Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Animation of the disappearing North Pole (2007)

The animation shows changing sea ice extent and concentration from 12 March to 24 September 2007. Credit U.S. National Ice Center (NIC) via the ESA

At the north pole, the area covered by ice reaches it's maximum in March. The minimum occurs in September. As the figure below shows, both the winter maximum and summer minimum have been dropping over the last 3 decades. In 2006 the maximum ice extent was the lowest on record. This year's summer melting was dramatic even when taking account of the long term trend.

Time series of the difference in ice extent in March (the month of ice-extent maximum) and September (the month of ice-extent minimum) from the mean values for the time period 1979-2007. Based on a least squares linear regression, the rate of decrease for the March and September ice extents was 2.8% per decade and 11.3% per decade, respectively. (image courtesy of NOAA)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Please stop helping

The bad idea that just refuses to die continues to gain support among the Washington elite, most recently in an article by ambassador Peter Galbraith, applauding Joe Biden's plan to divide Iraq into 3 parts.
In a surge of realism, the Senate has voted 75-23 to acknowledge that Iraq has broken up and cannot be put back together. The measure, co-sponsored by Joe Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate, and Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas, supports a plan for Iraq to become a loose confederation of three regions -- a Kurdish area in the north, a Shiite region in the south and a Sunni enclave in the center -- with the national government in Baghdad having few powers other than to manage the equitable distribution of oil revenues.
This is all a very nice attempt to fix Iraq, presented by many of the same people who got us into this mess in the first place. All despite the stated desires of a majority of Iraqis to keep the country united, not to mention our own claim to have handed over sovereignty more than 3 years ago.

Having originally ignored the warnings that a preemptive war might descend into chaos, our Senators now feel quite proud that they've learned the difference between the Sunni, the Shia and the Kurds. Surely, the best solution is to separate each party and let them control their respective regions.

That is until you take a closer look at the map above and realize that the parties aren't as easy to separate as you might have hoped. The areas where the groups are mixed have names like Mosul, Arbil, Kirkuk, Sulayminiyah, Samara, Ramadi, and of course Baghdad. In other words, the places most of the people actually live.

Galbraith assures us that Iraq is unlikely to follow the Bosnian descent into ethnic cleansing and shrugs off the idea that the Turks might actually be serious about invading. But if you don't think the militias will do battle to seize control of the major cities then you haven't been paying attention.

Russ Feingold joined 22 Republicans opposing Biden's measure.
Barack Obama and John McCain were the only Senators not voting

Monday, October 29, 2007

Red State, Blue State? Its a rich thing.

There's been a bit of discussion about these maps showing how the 2004 presidential election vote would have been decided if only the poorest or wealthiest voters in each state had been counted.

But really, all the information is in these plots from the same study.

There is no red-blue divide among the poorest voters and little among middle class. It's a rich thing.

The wealthiest voters in the poorest states are hard-core Republicans, and there's a nearly linear correlation between the wealth of a state and the party affiliation of the wealthiest voters in that state. So for all the pundits and campaign managers trying to figure out the difference between salt-of-the-earth midwestern farmers and godless city-slickers, you're wasting your time with the wrong demographic.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

California wildfires from orbit

Fires in Southern California, October 23, 2007. Image courtesy of NASA.
As of October 23, fires from the Mexican border to north of Los Angeles had burned more than 1,300 homes and forced more than half a million people from their homes, reported CNN. Windy weather pushed the flames through brush and grass dried from drought.

Putin isn't buying the Iranian threat

I suppose there's some logical consistency in insisting on building a defense that doesn't work to counter a threat that doesn't exist.
The proposed construction of a missile interceptor site in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic, ostensibly to target incoming Iranian ballistic missiles, has enraged Moscow, which believes the system could undermine Russia's nuclear deterrent.

The issue has contributed to the deepest chill in US-Russian relations since the cold war
Putin isn't buying the Iranian threat, and why would he? Iran has neither nuclear weapons, nor the missiles to deliver them:

A July report by the Congressional Research Service said that, as of mid-2007, "Iran has only flight-tested one medium-range missile, the single-stage Shahab-3, having a range of 1,300-2,000 kilometers," or about 1,200 miles. CRS also noted that many experts disagree with the U.S. assessment of Iran's capabilities.

"The international security policy and ballistic missile proliferation community argue that evidence of an Iranian ICBM program is scant and unconvincing," the CRS reported. Russian President Vladimir Putin has also expressed skepticism, and the Iranians said they dropped development of an ICBM, the CRS reported.

You might have thought they'd have done that a while ago

Iraq ordered the closure yesterday of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) offices in the country as pressure mounted on the Government of Nouri al-Maliki to clamp down on the hardline Kurdish separatists.

“The PKK is a terrorist organisation and we have taken a decision to shut down their offices and not allow them to operate on Iraqi soil,” Mr al-Maliki said after talks with Ali Babacan, the Turkish Foreign Minister.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Romney continues to dominate wherever votes are for sale

One dollar bill: image uploaded by Sami Keinänen

Following his victories in the non-scientific straw polls in Iowa and Illinois, Mitt Romney again proves that, when money is the object, he can squeak out a victory. In those events, the key was his campaign's ability to bus in supporters. In this one, the price was $1 and access to the internet:

Based on the smattering of applause that Mr. Romney got when his name was announced as the top vote getter, with 1,595 votes or 27.6 percent, it is safe to say that many in the hall were surprised that he won, surpassing Mr. Huckabee by 30 votes. The fact that Rep. Ron Paul, of Texas, finished third with 865 votes, or 15 percent, deepened the confusion. Fred D. Thompson finished fourth with 564 votes, or 9.8 percent.

Things shake up differently when looking at only the votes that were made by those on-site. Of 952 votes cast on-site, Mr. Huckabee received 488, or 51 percent, a virtual runaway in such a crowded field. Mr. Romney had only 99 votes, or 10.4 percent;

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Pot attacks Kettle during "Values" summit

This attack might work for Huckabee or even Tancredo. But Giuliani?
Highlighting the significance of the gathering in potentially reshaping the Republican race, the one major candidate who did not speak on Friday, Rudolph W. Giuliani, made sure he was heard. In an e-mail message to reporters, his campaign went after Mr. Romney for what it called “identical stances” Mr. Romney shared in the past with Mayor Rudy Giuliani... Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, including defense of abortion rights and criticism of the National Rifle Association.

Friday, October 19, 2007


Scott Lemieux at Tapped makes a common error while calling for the Senate to reject Michael Mukasey's nomination for Attorney General:

It's true that the Senate vote is virtually all about symbolism at this point -- someone has to serve in the office, and nobody Bush appoints is going to be good -- but in this case the symbolism matters.

Confirming a nominee is about much more than just filling an open position. Confirmation implies legitimacy. This reverberates throughout the entire Justice department. The lawyers he hires, the interpretation of the law he pursues even the cases he prosecutes are affected by his standing with the people.

There's nothing symbolic about demanding that a nominee believe in the rule of law and emphatically renounce torture. Alberto Gonzales would never have been confirmed in the first place if the Senate had demanded those simple standards. Instead, 6 Democrats voted along with 54 Republicans to give him a Congressional seal of approval.

Gonzales was able to run roughshod over Justice because he was confirmed by a Senate that knew he condoned torture and believed in a unitary executive. He was forced out when he lost the faith of those same Senators

A recess appointee would never have had the clout to act so egregiously.

Precedents matter in this country. Regardless of whether George Bush ever nominates a qualified AG, future presidents should be on notice that they can't simply nominate anybody to the highest offices in government.

Chris Dodd draws a line in the sand

image courtesy of the National Archives

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

(Below are Chrid Dodd's statements against granting immunity to telecom companies who abetted George Bush's warrentless surveillance of U.S. citizens in violation of the FISA law)
By granting immunity to telecommunications companies that participated in the President’s terrorist surveillance program, even though such participation may have been illegal, the FISA reform bill sets a dangerous precedent by giving the President sweeping authorization to neglect the right to privacy that Americans are entitled to under the Constitution.

The President has no right to secretly eavesdrop on the conversations and activities of law abiding American citizens and anyone who has aided and abetted him in these illegal activities should be held accountable,” said Dodd. “It is unconscionable that such a basic right has been violated, and that the President is the perpetrator. I will do everything in my power to stop Congress from shielding this President’s agenda of secrecy, deception, and blatant unlawfulness.”

"While the President may think that it's right to offer immunity to those who break the law and violate the right to privacy of thousands of law-abiding Americans, I want to assure him it is not a value we have in common and I hope the same can be said of my fellow Democrats in the Senate.

"For too long we have failed to respect the rule of law and failed to protect our fundamental civil liberties. I will do what I can to see to it that no telecommunications giant that was complicit in this Administration's assault on the Constitution is given a get-out-of-jail-free card."

Update: Washington Post reporter, Rita Skeeter, worries that Dodd will lose precious campaign time by doing his job:
Whenever that big day comes, Dodd -- as the keeper of the "hold" -- must return from the campaign trail to officially block debate on the bill. That entails standing around on the Senate floor, forcing procedural votes, avoiding the furious glares of colleagues who don't share the same concerns. The standard duration of such showdowns is about a week -- time that Dodd, who is trailing badly in early primary polls, can scarcely afford.

Uvs Nuur Basin, Mongolia. Image courtesy of NASA.
Far from a moderating ocean, the Uvs Nuur Basin has an extreme climate with temperatures that swing from a low of -58 degrees Celsius (-72 Fahrenheit) during the winter up to 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in the summer. Containing a number of ecosystems in its fresh and salt water lakes, deserts, mountains, grasslands, and forests, the basin provides an important habitat for a variety of animals ranging from the endangered snow leopard to the white-tailed sea eagle. Because of its diversity and the relatively low amount of human impact on the area, the basin is a United Nations World Heritage Site.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Hillary Clinton on the "forgotten front"

The forgotten frontline in the war on terror is Afghanistan, where our military effort must be reinforced. The Taliban cannot be allowed to regain power in Afghanistan; if they return, al Qaeda will return with them. Yet current U.S. policies have actually weakened President Hamid Karzai's government and allowed the Taliban to retake many areas, especially in the south. A largely unimpeded heroin trade finances the very Taliban fighters and al Qaeda terrorists who are attacking our troops. In addition to engaging in counternarcotics efforts, we must seek to dry up recruiting opportunities for the Taliban by funding crop-substitution programs, a large-scale road-building initiative, institutions that train and prepare Afghans for honest and effective governance, and programs to enable women to play a larger role in society.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Turkey is on the verge of invading Iraq

In an apparent attempt to get the U.S. to act against Kurdish separatists using northern Iraq as a safe haven, Prime Minister Erdogan is requesting authorization from his parliament to invade.
Erdogan suggested Turkey may not take immediate action but may rather wait to see if the US and the Iraqis crack down on the PKK bases in northern Iraq. "If you're against it, make your attitude clear and do whatever is necessary," the prime minister said. "If you cannot do it, then let us do it."

Pressure has mounted on Erdogan this week after 15 soldiers were killed over the weekend in the mainly Kurdish southeast of Turkey. The bloodshed continued on Wednesday -- one policeman was killed and several people were injured when a bomb was thrown into a tailor's shop in Diyarbakir, the largest city in Turkey's southeast.
There's little doubt that if the Americans don't act, Turkey will send it's army across the border. This would unfortunately spoil the president's attempt to portray the Kurdish north as an Iraqi success story. It's not obvious which side the Americans would end up fighting for, but considering his own saber rattling against states giving aid and shelter to terrorists, you might think he'd have acted on this years ago.

The PKK is designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department.

Monday, October 8, 2007

It's the war, stupid!

A lot of virtual ink is being wasted interpreting this image from Professor Pollkatz's site, purporting to show a correlation between the price of gasoline and President Bush's poll numbers. This despite the best efforts of others to debunk the claim.

At first glance it looks pretty impressive with both time series showing a sharp jump after 9/11 followed by a fairly long decline. Chris Bowers goes so far as to conclude that rising gas prices helped helped Democrats win power in 2006 and warns that the longterm trend spells doom for future presidents.
Ending the war will help, and providing millions of people with health care will help, too. However, gas prices will still remain high, making approval ratings in the 40s and 50s about the best anyone can do even under the most favorable conditions until at least 2020.

In two words this is complete nonsense.

If you look at the Bush's popularity figures it's dominated by 3 events - 9/11, the invasion of Iraq and the capture of Saddam. After each event he saw an immediate jump in approval followed by a nearly linear drop back to the norm. I don't think anyone can seriously argue the price of gas dominated his poll ratings during that time.

The fact that neither the sharpest drop in gas prices (in the weeks after 9/11), nor the sharpest increase a few months later had any obvious impact on George Bush's poll numbers is a pretty good clue that the gas theory is full of hot air.

That brings us to about January of 2004. So cover up the left half of pollkatz's chart. Still see a trend?

Want to know what has an even better correlation with George Bush's approval ratings than the price of gas? It's exactly what people keep telling you it is:

Pollkatz's Bush approval index in red. Polling Report's "Do you think the war with Iraq was worth fighting?" in blue.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Not so arbitrary timelines

What would prompt our leaders to pull troops from the frontlines of the war for civilization? Apparently the prospect of having to pay them benefits under the GI Bill:
Anderson's orders, and the orders of 1,161 other Minnesota guard members, were written for 729 days.

Had they been written for 730 days, just one day more, the soldiers would receive those benefits to pay for school.
Anyone suggesting this was done deliberately is due for a nasty letter from our esteemed Senate.

h/t John Cole

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Why is the cost of the Iraq war rising year after year?

Because politicians pretend that wars are free.

“Just as I have opposed the war from the outset, I am opposed to a draft and I am opposed to a war surtax,” Pelosi said in a statement issued this afternoon.

Funny thing, though, you've actually been sending war budgets up for a vote.

To date we've spent nearly half a trillion dollars on the Iraq war alone. The dirty little secret is that we haven't actually paid for it yet. Those bills are going to come due whether you call it a war surtax or not.

Democrats had the opportunity to make the president decide between his two favorite causes: the Iraq war and "tax cuts so help me God". Instead we get Congresswoman Pelosi declaring that she doesn't believe in a war tax and Bush gets his funding without any obligation to actually pay for it.

So then annual war spending jumps from $50 billion to $75 billion to $85 billion to $100 billion to $130 billion to $160 billion, because everyone pretends the money isn't real.

As long as Congress keeps rubber stamping George Bush's war requests, they at least need to find a way to pay for it.

h/t John Cole