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Budget Deal: Time To Claim Victory And Move On…

It appears that Speaker of the House John Boehner and the White House will have settled on a budget deal some time later tonight, that would cut $38 billion from this fiscal year budget, and would largely meet the goals set out by Republicans at the start of this term.  It is still uncertain if the bill will pass, or will be delayed temporarily for the next few days, but the outline for a compromise is now in the works.

The hold through out the day focused on Title X spending:  the monies that go to health centers such as Planned Parenthood.  That accounts for approximately $300 million dollars.  Democrats have been demagoguing the issue left and right.  Female Democrat Senators came out, basically stating that Republicans wanted to take basic medical care away from all women.  The new head of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, accused Republicans of trying to kill women. So much for tone of the debate, huh Mr. Obama?

The key sign all day that progress was being made was the almost incredible silence from the Republican caucus on the issue.  Normally, Republicans would be out in force, defending their Right-to-Life positions.  That was not the case today.  Instead, the leadership kept their eye on the ball…namely, fiscal constraint.

Targeting Planned Parenthood appears to have been important, but not vital, to passage of the budget agreement.  The media and Democrats, in an uproar over the cuts, focused on the social issues, and in the end defeated themselves.

Boehner has played this as well as could be expected.  It now appears, as some sources are saying, that he kept the Title X issues on the table specifically to marginalize the Democrat negotiators to basically arguing on a single item alone:  the Planned Parenthood funding.  Republicans always had their stated goal in mind, for once, did not distract themselves from it.  Abortion is a fight for another day.

For Republicans, it is time to move on.  They achieved their short term goals, in large part.  We certainly didn’t get everything, but now is not the time to quibble.  When you win 95% of the battle, it is time to claim victory and be the adult.  More importantly, the battle has been won but the war is still to be fought:  the 2012 Budget and the debt ceiling remain.  The cuts we did not achieve in this go around should be targeted for that time.

More specifically, it would be foolish for Republicans to lose the goodwill they have currently to target a few billion dollars, when trillions of dollars of cuts stand in the balance.  If Republicans waste political capital now, it is questionable whether they could build public support among a mix of conservatives and independents for the cuts we all know must come before passing an increase in the debt ceiling.

It is time to claim victory, pat ourselves on the back for a job well done…and move on to the next battleground.

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Obama’s Dwindling Budget Choices…

 

President Obama today confirmed what most conservatives already knew…that he will never lead on any subject, but is more than ready to be the person to obstruct any real reform and change that the country needs.

In a “Statement of Administration Policy,” the White House said that it will veto the one-week measure if it passes in Congress, saying that the stopgap measure is “a distraction” from a long-term solution to the budget impasse.

“This bill is a distraction from the real work that would bring us closer to a reasonable compromise for funding the remainder of Fiscal Year 2011 and avert a disruptive Federal Government shutdown that would put the Nation’s economic recovery in jeopardy,” the statement reads.

The statement noted that the administration would accept a “clean” short-term measure (one that does not change the status quo of the past short-term funding bill) while negotiations continue, but, if presented with the GOP-led one-week measure, “the President will veto it.”

This is not a surprise.  In truth, Democrats have been trying to find ways to avoid any and all cuts.  Even their compromise for $33 Billion in cuts is not real.  First of all, Senate Democrats never accepted that number.  Second, Democrats refuse to pass $33 billion in specific cuts…such as in programs like Planned Parenthood and the Environmental Protection Agency, which have long been included in the Republican bill.  Democrats are raising major objections to these so-called ‘policy riders’.  The irony is that Democrats used many, many more policy riders in their past budgets than Republicans have offered in this one.  What goes around comes around.

What is even more amazing is what is contained in this bill the President plans on vetoing.  The temporary measure would fund the Defense Department for the rest of fiscal year 2011.  With the proposed veto, our military would stop getting paid in the immediate future (the Defense Dept. today clarified, and said they would be paid for the next week…but not after that).

Frankly, this was an obvious political trap, and Obama fell for it.  Instead of pushing Congressional Democrats to pass a complete budget, he now has to veto a bill that will not only shut down the government, but will threaten the financial security of our troops.  Obama says this is unacceptable…but apparently is willing to accept it.  When the media finds the endless military families who are struggling to feed their children, who will the public blame:  Republicans, who have been set up to be blamed, or Obama, who finally struck down the bill with the veto?

At this point, the ball is the Democrats’ court.  They could pass the bill, admit defeat, and move on to the larger battle on the 2012 budget. They could choose to pass some version of the House’s current temporary stop-gap, though that contains many of the cuts conservatives want in any case.   Or, they could force a shutdown, and roll the dice in the hopes that Republicans would get the majority of the blame.

I feel that everyone involved would be hurt by a shutdown, the President included.  This is not totally analogous to the situation from 1995.  At that time, conservatives were calling for a government shutdown, almost using it as a rallying cry.  This time, Republican leaders have been careful to avoid such rhetoric, and have gone out of their way to say they don’t want a shutdown.  That may make all the difference in the world.

This is a high stakes game of poker, to be sure.  Republicans have little to lose and much to gain in this process.  More and more, it looks like even if a shutdown happens, the public will broadly blame ‘the Beltway’ for their usual childish behavior.  That would hurt Republicans, but not give any special advantage to Democrats.  However, if Obama takes any significant blame, Republicans in general may be hurt, but potential 2012 candidates will use the failure to show that Obama is not the adult he portrays himself to be.

 

 

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Union Impotence Abounds

 

Wisconsin is now the crucible for Union power, and the fight of small government conservatives versus large government liberals.  That fight was supposed to come to a head on Tuesday night, as an election for a spot on the Wisconsin Supreme Court as the key experiment.

Unions appear to have again not met the challenge.

Justice David Prosser, a conservative justice who was generally popular in the state, was the target of union and liberal groups, as a proxy for their on going fight over union rights with Republican Governor Scott Walker.  Liberals have outspent conservatives 3:1, with over $5 million spent on the race, which likely makes it the most expensive judicial race in American History.  Numerous ugly and hateful ads have run, predominantly from the left, to unseat Prosser.

And the best they could buy was…a dead heat.

Last night, it looked like Prosser would lose the first count to Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg.  Koppenburg actually declared victory last night.  But that changed again this morning, with vote tallies changing every few hours.  Prosser now leads by a couple hundred votes.   That is with over 1.5 million votes in total.  A recount is likely coming.

UPDATE:  Prosser now leads by 7,000 votes?  Computer error?  You got to be kidding.  But this is going to raise the ire of the unions and liberals, who thought victory was within their grasp.  If the margin stays that large, a recount won’t matter much.

Liberal spin this morning is that Prosser won 55-28 against Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg in the primary in February.  So clearly, liberals closed the gap.  But here is the problem…this is the zenith of liberal power in Wisconsin.  And likely, this is the nadir of conservative enthusiasm, as they had already achieved there biggest goal in this cycle.  It is unlikely that liberals will ever be able to raise the ire of their supporters and increase the enthusiasm gap more than at this moment in time.  In an off cycle election, in which conservatives had little reason to vote enthusiastically, the unions still lost.

After a night of liberals celebrating (numerous editorials this morning hailed the victory for liberals), as well as liberals ecstatic that 19 counties flipped from Republican to Democrat (even that has been overstated), there has been stunned silence this afternoon.

Canvassing of votes appears to be going in almost all counties at this point, so the vote totals could go back and forth for a long time.  This will certainly go to a recount.  And maybe Koppenburg will prevail.  In the short run, this won’t matter, as the Collective Bargaining bill will reach the Supreme Court long before Koppenburg even sniffs her seat.  But if this is the hardest punch the left has to give on this…we should take it, and look forward to the next round.

 

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Government Shutdown Looms…

Republicans...unified?

Two days remain before (the horror!) the federal government shuts down.

Speaker Boehner is playing hardball, though.  He told President Obama today that Republicans would pass another stop gap measure on Thursday.  The catch?  The measure would have $12 billion in cuts, and would also assure Defense Department funding for the rest of the year.  GOP aides have coined the stopgap measure a “troop-funding bill” – attempting to make it difficult for lawmakers in either party to oppose.

“Republicans have no interest in shutting down the government,” an exasperated Boehner declared at the conclusion of his press conference. “Shutting down the government I think is irresponsible and I think it will end up costing the American taxpayers more money than we’re already spending.”

The ‘Tea Party bloc’, as I have begun to call them, seem pleased with Boehner’s most current stance on budget talks.  Boehner has now targeted $40 Billion as the achievable cuts he wants in any compromise bill for the complete 2011 budget.  It appears that the Republicans now have a unified front in their position.

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said GOP leaders would not need Democrats to pass the new CR, reflecting efforts by top Republicans to pressure their members to fall into line. Fifty-four Republicans voted against the previous CR, although a number of those lawmakers now say they will vote for this latest funding bill.  Rep. Mike Pence, who has also been vocally opposed to any more short-term funding bills and the leader of the bloc who voted against the previous CR, has also reversed his position.

This puts Senate Democrats in a bind.  Will they stand up for their principles, and basically cause a shutdown in the hopes that the American public is too ignorant of the facts to blame them?  Or will they be forced to pass the bill, and basically in turn pass many of the cuts the Republicans wanted in the first place, simply through what amounts to a back door route?

President Obama, of course, does not want any stopgap measures.  “It makes it tough to win the future when you haven’t passed the budget from last year,” Obama told an audience in Pennsylvania.  Funny, because the entire reason for this mess is the incompetence of Democrats, specifically Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, who failed to pass a budget last year; the first time that has  happened since 1974.

Obama is playing a game of chicken.   It seems that the White House feels that they are going to win the public relations battle, and that the public will automatically blame Republicans, just as they did back in 1995.  However, that is far from assured.  An NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll shows that although 37% would blame Republicans, 20% would blame Obama and 20% would blame Congressional Democrats.  17% of the public would blame both sides equally.  The Republican/Democrat breakdown, then, would be 37%/40%…a wash.   And honest White House staffers will admit concern over a shutdown, and who ultimately will pay the political price if it occurs.

So I guess it is time to roll the dice, huh?

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Obama: Inconsistencies (Falsehoods?) Stack Up

 

No boots on the ground, huh?

As time goes on, the war in Libya looks more and more like a potential quagmire.  Sure, any day Qaddafi could decide he would rather live in Switzerland.  Or one day, a senior aide could decide the Colonel deserves a bullet in the head.  But if wishes were horses…

The inconsistencies in the Obama explanation of the Libyan mission are stacking…so much so, one has to wonder if they are intentional.  If so, they are more than simple inconsistencies, but outright lies.

For example, as recently as just 48 hours ago,  the President reiterated that there would be no US personnel deployed on the ground:  no boots on the ground has been their rallying cry.

That didn’t last long:

CIA officers are on the ground in Libya, coordinating with rebels and sharing intelligence, U.S. officials say, but the Obama administration has not decided whether to take the further step of providing weapons to those trying to oust dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

The issue of whether to provide arms to the ragtag rebel forces has been controversial in Washington.

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, attended a briefing of congressional leaders about the status of CIA activities in Libya.

Later Wednesday, the White House issued a statement repeating that “no decision has been made about providing arms to the opposition or to any group in Libya.”

“We’re not ruling it out or ruling it in,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement.

Well, two days earlier we ruled out forces on the ground in Libya…so that ‘nuanced’ position is quite meaningless.

‘Nuanced’ is the word most liberals use for this entire operation.  It is systematic for the indecision and confusion that percolates through out the entire discussion.  Frankly, when you can’t even decide on whether this is a police action or a war, that is worrisome. (And as a side note:  when you try to enact ‘regime change’ by military action, Mr. President, that is always considered a war.)

The ‘nuance’ doesn’t end there.  The Obama Administration’s description of the coalition has been stretched to the point of ridicule as well.  This is, as many have pointed out, the smallest coalition in modern history.  With only 15 members currently, it is smaller than the coalition for Kosovo, and less than half the size of Desert Storm and about 1/3 the size of the coalitions that started either the Iraq or Aghan wars.  It does have the largest Arab component since the 1991 Persian Gulf War, to be sure.  But still, this is an American operation, with American jets flying over half the sorties, as well as American ships firing over 90% of the sea-to-land missiles so far.  For example, Qatar flew the first Arab mission in the war…7 days after the mission started.

At this point, Obama, Nicholai Sarkozy and David Cameron are holding the coalition are holding the coalition by a thread.  Remember Obama’s promise that U.S. involvement would be ‘days, not weeks’?  Well, that went by the wayside when NATO had difficulty in taking over the mission.  Support from NATO is slim right now, with both Germany and Turkey wavering, and a question of who really will take the helm when the U.S. pulls back.

Fracturing of the coalition seems even more likely when you get into the details.  The White House, after receiving withering attacks from both the left and the right last week, have been more aggressive, and suggesting that Qaddafi’s removal was a major goal of the operation in their minds.  They have suggest arming the rebels among the scenarios being considered.

If you think the coalition agrees with any of that, thing again:

Officials at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which early Thursday assumed control of allied operations to enforce the United Nations mandate in Libya, said they aren’t considering arming Libyan rebels.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters in Stockholm that he has taken note of the “ongoing discussion in a number of countries” about arming the rebels but “as far as NATO is concerned…we will focus on the enforcement of the arms embargo,” which he said applies “across the board to all sides in this conflict.”

[It was] stressed that any intelligence-gathering on the ground is being done by member countries, not NATO itself. “If [alliance] nations have forces on the ground, these are not NATO forces,” Adm. Di Paola said. “We don’t have NATO forces on the ground.”

With the CIA now on the ground in Libya, clearly America is looking to do more with the rebel outfit.  The coalition seems to want no part of that, national building, or any other intervention.

Obama may quickly have to make vital decision:  will he maintain the American’s ‘back seat’ role in this mission, and accept that one of his major goals, removing Qaddafi, cannot be achieved?  Or will he threaten the very existence of the coalition, supply the rebels with intelligence and weapons, and basically overstate the hard fought United Nations mandate?

Frankly, I don’t even think Mr. Obama knows what he is going to do.

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Obama’s Libya Address: A Primer

So Mr. Obama finally decided that the American people should be informed about his reasoning on why he has started a third war in the Islamic world.  For Obama, it is incomprehensible why he did not do this earlier.  Two weeks into this mission, opposition to the policy is hardening not only on the right, but on the extreme left as well.

But in any case, Obama’s moment to educate us is here.  What questions must he answer?

1.  Is there any American vital interest in Libya?

I think the answer was given by Sec. Gates yesterday:  No.  But I would like to hear the President’s opinion, which ultimately is the only one that matters.

2.  What are our military objectives?

The UN resolution, as well as the diplomatic talk after, have been scattered.  If this is purely a humanitarian mission, then haven’t we already achieved our goals, by stopping the massacre in Benghazi?

If defending Benghazi was simply the beginning of the ‘humanitarian mission’, that is fair.  But then, the President must delineate to what extent we will carry through on humanitarian grounds.  For example, will we help march into Tripoli, to protect those that are being oppressed there?

3.  Are our military objectives even achievable?

This is a dire question.  I think that one can argue about the morality of protecting the civilians on the ground.  No one wants to see women, children, and innocents dying because of the insanity of a sociopath.

However, no one in this mission has explained what the end game is.  It has been clearly stated that it is NOT the removal of Qaddafi.  Well, that is fine; then what is it?

There is no scenario that I can picture in which Qaddafi survives, and we walk away.   That simply is no longer a choice.  We either remove the regime, or we are in it for a long, hard slog, which will entail nation building in one manner or another.  The only other option is peacekeepers on the ground, and no one in the current coalition is willing to do that.

Benghazi has been saved, and Obama can take solace that at least that much has been achieved.  But now, after achieving the short term goal, what is the next step?  If the rebels are unable to take Tripoli, does the war continue?  How does that line up with Obama’s denial of seeking regime change?  Simply put, the goals so far stated do not coincide with one another.  It is illogical en face.  And that leads to the next question…

4.  Is there a scenario that leaves Qaddafi in power?  Is there a definition of success that does not include regime change?

Obama’s has come under the most criticism, arguably, for both supporting and denying support for the ouster of Qaddafi.  Obama runs away from the term ‘regime change’ like is the plague.  But after proclaiming several weeks ago the he is an illegitimate leader of his people and must go, can Obama walk away from that, regardless of the United Nations mandate?

It seems that Obama has drawn a line in the sand:  Qaddafi, but not one dictator farther.  It is an embarrassment of a doctrine.  Obama has already stepped over the theoretical line.  If, for example, Assad kills tens of thousands of demonstrators in Syria, will we simply wash our hands of it?  We could have, honestly so, before the attack on Libya.  Now?  It is unlikely the Arab street would forgive the West, and America in particular, for ignoring such an event.

5.  Was this mission constitutional?  And did the President meet the minimal requirements necessary for foreign military intervention?

I won’t go into thorough detail on this because, frankly, the issue has been beaten to death.  But Obama should be held to account.  He himself stated that exactly this type of intervention required Congressional approval 3 years ago.  He should have to defend  his current position, and if he has changed his mind, at least admit he has done so.

.

Simply, Obama must do tonight what most Presidents do on the initial night of such a conflict:  explain to the American people why we should risk our blood and treasure in a foreign land.  The American public will not always believe the President’s assertion, or his policy, but they have the right to hear the reasons directly from the mouth of the Commander-in-Chief.

In this case, Obama hurt his own credibility by not doing this sooner.  Regardless of his answers to the above, I think he will have to accept that much, if not most, of the country does not support this mission, for any reason.

 

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Libya: What Is Our End Game?

I have been a proponent for some kind of intervention in Libya since the earliest days of the revolution.  I certainly would have favored arming the rebels and giving them tactical assistance.  I thought the costs of such intervention were worth it, with minimal downside.

I, like everyone else with a brain, is against ground troop involvement.

But the UN sanctioned No Fly Zone, along with the American strategy in this mission, makes utterly no sense.

Let us step back a minute and look at the entire picture.  Libya was the last of the North African countries to tip over from the domino effect of the recent revolution craze spreading through out the Middle East.  Ironically, it was one of the more violent and oppressive regimes as well.  Even so, the rapid movement of the rebels toward toppling Qaddafi was surprising to virtually everyone.

But that early success may doom them to long term failure.

The quick changes on the ground have lead Obama to largely be paralyzed by indecision.  Obama has been all over the map on this issue.  In the early days, he called for Qaddafi’s ouster.  Then, when the rebel movement stalled, he called for some kind of stalemate.  When the tide turned, Obama looked indecisive, and inaction ruled the day.  Once it looked like Qaddafi would crush the rebel forces, and possibly annihilate the civilians in Benghazi, it was the French and British that stepped in to prevent carnage.  Now the President is calling for quick withdrawal of U.S. forces from the theater.  However, even with that declaration, ambiguity remains; Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has implied that U.S. involvement will be longer than expected.

Obama’s nuanced foreign policy has given us a plethora of choices, all of which have set us up for a No-Win scenario.  Because of the alliances with the Arab League and promises to other world powers that the mission would be limited to humanitarian assistance, the Allies cannot achieve their initial stated goal:  regime change with the removal of Qaddafi.  Even killing him would not be enough, because one of his sons would simply take over.  And with billions of dollars of gold and cash horded into bunkers through out Tripoli, Qaddafi has immense staying power; something the Allies don’t have.

The second stated goal, the one stated by the United Nations, is to protect civilians.  That is all well and good, and certainly a laudable goal.  But how long will we do that, and more importantly, will we be successful?  Right now, Qaddafi’s forces have stalled because of the air assault.  But Qaddafi has many weapons and forces remaining.  For us to establish some kind of stalemate in which the rebel forces would be able to protect themselves, we would have to do something Obama, the Brits and French have promised not to do:  nation build.  The rebels are in chaos, have no leader, have no military authority.  This would be a ground-up mission on the level of Afghanistan.  No one has either the will or money to do anything of the sort.

So eventually, as the United States leaves, as Obama puts it, “…in days, not weeks…”, and the Europeans get bored and sick of the costs, what will largely remain is what was found on the ground the day before the No-Fly Zone started:  Qaddafi with overwhelming forces that ultimately will crush the rebels.

So even the humanitarian goals cannot be achieved easily.

And the obvious question:  when Qaddafi marches on Benghazi the next time, what happens?

Many people are discussing the hypocrisy of intervening in Libya and ignoring other hot humanitarian crises, the ridiculousness of intervening in this civil war when others have killed many more, Obama’s lack of Congressional approval, etc.  This does not even begin to mention what America will do if NATO refuses to take charge of the mission, as they did today because of the opposition from Turkey and Germany.  These are all valid discussions to have.

But ultimately, the biggest question in Libya, or any military action, is what are the goals, and can they be met with reasonable costs?

President Obama has to be held to account.  The President should simply be asked what our goals are, and if they are achievable.  I think all of us, Democrat and Republican alike, know the answer.  And no matter how nuanced his response is, we all know that the answer comes to the same conclusion.  There is no way to achieve our goals.  So why are we there?

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What Is The Real Radiation Danger?

I am no nuclear power expert, to be sure.  There are nuclear engineers to seek for expertise on the specific about nuclear reactors and possible complications from a meltdown.  The best site I have seen that briefly explains the worst case scenario as for as the reactor and possible meltdown is the M.I.T. education site, which is linked here.

I am, however, a physician; a radiologist in fact.  As a radiologist, we go through intensive training regarding the uses and risks of radiation.  So, I would call myself a relative expert on the dangers of radiation in general. And I can tell you, my colleagues and I in the radiology community have been largely disgusted by the information pouring through the media and government outlets regarding fears from exposure to radiation.

This is not to minimize the catastrophe going on in Japan.  On the contrary, there are real risks to a meltdown and core rupture.  But most of those risks are to the immediate populace, and even that risk is overstated.

How so?

The best case study regarding an incident such as this is, of course, the Chernobyl accident of April 26, 1986.  Until this Japanese event, Chernobyl was by far the largest nuclear disaster in world history, and considered a level 7 event on the International Nuclear Event scale (with 7 being the worst disaster).  In Chernobyl, the power burst led to numerous explosion and rupture of the reactor vessel core.  An explosion of the graphite moderator components than sent a large plume of radioactive material directly into the air, which then dispersed through out the environment.

The radiation spread through out the Soviet states, most specifically in what is now Belarus, and even reached parts of western Europe.

But here is where the specifics get tricky.

The radiation at the reactor core at Chernobyl was immense, reaching 300 Sieverts (the metric measurement for radiation); no humans were exposed to this level, but this would cause near term death.  In the control room itself, workers experienced 0.03-0.05 Sv immediately after the explosion.  Around the site itself, and in nearby localities, radiation ranged from 0.005-0.01 Sv.

Most of the immediate radiation with high risks were secondary to short lived isotopes such as 131I.  An isotope with a ‘short life’ or short half-life means that it decays quickly into less harmful or nonharmful isotopes, and thus does not continue to cause a long term threat.

So although exposure to this type of radiation was very harmful, those that evacuated likely were exposed to only small amounts of this most highly dangerous pollutant.  Small amounts did carry into Europe.  But because of their short half-lives, the isotopes had minimal deleterious health effects.

So what was the long term effect?  Now, 25 years later, we can answer the question definitively… and the answer is that the effect was limited.

In 2006,  the United Nations Scientific Committee of the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), a group of eight UN agencies, including the International Atomic Energy Agency and the World Health Organization evaluated multiple studies on the effect of Chernobyl.  237 people suffered from immediate acute radiation sickness.  37 of these people ultimately died.  However, the death toll over that the last two decades from causes directly related to Chernobyl were approximately fifty…50.  These deaths were almost all from workers that were on site immediately during and in the days after the explosion.  And that takes into account that there were over 1000 workers on site during that period of time.  Thus, only about 5% of the workers that heroically tried to stop the disaster even died.  Tragic, absolutely.  But still, the effect was much less than feared.

Nine of the deaths occurred from children in the nearby town who eventually contracted thyroid cancer, out of 4,000 cases reported.  These cases likely were related to the accident.  Thyroid cancer is highly treatable, however, and thus the death rate is very low.  Even in local areas, there was no significant evidence of increased congenital malformations or fertility problems.

The report main conclusions are the following [bolded added for effect]:

Among the residents of Belaruss 09, the Russian Federation and Ukraine there had been, up to 2002, about 4,000 cases of thyroid cancer reported in children and adolescents who were exposed at the time of the accident, and more cases are to be expected during the next decades. Notwithstanding problems associated with screening, many of those cancers were most likely caused by radiation exposures shortly after the accident. Apart from this increase, there is no evidence of a major public health impact attributable to radiation exposure 20 years after the accident. There is no scientific evidence of increases in overall cancer incidence or mortality rates or in rates of non-malignant disorders that could be related to radiation exposure. The risk of leukaemia in the general population, one of the main concerns owing to its short latency time, does not appear to be elevated. Although those most highly exposed individuals are at an increased risk of radiation-associated effects, the great majority of the population is not likely to experience serious health consequences as a result of radiation from the Chernobyl accident. Many other health problems have been noted in the populations that are not related to radiation exposure.[76]

By and large, we have not found profound negative health impacts to the rest of the population in surrounding areas, nor have we found widespread contamination that would continue to pose a substantial threat to human health…

In Japan, the radiation levels are much lower.  On March 18, the media reported that elevated radiation readings were obtained 18 miles northwest of the Fukushima plant; 0.0017 SV, to be exact.  To put that into context, that is equivalent to about 2 years worth of normal background radiation.  In the Chernobyl accident, that same dosage was achieved approximately 500 miles away.

And to further the point:  no one documented that received those kind of doses in Chernobyl ever had any direct medical problems, even after weeks and months of exposure at that level.

One last point, mostly scientific in nature.  Much of the historical risks attributed to radiation have been obtained by studies of the nuclear fallout at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  The entire concept that there is no minimal threshold of radiation that is safe emanates from those studies.  However, with large scale studies of people exposed to radiation from the Chernobyl accident, both in the immediate vicinity and distant exposure, these concepts are now highly disputed in the scientific community.  The biological reasoning for these old theories is highly suspect.  If the old theory was correct, we should have seen thousands of incidents of cancer and deaths; this has not borne out.

So, after careful analysis, what really strikes someone as the biggest danger from these large scale nuclear disasters?  Fear.  In the aftermath of Chernobyl, women through out Europe rushed to their doctors, fearing congenital abnormalities.  It is estimated that 100 women in Italy alone went ahead with abortions because of their fears…or twice as many as the number who actually died over two decades from direct exposure.

There are serious risks to the radiation being emitted from the Japanese nuclear plant.  Most of those risks are to those in the immediate vicinity, especially those within a 5 mile radius.  And even in that region, the biggest risk is thyroid cancer.  If you live in the immediate vicinity, say 50 miles or closer to the site, taking postassium iodide pills could help.  Otherwise, it is a complete and utter waste.

If there is a large scale explosion and core breech, that distance will magnify, but unlikely to be greater than 100 miles.  Even the fears of significant health risks to residents in Tokyo are overblown.  Thus, people in the Western Hemisphere should take a slow, deep breath, and wait to see what happens.  As of right now, there is nothing to fear from the Japanese disaster.

 

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The M.I.A. Presidency

Have you seen our President?

Today, in a significant shift by the western powers, the United Nations successfully passed a resolution authorizing a No-Fly Zone, and allowing member nations to use ‘all necessary measures’ to protect civilians.

The U.N. resolution was pushed largely by the French and British, who have been the most vocal supporters of the No-Fly Zone from the beginning.  However, conspicuous from their absence has been the American contingent.  Unlike David Cameron of Britain and Nickolai Sarkozy of France, our President never committed one way or another on the NFZ.  And thus, America has been largely a spectator in the international debate on what to do with Libya.

The Obama Presidency is full of examples of a Presidency unwilling to commit.

Take even the issues that liberal held close to their heart.  Obama’s stimulus plan, the first large legislative package in his presidency, was written largely by Nancy Pelosi and Congressional Democrats.  Obamacare is not truly named; Obama and his administration, time and again, stated that the plan discussed in the halls of Congress was NOT the President’s plan, in order to defray any criticism of the President.  And even after Republicans trounced Democrats in the midterm elections, Obama deferred to Congressional Republicans on extension of the Bush tax cuts.  And for two years, the administration has talked about deficit reduction and entitlement reform, even producing their own commission on the subject.  But when it came time to take up the banner, the President was simply absent from the debate.

When in doubt, Obama simply chooses to vote ‘Present’, as he did during his legislative career.

Liberal supporters of Obama state that this is because he is a ‘true intellectual’ who looks at all sides of the issue before deciding.  Being able to be objective about issues is an excellent trait, no doubt.  But Obama’s problem isn’t objectivity; it is lack of decisiveness.

Victor Davis Hanson of the National Review puts it in another, more eloquent, way:

President Obama has spent most of his life either in, or teaching, school — or making laws that he was not responsible for enforcing. His hope-and-change speeches were as moving in spirit as they were lacking in details.

But now Obama is chief executive, and learning, as did Prince Hamlet, that thinking out every possible side of a question can mean never acting on any of them — a sort of Shakespearean “prison” where “there is nothing either good or bad.” Worrying about pleasing everyone ensures pleasing no one. Once again such “conscience does make cowards of us all.”

Hamlets, past and present, are as admirable in theory as they are fickle — and often dangerous — in fact.

Libya is just another in that long line of failures.

In Libya, Obama had two completely reasonable choices:  one, he could have chosen not to intervene in anyway, because of lack of an U.S. national interests; or two, he could have chosen to intervene militarily, either with a no-fly zone or some other military action.  Instead, Obama chose the third option:  give every indication of supporting the rebels against Qaddafi, and then do nothing.

It is the mirror image of Teddy Roosevelt’s famous saying.  Instead of ‘speak softly and carry a big stick’, Obama’s version is ‘talk loudly, and don’t even know where the stick is.’

This has created so much angst, there are rumors now floating around that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, sick of the indecisiveness of her President, is actively looking for an ‘exit strategy’ to free her from the burdens of her current position.  Clinton understands that the vacillation that is Obama policy has hurt their credibility in the Middle East, as multiple protests against Hillary Clinton in recent weeks as she visited the region showed.

The administration’s current position on Libya is untenable and incomprehensible.  If the NFZ goes forward, it will certainly not be because of the Obama Administration, but despite them.  Traditionally, the American President is said to be leader of the free world.  Mr. Obama has largely abdicated that role to others.  In the long run, that weakens not only Obama himself, but the United States as a whole.

2

Qaddafi’s Road To Victory

Reality often hits Presidents squarely in the mouth.  And this reality is doing just that to Barack Obama.

After benefiting from a great deal of luck in Egypt, Obama’s luck seemed to be continuing with the continuation of the Jasmine Revolution.  As Libya, Tunisia, Yemen, and other countries throughout the Arab world fell into revolt, it looked like the Nobel Laureate President may actually bring democracy to the Islamic world.

That was a wish too far.

Qaddafi, after looking quite insane (as well he may be) finally has found his footing.  Clearly his military was not ready for the initial wave of revolt as well as military defections that let the eastern part of the nation fall into rebel hands.  His military is making steady progress toward Benghazi, the rebel stronghold.  Today, they took the town of Ajdabiyah, which is en route the Rebel base.

But now, it is clear that the tide is turning.  Qaddafi has all the advantages.  He resides in Tripoli, by far the largest city.  He has large stores of food, weapons, and most importantly, money.  He can bide his time.

The rebels largely were winning territory with a wing and a prayer.  They are using old weapons, and untrained soldiers.  The rebels briefly controlled some of the oil fields, but even that is now in jeopardy.

In short…this is a battle of Qaddafi’s choosing.

It seems that Europe, led by Nicholai Sarkozy of France and David Cameron of Britain, are willing to do more to shift the balance of power.  However, they cannot do anything without Obama’s consent…something it does not seem he is willing to give at this time.  For all practical purposes, he has said he will not act without a UN resolution, which will never come, considering the opposition of Russia and China.  That means that NATO would have to take the lead…and NATO means the US.

Obama never really faced a critical moment when it came to Egypt…the Egyptian military took care of the decision for him.  However, no one is here to save us in the Libyan conflict.  It is quite possible that as time goes on, Qaddafi’s forces will build to a crushing defeat of the rebels; the same rebels that this Administration basically supported and gave tacit approval to.  If that is the case, will Obama step in?  Or will he watch our supposed allies get massacred?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has voiced her opinion.  In meetings in Europe this week with Libyan rebels, Clinton said clearly that the U.S. would not intervene without UN approval.  That is highly unlikely, with the expected vetoes from Russia and China.

There is an honest and valid question of whether we should intervene at all…and that is a reasonable discussion to have.  But the confusion from the White House is alarming.  One day, Hillary Clinton says we need UN Security Council approval, which basically implies that we are not going to do anything.  The next day, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney comes out and says that we don’t need UN approval, which implies we are leaning toward intervening.  And Obama himself has been virtually silent on the issue for more than a week.

This is a decision that is a virtual coin flip. There are Pros and Cons to both sides.  But Obama has simply abdicated his role to others, and that is no good for anyone.  The only winner with Obama’s indecision is unfortunately Colonel Muammar Qaddafi…who has all the time in the world.  Qaddafi is willing to wait, because without outside intervention, victory will ultimately be his.  And the West, Obama especially, will have missed out on one of the great opportunities to spread democracy to the Arab world.

 

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