Friday, September 29, 2017

Problems Ahead:

 Rumors of War, Inclement Weather, & Universal Health Care

The time is near when the United States must rethink how her great wealth is dispersed. Rumors of war, ever increasing inclement weather events that end in devastation, and a citizenry that recognizes the need, no, the right, for universal health care for all Americans are perhaps the critical issues that will finally force the US to recognize and fulfill the long standing need to rethink and adjust her annual budget expenditures.

To borrow the popular phrase “we’ve kicked the can to the end of the road” best describes the dilemma we currently face with North Korea. 

Attempts to convince the world that activities of man are increasing the earth’s temperature, resulting in global warming have failed miserably!  This dismal failure assures the increase in severe inclement weather events in the future and the gradual rise in sea levels not just nationwide, but worldwide! This will soon require large scale fortification or even the relocation of major US coastal cities such as New York, New Orleans, Huston, Miami, Boston, and Tampa Bay.

There’s more — ice sheets that are melting in Antarctica will bash California with an even greater sea-level rise than the rest of the world’s average; threatening the state’s famous beaches and infrastructure.  The most recent scientific monitoring results show that the rate of ice loss / melt from Antarctica and Greenland is increasing and because of how the Earth rotates coupled with the moons gravitational pull on the oceans, well, it’s really bad news for the entire California Coast line.

For far too long, the US has out-spent the rest of the world in building and maintaining a military machine that is unmatched anywhere on earth. Yet, we continue to see headlines such as the one declaring: “Pentagon buries evidence of $125 Billion in bureaucratic waste”.  Turns out the internal report, issued in January of 2015, identified “a clear path” for the Defense Department to save $125 billion over five years. 

Perhaps the biggest story is that the Pentagon attempted to hide the report’s findings amid fears that Congress would use the results as justification for slashing the defense budget.  

Just for the purpose of comparison; North Korea’s 2017 military budget is estimated to total 7.5 Billion Dollars, Russia’s military budget for 2017 is 69 Billion Dollars, China’s military Budget for 2017 is 215 Billion Dollars — these three potential US military adversaries combined, spent less than half of US expenditures for 2017 which eclipses all others with a military budget of 602.8 Billion Dollars—a sum that does not include expenditures for Veterans Affairs and Foreign Aid (which adds more than 231 Billion Dollars to the total)! Check-out the Budget Comparison Chart Below:  

If not for the extraordinary Atlantic hurricane season, of late (summer 2017), all eyes would be on Guam, a US territory in the western Pacific; with a population of less than 163,000 souls, all contained within an area of 210 sq miles (544 sq km). Stationed on the island are 3,831 US military personnel who control much of the island, including Anderson Air Force Base which hosts B52 bombers and fighter jets. The Island is reportedly referred to by many US commanders as a “permanent aircraft carrier”. In any event, since it’s only about 21 hundred miles southeast of Pyongyang, N Korea, this tiny US Territory is of considerable interest to Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s “Supreme Leader”.

Japan, one of many U S allies, is also of strategic interest to Kim, perhaps because there are more US military personnel serving in Japan than in any other country: 39,345 troops are stationed on 112 bases, mostly on the subtropical island of Okinawa, roughly 800 miles (1,280km) south west of Tokyo.

Headquartered in Japan, is the Seventh Fleet; it’s the largest of the US navy’s deployed sea forces, with roughly 50—70 ships and submarines, 140 aircraft, ballistic missile interceptors, and long-range Tomahawk land attack missiles.  The antiaircraft ships often include up to 14 cruisers and destroyers, some of which are armed with both defensive and offensive fleet missiles; as many as 12 nuclear-powered submarines are also “on call” 24/7, and finally the nuclear-powered supercarrier, the USS Ronald Regan, is permanently deployed at Yokosuka, Japan, as the 7th fleet’s flagship. 

Set up as a safeguard against North Korea in 1957 after the three-year “Police Action”, the United States Force Korea (USFK) says its mission is to “deter aggression and, if necessary, defend the Republic of Korea”.  After Germany, South Korea is the third largest host of US military forces, with 23,468; equipped with over 300 tanks (the powerful M1 Abrams among them), and armored vehicles.

So as to strengthen South Koreas defensive posture, in April of 2017, the US installed a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system (“THAAD”), within a small community 135 miles (217km) southeast of Seoul, South Korea’s capital and largest city, with the specific purpose of intercepting and destroying incoming missiles from North Korea in mid-flight.

But just how effective is the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, or “THAAD”?   Well, it’s good, but no magic bullet.   Experts contend that countries that try to build missile defense systems, such as South Korea, should aim for a multi layered defense system; so in addition to THAAD, the sea-based Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System (Aegis BMD or ABMD) is currently the best compliment to THAAD, it fires from warships; can cover larger areas and is considerably more mobile. And finally the most recent design of short-range Patriot missiles — the Patriot PAC-3 — can also shoot down ballistic missiles, but only at short range. All of these weapons can be connected to the same sensor and command network; so a synchronized defense is possible.

To date, THAAD has a good record in actual field tests, most recently destroying a target simulating a missile comparable to N Korea’s Hwasong-12 in July of 2017.
Trouble is, Missile defense, though very attractive, is a bit of tricky strategy when dealing with offensive missile threats. It has been likened to “hitting a bullet with a bullet”, and testing such systems can’t be done on the cheap. The payoff, of course, is protection from enemy ballistic missiles, which proved somewhat effective in the first gulf war when defending the Soviet made Scud missile attacks with Patriot missiles.
Just so you know, a THAAD battery costs about $900 Million; one Aegis BMD system costs about $718 Million; and a Patriot missile runs about 3 Million Dollars each.

So, exactly who is North Korea and where’d she come from?  Officially, she’s known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK); with the unsavory reputation of being the most heavily sanctioned state in the world!

For 35 years (1910 — 1945) all of Korea was under oppressive Japanese military rule, as was the case during World War II, however, this ended after U.S. and Soviet forces captured the peninsula near the war’s end, which led to the UN dividing Korea into two occupation zones, with the United States overseeing the southern half of the peninsula and the Soviet Union administering the area north of the 38th parallel (“the Demilitarized Zone”) — thus establishing a North and South Korea. This division was meant to be temporary and the initial idea was to reunify North & South to a single Korea— however this plan was dependent upon the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and the Republic of China organizing a single unified government scenario that would work.   

Nationwide elections were scheduled to establish a new Korean government and her leaders, however due to a lack of support in the Soviet controlled sector; the election only involved South Korea . . . In-other-words, the divided peninsula remained in place; as is true today.

China and North Korea have been allies since the end of the Second World War and her resilience stems, to a large degree, from her economic links with China.  You see, commerce with China accounts for as much as 90% of North Korea’s total foreign trade—simply put . . . China provides North Korea with most of the small country’s food and energy.   Keep in mind though that China and N Korea share a common border of 880 miles (1,420 km); so, no one was shocked, when, during the Korean War from 1950 to 1953, China supported North Korea by sending an estimated 3 million soldiers into the conflict; resulting in as many as 180,000 Chinese soldiers being killed.

Regardless, following WW II, North Korea was under the rule of the Soviets from 1945 to 1948.  After all, they had been a key player in liberating the peninsula in 1945, so, it was of little surprise when the Soviet 64th Fighter Aviation Corps took part in the Korean War by providing North Korea and China with badly needed aircraft pilots. However, many “Western” nations were most pleased when the Soviet government began to reduce aid to the North during the Glasnost era initiated by General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev during the late 1980’s in favor of reconciliation with South Korea. 

So, why would N Korea consider the US such an unsavory adversary? First, North Korea teaches its citizens from a tender age that the US started the Korean War and only the Kim family can protect them — and yes, they believe it without question.  Second, during the War, the U.S. Air Force bombed and napalmed parts of North Korea leaving 20% of its population dead and the survivors have shared their memories with North Korea’s youth.   Third, the United States considers South Korea the sole legitimate representative of all of Korea; hence, North Korea has not received diplomatic recognition from the US.  Fourth, the N Korean government contends  that the US is a “capitalist imperialist” successor to Japan, a view the citizenry holds to be true.  And finally, and some say of most significance, the nearly 24,000 US troops stationed in South Korea is considered an on-going threat to North Korea’s existence as a state.

Officially, the Atlantic hurricane season began on June 1 and will officially end on November 30th; however, activity began earlier than usual this year (2017) for the third consecutive year. NOAA forecasters predict the “season has the potential to be extremely active, and could be the most active since 2010.”  Though NOAA’s outlook still calls for 5 to 9 hurricanes for the entire season; currently (September 23) the total stands at 7 — thus far, the 2017 season is the first of record to usher in three Atlantic hurricanes making landfall onto the United States at Category 4 intensity or higher. 

To date, the most active Atlantic hurricane season was 2005 which recorded 15 hurricanes. The least active year was 1914, with only one known tropical storm developing during that year—it failed to reach hurricane strength.  The only other season of record without a hurricane was 1907; however 5 tropical storms did occur.

In any event, AccuWeather President Joel Myers said he believes “Hurricane Harvey was the most costly weather event in U.S. history, and that – paired with Hurricane Irma – the two storms would collectively cost the US 290 Billion Dollars”.   Conversely, Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, has a less dire opinion; he estimated a cost of only 200 Billion Dollars.  As for Hurricane Maria’s total damage estimates to Porto Rico, the total is not yet complete.

2017 Meteorological Records and or Notable Facts:
Hurricane Harvey— Post-Landfall Record: 51.88” of rainfall at Cedar Bayou, TX; most ever recorded in the continental United following a storm’s landfall — just 0.12” shy of the full United States record set in Hawaii of 52 inches in 1979. Harvey likely broke that record too since it was still raining at time the rain gauge failed.

Hurricane Irma: Intensity/Day Measurements — 185 mph max winds for 37 hours — the longest any cyclone, hurricane or typhoon, around the globe has maintained that intensity on record. The previous record was Typhoon “Haiyan” in the NW Pacific at 24 hours, a record set in 2013.                                                   

Hurricane Maria: In hurricane Maria’s aftermath (9-21-2017), all of Puerto Rico lost electricity; entire towns were flooded, streets where turned to rivers and excessive winds (155 mph) fell trees and demolished homes.  As for Maria’s monetary damage to the US territory of Porto Rico, whose economy was in shambles even prior to the storm, preliminary damage estimates stand somewhere between 40 and 85 Billion Dollars;  according to catastrophe-modeling firm AIR Worldwide—sadly, that estimate does not include losses to infrastructure, boats, or damage to uninsured properties. Worse still, AIR estimates that only about 50% of homes in Puerto Rico have insurance policies that cover wind damage  — far less than is typical throughout US states.

As for the Pacific Ocean’s hurricanes, typhoon, and cyclones it can be a bit confusing.  As you know in the southwestern Pacific and Indian Ocean, they’re “cyclones;” in the northwestern Pacific, the same powerful storms are “typhoons;” and in the northern Pacific, like the Atlantic, the storms are termed “hurricanes," named after the Caribbean god of evil, Hurrican.

There is extensive scientific evidence that extreme events are increasing around the globe, and is forecast to “snowball”— here’s just a few examples:

Over the last several weeks extremely heavy monsoon rains have killed more than 1,000 people across Bangladesh, India, and Nepal, and more than 41 million people have suffered the direct impact of the excessive rain; British Columbia is currently experiencing its most despicable wildfire season in recorded history; heat waves and drought are driving a strong wildfire season that has the American West ablaze; all 39 counties in the US state of Washington are under a state of emergency — highlighted by ash falling like snow in Seattle; the smoke, resulting from the wild fires is affecting air quality as distant as the  East Coast.

Okay, so extreme weather is to be expected in August and September, after all, those months are amid hurricane and wildfire season . . . It’s summer in the northern hemisphere, so it always gets pretty hot in a lot of places . . .  And in South Asia, it is monsoon season too—trouble is, scientists and or climatologists agree that the ongoing extreme weather events are some of the most extreme ever experienced and are threatening more human lives than is usually the case.
Then there’s the ripple effects, that most of us don’t think about until they affect us directly: Oil and gas infrastructure in the Gulf region is at risk—as was clearly demonstrated with recent hurricane Harvey, electric power outages are already becoming routine as the transport of coal by rail, and especially by barge, across the Midwest and Northeast face more flooding disruptions, and electricity generation in the Southwest will soon be limited by water shortages as heat waves and droughts become more extreme.  

Bet you never thought Global Warming could have a negative impact on allergies — well consider this: Respiratory allergies are expected to worsen significantly for approximately 25 million Americans! One of several causes include the fall ragweed “crop”; it’s projected to thrive and become more irritating because of increased carbon dioxide levels. Ragweed plants at today’s carbon dioxide levels are likely to produce nearly twice as much pollen as they did, just a 100 years ago.  Already, costs for allergies and asthma in the United States stands at near 33 Billion Dollars every year in direct health care costs and lost productivity.

Then there’s the huge cost per year for a US universal health care plan to deal with;  a sentiment currently (2017) favored by more than 60% of Americansand for many of us, the monotony associated with basic math — yes, the numbers are huge but in the end, the math is basic.  In the worst case scenario, cost estimates stand at 1.38 Trillion Dollars ($1,380,000,000,000.00) per year for the plan historically proposed by Senator Bernie Sanders.

According to the 2017 federal budget outline, the US is already committed to Spend, on Medicare & Health, 1.17 Trillion Dollars ($1,170,000,000,000.00)so an additional 210 Billion Dollars (210,000,000.00) is required to reach full health care coverage costs as described above (1.38 Trillion Dollars).  Simply put, absent a major tax increase or a dramatic shift in how the federal government’s receivables are dispersed, the future of full health care coverage for every American is bleak at best!   Especially when considering that by the end of Fiscal Year 2017 the US federal government debt is estimated to reach 20.4 Trillion Dollars and the annual deficit is estimated to be 443 Billion Dollars; an improvement on the 2016 deficit of 585 Billion Dollars but the government’s total budget disbursements still exceed its total receipts for both the fiscal years (e.g. fiscal year beginning October 1, 2016 and ending September 30, 2017).

In fiscal year 2018, the federal budget forecast is 4.094 Trillion Dollars, while the US General Accounting Office guesstimates it will receive 3.654 Trillion Dollars in revenue. Yep, that results in a 440 Billion Dollar deficit for October 1, 2017 through September 30, 2018 and that’s a far cry from the 2009 deficit of 1.4 Trillion Dollars and yes the current trend is definitely heading in the right direction — nearly a Trillion Dollars within a 9 year span; that’s great—right?  At that pace, if we could only rid ourselves of those nasty annual deficits, the nation could almost have a surplus within a little less than 184 years (9 x 20.4 = 183.6) . . . Has such an event (budget surplus) occurred in recent history? Check-out the display below:

Okay, 210 Billion additional Dollars in funding is necessary to reach universal health care coverage — but is such a scenario even possible without raising taxes? In a word: Yes, but America’s love affair with unbridled military spending and rampant waste must end! 

Sooo, if you’re elected president within the next few years, to succeed, perhaps you will consider parts of or all of the following agenda:

   1. Withdraw all US troops and personnel from South Korea, except those located at the Chinhae Naval Base located on the south eastern coast of South Korea . . . But only after installing several more THAAD systems south of the Demilitarized Zone—well beyond the reach of North Korea’s conventional artillery and short-range rockets, including her Scud missiles. After all, what are US troops stationed near the 38th Parallel — other than live American made “targets” intended specifically for North Korea?  

   2. Relocate a large part of the US Naval 7th fleet to the west side of Japan into the Sea of Japan — particularly the ships equipped with the Aegis BMD or ABMD missile defense systems and simultaneously reassign the fleet’s base from Japan to the Chinhae Naval Base in southern South Korea. 

   3. Close and or withdraw all US troops and personnel from Japan—including those on the subtropical island of Okinawa, Japan.

   4. The military budget, will in all likelihood, be in excess of 650 Billion Dollars in years to come, excepting revenues designated for Veterans Affairs and Foreign Aid; especially when considering past years and the 2018 military budget forecast.
With this in mind, the elimination of US Military Aid to all foreign countries and US Economic Aid to wealthy nations like Israel who received 3.1 Billion Dollars in Economic Aid in 2016 is a must — such an action can easily be justified, as Israel’s Universal Health Plan was ranked fourth in the world in terms of efficiency as recently as 2014  . . . Such cutbacks will yield a savings of 10.9 Billion Dollars or more per year; and too, such savings should be applied exclusively to the US National Debt which currently stands at 20.4 Trillion Dollars.

   5. Reduce the Military Budget by a minimum of 210 Billion Dollars and apply it to a Universal Health Care program.   For example if using the above style 2018 Budget numbers, such a reallocation would be as follows: Military Spending, 442.60 Billion Dollars — still 2 times more than China spends per year ($215 Billion) . . . 6 times more than Russia spends ($69 Billion) . . . and 59 times more than North Korea’s military expenditures ($7.5 Billion); US Veterans Affairs expenditures would remain the same at $178.10 Billion and Foreign Aid or Economic Aid would be reduced to 26 Billion Dollars or less.

   6.  Perhaps it is unfortunate that a comprehensive or total tally of public disaster-related spending in the United States simply does not exist.  FEMA and several other federal agencies such as the Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, and Housing and Urban Development have spent Millions of Dollars on disaster response and recovery for the past several years.  In truth, the total funds required to satisfy such a need is simply an unknown.

Considering the anticipated disastrous impact of inclement weather events that are  believed by the vast majority of the worlds climatologist’s that will soon become commonplace on the US and her territories, it is no longer an option to continue squandering our economic resources on forever building and maintaining a military machine that is expected or destined to “police” the world.  With this foremost in mind, as citizens who hope to survive as a nation into the 22nd century and beyond, we must recognize the necessity to quit forever the folly of always outspending militarily, potential adversaries by 100% or much, much more.  That’s not saying that to maintain a military is no longer a necessity—in fact such a circumstance may be a century or more away!    

This of course is only an opinion, one of many, and you may not even run for president, ever; even though it is the platform best suited for implementing all or even a few of the above suggested subject matters / issues. 

In any event, if you do decide to pursue the US Presidency, keep in mind that simply being a Billionaire will not necessarily get you the coveted prize. Case-in-point, a fella named Ross Perot tried in 1992 and again in 1996 — he failed on both attempts — at the time his net worth was actually 4.1 Billion Dollars — however he often implied it was only 3.8 Billion.  On the other hand the current US President’s net worth when he entered the 2016 presidential race was really 3.5 Billion Dollars, although he often claimed his net worth was 10 Billion Dollars or more.  Point being, making “colorful” claims and using “alternative facts” may be the sure way to becoming leader of the free world. 

Click Here to view a 1992 SNL spoof preserved by YouTube and see what probably won’t help get you elected.   

The argument is often made that American citizenship was most eloquently reckoned in The Declaration of Independence back in 1776, which states that “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are all natural born rights.  Bottom line: it’s only possible to achieve such rights when proper health care is available to every citizen; there is reasonable protection from inclement weather events—including droughts, wildfires, and rising sea levels; when a low risk of being “wiped out” by a foreign power is insured by the government; and finally, when the absence of excessive taxation by said government is assured.