Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Biden's sanctions on Russia are a gift to China

Throttling the oil industry while cutting off Russian oil is putting American businesses at a serious disadvantage to those that now buy Russian oil and gas at a discount, namely China and also India, according to an expert on environmental and energy policy. Worse yet, this situation appears to be baked into the geopolitical cake for the foreseeable future.

After Russia invaded Ukraine earlier this year, Western nations tried to punish Russia with a slew of economic sanctions, including by cutting purchases of Russian oil and gas. That made Russia “a distressed seller” forced to accept penalty prices, noted Ross McKitrick, professor of economics at the University of Guelph in Ontario.

“They’re now shipping much more of their fossil energy to China and India, who are willing still to deal with Russia,” he told The Epoch Times.

Russian oil now sells at a more than 30 percent discount by some estimates.

Meanwhile, Western governments have throttled investment in the oil and gas industry in a quest to “decarbonize” their economies, leading to a tight supply and a market unable to deal with rising demand.

“We’re entering a phase where we will have structurally very high energy prices for years to come,” McKitrick said.

“China and India are buying energy at a deep discount so they will have a structural cost advantage and I think you’ll see that begins to affect trading patterns, manufacturing costs, energy-intensive production costs in the years ahead to our detriment—entirely avoidable, too.”

America’s average gas price has been around or above $5 a gallon for weeks and diesel has already crossed the $6 barrier in many areas.

The economic impact is far-reaching because energy is “very fundamental,” and when its price goes up it makes it “more costly to do everything,” McKitrick said.

Some economists now see fuel prices as the dominant factor in inflation, which reached 8.6 percent in May.

Amid an already tight labor market, tightening credit, and margins eaten away by inflation, another competitive disadvantage is the last thing American businesses need.

A U.S. small business optimism survey recently recorded its lowest ever reading in its 48-year history.

“Small business owners remain very pessimistic about the second half of the year as supply chain disruptions, inflation, and the labor shortage are not easing,” said Bill Dunkelberg, chief economist at the National Federation of Independent Business, a trade group that runs the survey, in a June 14 release.


Democrats’ summer dreams turning to heat stroke delusions

Today marks the arrival of the summer solstice, the first official day of the season where the sun reaches its highest annual point in the sky and folks in the northern hemisphere enjoy the most sunlight of any day of the year. It’s a terrific time for outdoor barbecues, picnics in the backyard or along your favorite waterway or just for chilling while taking in the “longest” sunset of the year.

But with the kids out of school, this occasion also initiates the summer travel season. Children and teens love that they won’t have classes or homework assignments for weeks on end, but their parents will have some explaining to do when those same young ones ask why the family vacation has been cancelled or confined to weekends at a nearby beach or lake because mom and dad can’t afford the five-dollar-a-gallon prices at the pump, not to mention the traditional jaunts to restaurants and movie theaters.

Kids are pretty smart these days and news travels fast via social media, but maybe they’ve also spotted an “I did that” sticker depicting our senile dolt president pointing to the big number reflected on the screen of gas dispensing pumps. Or, if the neophytes are really fortunate, their parents will have sat with them at the kitchen table and explained why the family’s shortage of money this year is directly related to the president’s and the government’s policies, that “climate change” is basically a hoax manifested by rich people to take power from poor people, and that political leadership at the top definitely makes a difference. What better way to get young folks engaged with politics? The practical lessons are all around us at this juncture.

This summer will no doubt feel like a long one for everybody. With the COVID hysteria finally died down and Americans feeling freer to live life again, we’re no longer seeing as many masked faces (though there are still quite a few) and people are returning to the public square to conduct business and… sometimes, have fun. In contrast to two years ago, it seems like the world is alive again. Was it the development of the Trump vaccines or simply a realization among citizens that the government authorities overdid the lockdowns?

I vote for the latter. But there’s politics to play, too. Dr. fuzzball Fauci himself tested positive for the bug last week. He barely got sick. I wonder why?

Speaking of highs and lows, on Donald Trump’s birthday, I presented a scenario whereby the 45th president decided not to pursue a second term but instead accepted an invitation from his likely successor as master of the Republican Party and purveyor of the MAGA agenda, Ron DeSantis, to fill the second slot on the GOP 2024 ticket as vice president.

Naturally, Democrats offer their own predictions, including one by a member of “The View” cast regarding the strength of their possible 2024 presidential ticket. Once again, you can’t make this stuff up. Victor Morton reported at The Washington Times:

“The ladies of ‘The View’ can’t wait for the 2024 dream ticket — Kamala and Mayor Pete. In a segment [last] Tuesday, co-host Sunny Hostin called Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis a murderous fascist (‘DeathSantis’ she deliberately called him) who would easily be defeated by that ticket.

“She said that if President Biden did not run for reelection, as a number of Democrats are speculating about or even hoping for, Vice President Kamala Harris and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg would be ‘great’ as a ticket.

“’Do you think they could win, really?’ asked co-host Joy Behar. Mr. Biden defeated both of them on his way to clinching the 2020 Democratic nomination. ‘Well, I would vote for them,’ Ms. Hostin gushed. ‘I hope this country is ready for something like that. I think the brain power alone would just obliterate [Donald] Trump or DeathSantis.’”

Brainpower? I confess that I’m not familiar with Ms. Hostin, but she must not possess any extra “brainpower” herself if she thinks this potential pairing of Democrats would dazzle folks by their smarts alone. Harris has such immense “brainpower” that she’s successfully alienated even the identity-politics crazed faithful of her own party, and Buttigieg? Have the cackling hags on “The View” heard anything about that little supply chain problem we’re having under the nose of senile Joe’s I-got-the-job-because-I’m-gay Secretary of Transportation?

With a name like “Sunny”, perhaps Ms. Hostin has already spent too much time outside this season. Heat combined with humidity makes one dizzy and impairs normal cognitive function, and “The View” personality clearly exhibits advanced symptoms of heat stroke, such as delusions. She should immediately seek an air conditioned (by fossil fuel powered electric generators) environment and drink water slowly to stave off permanent damage.

Aside from the ridiculous coupling that Hostin dropped during her airheaded prediction spree, isn’t she forgetting something? Senile Joe Biden is still the head of the party, and until he signals that he’s ready to step aside in favor of Kamala, Pete Butt, or anyone else, he’s still in charge of his own destiny.

It’s remarkable how Democrats aren’t even trying to hide the contempt for their own president lately. It seems like all the Sunday morning news show hosts are querying their Democrat guests on whether they’ll support Biden’s reelection campaign, a topic that’s a tad premature, isn’t it? It’s almost as though they’re supposing Biden either won’t make it to 2024 (this is where the actuarial tables figure in) or he’ll be supplanted by Harris due to the 25th Amendment.

It shouldn’t be forgotten that Harris herself could be the catalyst of such a removal attempt, as the Constitution provides the vice president the authority to instigate an investigation into Biden’s fitness for office, and if she can recruit half of senile Joe’s cabinet to go along with her – and Congress to assent – then the scheme could conceivably succeed.

Kamala would then become president and she would run in 2024 as an incumbent, more or less. The House of Representatives would choose a vice president, and with today’s upside-down political environment, could very well elevate a schlep like Pete Buttigieg to be Harris’s right-hand LGBTQ man with the intention of preselecting the Democrats’ next presidential ticket without costly or reputation damaging primaries.

Bernie Sanders and other Democrat socialist radicals might not buy into the combo, but the party establishment would love it. What other partnership would be superior to attract the skin color and alternative sexual orientation worshipping Democrat base? They’d receive hours and hours of media coverage over the potential for the first black/Indian woman to be president, and how about the first male vice president-to-be married to a guy? Novelty galore! The glass ceiling would be history, with rainbows shining proudly overhead!

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson (the nation’s first two vice presidents), eat your ghostly hearts out! I bet these founders never considered there would be two men raising twin toddlers living in the vice president’s residence someday. The world certainly has changed!

Fascinating imagery aside, this Kamala/Butt ticket probably will never happen. First, there’s practically no way that Biden would ever agree not to run again unless he was assured of being able to anoint his own successor, and it wouldn’t be Harris. Judging by the fact Kamala has all-but disappeared off the administration’s radar screen recently, senile Joe’s folks aren’t wild about their backup quarterback.

Second, because Kamala’s approval ratings are even lower than Joe’s, the Democrat rank-and-file will be searching for a 2024 nominee who’s electable. Isn’t that why every liberal plugged their nose in 2020 and agreed to the broken-down swamp dwelling Obama default choice castoff Joe Biden in the first place? Kamala didn’t even make it to the first primary state in her own campaign. She was that detestable. She’s a loser!

Lastly, Pete Buttigieg almost certainly won’t be the party’s presidential or vice president candidate because he has nothing to run on – except the fact that he’s gay. Next time around, even Democrat voters will place substance at a premium, and “Mayor Pete” has none. He’s not a new face, either, which was his main selling point in 2020. How would the Democrat pros spin Pete Buttigieg into someone who can run the country if he can’t keep the trains running on time?

Democrats don’t care about resumes – Barack Obama proved that – but Buttigieg needs about twenty years of age to make himself look as though he didn’t just emerge from a college frat party.

Then there’s the matter of the Electoral College. Which of the key swing states would a Harris/Buttigieg combo steal from Trump and/or DeSantis? Are voters outside of the west coast and the northeast really that dumb?

Summer is here and Americans are ready to embrace the fun that goes along with long hot days and vacations away from the daily routine. Inflation plagues the nation, but citizens will do their best to deal with the conditions fostered by our failed political leadership. Prices will go higher, senile Joe’s approval rating will go lower and Democrats can keep fantasizing about beating the Republicans in 2024.


Why Too Many Vitamins Feels Just About Right

Peter A. Ubel, MD

Currently, US adults spend more than $10 billion per year on vitamins and dietary supplements,1 believing against most evidence that fortified gummy bears and water infused with vitamins will improve their health and well-being. Vitamins are necessary for life, the difference between healthy gums and scurvy, between strong bones and rickets. But, as the recent US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommendation statement2 and updated evidence report and systematic review3 show, there is little evidence that supplemental vitamins and minerals prevent cancer, cardiovascular disease, or mortality.

No vitamins were found to reduce death from cancer or cardiovascular disease, with multivitamins earning an I statement from the USPSTF (meaning that evidence remains insufficient to recommend for or against taking such supplements). Additionally, beta carotene was found to increase the chance of developing lung cancer in high-risk populations, earning it a D recommendation from the USPSTF (recommending against taking such supplements).

A total of 84 studies were reviewed,3 testing vitamins in almost 700 000 people, and the rosiest conclusion is that more evidence is needed. In the face of such underwhelming benefits, what explains the number of people who regularly consume these unnecessary supplements?

According to population surveys, people take vitamins either to stay healthy,4 feel more energetic, or gain peace of mind.5 These evidence-defying beliefs are bolstered by clever marketing campaigns.6 Advertisements inform consumers that signs of potential vitamin deficiency include fatigue, low motivation, and thinning hair. As if that message does not resonate with enough people, they label their products with enticing names like “True Strength,” “Core Nutritionals” (6-pack abs around the corner), and “Immortal Elite Vitamin Pack” (because who would want to gain immortality in anything other than an elite manner?).

Essential nutrients plus clever marketing: it is clear why vitamin and mineral supplements are so appealing. But that begs the question of why it is so easy to market the unproven benefits of these products while it is so difficult to convince people to receive lifesaving vaccines.

There are several possible theories. First, people have a tendency to see the world in sharp dichotomies: good/bad, with me/against me. In the face of such dichotomous thinking, vitamins have been lumped into the good and healthy (vs bad and unhealthy) category. Once people view vitamins as being good and healthy, a second bit of psychology kicks in—what behavioral scientists call dose insensitivity—and they assume that something either improves health or not while ignoring the possibility that the health benefits of this product will vary depending on the dose.7 In alignment with this mindset, people know that consuming no vitamin C is bad for their health and that consuming a little vitamin C improves their health; therefore, additional consumption should improve health even more. The Hollywood star Mae West colorfully captured this mindset when she quipped that if a little is great and a lot is better, “then way too much is just about right!”8

A third psychological phenomenon reenforces this mindset—a bias people have toward natural substances independent of whether those substances improve their well-being. For example, in one study people were given a choice between 2 medicines: one that was described as natural and the other described as being manufactured.9 They were also told that there was no difference in the harms and benefits of the 2 medications. Nevertheless, they preferred the natural one. Advertising agencies recognize this bias, underscoring that vitamin supplements are natural, with the implication being that they must be good for people’s health and well-being. Better yet, they emphasize that their products are “botanical.” Now, people can make up for the lack of fruits and veggies in their diets by ingesting daily supplements.

The appeal of vitamin supplements is further augmented by a fourth factor, an action bias—a desire, all else equal, to err toward harms of commission rather than omission. This action bias was brilliantly established in a study of elite soccer goalkeepers.10 Large studies have shown that the optimal strategy for blocking a penalty kick is to stay put rather than leaping left or right. Yet, it would feel terrible to stand by while an opponent slams a ball into the back of the net. Therefore, goalkeepers typically hurl their bodies one direction or another, consoled by the thought that when an opponent inevitably scores at least they made a heroic effort to prevent that outcome. A 2005 study illustrated a medical version of this psychology among lay people, the majority of whom say they would choose a 10% chance of dying from cancer surgery over a 5% risk of dying from leaving the cancer untreated.11

People do not always prefer action over inaction, of course. Consider all of the people refusing to receive beneficial vaccines. That is why it is worthwhile to consider differences between vitamins and vaccines that might explain this shift in preference from action to inaction. For starters, people perceive vitamins as natural and vaccines as manufactured; vitamins as essential, vaccines as optional; vitamins as uncontroversial, vaccines as political. In addition, when people receive a vaccine, they experience a sore arm and, occasionally, a day or 2 of flulike symptoms. Despite all of those unpleasant feelings, they never know whether the vaccine prevented them from getting sick. By contrast, when people consume vitamins, they do not have sore arms or flulike symptoms. Instead, they experience a placebo effect: more energy, a greater sense of health and well-being. A group of experts might say that the benefits of vitamin supplements are minimal or nonexistent. But how can scientific facts compete with their lived experience?

The USPSTF has brilliantly synthesized evidence about the health effect of vitamin and mineral supplements.2,3 But the work is not over. If we want people to stop taking unnecessary vitamins and start receiving lifesaving vaccines, we need to address the psychological (and political) factors that cause people to embrace evidence-incongruent beliefs.


“Woke” Fed Fell Asleep on the Job

The Federal Reserve has become increasingly concerned with “woke” issues like inequality and climate change. These concerns have distracted Fed officials from their core mission of price stability. The Fed’s preferred measure of inflation hit 6.59 percent in March. The price level is now 4.6 percentage points higher than it would have been had the Fed hit its 2-percent target over the course of the pandemic. With inflation raging at the highest rate in 40 years, it is time to reexamine the Fed’s legitimate responsibilities.

Regarding monetary policy, a central bank has one—and only one— legitimate obligation: to maintain price stability via transparent activities that conform to the rule of law.

Actions inconsistent with long-run price stability reduce overall welfare. They also open the door for wealth to be diverted to special interests at the expense of the general public. This is the road to economic inefficiency, arbitrary wealth redistributions, politicization of monetary policy, and chaos.

The best service the Fed can provide is to singularly pursue a stable, transparent, and predictable monetary framework. The Fed can achieve this by creating money at a rate that stabilizes overall spending. Such a policy benefits all members of society. It creates low and steady inflation, which allows households and businesses to plan more effectively so that economic activities are better coordinated. And it dampens business cycles by requiring the Fed to offset changes in private spending to maintain price stability.

Historically, the Fed’s pursuit of goals other than price stability has led to a great deal of monetary malfeasance. In pursuit of higher labor employment, the Fed created money too rapidly in the 1970s, causing the Great Inflation. Similar pursuits led the Fed to adopt an average inflation target in 2020. After letting inflation fall below their 2-percent target for most of the period from 2014 to 2020, the Fed decided to let inflation run over 2 percent for an undisclosed period in hopes of lowering unemployment and reducing income inequality. This deliberate attempt by the Fed to raise inflation has accommodated pandemic-related government spending programs and negative supply disruptions. High inflation is the result.

Even more concerning is the current Fed’s expressed interest in pursuing “inclusive” monetary policies, which attempt to advance the interests of particular “stakeholders” in society. This opens Pandora’s box. The list of potential stakeholder groups to target is limitless, and there is no objective way to resolve conflicts between and among them.

Some progressives have called for the Fed to finance a Green New Deal, while some conservatives want the Fed to finance construction of a border wall. Opening monetary policy to such issues inherently politicizes the Fed and threatens its independence. Monetary policies with explicitly political agendas are inherently divisive, not inclusive. And it is a mistake to assume that a political power, once granted, will only be used by the wise and for the good.

The Fed is the wrong institution to use for pursuing a stakeholder goal of income equality. That is the role of elected officials and the tax and transfer system. The Fed’s monetary policy tools broadly affect macroeconomic variables like interest rates and inflation, and are therefore poorly suited for the task of pursuing particular stakeholder interests.

Yet preoccupation with income equality has inspired the Fed to pursue excessively low interest rate policies. However well-intended, these policies have contributed to our current inflationary predicament. To bring inflation back down, the Fed is now attempting to switch stances and raise interest rates quickly. This will undermine the economy, which already contracted in the first quarter of 2022. No wonder forecasters are predicting a high chance of recession.

If a recession does materialize, it will disproportionately harm the least well-off. During recessions, workers with the least experience and education are the first to be laid off. This disproportionately raises unemployment rates for lower income groups such as students and minorities. These Americans would be better off if the Fed were to focus exclusively on price stability rather than trying to stimulate the economy for their benefit.Since 1977, the Fed has had a dual mandate from Congress to promote price stability and maximum sustainable employment. The employment mandate is superfluous, as a central bank that pursues price stability already does the most it can do to stabilize employment. Yet the employment mandate has been a source of unnecessary distraction. The interests of all Americans would be better served if the Fed’s charter were revised by Congress to have a single mandate of price stability. Explicit confinement to this lone mandate would help prevent the Fed from falling asleep on inflation again.




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