British Soldiers receive Better Treatment in Military Field Hospitals than in Britain’s NHS

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 15th, 2012

Week in Review

Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) treats all Britons.  Even their military wounded in battle.  It doesn’t matter.  The NHS takes care of all Britons.  Where they put patients before profits.  And negligence before quality in some cases (see Wounded soldiers sue military hospital for medical negligence after receiving ‘poor treatment’ by Tom Gardner posted 4/15/2012 on the Daily Mail).

When they signed up to risk life and limb for their country, they expected in return to receive a decent level of care if they were wounded.

But new figures have revealed troops returning injured from the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq are suing a specialist hospital for medical negligence.

Over the past three years, 13 soldiers have launched compensation claims against the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine at Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth hospital…

… experts say there is a gap between the world-class care frontline soldiers receive on the battlefield and the aftercare they receive when they are repatriated.

Clinical negligence specialist Philippa Tuckman said: ‘I think as far as Birmingham is concerned, there is a gap between the emergency care and what comes next.

‘The acute care is usually very good. The battlefield and emergency treatment is an example to others which has been picked up around the world.

‘What they are not so good at is the general practice and the day to day less dramatic care, which is just as important.

So in other words, the care they received when first airlifted from the battlefield to a field hospital is better than the care they received when they returned home.  And became a patient in the National Health Service.  It’s sort of like that in the U.S.  Where the VA hospitals were notorious for substandard care.  Things are better than they used to be.  But if a veteran has the option (money, spouse’s health insurance, etc.) they’ll go to a private hospital.  For better care.  At least, while they have that choice.

Obamacare will change all that.  And give our veterans the same choice British veterans have.  None.  And the overall quality of health care will decline.  For when you’re treating more patients with the same resources you can’t raise the VA up to the level of the private hospitals.  You’ll have to lower the level of health care everywhere to the level of the VA hospitals.

Britain doesn’t hate their wounded veterans when they return home.  It’s just that when they get home they enter a much larger health care system that spreads limited resources over more people.  Which can’t but decline the level of quality they receive.  As it will be under Obamacare in America.  As it will be everywhere when they try to spread limited resources to more people.  Sure, everyone will have access to health care under Obamacare.  It just won’t be as good as it used to be.  And more people will suffer medical negligence.  Like those British soldiers returning to Britain.

Mr Garthley was also ordered to take off his uniform at Selly Oak hospital – then home of the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine – in case it offended ethnic minority patients, sparking national outrage.

Imagine that.  A British soldier had to remove his British uniform for treatment in the British NHS.  You know, if anyone has earned the right to leave his clothes on you’d think it would be a British soldier wounded in battle.  Perhaps they should have removed the offended patients to another room.  Apologizing, of course, for their inconvenience.  But we’re treating national heroes here.  And, frankly, when it comes to heroes politics don’t enter into the discussion.

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The Clock is Ticking on the Iranian Problem but will we Act before they go Nuclear?

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 15th, 2012

Week in Review

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is stirring up trouble in the Middle East.  Again.  He’s got his eyes on some strategically located islands that just might come in handy in some future plans (see Gulf states schedule special meeting over Iran-UAE island dispute by Alexandra Sandels and Ramin Mostaghim posted 4/13/2012 on the Los Angeles Times).

Foreign ministers of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states are scheduled to meet in the Saudi capital of Riyadh following a visit by Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to a disputed island earlier this week in a move that has sparked a diplomatic spat between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Iran…

Abu Musa is one of three islands that both Iran and the UAE claim. Iran took control of the islands of Abu Musa, Lesser Tunb and Greater Tunb — all located near important shipping lanes in the Strait of Hormuz — back in 1971, as the Gulf emirates gained full independence from Britain and British forces were withdrawn.

GCC chief Abdullatif al-Zayani has denounced Ahmadinejad’s visit to Abu Musa. In a statement, he called it a “clear violation of UAE sovereignty” and said it was “an irresponsible provocation and is not in line with the GCC policy of maintaining good neighborly relations with Iran,” according to media reports.

If you look at a map you can understand why Iran is causing all of this trouble.  Lesser Tunb and Greater Tunb are in the shipping lanes proper.  Abu Musa is on the far side of the shipping lanes from Iran.  Ideal islands to have if you’re threatening to blockade the Strait of Hormuz.  Which the Iranians are threatening to do if anyone tries to stop their nuclear program.

Iran is the bully of the Middle East.  Always looking to start trouble.  They were sponsoring attacks on U.S. service personnel in Iraq.  They were inflaming the unrest on Bahrain.  They’re close with the Muslim Brotherhood who is gathering political power in Egypt.  They’re funding Hezbollah and Hamas in their attacks on Israel.  And, of course, they want to remove Israel from the map.  Which is just something their nuclear program can do.  Even the other Arab states are sick and tired of having to deal with Iran.  Who want to be the supreme power in the region.  Just like the British were at one time.  And who the Iranians condemned for it. 

Iran it the greatest threat to stability and peace in the area.  Which is growing ever more instable and less peaceful since the fall of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.  We can’t let Iran be a nuclear power.  For they won’t live in peace with any neighbor once they have it.  And threaten nuclear retaliation for any attempts to limit her influence and power in the region.  Or any action they take against Israel.  There is no good way for this to end.  Except, perhaps, the fall of the current Iranian regime.  Which may be the only way to stop it.  But after a decade of war who is going to start another?

There is a parallel to pre-World War II Europe here.  Hitler got away with provocation after provocation because no one wanted a return to war.  Not after World War I.  So we negotiated and dithered.  Even gave Hitler a sovereign nation.  Czechoslovakia.  Anything to appease him and avoid war.  And we know how that ended.  Once he had Czechoslovakia he attacked Poland.  Launching World War II.  Which was far worse than World War I.  And any war Iran starts as a nuclear power will be far worse than the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.  Which means only one thing.  We can’t let Iran become a nuclear power.  But will we?

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High Gasoline Prices blamed on Wall Street instead of Where it Belongs – Environmentalism

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 15th, 2012

Week in Review

Is Wall Street to blame for high gasoline prices?  Or are governmental environmental policies.  Most like to blame Wall Street.  Because they have no understanding of the oil business.  Even though it’s pretty straight forward.  And follows all the rules of supply and demand.  Where most of the current price pressures are coming on the supply side of the equation.  But Wall Street isn’t to blame for that.  We are.  For our collective attacks on the oil industry.  And our acquiescence of the environmental movement (see If the U.S. is now an oil exporter, why $4 gas? by Leah McGrath Goodman posted 4/11/2012 CNNMoney).

The U.S. is now selling more petroleum products than it is buying for the first time in more than six decades. Yet Americans are paying around $4 or more for a gallon of gas, even as demand slumps to historic lows. What gives..?

Americans have been told for years that if only we drilled more oil, we would see a drop in gasoline prices. (Speaking to voters last month, Newt Gingrich made the curious assurance that more oil drilling could drive down gasoline prices to $2.50 a gallon, prompting the White House to accuse him of “lying.”)

But more drilling is happening now, and prices are still going up. That’s because Wall Street has changed the formula for pricing gasoline.

Until this time last year, gas prices hinged on the price of U.S. crude oil, set daily in a small town in Cushing, Oklahoma – the largest oil-storage hub in the country. Today, gasoline prices instead track the price of a type of oil found in the North Sea called Brent crude. And Brent crude, it so happens, trades at a premium to U.S. oil by around $20 a barrel.

So, even as we drill for more oil in the U.S., the price benchmark has dodged the markdown bullet by taking cues from the more expensive oil. As always, we must compete with the rest of the world for petroleum – including our own…

To put it more literally, if a Wall Street trader or a major oil company can get a higher price for oil from an overseas buyer, rather than an American one, the overseas buyer wins. Just because an oil company drills inside U.S. borders doesn’t mean it has to sell to a U.S. buyer. There is patriotism and then there is profit motive. This is why Americans should carefully consider the sacrifice of wildlife preservation areas before designating them for oil drilling. The harsh reality is that we may never see a drop of oil that comes from some of our most precious lands.

It’s not Wall Street.  It’s the crude oil.  The refineries.  And the fact some refineries can only refine the Brent sweet crude oil.

The stuff we import, Brent sweet crude, is a higher quality crude.  It’s cleaner.  And easier to refine.  But it’s more expensive.  Which is a problem for the refineries on the east coast.  And on the Gulf Coast.  Because that’s the crude they can refine.  Because their crude costs are higher their refined gasoline costs are higher.  Therefore, these refineries lose money when selling at the prevailing market price.  So they export their gasoline where they can sell it at a higher price that covers their costs.  Or they shut down refineries.  Which they have done.  Shutting done some 5% of refinery capacity within the last 6 months.  Bringing total online capacity to about 60%.

The stuff we get from Canada, North Dakota and the Gulf of Mexico is West Texas Intermediate.  Which is a heavier, dirtier crude oil.  The refineries that can refine this oil are located in Oklahoma, Kansas and outside Chicago.  And because the gasoline they sell starts with a crude oil priced about $20 less a barrel than their east and Gulf Coast rivals they can sell at prevailing market prices and make a profit that recovers all of their costs.  Which is why these refineries are operating at about 95% of capacity.  Which explains why gasoline is cheaper in Midwest than on the coasts.  Well that, and California’s own emission standards that require an even more costly blend of gasoline than your typical summer blend (to reduce the polluting affects of gasoline at higher temperatures).

(You can read more about refining costs in a February Bloomberg article.  And more about gasoline blends in an Energy Policy Research Foundation article.)

So, no, it’s not Wall Street causing the high gas prices.  It’s environmental policy.  Which requires costly blends of gasoline to reduce emissions.  And makes any expansion of the refinery infrastructure cost prohibitive.  Environmental impact studies alone can take years to complete.  And cost hundreds of millions of dollars.  So the aging infrastructure strains at the seams.  Whereas if those policies weren’t so cost prohibitive we could build new refineries along the east and Gulf Coast to replace those underutilized and shuttered facilities.  And flood them with domestically produced West Texas Intermediate.  Which would make gas prices fall.  At least it would lower the east and Gulf Coast prices to that enjoyed in the Midwest.  But not in California.  Who will forever have the highest gasoline prices thanks to their emission standards

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Kim Jong-un can’t Feed his People but he can Spend $1 Billion to Test Launch a Nuclear Ballistic Missile

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 15th, 2012

Week in Review

And our little dance with North Korea continues.  We offer them food aid.  And then they test launch a nuclear ballistic missile.  Usually they wait to get their food before they start the next dance.  But they didn’t this time.  Probably to show that their new leader, the twenty something Kim Jong-un, has a pair.  To show his people he’s not afraid of the big bad wolf.  Which would be the United States in this metaphor.  To show how tough he is.  And how willing he is to let his people starve to death.  Yeah, he’s that tough.  The message to his people being “now do something to deserve some punishment and see what a cruel bastard I can be” (see Rocket failure cost at least US$1 billion by AP posted 4/15/2012 on The Taipei Times).

North Korea’s much-touted satellite launch ended in a nearly US$1 billion failure, bringing humiliation to the country’s new young leader and condemnation from a host of nations. The UN Security Council deplored the launch, but stopped short of imposing new penalties in response.

The rocket’s disintegration on Friday over the Yellow Sea brought a rare public acknowledgment of failure from Pyongyang, which had hailed the launch as a show of strength amid North Korea’s persistent economic hardship…

The launch brought swift international condemnation, including the suspension of US food aid, and raised concerns that the North’s next move could be even more provocative — a nuclear test, the country’s third.

North Korea can’t afford to feed their own people but they can spend $1 billion to put a satellite into orbit that none of their people can benefit from.  If you look at a nighttime picture of North Korea you’ll see the country is mostly dark.  They don’t have the money or the infrastructure to use electricity to light up their cities at night let alone receive anything electronic from that satellite.  But to save face they may now do something nuclear.  Again, something they can afford.  Unlike feeding the good people of their country.

North Korea is proud of their ‘military first’ policy.  For that is what’s important to their leaders.  After all, why feed your people when they may just starve to death anyway in another month or two?  Yet the American Left is far more vocal in their condemnation of the U.S. military than anything the North Koreans do.  Say all you want about the centuries old argument between guns and butter but one thing you can’t say is that the North Korean poor have an obesity problem.  Like they do in the United States.

The international community needs a plan on how to reintegrate the two Koreas without overwhelming the South Koreans or the Chinese.  Their nearest neighbors who undoubtedly will carry the heaviest cost in any reunification.  Perhaps line up some corporations to invest heavily in North Korea.  To find some resources they can extract.  To do a little job creation in North Korea.  And generate some wealth they can use to slowly build their infrastructure.  And grow the food to feed their people.  If we could communicate a viable plan to the oppressed North Koreans we could end this nonsense.  And help these people find a way to a better life.  And ultimately, hopefully, to reunification.  Or at the least an open and free border between the Koreas.  To bring together separated families.  While they’re still alive to be reunited.

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GM and Ford pursuing Carbon Fiber to Improve Fuel Efficiency and Increase Profits

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 15th, 2012

Week in Review

Ford and GM following the lead of Airbus and Boeing.  Using composite materials to make their vehicles lighter.  And more fuel efficient.  For as Airbus and Boeing have proven, improved fuel efficiency during times of high fuel costs leads to more unit sales (see Ford, Dow to explore carbon fiber use in vehicles by Deepa Seetharaman posted 4/12/2012 on Reuters).

Ford Motor Co and Dow Chemical Co will work to develop cost-effective ways of using carbon fiber in high-volume cars and trucks as the No.2 U.S. automaker moves to cut vehicle weight to improve overall fuel economy…

Weight reduction is one way for automakers to boost the efficiency of their fleets in anticipation of rising oil prices and stricter fuel economy standards for upcoming model years…

Using carbon fiber in lieu of conventional steel can lower the weight of a vehicle component by up to 50 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Cutting a car’s weight by 10 percent can improve fuel economy by as much as 8 percent.

Carbon fiber, already used in racing cars and products like hockey sticks, is not new to the auto industry. BMW (BMWG.DE), for example, uses the material in its M3 coupe.

Yet carbon fiber’s high cost has blocked its wide-scale use. Industry experts say one way to lower the overall cost of carbon fiber is to find cheaper ways of preparing those materials…

Last month, the Obama administration announced it would provide $14.2 million in funding to spur development of stronger and lighter materials.

Really?  The government needs to fund this with subsidies?  You mean there is no incentive for automakers to make their cars lighter?  I think there is.  If they can make a car lighter without shrinking it down to something slightly larger than a shoe box they will improve fuel economy.  And increase sales.  For what family would not want to buy a fuel efficient car that lets them pack the family in it and take it on vacation?  Letting them take longer trips because the cost of gasoline doesn’t eat up the family vacation budget?  Or let families spend more on their grocery bill rather than on gasoline?  To enjoy more cookouts during their summer vacation?  One thing for certain is that if you can produce a more fuel efficient car that doesn’t trade anything else to get that efficiency (size, range, etc.), people will run to buy it.  And that is what we call incentive.

GM revenue in 2011 was $150.3 billion alone.  So Ford and GM are not doing this to get their hands on that piddling $14.2 million in federal money.  Which was about 0.01% of GM’s total revenue in 2011.  Which is little more than a rounding error.  They’re doing this to increase their market share in an increasingly competitive market.  In 2011 GM, Ford and Chrysler had global market shares of 8%, 8% and 3%, respectively.  If you divide GM’s revenue by 8 that comes to about $18.8 billion in revenue per percentage point.  Which is one heck of an incentive to increase unit sales to get just one more percentage point in market share.  And during times of high fuel costs one way to do that is to make a car cheaper to own by making it more fuel efficient.  That’s why they’re pouring money into carbon fiber technology.  Not because the government is offering what amounts to loose change under the sofa cushions as far as GM is concerned.  Because fuel efficiency equals higher market share when gasoline is expensive.  And market share equals higher revenue.  And profits.

Yes, it’s greed that’s making Ford and GM pursue carbon fiber to increase fuel efficiency.  Which is the best reason.  Because greed requires no government subsidies.

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Newly Found Oil Reserves may break the Cycle of Oppression due to Poverty and Corruption in East Africa

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 15th, 2012

Week in Review

East Africa is plagued by poverty, political corruption, lack of infrastructure, poor health conditions, AIDS epidemics, high infant mortality rates and everything else that goes with impoverished, corrupt countries.  Somalia is home to pirates that are the scourge of the high seas.  Ethiopia’s recurring famines are well known.  Uganda had Idi Amin.  Who terrorized his people with murder, rape and torture.  South Sudan came into being after a bloody civil war.  Where tribal civil wars continue within the new South Sudan.  As they do throughout much east Africa.  Because there are no advanced economies to support a prosperous middle class.  Just a ruling elite terrorizing the impoverished masses who survive on subsistence farming.  But that may all be changing (see Eastern El Dorado? posted 4/7/2012 on The Economist).

IN ENERGY terms, east Africa has long been the continent’s poor cousin. Until last year it was thought to have no more than 6 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, compared with 60 billion in west Africa and even more in the north. Since a third of the region’s imports are oil-related, it has been especially vulnerable to oil shocks. The World Bank says that, after poor governance, high energy costs are the biggest drag on east Africa’s economy.

All that may be about to change. Kenya, the region’s biggest economy, was sent into delirium on March 26th by the announcement of a big oil strike in its wild north. A British oil firm, Tullow, now compares prospects in the Turkana region and across the border in Ethiopia to Britain’s bonanza from the North Sea. More wells will now be drilled across Kenya, which also holds out hopes for offshore exploration blocs.

President Obama continually tries to tell the American people that we have the smallest oil reserves in the world yet we consume the lion’s share of the world’s oil production.  But that’s not true.  There’s a lot of oil out there.  But you have to drill first to find it.  And until you do you can’t prove these reserves.  So no one counts them.  Including our president.  But it doesn’t stop anyone from looking for oil and natural gas.  If they are not forbidden to do so.  Like they are in America wherever the government has a say in the matter.  People once thought east Africa had no energy.  But it didn’t stop them.  Who believe in the policy of ‘drill baby drill’.  And in ‘drill and ye shall find’.  Which they did.  And they found.  Oil and gas all over that once thought barren land.  Because they just kept drilling, baby.

Kenya’s find raised less joy in Uganda, where oil was first struck in 2006…

South Sudan, for years the largest oil producer in the region and locked in an oil dispute with Sudan, now wants to send crude out through Kenya on a pipeline to a proposed new port in Lamu (see map). Such a channel could also serve Ethiopia, which shares Kenya’s joy about their joint oil prospects. But their winnings pale next to those farther south. Tanzania has done well out of gold, earning record receipts of $2.1 billion last year, a 33% increase on 2010. It will do even better from gas. The past month has seen the discovery of enormous gasfields in Tanzanian offshore waters. That of Britain’s BG Group is big, Another, by Norway’s Statoil, is bigger. Statoil’s recent gas find alone is estimated to hold almost a billion barrels of oil equivalent (boe).

Happily, Tanzania’s gasfield extends south to Mozambique, where Italy’s Eni last month unveiled a find of 1.3 billion boe, matching similar finds by an American firm, Andarko. With plans to build a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal, Mozambique could be a big exporter within a decade. At least the vast and impoverished south of Tanzania and north of Mozambique will be opened up to much-needed investment.

Oil and natural gas everywhere.  Finally a chance for these impoverished lands to develop a middle class.  Who can develop a rule of law.  And government of the people by the people for the people.  Like in all Western countries.  Where the quality of life and life expectancy is higher than in these impoverished east African countries.  Which they can have, too.  If they harness their energy resources.  Create jobs.  And provide the energy a modern economy requires.

Yet the region is not just excited about fossil fuels; a parallel push towards alternative energy is under way. Several east African countries are keen to realise the Rift Valley’s geothermal prospects. One of the world’s largest wind farms is being built in Kenya not far from the new-found oil in Turkana. Its backers say it will produce 300MW, three times the total output of Rwanda.

That is a drop in the bucket for Ethiopia. Its rivers, plunging from well-watered highlands into deep canyons, have hydropower potential. Meles Zenawi, the prime minister, has ordered the construction of a series of dams at a total cost of over $8 billion. The jewel is the $4.7 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile. This should generate 5,250MW when finished, increasing electricity production in the country fivefold, providing a surplus for export and allowing Ethiopia to open up as a manufacturer.

Wind farms.  Well, when you have no energy that 300 mega watts will be a lot.  But when they build that dam which will produce 5,250 mega watts they can shut down those novelty wind mills.  And put that land to better use.  Perhaps building better homes for that budding middle class.  Businesses.  And schools.  For that dam will be able to modernize their infrastructure.  And bring electricity, and the modern conveniences we all take for granted, into their homes.  Including cable TV.  The Internet.  And smart phones.  Things few subsistence farmers enjoy.

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