Public Service

32% more honey in Smokey Bear’s fire fighting budget

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Utterly unnecessary comments from Trump when he threatened to slash the Forestry Service budget due to supposed Forestry Management incompetence being behind the devastating fires in California. The budget of the US Department of Agriculture Forestry Service does prove that he has a point in that monies directed at “preparedness” and “suppression” will have risen 32% since he took office. No fire is alike and there have been plenty of deaths and property destruction from the terrible conditions. What is to be gained by knocking the leadership of the Forestry Service when the brave fire fighters and volunteers still put their lives on the line to prevent the spread of fires? Hardly motivational. While there maybe grounds to improve operational efficiency, the timing couldn’t have been more inappropriate.

Does the data show Donald in the dumpster?

Midterm

This is a simple schematic of first term presidents and the results at the ballot box of their first mid term. Since 1910, the incumbent parties have invariably lost ground. More interestingly, Democrats had control of either/both House of Reps and Senate during Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Bush Sr – all Republicans. Republican Presidents Taft, Harding, Hoover, Eisenhower and Trump lost the House at the midterms. Truman, Clinton and Obama suffered the same fate for the Democrats.

Trump achieved the highest number of Senate seats taken by a first term Republican president for over 100 years. George W Bush achieved rising numbers for HoR/Senate  post 9/11 but only Democrats have achieved the feat – Woodrow Wilson, FDR and JFK. Perhaps the irrelevance of the outcomes in the mid-terms is that despite the floggings Wilson, Truman, Ike, Reagan, Clinton, Bush Jr and Obama all were comfortably reelected for a second term.

Given the headwinds Trump was facing from the mainstream media, his unorthodox outbursts, twitter tirades and so forth, the electorate didn’t grant the Democrats a huge gift  they were expecting. Even worse they gave Trump a bigger authority to appoint SC justices should an opportunity arise by bumping his numbers in the Senate. Not surprising given the shocking gutter level political theatre over Justice Kavanaugh, vindicated by  victims confessing they had lied.

The Democrats should still be concerned that the $70mn spent on Beto O’Rourke came to nothing.  Beyonce also endorsed Beto. Oprah endorsed Abrams in Georgia – who is likely to lose. Taylor Swift endorsed Bredesen – who also lost. All four candidates openly supported by Obama lost. So much for celebrity power swaying electorates. It probably had a counter effect.

Even worse, in Nevada a brothel owner and reality TV star won his race despite dying last month. It is hard to work out what is the bigger tragedy. Voting for someone dead or being the competing Democrat to lose to a dead person. A Republican is to be appointed to the seat by county officials.

We shouldn’t forget that the Republicans had the highest number of sitting member retirements at a first midterm in the House of Representatives for 88 years. 25 seats had a new face. Republicans won re-election as governors in New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Maryland – three of them deep blue states. Where was the mainstream media on that?

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Turnout was good (for a mid term). 48.1% voted in 2018. In the last 100 years the average has been 41%. Only in 1966, did the first midterm of LBJ exceed this level at 48.7%. So much for either party causing a red or blue wave. Less than half of eligible voters showed up on November 6th 2018. More cared, but not enough.

Felons make for an interesting outlier subset. While it is hard to know their exact voting intentions, for the Gubernatorial in Georgia, would 219,431 felons have made a difference for Abrams? She trails Kemp by just under 100,000 votes. So if 55% of felons (the Georgia midterm turnout ratio) voted, 120,687 votes were up for grabs. Were it legal for Georgian state felons to vote, she would have been wise to campaign there.

Felons

Now that the Democrats have the lower house, one wonders why they have put Nancy Pelosi in charge of the House? This is possibly to be contested. Up to fifty Democrat congressmen might oppose her for Speaker. Trump couldn’t wish for a better adversary as her litany of gaffes will undoubtedly embarrass her party. Pelosi represents pretty much everything Americans have come to despise about the Democrats.

More worryingly, Maxine Waters is being put in charge of the Financial Services Committee. At a point in the cycle where financial acumen is probably most required, this is an embarrassment, made worse by her open calls for payback.

The Democrats need fresh faces. Ones that will look for bipartisan support. If the Democrats embark upon a cocktail of revenge politics and look to push for investigation after investigation in order to impeach Trump but end up with nothing they will be seen for what they are – a party completely self-absorbed with petty vendettas. The toxic Senate debacle should have given them warning enough that voters won’t tolerate more political roadkill like that going forward.  Yet Pelosi will likely use her subpoena powers to drag everything through the gutter instead of working to improve things for Americans. Failure here will only lead the electorate to conclude they wasted two years and gift wrap 2020 for Trump.

This mid-term election was anything but a slam dunk. Put aside personal hatred of Trump, look at the data and see that Americans did not write him off as many pundits predicted. It should be more scary to realise that he is probably more Teflon-Don than he was in 2016. Second biggest mid-term turnout in history, highest net gain of seats in the Senate in 100 years for a first term GOP president, record dollars thrown at Democrat candidates backed by Trump-hating billionaires. At the end of the day folks, this is just the data talking.

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Tommy trouble

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It seems the UK Armed Forces are finding it difficult to recruit their own. So much so that they have lifted a 5-yr waiting period for Commonwealth citizens to join up. The National Audit Office states the armed forces are suffering the worst shortage of new recruits since 2010, being short 8,200 from desired levels. Therefore Aussies, Canadians, Indians and other Commonwealth citizens can sign up.

According to official Ministry of Defence (MOD) in the year leading to November 2017 1,759 of the 15,325 regular troops quit  because their time was up. Nearly half (7,439 ) quit early because of worsening conditions and falling morale. 3,325 were kicked out on disciplinary grounds and another 2,337 were medically discharged.

The MOD’s UK Regular Armed Forces Continuous Attitude Survey 2015 revealed,

-The number of personnel stating that they are dissatisfied with Service life has risen to 32%, up from 27% in 2014. Not a good start.

-There has been a fall in the number of personnel reporting that they are proud to be in their Service, from 81% in 2014 to 77% in 2015.

-25% “state that they plan to leave as soon as they can, or have put in notice to leave” (+9% on 2011).

-Satisfaction with pension benefits has dropped 18% since 2011

– Less than a third (27%) of Service personnel agree that the level of compensation is enough

-In 2015, job security was the top retention factor, followed by dental and healthcare provision, pension and opportunities for sport.

  • Individual morale 40% (-6% on 2011)
  • Unit morale 21% (-6% on 2011)
  • Service morale 14% (-4% on 2011)
  • Service life satisfaction 47% (-10% on 2011)
  • Job satisfaction 56% (-8% on 2011)

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Apart from the appalling trajectory of morale, it is clear that care once out of the military doesn’t fare much better.

While the MoD total budget will increase from GBP23bn to GBP50bn by 2020, data about how it is spent is highly opaque. More is learnt by some of the history surrounding the treatment of Tommies.

Support of  veterans has been so lacking that charities such as Help for Heroes has been active picking up the shortfall. It raises over GBP30 million per annum to support the 2,500 British veterans discharged for medical reasons every year to cope with civilian life.

Despite the American Psychiatric Association acknowledging PTSD in 1980, it took the UK another five years to officially recognize PTSD after the sharp increase in veterans suffering from mental health issues post the Falklands War of 1982. Of the 30,000 troops that were sent to fight, the UK armed forces allocated only one psychiatrist to the far away battlefield.

The problem was compounded in the 1990s with widespread closures of UK military hospitals as a cost cutting measure. Seven of the eight military hospitals had been shut or transferred to the NHS by 1999.

The UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) wrote in its recent report on those deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan about how low suicide rates were. It stated, “While rates of mental disorder are lower in the military (3.1%) than the general population (4.5%), the MOD routinely carries out research into those who have served on large scale combat operations, in order to more accurately assess the effects of deployment.” Note there is no data on veteran suicide in the UK.

The UK MOD’s ‘Defence People Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy’ is supposedly in place to challenge the stigma surrounding mental health issues, to ensure that all who serve, and have served, can enjoy a state of positive physical and mental health. The MOD has committed £22 million a year on mental health with the establishment of two 24/7 helplines for serving personnel and veterans. How is it a charity funds 1.5x what the government does?

To put that in context, Australia spends 20x this amount every year just on veterans counseling services. America, albeit a larger veteran base, spends $9bn on mental health for its soldiers.

One wonders why the MOD doesn’t listen to the surveys and act. Then it wouldn’t have to go down the mercenary route.

Banned documentary – Let There Be Light, 1946

In compiling the book of letters from the battlefields of WWII by Lt. Norman Peterson, researching PTSD in that era has unearthed some interesting facts. A documentary made by John Huston in 1946, which chronicled the treatment of troops suffering from neuro-psychiatric conditions, was banned by the Army from release to the public until 1981. The excuse made was that it was necessary to protect the identity of the patients, despite Huston having received signed waivers. It would seem the top brass did not want to have the extent of the problem acknowledged by the broader public.

The first published book related to what we now know as PTSD was the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of 1952. It listed the condition as “gross stress reaction.” It wasn’t until 1980 that PTSD was properly recognized as a psychological issue. After WWII, veterans were told to just tough it out.

WWII British Army veteran, Victor Gregg, wrote the following in The Telegraph newspaper article on 9th November 2015 with respect to PTSD like conditions.

“I remember one day during the Battle of Alamein when my friend Frankie Batt, a man I had enlisted with in 1937, was blown to pieces. I recall trying in vain to put the bits together, to somehow bring Frankie back to life. As I picked up what was left of him I could feel the hate burning inside me. For the next three or four weeks our section never brought in a single prisoner, in spite of the fact that the battle was nearly over and the enemy were surrendering in droves. So long as no officer was there to witness, we shot as many as we could until our anger died its own death…by the time I got home I had witnessed things that I had not thought possible, and my brain was filled with images of suffering that were to haunt me for the next forty years…When I was demobbed, people didn’t talk about what was going on in their minds. It just was not the done thing; you straightened your shoulders and got on with life. The men who did try to raise the subject were treated with scorn…It was only after many years that I realised how much heartache and misery my anger caused to those I loved. 

The Cambridge History of the First World War contains an article by Jay Winter, Professor of History at Yale University, where he suggested that shell shock in WWI comprised around 20% of all troops, not the 5% often reported. His contention was that the truth was deliberately suppressed otherwise sufferers would not have received a disability pension if not accompanied by physical wounds.

In 1993, MA Kidson, JC & BJ Holwill wrote in the Medical Journal of Australia a piece titled, ‘Post-traumatic stress disorder in Australian World War II veterans attending a psychiatric outpatient clinic’. Out of 108 veterans who participated in the study 45% were shown to carry symptoms of PTSD – as defined by DSM-III – 48 years after it had ended. The study claimed, The presence of PTSD was significantly associated with the taking of casualties (an indicator of severity of war stress as reported by the veterans themselves) and with combat stress as rated by their treating doctors.”

A 2007-08 study at the University Michigan looked at 78 WWII veterans being treated for depression and discovered that 38% of them had significant PTSD symptoms.

Dr. Helen Kales, principal investigator of the geriatric psychiatry section at the University of Michigan wrote,

World War II veterans come from a generation in which expressing psychological symptoms or distress was pretty stigmatized. So these cases may have gone untreated as the vets did not seek treatment and were able to somehow suppress their symptoms and function.

Reading into Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) reveals even more concerns about the problems we face dealing with returning soldiers.

While PTSD does not necessarily require physical damage to occur, TBI, in the military, tends to occur when exposed to blast-related injuries such as artillery, improvised explosive devices (IED), land mines and rock-propelled grenades (RPG).

TBI can be the result of occurrences where an object (bullet, bomb fragments) causes the scalp/skull to break or fracture. Sometimes it is a closed injury where the outside force impacts the head but no objects manage to penetrate. Even in the case of closed injuries, the brain can experience such considerable force that it can result in torn tissues, bleeding and other physical damage which can be irreversible in severe cases.

TBI was better recognized in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) where 1.64 million served. 60% of blast injuries in those conflicts resulted in TBI. According to the US Veteran Affairs (VA), 59,000 (c.10%) Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who used the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) from 2009 to 2011 were diagnosed with TBI.

VA now records that 4.3mn receive disability benefits, up 2mn from 2000. The total budget for the VA in 2019 will total $198.6bn, up from $97.7bn in 2009. It was $43.6bn in 2000. The VA is asking for $212bn for 2020. The VA budget relative to the defense spending budget was 14% in 2000. It is now 30%. The cost of war is obscene. The cost of looking after veterans is hot on defence spending heels.

Umbrellagate – operating the mainstream media’s button flawlessly instead

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The mainstream media just doesn’t get it. Despite record low trust in the media, this umbrella incident just proves their derangement syndrome is beyond chronic. Is this really an issue?

The Sydney Morning Herald wrote a puff piece this morning reporting how worried Republicans were becoming as they were being outspent by the Democrats heading into the midterms.

They needn’t worry at all. All that paid for Dem ad dollar undone by the mainstream media who will dedicate Trump 24-hr global free airtime over his inability to find the button to close an umbrella! He certainly found the media’s button to lose their senses. One wonders if it is deliberate just to gather free media coverage?

Is it any surprise the early voting stats according to NBC look like this so far?

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As written last week, with all of the upsets in global politics, why would anyone put value in the decades of consensus thinking that midterms tend to fall to the opposition party? CM still thinks Trump wins both houses.

This Brazilian won by more than a whisker

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Known as the Brazilan Trump, Jair Bolsonaro is set to become the next Brazilian president with a 10mn vote lead. Bolsonaro has been criticized for making denigrating remarks about women, gays and blacks. Despite this, more Brazilians seemingly prefer to break away from decades of establishment corruption.

There in lies the argument. How bad does an opposition have to be to lose to a person who says these unnecessary things? Once again pocket books, jobs, feeding families and dumping crooked self serving incumbents supersedes several incidences of off coloured and unnecessary remarks.

Exactly the same issues Americans faced in the 2016 US election which the mainstream media ignored. Those living in hardship didn’t buy rosy government stats saying how great things were. They weren’t living them. Record levels on food stamps and working multiple jobs wasn’t their idea of the American dream.

Isn’t this also telling from the Brazilian President-elect?

Bolsonaro said, “The people saw the truth, despite the media. A big part of the media put me on a shaming position…Thank you all for your prayers and confidence. Lets together change Brazil’s destiny. We knew where Brazil was headed and now we know where we want to go…We couldn’t continue to flirt with communism and socialism…All pledges will be fulfilled, the  mission of rescuing Brazil will be accomplished.”

Whether he achieves this or not is besides the point. Clearly more Brazilians have had enough of the incompetence to date and are willing to give a left (right?)-field leader a chance to revive their fortunes. A Molotov cocktail to blow up the system.

In recent years Brazil’s currency has fallen 40% in value vs US$ and the GDP growth rate has averaged 0.58% from 1996 until 2018. In the last quarter reported, it was 0.2% with the previous quarter revised down 0.1% in part due to nationwide trucker strikes. 

Switch to the media in the US which thinks Trump’s umbrella event is newsworthy. They just don’t get that he gets even more press coverage this way. It has the opposite effect and only lifts the likelihood of more Americans tuning out of this Trump Derangement Syndrome and voting for him not against. Keep up the good work!

If we’re so keen to stick to Paris should we feel guilty about nuclear power?

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Australia seems keen to stick to the Paris Accord. Despite knowing whatever we do on saving the planet through following the politics of Paris will result in no palpable change in world temperatures at considerable economic cost to overstretched taxpayers. If we seem so keen to do our bit for tokenism, why not copy so many signatories and build nuclear plants? After all if we don’t want to be censured for abandoning the accord should we feel any sense of guilt if we adopt the very same CO2 limiting measures of others? Safety in numbers – literally.

CM was privy to a meeting with a former US Navy officer who was speaking about how negative PR can create false narratives. Nuclear power was one of them. He argued that the US & Japan were losing the PR war hence technological leadership on civilian nuclear power. The likes of Toshiba-Westinghouse are now shrinking minnows whose dwindling order book looks like the victim of a sunset industry when in reality it has been terrible program management. However why should it?

Nuclear power is set to be 14% of global electricity generation by 2040 from 11% today. Emerging Asia get the practicalities of nuclear power. Affordable and sustainable baseload with virtually no emissions.

Of course the horrible outcomes of poorly managed nuclear plants has come at great financial cost as experienced most recently  with Fukushima but the safety record of nuclear power is astonishingly good. Quantum levels more people die in coal mine accidents every year than the combined deaths from radiation from Chernobyl or Fukushima meltdowns since either occurred.

The misplaced fear of Fukushima was so high at the time that Americans across the Pacific were stocking up on radiation masks and Geiger counters in preparation of impending irradiation. It seemed the further one got away from the reactor the more hysteric people became. Deaths in the US as a result of the Fukushima meltdown? Zero!

As it stands, the US has two nuclear plants under construction at present which are saddled with delays and costly overruns based on incompetent execution. The Chinese have twenty in the build phase. India 7. Korea and the UAE 4 each. Russia 3. Even Bangladesh & Pakistan have two in the pipeline using technologies outside of the US/Japan.

There are about 150 power reactors with a total gross capacity of about 160GWe on order with about 300 more proposed. Where are the former world leaders in power technology? Next to nowhere. Cowering in a corner and allowing themselves to be beaten up senseless over false statistics. Where is the PR reporting reality? It’s as if they’ve given up. Where is the media lambasting China, India and other nations for putting our lives at risk? That’s right – nowhere.

What probably escapes many people is that for all the negative news cycle around nuclear power and the thirst for renewable alternatives, many Americans are already surrounded by active nuclear plants. While they visit a zoo or the beach they are blissfully unaware that at all the naval ports dotted around the mainland (e.g. California, Connecticut, NY, Florida, DC, Texas, South Carolina etc) and islands (e.g. Hawaii, Japan) there are 100s of nuclear reactors sitting safely in close proximity to millions of civilians. Yet where is the outrage? Not a peep.

Shout from the hilltops at the efficiency of renewables all you want. Then explain why those with higher levels of renewables as baseload power end up with the highest incidents of blackouts and steepest prices.

South Australia is the case in point. Australia is home to the cheapest materials (gas, coal and uranium) to make affordable electricity but we have caved to the green madness and saddled ourselves with punitive power prices to meet goals based on unproven and often whistle blown manipulated science. If climate scientists were subject to the same punitive damages that players in the financial industry are then it is likely the “targets” leading to our ecological disaster would be pared back to such a degree we’d just keep calm and carry on. Yet because there is no risk of jail sentences the tax dollars get misappropriated, funding an industry whose survival and growth depends on fear. Talk about a lack of ethics.

Even worse we want to double down on this inefficient renewable technology (where claims are often made on 100% capacity rather than the 20% they truly operate on) despite having empirical evidence of its all too obvious shortcomings. Virtue signaling actions such as blowing up old coal fired power stations has ironically proven the stupidest of moves in that all the while demand hasn’t changed reductions in reliable baseload supply makes us vulnerable.

Throw on the desire to electrify the automobile  and we already know that existing base load won’t cope with the increased demands. Take a look at Britain as an example. Apart from the risks of losing massive fuel tax levies (around 5% of total government revenue) the power industry’s current projections of new electricity generation additions can’t meet the expected demand if we all plug our EV in overnight.

So Australia should quit worrying about what others think and act in its own best interests. Maybe Canberra needs a PR agency more than the nuclear industry does. High time to look at real data and sustainability.