Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for March 30th, 2010

Debunking the "Greenland used to be green" canard

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John Cook of Skeptical Science points out this post:

The skeptic argument…

"Sallie Baliunas, a co-author of a 2003 study, refers to the medieval Viking sagas as examples of unusual warming around 1003 A.D. ‘The Vikings established colonies in Greenland at the beginning of the second millennium, but they died out several hundred years later when the climate turned colder,’ she notes." (William Cromie)

What the science says…

The Greenland ice sheet has existed for at least 400,000 years. There may have been regions of Greenland that were ‘greener’ than today but this was not a global phenomenon.

This argument is based on the idea that as climate has changed naturally before, current climate change must be natural also. The obvious flaw in this argument is that the main driver of climate during the Medieval Warm Period (eg – solar variations) cannot be causing global warming now. More on the "Climate’s changed before" argument…

Did Greenland used to be green?

The Greenland ice sheet is at least 400,000 to 800,000 years old. Certainly it was alive and well when the island was named around 1000 years ago. So where did the Green in Greenland come from? According to Wikipedia, legend has it was good marketing on the part of Erik the Red who figured it would attract more settlers (if he was more vain, it may have been called Redland). Or perhaps its a derivation of Engronelant or Gruntland. The main point is while the ice sheet has always been there, Greenland probably was somewhat warmer during the Medieval Period and part of Greenland was green. So once again, I refer you to the Climate’s changed before argument.

Ancient Greenland DNA

I recommend reading what the authors are actually saying about their own study. The study connects past warming to natural variations in Earth’s orbit—obliquity, or how tilted the planet is in relation to the sun. Author Martin Sharp points out "One could argue that this shows that natural forcing could account for the current warm conditions, but the current orbital configuration does not support this, even when other natural forcings are taken into account." In other words, their study "really has nothing to say about the mechanisms driving the current warming."

According to author Eske Willerslev, the Greenland ice shelf "has not contributed to global sea level rise during the last interglacial. Importantly, it does not mean that we should not be worried about future global warming as the sea level rise of five to six meters during the last interglacial must have come from somewhere."

Finally, Martin Sharp warns the study "does not prove the current global warming trend is not human induced". If anything, "we may be heading for even bigger temperature increases than we previously thought".

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2010 at 5:53 pm

Judge raps government over ex-DEA agent’s legal odyssey

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Michael Doyle for McClatchy:

An unhappy federal judge on Tuesday approved a $3 million settlement with a former narcotics officer who said the CIA spied on him overseas.

The approved settlement caps a 16-year fight for former Drug Enforcement Administration agent Richard A. Horn and California attorney Brian Leighton. It also leaves the judge grumbling over how the government handled the long-secret case.

"It does not appear that any government officials have been held accountable for this loss to the taxpayer," U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth wrote. "This is troubling."

Driving his point home, Lamberth further noted that "there is disturbing evidence in a sealed motion that misconduct occurred in the Inspector General offices at both the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency."

After noting that the case "has already consumed too much time and too many resources for everyone concerned," however, Lamberth agreed to drop potential disciplinary proceedings against CIA officials. He’ll formally do so once he’s been assured that the allegations have been referred to congressional intelligence committees and the inspector general offices.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on the case or what referrals might be made next.

"The check is supposed to be in the mail pretty quick," Leighton said Tuesday, while adding that "we have mixed emotions."

Leighton acknowledged that he and Horn are relieved that the case is now done. At the same time, he said, "people ought to be penalized for defrauding the court," which is what he and Lamberth both say happened in this case.

A one-time investigator in California’s San Joaquin Valley, where he first got to know former prosecutor Leighton, Horn was later assigned to the DEA’s office in Burma, now called Myanmar. While there, he says he clashed with State Department and CIA officials who wanted to downplay Burma’s cooperation in the anti-narcotics campaign.

Forced from his position, Horn charged that his telephone calls to Leighton and others were illegally tapped. When he sued in 1994, the Justice Department made sure the lawsuit was sealed.

The lawsuit stayed sealed until last year, shortly before the Justice Department agreed to a $3 million settlement.

"While the government makes no admission of wrongdoing in the settlement, the court is persuaded that the government must have found them credible," Lamberth noted Tuesday.

When the case became public last year, Lamberth said that the CIA’s attorneys had engaged in a "fraud on the court" by failing to update him on the undercover status of a key witness. Lamberth said that an unclassified declaration by CIA Director Leon Panetta "appears to significantly conflict" with a classified declaration.

Conclusions were also inappropriately manipulated in …

Continue reading. People should be fired for this travesty.

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2010 at 5:48 pm

Policing for Profit

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Via Andrew Sullivan:

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2010 at 3:39 pm

Fitness note

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I have to admit that February and March were a time of fitness retreat. But I am walking again, using what I learned last time about not overdoing it and giving my tendons and ligaments time to get tough enough to match what my muscles can do. I continue to eat thoughtfully. I will later resume weights and Nordic Track, but I don’t want to do too many things at once, so first I’ll get walking well underway. At least the weather is nice, now that Armageddon’s here and all.

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2010 at 3:19 pm

Posted in Daily life, Fitness

Closing a loophole

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Kevin Drum:

On Saturday the Wall Street Journal editorial page loudly moaned about a provision of the healthcare bill that, they said, was prompting a "wave" of announcements of corporate losses. "This wholesale destruction of wealth and capital came with more than ample warning," they wrote ominously. "Turning over every couch cushion to make their new entitlement look affordable under Beltway accounting rules, Democrats decided to raise taxes on companies that do the public service of offering prescription drug benefits to their retirees instead of dumping them into Medicare." I linked to this briefly the other day, but it’s worth a little bit of explication.

It’s true: there has been a wave of press releases announcing multi-million dollar write-downs from some of America’s biggest corporations. In fact, as Igor Volsky points out, these press releases seem downright coordinated. So what’s going on? It all goes back to George Bush’s expansion of Medicare prescription drug benefits:

The Medicare Part D legislation gives subsidizes of about $1,300 per retiree per year to businesses that provide prescription drugs to their retirees and permits companies to deduct the value of credit….The new health care law, however, pays for itself by eliminating waste in the system and it closes this particular double dipping provision. Companies would still receive the tax-free subsidy, but they’ll no longer be able to deduct it. And they’re angry.

Well, who wouldn’t be angry? Getting a government subsidy and being able to deduct it from your tax bill is a helluva juicy deal. I sure wish I could do something like that. But I’m not a giant corporation, so I can’t.

Anyway, it turns out that corporations who qualify for this sweetheart deal accounted for it as a future addition to their earnings stream. Now the stream is gone — after 2013, anyway — so they have to reverse that accounting charge. It’s very sad. Still, there’s no actual money involved. No one has to write a check to anyone else. Corporations just have to add a footnote to their next quarterly report saying that the government has come to its senses and will no longer allow them to write off an expense that the government is paying for in the first place.

As a friend once said, you could spend your whole life correcting the Journal’s editorial mendacity once you let yourself get sucked down that particular rabbit hole. But this one is likely to become a common talking point, and it’s arcane enough that hardly anyone understands what’s so bogus about it. Now you do, and you can pass it along to your friends the next time you hear it.

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2010 at 2:24 pm

Pasta With Sardines, Bread Crumbs and Capers

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Mark Bittman has a good recipe (with a video at the link of his making it):

Pasta With Sardines, Bread Crumbs and Capers

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup bread crumbs, ideally made from stale bread
1 onion, chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound long pasta, like perciatelli
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons drained capers
2 cans sardines packed in extra virgin olive oil (about 1/2 pound)
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley, plus more for garnish.

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Put half the oil (2 tablespoons) in a medium skillet over medium heat. When it’s hot, add the bread crumbs and cook, stirring frequently, until golden and fragrant, less than 5 minutes, and then remove. Add the remaining oil and the onion to the pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until just tender; drain, reserving some of the cooking liquid. Turn the heat under the onions to medium-high and add the lemon zest, capers and sardines; cook, stirring occasionally, until just heated through, about 2 minutes.

3. Add the pasta to the sardine mixture and toss well to combine. Add the parsley, most of the bread crumbs and some reserved water, if necessary, to moisten. Taste and adjust seasoning, garnishing with more parsley and bread crumbs.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2010 at 2:22 pm

Deer and Dog

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Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2010 at 1:58 pm

Posted in Daily life, Video

Reconciliation bill signed into law—now it’s Armageddon?

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If so, Armageddon continues to bring very nice weather indeed. I’m going out for another walk.

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2010 at 1:55 pm

Posted in Daily life, Healthcare

The Right-wing terrorists 15 years ago

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Steven Benen:

Following weekend raids in Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio, federal officials now have nine suspected members of a Michigan-based Christian militia in custody. All have been indicted on sedition and weapons charges.

Barbara McQuade, the U.S. attorney leading the prosecution against the accused, explained to reporters today that the terrorist plot represented an imminent threat, prompting federal officials to take action. McQuade said the plot would have begun with a false 911 call, leading to the murder of the responding law enforcement officials. From there, the radicals intended to set off a bomb at the funeral, which they hoped would set off an "uprising."

To clarify a point from yesterday, eight of the nine suspects were initially taken into custody on Sunday, and the ninth surrendered to authorities today.

And as long as we’re on the subject, 15 years ago, Paul Glastris, the Washington Monthly‘s editor-in-chief, spent some time with members of the Michigan militia and wrote a provocative piece for the magazine on his experience.

One June day two years ago, James Douglas Nichols was pushing 70 miles per hour down a country road not far from his Decker, Michigan farm when he was caught in the crosshairs of a sheriff deputy’s radar gun. The deputy pulled Nichols over and issued him tickets for speeding and for driving without a valid license.

Soon after, before a courthouse hearing in Sanilac County in eastern Michigan’s "thumb," Nichols offered a bizarre defense of his actions. The government, Nichols insisted, does not have the constitutional power to regulate private citizens in their cars. "I have put everyone concerned here on notice of what is going on here," declared Nichols with paranoid melodrama, "to violate my rights to free travel as cited in the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of Michigan."

Presiding District Court Judge James A. Marcus patiently explained to Nichols the long-accepted legal distinction between a private citizens’ constitutional right to travel freely and the government’s legitimate right to regulate the operation of a motor vehicle. But Nichols was not about to buy the judge’s fine distinction; he had done plenty of his own research. Nichols continued his losing protests, citing Supreme Court case after Supreme Court case. "He’d lift a sentence or phrase that he thought was applicable, but he’d do so out of context so that the meaning was completely incorrect or nonsensical," recalls Judge Marcus.

The Sanilac County courthouse, a gracious brick edifice with a hideous concrete-block addition stuck on the back, is no stranger to twisted logic. Earlier that year, James’s brother Terry Nichols had tried his own hand at finding his salvation in do-it-yourself legal reasoning. He didn’t really owe that $31,000 in bank credit card debt, he announced to the court, because the banks had lent him "credit," not "legal tender." He offered to pay with what he called a "certified fractional reserve check" — a worthless piece of paper. "You can’t follow their arguments," explains Judge Marcus, "because they’re listening to a different music no one else hears."

Terry Nichols, of course, conspired with Timothy McVeigh to blow up the federal building in Oklahoma City — at the time, the deadliest terrorist attack in American history.

It’s fascinating, 15 years later, to see how the militia extremists have changed, and how they haven’t.

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2010 at 1:51 pm

The pursuit of happiness

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Andrew Sullivan:

I think David Brooks gets this totally right this morning:

Marital happiness is far more important than anything else in determining personal well-being. If you have a successful marriage, it doesn’t matter how many professional setbacks you endure, you will be reasonably happy. If you have an unsuccessful marriage, it doesn’t matter how many career triumphs you record, you will remain significantly unfulfilled.

As he notes, this isn’t just sermonizing; we have reams of data to back this up. And that is why the right to marry has long been understood as integral to the promise embedded in the Declaration of Independence that all of us have the right to the pursuit of happiness.

One question: how many heterosexuals would believe they had the right to the pursuit of happiness, as guaranteed by the Declaration of Independence, if that right did not include the freedom to marry the person you love?

Now imagine the government actively prevents you from marrying the one you love, and having the stability and support and love and friendship that make life worth living? David gets this, which is why he supports marriage equality. But I’m not sure everyone else does. I remain with Hannah Arendt:

"The right to marry whoever one wishes is an elementary human right compared to which ‘the right to attend an integrated school, the right to sit where one pleases on a bus, the right to go into any hotel or recreation area or place of amusement, regardless of one’s skin or color or race’ are minor indeed. Even political rights, like the right to vote, and nearly all other rights enumerated in the Constitution, are secondary to the inalienable human rights to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence; and to this category the right to home and marriage unquestionably belongs."

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2010 at 1:45 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

How Long Has This Been Going On?

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Andrew Sullivan:

A reader writes:

Of course this has gone on for centuries; it is only the fact that we no longer blame the victim that has allowed those abused by the church (or indeed, any other institution) to come forward in the last few decades.

Did you never wonder about St. John Bosco? I sure did. John Bosco worked extensively with working class boys. In the measured prose of the Oxford Dictionary of Saints:

“He devoted himself also to the needs of young men, especially on Sundays. His attractive, charismatic personality soon drew many to his oratory and his evening classes. Soon he resigned his post as chaplain and lived in poverty with his mother and about forty destitute boys …

John Bosco also had a reputation as a visionary, a wonder-worker, and one with an extraordinary gift for handling difficult youths without punishment but with a gentle but effective firmness. Don Bosco often used to take boys on Sunday expeditions in the country, with Mass to start with, followed by breakfast and open air games, a picnic, catechism class, and Vespers to conclude.”

I read this entry many years ago and found myself returning to it with curiosity when the whole Covenant House scandal occurred. Bosco eventually established schools and vocational training houses for over 500 young boys and of course, his order specializes in schools and seminaries to this day. It gave me a lot of food for thought.

I cannot know about any particular instance. But if one believes that a celibate priesthood can be a magnet for sexually repressed and conflicted or emotionally arrested homosexuals, and if one understands that all priests, like all human beings, are sexual creatures, and if one believes that the core problem is also total authority, a closed clerical culture and no external accountability, then the question of what went on for centuries before the abuse crisis emerged into the sunlight remains. More than remains: it haunts.

Before his death Bosco wrote about himself in the third person:

“I will reveal to you now a fear . . . I fear that one of ours may come to misinterpret the affection that Don Bosco had for the young, and from the way that I received their confession – really, really close – and may let himself get carried away with too much sensuality towards them, and then pretend to justify himself by saying that Don Bosco did the same, be it when he spoke to them in secret, be it when he received their confession. I know that one can be conquered by way of the heart, and I fear dangers, and spiritual harm.”

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2010 at 1:35 pm

Posted in Daily life, Religion

Defending the Pope

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Andrew Sullivan:

Father Thomas Brundage, who oversaw the canonical proceedings against Milwaukee molester Lawrence Murphy, speaks out:

In my interactions with Father Murphy, I got the impression I was dealing with a man who simply did not get it. He was defensive and threatening. Between 1996 and August, 1998, I interviewed, with the help of a qualified interpreter, about a dozen victims of Father Murphy. These were gut-wrenching interviews. In one instance the victim had become a perpetrator himself and had served time in prison for his crimes. I realized that this disease is virulent and was easily transmitted to others. I heard stories of distorted lives, sexualities diminished or expunged. These were the darkest days of my own priesthood, having been ordained less than 10 years at the time.

It’s worth reading the entire thing. His main point is that Murphy died before a trial had been formally suspended (decades after the abuse of deaf children first started). His secondary point (which is well-taken) is that abuse cases were indeed handled more expeditiously and seriously once responsibility for them was shifted to Ratzinger’s CDF. He’s on weaker ground, I think, when he goes after the NYT, which he accuses of misquoting him:

Almost all of my quotes are from a document that can be found online with the correspondence between the Holy See and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. In an October 31, 1997 handwritten document, I am quoted as saying ‘odds are that this situation may very well be the most horrendous, number wise, and especially because these are physically challenged , vulnerable people”. Also quoted is this: “Children were approached within the confessional where the question of circumcision began the solicitation.” The problem with these statements attributed to me is that they were handwritten. The documents were not written by me and do not resemble my handwriting. The syntax is similar to what I might have said but I have no idea who wrote these statements, yet I am credited as stating them.

As a college freshman at the Marquette University School of Journalism, we were told to check, recheck, and triple check our quotes if necessary. I was never contacted by anyone on this document, written by an unknown source to me. Discerning truth takes time and it is apparent that the New York Times, the Associated Press and others did not take the time to get the facts correct.

Additionally, in the documentation in a letter from Archbishop Weakland to then-secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone on August 19, 1998, Archbishop Weakland stated that he had instructed me to abate the proceedings against Father Murphy. Father Murphy, however, died two days later and the fact is that on the day that Father Murphy died, he was still the defendant in a church criminal trial. No one seems to be aware of this.

Had I been asked to abate this trial, I most certainly would have insisted that an appeal be made to the supreme court of the church, or Pope John Paul II if necessary. That process would have taken months if not longer.

If you can’t access Catholic Anchor, theocon blogger, Damian Thompson has the letter in full here.

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2010 at 1:31 pm

Posted in Daily life, Religion

Why war should be the very last resort

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We jumped into the pre-emptive invasion of Iraq based on lies and a strong desire on the part of the Bush-Cheney axis to invade Iraq, regardless of its involvement in terrorism and 9/11. And here is what we wrought (thanks to TYD for passing along this article):

Iraqi children born in the most violent areas are shorter than those born in other parts of the country, UK researchers have found.

The team looked at data from Iraq’s central statistics office and said under-fives from these areas were on average 0.8cm (0.3in) shorter.

Low height can be linked to poor diet and sanitation.

The University of London work is being presented at the Royal Economic Society annual conference.

The author says the study shows the conflict damaged children’s health.

The study analysed the height of children during the the first three years of the war and found that "stunting" was a serious problem among those born in provinces in the south and centre of Iraq which experienced the worst violence.

But the data showed that, although these children were shorter than their counterparts from safer areas, they did not necessarily weigh less.
The report suggests that the problem was therefore likely to be linked to the quality, rather than quantity, of food.

The study also found that the height difference was most pronounced in children’s first year of life. It suggests that this could reflect deterioration in the health of the mother while pregnant.

The author, Gabriela Guerrero-Serdan from the department of economics at Royal Holloway, University of London, said: "At first sight, it is easier to see if a child is malnourished by looking at his or her weight, which is often synonymous with hunger.

"Low height, however, which relates more to protein intake, is not as easy to identify just by looking at a child.

"Unlike weight, which can be gained at any period of life by eating more food, we cannot necessarily grow more in height after our period of growth has passed.

"The short height of these children is likely to reflect poor quality food intake, and also more disease and diarrhoea.

"Power failures which affected water supplies and refrigeration are likely to have added to the problem.

"Early life development and growth are connected and important, because children who are well-nourished are more likely to be healthy, productive and able to learn in the future."

Professor Peter Emery, head of nutrition and dietetics at King’s College London, said: "Stunting does not necessarily mean that the quality of the diet is low in terms of protein content.

"It is more likely to indicate chronically low quantity of food, together with poor sanitation and access to healthcare."

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2010 at 1:19 pm

Finance: where the action is now

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Kevin Drum at Mother Jones:

Our story so far: on Friday I was chatting with Felix Salmon about leverage and capital requirements in the financial system, and we agreed that most of the action on this was taking place on the international stage. But because it’s largely done behind closed doors, there’s very little reporting on what progress is being made. Today, though, Bloomberg’s Yalman Onaran sneaks in a bit about international standard-making in a long story that’s mostly about U.S. financial reform:

Looming over discussions about liquidity are rules proposed in December by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, a 35-year-old panel that sets international capital guidelines. The new framework would require banks worldwide to hold enough unencumbered assets to meet all of their liabilities coming due within 30 days. That amount, called the liquidity coverage ratio, could be used to offset cash outflows during a panic. Banks would also have to maintain a “net stable funding ratio” of 100 percent, meaning they would need an amount of longer-term loans or deposits equal to their financing needs for 12 months, including off-balance-sheet commitments and anticipated securitizations.

The Basel committee, which is collecting comments on the proposed rules through April 16, would establish clear definitions of liquid assets and funding needs, rather than leave those determinations to the banks. It would also set new capital requirements. The committee expects to complete its work by the end of the year and implement the regulations by the end of 2012.

The liquidity rules would reduce the annual profit of Bank of America Corp. by $1.5 billion and of Citigroup by $1.2 billion, JPMorgan estimated in a Feb. 17 report.

Bank analysts and executives say the proposals won’t be implemented in their current form. The rules are “too restrictive and we believe they could ultimately be watered down,” Barclays Plc said in a Feb. 8 report. Societe Generale SA’s Severin Cabannes has been telling investors the Basel regulations will likely be weakened, according to investors who have met with him.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2010 at 12:46 pm

An archaeological mystery in a half-ton lead coffin

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Interesting article, and it reminds me to recommend (again) Engineering An Empire (I’m linking to Amazon because Netflix doesn’t offer the complete series—only 4 of the 6 DVDs—and it’s worth buying).

In the ruins of a city that was once Rome’s neighbor, archaeologists last summer found a 1,000-pound lead coffin. Who or what is inside is still a mystery, said Nicola Terrenato, the University of Michigan professor of classical studies who leads the project—the largest American dig in Italy in the past 50 years.

The sarcophagus will soon be transported to the American Academy in Rome, where engineers will use heating techniques and tiny cameras in an effort to gain insights about the contents without breaking the coffin itself.

"We’re very excited about this find," Terrenato said. "Romans as a rule were not buried in coffins to begin with and when they did use coffins, they were mostly wooden. There are only a handful of other examples from Italy of lead coffins from this age—the second, third or fourth century A.D. We know of virtually no others in this region."

This one is especially unusual because of its size.

"It’s a sheet of lead folded onto itself an inch thick," he said. "A thousand pounds of metal is an enormous amount of wealth in this era. To waste so much of it in a burial is pretty unusual."

Was the deceased a soldier? A gladiator? A bishop? All are possibilities, some more remote than others, Terrenato said. Researchers will do their best to examine the bones and any "grave goods" or Christian symbols inside the container in an effort to make a determination.

"It’s hard to predict what’s inside, because it’s the only example of its kind in the area," Terrenato said. "I’m trying to keep my hopes within reason."

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2010 at 12:43 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Sanders: ‘I Do Not Want To See A Global Warming Bill Become A Bonanza For The Coal Industry’

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Brad Johnson at ThinkProgress:

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has expressed “deep disappointment” with the direction Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) is heading with climate legislation being crafted with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT). In a letter to Kerry, the Vermont independent praised Kerry’s “continued leadership” as a “tireless advocate for taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” However, Sanders has “serious concerns about provisions that could harm our environment and provide new federal government support for polluters”:

State Preemption: “In my view, preempting leading states would be a huge mistake: we should definitely set a floor, but not a ceiling.”

Support for New Nuclear Power: “If the private sector will not finance new nuclear plants, the government should not risk taxpayer dollars by stepping in.”

Offshore Drilling: “We should not, in a global warming bill, support increased offshore drilling.”

Coal Plant Emissions: “Global warming legislation should move us forward by requiring coal plants to meet increasingly stringent pollution standards. It should not take us backwards by exempting coal plants from this kind of regulation by grandfathering in the dirtiest plants so they can continue to operate for years to come.”

Ten other senators have challenged new support for offshore drilling in the bill. Sanders also called for several green economy initiatives to be in the legislation, including green jobs and energy efficiency funding that was included in the Kerry-Boxer climate bill that passed out of the Senate environment committee last December. That legislation limited EPA and state authority to set rules for global warming pollution, but it appears that Kerry-Graham-Lieberman could go even farther to preempt existing law with a new framework, leading Sanders to warn, “I do not want to see a global warming bill become a bonanza for the coal industry.”

Sanders’ concerns mirror those of Mike Brune, the new executive director of the Sierra Club, who told The Hill:

We will go to the mat for defending Clean Air Act authority. We are also concerned about offshore oil drilling, and we will not be able to accept the dramatic giveaway that offshore oil drilling represents.

Climate legislation will, by discouraging global warming pollution, support existing low-carbon energy technologies like renewables, natural gas, and nuclear power, and will also create a market for advanced coal technology. The coal, gas, and nuclear industries certainly do not need an additional layer of taxpayer subsidies to thrive in a low-carbon future. However, they have the resources to make clean energy reform an arduous process unless their demands are met, especially if, as Mother Jones’ Kate Sheppard argues, Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman are “neglecting the Senate’s environmental champions.”

Also, see this article by Chris Bowers at OpenLeft.

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2010 at 12:31 pm

Providing numbers with scale and context

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Via Lifehacker, the site is quite nifty: Enter a number and get some idea of its size relative to other things.

Example: The US gives Israel $3 billion each year. So I enter 3,000,000,000 and I get:

2,990,177,409 US Dollars: The 1990 GDP (current dollars) for Macao, China

2,992,171,008 US Dollars: The 1963 GDP (current dollars) for Israel [Jesus! I didn’t realize were were matching their GDP—pretty damn generous – LG]

2,999,542,369 US Dollars: The 2002 GDP (current dollars) for Papua New Guinea

3,000,000,000 dollars would buy a 2010 Cadillac Escalade for everyone living in Palm Springs city, California (population 47952)

3,000,000,000 dollars would buy a 2010 Cadillac Escalade for everyone living in Middletown city, Connecticut (population 48030)

3,000,000,000 dollars would buy a 2010 Cadillac Escalade for everyone living in Albany city, Oregon (population 48081)

3,000,000,000 dollars would buy a 2010 Cadillac Escalade for everyone living in Sheboygan city, Wisconsin (population 47895)

3,009,038,413 US Dollars: The 1976 GDP (current dollars) for Gabon

3,013,217,853 US Dollars: The 1996 GDP (current dollars) for Albania

3,014,661,262 US Dollars: The 1999 GDP (current dollars) for Burkina Faso

Pick out those that will be meaningful for your audience, and Bob’s your uncle.

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2010 at 12:04 pm

Posted in Daily life

The New Earth Army comes to life

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I did greatly enjoy The Men Who Stare At Goats, and that made me appreciate all the more this article by Robert Boyd in McClatchy:

Three recent events — the foiled Christmas Day bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner, the Dec. 30 assassination of seven CIA officers and contractors by a Jordanian double agent in Afghanistan and the difficulties that U.S. Marines in Marjah, Afghanistan, have encountered — all have something in common: inadequate intelligence.

To lower the odds of similar troubles in the future, the government has launched a swarm of spooky, out-of-the-box research projects known collectively as the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity.

"The intelligence community needs to place bets on high-risk, high-payoff research that might not work, (but if it did) would give us an overwhelming intelligence advantage over future adversaries," IARPA director Lisa Porter said in an interview at her sparkling new headquarters just outside Washington in College Park, Md. "We need to fundamentally change the way we do business."

Porter’s boss, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, said that IARPA’s task was to be "an intellectual ferment or primordial stew out of which great things will come." He wants Porter’s researchers to "generate revolutionary capabilities that will surprise our adversaries and help us avoid being surprised."

IARPA is modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which has conducted far-out research for the Defense Department since 1958. DARPA’s many innovations include the Internet, GPS and robotic vehicles.

Founded two years ago, IARPA has contracted with about 75 university research laboratories and 50 technology companies, large and small, to work on innovative solutions to future intelligence needs. More contracts are coming soon, Porter said.

Some IARPA projects have a distinct science-fiction feel.

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Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2010 at 11:59 am

The Republican idea that the GOP claims now to hate

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Steve Benen:

If recent rhetoric is a reliable guide, the part of the Affordable Care Act that Republicans loathe the most is the individual mandate. For right-wing activists, it represents an unprecedented assault on liberty. For right-wing grandstanders, it represents the basis for litigation.

But as the complaints continue, it’s worth keeping in mind that the mandate has long been a Republican idea. Sam Stein has this report today:

Though Republican lawmakers now vilify the individual mandate for health insurance coverage as unconstitutional, the provision has long roots in conservative health care philosophy and has been supported by such GOP presidents as Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush.

Republican administrations were among the first to embrace the concept of forcing individuals to buy coverage. Nixon — hoping to stave off the single-payer ethos of many congressional Democrats — explored the idea in the 1970s, though Republicans now dismiss those discussions as the byproduct of a moderate president searching for a domestic policy victory.

Less than two decades later, in what remains an unexplored chapter of health care history, a surprising supporter of the individual mandate was George H.W. Bush. According to contemporaneous reporting, Bush used "the tax system to ‘encourage and empower’ individuals to buy health insurance and would enact insurance market reforms that make it possible for everyone — even if they have pre-existing health problems — to get insurance." In short: individuals would be mandated to buy catastrophic health insurance. The cost of that coverage would be tied to income, meaning that the poorer you were, the less expensive your policy would be.

In Nixon’s case, Dems thought they’d hold out for a better deal after Nixon’s presidency collapsed. In Bush’s case, the proposal wasn’t seriously pursued. But in both instances, among conservative thinkers of the day, the notion of an individual mandate was "in vogue," including having been endorsed by the Heritage Foundation.

To clarify further, this isn’t an idea Republicans were willing to tolerate in years past as part of negotiations with Dems, but rather, this was a Republican idea. They’re the ones who came up with it.

Indeed, I’m thinking about creating a roster of prominent Republicans who’ve either endorsed the individual mandate, voted for a plan with an individual mandate, co-sponsored legislation with an individual mandate, or all of the above. The list isn’t short: George H.W. Bush, Richard Nixon, John McCain, Bob Dole, Mitt Romney, Scott Brown, Orrin Hatch, Chuck Grassley, Bob Bennett, Tommy Thompson, Lamar Alexander, Lindsey Graham, and Judd Gregg, among others.

All of them have supported an individual mandate — a provision that Republicans now believe to be an unconstitutional freedom-killer that must be eliminated for the sake of American liberty.

They couldn’t have picked an idea to rally around that would have made the GOP look less silly?

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2010 at 11:54 am

The health insurance back-down

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Steve Benen at Political Animal:

The new Affordable Care Act includes provisions that prohibits private insurers from denying coverage to children with pre-existing conditions. As of a few days ago, insurance companies thought they’d found a loophole.

The new law, insurers said, would require coverage of pre-existing conditions for children covered by their family policy. But, the industry said, to get around the requirement, insurers could just stop writing insurance for sick kids altogether. That’s not how policymakers interpret the new law, but industry lawyers were apparently fond of this reading.

Yesterday, Democratic officials were livid. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote to insurance lobbyist and AHIP president Karen Ignagni, insisting, "Now is not the time to search for non-existent loopholes that preserve a broken system." Sebelius added, "I urge you to share this information with your members and to help ensure they cease any attempt to deny coverage to some of the youngest and most vulnerable Americans."

At the same time, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also pressed the industry: "The intent of Congress to end discrimination against children was crystal clear, and as the House chairs said last week, the fact that insurance companies would even try to deny children coverage exemplifies why the health reform legislation was so vital."

Perhaps realizing that this would be an unhelpful fight — do insurers really want to fight to deny coverage to sick children? — the industry backed down overnight.

In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the industry’s top lobbyist said insurers will accept new regulations to dispel uncertainty over a much-publicized guarantee that children with medical problems can get coverage starting this year.

Quick resolution of the doubts was a win for Obama — and a sign that the industry has no stomach for another war of words with a president who deftly used double-digit rate hikes by the companies to revive his sweeping health care legislation from near collapse in Congress.

"Health plans recognize the significant hardship that a family faces when they are unable to obtain coverage for a child with a pre-existing condition," Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, said in a letter to Sebelius. Ignagni said that the industry will "fully comply" with the regulations, expected within weeks.

I don’t know if the resolution was the result of stern administration warnings or fear of a p.r. nightmare, but either way, it’s the answer families and Democrats were hoping for.

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2010 at 11:47 am

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