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?