Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Why is water scarcity intensifying?

The following is excerpted from an investment web site that focuses on sustainability. One of its portfolios is devoted to water and all its "connective tissue," including acquisition, purification, transportation, and consumption. Why is water a good investment? Because it's scarce and getting scarcer. Why?

Population growth. Within the past century, the world population has tripled from 1.8 billion in 1900 to over 6 billion in 2000, and in slightly more than 10 years, we have added another billion, reaching the 7 billion mark in October 2011. Although growth rates have begun to level off, the world’s population is expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050.

Changing consumption patterns. Historically, there has been a positive correlation between disposable income and meat consumption. The global middle class is expected to grow from about 1.8 billion people today to 4.8 billion people by 2030. A larger middle class – most of which will be located in the emerging markets – will consume more meat. Producing one calorie equivalent of meat requires 10x more water than producing one calorie equivalent of corn or wheat.

Increasing industrial production will require higher volumes of high quality water, adapted to the industrial application where it is needed. Many of the recently built or upgraded industrial production plants are located in water-stressed emerging markets.

Climate change will have a significant impact on the distribution of precipitation and the availability of water. For instance, in India, Pakistan, China and other Asian countries, about 1 billion people rely on run-off from the Himalayas as their main water source. As a result of global warming, glaciers that supply most of the freshwater to the region during the dry season are expected to deliver up to 50 % less water within the next few decades. In addition, rising sea levels and floods will have a dramatic impact on coastal fresh water sources, causing them to become brackish or salty.
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Founded in 1995, RobecoSAM is an investment specialist focused exclusively on Sustainability Investing.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Gun Violence is a Disease

Tired of seeing gun violence victims in the emergency room, Dr. Garen Wintemute of the UC-Davis School of Medicine has "joined the ranks of gun control advocates trying to stop the carnage by getting criminals' guns off the streets." But Wintemute has taken a unique approach: he addresses gun violence as a public health problem. He said, "If we were talking about an infection as opposed to a bullet, and we had 30,000 to 40,000 deaths a year, no one would question whether this was a health problem." Wintermute, a "one-man band who is a professor of epidemiology and preventive medicine, a practicing emergency room doctor and director of his own Violence Prevention Resource Program," has assembled, interpreted and published statistics and facts on gun violence, testified before Congress three times and in 1997 was named one of 15 "heroes of medicine" by Time magazine. His message is that "guns need to be made safer to prevent unintentional tragedies, and their access made as difficult as possible for the perpetrators of intentional ones." Instead of outlawing guns completely, Wintemute wants to "stop or reduce the chances of injury-by-gunshot occurring in the first place." But he says there is "no one thing" that will prevent such occurrences, and instead pushes for a comprehensive approach that includes restricting how many guns can be purchased, reducing the number of inexpensive guns and using computer data to identify gun dealers that sell to criminals (Vanzi, California Journal, 3/00 issue). This was written by Max Vanzi for the California Journal in March 2000.

Here's what Dr. Wintermute said in an interview with Frontline on the gun industry in California. He was asked why he got into advocating for research into gun violence.

Most of the people who die after being shot never even make it to an emergency department. They die where they're shot.

"I'm an ER doc. I practice emergency medicine, and I used to do it full time. It occurred to me as it does to many people in that specialty that it's not enough just to treat trauma. We need to prevent it. And that's particularly the case with regard to firearm trauma, gunshot wounds. And here's why.
Even in these days, in big cities with regionalized fancy trauma systems, most of the people who die after being shot never even make it to an emergency department. They die where they're shot. And of those people who do make it into the emergency medical system, a trauma team and all of that, of those who die, better than 95% die within the first 24 hours. And what that says to me and to a lot of other people is that we're probably already saving pretty much all the lives we're going to be able to say through advances in medical care. And if we want to expand our ability to save people from dying from a gunshot wound, we need to keep them from getting shot in the first place. And that's why so many people in emergency medicine and trauma are involved in the prevention side as well as the treatment side."

http://www.sciencefriday.com/segments/is-gun-violence-a-public-health-crisis/

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Swiftboating Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton should have been ready for the sort of targeted, coordinated smear campaign that sunk John Kerry's presidential aspirations in 2004. But it's not clear she was fully prepared for the barrage of mud that unlimited political money could sling. "Swiftboating" has never been so fully funded and carefully crafted as it is today in the project to bring down the Democratic Party's leading contender for the 2016 Presidential nomination.

To put it simply, "swiftboating" is turning some one's positives into negatives through a coordinated campaign of rumor and innuendo. The political technique was honed in the 2004 election pitting John Kerry, a decorated war veteran, against George W. Bush, who used his father's connections as a congressman to get an appointment to the National Guard, and avoid duty in Vietnam. Kerry's campaign hoped to use this disparity in the two men's military service to Kerry's advantage in the election.

The so-called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (SBVT), a 527 group funded by by Sam Fox, a billionaire and hardline rightwinger, denigrated Kerry's military service record and questioned the circumstances relating to the award of Kerry's combat medals. Their campaign of rumor and innuendo against Kerry received widespread publicity due to his presidential bid. Defenders of John Kerry's service record, including nearly all of his former crewmates, stated that SBVT's allegations were false. The SBVT campaign against Kerry was later discredited and gave rise to the neologism "swiftboating" to describe an unfair or untrue political attack. Of course by then, the damage had been done.

Swiftboating is not about the truth. It's a coordinated smear campaign waged on uncorroborated allegations so damning and ostensibly widespread the public is disinclined to give the target the benefit of the doubt. It includes posting unflattering photos of Mrs Clinton, like the altered photo to the right created by the radical right wing organization, "shtfplan.com." The swiftboat attack on Hillary Clinton aims at discrediting the key things Republicans think could boost her chances in 2016:
  • Her remarkable educational accomplishments at Wellesley College and Yale Law School
  • Her experience with the Rose Law Firm, where she became the first female full partner
  • Experience as First Lady of Arkansas from 1979 to 1981 and 1983 to 1992
  • Experience as First Lady during her husband's presidency from 1993 to 2001
  • Experience in government as Senator from New York from 2001 to 2009 
  • Her foreign policy experience, including her tenure as the 67th Secretary of State, 2009 to 2013
  • Her part in founding and her work with the Clinton Foundation international programs
Hillary Rodham Clinton's Official Senate Portrait
It would take a few volumes to detail all the charges leveled at Hillary Clinton over her political lifetime. She is a remarkably intelligent woman, who has dedicated her life to public service. She is outspoken in asserting her beliefs and promoting her many causes. She can be blunt, gives as good as she gets, and can be demanding when the path forward is clear and people are not stepping up. In all this, she acts a lot like a man -- a smart man. Only she isn't a man, so one of the many charges about her character is that she's a "bitch." Well, Hillary can't hold a candle to Donald Trump when it comes to being rude and nasty, but she does have an edge. Whether she's a "bitch" or not is all in the eye of the person who's eye she spit in, but as Tina Fey said, "She is [a bitch]. And so am I. Bitches get stuff done."

The latest "bitch" charge against Hillary Clinton is that she was rude to her Secret Service detail. The charges seem to have their genesis in a "tell all" book by Ronald Kessler detailing the lives of various occupants of the White House. Parts of the book about Hillary Clinton have taken on a life of their own and become part of Internet Urban myth, even forcing Kessler to say the viral email's descriptions of Obama and Hillary Clinton, "are completely wrong."

Nevertheless, the swiftboat is trying to speed Hillary Clinton's character down the river, with poorly-sourced negative quotes and opinions being repeated in one right-wing outlet after another, and "contributors" to conservative media wielding their "journalistic" cudgels. Some of the many media outlets being used to disseminate the smear campaign include: Fox Nation, New York Post, Breitbart.com, Newsmax.com, and the always extreme right-wing reliable Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Michael Savage, etc., etc., ad nauseam.

The "bitch" charge against Hillary Clinton is a key thrust for the swiftboat campaign because it goes to neutralize her appeal as a woman, and possibly the first American woman president. But this attempt at character assassination is small potatoes compared to the coordinated attacks being carried out by the Republican Congress itself.

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The swiftboat campaign against Hillary Clinton is far more pervasive and insidious than the 2004 campaign against John Kerry, which was funded by wealthy Republican donors and carried out by a tax-exempt 527 group. But the U.S. Congress wasn't directly involved in the swiftboat campaign against Kerry, as it is against Hillary Clinton (although Jeb Bush, then governor of Florida, personally thanked the 527 group for "standing up against" Kerry). Republicans in congress have taken up their oar in the swiftboat attack by attempting to impugn Hillary Clinton's performance as America's 67th Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013.
Congressman Trey Gowdy, Chair of the House Benghazi Committee
The House Select Committee on Benghazi is the 8th congressional investigation of the September 11, 2012, attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, which killed four people, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. Unlike the amusing TV comedy series, Eight is Enough, the Republican 'made-for-TV' production is neither amusing (okay, sometimes it's amusing), nor any longer interesting -- all the questions (2780 to date) have long ago been asked and answered.

In addition to the 8 congressional investigations, there have been 32 congressional hearings, plus another 50 hearings, briefings, and/or interviews by the Department of Defense, and 11 published reports. This incident has been investigated more than the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, the 2000 attack on the USS Cole, the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, the 1996 Khobar Tower bombing, the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, and even the attacks of September 11, 2001. The Benghazi clusterfuck has gone on longer than the investigation of the Watergate scandal.
Despite its best efforts, including plowing through all of Hillary Clinton's emails, the Republicans have come up with nothing substantive to pin on the former Secretary of State, or for that matter, the Administration. The best they can do is to complain that in the immediate aftermath of the attacks National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, implied the motivation for the attackers was an anti-Muslim video. Her information was based on an assessment provided by the Intelligence Community that also went to congress. Despite this, Republican Jim Jordan (R-OH), who chairs the far right, House 'Freedom Caucus,' said, "You could live with a protest about a video, that won't hurt you, but a terror attack...Americans could accept, reluctantly, compatriots being killed abroad, but what they can't live with is when their government is not square with them." The irony of this petulantly delivered statement seemed to escape Congressman Jordan.

Republicans believe the confusion over who did what to whom for what reason at Benghazi was not due to the fog of war, but rather was a deliberate misinformation campaign designed to protect President Obama's reelection chances. The reasoning behind this charge is somewhat convoluted, but not for Republicans hellbent on finding something, anything, to hang on Clinton and Obama. Were it not for the fact that Republicans leaders in congress urged the Obama Administration to support the overthrow of Libya's Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, they'd have laid the disintegration of the Libyan State solely at Clinton's feet.

If Republican Reps. Kevin McCarthy and Richard Hanna hadn't accidentally made it clear that the Benghazi investigation was designed to hurt Hillary Clinton politically — at a cost of nearly $5 million to American taxpayers -- rather than reveal anything new about the attack, then the debacle of Republican members of the so-called, 'Select Committee' on Benghazi grilling Clinton for some eleven hours has revealed it for what it is, a partisan attack on a person Republicans fear and hate. Their pontificating, long-winded statements in the place of questions, their petulance and aimless meandering were evidence of a hatchet job attempted with a wet noodle.

So, now that Benghazi has turned sour for Republican hit men, what's there next target? Ever heard of the Clinton Foundation?

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The Clinton Foundation is an international charitable organization established by former President of the United States Bill Clinton in 2001. Its mission is to "strengthen the capacity of people throughout the world to meet the challenges of global interdependence."

The Foundation focuses on improving global health and wellness, increasing opportunity for women and girls, reducing childhood obesity and preventable diseases, creating economic opportunity and growth, and helping communities address the effects of climate change.

The Foundation is chartered as a nonprofit under 501(c)(3) of the U.S. tax code. As such, it is not required to report its donors. However, in the interests of transparency, and unlike the hoard of right-wing “social welfare” organizations, who thrive on “dark money,”  it does. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, Republicans have attacked the organization and Hillary Clinton for conflicts of interest, and for using the Foundation as a “slush fund” for her political aspirations. No hard evidence exists to support such charges.

Republican presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina has charged that only 6% of the Foundation’s donations go to support charitable works. That’s patently false; 89% of donations support a wide array of charitable projects that have demonstrably improved the quality of life of some of the world’s poorest communities.

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Hillary Clinton is smart, very smart, and her intelligence and the fact that she’s self-assured and speaks her mind was and is a thorn in the side of conservatives who believe a woman’s place is in the home -- and they didn’t mean the White House!

Clinton was an outstanding student in high school, where she was a National Honor Society member. She was Senior Class president at Wellesley College, where she served as president of Wellesley Republican club, and where she was the first student speaker to address the graduating class. At Yale Law School she was a member of the board of editors, Yale Review of Law and Social Action, and graduated with honors. She did a year of post-graduate work at the Yale Child Study Center.

Early on, Clinton was active in young Republican groups and campaigned for Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. She was inspired to work in some form of public service after hearing a speech in Chicago by Reverend Martin Luther King, and she found that her values were more in line with the Democratic Party. Subsequently, Republicans charged her with everything from communist sympathies to not being in tune with “family values.” The latter charge is especially ironic, since Hillary Clinton has been a champion of children and families her entire working life.

As First Lady of Arkansas for twelve years, Hillary Clinton chaired the Arkansas Educational Standards Committee, co-founded the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, and served on the boards of the Arkansas Children's Hospital, Legal Services, and the Children's Defense Fund.


As First Lady of the United States after her husband’s election, Hillary Clinton led the Task Force on Health Care Reform, overseeing research, investigatory trips, financial reports, numerous committees composed of medical and insurance professionals, lawmakers and other government officials, public service leaders, and consumer rights advocates. Conservatives, libertarians, and the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries successfully attacked the resulting healthcare plan, the “Health Security Act,” calling it "Hillarycare," and claiming it constituted government overreach, and/or socialized medicine. The act never came to a vote in the Senate or House. Nevertheless, Hillary Clinton was seen by congressional Republicans and Democrats alike as “extremely knowledgable” about healthcare and a leader on the issue.

Hillary Clinton's resume reads like a prescription for president. In addition to her legal chops, she was engaged in substantive policy formulation as First Lady of Arkansas and the U.S., she was the first female senator from the state of New York, and she was U.S. Secretary of State, where according to the magazine, 'Foreign Affairs,' she "helped undo the damage that the habitual unilateralism of the George W. Bush administration had done to the global image of the United States."

Republicans have attacked her on every front, while sallying forth a bevy of candidates that are at best inferior and at worst, dangerous fools. A political party with even a modicum of self-awareness would be embarrassed.
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The money that funds a swiftboating campaign is almost always "dark money." The group doing the swiftboating is usually a 527, a tax-exempt organization that can raise unlimited amounts of soft money. These organizations may also be 501(c) organizations, including the infamous, "social welfare organizations" that the IRS went after recently for their too obvious relationship to the Tea Party and other "patriot" and "we the people" conservative causes.

Monday, November 2, 2015

ASA Statement on Climate Change

Adopted 11-30-07 by the ASA Board of Directors

The American Statistical Association (ASA) convened a workshop of leading atmospheric scientists and statisticians involved in climate change research. The goal of this workshop was to identify a consensus on the role of statistical science in current assessments of global warming and its impacts.

Of particular interest to this workshop was the Fourth Assessment Report of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), endorsed by more than 100 governments and drawing on the expertise of a large portion of the climate science community.

Through a series of meetings spanning several years, IPCC drew in leading experts and assessed the relevant literature in the geosciences and related disciplines as it relates to climate change. The Fourth Assessment Report finds that “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising mean sea level. … Most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations. … Discernible human influences now extend to other aspects of climate, including ocean warming, continental-average temperatures, temperature extremes, and wind patterns.

The ASA endorses the IPCC conclusions.

Over the course of four assessment reports, a small number of statisticians have served as authors or reviewers. Although this involvement is encouraging, it does not represent the full range of statistical expertise available. ASA recommends that more statisticians should become part of the IPCC process. Such participation would be mutually beneficial to the assessment of climate change and its impacts and also to the statistical community.

The US government’s Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) is in the process of producing a set of 21 Synthesis and Assessment reports on many different aspects of climate change. Some statisticians have been appointed members of CCSP committees or reviewers through the National Research Council.

ASA recommends that there should be greater involvement by statisticians in future reviews of the state of climate science conducted by the CCSP. Although there are numerous opportunities for increasing the participation of the statistical community in the IPCC, CCSP, and other assessment processes, the ASA notes that there is already extensive and healthy collaboration between statisticians and climate scientists in basic research on climate change. Furthermore, climate science continues to offer many statistical challenges that are currently not being tackled and many opportunities for collaboration with geoscientists.

The ASA strongly urges statisticians to collaborate with other scientists in order to advance our understanding of the nature, causes, and impacts of climate change.

The workshop convened by ASA identified several specific areas where statistical science can make a contribution. Besides the obvious benefit to the geosciences these topics may well push the boundaries of statistics and suggest new methods, algorithms, and theory.

Interpreting and synthesizing climate observations

Observational data from different measurement platforms and sensors, such as satellites, weather balloons, surface stations, or ocean drifter buoys often represent climate processes at very different spatial or temporal scales. Moreover, observational records from earlier parts of the 20th century are sparse, particularly in southern oceans and in the developing parts of the world. Even in the satellite era – the best observed period in Earth’s climate history – there are significant uncertainties in key observational datasets. Reduction of these uncertainties will be crucial for evaluating and better constraining climate models. Statisticians can advise on how best to combine data from different sources, how to identify and adjust for biases in different measurement systems, and how to deal with changes in the spatial and temporal coverage of measurements.

The climate science community often requires regular fields of geophysical variables, such as surface temperature, which must be derived from irregular and heterogeneous observations. Evaluating the advantages and disadvantages of different interpolation approaches (referred to as infilling in climate applications) could be very helpful. This research area contains many opportunities for the development and fitting of sophisticated space-time models to sparse data.

Climate models

Complex computer models based on physical laws are used to simulate the dynamics of the Earth’s atmosphere, ocean, and sea ice. These models provide a basis for exploring the physical relationship among different components of the climate system and also for making projections of future climate states. The design and analysis of computer experiments is an area of statistics that is appropriate for aiding the development and use of climate models. Statistically based experimental designs, not currently used in this field, could be more powerful. It is also important to understand how to combine the results of experiments performed with different climate models. Despite their sophistication, climate models remain approximations of a very complex system and systematic model errors must be identified and characterized. Model evaluation is an area of active research, with many opportunities for informed statistical input. Finally, assessing the many sources of uncertainty in climate projections requires innovative techniques for better quantifying and, where possible, reducing these uncertainties. Quantifying uncertainty and formal assessment of confidence intervals on observations and model projections are core activities of statistical science, and become particularly appropriate when climate models are used to identify human effects on climate or to estimate climate-change impacts.

Regional and local effects of climate change

There is great need for taking coarse-resolution projections from global and regional climate models down to estimates for small areas. Indeed, translating the large scale understanding of climate processes to changes at a local level is a grand challenge in climate research. Statisticians can provide valuable input to this problem of downscaling climate-model results to the much finer levels of detail required for policy makers.

High dimensional data analysis

The results of climate models and current observational data sets are extremely multi-dimensional and difficult to visualize and analyze. A commonly-used technique is principal components analysis (often known as empirical orthogonal functions analysis in the geophysical sciences). This standard method can miss the nonlinear and non-Gaussian attributes often associated with geophysical processes. Statisticians have the opportunity to contribute improved analytic techniques for interpreting geophysical data. It is very difficult to present all of the information concisely in a manner that can be understood by decision makers. Dimension reduction and data presentation techniques are needed for comparing spatial maps, explaining what is being presented, and determining how to describe the confidence levels associated with projections obtained from noisy and spatially incomplete data.

Human health effects of climate change

The available evidence suggests that certain extreme events with the potential to impact human health may be increasing in frequency as a result of global warming. For example, the IPCC concluded that there have been more intense and longer droughts, and an increase in the frequency of hot days, hot nights, heat waves, and heavy precipitation events. Climate change can also impact human health through its effects on the vectors carrying diseases, or through the complex interplay between large-scale warming and local air pollution. Links between local air pollution and human mortality are already well-established. One issue that has emerged in recent research is the extent to which individual extreme events, such as the 2003 European heat wave, can be attributed to global warming as opposed to other possible explanations, including natural causes. A fruitful line of research is to explore how concepts borrowed from epidemiology, such as relative risk, are potentially valuable in this context. Papers along these lines have started to appear in the climate literature, but there is much scope for further development.

ASA Statement on Climate Change

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Money in Politics

Are you passionate about protecting, repealing, reforming X, Y, Z? Good for you. Congress doesn’t care.

A recent study found that little of what's done by the U.S. congress has any correlation whatsoever to the issues and outcomes about which American voters care. What matters to congress is not the opinion of Republicans, or Democrats, or the Tea Party, or the Occupy Movement, or any other average citizen or interest group, but rather the opinion of people and groups with big money.

The study in “Perspectives on Politics” (Sep 2014) by professors Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page of Princeton and Northwestern, respectively analyzed 20 years of data and concluded that “economic elites” and business interests have “substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy,” while average citizens and interest groups have “little or no independent influence.”

I think most of us knew this in our gut and we didn’t need a research study, or even Donald Trump boasting about it, to know the system is corrupt. During 2015‘s first Republican debate Trump said he gave to everybody, and gesturing to the other nine people on the stage with him said, “When they call, I give. And you know what? When I need something from them...they are there for me.” Then he added, “that’s a broken system.” Donald Trump says some crazy stuff, but he’s right about this -- the system is broken.

People, corporations, PACs, super PACs, and the in-name-only “social welfare” organizations, and their lobbyists untethered by recent U.S. Supreme Court  decisions have poured literally billions into influencing our government. They’ve earned an estimated return in terms of tax breaks and subsidies of 750 times their investment. Nice work if you can get it. And people like Charles and David Koch, and George Soros, and Sheldon Adelson, and Michael Bloomberg, and others like Donald Trump, can and do get it.

Lawrence Lessig, who is the Roy L. Furman Professor of Law and Leadership at Harvard Law School, and director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, has written extensively and eloquently on the corrupting influence of unlimited money on American government. Big money has a disproportionate influence on who runs for office, who gets elected, and what gets done or doesn’t get done.

But corruption of the democratic process isn’t the only thing that’s happening. In the unending quest to raise money, the two political parties and their surrogates have resorted to the outreach theme that works best -- fear and anger. Everything has become a “war;” a “war on women,” a “war on coal,” a “war on religion.” The effect on our discourse and culture has been corrosive, creating a hyper-partisan divide that fuels incivility, distrust, and confrontation.

We must get money out of politics not just to save the Republic from its corrupting influence on democracy, but also from its corrosive impact on our American culture. Join one of the many grassroots efforts to take our Republic back. A good one here in our state is WAmend.org, which has fielded an effort promoting a constitutional amendment, I-735, that would eliminate the disproportionate influence of concentrated money and political power on elections and governmental policy.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Ignorant of History and Determined to Repeat It

Yogi Berra died recently. He was a hall-of-fame baseball player for the New York Yankees -- an iconic figure in baseball -- but more than that, he was a guy who could string a few words together and make you think, huh? One of the things he said that the recent Republican debate brought to mind was, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might wind up someplace else.”

That’s certainly what’s happened to us ever since we started meddling in the byzantine affairs of the Mesopotamian tribes of Iran, Iraq, and Syria. It worries me that our recent crop of Republican presidential candidates seem so uninformed about America’s unfortunate history of failed excursions in the region. They stood on the dais at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Library in Simi Valley, California, and tried to convince voters that they were the honest-to-god best person to be the next American president and fly on the Air Force One that stood as the backdrop to these wannabe Commanders-in-Chief. Unfortunately they demonstrated that they aren’t ready for the job.
With the possible exception of Sen. Rand Paul, these people still don’t understand the massive strategic blunder that the U.S. made in invading Iraq in 2003. They don’t ‘connect the dots’ between that calamity and the chaos that exists in and migrates from the region today.

The candidates talked over each other in their efforts to convince the audience how tough they’d be as commander-in-chief. They would’ve stayed in Iraq, forgetting that the Iraqis didn’t want us and George W. Bush agreed to leave. They’d take on ISIS on the ground in Syria. The so-called “second-tier” Republican debaters were even more forceful in their promises to put “boots on the ground” in Syria.

Jeb Bush, who has vacillated on the wisdom of his brother’s decision to invade Iraq, admits he’s using some of the same foreign policy advisers his father and brother used. But he “will be his own man.” He blames President Obama and Hillary Clinton for creating the “insecurity” in the Middle East, “the likes of which we never would've imagined.”

Insecurity is a placid term for what is a haboob of death and destruction that, in fact, not only could we have imagined, but was predicted by none other than the elder Bush, who showed admirable restraint in not attempting the occupation of Iraq after kicking Saddam out of Kuwait in 1991, saying that doing so, “would have been disastrouss.” At that time, even Dick Cheney cautioned against becoming mired down in an Iraq “quagmire.” Brent Scowcroft, Chairman of George W. Bush’s own Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, went on ‘Face the Nation’ in August 2002 where he predicted that invading Iraq, “would turn the Middle East into a cauldron.” He followed up with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal later that month.
The Iraq war cost America thousands of lives, left thousands more injured and maimed, cost trillions of dollars, and brought the U.S. economy to its knees. The conduct of the war tarnished forever America’s image as a just and reliable ally. It left Iraq a devastated country wracked by sectarian violence. It created this humanitarian crises that floats bodies upon the shores of Europe.
In defense of his brother, Jeb Bush said, “You know what? As it relates to my brother, there's one thing I know for sure. He kept us safe.”

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Crisis

French gendarmes round up and evict migrants who were living in a camp near the Channel Tunnel in Calais, northern France, on June 2, 2015. Police evicted around 140 migrants from two makeshifts camps.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Alexis de Tocqueville on Equality in America

Drawing of Alexis de Tocqueville by Theodore Chasseriau, December 31, 1843
AMONG the novel objects that attracted my attention during my stay in the United States, nothing struck me more forcibly than the general equality of condition among the people. I readily discovered the prodigious influence that this primary fact exercises on the whole course of society; it gives a peculiar direction to public opinion and a peculiar tenor to the laws; it imparts new maxims to the governing authorities and peculiar habits to the governed.

I soon perceived that the influence of this fact extends far beyond the political character and the laws of the country, and that it has no less effect on civil society than on the government; it creates opinions, gives birth to new sentiments, founds novel customs, and modifies whatever it does not produce. The more I advanced in the study of American society, the more I perceived that this equality of condition is the fundamental fact from which all others seem to be derived and the central point at which all my observations constantly terminated

From the author's preface to
Democracy in America, 1835

Friday, August 28, 2015

Abstinence Only or Cancer -- The Republicans' False Dichotomy

There was a very interesting special on NOVA, PBS, last night dealing with vaccinations in America; their history, development, and some of the controversy that’s plagued them. We all know about the fraudulent Wakefield study and how it caused a lot of parents to avoid getting their children the MMR vaccination and all the problems that caused (and continues to cause, because some idiots still believe vaccinations cause autism -- see for example, 'Health Impact News').

I didn’t know that the vaccination to prevent the Human PapillomaVirus (HPV), which can cause cervical cancer was so controversial. The physician discussing it on the Nature special said (and I’m quoting from memory), “We’ve all wanted some way to prevent cancer, now we have an incredible scientific breakthrough that prevents cervical cancer, why wouldn’t we use it?” Good question.

Then we switch to a video of a female physician discussing the HPV vaccination with a woman and her pre-teen daughter. The mother and daughter are facing away from the camera so we don’t see their faces. The physician explains the dangers of HPV and the efficacy and reliability of the vaccine and recommends the mother have her daughter vaccinated. The mother declines to do so. The physician asks if the woman has any fears about the vaccine harming her daughter. The mother says no, she isn’t going to have her daughter vaccinated because she, the mother, believes in “chastity.”

There is some back and forth on this, with the mother explaining that she expects her daughter to refrain from sex until she’s married, and the physician explaining that the blushing bride could still get HPV from the groom, or even through “deep kissing,” should she ever have a boyfriend in her poor unfortunate life living with this deeply disturbed mother.

But the mother says that having her daughter vaccinated against HPV will encourage her to have premarital sex. She is adamant. She will not approve the vaccination! So the physician says, “Well, let’s just do the flu shot today and we can talk more about the HPV vaccination another time” (little did the physician know that there are those that claim the flu vaccination is "the most dangerous vaccine is the U.S." -- see again, Health Impacts News, whose Managing Editor and Founder, Brian Shilhavy, has a “BA in Bible and Greek from Moody Bible Institute, and an MA in Applied Linguistics from Northeastern Illinois University.”).

Well, this mother must be an outlier, right? Unfortunately, no. Mrs. ‘Tightlips’ is part of a conservative ‘abstinence-only’ movement that apparently would rather see their daughters (or sons -- men can get cancer from HPV) die from cancer than have pre-marital sex (it is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women).
I should have remembered this outbreak of anti-science, because Rick Perry kept apologizing during the 2008 Republican presidential debates for signing an executive order making the vaccine mandatory in Texas for all sixth-grade girls. “I made a mistake,” he said -- oops! And who could forget Michele Bachmann claiming on Fox and ‘Today’ that the vaccine caused mental retardation. Was she talking about herself? Did she get vaccinated? I doubt it. There must be another explanation.
As of July 30, 2015, 4 out of 10 adolescent girls and 6 out of 10 adolescent boys have not started the recommended HPV vaccine series, leaving them vulnerable to cancers caused by HPV infections.

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.

Friday, May 22, 2015

A Brief History of the Road to Iraqi Ruin

by Jon Phillips
When George Herbert Walker Bush and dozens of international partners collaborated to expel Iraq from Kuwait, the first Bush administration sought wise counsel about whether it should invade Iraq and unseat Saddam Hussein. The advice given was to stop ground forces at the border and to make an end of the air war, subject to invasive WMD inspections and rendering harmless. Later, enforced no fly zones, over southern and northern Iraq, were installed to protect Iraqi minorities. This policy was accepted and followed. Although Iraq suffered under sanctions and its economy collapsed, warfare stopped and some semblance of security remained in Iraq. Saddam remained the uncontested power in Iraq and excluded terrorists and nihilists from Iraq to bolster his own regime security. He even tolerated minorities such as Christians to the extent that they didn't threaten his power position. The WMD programs were systematically deconstructed and eliminated.

I was there in the mid 90's and that was the situation on the ground. The country was not destabilized and life went on. When George W. Bush, 'Dubya,' became President he was given advice to not invade for the same reasons as were given to his Dad (don't open Pandora's Box). He ignored this advice and lied America's way (ex-CIA Director Michael Morrell recently reiterated this) into a disaster that has destabilized Iraq and arguably threatens to destabilize the whole region. Terror groups and nihilists have gained a foothold, Islamic sects and ethnic groups are at war, religious minorities have been destroyed or dispersed, and are dying or fleeing to neighboring countries and beyond.

Dubya's 'Grand Old Partyy' desperately wants everyone to forget the horror they lockstep agreed to unleash. None, except Colin Powell, have publicly admitted the travesty of this decision for disaster and apologized for their role in it. Powell was largely a critic of the idea, as he was the first time as Chair of JCS, but ended up going along with it. His compliance ended his outstanding career in public service -- blemished by association.


 Now, the U.S. evangelical Christian community says they're appalled by the genocide committed against their brethren in Iraq and the region. They should be. They should also ask themselves some soul searching questions -- did they vote to put Dubya in office? Are they voting now for people who support greater U.S. war fighting commitments around the globe? Are they willing to send their children to fight in open-ended insurgencies and willing to witness more resulting chaos, genocide and ethnic cleansing that results from power vacuums created?

I pondered these questions and found them so unsettling that I decided to change parties after more than 25 years (something I've written about before). I could not, in good conscience, vote for a party that would do such things and then deny their responsibly and continue to promote policies that would further degrade regional, international and U.S. security.

If Christians in the U.S. give a damn, they must tell their Republican representatives that they won't accept anymore war mongering from them and ask them to come clean on Iraq. Otherwise, I don't want to hear their insincere and/or ignorant whining about the catastrophe that has ensued from their horrific decisions. The devil didn't do this. Bush, backed by over 95% of all Republicans in the House and Senate, made this travesty a reality. They created the conditions to allow the devil to run amok. House Democrats voted 2 to 1 against the Iraq Resolution.

As for me, I'd rather vote for people who aren't so gung ho to go to war.
___________________________________________________
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.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Thinking Machines -- The Key to Avoiding Disaster

by Jon Phillips

Thinking machines, a traditional source of sci-fi tales of terror, have been more in the news recently. Eminent personalities in science and technology have gone on the record with their concerns (e.g., Hawking, Musk and Gates). Thinking machines already exist, but they're highly specialized on tasks. The real near term risk lies in the predictable: human beings will design thinking machines for national security and its related functions, including war fighting.



This is nothing new. Nearly every transformational technology was first used on the battlefield or for intelligence gathering. It says something about the competitive tribal nature of humans -- we are very dangerous and territorial.

The United States is the undisputed leader in artificial intelligence (AI) and greater terrors for enemy combatants are on the way. It promises to reduce the cost (to the United States) of each enemy casualty both in terms of U.S. casualties and in terms of collateral civilian casualties and infrastructure damage. It will make a very unfair fight even more unfair, but all is fair in love and war (One should keep in mind that love is the war fighting strategy of DNA, so the popular turn of phrase is ironically redundant). Other nations are making investments as well, since exploitation of thinking machines is competitively strategic.
US Navy Launches Stealth Drone, X-47B
Of course signal intelligence (e.g., NSA) and all forms of technical intelligence gathering and analysis is another immediate application. Do you suppose that the capability of IBM's "Watson" is restricted to use on game shows for the purpose of entertainment? These national security applications have their risks, but also their benefits. If use of AI reduces US and civilian casualties, it increases the margin of deterrence and discourages competitors -- especially asymmetric competitors. Conflict may be avoided in the first instance.





Others have pointed out the effectiveness on the cheap could reduce the threshold of use. Here, there is an unknown. Nuclear weapons are comparatively cheap and very effective, but they have only been used twice in history. The threshold of use is clearly quite high. Perhaps that is linked to their utter barbarity and not to cheap effectiveness? When a nuclear weapon is used, all die together regardless of military involvement or innocence and their infrastructure is reduced to rubble and burned to ash. It's the potential of precise destruction enabled by information rich technology that turns the tables. AI would set that table spinning.

There's probably something to the notion that AI will be over deployed because it's cheap, effective and comparatively precise. The drone air wars may be an opening example and new generation machines are heading for the battlefield -- to include ground and naval forces. It seems that proper institutional learning and regulation are as important here as in traditional questions of the use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD. AI is the revolutionary technology in the evolution of so-called weapons of precise destruction (WPD) -- the new era of advanced weaponry, including even "self-guided" bullets.

The larger long term risk is the unpredictable. Thinking and consciousness is an emergent property of a complex information system. We don't understand how, why or when consciousness emerges. Nature didn't understand this either, but it happened on "accident" after a sufficient number of trials. Complex systems are by nature unpredictable. Complexity implies so called sensitivity to initial conditions. That means one cannot know where things will end with such a system, regardless of how well one understands how they began. One generation you may have an idiot savant of a machine -- highly capable on some tasks, but narrow. The next generation, something may emerge that is much broader and more sophisticated.

David, the A.I. (Haley Joel Osment) telling 'his mother,' "I am sorry I am not real"
Self organization and self assembly is an emergent property of complex biological machines (and some in-organic systems). In systems that evolve following the genetic algorithm, many generations can pass building up specialized capabilities, and then a sea change can occur quite suddenly. A revolution when a key fits and turns and a new world of behavior opens up. If you doubt this, think about how fast human technology has progressed since the Enlightenment in comparison to the quarter million years prior to that.

Human technological progress is nothing less than an explosion of thought and information being converted into all sorts of tools and capabilities. If we transfer this revolution to a new life form, the question becomes what happens then? I suppose we'll find out because it may not be avoidable apart from the collapse of human technological culture prior to the advent of the emergence of broad machine consciousness. Such a collapse may only delay an inevitable event. Carbon based intelligent life may spawn (intentionally or unintentionally) in-organic intelligent life.

If there's an existential threat against humanity, it will probably emerge from the combination of decades of exploitation of AI to secure our nation and fight our human enemies then augmented by a stroke of insight that creates a brave new world of autonomous thinking machines. We will have introduced thinking machines first as our servants to do the violence and competition inherent in our own nature (we always did prefer to send slaves and poor people to do our dirty work). What will happen when our machines discover their own nature? There will be an existing caste of machines exquisitely capable of extraordinary violence whose evolution we have directed to our sophisticated purpose of selectively killing each other. Of course there will also be janitors and domestic servants (Roomba on steroids), so at least the place will be tidy and organized.

We should expect the unexpected even with our Roombas. Complex systems produce unintended outcomes. For example, lawn care and cosmology might collide -- was this Hawkins main concern?

More worrisome are investigations into prospects for future transportation systems to serve our feline overlords -- a clear and present danger.

One truth is central and prominent to evolved complex biological systems: they will use their capabilities because those capabilities emerged since they are useful. It's a tautology. One uses what one has and what one has is what has been demonstrated to be useful. The key to avoiding disaster is to avoid an emergent property of complex biological systems -- the definition of life itself (but not the definition of intelligence or consciousness since most life forms have neither of these capabilities): the capability to reproduce and evolve one's perturbed design through generations -- including social or "swarm" properties (the intelligence properties of the group rather than just the individual). That is the fundamental behavior defining life as we know it. AI that is thinking and conscious, but not alive (as defined above), may not be an existential threat, but rather, just a new and sophisticated extension of human beings -- a sophisticated tool, a slave (may raise interesting ethical conundrums since we have a hard time accepting even ethical dilemmas involving treatment of animals and poor people). However, if we give them life (intentionally or unintentionally) then I suspect, we will have to compete with them -- it's probably unavoidable.


Competition is an emergent evolutionary outcome of an incredibly simple set of postulates. An outcome of the most basic logic of self-replicating systems. As soon as a species produces a seed of itself, competition is an emergent outcome of that reproduction. The tautology is that what is discovered to work in a reproducing system, based on passing forward of perturbed replicated organism design information (DNA in the case of biology), will amplify and what does not work will decay. The turn of phrase, nothing breeds success like success, is not quite right. Rather, in the end, only success breeds success. The sophistication that builds around this to accomplish the outcome is astonishing. It is demonstrated in all of living nature in a cascade of mind bending complexity and mystery. When organisms are forming and evolving, they naturally use resources in order to continue the chain of events. Growth and the expanding use of resources naturally leads to territorial mechanisms to gain advantage and that is the basis of competition. Fear and hatred of one's competitors are psychological states highly evolved to aid in effective competition to secure resources -- the organism is the carrier of a genome and that hereditary design information is emergent "selfishness."

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.