Sunday, September 30, 2007

Increased melting of the Antarctic Ice Cap

Melting at the South Pole. Image courtesy of NASA

Just as the North Pole has had record ice loss in recent years, the South Pole is also showing the evidence of rising global temperatures:

The top map shows how the area affected by persistent melting has expanded since 1987. The colors represent the first year in which satellites observed persistent melting. Light green shows areas where melting was observed from the beginning, while blue shows areas where melting occurred for the first time more recently.

The bottom map shows the number of days on which melting occurred in 2005, a year of particularly dramatic melting. Snow melted as far inland as 500 miles and at altitudes of 1.2 miles above sea level.

$9.11, $9.11, $9.11

Just a slightly updated version of Rudy's original campaign theme.

Republicans and taxes

"got a ticket" image uploaded to by isado

Chris Wallace actually made a good point with a question to Mitt Romney in the Fox news debate.

MR. WALLACE: Governor Romney, you have taken the pledge [not to raise tax rates]. You like to say that you don’t just talk about budgets, but in fact you actually had to operate one as governor of Massachusetts. But according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, in your first year as governor you raised fees and fines by half a billion dollars, including fees paid by the blind, by gun owners, by those seeking training against domestic violence and even by used car shoppers. In fact, the Associated Press says you earned a nickname back then in Massachusetts, it was FeFe. (Laughter.)

How do you respond, sir?

MR. ROMNEY: Well, that’s the first time I’ve heard that, Chris, but it’s pretty good. As a matter of fact, a little exaggeration. The total fees raised were $260 million, and that’s a big number. We had a $3 billion budget gap. The Democrats -- you probably know that Massachusetts is a bit of a Democratic state -- the Democrats wanted to raise taxes, I said no way. And in fact, we did not raise taxes on our citizens, and we lowered them across the state time and again.
When politicians sign the "no new taxes" oath, you need to pay attention to the fine print. Fines, penalties, tolls and fees: these are the ways they prefer to fund the government.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

97 Senators vote to censure criticism of the military

in two amendments, one sponsored by Democrat Barbara Boxer, the other by Republican John Cornyn.

Russ Feingold was the only Senator voting against both amendments.

46 Republicans thought it was perfectly acceptable to attack veterans like Max Cleland and John Kerry, but outrageous to attack the credibility of General Petraeus.

22 Democrats and Independent Joe Lieberman felt it was reprehensible to ever criticize members of the military.

Joe Biden and Maria Cantwell didn't vote on either measure.

(For comparison, only 5 Senators were willing to go on the record censuring the President for violating the law by spying on Americans without a warrant.)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

What did I do with all those Canadian quarters anyway?

The price of a U.S. dollar in Canadian dollars.

Holy frack! Now the Canadians are going to start making fun of our money.
The Canadian dollar rose as high as $1.0008, before retreating to 99.87 U.S. cents at 4:16 p.m. in New York. It has soared 62 percent from a record low of 61.76 U.S. cents in 2002. The U.S. dollar fell as low as 99.93 Canadian cents today. The Canadian currency last closed above $1 on Nov. 25, 1976, when Pierre Trudeau was Canada's prime minister.
When George Bush became president the U.S. dollar was worth about $1.50 Canadian.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Northwest passage open. Northeast passage nearly open

Satellite mosaic of the polar ice cap during September 2007. Image courtesy ESA

The most direct route of the Northwest Passage (highlighted in the top mosaic by an orange line) across northern Canada is shown fully navigable, while the Northeast Passage (blue line) along the Siberian coast remains only partially blocked. To date, the Northwest Passage has been predicted to remain closed even during reduced ice cover by multi-year ice pack – sea ice that survives one or more summers. However, according to Pedersen, this year’s extreme event has shown the passage may well open sooner than expected.

The call of the moderate Republican

I endorsed it,” Mr. Warner said of the Webb proposal. “I intend now to cast a vote against it.

Webb's amendment would have required the military to grant soldiers as much time at home as they spent overseas. The vote to end debate garnered 56 votes in the Senate. A majority, but short of the 60 needed to overcome Mitch McConnell's filibuster.

40 Republicans and Independent Joe Lieberman voted against cloture.

Republicans Norm Coleman, Susan Collins, Chuck Hagel, Gordon Smith, Olympia Snowe, and John Sununu broke with their party.

Let's hope John Warner finds his lost self-respect in retirement.

How about just giving Iraq an effective legal system?

Another reason to oppose arbitrary, indefinite detention of suspects without trial:

The effort to reshape attitudes among the growing detainee population is aimed at addressing a problem that has vexed U.S. troops in Iraq for the past four years: Military detention facilities have served as breeding grounds for extremist views, transforming some prisoners into hard-core insurgents, according to military analysts.
We want the guilty in jail, and the innocent out. Consider that while we debate the restoration of habeas corpus to our legal system.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Russ Feingold calls for an end to the military mission in Iraq

Senator Feingold plans to use the Defense authorization bill to end the Iraq war:
“Last night, we heard the President tell the nation that he intends to keep a large number of U.S. troops bogged down in Iraq indefinitely, while Al Qaeda continues to strengthen and regenerate in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Feingold said. “While many Democrats and Republicans have acknowledged the President’s strategy is the wrong approach, Congress has so far failed to take strong action to end it. Congress must use its power to end this misguided policy – a policy which has stretched our military to the breaking point, hobbled our ability to go after those who attacked us on 9/11, and endangered our national security.”

Time for Congress to end this

John Edwards:

"Has there been serious progress to a political solution?"

"The answer to that is no," he said in answering his own question.

Edwards said, as he's done in the past, that Congress should pass the next Iraq spending bill only with a timetable for withdrawal attached. And if Bush should veto that legislation, Congress should keep re-submitting the same bill. "It is time for the Congress to end this," he said. "It's time for the Congress to stand its ground."

Chris Dodd:

"Rather than picking up votes, by removing the deadline to get our troops out of Iraq you have lost this Democrat's vote.

"Despite the fact that this has been the bloodiest summer of the war and report after report says that there has been little to no political progress, the White House continues to argue that their strategy is working.

"It is clear that half measures are not going to stop this President or end this war.

"I cannot and will not support any measure that does not have a firm and enforceable deadline to complete the redeployment of combat troops from Iraq. Only then will Congress be able to send a clear message to the President that we are changing course in Iraq, and a message to the Iraqis that they need to get their political house in order.

Barack Obama:

"There is an eerie echo to the President's words today. Five years ago, he made a misleading case to the American people that the trail to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden somehow led through Iraq, and too many in Washington followed without asking the hard questions that should have been raised. Now we are dealing with the consequences of that failure of candor and judgment, and the President is using the politics of fear to continue a wrong-headed policy. It's time to turn the page on the failed Bush-Cheney strategy and conventional Washington thinking, remove our combat troops from Iraq, mount a long overdue surge of diplomacy, and focus our attention on a resurgent al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan."

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Irrational behavior and the Iraq war

For those of you wondering why Congress and the President can't end the disaster that is the Iraq war; I think the best explanation is right here:
The problem surfaces when the bidders get up close to a dollar. After 99 cents the last vestige of profitability disappears, but the bidding continues between the two highest players. They now realize that they stand to lose no matter what, but that they can still buffer their losses by winning the dollar. They just have to outlast the other player. Following this strategy, the two hapless students usually run the bid up several dollars, turning the apparent shot at easy money into a ghastly battle of spiraling disaster.

Theoretically, there is no stable outcome once the dynamic gets going. The only clear limit is the exhaustion of one of the player's total funds. In the classroom, the auction generally ends with the grudging decision of one player to "irrationally" accept the larger loss and get out of the terrible spiral. Economists call the dollar auction pattern an irrational escalation of commitment. We might also call it the war in Iraq.
This is why war supporters always complain about their critics "looking backwards". It doesn't matter that the Iraq war has become more expensive than it was ever worth. All that matters is that we might end up in a situation that's slightly better than the one we are in today.
h/t Andrew Sullivan

Mitt Romney attacks his home state

There's an old saying that goes, "you dance with the one who brung ya". Mitt Romney doesn't subscribe to that creed. He routinely ridicules the people who elected him Governor, and talks about his 4 years in office as though he had staged a one-man battle against the forces of darkness.
"Coming from Massachusetts, I saw first hand the liberal future, and it doesn't work. That's why I ran against Ted Kennedy. Liberal social programs weren't solving poverty; they were in fact creating a culture of poverty. I didn't win, but at least Teddy had to take out a mortgage on his home to beat me.

"Massachusetts became center stage for the liberal social agenda - sort of San Francisco east, Nancy Pelosi style.

"Ten months into my term, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court said our Constitution requires gay marriage. John Adams, who wrote it, would be surprised.
Massachusetts, for the record, has one of the lowest rates of poverty in the nation (and has for decades).

It also has the lowest divorce rate, not that that has anything to do with gay marriage.

And how did Romney attempt to stop the liberal hordes from destroying his state? Did he marshal bills through the State House? Did he rally like-minded citizens against the extremists? Did he use his phenomenal leadership skills to turn the tide in his favor?

"I vetoed bills, and filed new bills. I enforced a law that banned out-of-state same sex couples from coming to Massachusetts to get married. I went to the court again and again, I testified before Congress for the federal marriage amendment, and I championed our successful drive that collected 170,000 signatures for a citizen ballot initiative to protect marriage.
Sadly for Romney, most of his vetos were overriden, he failed in his appeals to the courts and he was ultimately replaced by a pro gay-marriage, liberal Democrat.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Sea Ice extent as of August 22, 2007. Image courtesy of NASA.

If your life's goal is standing at the North Pole, you'd better book your tickets now.

If the increased rate of melting continues, the summertime Arctic could be totally free of ice by 2030.

Mark Serreze, an Arctic specialist at the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre at Colorado University in Denver, said: "It's amazing. It's simply fallen off a cliff and we're still losing ice."

The Arctic has now lost about a third of its ice since satellite measurements began thirty years ago, and the rate of loss has accelerated sharply since 2002.

Dr Serreze said: "If you asked me a couple of years ago when the Arctic could lose all of its ice then I would have said 2100, or 2070 maybe. But now I think that 2030 is a reasonable estimate. It seems that the Arctic is going to be a very different place within our lifetimes, and certainly within our childrens' lifetimes."

On the up side, you can now sail the Northwest Passage. The National Snow and Ice Data Center has the details:

Another notable aspect of August 2007 was the opening of the Northwest Passage. During August 2007, the passage was the most navigable that people have seen since monitoring began. The Northeast Passage, along the Russian coast, is still blocked by fairly heavy ice conditions north of the Taymyr Peninsula.

Might the Northeast Passage open in the next few weeks? We will be monitoring the situation.

Alan Keyes (2004): on the brilliance of the Iraq war

We attacked Iraq because it was easy. North Korea and Iran might have fought back.

From the 2004 Illinois Senate debate:
MODERATOR: Let's talk about some of the decisions that might have to be made. There may not be any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but there are such weapons in Iran, there are such weapons in North Korea. Ambassador Keyes, how strongly would you consider preemptive action against those nations?

KEYES: Well, all such decisions--and that's what I thought was one of the brilliant things about the Iraq decision--is that you go after those things that are most susceptible to the right kinds of action. Iraq was susceptible to direct military action, and so the President acted. If you're talking about North Korea, you have to look at the entire context in which we deal with the North Korean threat. And that includes relationships with the Chinese and the possibility that you're talking about something that could escalate into a larger war. We also have mechanisms preexisting for bringing international pressure to bear on both the North Koreans and the Iranians, when it comes to proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons.

This basically falls into the "suck on this" school of foreign policy advocated by Tom Friedman.

Monday, September 10, 2007

bin Laden "virtually impotent" since 2002

Once again the Bush brigade is mocking the man they're incapable of finding.

The Taliban fled for the hills. Bin Laden, it seemed, would be cornered. Indeed, on Dec. 15, CIA operatives listening on a captured jihadist radio could hear bin Laden himself say "Forgive me" to his followers, pinned down in their mountain caves near Tora Bora.

As it happened, however, the hunt for bin Laden was unraveling on the very same day. As recalled by Gary Berntsen, the CIA officer in charge of the covert team working with the Northern Alliance, code-named Jawbreaker, the military refused his pleas for 800 Army Rangers to cut off bin Laden's escape. Maj. Gen. Dell Dailey, the Special Ops commander sent out by Central Command, told Berntsen he was doing an "excellent job," but that putting in ground troops might offend America's Afghan allies.

They've been making the claim that bin Laden is irrelevant ever since.

"Everybody wants to know where Osama bin Laden is. The next question is, who cares?" says one Defense Department official, reflecting an attitude widespread in Pentagon corridors.

Since that quote was made (in 2002), the impotent man has been involved in terrorist attacks against Tunisia, Bali, Mombasa, Casablanca, Istanbul, Egypt, London and Madrid and members of his organization have been intercepted planning attacks in Denmark, Scotland and Germany.

Maybe president Bush should be more concerned about his own inadequacy.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Duncan Hunter on the perks of Guantanamo

REP. HUNTER: Those guys get taxpayer-paid-for prayer rugs. They have prayer five times a day. They’ve all gained weight. The last time I looked at the menu, they had honey-glazed chicken and rice pilaf on Friday. That’s how we treat the terrorists.

They’ve got health care that’s better than most HMOs, and they’ve got something else that no Democrat politician in America has. They live in a place called Guantanamo where not one person has ever been murdered. And there’s not one politician, one Democrat politician in America, that can say that about one of the prisons in his home district.

We got to keep Guantanamo open.

And all you need to do to get all that is get yourself declared an enemy combatant. No wonder terrorist recruitment is up.

Democratic majority suicide watch

In an absurdly titled article in the New York Times we learn that the Democrats are preparing to cave, yet again, before the fight even begins.
Democrats Newly Willing to Compromise on Iraq

With a mixed picture emerging about progress in Iraq, Senate Democratic leaders are showing a new openness to compromise as they try to attract Republican support for forcing at least modest troop withdrawals in the coming months.

This is the same group of Senate Democrats who voted 36-11 to rubber stamp George Bush's $120 billion emergency supplemental request last May.

16 of them later voted to legalize the secret NSA domestic spying program. The one that was judged an unconstitutional violation of the 4th amendment last August.

One wonders what more they could do in the name of compromise.
Democrats had been counting on more Republicans to make a clean break from the president after the summer recess, but the White House has managed, at least temporarily, to hold on to much of its support.
After explicitly telling the president that he merely needs to veto legislation to get his way, and showing the minority leader that he can pass his own bill by filibustering theirs; the Democrats thought the Republicans would now cooperate? This is the sort of political acumen that has led to a 20 point drop in their approval rating since January.

Some Democrats have concluded that their decision earlier this summer to thwart votes on alternatives left them open to criticism that they were being intransigent. Democrats had wanted to keep pressure on Republicans over the summer by denying them votes on Iraq. Now, with the recess over, Democratic leaders are more willing to allow alternatives to a hard withdrawal date to reach the floor to keep pressure on President Bush.

Mr. Levin and other Democrats said this week that they were reaching out to Republicans who had expressed reservations about Mr. Bush’s policy to generate momentum for a proposal by Senator John W. Warner, Republican of Virginia, to begin to remove at least a limited number of troops from Iraq by the end of the year.
Harry Reid has demonstrated that he simply doesn't know how to lead the Senate. Instead of pushing a Democratic Iraq strategy, he begins negotiations by starting with Republican John Warner's. (Warner's plan is to ask nicely if the president would please send a few troops home for Christmas.)

Democrats won in 2006 because a majority of Americans had tired of an ineffectual rubber stamp Republican Congress and their support for the war plan of the most incompetent president in American history. Democrats were elected to change course, not whine. They cannot wait for Republican conversions. They have the power of the purse and the power to block the president's agenda, but they need to actually use it. If they smack their supporters again they can kiss the Senate goodbye in 2008.

Keep your eye on the ball, Harry. Three strikes and you're out.

Politically correct speech: Republican version

Be careful with your use of adverbs:
SEN. MCCAIN: Governor, the surge is working. The surge is working, sir. It is working.

MR. ROMNEY: That’s just what I said.

SEN. MCCAIN: No, not apparently -- it’s working.

Sam Brownback: partition Iraq

Sam Brownback reiterates his strategy to split Iraq into 3 parts along ethnic lines:

SEN. BROWNBACK: We ought to now push for establishment of a Sunni state in the west, still one country, still one country, but separate states. That’s a political solution -- that you can take advantage of what the military has done on the ground. That’s what we need to do to move forward now.

MR. GOLER: Senator, let me ask you, quickly, if you do that kind of loose federation, how do you keep the Kurds in the north from fighting with Turkey, how do you keep the Shi’a from allying with Iran, and how do you keep the Sunnis from rebelling over having no oil resources?

SEN. BROWNBACK: How do you do it now? I mean, I think you’re going to need a long-term U.S. presence in, I think, particularly in the Kurdish region in the north and the Sunni region in the west, that you’re going to have a long-term -- invited by those governments, and you’re going to need it to assure the Turks that the Kurds aren’t going to pull out and to assure the Kurds that the Turks aren’t going to come in. I think that’s what you have to do in looking at the reality.
Brownback's plan, shared by Democratic candidate Joe Biden, addresses the ethnic component of Iraq's civil war, but ignores the fact that there are more than 3 factions in Iraq and they don't all break along simple ethnic lines. The violence in Shiite dominated Basra is evidence that even when an area has become ethnically purified, the battle for power rages on.

Fox host accuses Ron Paul of taking orders from al Qaeda

MR. WALLACE: Congressman Paul, your position on the war is pretty simple: Get out. What about, though, trying to minimize the bloodbath that would certainly occur if we pull out in a hurry? What about protecting the thousands of Iraqis who have staked their lives in backing the U.S.? And would you leave troops in the region to take out any al Qaeda camps that are developed after we leave?

The people who say there will be a bloodbath are the ones who said it would be a cakewalk, it would be slam dunk, and that it would be paid for by oil. Why believe them? They’ve been wrong on everything they’ve said. Why not ask the people -- (interrupted by cheers) -- why not ask the people who advise not to go into the region and into the war? The war has not gone well one bit.

Yes, I would leave, I would leave completely. Why leave the troops in the region? The fact that we had troops in Saudi Arabia was one of the three reasons given for the attack on 9/11. So why leave them in the region? They don’t want our troops on the Arabian Peninsula. We have no need for our national security to have troops on the Arabian Peninsula, and going into Iraq and Afghanistan and threatening Iran is the worst thing we can do for our national security.

I am less safe, the American people are less safe for this. It’s the policy that is wrong. Tactical movements and shifting troops around and taking in 30 more and reducing by five, totally irrelevant. We need a new foreign policy that said we ought to mind our own business, bring our troops home, defend this country, defend -- (bell sounds) -- our borders --

MR. WALLACE: So, Congressman Paul, you’re basically saying that we should take our marching orders from al Qaeda? If they want us off the Arabian Peninsula, we should leave? (Laughter.)

REP. PAUL: No! (Cheers, applause.) I’m saying -- (laughter) -- I’m saying we should take our marching orders from our Constitution. We should not go to war -- (cheers, applause) -- we should not go to war without a declaration. We should not go to war when it’s an aggressive war. This is an aggressive invasion. We’ve committed the invasion of this war, and it’s illegal under international law. That’s where I take my marching orders, not from any enemy. (Cheers, boos.)

Rudy Giuliani on gun control

You have a 2nd amendment right to own a gun. Unless the state says that you don't:

MR. GIULIANI: I think states have a right to decide that. I mean, states have an right to decide their gun laws. The 2nd Amendment grants you the right to bear arms.

We have a federal system. A lot of these issues work in America, where we have people of different views and different conscience, because we are a federal system. We allow states to make different decisions.

Of course a Constitutional right that can be rescinded by the state is no right at all.

Mitt Romney on "sanctuary cities"

Governors aren't responsible for the actions of their mayors. But as president, I would be:

MR. WALLACE: Governor Romney, in recent weeks, you have gone after Mayor Giuliani for running what you say was a sanctuary city for illegals. But as governor of Massachusetts, you did nothing to stop Cambridge, Somerville or Orleans, all of which proclaim themselves to be sanctuaries.

MR. ROMNEY: [W]ith regards to sanctuary cities, the governors aren’t responsible for mayors who are not following the law. And actually in my case, I -- as soon as I learned about it, a program in the department of -- of ICE, that we could have our state police authorized to enforce the law, I did just that, so that in sanctuary cities in our state and non-sanctuary cities, the law would be enforced.

But this is a place where Mayor Giuliani and I just simply disagree.

I think we should reduce federal funding to cities that call themselves sanctuary cities. I think saying, as he did, if you happen to be an undocumented alien, we want you in New York, we’ll protect you in New York -- I think that contributed to 3 million illegals in this country becoming 12 million illegals coming into this country.

Sanctuary cities are those which ban city employees from asking a person about their residency status or contacting the INS when discovering an illegal alien. The argument being that illegal immigrants won't report crimes or seek medical care if they feared being deported.

Enforcement of immigration laws is typically the purview of the federal government, not the states. In 2006 Congress passed a provision which authorized state and local officials to identify and detain illegal immigrants. Rudy Giuliani left office at the end of 2001.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Fighting in Basra doesn't count

Apparently, it's not a civil war if the parties involved aren't religiously or ethnically distinct.

Among the most worrisome trends cited by the NIE was escalating warfare between rival Shiite militias in southern Iraq that has consumed the port city of Basra and resulted last month in the assassination of two southern provincial governors. According to a spokesman for the Baghdad headquarters of the Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I), those attacks are not included in the military's statistics. "Given a lack of capability to accurately track Shiite-on-Shiite and Sunni-on-Sunni violence, except in certain instances," the spokesman said, "we do not track this data to any significant degree."

Attacks by U.S.-allied Sunni tribesmen -- recruited to battle Iraqis allied with al-Qaeda -- are also excluded from the U.S. military's calculation of violence levels.

This definition, of course, requires that we recategorize a fairly famous war of our own.