Sunday, November 30, 2014

"The Better Angels of Our Nature" -- Part 1

         I am currently reading The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker. Originally, I had intended only to read the book and prepare a standard review. However, as I have read further, I believe that the only way to do justice to the book is to prepare a multi-part review.

         Plinker's book was published in 2011. As such, I expect that Plinker completed his writing in 2009. (I understand that it typically takes two years after draft of the manuscript for a book to finally be published). Obviously, there are studies and materials available now that would not have been available when Plinker prepared his draft, and I hope to touch upon those of which I am aware.

          Plinker's basic thesis would likely surprise most people: that violence has decreased by orders of magnitude since ancient and medieval times. Pinker spends most of his book setting out the evidence of the decline, while exploring different theories on what underlay the decline. Consequently, his book is primarily ordered by six major historical periods in which violence has declined. Finally, Pinker explores theories of violence, countervailing tendencies for good, and attempts to tie everything together through examining the five major forces he believes led to a decline in violence.

           Pinker's first chapter is an attempt to convince the reader that our fore-bearers held a very different attitudes toward violence than we do today--that they were much more accepting of violence than we, and glorified violence to a degree unknown in today's civilization. The title of his chapter, "A Foreign Country," is taken from a quote by L.P. Hartley: "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there." Because the purpose of the chapter is to expose the reader to the mindset of what are very foreign cultures--separated by time and space--he relies on anecdotes and what I would term truisms to show that people in the past (even as little as 50 years ago) not only tolerated violence, but seemingly relished it.

           A couple points should be made clear from the beginning to understand his thesis and explain some seeming contradictions with observed reality. Initially, although Plinker talks about violence, it should be understood that he is, in fact, discussing a particular type of violence: homicide. There are several reasons for this. First, when examining prehistoric and preliterate societies, physical evidence will reveal violent deaths, but not other types of violent crimes. Second, even in literate societies, records are sketchy about many other types of crimes. Third, Plinker assumes that homicide rates will track other crimes of violence, so that a culture with high rates of homicide will also have a high rate of other violent crimes, and vice versa. This assumption may be grossly correct, such as when comparing modern cultures to their ancient equivalents, but does not necessarily follow when comparing current cultures. For instance, in 2009, relying on official crime statistics, The Daily Mail discovered that the United Kingdom was the most violent country in the Western world, even though it has one of the lowest homicide rates. That is, Britain had a violent crime rate of 2,034 per 100,000 versus 466 per 100,000 in the United States. Conversely, the homicide rate for the U.K. was only 1.49 per 100,000, while the homicide rate in the United States for 2009 was 5.0 per 100,000. The inference from this is that the United States is overall less violent than Britain (or the rest of Europe, for that matter), but that if you are the victim of a violent crime in the U.S., you are more likely to be killed. Since Pinker does not recognize this discrepancy (at least to the point I have read), he does not try to explain it.

          Related to this is that the forces that lead to declines in violent crime do not necessarily lead to declines in property crimes. In fact, while economic factors (income disparity or economic recessions/depressions) are unrelated to violence, there appears to be a definite correlation between economic factors and property crimes.

          The other major point to understand is that Pinker's study is primarily a study of Western Europe and countries inhabited by their descendants--the United States, Canada, and Australia. The primary reason for this is simply one of records. Even in medieval times, Western Europe kept better records (at least that have survived) than anyone else. So, as Pinker goes through his historical trends, it is largely only the West that has made it through all stages in the successive orders. Other cultures have lagged, and some have yet to realize the full reduction in violence that we in the West enjoy.

          As Pinker takes the reader through a quick tour of history, literature and advertising in the first chapter, he spends a significant amount of space to the Hebrew Bible, the Roman Empire, and early Christendom. He obviously approaches this portion of his narrative from the perspective of an unbeliever. His object was to show that the people of the Old Testament were savage and barbaric in the way they treated enemies and each other. And it is true. Reading through the Old Testament with my family has given me new insights to Middle-Eastern cultures, and the barbarism that is the modus operandi of Islam. People speak of Islam as a religion of the 7th Century A.D., but the culture is really one of the 13th Century B.C.

         However, what I see with the Old Testament that perhaps Pinker does not is a people that cannot meet their ideals, but that are being cultivated and molded by a God who must often act as a surgeon or gardner--excising damaged tissue or cancer, pulling weeds, trimming and pruning, working with the materials at hand--before reaching an end goal. To understand this process in the context of violence and civilization (for the basic theme to Pinker's book is that civilization drives out violence), I need to discuss an idea from a different book--Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology (1987) by K. Eric Drexler.

          Drexler's book addresses the ultimate goal of nanotechnology--to produce machines the size of proteins that mimic what nature can do, but programed to our goals, not the what natural selection and competition have produced. As part of his discussion, Drexler discusses that it is not just natural organisms that reproduce and compete, but ideas do so as well. Drexler writes:
Where genes have evolved over generations and eons, mental replicators now evolve over days and decades. Like genes, ideas split, combine, and take multiple forms (genes can be transcribed from DNA to RNA and back again; ideas can be translated from language to language). Science cannot yet describe the neural patterns that embody ideas in brains, but anyone can see that ideas mutate, replicate, and compete. Ideas evolve. 
Richard Dawkins calls bits of replicating mental patterns "memes" (meme rhymes with cream). He says "examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body [generation to generation] via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in a broad sense, can be called imitation."
Memes replicate because people both learn and teach. They vary because people create the new and misunderstand the old. They are selected (in part) because people don't believe or repeat everything they hear.  ... 
Since ancient times, mental models and patterns of behavior have passed from parent to child. Meme patterns that aid survival and reproduction have tended to spread. ...   
Memes themselves, though, face their own matters of "life" and "death": as replicators, they evolve solely to survive and spread. Like viruses, they can replicate without aiding their host's survival or well-being. Indeed, the meme for martyrdom-in-a-cause can spread itself through the very act of killing its host. 
...  Just as viruses evolve to stimulate cells to make viruses, so rumors evolve to sound plausible and juicy, stimulating repetition. Ask not whether a rumor is true, ask instead how it spreads. Experience shows that ideas evolved to be successful replicators need have little to do with the truth. 
At best, chain letters, spurious rumors, fashionable lunacies, and other mental parasites harm people by wasting their time. At worst, they implant deadly misconceptions. These meme systems exploit human ignorance and vulnerability.  ...
(Drexler, pp. 35-37) (brackets and highlight in original). Of course, just as not all genes or bacteria are bad (in fact, many bacteria are useful), not all memes are bad. Some may combine elements of good and bad. Some may become obsolete. And like our body has an immune system to protect against infection, so too do our minds and cultures contain mental immune systems to reject bad ideas--the simplest of which is "believe the old, reject the new", or "tradition." (See Drexler 36-38).

          As we look at the world in the time of the Old Testament period, we see a world filled with violence--wars, raids, revenge killings, honor killings, and human sacrifice, hostile to outsiders and strangers. Most "justice" was through the vendetta or by mediation (and payment) between tribal leaders. At the beginning of the period, cultures were tribal in nature, with the most advanced social construct being the city state. At the end of the period, although there were empires, even these, however, were still based on tribal affiliations, and the nations, such as they were, could accurately be described as super-city states.

          However, with Judaism we see memes appear that pre-date their general adoption by hundreds or thousands of years. Most people look at the Law of Moses and see a system of bloody animal sacrifice. As Pinker describes: "God then spends seven chapters of Leviticus instructing the Israelites on how to slaughter the steady stream of animals he demands of them." (Pinker, p. 7). I'll get to the animal sacrifice issue below. But beyond that, what we see is a moral/religious code that forbid "murder," even of foreigners and strangers--a significant step forward when we view the world at that time as whole. The Law of Moses is fairly welcoming of strangers. Although it is easy to forget, the Tribes of Israel were not the only groups to flee as part of the Exodus, but other groups of slaves joined and lived with Israel and, apparently, were accepted into the body of Israel. The Law also required Israelites to treat strangers ("sojourners") kindly and fairly. People could join Israel through a process of conversion to the religion. Instead of vendetta, the Law of Moses provided for sanctuary cities where accused murderers could flee and demand a fair trial. Provision was made for the support of widows and the poor. Slaves had to be treated humanely, and a system for forgiveness of monetary debts was introduced. Where Pinker sees a religion that harshly treats homosexuals, is actually a religion that prohibits fornication and rape--of women and men, girls and boys. One simply needs to look at the prevalence of rape and male rape in the Middle-East and Africa today to see the significance of the Law of Moses. For the first time, a religious system arose that demanded self-control of the baser instincts, and encouraged empathy. Instead of a bloody primitive system, the Law of Moses captured the essence of the most important forces that contributed to the decline of violence.

          Pinker complains of the harsh punishments handed out by God in the Old Testament, and the instructions to commit genocide. In his criticism, Pinker lapses into cultural relativism, holding all cultures (at least at that time) to be equal in value and worth. This is where the discussion on memes becomes relevant. The peoples that lived in the ancient lands of Israel possessed many bad memes, including child sacrifice. These were powerful memes as we can see by how easily Israel itself was infected by these memes through the next several hundreds of years. Penicillin does not negotiate with bacteria--it kills their offspring. A surgeon does not engage in talks to increase the understanding between a tumor and a cancer victim--he or she cuts the tumor out. At the level of the bacteria or cancer cell, the acts of the physician are violent. Yet they are necessary to serve a greater good. So too were God's attempts to excise the bad memes (by eliminating their carriers). God was attempting to spread civilization, and it was necessary to pull up the bad weeds.

          Pinker makes much of the near sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham, and the whole system of animal sacrifice. However, to the believer, the story of Abraham and Isaac foreshadow the sacrifice made by Christ: everything from the age of Isaac, the location of the incident, to Abraham's words to Isaac that God would provide a sacrifice. Similarly, the system of animal sacrifice looks forward to Christ. These are intended to teach the Israelites how to recognize their Messiah.

         Pinker points out how the "heroes" of Jewish history, including David and Solomon, were violent and flawed men. He misses the point. God did not want the Jews to have kings. He warned against it, but they persevered in demanding a king. Saul, David and Solomon weren't a gift to Israel, but a warning that no matter how good the man, absolute power corrupts absolutely. They are warnings, not persons to model ourselves after.

         Pinker then gives the same treatment to early Christianity and Medieval Europe. However, in doing so, he again confuses behavior with ideals. Christianity provided the foundational ideas for the decline of violence, even if society as a whole rejected those foundational ideas.

         Pinker himself repeats some bad memes that have caught on because they are popular or easy to understand, while not necessarily reflecting reality or historical analysis. For instance, to demonstrate the changes over the last 100 years, Pinker states: "Military men are inconspicuous in public life, with drab uniforms and little prestige among the hoi polloi." (Pinker, p. 23). Military men may be inconspicuous in public life, but it is ridiculous to assert that military men have little prestige among "the common people." Gallop polls from earlier this year show that Americans place far more trust in the military (39% expressing a great deal of confidence, and an additional 35% having "quite a lot") than in the President, Congress or the Supreme Court. It is not the hoi polloi who do not respect the military or its leaders, but the elites. (See Col. John A. Vermeesch,"Trust Erosion and Identity Corrosion," Military Review, Sept.-Oct. 2013, p. 2).

           The replacement of the gaudy uniforms of past centuries with the "drab" uniforms of today is not because of the loss of prestige, but because of battlefield necessity. In the 18th and 19th Centuries, camouflage was of little consequence to armies that moved and fought en masse at ranges of 100 yards or less. In fact, bright uniforms were necessary for the commander to see and control the positioning of his troops. Advancements in weapons, particularly individual weapons, forced troops to begin using cover and concealment--including adopting drab colors and camouflage. Most experienced militaries had switched to drab uniforms prior to World War I, and the few that still used bright colors going into the War quickly changed.

           To give an example of the sweeping changes of the last couple of decades, Pinker provides a mock commencement speech outlining the end of the Cold War, collapse of the Soviet Union, and so forth, and how it would seem ridiculous in the mid-1970's. What caught my eye was this line: "China will also fall off the radar as a military threat; indeed, it will become our major trading partner." (Pinker, p. 28). The implication is that because of strong economic ties, war will become impossible. In The Future of War by George and Meredith Friedman, the authors discuss and analyze this very issue:
The argument that interdependence gives rise to peace is flawed in theory as well as in practice. Conflicts arise from friction, particularly friction involving the fundamental interests of different nations. The less interdependence there is, the fewer the areas of serious friction. The more interdependence there is, the greater the areas of friction, and, therefore, the greater the potential for conflict. Two widely separated nations that trade little with each other are unlikely to go to war--Brazil is unlikely to fight Madagascar precisely because they have so little to do with each other. France and Germany, on the other hand, which have engaged in extensive trade and transnational finance, have fought three wars with each other over about seventy years. Interdependence was the root of the conflicts, not the deterrent.  
 There are, of course, cases of interdependent in which one country effectively absorbs the other or in which their interests match so precisely that the two countries simply merge. In other cases, interdependence remains peaceful because the economic, military, and political power of one country is overwhelming and inevitable. In relations between advanced industrialized countries and third-world countries, for example, this sort of asymmetrical relationship can frequently be seen.  
 All such relationships have a quality of unease built into them, particularly when the level of interdependence is great. When one or both nations attempt, intentionally or unintentionally, to shift the balance of power, the result is often tremendous anxiety and, sometimes, real pain. Each side sees the other's actions as an attempt to gain advantage and becomes frightened. In the end, precisely because the level of interdependence is so great, the relationship can, and frequently does, spiral out of control. 
(Friedman, pp. 7-8) (italics on original). The Friedmans then compare and contrast the Cold War with the situation prior to the outbreak of World War I, and suggest that it was the independence of the Soviet Union from the United States that allowed each to forgo extreme measures and gave them freedom to maneuver. However, prior to World War I, the European nations' interdependence, measured by international investment and trade, was greater than it is now (at least at the time the Friedmans wrote their book), and it was this high amount of interdependence that created the conditions for war.

           Pinker also raises current German pacifism, seemingly as a triumph of civilization. He writes: "Conspicuous pacifism is especially striking in Germany, a nation that was once so connected to martial values that the words Teutonic and Prussian became synonymous for rigid militarism." (Pinker p. 24).  German pacifism, though, is the result of violence. This is alluded to by Pinker, who quotes Tom Lehrer's "lullaby":
Once all the Germans were warlike and mean,
But that couldn't happen again.
We taught them a lesson in 1918
And they've hardly bothered us since then.
(Pinker, p. 24). However, it was not World War I that broke the German thirst for war, it was the utter and humiliating defeat visited on the Germans in World War II.

          In his book, How Great Generals Win, Bevin Alexander explains that one of the rules of successfully concluding a war is to destroy the will of the enemy to fight. By "enemy," he does not mean the enemy military forces, per se, but the civilian population of the enemy country. As an example, Alexander uses General William Tecumseh Sherman and his devastating march through the South during the American Civil War. After Grant was given command of all Union Armies, Grant designated Sherman as the overall commander of the Western Union forces. Sherman's general order was to destroy the Southern General Johnson's army, get into the Confederate interior, and do as much damage against the Confederacy's war resources as possible. (Alexander, p. 147). Bevin writes:
Sherman had come to realize that destroying the Southern people's will to pursue the war was more important than destroying Johnson's army. Once the people wearied of war, their armies would melt away. So long as they remained adamant, they would continue to throw up armies or, failing that, guerrilla bands, which could lead to endless war. The only sure solution was to inflict so much damage on Southern property and way of life, and not merely "war resources," that the people would prefer surrender to continued destruction.  ...
(Alexander, p. 147).

        Pinker's second chapter tracks the decline of violence from our primitive ancestors that lived in small hunter-gatherer bands or early agricultural communities, to that in early nation states, taking a small detour to look at violence among other primates. I'll summarize and discuss those ideas in my next post on Pinker's book.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Brown's Mother Delusional

"I know my son far too well. He would never do anything like that. He would never provoke anyone to do anything to him and he would never do anything to anybody." 
McSpadden said her son does not have a history of violence. 
"One image does not paint a person's entire life," she said.
On that note, here is the video of Brown shoving a store clerk in a robbery shortly before he was shot:

McSpadden, if you want to blame someone for your son's death, start by looking in your mirror. YOU raised a bully and a brute. YOU failed to inculcate in him the basics of civilized behavior. YOU failed to teach him self control. YOU failed to teach him to obey the law. YOU failed to teach him to respect other people and their property. And, if you are telling the truth, YOU did not even bother to know your son.

The First Thanksgiving

File:The First Thanksgiving Jean Louis Gerome Ferris.png
The First Thanksgiving by Jean Louis Gerome Ferris
Before European settlement of the New World, New England was populated by a relatively large number of Indians (more than 100,000) of diverse tribes, most engaged in farming to some extent or another and, contrary to popular belief, well versed in concepts of private property rights--they could identify precisely the plots of land that belonged to each farmer. Giovanni da Verrazzano left on an expedition in 1523 to try and find a norther route to the Pacific Ocean. Sailing north along New England, he reported that the coastline was everywhere densely populated.

Although the Indians successfully kept the Europeans from colonizing New England, they did engage in trading. By 1610, Britain alone had some 200 vessels operating off Newfoundland and New England. And it was not just the Europeans--Indians had learned to sale European style vessels and accounted for a great deal of the coastal trade. However, the Indians would not permit permanent settlements, or even lengthy stays, using force, if necessary, to drive off the Europeans. (It would be a misconception to believe that the Europeans had superior weapons--most were unpracticed in using their firearms, and the range, accuracy and rate of fire of the European firearms was far inferior to the Native American bows).

In 1614, a raid by an English trader (the one described below) enraged the Indians, who vowed to not let any more Europeans land on their shore. In 1616, the Indians captured a group of French sailors that had shipwrecked. All but 5 were killed in a battle. A surviving sailor warned the Indians that God would destroy them. The Indians scoffed, but the sailor was right--the sailors carried a disease (probably viral hepatitis A). The Indians died in the thousands, turning the New England coast into a charnel house. The pestilence lasted 3 years, killing an estimated 90% of the native coastal people.

On March 22, 1621, a delegation of Indians approached the Plymouth settlement. At the head of the party was Massasoit, the secham (a political and military leader) of the Wampanoag confederation; Samoset, the sachem of an allied group; and Tisquantum ("Squanto"), a Wampanoag prisoner/slave brought along as a translator because he spoke fluent English. Massasoit sought a military alliance against another Indian confederation--the Narragansett. Such an alliance would have been unthinkable not so many years earlier, but the Wampanoag had been decimated by disease. The Wampanoag had been particularly hard hit by the disease, and it was all Massasoit could do to hold his people together, and they were threatened by the Narragansett who had survived untouched by the epidemic. In fact, the Pilgrims had settled in an empty village--the very village from which Tisquantum had hailed.

Tisquantum spoke fluent English because he had lived for several years in England. Years earlier, about 1614, Tisquantum had been abducted by European traders that took him to Spain. There, because slavery of the Indians was frowned upon by the Catholic Church which considered them to be fully human, he was set free. He journeyed north through Europe before arriving in England where he hoped to catch a ship back to New England. It took several years, and many misadventures, but Tisquantum finally reached his native lands only to find his entire people dead from disease. After this first meeting, he lived the rest of his life among the Pilgrims.

Tisquantum was vital to the Pilgrim's survival. The English colonists were woefully unprepared for life in the New World, and ignorant of farming. Tisquantum showed the colonists how to plant corn, beans, and squash together, and to use fish as fertilizer. (Ironically, Tisquantum probably picked up the latter technique during his travels in Europe--there is no evidence that Indians used the technique, although it was well known in parts of Europe). By fall, the Pilgrims' situation had improved to such an extent that they held a feast of Thanksgiving. Massasoit, accompanied by two score warriors, attended.

Massasoit stratagem succeeded in the short term--his people were not overrun by the Narragansett. But his alliance with the Pilgrims permitted the first permanent European settlement in New England--the first of many. The Indian population never recovered from the pestilence--the Narragansett were themselves devastated by smallpox in 1633--and eventually the Europeans expanded their settlements until they outnumbered the Indians.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thousands Protest in London

The Daily Mail reports that more than a thousand people protested the Brown decision outside the U.S. embassy. This reaction would be expected from a country that tolerates Muslims hacking a soldier apart on a busy street, and has the highest violent crime rates of the Western world.

A Reactionless Drive?

"My God. It's full of stars."

Personally, I'm not so willing to use the word "impossible" anymore. In October of this year, at the laboratory of Dr. James Woodward in California State University at Fullerton (above), I watched a very small-scale experiment that was surprisingly persuasive. Unlike all the "free energy" scams that you see online, Woodward's device does not violate basic physical laws (it does not produce more energy than it consumes, and does not violate Newton's third law). Nor is Woodward withholding any information about his methods. He has written a book, published by Springer, that explains in relentless detail exactly how his equipment works--assuming that it does, indeed, work. He published his theory in Foundations of Physics Letters, vol. 3, no. 5, 1990, and he even managed to get a US patent -- number 5,280,864, issued January 25, 1994. 
I first heard about him in 1997, when I interviewed him for Wired magazine. His results were tentative, then, and he was cautious about making claims. "I have biweekly paranoia attacks," he told me, "and then I try something else to see if I can make this effect go away." 
Almost twenty years later, the situation has changed. Dr. Heidi Fearn, a theoretical physicist who specializes in quantum optics at Fullerton, has done the math that she believes can justify Woodward's experimental evidence. Wikipedia now has a substantial entry about the Woodward Effect. The Space Studies Institute is championing the cause, inviting tax-deductible donations. 
If a small amount of thrust really can be created using a power input but no reaction mass, the principle could be applied to correct orbital variations in satellites. If the effect turned out to be scalable, it would be a major game-changer for human spaceflight. Of course, this is a big "if"; but I think Woodward's idea shows more promise than any other alternate systems of propulsion. It would be infinitely more attractive than rocket motors. 
The concept is based on the possibility of changing the mass of an object. Changing mass? How can that make sense? The answer is linked with the general theory of relativity.
 Read the whole thing.

Related Posts: The Impossible Drive?; Perhaps One of the Biggest Breakthroughs This Century

Antarctic Sea Ice Thicker Than Believed

Scientist using an underwater robot have discovered that the Antarctic ice sheets are thicker than previously thought.

Who or What is the National Bar Association?

I've seen various news articles quoting or referring to a statement from the National Bar Association condemning the Ferguson grand jury decision.

Everyone knows who the American Bar Association (ABA) is--they are the organization that spouts off stupid liberal nonsense, but also performs practical tasks such as setting standards for, and accrediting law schools, and promulgating model rules of conduct for attorneys to be considered by individual states. The ABA is the legal equivalent of the American Medical Association, except that they only care about a small number of their members--plaintiff lawyers (sort of like the AMA deciding it only represented surgeons and telling the rest of the medical profession to go take a flying leap...). But who or what is the National Bar Association?

Although most people don't know it, each state also have bar associations which assist with training, standards, admissions, and discipline of attorneys in that particular jurisdiction. But that is not a function of the National Bar Association.

Wikipedia describes the group as "the oldest and largest national association of African-American attorneys and judges in the United States." Well, I can now understand why they took the particular stance they did, but I still had never heard of them.

OPEC Control Crumbling?


OPEC is single-handedly responsible for much of the misery in the world. It's oil embargo in the 1970's permanently crippled the economies of industrial nations, and marked the beginning of the decline of wages for the working class. Its member nations' coffers have and continue to fund most of the terrorism in the world. The jump in oil prices in 2007-2008 was one of the significant factors in causing the financial crises, and continued high energy prices have helped keep the West mired in recession. 

Notwithstanding the efforts of the likes of Obama, Gore, Tom Steyer, and a plethora of other wealthy people and environmental groups that benefit from OPEC's largesse, to shut down oil production on federal land and stop the Keystone XL pipeline, advances in fracking and other extraction technologies is making the OPEC monopoly difficult to maintain.

The Washington Post reports:
High prices are often the seeds of their own destruction, providing incentives for new developments and alternatives. Now, over the past three months, global oil production has been outrunning consumption. The price of OPEC’s mix of crude oil has tumbled $32, or 30 percent, to the lowest level since 2012. And suddenly the 12-member group is bickering over who should cut oil output, and by how much, in order to prop up prices.
That has made Thursday’s OPEC meeting in Vienna the groups’s most closely watched session in years, with far-reaching implications from the local gasoline pump to the oil-dependent budgets of Russia and Iran.
Saudi Arabia, which has played the role of swing producer balancing the market, has not trimmed its output as it often has in the past, instead cutting prices to hang onto market share while waiting for other countries to volunteer to share the burden. Meanwhile prices have continued to slide to about $75 a barrel for the U.S. benchmark grade of West Texas Intermediate. 
“I think they’re worried about a collapse in prices,” said Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “They are worried about pushing people toward alternative fuels and worried about the cost of maintaining their spare capacity. They are intrigued by possibility that low prices put their enemies in tighter positions. But I think the way the Saudis think about global oil markets is more about threats than opportunities.”
 Other members are being more proactive. According to the Post, Venezuela has met with Russian leaders in an attempt to convince Russia to reduce its output in an attempt to push prices higher.
 But oil and commodity analysts doubt that OPEC can come to any agreement at all, or to one that would include production cuts large enough to stabilize prices. 
There have been two main reasons for the recent surplus of crude oil: The economic stagnation in Europe and Japan has sapped demand and the steady increase in U.S. production of shale oil, up 4 million barrels a day over the past six years, has bolstered supply. That new incremental U.S. production is greater than the entire production of any OPEC country except Saudi Arabia. 
“The reality of the shale revolution in the U.S., long scoffed at from within OPEC as high-cost folly, is now hitting the producer group where it hurts, while oil demand growth has underperformed significantly,” Citigroup commodities analysts said in a note to investors Monday. Over the past four years worldwide, oil companies have invested $2.5 trillion to bring new supplies online, according to Leonardo Magueri, an associate on the geopolitics of energy at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. 
Many analysts have said that Saudi Arabia, by maintaining a high level of oil output and driving prices down, has been trying to slow the U.S. shale oil boom by making drilling less profitable. Yet the consulting firm IHS has estimated that 80 percent of potential shale oil drilling in the United States is still profitable at $70 a barrel and that the growth in shale oil output would slow down at that price, but output would still be growing. 
World crude oil production has also received a boost from Libya, where production has recovered somewhat, and Iraq, which is producing 300,000 barrels a day more than it was a year ago in part thanks to a new pipeline from Kurdistan to the Turkish port of Ceyhan. A deal struck recently between the Kurdish regional government and Baghdad — in which Baghdad released $500 million for the Kurds, who in return agreed to send 150,000 barrels a day to a federal government storage in Ceyhan — will smooth the way for more exports through that route. [And, although not mentioned in the article, ISIS is selling oil at steeply discounted rates]. 
Lower oil prices could revive global demand. Lower motor fuel prices act like a tax cut for consumers, and could help boost growth in the major economies.
 A Businessweek article also explains the conundrum facing the OPEC members and other major oil exporters:
Then there’s Saudi Arabia, which is still at the wheel of OPEC as its top producer. The Saudis still enjoy some of the lowest production costs in the world, so they can sustain a much lower price and still not worry about financing themselves. That’s a luxury many OPEC members don’t have. Venezuela, Iran, Iraq, Libya, and even Russia all need oil prices higher than $100 a barrel to keep their deficits in check. 
Right now the Saudis are a lot less worried about the budget deficits of their fellow oil exporters as they are about what’s happening in North Dakota and Texas. The biggest threat to the power the Saudis have wielded as the de-facto head of OPEC for the past 30 years isn’t cheap oil; it’s the 9 million barrels a day coming out of the U.S. The Saudis would much rather play a game of chicken with U.S. producers than bow to the wishes of Iran, which they’re in no hurry to accommodate given their disagreements over the Assad regime in Syria, not to mention Iran’s burgeoning alliance with Iraq. 
For decades Saudi Arabia has been the preferred partner of the U.S. in the Middle East. At the heart of that partnership was America’s clear dependence on Saudi Arabia for its oil. But that dependence has diminished significantly over the past few years as U.S. refiners have substituted oil from the shale boom for imported oil.
In order to put U.S. oil producers out of business, oil will have to drop to $70 per barrel or less.

Why You Shouldn't Trust The Government to Help You In A Crises

It's called continuity of government. At one time it meant protecting critical government infrastructure. Now it means that it is more important to protect political control than to actually do anything to help the public. The Ferguson riots the other night provide a perfect example. Roger L. Simon notes:
Not quite cancer but pretty bad is Jay Nixon, the governor of Missouri. Not only did he attempt to prejudge the case, calling for Wilson’s head like some minor league Robespierre months before there was any evidence, but then, on the night of the grand jury announcement, after having brought in the National Guard, he goes completely AWOL and doesn’t use the Guards at all, leaving the poor store owners of Ferguson to fend for themselves, not to mention the police. Everyone got to watch the results on TV. 
Peter Kinder, the vice governor of Missouri, wants to know what happened. Why no Guards, when they were all set to go? Did the word come down from the White House or the Department of Justice to keep the Guards out? Nixon didn’t answer, just accused Kinder of playing politics. (At least he didn’t play the race card, but that would be hard, white man to white man…. although it’s possible.) So we don’t know… yet.

Evolution in Action--Georgetown Univ. Student Mugged...

A student at Georgetown University wrote in an op-ed piece that he was 'Not at all' shocked that a recent mugging he suffered at gunpoint took place.

Senior Oliver Friedfeld said in his piece, 'I Was Mugged, And I Understand Why,' that he questioned his own ability to criticize his attackers, citing his 'perch of privilege.'

The op-ed was published November 18 in Georgetown's student newspaper The Hoya - and picked up by several media outlets this week.
As of this writing, Friedfeld's piece has 142 comments on the student newspaper's website - a number of which debate whether or not the author is victim-blaming for the crime, while others debate the idea of privilege. 
Friedfeld wrote of the encounter 'Last weekend, my housemate and I were mugged at gunpoint while walking home from Dupont Circle. The entire incident lasted under a minute, as I was forced to the floor, handed over my phone and was patted down.' 
He continued 'And yet, when a reporter asked whether I was surprised that this happened in Georgetown, I immediately answered: "Not at all." It was so clear to me that we live in the most privileged neighborhood within a city [Washington, D.C.] that has historically been, and continues to be, harshly unequal.'

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Calls for Sharia Law After Ferguson

After any major event in the United States, there are always international calls for us to "reform", the most vocal coming from those organizations and nations that are the biggest hypocrites. Thus, I thought it was ironic to see Weasel Zipper's collection of tweets from ISIS fans insisting that Ferguson shows that the U.S. needs sharia law. (CAIR also seemed to believe something should be done).

Are they right? This is how they would have dealt with a thief like Michael Brown in a sharia compliant jurisdiction (assuming they had even bothered to take him alive):


Map of the Vesta Asteroid

This high-resolution geological map of Vesta was made using data from the Dawn spacecraft. Brown colors represent the oldest, most heavily cratered surface. Purple colors in the north and light blue represent terrains modified by the Veneneia and Rheasilvia impacts, respectively. Light purples and dark blue colors below the equator represent the interior of the Rheasilvia and Veneneia basins. Greens and yellows represent relatively young landslides or other downhill movement and crater impact materials.

Latino Voters Want More and More and More and ....

A new poll of Latino voters finds that most want President Obama to issue more executive orders to cover all illegal immigrants and protect them from deportation if Congress doesn't agree to comprehensive immigration reform. 
The Latino Decisions survey found that 73 percent of the 405 registered voters polled want “additional executive orders” to protect immigrant workers not impacted by Obama’s decision last week targeted at four to five million parents facing deportation. 
“We would prefer much more,” said Oscar Chacon, executive director of the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities.

Global Warming Fanatic Fail: 9th Quiet Hurricane Season

Al Gore predicted in 2005 that global warming would produce more hurricanes which would be more violent. How has that worked out? Reuters reports:
A combination of cooler seas and a quiet West African monsoon season made for a less active Atlantic hurricane season, giving the South and East Coasts of the United States one of their lengthiest reprieves in history from a major hurricane, forecasters said on Monday. 
"This is the longest without a major hurricane hitting the U.S. since the Civil War era," said Jeff Masters, chief meteorologist for Weather Underground.

Ferguson and the Aftermath

Fearsome: A demonstrator flashes a peace sign before a burning police car during clashes between police and protesters over the decision in the shooting death of 18-year-old Brown

As expected, the grand jury refused to indict Darren Wilson for the death of Michael Brown--a violent street thug that attacked Wilson shortly after robbing a tobacco shop. And, also as expected, the community organizers, the "gangsta" wannabe's and the professional victims all rioted and protested. In addition to Ferguson, Missouri, the Daily Mail reports on protests in some 90 other cities across the nation.

The Drudge Report and Weasel Zippers are both good sources for aggregations of reports on the violence and protests. KSDK, a local television station, has a slideshow of the some of the damage. I would also note this summary from The New York Times:
After a chaotic night of demonstrations that erupted in many fires, frequent bursts of gunshots, looting and waves of tear gas, Gov. Jay Nixon said early Tuesday that he would send additional National Guard troops to help quell the worst violence this battered St. Louis suburb has seen since a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed black teenager in August. 
The hours of unrest followed the announcement on Monday evening that a grand jury had chosen not to indict the officer, Darren Wilson, for the death of Michael Brown. St. Louis County reported that 61 people had been arrested. 
“I really don’t have any hesitation in telling you that I didn’t see a lot of peaceful protest out there tonight, and I’m disappointed about that,” Jon Belmar, the St. Louis County police chief, said early Tuesday at a news conference. “I’m not saying there weren’t folks out there that were out there for the right reason — I’m not saying that wasn’t the case — but I am saying that, unfortunately, this spun out of control.” 
Chief Belmar said demonstrators had set fire to at least a dozen buildings in and around Ferguson, and estimated that he had heard about 150 gunshots. The police, he said, did not fire any live ammunition. 
Asked whether he would call the unrest that unfolded in Ferguson a riot, the chief replied, “Oh yeah, this fits.” 
Fires continued to burn into Tuesday, and some of the flames and smoke on West Florissant Avenue, a main thoroughfare that was an epicenter of violence in August, lapped over the fence lines behind the storefronts, swooping perilously close to homes. 
“It’s horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible,” said Tammy Ruffin, 54, standing in stinging smoke that swept over her house Tuesday morning. “I knew this was going to happen.” 
Although she said that she, too, was upset that Officer Wilson had not been indicted, “It’s the wrong reaction,” she said.
Actually, it meets the definition of domestic terrorism under Federal law. But don't hold your breath about the DOJ actually investigating, let alone prosecuting any of the rioters for terrorism.

Race: A firefighter walks past the burning Little Ceasars restaurant in Ferguson on Monday. Within a few hours, several large buildings were ablaze, and frequent gunfire was heard
The real victims of this will be the local residents. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the damage is much worse than the riots earlier in August. In a case of eating-their-own, most of the damage was to minority owned businessesFred Siegel, writing in August after the initial riots, pointed out:
Riots bring but one certainty—enormous economic and social costs. Businesses flee, taking jobs and tax revenues with them. Home values decline for all races, but particularly for blacks. Insurance costs rise and civic morale collapses. The black and white middle classes move out. Despite its busy port and enormous geographic assets, Newark, New Jersey has never fully recovered from its 1967 riot. This year, Newark elected as its mayor Ras Baraka, the son and political heir of Amiri Baraka—the intellectual inspiration for the 1967 unrest. 
The story is similar in Detroit, which lost half its residents between 1967 and 2000. Civic authority was never restored after the late 1960s riots, which never really ended; they just continued in slow motion. “It got decided a long time ago in Detroit,” explained Adolph Mongo, advisor to the jailed former “hip-hop mayor,” Kwame Kilpatrick, that “the city belongs to the black man. The white man was a convenient target until there were no white men left in Detroit.” The upshot, explained Sam Riddle, an advisor to current congressman John Conyers, first elected in 1965, is that “the only difference between Detroit and the Third World in terms of corruption is that Detroit don’t have no goats in the streets.” 
The grotesque pantomime of repression and redemption, riots and never-quite-achieved rewards, plays out time and again. The chaos in Ferguson is but the latest episode of this long, sad drama of resentment and revenge. The drama persists in part because so many journalists and academics, not to mention black activists, have so much invested in it. It’s the conceptual air that they breathe. Sadly, to paraphrase the philosopher Ernest Gellner, some failed practices cannot be the subject of reconsideration, because they already shape the way we think.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Renewable Energy Won't Work

From an article at The Register:
Two highly qualified Google engineers who have spent years studying and trying to improve renewable energy technology have stated quite bluntly that renewables will never permit the human race to cut CO2 emissions to the levels demanded by climate activists. Whatever the future holds, it is not a renewables-powered civilisation: such a thing is impossible. 
Both men are Stanford PhDs, Ross Koningstein having trained in aerospace engineering and David Fork in applied physics. These aren't guys who fiddle about with websites or data analytics or "technology" of that sort: they are real engineers who understand difficult maths and physics, and top-bracket even among that distinguished company. The duo were employed at Google on the RE<C project, which sought to enhance renewable technology to the point where it could produce energy more cheaply than coal.
Read the whole thing.

More from the NYT on Those WMDs That Never Existed

The United States recovered thousands of old chemical weapons in Iraq from 2004 to 2009 and destroyed almost all of them in secret and via open-air detonation, according to a written summary of its activities prepared by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the international body that monitors implementation of the global chemical weapons treaty. 
The 30-page summary, prepared after quietly held meetings between the organization’s technical staff and American officials in Washington in 2009, was provided to The New York Times by the Pentagon on Friday. 
It included a table disclosing limited details on 95 separate recoveries and destructions of chemical warheads, shells or aviation bombs, for a total of 4,530 munitions from May 2004 through February 2009 — a period of often intense fighting in Iraq. 
The United States later recovered more Iraqi chemical weapons, pushing its tally to 4,996 by early 2011, according to redacted intelligence documents obtained by The Times via the Freedom of Information Act.
Shhh. They never existed.

Obama and Immigration Reform

Last week I noted that by moving forward with his amnesty program, Obama has thrown blacks under the bus because the illegals will be competing with blacks for jobs and benefits. Of course, it isn't just blacks, but low-wage workers of any color or creed as this Hot Air article succinctly sums up, "So let’s introduce about 5 million illegal workers from other countries and enable them to compete in an already depressed labor market and while we’re at it, let’s agitate for a raise in the minimum wage."

This prescient article from 2006, published in City Journal, explains in more depth:
Advocates of open immigration argue that welcoming the Librado Velasquezes of the world is essential for our American economy: our businesses need workers like him, because we have a shortage of people willing to do low-wage work. Moreover, the free movement of labor in a global economy pays off for the United States, because immigrants bring skills and capital that expand our economy and offset immigration’s costs. Like tax cuts, supporters argue, immigration pays for itself. 
But the tale of Librado Velasquez helps show why supporters are wrong about today’s immigration, as many Americans sense and so much research has demonstrated. America does not have a vast labor shortage that requires waves of low-wage immigrants to alleviate; in fact, unemployment among unskilled workers is high—about 30 percent. Moreover, many of the unskilled, uneducated workers now journeying here labor, like Velasquez, in shrinking industries, where they force out native workers, and many others work in industries where the availability of cheap workers has led businesses to suspend investment in new technologies that would make them less labor-intensive. 
Yet while these workers add little to our economy, they come at great cost, because they are not economic abstractions but human beings, with their own culture and ideas—often at odds with our own. Increasing numbers of them arrive with little education and none of the skills necessary to succeed in a modern economy. Many may wind up stuck on our lowest economic rungs, where they will rely on something that immigrants of other generations didn’t have: a vast U.S. welfare and social-services apparatus that has enormously amplified the cost of immigration. Just as welfare reform and other policies are helping to shrink America’s underclass by weaning people off such social programs, we are importing a new, foreign-born underclass. As famed free-market economist Milton Friedman puts it: “It’s just obvious that you can’t have free immigration and a welfare state.” 
Immigration can only pay off again for America if we reshape our policy, organizing it around what’s good for the economy by welcoming workers we truly need and excluding those who, because they have so little to offer, are likely to cost us more than they contribute, and who will struggle for years to find their place here.
(Of course, it isn't just the low-skilled jobs that are being undermined--Obama is working with high-tech industries to replace middle-class STEM jobs that pay decent wages with foreign STEM workers that are paid a pittance).

The expectations of these illegal immigrants is different as well. Michael Goodman writes at The New York Post:
The short bios in The Post and other places featuring immigrants who are in the United State illegally were fascinating. I was struck by their courage to leave their homelands, their pluck at navigating a new culture and their patience in waiting for America’s official welcome mat. 
Something else struck me, too. Not a single one expressed remorse for jumping the fence or overstaying visas. The law was simply a nuisance, an unfair barrier to their right to live in America, and they felt no qualms about violating it. 
Some of these immigrants, including one woman who sneaked in from Mexico 18 years ago, even complained that presidential ­amnesty doesn’t include free health care.
“It isn’t fair,” Graciela Flores whined.
What luck — she and the other 5 million who benefit have found their soul mate in Barack Obama. He’s not into obeying laws, either. And he is endlessly entitled to whatever he wants, whenever he wants it. 
Oh, sure, he has twice taken an oath to “faithfully execute” the ­nation’s laws, and to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” 
But he’s not serious about oaths, either. As America has learned, his word is not his bond. 
A president who cannot speak honestly and who finds the Constitution’s separation of powers an option he can ignore is the very definition of lawless. 
“It’s fair to say we’ve never seen anything quite like this before,” a Temple University professor told a reporter. He meant the sweeping amnesty decree, but his comment also summarizes the entire Obama presidency. 
There’s never been anything like it, thank God.
 But there have been other instances of this; in Germany, for one thing.

Advice to the Republicans: Stop Playing Ball With The MSM

The GOP cannot control who NBC, ABC and CBS put into executive news editorial positions or the stories they choose to report, or not report. However, they can choose if they participate any longer with conglomerates whose clear goal is to protect an unpopular President and elevate a future Presidential candidate in Hillary Clinton. It is time to stop complaining about media bias and do something about it. Something bold. 
ABC and NBC have instituted a three-week blackout — on network broadcasts, websites and social media pages — of the devastating admissions of MIT economist Jonathan Gruber. The ACA architect repeatedly boasted of deceiving the American public about legislation that cost six million people their family doctor. This should be the final straw in any relationship the GOP and RNC leadership has with these networks, period. No more debates, no more appearances on “Meet The Press,” “Morning Joe,” or “This Week” on ABC.  
Boycott both NBC and ABC over failing to report on Gruber’s revelations and put CBS on final notice over the revelations that they coordinated with the Obama administration to tank Sharyl Attkisson’s Benghazi reporting. ...
The goal here is to make these networks as irrelevant as MSNBC when it comes to news.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Benghazi Report Confirms That CIA Was Tracking Weapons to Syria

Fox News reports on a House report that concluded that the Benghazi attack was premeditated, noting, for instance, that the attack was coordinated between operatives from multiple Al Qaeda affiliated groups. It also mentions that the CIA was in Benghazi to attempt to track weapon shipments. From the article:
The report also shed new light on the CIA operation in Benghazi. Morell said the CIA annex was in eastern Libya “collecting intelligence about foreign entities that were themselves collecting weapons in Libya and facilitating their passage to Syria. The Benghazi Annex was not itself collecting weapons.”  
Newly declassified testimony before the House Intelligence Committee attached to the House report from the Director of National intelligence, James Clapper, as well as Morell, confirmed to lawmakers that the weapons shipments were known at the highest levels of the U.S. government. 
Rep. Devin Nunes: Are we aware of any arms that are leaving that area and going into Syria? 
Mr. Morell: Yes, sir. 
General Clapper: Yes 
Nunes:  And who was coordinating that? 
Mr. Morell: I believe the (redacted) are coordinating that. 
Nunes: And were the CIA folks that were there, were they helping to coordinate that, or were they watching it, were they gathering information about it? 
Mr. Morell: Sir, the focus of my officers in Benghazi was (redacted) to try to penetrate terrorist groups that were there so we could learn their plans, intentions and capabilities (redacted.) 
The discussion is cut short by Rogers, who says not all members present have sufficient security clearances to hear further details.   ...
Related Posts: The Missing Libyan Shoulder Fired AA Missiles;  Obama--The Lord of War; Forewarning of the Benghazi Attack

Friday, November 21, 2014

"True Facts About the Owl"

Ebola Update (11/21/2014)

NBC News reports:
There may be signs of hope in Liberia, but the epidemic of Ebola in West Africa is getting worse, not better, and it’s going to take a lot more work to control it, United Nations officials said Friday. 
Concerted efforts might be able to end it by the middle of next year, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon told reporters. 
“There has been some welcome progress,” Ban said. “The results are uneven. The rate of transmission continues to worsen.” 
Three top international leaders — Ban, World Health Organization director-general Dr. Margaret Chan and World Bank president Jim Yong Kim — used uncharacteristically strong language to urge more cooperation, coordination and a faster, sustained international response to the epidemic. 
WHO released new statistics on Ebola that show “intense” transmission in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. “There have been 15,351 reported Ebola cases in eight countries since the outbreak began, with 5,459 reported deaths,” WHO said.
And, from The New York Times:
Most of the casualties are in the three most afflicted countries: Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. 
But the focus of the message of Mr. Ban and Dr. Chan was their concern about Mali, a vast country where the government does not have full control and where a United Nations peacekeeping force is deployed. At least six people in Mali have died of Ebola.
A successful effort to halt Ebola infections in Mali last month, caused by an infected 2-year-old from Guinea, has now been overshadowed by a second and far more serious source of infection, from an imam from Guinea. He had been misdiagnosed with a kidney problem after traveling to Bamako, the capital, to seek treatment.
Dr. Chan said nearly 500 people in Mali and Guinea had come into contact with the imam, whose body had been returned home and been given a ritual Muslim funeral.
Mr. Ban said that a team led by Dr. Chan was headed to Mali later Friday and that a new support center would be established there.
 The article now indicates that the disease may not come under control (i.e., overall infections falling) until the middle of next year.

Families of Ferguson Police Go Into Hiding

From the Daily Mail:
The families of many police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, are in hiding or running from town amid death and assault threats. 
One police wife told KTVI that she's received threats over the phone and she's been paranoid for her and her young daughter's safety ever since. 
'Did they follow me here?' she told the station. 'Did I do a good enough job after work today of taking different routes, on my way home? 
Tensions are rising in Ferguson as a grand jury decides whether to charge white Officer Darren Wilson in the August shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, 18. 
In one recent message, a caller says: 'Would you rather hear me coming out, coming out and robbing your house? And it would be like, it'd just be like silence man, you couldn't hear nothing.'  
'It's very frightening,' said the police wife, who asked to not be identified. 
'Most people who have a family member who's a police officer are very proud of what they do.' 
She added: 'This is real and people actually do know how to find us and they do want to harm us.'

Now that the Mid-Terms are Over...

... the IRS has announced it has recovered Lois Lerner's 30,000 missing emails.

The Basic Misconception About Illegal Aliens

Jerry Pournelle advises that we not panic about Obama's amnesty announcement. Whether you agree that Obama has gone too far or not, I want to point to another topic: a fundamental misconception of the harmlessness of illegal aliens. Pournelle falls into this same trap. He writes:
This resulted in several million — the estimates vary — persons who are criminal by definition — they are illegally in the United States — but not otherwise, and some portion of them — again the numbers vary — have been faithfully employed in construction, farm work, road work, and as housekeepers and nannies.  At least that’s the situation in California where there are said to be many more than a million such persons, not wanted for any crime, many valued for their services, but illegally here and subject to deportation.
In not so many words, he is saying that they are here illegally, but otherwise positively contribute to society and do no harm.

It is a naive and simplistic viewpoint. Their illegalities do not stop simply by being here illegally. As Pournelle observes, they are "faithfully employed in construction, farm work, road work, and as housekeepers and nannies." Well, if they are faithfully employed, it necessarily means that they must have shown proof of a right to work--either a green card or proof of citizenship. But they are here illegally, how do they satisfy the law then? 

First, they may be paid under the table. If that is the case, they and/or their employer is evading U.S. taxes--not only income, but Social Security and Medicare employment taxes.

Second, if they are not being paid under the table, then these "faithfully employed" illegal aliens are engaging in identify theft. The Center for Immigration Studies notes:
  • Illegal immigration and high levels of identity theft go hand-in-hand. States with the most illegal immigration also have high levels of job-related identity theft. In Arizona, 33 percent or all identity theft is job-related (as opposed to identity theft motivated simply by profit). In Texas it is 27 percent; in New Mexico, 23 percent; in Colorado, 22 percent; California, 20 percent; and in Nevada, 16 percent. Eight of the 10 states with the highest percentage of illegal aliens in their total population are among the top 10 states in identity theft (Arizona, California, Florida, Texas, Nevada, New York, Georgia, and Colorado).
  • Children are prime targets. In Arizona, it is estimated that over one million children are victims of identity theft. In Utah, 1,626 companies were found to be paying wages to the SSNs of children on public assistance under the age of 13. These individuals suffer very real and very serious consequences in their lives.
  • Illegal aliens commit felonies in order to get jobs. Illegal aliens who use fraudulent documents, perjure themselves on I-9 forms, and commit identity theft in order to get jobs are committing serious offenses and are not “law abiding.” 
A 2008 article from City Journal reports:
The top five states in terms of reported identity theft in 2007 all have large immigrant populations—the border states of Arizona, California, and Texas, as well as Florida and Nevada. People who pilfer legitimate identities in these states are much more likely than in other parts of the country to use them to gain employment unlawfully—the most common reason that illegal aliens steal personal information. In Arizona, for instance, 36 percent of all identity theft is for employment purposes, compared with only 5 percent in Maine, a state with far fewer illegal aliens. “To many law enforcement leaders in Arizona, this suggests that Arizona’s identity-theft epidemic is directly linked to the problem of illegal immigration,” says a recent report by Identity Theft 911, an Arizona company that helps businesses and individuals protect themselves. 
Government investigations have only begun to uncover the extent of the crime wave. When ICE agents raided six Swift meat-processing plants in December 2006, they found widespread evidence of fraud involving the use of real people’s identities; the feds eventually charged 148 illegal aliens in the case with crimes related to identity theft. In the first year and a half after Arizona created a special unit to deal with identity theft, investigators said that they were able to purchase more than 1,000 phony documents that made use of real people’s identities. A so-called three-pack—a Social Security card, a driver’s license, and a permanent-resident card—costs on average just $160 in the state. 
Government statistics probably grossly underestimate the size of the problem. Many local police departments don’t track identity theft accurately, and the FTC only reports complaints that it receives. By combining data on complaints with FTC consumer surveys—which show that far more people have had their identity stolen than report it—Identity Theft 911 estimates that in Arizona alone, some 1.57 million people, or a quarter of the state’s population, have been victims over the last six years. About one-fifth are children—whose Social Security numbers are especially valuable targets, since the kids usually aren’t employed, making discovery of the fraud less likely. 
 It doesn't stop there. Illegal aliens place a tremendous burden on health care systems. Money News, for instance, reported in 2013:

The United States currently has an estimated 11 million immigrants who entered this country illegally. According to the National Research Council, the migration of these individuals into the United States costs American taxpayers $346 billion annually.  

Now we are starting to get a feel for the costs being absorbed by one sector — the U.S. healthcare system — to treat this population. And the cost is staggering.

The Center for Immigration Studies estimates that the current cost of treating uninsured immigrants who entered this country illegally at all levels of government to be $4.3 billion a year, primarily at emergency rooms and free clinics. This doesn't take into account the billions being absorbed by in-patient care delivered by hospitals.

Who is picking up these costs? Every American taxpayer — not to mention medical facilities and insurance companies who turn around and raise their rates for everyone else. 

For instance, it may surprise you to learn that immigrants who entered this country illegally, who have not paid one dime into Medicaid, are receiving Medicaid benefits. Kaiser Healthcare News reports that "federal law generally bars immigrants who enter this country illegally from being covered by Medicaid. But a little-known part of the state-federal health insurance program for the poor has long paid about $2 billion a year for emergency treatment for a group of patients who, according to hospitals, mostly comprise this class of immigrants."

A 2007 report by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that in a four-year period, about 99 percent of those who used Emergency Medicaid were determined to be immigrants that entered this country illegally.

This only covers emergency room care, but many thousands of patients in the United States who lack health insurance but who need long-term care wind up lingering in hospitals for many weeks, months or even years because the current healthcare system doesn't offer workable solutions for them.
There is a term for these people: "permanent patients," because they have no relatives, insurance or an established address where they can go once released.

Ashish Jha, associate professor of health policy and management at Harvard School of Public Health, told NBC, "It's completely illogical that hospitals have to spend about $2,000 a day on patients who could be cared for much more cheaply in a skilled nursing or rehabilitation facility. But because the law prohibits hospitals from discharging patients without a plan in place for ongoing care — and because nursing homes and rehabs are not required to take patients without insurance — many hospitals wind up keeping these patients for long periods of time."

Stephen Frank’s Political News and Views observed, “This is just the tip of the iceberg. According to the California Hospital Association (CHA), illegal aliens cost hospitals across the state about $1.25 billion a year in unpaid medical care…The CHA recently stated that $26 million of those costs are absorbed in the eight hospitals in Ventura County alone.”

“Your health care and lives have been endangered by criminals from other nations--we call them illegal aliens. We must demand that every elected official either enforce the immigration laws or resign--illegal aliens are killing us.”

"In 2003, the American Southwest saw 77 hospitals enter bankruptcy due to unpaid medical bills incurred by illegal aliens. A staggering 84 hospitals in California have been forced to close their doors because of the growing crisis. Hospitals which manage to remain open, then pass the unpaid costs onto the rest of us, which translates into more out-of-pocket expenses and higher insurance premiums for all Americans."
 Illegal aliens also consume more social services than they provide in taxes or economic benefits. From a report by FAIR:
  • Illegal immigration costs U.S. taxpayers about $113 billion a year at the federal, state and local level. The bulk of the costs — some $84 billion — are absorbed by state and local governments. 
  • The annual outlay that illegal aliens cost U.S. taxpayers is an average amount per native-headed household of $1,117. The fiscal impact per household varies considerably because the greatest share of the burden falls on state and local taxpayers whose burden depends on the size of the illegal alien population in that locality 
  • Education for the children of illegal aliens constitutes the single largest cost to taxpayers, at an annual price tag of nearly $52 billion. Nearly all of those costs are absorbed by state and local governments. 
  • At the federal level, about one-third of outlays are matched by tax collections from illegal aliens. At the state and local level, an average of less than 5 percent of the public costs associated with illegal immigration is recouped through taxes collected from illegal aliens. 
  • Most illegal aliens do not pay income taxes. Among those who do, much of the revenues collected are refunded to the illegal aliens when they file tax returns. Many are also claiming tax credits resulting in payments from the U.S. Treasury.
  • (See also this study). The Heritage Foundation observes:
    In 2010, the average unlawful immigrant household received around $24,721 in government benefits and services while paying some $10,334 in taxes. This generated an average annual fiscal deficit (benefits received minus taxes paid) of around $14,387 per household. This cost had to be borne by U.S. taxpayers. Amnesty would provide unlawful households with access to over 80 means-tested welfare programs, Obamacare, Social Security, and Medicare. The fiscal deficit for each household would soar.

    Thursday, November 20, 2014

    Security Lapses Over Cold War Arsenal

    The New Yorker magazine article discusses the lack of oversight and protection of America's nuclear arsenal--especially in the 1950s and early '60s. From the article:

    With great reluctance, Eisenhower agreed to let American officers use their nuclear weapons, in an emergency, if there were no time or no means to contact the President. Air Force pilots were allowed to fire their nuclear anti-aircraft rockets to shoot down Soviet bombers heading toward the United States. And about half a dozen high-level American commanders were allowed to use far more powerful nuclear weapons, without contacting the White House first, when their forces were under attack and “the urgency of time and circumstances clearly does not permit a specific decision by the President, or other person empowered to act in his stead.” Eisenhower worried that providing that sort of authorization in advance could make it possible for someone to do “something foolish down the chain of command” and start an all-out nuclear war. But the alternative—allowing an attack on the United States to go unanswered or NATO forces to be overrun—seemed a lot worse. Aware that his decision might create public unease about who really controlled America’s nuclear arsenal, Eisenhower insisted that his delegation of Presidential authority be kept secret. At a meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he confessed to being “very fearful of having written papers on this matter.”
    President John F. Kennedy was surprised to learn, just a few weeks after taking office, about this secret delegation of power. “A subordinate commander faced with a substantial military action,” Kennedy was told in a top-secret memo, “could start the thermonuclear holocaust on his own initiative if he could not reach you.” Kennedy and his national-security advisers were shocked not only by the wide latitude given to American officers but also by the loose custody of the roughly three thousand American nuclear weapons stored in Europe. Few of the weapons had locks on them. Anyone who got hold of them could detonate them. And there was little to prevent NATO officers from Turkey, Holland, Italy, Great Britain, and Germany from using them without the approval of the United States.

    In December, 1960, fifteen members of Congress serving on the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy had toured NATO bases to investigate how American nuclear weapons were being deployed. They found that the weapons—some of them about a hundred times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima—were routinely guarded, transported, and handled by foreign military personnel. American control of the weapons was practically nonexistent. Harold Agnew, a Los Alamos physicist who accompanied the group, was especially concerned to see German pilots sitting in German planes that were decorated with Iron Crosses—and carrying American atomic bombs. Agnew, in his own words, “nearly wet his pants” when he realized that a lone American sentry with a rifle was all that prevented someone from taking off in one of those planes and bombing the Soviet Union.
     Read the whole thing.

    Not Enough Sunlight for California Solar Power Plant

    The largest solar power plant of its type in the world - once promoted as a turning point in green energy - isn't producing as much energy as planned. 
    One of the reasons is as basic as it gets: The sun isn't shining as much as expected. 
    Sprawling across roughly 5 square miles of federal desert near the California-Nevada border, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System opened in February, with operators saying it would produce enough electricity to power a city of 140,000 homes. 
    So far, however, the plant is producing about half of its expected annual output for 2014, according to calculations by the California Energy Commission.
    ... "Factors such as clouds, jet contrails and weather have had a greater impact on the plant than the owners anticipated," the agency said in a statement.
    Greentech Media provides some more details:
    The Mojave Desert plant, built with the aid of a $1.6 billion federal loan guarantee, kicked off commercial operation at the tail end of December 2013, and for the eight-month period from January through August, its three units generated 254,263 megawatt-hours of electricity, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data. That’s roughly one-quarter of the annual 1 million-plus megawatt-hours that had been anticipated. 
    Output did pick up in the typically sunny months of May, June, July and August, as one might expect, with 189,156 MWh generated in that four-month period. But even that higher production rate would translate to annual electricity output of less than 600,000 MWh, at least 40 percent below target. 
    Another sign of the plant’s early operating woes: In March, the owners sought permission (PDF) to use 60 percent more natural gas in auxiliary boilers than was allowed under the plant’s certification, a request that was approved in August. 
    Some might point to Ivanpah’s struggles as another potential black eye for the U.S. Department of Energy loan guarantee program, but losses in the DOE portfolio have been small, well under what was budgeted for the program by Congress. Still, the plant’s slow start can’t be good news for its owners, particularly BrightSource, the company whose technology is on display at Ivanpah and which has struggled to advance other planned power tower projects in California. 
    Plant operator NRG declined to answer emailed questions about Ivanpah’s performance; BrightSource was more responsive. 
    The company said that “weather at Ivanpah since February has generally been worse than expected, resulting in reduced output.” July, when generation dipped to 35,967 MWh from 64,275 MWh in June -- the plant’s best month so far -- was particularly lacking in sunshine, BrightSource said, at least relative to the expectations the company developed over several years of meteorological study of the area.
    You may have heard of the Ivanpah facility before, as it has been blamed for bird deaths.
    According to the Associated Press, up to 28,000 birds per year might be meeting an early death after burning up in the focused beams of sunlight, with birds dying at a rate of one bird every two minutes. The burned-up birds are being dubbed "streamers," after the poof of smoke produced by the igniting birds. 
    A report by the USFWS states that most of the birds are dying from various levels of exposure to "solar flux" which causes "singeing of feathers." 
    "Severe singeing of flight feathers caused catastrophic loss of flying ability, leading to death by impact with the ground or other objects," the report states. "Less severe singeing led to impairment of flight capability, reducing ability to forage and evade predators, leading to starvation or predation." 
    A quasi-food chain is being established around the solar plant, with predators eating birds and bats that burn up in the plant's solar rays chasing after insects which are attracted to the bright light from the sun's reflected rays. That prompted wildlife officials to refer to Ivanpah as a "mega-trap" for wildlife.
    Some of the birds killed are from endangered species.

    I don't raise this story as another example of failed "green energy" projects (although it is that), but that it is receiving less sunlight in a year of record droughts in California--presumably a period that would see less than normal cloud cover. Is this evidence of less sunlight reaching the Earth's surface and, therefore, of a cooling trend?