Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Hatching a Rotten Egg

Utah’s Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch maintains a web page called “Climate Change 101,” in which he gives some reasons why he doesn’t think anthropogenic climate change is likely to be a problem. The page is riddled with red herrings, references to studies that have since been refuted by other scientists, and the use of fraudulent data.
In his section on Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) climate models, Hatch reproduces two graphs that were created by Christopher Monckton of the Science and Public Policy Institute, who has no scientific training. One graph purports to show that the IPCC climate models badly over-predicted the temperature evolution over the past decade. The other purports to show that IPCC carbon cycle models have badly over-predicted the evolution of atmospheric carbon dioxide over the past decade.
The graphs seem very compelling, but the fields Monckton labels as IPCC predictions are actually outright fabrications. Check it out here: www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2010/08/monckton-makes-it-up/.
From an 11/29/10 article in the Salt Lake Tribune, by Barry Bickmore

Monday, December 13, 2010

Miss Julia sends me compliments of the day

From Miss. Julia George
14 bp cocody rue
05 koumassi
Abidjan / Cote D'Ivoire

Dearest friend,

Compliment of the day, I am so glad to write this letter to you. Having obtained your contact from the internet and after reading your profiles that you deserve trust, coupled with my deep interest to invest in your country, I decided to contact you for mutual assistance at all cost.

I am Miss Julia George Tammy the only daughter of Mr and Mrs George Tammy from Ivory-Coast. My father was a highly reputable cocoa merchant who operated in the capital of Ivory coast before his untimely death. It is sad to say that my father was sick mysteriously in France during one of his business trips abroad in the year 12th.February 2008. Though his sudden sickness was rather suspected to be poison and has been masterminded by an uncle of his who traveled with him at that time. But God knows the truth!

When my mother died on the 21st October 2006, My father took me so special because I am motherless. Before the death of my father on 6th April 2008 in a private hospital here in Abidjan . He secretly called me on his bedside and told me that he has a sum of $3.500.000 (three million, five hundred thousand dollars) deposited in one of the bank here in Abidjan, that he used my name as the only daughter for his next of kin in deposited of the funds.

He also explained to me that it was because of this money that he was poisoned. He also told me that I should seek for a God fearing foreign partner in a country of my choice where I will transfer this money for investment purposes.

I am just 22 years old and a university undergraduate and really don't know what to do. Please, I want an account where I can transfer this funds and after the transaction i will come and live with you as a partner and I'm ready to do anything of your choice. I am all alone right now.

The death of my father actually brought sorrow to my life and i wished to invested under your care with your advise. Please, I am in a sincere desire of your humble assistance in this regards.Your suggestions and ideas will be highly regarded.

I am ready to give you 20% of the total money after the money has been successfully transferred in to your bank account in your country for your assistance and for any expenses that you made during the process of the transfer. Again you will help me to secure a permanent residential permit in your country, for me to come over and continue my education while you will be taken care of the investment that will be set up by you.
The most important of all is for you to be a good partner when the money arrives in your country. Please, consider this and get back to me as soon as possible. Immediately i confirmed your willingness then i will send to you my picture and i will need your own picture as well.

Thanks and remain blessed.
Your's Sincerely,
Miss Julia George Tammy

For more on Miss Julia's plight, check here.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Ignorantia Affectata

Bangladesh: Brackish water from the Bay of Bengal is encroaching, surging up Bangladesh's fresh-water rivers, percolating deep into the soil, fouling ponds and the underground water supply that millions depend on to drink and cultivate their farms.
The deniers first deceive themselves that they are sincere in their adherence to falsehoods. Thus they cannot be faulted for acting on genuinely held views. But in truth, they have cultivated an ignorance of the facts, what Thomas Aquinas called ignorantia affectata. An ignorance so useful that one protects it at all costs, in order to continue using it in one’s own self interest. This ignorance is not exculpatory, but inculpatory. Forgive them not, for they know full well what they do.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Great Dying

Somehow, most of the life on Earth perished in a brief moment of geologic time roughly 250 million years ago. Scientists call it the Permian-Triassic extinction or "the Great Dying" -- not to be confused with the better-known Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction that signaled the end of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Whatever happened during the Permian-Triassic period was much worse: No class of life was spared from the devastation. Trees, plants, lizards, proto-mammals, insects, fish, mollusks, and microbes -- all were nearly wiped out. Roughly 9 in 10 marine species and 7 in 10 land species vanished. Life on our planet almost came to an end. Was an asteroid responsible?

Many scientists believe that life was already struggling when the putative space rock arrived. Our planet was in the throes of severe volcanism. In a region that is now called Siberia, 1.5 million cubic kilometers of lava flowed from an awesome fissure in the crust. (For comparison, Mt. St. Helens unleashed about one cubic kilometer of lava in 1980.) Such an eruption would have scorched vast expanses of land, clouded the atmosphere with dust, and released climate-altering greenhouse gases.
Read more about the mystery on NASA's web site.

Cormack McCarthy
What would happen if something like this took place now? Have you read "The Road," by Cormack McCarthy?

Read a review of "The Road" here.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Palin Having Trouble with Reading Comprehension?

The Wall Street Journal, Rupert Murdoch’s crown jewel, went after a Murdoch employee, Sarah Palin, recently of FOX, on one of her errors, which appear on a regular basis from her Twitter feed or in speeches. 

Palin attacked the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy, which is about as far over her head as she ever wants to get, and showed profound ignorance on inflation. She said anyone who’d gone shopping lately would know that “grocery prices have risen significantly over the past year.” A Journal blogger then noted that food and beverage inflation was practically nonexistent for the past year — the lowest on record — and that Palin was having some trouble with reading comprehension (From Liar's Club, by Timothy Egan).

Palin called studies supporting global climate change a "bunch of snake oil science." Well, it's certainly harder to read the climate studies, than it might be to read the business page, but for Palin, the results are the same -- she got it wrong. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Allan Sandage, Astronomer, Dies at 84; Charted Cosmos’s Age and Expansion

New York Times, November 17, 2010


Allan R. Sandage, who spent his life measuring the universe, becoming the most influential astronomer of his generation, died Saturday at his home in San Gabriel, Calif. He was 84.
The cause was pancreatic cancer, according to an announcement by the Carnegie Observatories, where he had spent his whole professional career.
Over more than six decades, Dr. Sandage was like one of those giant galaxies that sit at the center of a cluster of galaxies, dominating cosmic weather. He wrote more than 500 papers, ranging across the cosmos, covering the evolution and behavior of stars, the birth of the Milky Way galaxy, the age of the universe and the discovery of the first quasar, not to mention the Hubble constant, a famously contested number that measures the rate of expansion of the universe. Dr. Sandage pursued the number with his longtime collaborator, Gustav Tammann of the University of Basel in Switzerland.
In 1949, Dr. Sandage was a young Caltech graduate student, a self-described “hick who fell off the turnip truck,” when he became the observing assistant for Edwin Hubble, the Mount Wilson astronomer who discovered the expansion of the universe.
Hubble had planned an observing campaign using a new 200-inch telescope on Palomar Mountain in California to explore the haunting questions raised by that mysterious expansion. If the universe was born in a Big Bang, for example, could it one day die in a Big Crunch? But Hubble died of a heart attack in 1953, just as the telescope was going into operation. So Dr. Sandage, a fresh Ph.D. at 27, inherited the job of limning the fate of the universe.
“It would be as if you were appointed to be copy editor to Dante,” Dr. Sandage said. “If you were the assistant to Dante, and then Dante died, and then you had in your possession the whole of ‘The Divine Comedy,’ what would you do?”
Dr. Sandage was a man of towering passions and many moods, and for years, you weren’t anybody in astronomy if he had not stopped speaking to you. In later years, beset by controversy, Dr. Sandage withdrew from public view. But even after retiring from the Carnegie Observatories and becoming ill, he never stopped working; he published a paper on variable stars only last June.
In 1991, Dr. Sandage was awarded the Crafoord Prize in astronomy, the closest thing to a Nobel for a stargazer, worth $2 million.
Wendy Freedman, his boss as director of Carnegie as well as a rival in the Hubble constant question, referred to him on Tuesday as the last giant of 20th-century observational cosmology. “Even when we had our scientific differences, I got a kick out of him,” she said. “His passion for his subject was immense.”
James Gunn, an astronomer at Princeton, said of Dr. Sandage in an e-mail message, “He was probably (rightly) the greatest and most influential observational astronomer of the last half-century.”
Allan Rex Sandage was born in Iowa City, Iowa, on June 18, 1926, the only child of an advertising professor, Charles Harold Sandage, and a homemaker, Dorothy Briggs Sandage. The stars were one of his first loves; his father bought him a commercial telescope.
After two years at the University of Miami, where his father taught, Allan was drafted into the Navy; he resumed his education at the University of Illinois, earning a degree in physics.
In 1948 he entered graduate school at the California Institute of Technology, where an astronomy program had been started in conjunction with the nearby Mount Wilson Observatory, home of Hubble, among others.
As a result, Dr. Sandage learned the nuts and bolts of observing with big telescopes from the founders of modern cosmology, Hubble; Walter Baade, who became his thesis adviser, and Milton Humason, a former mule driver who had become Hubble’s right-hand man.
In the years before World War II, there had been a revolution in the understanding of the nature and evolution of stars as thermonuclear furnaces burning hydrogen into helium and elements beyond. Astronomers could now read the ages of star clusters from the colors and brightness of the stars in them.
For his thesis, Dr. Sandage used this trick to date a so-called globular cluster, known as Messier 3, as being 3.2 billion years old, which meant that the universe itself could not be younger than that. In fact, Hubble’s own measurements of the cosmic expansion suggested an age of about four billion years — remarkably, even miraculously, consistent.
At the time, astronomers were also still debating whether the universe had had a Big Bang and a beginning at all, not to mention whether it would have an ending as well. An opposing view championed by the British cosmologist Fred Hoyle held that the universe was eternal and in a “steady state,” with new matter filling in the void as galaxies rushed away from one another. [See earlier post for another view]
Choosing between these models was to be the big task of 20th-century astronomy, and of Dr. Sandage. In 1961 he published a paper in The Astrophysical Journal showing how it could be done using the 200-inch telescope. He described cosmology as the search for two numbers: one was the cosmic expansion rate, known as the Hubble constant; the other, called the deceleration parameter, tells how fast the expansion is being braked by cosmic gravity.
That paper, “The Ability of the 200-inch Telescope to Discriminate Between Selected World Models,” may well have been “the most influential paper ever written in any field even close to cosmology,” Dr. Gunn said. It was to set the direction of observational cosmology for 40 years, ruling out the Steady State and the Big Crunch and culminating in the surprise discovery in 1998 that the expansion is not slowing down at all but speeding up.
Meanwhile, Dr. Sandage investigated the birth of the galaxy. By analyzing the motions of old stars in the Milky Way, he, Olin Eggen of Caltech and Donald Lynden-Bell of Cambridge showed in a 1962 paper that the Milky Way formed from the collapse of a primordial gas cloud probably some 10 billion years ago. That paper still forms the basis of science’s understanding of where the galaxy came from, astronomers say.
In 1959, Dr. Sandage married another astronomer, Mary Connelly, who was teaching at Mount Holyoke and had studied at the University of Indiana and Radcliffe, but did not pursue further research. He is survived by her and two sons, David and John.
It was measuring the cosmic expansion that was the most backbreaking part of fulfilling Hubble’s legacy. In an expanding universe, the speed with which a galaxy flies away from us is proportional to its distance. The constant of proportionality, the Hubble constant, is given in the mind-numbing terms of kilometers per second per megaparsec. Hubble’s original estimate of his constant of 530 meant that for every million parsecs (3.26 million light years) a galaxy was farther away from us, it was retreating 530 kilometers per second (around 300 miles per second) faster.
Hubble’s original estimate, however, corresponded to an age for the universe of only 1.8 billion years, at odds with both geological calculations of the Earth’s age and Dr. Sandage’s later estimate of the ages of star clusters.
But Hubble had made mistakes — he saw bright patches of gas as stars, for example — and as Dr. Sandage and Dr. Tammann delved into the subject in a series of papers, the problematic constant came down and the imputed age of the universe rose.
In 1956, Dr. Sandage suggested that the Hubble constant could be as low as 75 kilometers per second per megaparsec. By 1975 the value, they said, was all the way down to 50, corresponding to an age of as much as 20 billion years, comfortably larger than the ages of galaxies and globular clusters.
This allowed them to conclude that the universe was not slowing down enough for gravity to reverse the expansion into a Big Crunch. That was in happy agreement with astronomers who had found that there was not enough matter in the universe to generate the necessary gravity.
As Dr. Sandage wrote in The Astrophysical Journal in March 1975, “(b) the Universe has happened only once, and (c) the expansion will never stop.”
“So the universe will continue to expand forever,” Dr. Sandage said in an interview, “and the galaxies will get farther and farther apart, and things will just die. That’s the way it is. It doesn’t matter whether I feel lonely about it or not.”
Shortly thereafter, however, their results on the Hubble constant came under attack by rival astronomers, who said that Dr. Sandage and Dr. Tammann had overestimated the distances to galaxies — a crucial part of the equation for the constant — making the universe appear bigger and older than it really was. The universe, they said, was really about 10 billion years old.
Stung by the criticisms, Dr. Sandage retreated from public view, even while he and Dr. Tammann redoubled their efforts to measure the troublesome constant, always getting a low value. As the groups shot back and forth at each other, the universe, as reflected in newspaper headlines, boomeranged back and forth from 10 billion to 20 billion years.
In 2001, a team led by Dr. Freedman, using the Hubble Space Telescope, reported a value of 72 kilometers per second per megaparsec, in good agreement with measurements of relic radiation from the Big Bang that give an age of 13.7 billion years for the cosmos full of dark energy and dark matter, and a Hubble constant of 71, which most astronomers now accept.
To the frustration of colleagues, Dr. Sandage, also using Hubble, kept getting a lower value.
We may never know the fate of the universe or the Hubble constant, he once said, but the quest and discoveries made along the way were more important and rewarding than the answer anyway.
“It’s got to be fun,” Dr. Sandage told an interviewer. “I don’t think anybody should tell you that he’s slogged his way through 25 years on a problem and there’s only one reward at the end, and that’s the value of the Hubble constant. That’s a bunch of hooey. The reward is learning all the wonderful properties of the things that don’t work.”

Friday, October 29, 2010

And your point is?

“This so-called climate science is just ridiculous,” said Kelly Khuri, founder of the Clark County Tea Party Patriots. “I think it’s all cyclical.”

“Carbon regulation, cap and trade, it’s all just a money-control avenue,” Ms. Khuri added. “Some people say I’m extreme, but they said the John Birch Society was extreme, too.”

(See the full article)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Matter of Priorities

F-15 Armament Load
According to an article in the Council on Foreign Relations, the United States spends substantially more on military endeavors than any country in the world. If war spending and allocations to the “Global War on Terror” are excluded, the U.S. military budget is still more than seven times that of its next closest competitor, China. If you include those other expenditures, U.S. military spending surpasses that of all other countries in the world combined.

Now there is some debate on whether or not defense spending, specifically spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, hurts or helps the U.S. economy. Certainly, the military-industrial complex feels strongly that defense spending helps the economy. Building guns, tanks, planes, and ships creates jobs, after all. And the more we blow up, use up, have shot down, or see that military equipment sink to the bottom of the sea, the more we have to manufacture, and that makes for steady employment, if not great longevity for our troops. It's also interesting to consider that in addition to all the money we spend on blowing things up (shock and awe), we spend another bundle paying major U.S. corporations like Halliburton, to "reconstruct" them (all in the interests of "nation building").

One quarter of each dollar we pay in taxes (actually twenty-six and a half cents) goes to the military (not including veteran's benefits). But that doesn't tell the whole story. Because we've had to borrow money to pay for our wars, we pay another five cents of every dollar to service the debt; a debt by the way, whose interest accounts for the third largest portion of our tax dollar.

It seems to me that the question comes down to priorities; could we be creating jobs by spending our [borrowed] money on something more permanent, such as modernizing our deteriorating infrastructure, i.e., domestic reconstruction, or on improving our inner city schools (two cents of our tax dollar goes to education), or, god forbid, on health care?

What do you think?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Demise of a Thoughtful Republican

George W. Bush, Donald Rusfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz announcing Joint Resolution to authorize force against Iraq.

By J. Phillips

The Iraq War is an utterly depressing subject. My upbringing as a military brat and career as an international nuclear security expert and weapons inspector in Iraq between the two wars cast this unnecessary foreign adventure in a grave, unflattering light. This war alone broke me out of a lifelong tradition of support for the Republican Party. In the history of strategic blunders, this war may prove to be much worse than Vietnam from the perspective of our nation’s place in the world.

Charles Duelfer, chief U.S. investigator on
Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, confirming
there were no WMD stockpiles in Iraq.
The lack of a persuasive casus belli in the case of Iraq, and the predictable distraction that resulted, interfered with the proper execution of justifiable military and nation building efforts in Afghanistan.

Success in that endeavor is now imperiled.

The military difficulties of defeating the Taliban and other tribal coalitions, on Afghani terrain, are well understood. Afghanistan has a storied history of ruining all invaders going back many centuries and they have not been successfully administrated by an external power since Timur’s conquest 600 years ago. The dramatically punctuated Afghani terrain and its finely parsed tribal feudalism is a simile of Russian winter and its regional partisans in the annals of military history. It’s a place where invaders have gone to die a slow death. The combination of that difficult, but justifiable proposition with the coincident invasion and occupation of Iraq, arguably the Yugoslavia of the Middle East and the primary foil of Iranian ambitions, was pure Bush Administration folly.

All but seven of 272 Republican legislators lent active support to Bush’s destructive foreign policy. The Democrats, cowed by a nationalist spin machine wrapped in the flag, voted tepidly against the war 147 to 111. The neocon spin machine had convinced a willfully ignorant electorate that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction at the ready to use against us, was complicit in 9/11 and was in league with Al Qaida. These assertions were patently false. It’s not possible that the Bush Administration was uninformed. The lack of justification for war was simply an inconvenient truth standing between them and their ideological goals.

No less than Brent Scowcroft, National Security Advisor to George HW Bush during the First Gulf War, opined against the imminent invasion in the Wall Street Journal in an attempt to divert the Titanic from its tragic course, but Bush’s neocons and the Republican Party would have none of it. After witnessing these events I could not, in good conscience, support a political party that actively promoted and participated in this ill-fated national decision. It became the demise of a thoughtful Republican.

Though I did not respect the pack of craven Democrats who supported the Iraq invasion, over half did not support the Iraq War – including then Senator Obama. They bucked the popular view as a matter of principle. Ironically, cleaning up this horrendous mess, left by the previous Republican Administration, has now fallen to President Obama’s Administration along with an extensive laundry list of other messes.

Recent estimates of the direct losses of the Iraq War on the larger U.S. economy range as high as $3 trillion all said and done. This does not include opportunity costs, which are the “unknowable unknowns” – the might have beens. The related increment in the national debit will exceed $1 trillion. Your personal share of the U.S. economic losses of the Iraq War will total roughly $10,000. That comes to a U.S. “investment” of roughly $150,000 per Iraqi man, woman and child, spent thoroughly eviscerating their nation in a blender as it were. If it’s not obvious to the reader, this is an inconceivably large figure in contrast with the extremely limited means of an average Iraqi citizen.

We have spent our national treasure destroying another country without justifiable cause and then trying to contain the consequence of the ensuing chaos. It has been a war funded entirely on debit from day one and has been a significant contributor to the destruction of our economy, but speaking from the heart, the wasted treasure is so much less compelling than other things.

I feel familial grief for the uniformed services that have suffered in the aftermath of that thoughtless decision. To date, in excess of 4,400 U.S. soldiers have died and roughly 30,000 suffer with combat injuries. Thousands suffer from post-traumatic stress disorders, chronic depression and related substance abuse. Many thousands of marriages have been destroyed by deployments without end – remember the “Stop Loss policy?” Their children join the swollen ranks of the progeny of broken homes. Suicides among military personnel have soared. All of these casualties of war have families and extended families that bear the brunt of our unfortunate nationalist excess.

The tragic legacy of the Iraq War is only beginning to unfold within the military community. Knowledge that it is a rear guard effort to try and recover from a disastrous Republican Administration decision only makes these losses more intolerable. In a nation whose conscience has become seared by an outbreak of neoconservative nationalism, it’s not even worth raising the hundreds of thousands of casualties on the Iraqi side including the uncounted multitude of innocents killed, maimed and displaced after the fact by the sectarian conflict we unleashed. How many innocents will die and be maimed before Iraq is stabilized? Do we even care?

Most Americans are either ignorant of the facts or can’t find the personal courage to stare into that dark abyss and contemplate whether they bear a share of indirect responsibility for that disaster through their voting decisions. They would rather sit in church pews, watch football games and go to barbecues – so would I. But we can rest assured that more than one generation of Iraqis will not forget this. It is now burned into their national consciousness and it will increase the danger of terrorism we face for the foreseeable future.

So where’s the honor to be found in this debacle? I propose that these good soldiers and their families are worthy of double honor, respect and support from the American people for toiling to stabilize Iraq. Thereby saving the United States from the utter disgrace and disrepute that would have been ours if Iraq were allowed to spin out of control into a sectarian genocide of our making. The Bush Administration, the voters that put them in power and a minority of craven Democrats that supported it, started this war, but the U.S. military is now compelled to finish it.

To those arm chair generals out there that have been supportive of the Iraq War from its inception, please find the personal courage and humanity to see the brilliant film The Messenger. Its heart-felt portrayal of the ocean of grief unfolding in my “home town” stuns one into a holy silence – as the commanding officer in the film states: notification of the first of kin is a sacred duty. While you’re at it view The Hurt Locker for its depiction of the chaos and inhumanity of the sectarian violence that you and I elected to unleash. Those so certain of their point of view should not be afraid to be students of its actual consequence.

The suffering of military personnel and their families coping with death, physical maiming and mental injuries from this elective war is beyond my ability to impersonally dismiss as a usual outcome that the military will have to tolerate for the greater good of the country. There’s nothing usual about this situation.

And what of the flood of Iraqi war refugees, many of whom are Christians, killed or forced from their country by the Islamic fundamentalism that we elected to unleash? Iraq, despite its notorious dictatorship, was a secular state that protected its Christian minority. What of the other minorities who are now crushed under the wheels of majority groups fighting to fill the power vacuum that we elected to create? Apparently, “freedom is an untidy business” as Mr. Rumsfeld so casually stated.

But does taking responsibility in Iraq mean that the electorate should now have corporate amnesia and absolve the Republican Party for making this disastrous decision before they have fully appreciated the consequence and reformed their perspective? This is about political tough love that only an educated electorate can administer to the proper measure. I voted for them all my life before they did this terrible thing, but I can have the personal integrity now to admit my error, change my mind, and vote against them until their last nationalist neocon has been sent packing.

Adolf Hitler was a nationalist neocon. He was a German populist elected in reaction to the economic collapse of the Weimar Republic – Germany’s first attempt at liberal representative democracy. That ideological path is spawned in economic hardship and riven with danger and infamy. God help us if we cannot find the strength to resist that path.

As in the time of FDR and Truman, the Republicans have lost their way. They’re in desperate need of an extended retreat to the political wilderness to find themselves again and cast off the radical influences of populism and neoconservatism. If they don’t accomplish this painful task of reform, they will not be in a position to help build a positive future. They will cease to be the worthy inheritors of the proud legacy of Lincoln, TR and Eisenhower – all of whom would be labeled “RINO” by populist Republicans today.

America’s future needs Republicans, but this batch is defective. Believe in an America that’s a force for good in the world rather than a force for greed, destruction, war and fear. Send the Republicans away until they get it right.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Unfair Game

Maureen Dowd
Washington, October 12, 2010

As Barack Obama struggles to rekindle the magic, one of the most pathetic headlines was the one on a CNN poll last week: “Was Bush Better President Than Obama?”

“Americans are divided over whether President Barack Obama or his predecessor has performed better in the White House,” the CNN article said.

So now the Republican president who bungled wars and the economy and the Democratic president trying to dig us out are in a dead heat?

America’s long-term economic woe has led to short-term memory loss. Republicans are still popular, and the candidates are crazier than ever. And crazy is paying dividends: Sharron Angle, the extreme Republican candidate for the Senate in Nevada, vacuumed up $14 million in the last quarter in her crusade to knock out Harry Reid — the kind of money that presidential candidates dream of collecting.

Karl Rove has put together a potent operation to use anonymous donors to flood the airwaves with attack ads against Democrats. And a gaunt-looking Dick Cheney is out of the hospital and back to raking in money defending torture and pre-emptive war. He, Lynne Cheney, Rove, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and Laura Bush drew more than 10,000 people at $495 a pop to a conference in Bakersfield, Calif., last weekend.

Republicans are also gearing up to start re-sliming Valerie Plame Wilson and Joe Wilson when “Fair Game,” the movie based on their memoirs, opens next month. Robert Luskin, a lawyer for Rove who considered Plame collateral damage and labeled her “fair game,” dismissively told Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The Times that the Wilsons are “a little past their ‘sell-by’ date.”

CIA agent Valerie Plame and her husband Iraq War critic Joe Wilson
It’s hard to believe that it was seven years ago when the scandal of the Glamorous Spy and Showboating Ambassador exploded. Joe Wilson first accused the Boy Emperor of not wearing any clothes on the Iraq W.M.D.’s, and then charged the Bush White House with running a “smear campaign” against him and outing his wife as a CIA spy.

He was right on all counts and brave to take on a White House that broke creative new ground in thuggery and skulduggery.

But it was child’s play for the Republicans to undermine the former diplomat and the spy who loved him. Wilson was “pretty widely known as a loudmouth,” as the movie’s director Doug Liman put it, and overstepped at times, posing for Vanity Fair in his Jaguar convertible with his wife coyly cloaked in scarf and sunglasses.

While her husband was in his promotional whirlwind, Plame was in her reticent cloud, her air of blonde placidity belying her anguish at being betrayed and her disgust that Cheney Inc. bullied the CIA, overriding skepticism about Saddam’s weapons system and warping intelligence. “It’s called counterproliferation, Jack,” Naomi Watts’s Plame says to her superior. “Counter.”

The movie makes clear that Plame was not merely “a secretary” or “mediocre agent” at the agency, as partisan critics charged at the time, but a respected undercover spy tracking Iraqi W.M.D. efforts. And it reiterates that Plame did not send her husband, who had worked in embassies in Iraq while Saddam and Bush Senior were in charge and was the ambassador in two African countries, on the fact-finding trip to Niger about a possible Iraqi purchase of 500 tons of yellowcake uranium. She merely acted as an intermediary when a colleague threw his name into the hat for the unpaid gig.

The film creates composites to heighten the tension and suggests that Plame’s Iraqi contacts and their families were murdered once she was outed — a subplot Variety called “apocryphal and manipulative.”

But the movie is a vivid reminder of one of the most egregious abuses of power in history, and there are deliciously diabolical turns by actors playing Scooter Libby, David Addington and Rove. Plame’s CIA bosses are portraits in cravenness, cutting her loose at the moment she starts receiving death threats and her Iraqi sources become endangered.

Liman, who grew up watching his father Arthur’s Buddha-like interrogations during the Iran-Contra hearings, does not use an Oliver Stone sledgehammer on history. He views the scandal through the lens of the Wilsons’ marriage, which snaps for a time under the strain of being hounded by the most powerful men on earth. As Valerie writes in her book about Joe’s demand to see Rove “frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs”: “Husbands. What can you do?”

Costumed with lush mane and round paunch, Sean Penn is well suited to capture Wilson’s arrogance and mouthiness, while also showing his honesty, brazenness, sly charm and fierce love of wife and country.

They were the Girl and Boy Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, and we should all remember what flew out.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The true cost of the Iraq war: $3 trillion and beyond

Washington Post
By Joseph E. Stiglitz and Linda J. Bilmes
Sunday, September 5, 2010; B04 

Writing in these pages in early 2008, we put the total cost to the United States of the Iraq war at $3 trillion. This price tag dwarfed previous estimates, including the Bush administration's 2003 projections of a $50 billion to $60 billion war.

But today, as the United States ends combat in Iraq, it appears that our $3 trillion estimate (which accounted for both government expenses and the war's broader impact on the U.S. economy) was, if anything, too low. For example, the cost of diagnosing, treating and compensating disabled veterans has proved higher than we expected.
Moreover, two years on, it has become clear to us that our estimate did not capture what may have been the conflict's most sobering expenses: those in the category of "might have beens," or what economists call opportunity costs. For instance, many have wondered aloud whether, absent the Iraq invasion, we would still be stuck in Afghanistan. And this is not the only "what if" worth contemplating. We might also ask: If not for the war in Iraq, would oil prices have risen so rapidly? Would the federal debt be so high? Would the economic crisis have been so severe?

The answer to all four of these questions is probably no. The central lesson of economics is that resources -- including both money and attention -- are scarce. What was devoted to one theater, Iraq, was not available elsewhere.

The Iraq invasion diverted our attention from the Afghan war, now entering its 10th year. While "success" in Afghanistan might always have been elusive, we would probably have been able to assert more control over the Taliban, and suffered fewer casualties, if we had not been sidetracked. In 2003 -- the year we invaded Iraq -- the United States cut spending in Afghanistan to $14.7 billion (down from more than $20 billion in 2002), while we poured $53 billion into Iraq. In 2004, 2005 and 2006, we spent at least four times as much money in Iraq as in Afghanistan.

It is hard to believe that we would be embroiled in a bloody conflict in Afghanistan today if we had devoted the resources there that we instead deployed in Iraq. A troop surge in 2003 -- before the warlords and the Taliban reestablished control -- would have been much more effective than a surge in 2010.

When the United States went to war in Iraq, the price of oil was less than $25 a barrel, and futures markets expected it to remain around that level. With the war, prices started to soar, reaching $140 a barrel by 2008. We believe that the war and its impact on the Middle East, the largest supplier of oil in the world, were major factors. Not only was Iraqi production interrupted, but the instability the war brought to the Middle East dampened investment in the region.

In calculating our $3 trillion estimate two years ago, we blamed the war for a $5-per-barrel oil price increase. We now believe that a more realistic (if still conservative) estimate of the war's impact on prices works out to at least $10 per barrel. That would add at least $250 billion in direct costs to our original assessment of the war's price tag. But the cost of this increase doesn't stop there: Higher oil prices had a devastating effect on the economy.

Federal debt
There is no question that the Iraq war added substantially to the federal debt. This was the first time in American history that the government cut taxes as it went to war. The result: a war completely funded by borrowing. U.S. debt soared from $6.4 trillion in March 2003 to $10 trillion in 2008 (before the financial crisis); at least a quarter of that increase is directly attributable to the war. And that doesn't include future health care and disability payments for veterans, which will add another half-trillion dollars to the debt.

As a result of two costly wars funded by debt, our fiscal house was in dismal shape even before the financial crisis -- and those fiscal woes compounded the downturn.

The financial crisis
The global financial crisis was due, at least in part, to the war. Higher oil prices meant that money spent buying oil abroad was money not being spent at home. Meanwhile, war spending provided less of an economic boost than other forms of spending would have. Paying foreign contractors working in Iraq was neither an effective short-term stimulus (not compared with spending on education, infrastructure or technology) nor a basis for long-term growth.
Instead, loose monetary policy and lax regulations kept the economy going -- right up until the housing bubble burst, bringing on the economic freefall.

Saying what might have been is always difficult, especially with something as complex as the global financial crisis, which had many contributing factors. Perhaps the crisis would have happened in any case. But almost surely, with more spending at home, and without the need for such low interest rates and such soft regulation to keep the economy going in its absence, the bubble would have been smaller, and the consequences of its breaking therefore less severe. To put it more bluntly: The war contributed indirectly to disastrous monetary policy and regulations.

The Iraq war didn't just contribute to the severity of the financial crisis, though; it also kept us from responding to it effectively. Increased indebtedness meant that the government had far less room to maneuver than it otherwise would have had. More specifically, worries about the (war-inflated) debt and deficit constrained the size of the stimulus, and they continue to hamper our ability to respond to the recession. With the unemployment rate remaining stubbornly high, the country needs a second stimulus. But mounting government debt means support for this is low. The result is that the recession will be longer, output lower, unemployment higher and deficits larger than they would have been absent the war.

* * *
Reimagining history is a perilous exercise. Nonetheless, it seems clear that without this war, not only would America's standing in the world be higher, our economy would be stronger. The question today is: Can we learn from this costly mistake?

Joseph E. Stiglitz, a professor at Columbia University, was chairman of President Bill Clinton's Council of Economic Advisers and winner of the Nobel Prize in economics in 2001. Linda J. Bilmes is the Daniel Patrick Moynihan senior lecturer in public policy at Harvard University. They are co-authors of "The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict."

Monday, October 4, 2010

Fear and Favor

October 3, 2010

A note to Tea Party activists: This is not the movie you think it is. You probably imagine that you’re starring in “The Birth of a Nation,” but you’re actually just extras in a remake of “Citizen Kane.”

True, there have been some changes in the plot. In the original, Kane tried to buy high political office for himself. In the new version, he just puts politicians on his payroll.

I mean that literally. As Politico recently pointed out, every major contender for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination who isn’t currently holding office and isn’t named Mitt Romney is now a paid contributor to Fox News. Now, media moguls have often promoted the careers and campaigns of politicians they believe will serve their interests. But directly cutting checks to political favorites takes it to a whole new level of blatancy.

Arguably, this shouldn’t be surprising. Modern American conservatism is, in large part, a movement shaped by billionaires and their bank accounts, and assured paychecks for the ideologically loyal are an important part of the system. Scientists willing to deny the existence of man-made climate change, economists willing to declare that tax cuts for the rich are essential to growth, strategic thinkers willing to provide rationales for wars of choice, lawyers willing to provide defenses of torture, all can count on support from a network of organizations that may seem independent on the surface but are largely financed by a handful of ultrawealthy families.

And these organizations have long provided havens for conservative political figures not currently in office. Thus when Senator Rick Santorum was defeated in 2006, he got a new job as head of the America’s Enemies program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a think tank that has received funding from the usual sources: the Koch brothers, the Coors family, and so on.

Now Mr. Santorum is one of those paid Fox contributors contemplating a presidential run. What’s the difference?

Well, for one thing, Fox News seems to have decided that it no longer needs to maintain even the pretense of being nonpartisan.

Nobody who was paying attention has ever doubted that Fox is, in reality, a part of the Republican political machine; but the network — with its Orwellian slogan, “fair and balanced” — has always denied the obvious. Officially, it still does. But by hiring those G.O.P. candidates, while at the same time making million-dollar contributions to the Republican Governors Association and the rabidly anti-Obama United States Chamber of Commerce, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, which owns Fox, is signaling that it no longer feels the need to make any effort to keep up appearances.

Something else has changed, too: increasingly, Fox News has gone from merely supporting Republican candidates to anointing them. Christine O’Donnell, the upset winner of the G.O.P. Senate primary in Delaware, is often described as the Tea Party candidate, but given the publicity the network gave her, she could equally well be described as the Fox News candidate. Anyway, there’s not much difference: the Tea Party movement owes much of its rise to enthusiastic Fox coverage.

As the Republican political analyst David Frum put it, “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us, and now we are discovering we work for Fox” — literally, in the case of all those non-Mitt-Romney presidential hopefuls. It was days later, by the way, that Mr. Frum was fired by the American Enterprise Institute. Conservatives criticize Fox at their peril.

So the Ministry of Propaganda has, in effect, seized control of the Politburo. What are the implications?

Perhaps the most important thing to realize is that when billionaires put their might behind “grass roots” right-wing action, it’s not just about ideology: it’s also about business. What the Koch brothers have bought with their huge political outlays is, above all, freedom to pollute. What Mr. Murdoch is acquiring with his expanded political role is the kind of influence that lets his media empire make its own rules.

Thus in Britain, a reporter at one of Mr. Murdoch’s papers, News of the World, was caught hacking into the voice mail of prominent citizens, including members of the royal family. But Scotland Yard showed little interest in getting to the bottom of the story. Now the editor who ran the paper when the hacking was taking place is chief of communications for the Conservative government — and that government is talking about slashing the budget of the BBC, which competes with the News Corporation.

So think of those paychecks to Sarah Palin and others as smart investments. After all, if you’re a media mogul, it’s always good to have friends in high places. And the most reliable friends are the ones who know they owe it all to you.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Russia in Heat

In the summer of 2010, the Russian Federation had to contend with multiple natural hazards: drought in the southern part of the country, and raging fires in western Russia and eastern Siberia. The events all occurred against the backdrop of unusual warmth. Temperatures in parts of the country soared to 42 degrees Celsius (108 degrees Fahrenheit).

The map above shows temperature anomalies for the Russian Federation from July 20–27, 2010, compared to temperatures for the same dates from 2000 to 2008. The anomalies are based on land surface temperatures observed by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite. Areas with above-average temperatures appear in red and orange, and areas with below-average temperatures appear in shades of blue. Oceans and lakes appear in gray.

Globally (see map below), June through August of 2010, according to the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) analysis, was the fourth-warmest summer period in GISS’s 131-year-temperature record. The same months during 2009, in contrast, were the second warmest on record. The slightly cooler 2010 summer temperatures were primarily the result of a moderate La Niña (cooler than normal temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean) replacing a moderate El Niño (warmer than normal temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean).

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

NASA and NSF-Funded Research Finds First Potentially Habitable Exoplanet

A team of planet hunters from the University of California (UC) Santa Cruz, and the Carnegie Institution of Washington has announced the discovery of a planet with three times the mass of Earth orbiting a nearby star at a distance that places it squarely in the middle of the star's "habitable zone." 

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Revisiting Past Glories

With the mid-term elections coming up, a lot is being said about the Obama Administration and its effectiveness in dealing with a myriad of issues facing the country. Although the economy and jobs are central to the current debate, Iraq and Afghanistan are still at the forefront of hard problems yet to be satisfactorily resolved.

I think it's important for thoughtful Americans to understand some background on these military adventures.

One of the most devastating accounts of that fiasco was the book by that title, Fiasco, the American Military Adventure in Iraq, by Thomas Ricks. The planning for and execution of the early stages of that war were abysmal. Much of the problem seems to have been with Pentagon planners eager to satisfy the White House -- Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld -- who were determined to present the coming war in as rosy a picture as possible -- quick and easy. Ricks states that under Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Feith, the Pentagon concocted "the worst war plan in American history," with insufficient troops and no thought for the invasion's aftermath. Anyone who keeps up with developments in Iraq knows this now, but Rick's book was published in 2006 and at the time, caused no little controversy. Bob Woodward's books, Bush at War, and Plan of Attack, provided interesting insights into the Bush White House's "seat of pants" approach to critical national defense issues, although Woodward's writing style is somewhat wooden, especially in comparison with Rick's.
I just finished reading, Where Men Win Glory, the Odyssey of Pat Tillman. I had to stop reading it at night before bed, because the story of how the Bush Administration and the Pentagon betrayed an honorable, heroic man made me so angry and upset I could not sleep. Most people probably know by now that Tillman was killed by the men in his own platoon; an event termed "friendly fire" by the military -- an oxymoron if there ever was one. But few people know the full story of how first the Army, and then the Bush White House, went to great extremes to keep the public, and even the Tillman family in the dark about what really happened. The actions of the Army and the Administration were so egregious that it makes one literally ill to read about it.

I happened to be reading, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception, by Scott McClellan, at the same time. McClellan left the White House after he was lied to about the Valery Plame affair and in briefing the White Press Corps on the basis of what he was told, made himself out to be a liar. McClellan's story of how the Bush Administration conducted government affairs as if they were involved in a continuous political campaign, without regard for the truth, and ruthless in their treatment of anyone who didn't toe the party line, is extremely troubling.

I also read recently, Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror, by Richard A. Clarke. Here again, the White House comes across as uninformed and arrogant. Much of what Clarke writes is supported by another book I read earlier in the year, At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA, by George Tenet. In his book, Clarke details how, in light of mounting intelligence of the danger Al-Qaeda presented, his urgent requests to move terrorism up the list of priorities in the early days of the Bush Administration were met with apathy and procrastination. He is particularly critical of Condoleezza Rice, Bush's National Security Advisor, who seemed not only unaware of the Al-Qaeda threat, but uninterested as well. To her, Al-Qaeda was simply one of many extremist groups, no more important than others. Rice was one of Bush's strongest supporters for the invasion of Iraq.

For many, the invasion of Iraq now seems a terrible strategic blunder, both in terms of its impact on the balance of power in the Middle East -- we did a great favor for Iran -- and it's diversion away from the center of the terrorism storm in Afghanistan. There are those who believe that oil was the real reason for the war, but that's probably simplistic. George W. Bush probably convinced himself that invading Iraq and creating a democratic government there would be a great achievement -- a centerpiece for his presidential library. In addition, he wanted to one up his father, who always favored brother Jeb, the sober, thoughtful, industrious son, who would one day be president. Well, Dubya showed him -- he showed us all.

And here we are, about to elect representatives to lead us in the difficult times ahead. As we ponder how to cast our votes, I think it's important to revisit past glories.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sen. Murray's Political Courage Denigrated by Republican Senatorial Committee

On August 31, 2010, the National Republican Senatorial Committee brought up Sen. Patty Murray’s 2007 statement against George W, Bush’s Iraq war surge, and had the audacity to demand that she “admit that she was wrong and apologize to General Petraeus, and especially the brave men and women who served under him, for working to undermine their mission in Iraq… If Democrats like Patty Murray had their way in 2007, they would have wasted the sacrifices of our troops to satisfy their far-left base, and Iraq would today be controlled by terrorist networks instead of on the path towards democracy.”

Senator Murray’s vote against the surge was consistent with her opposition to the war from the very beginning; she was among the minority of senators (23) that had the political courage to stand against the Bush Administration’s unwarranted decision to invade Iraq. Murray was frustrated by the White House’s haste to push the congress into approving the war resolution. As we now know, the White House wanted no such debate. Bush had made up his mind (or had it made up for him) and had his minions working hard to convince the American public that a “mushroom cloud” was an imminent threat if American troops didn’t topple Saddam Hussein. That was, of course, hogwash.

Gen. Shinseki, US Senate hearing, February 25, 2003

It is also important to remember that Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Eric K. Shinseki warned in February of 2003, a few months before the war was launched, that “Something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers… would be required” to stabilize Iraq after an invasion. For his candor, he was vilified by the Republican war juggernaut. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was particularly incensed. His deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, said Shinseki was “wildly off the mark.” Rumsfeld himself echoed Wolfowitz’s statement, saying, ''The idea that it would take several hundred thousand U.S. forces I think is far off the mark.'' Gen. Shinseki was marginalized and retired  shortly thereafter. He was, of course, proved right, and when George Bush called for a surge in 2007, he was admitting as much.

What Sen. Murray seemed to be saying when she voted against the surge is pretty straight forward, i.e., you were wrong then, why should we believe you’re right now? In fact, some of what she said was,

“I’ve been looking forward to finally having this debate here in the Senate, but some Republicans have a different strategy. They don’t want to have a real debate. They don’t want us to consider the resolutions that have been offered. I’m not going to comment on their motives, but I will point out the consequences. Every day they block a debate, they send a message that Congress supports escalation. Every day they block a debate, they deny our citizens a voice in a war that has cost us dearly in dollars and lives. And every day they block a debate, they are blocking the will of the American public.
I’m on the floor today because I know this debate is long overdue. And I’m not going to let anyone silence me, the troops I speak for, or the constituents I represent.

Ever since the start of combat operations in March 2003, I’ve been frustrated that we have been denied a chance to hold hearings, a chance to ask the critical questions, to demand answers, to hold those in charge accountable, and to give the American people a voice in a war that is costing us terribly. And I can tell you one thing: We are going to have that debate whether some in this body like it or not.
Four years ago, I came here to the Senate floor to discuss the original resolution that gave the President the authority to wage war in Iraq. At that time, I asked a series of questions, including: What will it require? Who’s with us in the fight? What happens after our troops go in? How will it impact the Middle East? How will it affect the broader War on Terror? And are we being honest with the American people about the costs of war?

Today, four years, $379 billion, and more than 3,000 American lives later – the President wants to send more Americans into the middle of a civil war – against the wishes of a majority of the public and of Congress. As I look at the President’s proposed escalation, I’m left with the exact same conclusion I reached 4 years ago. I cannot support sending more of our men and women into harm’s way on an ill-defined, solo mission with so many critical questions unanswered.”

If Sen. Murray’s challenge to debate going to war in the first place was accepted, is it possible that the public would have discovered that the cost of the war might far exceed the Bush Administration’s low ball estimate of $50 to $60 billion, even though Bush’s own Director of the National Economic Council, Lawrence Lindsey, stated that it might cost $100 to $200 billion (see the cost today).

Donald Rumsfeld called Lindsey’s estimate “baloney” and Lindsey was fired. Is it possible that the public would have learned that the war might take longer than a few weeks, as Rumsfeld implied when he said the war “could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months.”

And perhaps more importantly, is it possible that had we focused our attention on Afghanistan and capturing/killing Bin Laden in the first place, we wouldn’t now be bogged down in an un-winnable war in that quagmire, while still struggling to stabilize an unruly Iraq?

Possible? You’re damned right!