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Posts For: February 17, 2013

The Chelyabinsk Event

Planet earth got considerably more from outer space than it bargained for on Friday.

We were expecting the flyby of a small asteroid, about 150 feet across. And it sailed on by, right on schedule and on course, missing us by a little over 17,000 miles. That’s close. The moon is about 240,000 miles away and even geosynchronous satellites are about 22,000 miles out.  Had it hit the earth it would have devastated an area the size of a considerable city and caused seriously unpleasant effects over a far wider area. (Had it hit the ocean—more likely, as water covers a little more than 70 percent of the planet—it would have caused major tsunamis).

But while we were waiting for that one to pass, a totally unexpected asteroid suddenly slammed into the atmosphere above Siberia and exploded near the city of Chelyabinsk. While much smaller than the one we were expecting, it was no mere shooting star. Indeed, NASA now estimates that it was about 55 feet across and weighed about 10,000 tons. The explosion was equal to a nuke with a yield of 500 kilotons (the bomb that annihilated Hiroshima was less than 20 kilotons).

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Planet earth got considerably more from outer space than it bargained for on Friday.

We were expecting the flyby of a small asteroid, about 150 feet across. And it sailed on by, right on schedule and on course, missing us by a little over 17,000 miles. That’s close. The moon is about 240,000 miles away and even geosynchronous satellites are about 22,000 miles out.  Had it hit the earth it would have devastated an area the size of a considerable city and caused seriously unpleasant effects over a far wider area. (Had it hit the ocean—more likely, as water covers a little more than 70 percent of the planet—it would have caused major tsunamis).

But while we were waiting for that one to pass, a totally unexpected asteroid suddenly slammed into the atmosphere above Siberia and exploded near the city of Chelyabinsk. While much smaller than the one we were expecting, it was no mere shooting star. Indeed, NASA now estimates that it was about 55 feet across and weighed about 10,000 tons. The explosion was equal to a nuke with a yield of 500 kilotons (the bomb that annihilated Hiroshima was less than 20 kilotons).

Fortunately, coming in at a very shallow angle (about 20°) it exploded about 25 miles up in the atmosphere. Had it come in at a steeper angle, it would have exploded nearer the surface with far more devastating effects. (Had it exploded five miles up, for instance, the shock wave would have been 25 times as strong). The shock wave was strong enough, however, smashing windows in thousands of buildings and setting off an infinity of car alarms. Over 1,000 people were injured, mostly by flying glass. (Lesson: If you see a sudden, dazzlingly bright flash of light, do not go to the window to check it out. Duck and cover and wait a minute.)

This is a quite unprecedented event.

While the earth sweeps up space dust and small meteoroids all the time (perhaps 80,000 tons worth a year, although estimates vary), asteroids this size hit earth, it is estimated, only about once a century. This one was the biggest that we know about since the so-called Tunguska Event of 1908 that flattened millions of trees in the Siberian wilderness but was witnessed by almost no one. This one was witnessed by a city of 1.1 million, many of them with video cameras at the ready.  And that means it will be a scientific bonanza. I imagine that planetary astronomers are descending on Chelyabinsk by the hundreds to gather information and as many meteorites produced by the asteroid as they can find. (Technically, while in space it’s an asteroid or, if small, a meteoroid. It becomes a meteor as it streaks through the atmosphere, and whatever survives to hit the ground is a meteorite.)  Locals who find fragments stand to make a bundle, as meteorites can sell in the hundred of thousands of dollars.

So, all in all, it was a great day. No one was seriously hurt; the news media and You Tube had a field day and planetary astronomers (and Chelyabinsk’s glaziers) are very happy. It also reminds us that, as the dinosaurs found out, you never know what tomorrow will bring.

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Has the Shoe Dropped on Hagel?

On Fox News Sunday this morning, the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward said that some Democratic senators have called the White House asking if Chuck Hagel will withdraw from the battle to confirm him as secretary of defense. The apparent answer to that question is not yet. But the furor over the Washington Free Beacon’s reporting of a statement Hagel made in 2007 alleging that the Israeli Foreign Ministry was running the U.S. State Department is turning up the heat on the nominee.

On Thursday, Contentions called on some of the major Jewish organizations that have been conspicuous by their absence from the debate about Hagel to finally break their silence on the issue and to demand an explanation about the 2007 speech given at Rutgers University during which Hagel is alleged to have made the crack about the Israelis and the State Department. Last night, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that both the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee have made such statements. The ADL told JTA Hagel needed to explain the remark but the American Jewish Committee went farther in saying that “further Senate deliberation is called for before any final vote is taken.”

These comments are part of the growing furor over Hagel that is not going to be defused by the nominee’s assurance to Senator Lindsay Graham that he “doesn’t recall” making the controversial statements about Israel and the State Department. The allegations about the Rutgers speech are credible not just because of the contemporaneous account of the event but also because of Hagel’s history of saying similar things about the “Jewish lobby” and disavowals of past stands favoring outreach to Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah. As Hagel “twists in the wind” — a Watergate allusion made today by Woodward —pressure is growing on pro-Israel Democrats to abandon him.

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On Fox News Sunday this morning, the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward said that some Democratic senators have called the White House asking if Chuck Hagel will withdraw from the battle to confirm him as secretary of defense. The apparent answer to that question is not yet. But the furor over the Washington Free Beacon’s reporting of a statement Hagel made in 2007 alleging that the Israeli Foreign Ministry was running the U.S. State Department is turning up the heat on the nominee.

On Thursday, Contentions called on some of the major Jewish organizations that have been conspicuous by their absence from the debate about Hagel to finally break their silence on the issue and to demand an explanation about the 2007 speech given at Rutgers University during which Hagel is alleged to have made the crack about the Israelis and the State Department. Last night, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that both the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee have made such statements. The ADL told JTA Hagel needed to explain the remark but the American Jewish Committee went farther in saying that “further Senate deliberation is called for before any final vote is taken.”

These comments are part of the growing furor over Hagel that is not going to be defused by the nominee’s assurance to Senator Lindsay Graham that he “doesn’t recall” making the controversial statements about Israel and the State Department. The allegations about the Rutgers speech are credible not just because of the contemporaneous account of the event but also because of Hagel’s history of saying similar things about the “Jewish lobby” and disavowals of past stands favoring outreach to Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah. As Hagel “twists in the wind” — a Watergate allusion made today by Woodward —pressure is growing on pro-Israel Democrats to abandon him.

With each passing day during the Congressional recess over the next week, the Hagel deathwatch will become a bigger and bigger story. Though Democrats closed ranks behind the president’s choice in a partisan votes on Hagel last week the failure to block a delay of the decision on him via a filibuster on Thursday will give some of them the time to change their minds. Some of the pro-Israel senators like Chuck Schumer who have been using the silence of mainstream Jewish groups about his nomination as cover for their decision to go along with what they knew was a questionable choice are now on the spot. As John wrote in the New York Post on Friday, it’s time for Schumer to live up to his boast that he was the “guardian” of Israel in the Senate. In light of the latest revelations about the nominee’s record, that pose is meaningless if he doesn’t jump off the Hagel bandwagon.

It is true that many of the Republicans who voted to oppose cloture of Hagel on Thursday were doing so in order to try to force the White House to give up more information about what the president knew about the Benghazi terror attack. But the extra time gives members on both sides of the aisle to reconsider the Hagel fiasco.

The White House campaign to silence concerns about his prejudicial statements about Israel and its supporters that had seemingly quashed opposition to the nomination is no longer working. The nominee’s incompetent performance during his confirmation hearing only served to reinforce the qualms that many senators had about both his qualifications and his troubling record of out-of-the-mainstream stands on Israel and Iran. The administration can grumble all it likes about how unfair the scrutiny on the nominee has been but the fact is Hagel’s chances of leading the Pentagon are being sunk by the nominee, not his critics.

In the coming days, the calls for Hagel to withdraw will grow. So, too, will the pressure on pro-Israel Democrats to stop acting as the nominee’s guardian rather than the cause they have pledged to protect.

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Obama’s Threat to the Millennial Generation

In his National Journal article, Ron Brownstein, in commenting on President Obama’s State of the Union address, wrote this:

Especially striking was how much of it seemed targeted directly at the massive and diverse millennial generation, born between 1981 and 2002. Obama addressed them repeatedly: by insisting that entitlement spending on the old must face some limits to prevent it from crowding out investment in the young; by framing climate change as a generational challenge; by pledging to provide young people with more training and to confront rising college costs; and by closing with a paean to citizenship that reflected their civic impulses. “They are the leading edge of where the country is headed ideologically as well as demographically,” one senior White House aide said.

Brownstein, a master of political data, points out that Obama won re-election by a comfortable margin despite “historically weak numbers among the older and blue-collar whites who traditionally anchored the conservative end of the Democratic coalition.” The president won because of his strong support from what Brownstein calls “the Democrats’ new national coalition” – including, importantly, the millennials.

I don’t doubt that in 2012 Obama won in part by his appeal to younger votes and that he’ll spend his second term trying to lock them in for future elections. But there is a substantive point that needs to be made regarding Obama’s appeal to millennial voters, and it goes something like this: the Democratic Party, because of it’s dogmatic resistance to serious entitlement reform, poses a tremendous risk to the millennial generation.

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In his National Journal article, Ron Brownstein, in commenting on President Obama’s State of the Union address, wrote this:

Especially striking was how much of it seemed targeted directly at the massive and diverse millennial generation, born between 1981 and 2002. Obama addressed them repeatedly: by insisting that entitlement spending on the old must face some limits to prevent it from crowding out investment in the young; by framing climate change as a generational challenge; by pledging to provide young people with more training and to confront rising college costs; and by closing with a paean to citizenship that reflected their civic impulses. “They are the leading edge of where the country is headed ideologically as well as demographically,” one senior White House aide said.

Brownstein, a master of political data, points out that Obama won re-election by a comfortable margin despite “historically weak numbers among the older and blue-collar whites who traditionally anchored the conservative end of the Democratic coalition.” The president won because of his strong support from what Brownstein calls “the Democrats’ new national coalition” – including, importantly, the millennials.

I don’t doubt that in 2012 Obama won in part by his appeal to younger votes and that he’ll spend his second term trying to lock them in for future elections. But there is a substantive point that needs to be made regarding Obama’s appeal to millennial voters, and it goes something like this: the Democratic Party, because of it’s dogmatic resistance to serious entitlement reform, poses a tremendous risk to the millennial generation.

Here’s why. The refusal by Democrats to reform entitlement programs in general, and Medicare in particular, means that we will continue to take money from poorer younger people to give it to wealthier older people. Consider: the Pew Research Center reported that over the past quarter-century, households headed by older adults have made dramatic gains in economic well-being relative to those headed by younger adults. In 2009, the average net worth of households headed by adults aged 65 and older was a record 47 times that of households headed by adults under the age of 35. In 1984, the ratio was 10-to-1. What explains this phenomenon? In part it’s because both Social Security and Medicare are open to virtually all American 65 and older, the programs are not means-tested, and their benefits are accruing to a demographic that is growing both in size and in wealth. 

Moreover, if no structural changes to Medicare are made, we will face a debt crisis that will harm the millennial generation above all. They will not have anything like the benefits the older generation has enjoyed. On top of that, our fiscal imbalance is getting worse, not better. The most recent CBO report, for example, predicts the 10-year cumulative deficit is forecast at nearly $7 trillion. This is both generational theft and a factor in our anemic economic growth and job creation, with the younger generation bearing the brunt of it. (The unemployment rate for the millennial generation is over 13 percent, significantly higher than the overall unemployment rate.) As a friend of mine put it, “The millennials are getting by far the worst deal out of Obama and they will suffer the consequences for the rest of their lives; while people over 55 are getting the best deal.”

The challenge the GOP faces, and the opportunity it has, is to explain to younger voters why conservatism is in their best interest; to cut through the Obama cant and demagoguery and obfuscations and explain – in a calm, persuasive, and empirically-grounded manner – why reforming the liberal welfare state is an urgent task, and for the millennial generation more than others.

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