s Russia was a clear and present danger.

It’s apparent that for all practical purposes, that message has largely fallen on deaf ears.

“Old Europe” (Great Britain, Germany, France) was geographically buffered from Russia by, in Rumsfeld’s words, the Eastern flank (i.e. “New Europe”).

Falsely comfortable, Western Europe paid  “yeah, yeah, yeah” lip service to the threat  while refocusing its attention and resources on social spending and, more recently, climate control.

Now, as Obama’s spiritual advisor Rev. Wright would say: “The chickens are coming home to roost”.

If Ukraine falls to Putin, Poland’s geographic buffer is gone.

Then what?

Henninger poses the central immediate question:

What will old Europe do in the next four weeks, as Mr. Putin launches cruise missiles from Russian territory or the Black Sea into apartment buildings, schools and hospitals across Ukraine?

The still sleepy-eyed Western European nations seem comfortable that Putin’s invasion will fail in Ukraine … or, that Putin will simply stop at Ukraine’s borders … or that the U.S. will massively intervene to bail them out (for the third time in history).

In other words their strategy is to pass their tea, champagne or beer … and hope for the best.

Yipes.

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Flashback:

Remember when Saddam Hussein’s invaded Kuwait in August 1990

When George W. Bush mulled over whether to repel the Iraqi leader militarily or not, British PM Margaret Thatcher admonished Bush with the classic: “Remember, this is no time to go wobbly, George.”

Apparently, Boris Johnson, et. al., didn’t internalize the message.

This past weekend, British foreign minister Liz Truss said that Russian sanctions could be lifted if Russia withdraws from Ukraine and commits to end aggression there. Source

We’ll let you skate on unprovoked invasions, civilian carnage, and other war crimes.

If you just promise us that you won’t do it again, we’ll just turn the page and stay the course.

Very “Old Europe”, right?

Biden’s staff tries to keep him on message….

March 29, 2022

The tool of choice: “cheat sheets”.
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Let’s set the stage.

Yesterday, President Biden faced the press, trying to remediate the stir that he caused with his European trip ad libs: “Respond in kind” to chemical weapons; American soldiers “will see for yourself” when they go to Ukraine; “Putin must be removed from power”.

Over the weekend (e.g. on all the Sunday talk shows) Biden’s staff was hard at work “clarifying” his remarks (i.e. in DC parlance, “walking them back”).

Then, the handler’s decided to have the President put the punctuation marks on the walk backs at a controlled press conference.

From the get-go, things went off track

Biden opened by ad libbing; “I’m not walking anything back”.

Nonetheless, he tried to dutifully follow the script that the handlers gave him.

How do we know?

He got sloppy with his crib notes … and a press photographer snapped them for the public record.

imageimage

Couple of interesting aspects to this story…

> The bold print questions bear a remarkable similarity (i.e. practically verbatim) to the questions posed by the administration-friendly reporters who were called on.

> Even the sequence of the questions that reporters asked seemed to match-up with the cheat sheet.  Hmm.

> The crib sheet didn’t have minute details (like the population of Mariupol) …  they listed high level “talking points” that one might have expected an involved, alert person to easily recall from memory.

> There was a glaring mismatch between the scripted answers …  and Biden’s opening declaration of no walk-back.

That clearly violated the classic presentation mantra: Tell them what you’re going to tell them; tell them; tell them what you told them.

So, what we learned was that Biden either was or was not walking back his controversial remarks.

The only certain conclusion that one might draw was that Biden and his staff aren’t on the same page.

It wasn’t even clear that Joe knew that his staff was on the airwaves all weekend walking back his comments.

How could he not know that?

Makes one wonder who in the administration made the decision to deploy the staff to take to the air waves and walk back the statements?

Obviously, it wasn’t Biden.

So, who’s running the show?

Are Biden’s ad libs simply inconvenient truths?

March 28, 2022

“Not everything that is true needs to be spoken”
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During the Ukraine crisis, whenever he has gone off the teleprompter and spoken his mind, Biden has made reverberating headlines that his handlers have had to quickly (and forcefully) “clarify”.

First was his reference to “minor incursions” which was broadly interpreted as giving Putin a green light to invade Ukraine, provided that the invasion was contained to the east most Russian-speaking areas.

Then, over the weekend, he told American paratroopers stationed in Poland that they would see first-hand the physical destruction and human catastrophe in Ukraine “when they go there”… interpreted by some (many?) as an indication that U.S. “boots on the ground” in Ukraine was not off the table.

And, the coup de grâce: His teleprompter-be-damned declaration that “Putin must be removed from power” … widely taken as a thinly veiled threat of “regime change”.

So, what’s going on?

Are these simply misstatements … a lack of “message discipline” … or something deeper.

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My hunch: When speaking off-the-cuff, Biden is uttering stuff that he has heard or seen before (say, in his cabinet meetings) … and that he does genuinely believe.

On this weekend’s Sunday shows, the current Ambassador to NATO coined Biden’s statements to be “principled reactions”.

Said differently, I don’t think that he’s just making this stuff up.

That raises the question of message control.

Why can’t Biden stay between diplomatic guardrails and leave some things unsaid?

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I’ve got a couple of hypotheses…

Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor or psychologist, but I’ve seen many CEO’s in operation and have an unfortunate family medical history that includes Alzheimer’s

First, Biden is widely slammed for being a weak leader, a figurehead president who isn’t in charge and who lacks bold stroke courage.

He’s got to be cognizant of the public opinion … and. it has got to irk him.

What’s the logical reaction? What would most CEO’s do?

Go off their handlers’ prepared script to demonstrate control … and, do so with macho pronouncements (e.g. “Putin must go”), that burnish their manhood credentials.

An obvious problem with this hypothesis is that Biden’s handlers immediately step in to whack his manhood by “clarifying” (i.e. “retracting”) his remarks.

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Second, one of the things I witnessed in my mom’s Alzheimer ward was a reversion to childlike behaviors.

One of the manifestations: unvarnished truth-telling … often inappropriate uttering of beliefs and opinions that are genuinely held to be true.

Think: “this food is awful”, “You’re dress is ugly”, “You’re ugly”.

These are “inconvenient truths.”

Kids do it … and so do old folks with slipping cognitive controls.

As former Senator Max Baucus is fond of reminding: “Not everything that is true needs to be spoken”.

Baucus — also a former Ambassador to China — has a reputation for injecting historical and philosophical quotations into his speeches and remarks. Source

So, what’s the prescription?

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The WSJ’s James Freeman opines that “the President should avoid public speaking .. at least when the topic is important.”

Freeman argues that:

Some issues are just too important to be left to an unscripted Joe Biden.

These are dangerous times and we would all be much safer if Mr. Biden would speak less.

Yes, it’s important for all of us to be able to hear from our elected officials and to assess the content of their remarks as well as the skill and conviction with which they advocate for their policies.

But this particular elected official does not appear to be up to the task.

While we consider the implications, Mr. Biden should try to say as little as possible in public during an international crisis.

That’s a pretty sad commentary… sad, but probably true … and worrisome in itself.

Biden: “Never said sanctions would be a deterrence”

March 25, 2022

But, his advisers and spokespeople say they do … and he did
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In his NATO press conference, Biden was asked by a CBS reporter:

Sir, deterrence didn’t work.

What makes you think Vladimir Putin will alter course based on the action (on sanctions) that you’ve taken today?

Biden got huffy and went off the teleprompter script:

That’s not what I said.

You’re playing a game with me.

Let’s get something straight.

I did not say that sanctions would deter him.

Sanctions never deter.

You keep talking about that.

Sanctions never deter.

Just a minute there, Mr. President.

Let’s go to the video tape…

click for a 30 second mash-up
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> VP Kamala: “The purpose of the sanctions has always been and continues to be deterrence.”

> Press messenger Psaki: “Sanctions can be a powerful tool. The overall goal of imposing sanctions on Russia is to have a deterrent effect.”

> Deputy national security adviser Daleep Singh: “Sanctions serve a higher purpose. They’re meant to prevent and deter a large-scale invasion of Ukraine that could involve the seizure of major cities, including Kyiv. They’re meant to prevent large-scale human suffering that could involve tens of thousands of casualties in a conflict.”

> Pentagon press secretary John Kirby: ”Clearly, we want them (the sanctions)  to have a deterrent effect.”

National security adviser,Jake Sullivan:The president believes that sanctions are intended to deter.”

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Maybe Biden’s key advisers are all going rogue … or they heard him wrong.

Or, maybe Joe’s  is just spewing malarkey again

So who and what are you going to believe — Biden … or his entourage of advisers … or your own eyes?

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P.S. Seriously, somebody should alert Biden to the modern day miracle of video recording…

Greater threat to the planet: Putin or climate change?

March 24, 2022

Putin is the clear & present danger … so, unleash our oil & gas industry, Joe.
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Business leaders are now pushing Biden for an “Energy Marshall Plan” … to mobilize U.S. oil & gas companies for energy independence and export capacity.

Here’s what they’re thinking…

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!

 

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.

image

> 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.

image

> 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)
image

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?

image

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.

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

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:

image

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.

image

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.


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