Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Pro-Life Republicans? Where?

Republicans will do absolutely nothing about gun violence in America. Republicans oppose paid maternity leave (the US is one of only 3 countries not to do so (Oman and Papua New Guinea are the other 2). Republicans are attempting to axe Title X Family Planning. More than half of Republicans in the Senate and almost half of Republicans in the House voted against the creation of Medicare, and House Republicans have vote over 50 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Republicans believe people need to starve before they'll 'really' look for work (Republicans believe that policies like disability insurance or the Earned Income Tax Credit take away a key motivation -- hunger).

People stand in line waiting to fill boxes with food at a Las Vegas food pantry.
Republicans oppose a plan from the chairman of the FCC to subsidize broadband Internet for poor Americans. Republicans want to send children born in America of undocumented immigrants back to where they DON'T come from. Republicans oppose diplomacy to address the Iran Nuclear Issue courting the possibility of armed conflict. Republicans won't even say "climate change" unless to brand it a "hoax," and climate change is already causing hundreds of thousands of deaths due to drought, failure of crops, flooding, and extreme weather. Republicans "Pro-Life?" Hardly.

Monday, August 17, 2015

We Should Have Stayed In Iraq -- Oh, Really?!

Is Obama responsible for the rise of ISIS and the chaos and conflict raging in the Middle East? Republicans, especially the now unrepentant Jeb Bush, say Obama's decision to pull troops out of Iraq caused this debacle. Nonsense. "One can argue the single most consequential decision that brought us to today’s deplorable situation is the decision to invade Iraq." This from the conservative National Review. No kidding!

As for pulling out of Iraq, Shortly before Obama took office in January 2009, his predecessor, George W. Bush, finalized an important agreement after about a year of negotiations with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Called the Status of Forces Agreement, it spelled out the withdrawal of all American troops by the end of 2011.

The agreement failed over a demand by the U.S. that American troops be given immunity from prosecution by Iraqis, a very touchy political issue within the Iraqi Parliament. Obama was not going to allow American troops to be judged by Iraqi courts after the disaster that was the Bush Administration's prosecution of the war.
No immunity meant no residual troop presence. In an October 2011 news conference, Nouri al-Maliki said, "When the Americans asked for immunity, the Iraqi side answered that it was not possible. The discussions over the number of trainers and the place of training stopped. Now that the issue of immunity was decided and that no immunity to be given, the withdrawal has started."

One can easily imagine how "enraged" Republicans would've been had Obama agreed to allow American troops to be prosecuted in Iraqi courts for alleged crimes. They might've started throwing shoes!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Japan's Pacifist Constitution Obligates the United States

by John Phillips

The reaction of Japan to its current situation is a potent example of the difficulties of nuclear disarmament. Those traumatized by atomic bombings 70 years ago don't want a future generation of Japanese to experience the horror of their personal experience. They have come to appreciate the value of the pacifist constitution, forced on Japan by the U.S. after WWII. The side of that not often discussed is the fact that the U.S. is the ultimate guarantor of Japanese security -- including a heavy conventional presence and extended nuclear deterrents.
Hiroshima Destroyed by U.S. Atomic Bombing August 1945
Whereas Japan is not obligated to defend the U.S., the U.S. is obligated to defend Japan, even in a nuclear exchange if necessary. Japan will not and should not allow the U.S. to shirk its responsibility since that was the essential bargain in exchange for Japan's pacifist military posture.

Now, Japan is surrounded by hostile nations that have not forgiven WWII atrocities and, in some cases, older conflicts (e.g., the Russo-Japanese War). China is rapidly building a modern nuclear weapon capability of poorly understood scale. North Korea continuously threatens Japan with its nuclear arsenal and has even kidnapped Japanese citizens. South Korea's enmity with Japan simmers beneath the surface, held at bay by close conventional alliances and extended nuclear deterrents from the U.S. in both cases. Russia still holds the Kuril Islands since the end of WWII. The angst against Japan runs deep, fueled by a history of genocides, human trafficking, 'comfort women,' etc., under the dominance of the Japanese empire.

Thus, being pacifist in a very dangerous neighborhood today is purchased by a history of U.S. dominance in the Pacific theater since WWII, nothing more. Given direct and accelerating challenges posed by China to U.S. regional dominance, continuous threats to Japan in North Korean rhetoric and its ballistic missile launches over Japanese airspace, and the U.S. tiring of the high cost of maintaining a post WWII military sphere of influence in both Asia and Europe, Japan is reasonably concerned about its position looking forward.
The U.S. has cautiously encouraged Japan to take on more military responsibility, but must be very careful to ensure that Japan's faith in ultimate nuclear security remains guaranteed -- this lies behind Obama's pivot to Asia. Otherwise, nuclear breakout is not an unlikely outcome. How do we make progress at untying such convoluted Gordian Knots? Complex global and regional realities lie at the heart of approaches to nuclear disarmament. There is no simple approach to solve such problems, but the human and environmental catastrophe that awaits us if we fail demands from us nothing less than our best efforts.
____________________________________
Jon Phillips is a Senior Nuclear Technology Expert at the International Atomic Energy Agency and Director, Sustainable Nuclear Power Initiative at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. The opinions expressed here are his own.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Iran Nuclear Deal: Letter to Rep Dan Newhouse, R-WA4

Vienna International Center, Home of the IAEA 

July 30, 2015


The Honorable Dan Newhouse
United States House of Representatives

 Dear Congressman Newhouse;

I read with interest your statement on the Iran Nuclear Deal. I realize you have not yet made a commitment, for or against. I’m writing to urge you to support the accord. I’ve read the full text of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, 14 July 2015, and I believe it is the best we can do, if we want to avoid military confrontation downstream. And that is, in my view, the alternative.

The nuclear accord depends on stockpile reduction, reduction of centrifuge quantities, and monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The IAEA will employ the ‘Additional Protocol,’ developed under Program 93+2, for its inspections of Iran’s nuclear compliance.

I worked on Program 93+2 during my on-site assignment to the IAEA in Vienna from 1990-1992, under a ‘Cost-Free Expert’ loan to the IAEA sponsored by the U.S. State Department. I worked on other facets of the IAEA’s ‘Safeguards’ regime from 1993-1997, as a senior staff scientist in National Security at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (I retired from PNNL in 2006). The IAEA Safeguards inspectors and analysts with whom I worked were highly intelligent and had an in-depth practical knowledge of the nuclear fuel cycle, peaceful and otherwise. They are extremely conscientious; they know the importance of their work.

PNNL has for many years provided nuclear nonproliferation technical assistance to the IAEA under the Department of Energy’s ‘Work for Others’ program. They are currently the DOE steward for combating illicit nuclear trafficking. I’m sure they would be glad to discuss with you the work they’ve done and the tools and techniques that might be brought to bear on the monitoring of Iranian compliance with the nuclear deal.

Sincerely,

/s/

Richard V. Badalamente, PhD
3302 W 42nd Pl
Kennewick, WA 99337


Friday, July 10, 2015

Snake Oil Salesmen

The last time I checked you can still buy your POM Wonderful at our local supermarkets. This despite the fact that a judge issued a ‘cease and desist,’ ordering POM to stop claiming its beverage benefits everything from your brain to your prostate. Distributors aren’t going to remove the stuff just because its maker’s lied; not as long as people keep buying it, and they do. POM’s 8 oz. bottle is now the fastest-selling, single-serve premium refrigerated juice.

How to explain the fact that we Americans continue to believe our corporate snake oil salesmen, but vociferously disbelieve scientists, who warn us of global warming and its consequences? Well, I can think of several reasons for this.

The first is that corporations are darned good at advertising; ‘good’ in the sense that they know their audience and their medium, not necessarily that they tell the truth. It’s hard to imagine anyone who is unaware of some of corporate America’s more scandalous lies, from tobacco executives swearing to Congress that nicotine wasn’t addictive, to Goldman Sachs traders selling mortgage-backed securities they knew were junk. However, I would venture to guess that far fewer Americans are aware of the orchestrated disinformation campaign that’s been waged by corporations with an interest in retaining the status quo in fossil fuel use. Read the book, or see the documentary, ‘Merchants of Doubt’ for information on this. The bottom line is that the fossil fuel industry has been very effective in pulling the wool (or more accurately, the smog) over Americans’ eyes regarding the impact of CO2 on climate change.

The second reason Americans accept snake oil and reject science is that snake oil is promoted as making us ‘all better,’ without our having to sacrifice by exercising more, or eating a better diet -- just drink this kind of sour red juice and you’ll “Cheat Death!” In the meantime climate scientists are telling us we do need to sacrifice. We need to cut back energy consumption (but, will that mean walking?!), switch to low/no carbon fuels (does that mean paying more at the pump?!), and, well forget it -- you get the point.

And that brings us to the third reason Americans are so unenthusiastic about accepting the changes necessary in moving to a low carbon energy future -- precisely because it’s the future. People are notoriously shortsighted, predisposed to immediate gratification, and, I hate to say it -- clinically self-absorbed (‘selfie,’ anyone?). We think that the really serious consequences of climate change are going to hit long after we’re gone, so let future generations worry about it. We’re wrong about that, because the future is now, and because, as Pope Francis pointed out, it’s a morally bankrupt attitude.

Here’s my advice, for what it’s worth: (1) Don’t drink POM Wonderful. It won’t cure your erectile dysfunction or “Cheat Death” (and if it did, you’d be here to suffer the consequences of climate change); and (2) don’t believe the other snake oil salesmen who are denying human-caused climate change.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

My Republican Friend Worries About the Federal Debt

My friend wrote:

"I heard on the radio that the Congressional Budget Office has issued a dire warning about the USA's debt problem.  Check it out (I don't have the web address). Of course, NO democrats ever mention our fiscal situation."

Dear Republican Friend;

"Dire" is in the eye of the beholder, e.g., I think climate change is a dire situation. You don't. Nor do your Republican Presidential candidates, who feel so strongly about it NOT being "dire" that they've criticized the Pope for addressing climate change in his encyclical. Yet unchecked, global warming will kill us. What the CBO report says, on the other hand, is that ALL THING BEING EQUAL, a growing debt will make us very uncomfortable. Here's the bottom line of the CBO summary:

If current law remained generally unchanged in the future, federal debt held by the public would decline slightly relative to GDP over the next few years, CBO projects. After that, however, growing budget deficits—caused mainly by the aging of the population and rising health care costs—would push debt back to, and then above, its current high level. The deficit would grow from less than 3 percent of GDP this year to more than 6 percent in 2040. At that point, 25 years from now, federal debt held by the public would exceed 100 percent of GDP.

The consequences of this growth in debt are addressed by the CBO as follows:

How long the nation could sustain such growth in federal debt is impossible to predict with any confidence. At some point, investors would begin to doubt the government’s willingness or ability to meet its debt obligations, requiring it to pay much higher interest costs in order to continue borrowing money. Such a fiscal crisis would present policymakers with extremely difficult choices and would probably have a substantial negative impact on the country. Unfortunately, there is no way to predict confidently whether or when such a fiscal crisis might occur in the United States. In particular, as the debt-to-GDP ratio rises, there is no identifiable point indicating that a crisis is likely or imminent. But all else being equal, the larger a government’s debt, the greater the risk of a fiscal crisis.

Now the reason Democrats don't pay more attention to the debt problem is that the problem is easily fixed. Let's start by eliminating the estate tax and reducing corporate taxes, two of the Republicans favorite "fixes." Did you know that the House just voted (along party lines) to repeal the estate tax? Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that repealing the estate tax would cost the Treasury $14.6 billion in the 2016 fiscal year and $269 billion over 10 years. John Boehner said $269 billion “is nothing more than a drop in the bucket to the federal government.”

Of course the only reason you'd be interested in the facts about estate taxes is to avoid them, but if you are interested in the larger picture and why the Republican crusade to repeal estate taxes is such a farce, you could read this economic intelligence report, which would tell you that you have nothing to worry about, because the federal tax currently applies to estates worth more than $5.43 million for an individual or $10.86 million for a couple. Only Republican donors of the Sheldon Adelson variety worry about this, and even they aren't too worried, because they can afford good tax lawyers.

But I digress. You will note that at the beginning of this email I capitalized "ALL THINGS BEING EQUAL." There are quite straight-forward things our "leaders" in Congress could do to remedy the fiscal situation (e.g., raise the amount well-off people like you and I have to pay into Medicare). Then again, Congress could simply implement the Simpson-Bowles plan. That would result in the savings shown below. But as you've pointed out, every item has a "constituency." That makes it hard for politicians to tackle, especially those with no integrity.


So that leaves us with the prospect of waiting until the POTENTIAL crisis that CBO forecasts occurs in 2040 and then watching as our "leaders" take stop gap measures to stem the tide. And speaking of stemming the tide, do you know what sea level rise is predicted to be by 2040?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Twenty-One Senate Republicans Voted Against the Senate Ban on Torture

Here are their names:
  • Jeff Sessions of Alabama, a former U.S. attorney and state attorney general
  • Tom Cotton of Arkansas, an Iraq War combat veteran
  • Michael Crapo of Idaho
  • James Risch of Idaho
  • Daniel Coats of Indiana, who is not expected to seek reelection
  • Joni Ernst of Iowa, who has served more than two decades in the Army Reserve and National Guard
  • Pat Roberts of Kansas, a former chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, which oversees the CIA
  • Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate majority leader
  • David Vitter of Louisiana
  • Thad Cochran of Mississippi, a former Eagle Scout and Navy veteran, and current chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee
  • Roy Blunt of Missouri
  • Deb Fischer of Nebraska
  • Benjamin Sasse of Nebraska
  • Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, who said during a congressional hearing into the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, “I'm probably not the only one up at this table that is more outraged by the outrage than we are by the treatment.”
  • James Lankford of Oklahoma, who holds a graduate degree in divinity and was formerly an evangelism specialist for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma
  • Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who is seeking the GOP presidential nomination and worked to strip federal courts of jurisdiction to hear cases from Guantanamo Bay detainees
  • Tim Scott of South Carolina, an evangelical Christian who is opposed to abortion, gay rights, stem cell research, and euthanasia, and once fought to install the ten commandments outside a municipal building where he was an elected official
  • John Cornyn of Texas, a former state attorney general and associate justice of the Texas Supreme Court
  • Orrin Hatch of Utah, who called Jay Bybee, a primary author of Bush era torture memos, “one of the most honorable people you'll ever meet” while defending him against torture critics who wanted to remove him from a federal judgeship.
  • Mike Lee of Utah, who has opposed extending controversial portions of the Patriot Act as well as the indefinite detention of Americans in the War on Terrorism
  • John Barrasso of Wyoming
And Marco Rubio absented himself from the vote.

Read the Atlantic Article here.