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201  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Privacy, Big Brother (State and Corporate) & the 4th Amendment on: June 20, 2011, 11:31:30 AM
The biggest problem in law enforcement, more often than not is the lack of quality leadership. The system tends to reward bureaucracy and risk aversion and lose sight of what the agency is supposed to be doing, like enforcing the law. If you have a remedy, I'd like to hear it.

Not my area of expertise so I do not have a remedy beyond not handing the foxes the keys to the chicken coops.
202  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Adapt or Panic? on: June 20, 2011, 11:29:50 AM
The Paradox of Urban (and Global) Warming

by Patrick J. Michaels

Ah, summer in our cities, where the climate is woebegone and the temperature is almost always above normal.

Cities tend to get warmer, whether or not there is global or regional warming. Bricks, buildings and pavement absorb more heat during the day than a "natural" vegetated state, and urban structures impede the flow of ventilating winds. The result is that, as cities grow, temperatures rise. In Washington, there is additional warming caused by the waste heat from all the money changing hands.

The official (and silly) definition of "normal" temperature is the average for the past 30 years. In a growing urban environment (which includes suburban sprawl) that number is likely to be lower than what it is now.

Patrick Michaels is senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute and author of Climate Coup: Global Warming's Invasion of our Government and our Lives.

As a result, cities are inadvertently testing a dear hypothesis of my greener friends: that global warming will result in increasing heat-related mortality.

Those who have read Freakonomics can see this hanging curveball. Global warming should reduce urban mortality as heat waves become more frequent.

I've done a bit of work in this area. Robert Davis, a former colleague at the University of Virginia, and I examined three decades of heat-related mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control for the 28 largest U.S. cities. We then teamed up with a UVa medical statistician, Wendy Novicoff, who made sure we adjusted for different demographics between cities; we did this because the elderly and infants are most susceptible to heat-related mortality, and we wanted to compare disproportionately old cities (like Phoenix) with disproportionally young ones (like Seattle). After all was said and done, we found that heat-related mortality is dropping like a stone in almost every major urban area in the nation.

Before you go to the "comments" and blast me with the European heat wave of 2003 or the Chicago disaster in 1995, read on.

The 2003 heat wave in Europe was devastating. In France alone, and very dependent on the way you count things, it appears there were about 35,000 excess deaths. That heat wave was a lulu, with European temperatures about three standard deviations above the average, something that has a 1-in-333 chance of occurring averaged over your state or province. Given that there are a lot of places of similar size on the planet, such an anomaly can usually be found somewhere. In 2003, that somewhere just happened to be at the epicenter of global warming angst.

Then there was the great French heat wave of 2006.

Whoops. Don't know about that one? Climatically, it was pretty comparable, but far fewer French fried.

A. Fouillet and his team of researchers wrote this up in a 2008 paper in the International Journal of Epidemiology. They started off with a simple (i.e. logical and testable) model relating temperature to mortality and found that something in addition to the heat killed a lot of people in 2003. While their model predicted about 17 deaths per 100,000, the observed rate was 21 per 100,000, or about nearly 7,000 bodies.

(There's plenty of speculation on the cause, with fingers pointed at France's August recess, when everyone — including health care workers — takes to the beach or the hills and leaves the old folks at the non-airconditioned home)

In 2006, their model showed nearly 4,500 fewer deaths than expected.

What the French did was (begrudgingly) emulate urban Americans. They adapted. The government bought air conditioning (formerly a crass Yankee invention) for retirement homes. They implemented a National Heat Wave Plan that keeps tabs on the elderly, who were left to swelter in 2003. They set up cooling shelters for those without A/C.

And, of course, adaptation is what's happening in our cities. Perhaps the most politically incorrect thing an urban administration can do is to be caught flatfooted by the weather. Chicago's Daley dynasty was (temporarily) swept away by a 1979 snowstorm when it selectively canceled rail service in southside black neighborhoods. And who can forget Washington's colorful mayor Marion Barry, cavorting at the 1987 Super Bowl during back-to-back storms. White stuff set him up.

Want proof of our adaptation to heat? Two extremely hot cities, Tampa and Phoenix, have virtually no heat-related mortality, despite sporting the oldest populations in our study. In only one city is mortality increasing. That would be young and vibrant Seattle, where summer heat is still very rare.

I am sure many consider it immoral to export heat-related mortality to the North, but that won't last for long. Seattle's latitude is about 48 degrees north. The vast majority of our hemisphere's cities are south of there, and by the time you get to 60 degrees, not very far away, you tend to run out of cities. At that point, global warming will have squeezed urban heat-related mortality off of the map.
203  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: We the Well-armed People (Gun rights stuff ) on: June 17, 2011, 07:11:48 AM
Around the gun blogosphere folks are starting to ask just what the BATFE's end game was. It seems highly unlikely that letting any number of guns slip over the border would impact the arrest and prosecution of narco-terrorists--already got tons of drugs and bodies stacked like cord wood to prosecute--so various pundits are trying to backward engineer just what the goal was. The answer various people are arriving at is that the BATFE's upper management sought to provide their superiors with strong arguments for imposing draconian gun laws by demonstrating a problem flow of weapons, a flow they initiated. It's been funny watching the Dems involved in various hearings this week as they seem to be singing off that exact talking point.

One such example of blogosphere ruminations:

BATFE Report
In the airport, but I did want to comment on the Congressional report on the BATFE Gunwalker scandal. This from the Washington Examiner:

Rep. Darrell Issa, the California Republican who chairs the House committee, the report focuses on the efforts of four BATF agents who brought direct knowledge of the program:

“ATF agents have shared chilling accounts of being ordered to stand down as criminals in Arizona walked away with guns headed for Mexican drug cartels,” Issa said. “With the clinical precision of a lab experiment, the Justice Department kept records of weapons they let walk and the crime scenes where they next appeared. To agents’ shock, preventing loss of life was not the primary concern.”

Among the report's highlights, according to an Issa spokesman, are these:

* The supervisor of Operation Fast and Furious was “jovial, if not, not giddy but just delighted about” walked guns showing up at crime scenes in Mexico according to an ATF agent. (p. 37)

* Another ATF agent told the committee about a prediction he made a year ago that “someone was going to die” and that the gunwalking operation would be the subject of a Congressional investigation. (p. 24)

* The shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords created a “state of panic” within the group conducting the operation as they initially feared a “walked” gun might have been used. (p. 38)

* One Operation Fast and Furious Agent: “I cannot see anyone who has one iota of concern for human life being okay with this …” (p. 27)

* An ATF agent predicted to committee investigators that more deaths will occur as a result of Operation Fast and Furious. (p.39)

* Multiple agents told the committee that continued assertions by Department of Justice Officials that guns were not knowingly “walked” and that DOJ tried to stop their transport to Mexico are clearly untruthful. (p. 45-50).

Here's the link to the whole report over at the No Lawyers Only Guns & Money blog.

Here's my quick take...reiterating what I said on the podcast this AM:

1) The ONLY way Fast & Furious makes sense is as a direct attack on the Second Amendment. Otherwise, it makes no sense at all. The idea of "rolling up" a firearms trafficking ring is nonsense. If that had been the intent, it would have been a joint operation with the Mexican government. It wasn' fact, ATF went to some length to keep the Mexicans in the dark.

2) The idea of getting a gunrunning indictment against any of the cartel heads is equal nonsense. A gunrunning indictment? Against men that are, in effect, men with standing death warrants on their heads, mass murderers with their own private armies? Wow, they'd be shaking in their boots!

3) Fast & Furious worked exactly as the ATF and the people holding its strings -- the Department of Justice and probably Homeland -- planned for it to work. That is, it put demonstrably made-in-America, sold-in-America guns at Mexican crime scenes, waiting for the largely inept, totally corrupt Mexican law enforcement to find them, submit them to the US for tracing and shout loudly that they had found the literal "smoking gun," that American gun shops/shows were flooding Mexico with arms. That's why supervisors were "jovial, if not giddy" when the first Gunwalker guns began turning up at Mexican crime was working!

4) I think ATF believed it had enough regulatory juice to keep the gun stores involved from talking, or if not keeping them from talking demonizing them, and maybe driving them out of business, if they did.

It's hardly a secret that I don't think much of the failed narco-state of Mexico, a country of peasants that has allowed a series of blowhard morons turn their country in something resembling one of the rings of hell. But one thing that strikes me as horrific, and breaks my heart, is how easily, how casually, a group of men in suits, in air conditioned offices in Arizona,, in Texas, and, ultimately, in Washington D.C., sanctioned the inevitable deaths of brown people in another country.

Collateral Brian Terry.

204  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / War Powers Plays on: June 17, 2011, 07:04:30 AM
The Growing Conflict Over the Legality of the Libya Intervention
from The Volokh Conspiracy by Ilya Somin
(Ilya Somin)

A bipartisan group of ten members of the House of Representatives recently filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the US military action in Libya. Meanwhile, Speaker of the House John Boehner has sent a letter to the president stating that the Obama Administration will be in violation of the 1973 War Powers Act unless they get congressional authorization by June 19.

It is unlikely that Kucinich’s lawsuit will prevail in the courts. Judges will probably throw it out because it raises a “political question” or on other procedural grounds, such as standing. Nonetheless, I think Kucinich and his allies are right on the merits. The Libya intervention has long since passed the point where it is large enough to be considered a war. And only Congress has the power to declare war under the Constitution. Therefore, the war is unconstitutional unless and until the president gets congressional authorization. This is true regardless of whether or not the judiciary issues a ruling on the subject. Congress and the President have an independent duty to obey the Constitution even when the courts do not force them to do so. Then-Senator Barack Obama got it right back in 2007, when he wrote that “[t]he President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.” I discussed the relevant constitutional issues in more detail here, here, and here. This is one of the rare issues where Dennis Kucinich and I agree.

Boehner’s War Powers Act argument raises a different set of issues. The Act requires the president to get congressional authorization for any deployment of military forces in “hostilities” abroad within 90 days of the start of the conflict. It’s pretty obvious that the Libya intervention involves the kind of “hostilities” covered by the Act, and that the administration will therefore be in violation of the Act if it doesn’t get congressional authorization soon. The Administration argues that the War Powers Act does not apply because “U.S. operations [in Libya] do not involve sustained fighting or active exchanges of fire with hostile forces.” This argument is barely worthy of response. US warplanes have been bombing Libyan forces for weeks, and the Libyan troops have returned fire (even if ineffectively). This state of affairs sure looks like “sustained fighting” and “active exchanges of fire” to me.

However, there is a longstanding dispute over the constitutionality over the War Powers Act itself. Numerous presidents, legal scholars, and even members of Congress have long argued that it usurps the constitutional prerogatives of the executive. The latter include Speaker Boehner himself, who previously questioned the Act’s constitutionality and even voted for its repeal. In my view, the Act is constitutional because it exercises Congress’ Article I power to “make rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces.” This authority includes the power to regulate the time and place of the armed forces’ deployment. But there are serious arguments on the other side of this dispute as well. Be that as it may, the Libya intervention is illegal regardless of the legal status of the War Powers Act. Even in the absence of that law, the president still could not start a war without congressional authorization.

Legal questions aside, the growing willingness of Congress to challenge Obama over Libya illustrates the political dangers of waging war without congressional approval. If anything goes wrong, the president ends up taking all the political blame. That’s why most presidents have in fact sought congressional authorization for major military actions, whether or not they believed it to be legally necessary. President Obama can reduce his political exposure if he now gets congressional support or if he quickly brings the conflict to a successful conclusion. If he does neither, his political problems are likely to get worse. Boehner’s new-found willingness to challenge Obama on this issue could be a sign of things to come.

UPDATE: The full text of the Administration’s report to Congress defending the Libya intervention is available here. While the report makes a reasonable policy argument for the administration’s actions, the legal argument (pg. 25) is extremely weak. In addition to the point analyzed above, the report emphasizes that the majority of air strikes are now being flown by European planes, rather than American ones. However, it acknowledges that US forces are still launching airstrikes for “the suppression of enemy air defense and occasional strikes by unmanned Predator UAVs against a specific set of targets.” That sure sounds like armed “hostilities” and “sustained fighting” to me.

UPDATE #2: The full text of Boehner’s letter to the president is available here [HT: commenter David W.].
205  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Privacy, Big Brother (State and Corporate) & the 4th Amendment on: June 17, 2011, 06:54:07 AM
I didn't miss the sentence. The FBI bureaucracy uses the FBI guidelines to impede the investigations of the "brick agents" that do the actual work. The guidelines do not change any legal restrictions the FBI operates under, just internal policy and procedure.

I see, and so your response to poor job performance is less accountability. Seems we attended different schools of employee management. Or perhaps I'm misunderstanding; is your argument that the FBI's management is so lacking that brick and mortar agents should be left essentially unsupervised? Either way it would seem there's a big problem, one that had better be addressed rather than ignored.
206  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Slippery Skeptical Slopes on: June 17, 2011, 06:42:21 AM
Interesting. Luke warmist Judith Curry has been slapped around by the warmist high priests for having an open mind, examining all evidence, dealing in data rather than demonization, and so hence has been accused of tangential relationships with big oil amongst all the standard panic monger tactics. As such when another warmist took to criticizing the IPCC/Greenpeace backscratch, Curry wrote the following, which includes warning on what he can expect:

An opening mind
Posted on June 15, 2011 by curryja| 306 Comments
by Judith Curry

I suspect that many readers of this blog have already seen Steve McIntyre’s post “IPCC and the Greenpeace Karaoke” that identified Greenpeace as the source of a key recommendation on renewable energy in the recently released IPCC Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation.

Such IPCC transgressions are becoming sufficiently regular that they barely seem like news anymore.  The reaction of Mark Lynas to McIntyre’s analysis, however, is indeed news IMO.

Mark Lynas

From his Wikipedia bio:

Mark Lynas (is a British author, journalist and environmental activist who focuses on climate change. He is a contributor to New Statesman,  Ecologist, Granta and Geographical magazines, and The Guardian and The Observer newspapers in the UK; he also worked on the film The Age of Stupid. He holds a degree in history and politics from the University of Edinburgh.

In 2004, Lynas’ High Tide: The Truth About Our Climate Crisis was published by Macmillan Publishers.  He has also contributed to a book entitled Fragile Earth: Views of a Changing World,  which presents before-and-after images of some of the natural changes which have happened to the world in recent years, including the Indian Ocean tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, alongside a bleak look at the effects of mankind’s actions on the planet.

In January 2007 Lynas published Gem Carbon Counter,[3] containing instruction to calculate people’s personal carbon emissions and recommendations about how to reduce their impact on the atmosphere.

In 2007 he published Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, a book detailing the progressive effect of global warming in several planetary ecosystems, from 1 degree to 6 degrees and further of average temperature rise of the planet. Special coverage is given to the positive feedback mechanisms that could dramatically accelerate the climate change, possibly putting the climate on a runaway path. As a possible end scenario the release of methane hydrate from the bottom of the oceans could replicate the end-Permian extinction event.

In 2008 National Geographic released a documentary film based on Lynas’s book, entitled Six Degrees Could Change the World.

So far, Lynas reflects stellar “warm” credentials.  Circa 2010, things started to change.

In 2010, Lynas published an article in the New Statesman entitled “Why we Greens Keep Getting it Wrong”[4] and the same year was the main contributor to a UKChannel 4 Television programme called “What the Green Movement Got Wrong.”[5] In these he took a line similar to other right wing critics of environmentalism such as Patrick Moore, Bjorn Lomborg and Richard D. North, explaining that he now felt that several of his previous strongly held beliefs were wrong. For example, he suggested that opposition by environmentalists, such as himself, to the development of nuclear energy had speeded up climate change, that proscription of DDT had led to millions of deaths and that GM crops were necessary to ‘feed the world’.

This latter position was attacked as patronising and naive by some developing world commentators, including one featured in a Channel Four debate after the programme aired. A number of experts also criticised Lynas’s factual errors in contributing to the film. British environmentalist George Monbiot wrote in theGuardian that ‘Brand and Lynas present themselves as heretics. But their convenient fictions chime with the thinking of the new establishment: corporations, thinktanks, neoliberal politicians. The true heretics are those who remind us that neither social nor environmental progress are possible unless power is confronted.’

Reaction to McIntyre’s essay

Lynas has a blog, whose current post is entitled “New IPCC error: renewables report conclusion was dictated by Greenpeace.”  Some excerpts:

That release of the full report happened yesterday. And a close reading of it shows that the IPCC has made an error much more serious than the so-called Himalayagate and associated non-scandals last year – it has allowed its headline conclusion to be dictated by a campaigning NGO. Moreover, the error was spotted initially by none other than Steve McIntyre, who has been a thorn in the side of the IPCC and climate science generally for a long time. Yet this time McIntyre has got it right.

So what to conclude? My view is that the IPCC renewables report has told us nothing – except that Greenpeace thinks we can solve the climate change problem entirely with renewable energy, which of course we already knew. But whilst I still hold the hard-science Working Group 1 of the IPCC in very high regard, I have lost a lot of confidence in Working Group 3. That it allowed its headline conclusion to be dictated by a campaigning NGO is an extraordinary failure, and one which cannot simply be forgotten.

The IPCC must urgently review its policies for hiring lead authors – and I would have thought that not only should biased ‘grey literature’ be rejected, but campaigners from NGOs should not be allowed to join the lead author group and thereby review their own work. There is even a commercial conflict of interest here given that the renewables industry stands to be the main beneficiary of any change in government policies based on the IPCC report’s conclusions. Had it been an oil industry intervention which led the IPCC to a particular conclusion, Greenpeace et al would have course have been screaming blue murder.

One last thing: McIntyre points out that the Greenpace propaganda report which has regrettably destroyed the credibility of the IPCC’s effort on renewables contains a preface – written by none other than R. K. Pachauri, Chair of the IPCC itself. I have great respect for Dr Pachauri, as for the IPCC as an institution. I only wish he – and it – would be more careful.

The comments are even more interesting.  Some of the Climate Etc. Denizens and other skeptics showed up to comment on Lynas’ blog, presumably steered there by BishopHill.  Bob Ward also showed up to criticize Lynas.  In the comments, Lynas recommends nofrakkingconsensus.  Barry Woods recommends that he read Montford’s The Hockey Stick Illusion and Climate Etc.(!)   Lynas responds:

I haven’t read the Hockey Stick Illusion, but I will if you send me a free copy! Same with Judith Curry – I have seen her being vilified, but I haven’t gone deeply into it.

I posted a link to my latest attribution post, Lynas replied:

Thanks Judith – it’s a long post, but I’ll have a go!

Another of Lynas’ comments:

Hmm, yes, I sort of agree with you. In principle, anyone can call anyone else they disagree with a ‘denier’ and shut down the argument, like you say. I’ve always been uncomfortable with the term, though I have used it admittedly. I did side with Mike Mann on the Hockey Stick thing, without personally having the expertise to really go in and check the argument about statistical methodology. But I have to admit that McIntyre is right about this, and that I and others should have spotted the problem earlier. There should be no campaigners or anyone else with a vested interest on the ‘lead author’ team for any IPCC publication – ever.

Keith Kloor, Andy Revkin and Bishop Hill have posted reactions to Lynas’ post.

JC’s message to Mark Lynas

I’ve been engaging with skeptics since 2006 (before starting Climate Etc., I engaged mainly at ClimateAudit).  People were suspicious and wondered what I was up to, but the vilification didn’t start until I recommended that people read The Hockey Stick Illusion.  The book itself, plus more significantly my vilification simply for recommending that people read the book, has pushed me over the ledge and into a mode of aggressively challenging the IPCC consensus.  That you are willing at this point to read the book speaks volumes to me.  It is my sad conclusion that opening your mind on this subject sends you down the slippery slope of challenging many aspects of the IPCC consensus.

Shortly after I started Climate Etc., I received this email message from a colleague:

A few years ago, I started interacting with a skeptic who somehow passed through my “ignore skeptics” filter.  He has an engineering degree and is quite knowledgable.  My rationale that “all skeptics are troglodytes” has been tattered, and my view of the climate debate has  irreversibly changed.

Opening your mind on this subject is a slippery slope into listening to what skeptics have to say.  Sure there are alot of crazies out there, but there is some very serious skepticism at ClimateAudit and other technical skeptic and lukewarmer blogs.  I look forward to a growing climate heretics club, where people that generally support the IPCC consensus (either currently or in the past) dare to question aspects of it.

I predict that your actually reading the Hockey Stick Illusion and mentioning it on your blog will get you removed from RealClimate’s blogroll.
207  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / False Positives Ignored on: June 15, 2011, 02:41:33 PM
The Brady Bunch regularly crows over the number of firearm sales disallowed due to background checks, but forgets to mention just about all those denials are made in error:

The Problem with Brady Background Checks: Virtually all of those denied purchasing a gun are false positives

There are several things to understand about how the Brady Law background check process works. At gun stores or other registered dealers, would-be buyers have to fill out a form asking whether there are any criminal convictions or types of mental illness that would prevent them from legally purchasing the weapon. Falsely answering these questions amounts to perjury. If people answer the question by saying that they have a background that prohibits them from buying, a gun dealers stop right there and do not even process those forms. And if people are believed to have knowingly provided false information on the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) form and prosecutors think that they can prove that knowingly false information was provided, the would-be buyer faces prosecution.

Yet, the NICS system accidentally flags many law-abiding people, stopping those who simply have the same name as a prohibited individual from buying a gun.

Some may remember the five times the late Senator Ted Kennedy was placed on a “no fly list.” If someone is flagged by the NICS system, it is because it appears that they didn’t put down something in their background that disqualified them from buying a gun. Yet, an initial denial does not mean that the individual is actually disqualified from owning a gun. Take the numbers for 2009, the latest year with data available. There were 71,010 initial denials. Of those, only 4,681, or 6.6 percent, were referred to the BATF for further investigation. As a report on these denials by the U.S. Department of Justice indicates, “The remaining denials (66,329 – 93%) did not meet referral guidelines or were overturned after review by Brady Operations or after the FBI received additional information.” To put it differently, the initial review didn’t find that these individuals had a record that prevented them from buying a gun.

Still that isn’t the end of the story. Of these 4,681 referrals, over 51 percent, or 2,390 cases, involve “delayed denials,” cases where a check hasn’t even been completed. Of the rest, 2,291 covered cases where initial reviews indicated that the person should have been denied buying a gun. But the government admits that upon further review another 572 of these referrals were found “not [to be] a prohibited person,” leaving about 4,154 cases. That implies an initial false positive rate of roughly 94.2%. And it still doesn’t mean that the government hasn’t made a mistake on the remaining cases. In some cases for example, a person’s criminal record was supposed to be expunged, and it had not been?

Up until this point, no discretion about the merits of the case has entered the picture. If a review of the records indicates that someone is a prohibited individual, they are included. But of these 4,154 cases, only 140 cases involving banned individuals trying to purchase guns being referred to prosecutors, just 60 of which involved providing false information when buying a firearm. Of those 140 cases, prosecutors thought the evidence was strong enough to bring a case only 77 times.

Prosecution may be declined either because further investigation revealed that the person wasn’t prohibited from owning a gun, because false information hadn’t knowingly been provided, or prosecutors didn’t believe that the cases “merited” prosecution. But if someone is indeed prohibited from owning a gun and they left that information off their NICS form, it is relatively easy for authorities to prove they knowingly concealed that information. The most frequently claimed reasons that people failed the background checks are: “restraining orders, domestic violence misdemeanors, non-immigrant aliens, violent felonies, warrants, and indictments.” How hard is it for prosecutors to prove that someone hadn’t accidentally forgotten that they had a conviction for a violent felony or they had a restraining order?

While prosecutors tend to go forward with their strongest cases, those prosecuted are often not found guilty. By the end of 2010, prosecutors had only 32 convictions or pleas agreements, and only 13 of those involved falsified information when buying a gun or illegal possession of a gun, that translates into just 0.018% of the 71,010 initial denials.

So we have two estimates of the false positive rate: 94.2% or 99.98%. The first estimate is obviously too low, it assumes that all the cases identified up to that point are accurate. The second estimate is obviously too high, it only counts as prohibited individuals those who have been proven so beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.  These numbers are just one of the reason that no study by criminologists or economists has found that the Federal Brady Law has reduced national crime rates.

Of course, being falsely labeled as being ineligible to own a gun isn’t the only cost imposed on law-abiding Americans. Even those who aren’t prevented from buying a gun face delays in getting approved. Eight percent of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System checks are “not resolved immediately.” Two-thirds of those checks take up to 3 business days, and the rest take even longer, though these further delays can’t stop one from obtaining a gun at that point.
208  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Privacy, Big Brother (State and Corporate) & the 4th Amendment on: June 15, 2011, 02:36:58 PM
Well the only thing absent there is the absence of allegations, so your point is?

Guess you missed this sentence, too:

The defense argues that nothing Moussaoui said after his arrest would have made any difference to the FBI because its bureaucratic intransigence rendered it incapable of reacting swiftly to Moussaoui’s arrest under any circumstances.

Just how would the ability to investigate anyone at any time without a prerequisite act combat the rank buffoonery quoted above?
209  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Gotta Kill 'em to Save 'em on: June 15, 2011, 02:33:17 PM
4th post:

Goklany, I.M. 2011. Could Biofuel Policies Increase Death and Disease in Developing Countries? Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons 16: 9-13.
Partly to reduce the perceived impacts of global warming, which are expected to strike developing nations the hardest, the United States and the European Union are subsidizing and mandating production and use of biofuels in order to displace fossil fuels (Jordan et al., 2007; Searchinger et al.,2008; Robertson et al., 2008; Tyner, 2008). However, these policies have been questioned on the grounds whether (a) biofuels actually reduce net energy consumption from non-renewable sources (Patzek and Pimentel, 2005a, 2005b; Wang, 2005; Wesseler, 2007;) and net greenhouse gas emissions (Searchinger et al., 2008; Scharlemann and Laurance, 2008; Fargione et al., 2008; Hertel et al., 2020) and (b) their environmental consequences for land, water, and wildlife resources are positive (Robertson et al., 2008; Scharlemann and Laurance, 2008; Service, 2009; Fargione et al., 2009). In addition, several analyses indicate that increased production of biofuels has contributed to higher food prices, which, in turn, has increased hunger and poverty in developing countries (Pimentel and Patzek, 2006; FAO, 2008, 2009; Godfray et al., 2010; De Hoyos and Medvedev, 2009; World Bank, 2009). Since hunger and poverty are major contributors to death and disease around the world (WHO, 2002, 2009), Goklany (2011) argues that the artificially induced increase in biofuel demand would add to the global burden of death and disease. He then sets out to estimate order-of-magnitude increases in death and disease due to increased biofuel production.
The methodology used by Goklany (2011) is as follows:
1.   Obtain estimates of the increase in the current headcount for absolute poverty in the developing world due to increased biofuel production.
2.   Develop the relationships (or "coefficients of proportionality") between the poverty headcount on the one hand, and the global burden of death and disease attributable to "diseases of poverty" on the other hand. The headcount and the burdens of death and disease should be for the same time period.
3.   Apply the coefficients developed in step 2 to the increase in poverty from step 1 to estimate the increases in death and disease from the increase in biofuel production.
Step 1. Based on a search of the existing literature, Goklany identified only two studies-De Hoyos and Medvedev (2009) and Cororaton et al. (2010)-that provided estimates of increases in poverty induced by greater biofuel production in both rural and urban populations for a large segment of the developing world's population, while also accounting for adjustments by consumers, producers, economies and governments to reduce hunger and poverty. Both analyses covered 90% of the developing world's population. Both indicate that higher biofuel production increases global poverty, even after first order adjustments have been made.
Both studies used the same suite of World Bank models to estimate the effects of additional biofuel production on the poverty headcount. Both estimated the increases in poverty headcounts as the difference in poverty levels between pairs of scenarios, with one scenario assuming a higher level of biofuel production and the other being a baseline scenario with a lower biofuel production level.
Cororaton et al.'s baseline scenario assumed growth in global biofuel production from 2004 through 2020. Thus, they underestimate the contribution of total biofuel production to the poverty headcount. De Hoyos and Medvedev's baseline scenario assumed that biofuel production at the actual 2004 level. They calculated the increase in poverty over the baseline scenario for a scenario in which biofuel production increased after 2004 along its historical path through 2007, and then increased further through 2010 in response to then-existing biofuel mandates and production trends. Therefore, this latter study should give a more accurate estimate of the increase in poverty due to biofuel subsidies and mandates, although it too would be an underestimate since it assumes 2004 production levels as part of the baseline. Despite the latter shortcoming, Goklany used the De Hoyos and Medvedev estimate, after adjusting it upward to account for the incomplete coverage of the world's population. Based on this, Goklany estimated that the poverty headcount increased by 36 million people in 2010 due to an increase in biofuel production over the 2004 level.
Step 2. In order to estimate the coefficients of proportionality between the poverty headcount, and death and disease in developing countries due to poverty-dominated diseases, Goklany used estimates of (a) cumulative burden of deaths and disease from poverty-dominated health risks from the World Health Organization (2009) analysis of global health risks for 2004, and (b) the World Bank's poverty headcount for that year (Chen and Ravallion, 2007) adjusted to be consistent with the more recent World Bank (2009) data and estimation methodology (Chen and Ravallion, 2008).
In order to identify diseases of poverty, Goklany calculated for each risk factor, the ratio of its burden of disease per capita for low-income countries compared to that of lower-middle-income countries. In order to develop a conservative (lower bound) estimate for the effect of biofuel production on death and disease, it was assumed that if the ratio exceeded 5, then the risk factor was poverty dominated. Six risk factors met this criterion: global warming; underweight (largely synonymous with chronic hunger); zinc deficiency; Vitamin A deficiency; unsafe sex; and unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene. These six factors accounted for 7.7 million deaths and 268 million lost DALYs (Disability-Adjusted Life Years) worldwide for 2004. Of these, more than 99.3% of the deaths and lost DALYs were in developing countries.
Using a less restrictive criterion for the ratio of 2 would have added four more risk factors to the above list, namely: unmet contraceptive needs, indoor smoke from solid fuels, sub-optimal breast feeding and iron deficiency. Many consider these to be poverty-related (Brundtland, 2003). Including these in the list would increase their cumulative toll of poverty-dominated risks in 2004 to 11.3 million deaths and 384 million lost DALYs. However, to err on the side of conservatism, the more restrictive definition of "poverty-dominated" was used.
Regarding the poverty headcount in 2004, Goklany re-estimated the World Bank's headcount estimates for 2004 so that it was consistent with the data and methods used by De Hoyos and Medvedev (2009), which are also consistent with World Bank (2009), to estimate the increase in headcount due to additional biofuel production. Based on this, the 2004 headcount was estimated at 1,454 million. Thus, assuming proportionality between mortality and lost DALYs from poverty and the headcount, there are 5,270 deaths and 183,000 lost DALYs per million people living in absolute poverty in developing countries.
Step 3. Combining the estimates derived in Steps 1 and 2, Goklany (2011) estimated that the increase in the poverty headcount due to higher biofuel production between 2010 and 2004 implies 192,000 additional deaths and 6.7 million additional lost DALYs in 2010 alone.
Other Conclusions. 1.   Biofuel policies are retarding humanity's age-old battle against poverty. 2.   Since according to the World Health Organization's latest estimates, 141,000 deaths and 5.4 million lost DALYs in 2004 could be attributed to global warming (WHO 2009), biofuel policies may currently be deadlier than global warming, especially since the inertia of the climate system means little or no reduction in these numbers from any slowing of global warming due to any increase in biofuel production from 2004 to 2010.
Additional References
Brundtland, G.H. (2003). Statement by the Director-General, 111th session of the Executive Board. Geneva: WHO, 2003. Available at: Accessed Dec 11, 2010.
Chen, S, and Ravallion, M. (2007). Poverty and hunger special feature: absolute poverty measures for the developing world, 1981-2004. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104: 16757-16762.
Chen, S, and Ravallion, M. (2008). China is poorer than we thought, but no less successful in the fight against poverty. Policy Research Working Paper No. 4621. Washington, D.C.: World Bank.
Cororaton, C.B., Timilsina, G., and Mevel, S. 2010. Impacts of Large Scale Expansion of Biofuels on Global Poverty and Income Distribution. IATRC Public Trade Policy Research and Analysis Symposium, Global Warming in World Agriculture: Mitigation, Adaptation, Trade and Food Security, Universit�t Hohenheim, Stuttgart, Germany, June 27 -29, 2010.
De Hoyos, R.E., and Medvedev, D. (2009). Poverty effects of higher food prices: a global perspective. World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 4887. Washington, D.C.: World Bank.
Fargione, J., Hill, J., Tilman, D., Polasky, S., and Hawthorne, P. (2008). Land clearing and the biofuel carbon debt. Science 319: 1235-1238.
Fargione, J.E, Cooper, T.R., Flaspohler, D.J., et al. (2009). Bioenergy and wildlife: threats and opportunities for grassland conservation. BioScience 59: 767-777.
Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). (2008). State of Food Insecurity 2008. Rome: FAO.
Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). (2009). State of Food Insecurity 2009. Rome: FAO.
Godfray, H.C.J., Beddington, J.R., Crute, I.R., et al. (2010). Food Security: The challenge of feeding 9 billion people. Science 327: 812-818.
Goklany, I.M. (1999). Meeting global food needs: environmental trade-offs between Increasing land conversion and land productivity. Technology 6: 107-130.
Goklany, I.M. (2009) Is climate change the "defining challenge of our age"? Energy & Environment 20: 279-302.
Hertel, T.W., Golub, A.A., Jones, A.D., et al. (2010). Effects of US maize ethanol on global land use and greenhouse gas emissions: estimating market-mediated responses. BioScience 60: 223-231.
Jordan, N., Boody, G., Broussard, W., et al. (2007). Environment: sustainable development of the agricultural bio-economy. Science 316: 1570-1571.
Patzek, T.W., and Pimentel, D. (2005). Thermodynamics of energy production from biomass. Crit Rev Plant Sciences 24: 329-364.
Pimentel, D., and Patzek, T. (2006). Green plants, fossil fuels, and now biofuels. BioScience 56: 875.
Pimentel, D., and Patzek, T.W. (2005). Ethanol production using corn, switchgrass, and wood; biodiesel production using soybean and sunflower. Natural Resources Res 14: 65-76.
Robertson, G.P., Dale, V.H., Doering, O.C., et al. (2008). Agriculture: sustainable biofuels redux. Science 322: 49-50.
Scharlemann, J.P.W., and Laurance, W.F. (2008). How green are biofuels? Science 319: 43-44.
Searchinger, T., Heimlich, R., Houghton, R.A., et al. (2008). Use of US croplands for biofuels increases greenhouse gases through emissions from land use change. Science 319: 1238 -1240.
Service, R.F. (2009). Another biofuels drawback: the demand for irrigation. Science 326: 516 -517.
Tyner, W.E., (2008). The US ethanol and biofuels boom: Its origins, current status, and future prospects. BioScience 58: 646-653.
Wang, M. (2005). A comparison between the new Pimentel/Patzek study and other studies. Center for Transportation Research, Argonne National Laboratory; 2005: Available at: Accessed Dec 11, 2010.
Wesseler, J. (2007). Opportunities (costs) matter: a comment on Pimentel and Patzek ethanol production using corn, switchgrass, and wood; biodiesel production using soybean and sunflower. Energy Policy 35: 1414 -1416.
World Bank. (2009). Global Economic Prospects 2009. Washington, D.C.: World Bank.
World Health Organization (WHO). (2002). The World Health Report 2002- Reducing Risks, Promoting Healthy Life. Geneva: WHO.
World Health Organization (WHO). (2009). Global Health Risks: Mortality and Burden of Disease Attributable to Selected Major Risks. Geneva: WHO.
210  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Most Patriotic Thing He Can Do on: June 15, 2011, 02:27:31 PM
Well said:

211  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Criminalizing Everyone Online on: June 15, 2011, 02:14:00 PM
Case on Criminalizing Violations of Computer Use Policies
Orin Kerr • June 14, 2011 2:21 am

A petition for rehearing was recently filed in United States v. Nosal, the Ninth Circuit decision holding that an employee who violates his employer’s computer use policy is guilty of “exceeding authorized access” to the employer’s computer. I have posted a copy here. I hope the Ninth Circuit grants rehearing, as I think the Nosal case is both wrong on the law and deeply troubling for civil liberties in the Internet age.

Overstatement? I don’t think so. It seems to me that if the federal government can arrest you and throw you in jail for violating a computer use policy — any computer use policy — then the government can arrest pretty much anyone who uses a computer. Most people who use computers routinely violate computer use policies: While we understand that such policies may have force from the standpoint of breach of contract, no one thinks that breaching a computer use policy is the same as hacking into the computer. The Nosal case would change that. Under its reasoning, breaching a written policy is treated the same way as hacking. And as computers become more and more ubiquitous, the power to arrest anyone who routinely uses a computer is the power to arrest anyone.

It’s true that the Nosal appeal happens to involve a prosecution under 18 U.S.C. 1030(a)(4), which requires more than just unauthorized access to a computer. But as the petition for rehearing notes, the unauthorized access “trigger” is common to several crimes in Section 1030(a), and other sections of 1030(a) don’t require much if anything beyond unauthorized access. The most obvious concern is 1030(a)(2), which makes it a crime to have any unauthorized access to anything on the planet with a microchip so long as some information is either seen or collected. For now it’s usually just a misdemeanor crime, so each breach of a policy would only mean you spend up to a year of your life in federal prison, but note that (1) Congress may make that crime a felony soon and (2) even the misdemeanors can be sentenced conseccutively (remember that DOJ wanted Lori Drew to be sentenced to a three year prison term for her three misdemeanor convictions of violating three MySpace terms of service).

You might think that as long as you avoid the Ninth Circuit, you’re probably okay. But that won’t help much: Lots of Internet communications go through the Ninth Circuit, meaning that the Ninth Circuit has venue over much of the rest of the country to prosecute computer use policy breaches elsewhere. Again, remember the Lori Drew case. Everything in the case happened in Missouri, and the Missouri state and federal authorities declined to prosecute because they thought no crime was committed, but the case was charged in Los Angeles because that’s where MySpace’s servers (and some extremely aggressive prosecutors) were located. It probably won’t help to move to Canada, either: Section 1030 covers all computers in the world that can be reached under the Constitution, even computers outside the United States, so the computer use policy breach doesn’t even need to be in the US for the feds to prosecute.

Given the stakes, I hope the Ninth Circuit will grant rehearing, revisit the panel decision, and come out the other way. Stay tuned.
212  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Oopsy on: June 15, 2011, 02:10:38 PM
Electric cars may not be so green after all, says British study
Ben Webster From: The Times June 10, 2011 3:23PM 15 comments

A Jaguar electric car goes on show at a preview event for the 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show. Picture: AFP Source: AFP

ELECTRIC cars could produce higher emissions over their lifetimes than petrol equivalents because of the energy consumed in making their batteries, a study has found.

An electric car owner would have to drive at least 129,000km before producing a net saving in CO2. Many electric cars will not travel that far in their lifetime because they typically have a range of less than 145km on a single charge and are unsuitable for long trips. Even those driven 160,000km would save only about a tonne of CO2 over their lifetimes.

The British study, which is the first analysis of the full lifetime emissions of electric cars covering manufacturing, driving and disposal, undermines the case for tackling climate change by the rapid introduction of electric cars.

The Committee on Climate Change, the UK government watchdog, has called for the number of electric cars on Britain's roads to increase from a few hundred now to 1.7 million by 2020.

Britain's Department for Transport is spending $66 million over the next year giving up to 8,600 buyers of electric cars a grant of $7700 towards the purchase price. Ministers are considering extending the scheme.

The study was commissioned by the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership, which is jointly funded by the British government and the car industry. It found that a mid-size electric car would produce 23.1 tonnes of CO2 over its lifetime, compared with 24 tonnes for a similar petrol car. Emissions from manufacturing electric cars are at least 50 per cent higher because batteries are made from materials such as lithium, copper and refined silicon, which require much energy to be processed.

Many electric cars are expected to need a replacement battery after a few years. Once the emissions from producing the second battery are added in, the total CO2 from producing an electric car rises to 12.6 tonnes, compared with 5.6 tonnes for a petrol car. Disposal also produces double the emissions because of the energy consumed in recovering and recycling metals in the battery. The study also took into account carbon emitted to generate the grid electricity consumed.

Greg Archer, director of Low CVP, said the industry should state the full lifecycle emissions of cars rather than just tailpipe emissions, to avoid misleading consumers. He said that drivers wanting to minimise emissions could be better off buying a small, efficient petrol or diesel car. “People have to match the technology to their particular needs,” he said.

The Times
213  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Privacy, Big Brother (State and Corporate) & the 4th Amendment on: June 15, 2011, 02:01:39 PM
In the absence of allegations, better yet. What could go wrong with that?
214  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Panic Mongers Eat Their Own Tail on: June 15, 2011, 01:59:29 PM
3rd post:

IPCC WG3 and the Greenpeace Karaoke

On May 9, 2011, the IPCC announced:

Close to 80 percent of the world‘s energy supply could be met by renewables by mid-century if backed by the right enabling public policies a new report shows.

In accompanying interviews, IPCC officials said that the obstacles were not scientific or technological, but merely a matter of political will.

Little of the increase was due to ‘traditional’ renewables (hydro and ‘traditional’ biomass, mostly dung), but to solar, wind and non-traditional biomass.

I, for one, was keenly interested in how IPCC got to its potential 80%. Unfortunately, in keeping with execrable IPCC practices, the supporting documents for the Renewables Study were not made available at the time of the original announcement. (Only the Summary for Policy-makers was made available at the time.) This showed one worrying aspect of the announcement. The report was based on 164 ‘scenarios’ and the ‘up to 80%” scenario in the lead sentence of their press release was not representative of their scenarios, but the absolute top end. This sort of press release is not permitted in mining promotions and it remains a mystery to me why it is tolerated in academic press releases or press releases by international institutions.

The underlying report was scheduled for release on June 14 and was released today on schedule. Naturally, I was interested in the provenance of the 80% scenario and in determining precisely what due diligence had been carried out by IPCC to determine the realism of this scenario prior to endorsing it in their press release. I hoped against hope that it would be something more than an IPCC cover version of a Greenpeace study but was disappointed.

The scenarios are in chapter 10 of the Report. authors of the chapter are as follows (mainly German):

CLAs -Manfred Fischedick (Germany) and Roberto Schaeffer (Brazil). Lead Authors: Akintayo Adedoyin (Botswana), Makoto Akai (Japan), Thomas Bruckner (Germany), Leon Clarke (USA), Volker Krey (Austria/Germany), Ilkka Savolainen (Finland), Sven Teske (Germany), Diana Ürge‐Vorsatz (Hungary), Raymond Wright (Jamaica).

The 164 scenarios are referenced to a just-published and paywalled article by two of the Lead Authors (Krey and Clarke, 2011, Climate Policy). Update – Since this article has been relied upon in an IPCC report, it is liberated here.

Chapter 10 isolated four scenarios for more detailed reporting, one of which can be identified with the scenario featured in the IPCC press release. The identification is on the basis of Table 10.3 which shows 77% renewables in 2050 for the ER-2010 scenatio attributed to Teske et al., 2010. (Teske being another Chapter 10 Lead Author. This scenario is described as follows:

Low demand (e.g., due to a significant increase in energy efficiency) is combined with high RE deployment, no employment of CCS and a global nuclear phase-out by 2045 in the third mitigation scenario, Advanced Energy [R]evolution 2010 (Teske et al., 2010) (henceforth ER-2010).

Teske et al 2010 – online here – is cited as follows:

Teske, S., T[homas] Pregger, S[onja] Simon, T[obias] Naegler, W[ina] Graus, and C[hristine] Lins (2010). Energy [R]evolution 2010—a sustainable world energy outlook. Energy Efficiency, doi:10.1007/s12053-010-9098-y.

Someone interested in how the world

However, googling the title led me first to a different article with the almost the same
title ‘energy [ r]evolution:A SUSTAINABLE GLOBAL ENERGY OUTLOOK’ online here. This version is a joint publication of Greenpeace and the European Renewable Energy Council, self-described as the ‘umbrella organisation of the European renewable energy industry’. the title page shows:

project manager & lead author – Sven Teske
EREC Oliver Schäfer, Arthouros Zervos,
Greenpeace International – Sven Teske, Jan Béranek, Stephanie Tunmore
research & co-authors
DLR, Institute of Technical Thermodynamics, Department of Systems Analysis and
Technology Assessment, Stuttgart, Germany: Dr. Wolfram Krewitt, Dr. Sonja Simon, Dr. Thomas Pregger.
DLR, Institute of Vehicle Concepts, Stuttgart, Germany: Dr. Stephan Schmid
Ecofys BV, Utrecht, The Netherlands: Wina Graus, Eliane Blomen.

The preface to the Greenpeace report is by one R.K. Pachauri, who stated:

This edition of Energy [R]evolution Scenarios provides a detailed analysis of the
energy efficiency potential and choices in the transport sector. The material presented in this publication provides a useful basis for considering specific policies and developments that would be of value not only to the world but for different countries as they attempt to meet the global challenge confronting them. The work carried out in
the following pages is comprehensive and rigorous, and even those who may not agree with the analysis presented would, perhaps, benefit from a deep study of the underlying assumptions that are linked with specific energy scenarios for the future.
Dr. R. K. Pachauri

Returning now to the original lead to the IPCC Press Release on renewables:

Close to 80 percent of the world‘s energy supply could be met by renewables by mid-century if backed by the right enabling public policies a new report shows.

The basis for this claim is a Greenpeace scenario. The Lead Author of the IPCC assessment of the Greenpeace scenario was the same Greenpeace employee who had prepared the Greenpeace scenarios, the introduction to which was written by IPCC chair Pachauri.

The public and policy-makers are starving for independent and authoritative analysis of precisely how much weight can be placed on renewables in the energy future. It expects more from IPCC WG3 than a karaoke version of Greenpeace scenario.

It is totally unacceptable that IPCC should have had a Greenpeace employee as a Lead Author of the critical Chapter 10, that the Greenpeace employee, as an IPCC Lead Author, should (like Michael Mann and Keith Briffa in comparable situations) have been responsible for assessing his own work and that, with such inadequate and non-independent ‘due diligence’, IPCC should have featured the Greenpeace scenario in its press release on renewables.

Everyone in IPCC WG3 should be terminated and, if the institution is to continue, it should be re-structured from scratch.
215  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Inconvenient Solar Inactivity on: June 15, 2011, 01:53:56 PM
2nd post. Those in the catastrophic warmosphere are trying to wrap their heads around the fact that the current solar minimum may lead to dramatic cooling. JPL explains the possibilities below. Note how the predictions are qualified, a prudent habit warmists ought to emulate:

NASA JPL on New Insights on How Solar Minimums Affect Earth
Posted on June 14, 2011 by Anthony Watts

The Sun today, quiet, small spots - click for more

This is the first of what I’m sure will be a series of solar stories related to the stunning (at least to people who have not been following WUWT since 2008) announcement that it appears sunspots are on the wane, and we may be headed to an extended Maunder type minimum.
See: BREAKING – major AAS solar announcement: Sun’s Fading Spots Signal Big Drop in Solar Activity

From NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab website:

Since 1611, humans have recorded the comings and goings of black spots on the sun. The number of these sunspots waxes and wanes over approximately an 11-year cycle — more sunspots generally mean more activity and eruptions on the sun and vice versa. The number of sunspots can change from cycle to cycle, and 2008 saw the longest and weakest solar minimum since scientists have been monitoring the sun with space-based instruments.

Observations have shown, however, that magnetic effects on Earth due to the sun, effects that cause the aurora to appear, did not go down in synch with the cycle of low magnetism on the sun. Now, a paper in Annales Geophysicae that appeared on May 16, 2011 reports that these effects on Earth did in fact reach a minimum — indeed they attained their lowest levels of the century — but some eight months later. The scientists believe that factors in the speed of the solar wind, and the strength and direction of the magnetic fields embedded within it, helped produce this anomalous low.

“Historically, the solar minimum is defined by sunspot number,” says space weather scientist Bruce Tsurutani at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., who is first author on the paper. “Based on that, 2008 was identified as the period of solar minimum. But the geomagnetic effects on Earth reached their minimum quite some time later, in 2009. So we decided to look at what caused the geomagnetic minimum.”

Small magnetometers like these measure magnetic strength on Earth and in the atmosphere to determine how much of the sun's magnetic energy has been transferred to Earth's magnetosphere. In 2009, that energy reached record lows. Images credit: Glassmeier, et al.

Geomagnetic effects basically amount to any magnetic changes on Earth due to the sun, and they’re measured by magnetometer readings on the surface of the Earth. Such effects are usually harmless, with the only obvious sign of their presence being the appearance of auroras near the poles. However, in extreme cases, they can cause power grid failures on Earth or induce dangerous currents in long pipelines, so it is valuable to know how the geomagnetic effects vary with the sun.

Three things help determine how much energy from the sun is transferred to Earth’s magnetosphere from the solar wind: the speed of the solar wind, the strength of the magnetic field outside Earth’s bounds (known as the interplanetary magnetic field) and which direction it is pointing, since a large southward component is necessary to connect successfully to Earth’s magnetosphere and transfer energy. The team — which also included Walter Gonzalez and Ezequiel Echer of the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research in São José dos Campos, Brazil — examined each component in turn.

First, the researchers noted that in 2008 and 2009, the interplanetary magnetic field was the lowest it had been in the history of the space age. This was an obvious contribution to the geomagnetic minimum. But since the geomagnetic effects didn’t drop in 2008, it could not be the only factor.

To examine the speed of the solar wind, they turned to NASA’s Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE), which is in interplanetary space outside the Earth’s magnetosphere, approximately 1 million miles toward the sun. The ACE data showed that the speed of the solar wind stayed high during the sunspot minimum. Only later did it begin a steady decline, correlating to the timing of the decline in geomagnetic effects.

The next step was to understand what caused this decrease. The team found a culprit in something called coronal holes. Coronal holes are darker, colder areas within the sun’s outer atmosphere. Fast solar wind shoots out the center of coronal holes at speeds up to 500 miles per second, but wind flowing out of the sides slows down as it expands into space.
“Usually, at solar minimum, the coronal holes are at the sun’s poles,” says Giuliana de Toma, a solar scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research whose research on this topic helped provide insight for this paper. “Therefore, Earth receives wind from only the edges of these holes, and it’s not very fast. But in 2007 and 2008, the coronal holes were not confined to the poles as normal.”

The magnetic fields from the center of coronal holes in the sun's atmosphere have large fluctuations known as Alfvén waves, while those from the sides have smaller fluctuations. The side fields do not transfer energy as well from the sun to Earth's magnetosphere. Image credit: NASA/Park

Those coronal holes lingered at low latitudes to the end of 2008. Consequently, the center of the holes stayed firmly pointed towards Earth, sending fast solar wind in Earth’s direction. Only as they finally appeared closer to the poles in 2009 did the speed of the solar wind at Earth begin to slow down. And, of course, the geomagnetic effects and sightings of the aurora along with it.

Coronal holes seem to be responsible for minimizing the southward direction of the interplanetary magnetic field as well. The solar wind’s magnetic fields oscillate on the journey from the sun to Earth. These fluctuations are known as Alfvén waves. The wind coming out of the centers of the coronal holes has large fluctuations, meaning that the southward magnetic component – like that in all the directions — is fairly large. The wind that comes from the edges, however, has smaller fluctuations, and comparably smaller southward components. So, once again, coronal holes at lower latitudes would have a better chance of connecting with Earth’s magnetosphere and causing geomagnetic effects, while mid-latitude holes would be less effective.

Working together, these three factors — low interplanetary magnetic field strength, combined with slower solar wind speed and smaller magnetic fluctuations due to coronal hole placement — create the perfect environment for a geomagnetic minimum.

Knowing what situations cause and suppress intense geomagnetic activity on Earth is a step toward better predicting when such events might happen. To do so well, Tsurutani points out, requires focusing on the tight connection between such effects and the complex physics of the sun. “It’s important to understand all of these features better,” he says. “To understand what causes low interplanetary magnetic fields and what causes coronal holes in general. This is all part of the solar cycle. And all part of what causes effects on Earth.”

Written by Karen C. Fox
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
216  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / We Don't Need No Stinking Warrants on: June 15, 2011, 01:47:37 PM
FBI’s New Guidelines Further Loosen Constraints on Monitoring

Posted by Julian Sanchez

The New York Times‘s Charlie Savage reports that the FBI is preparing to release a new Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide (DIOG), further relaxing the rules governing the Bureau’s investigation of Americans who are not suspected of any wrongdoing.

This comes just three years after the last major revision of FBI manual, which empowered agents to employ a broad range of investigative techniques in exploratory “assessments” of citizens or domestic groups, even in the absence of allegations or evidence of wrongdoing, which are needed to open an “investigation.” The FBI assured Congress that it would conduct intensive training, and test agents to ensure that they understood the limits of the new authority—but the Inspector General found irregularities suggestive of widespread cheating on those tests.

Agents can already do quite a bit even without opening an “assessment”: They can consult the government’s own massive (and ever-growing) databases, or search the public Internet for “open source” intelligence. If, however, they want to start digging through state and local law enforcement records, or plumb the vast quantities of information held by commercial data aggregators like LexisNexis or Acxiom, they currently do have to open an assessment. Again, that doesn’t mean they’ve got to have evidence—or even an allegation—that their target is doing anything illegal, but it does mean they’ve got to create a paper trail and identify a legitimate purpose for their inquiries. That’s not much of a limitation, to be sure, but it does provide a strong deterrent to casual misuse of those databases for personal reasons. That paper trail means an agent who might be tempted to use government resources for personal ends—to check up on an ex or a new neighbor—has good reason to think twice.

Removing that check means there will be a lot more digging around in databases without any formal record of why. Even though most of those searches will be legitimate, that makes the abuses more likely to get lost in the crowd. Indeed, a series of reports by the Inspector General’s Office finding “widespread and serious misuse” of National Security Letters, noted that lax recordkeeping made it extremely difficult to accurately gauge the seriousness of the abuses or their true extent—and, of course, to hold the responsible parties accountable. Moreover, the most recent of those reports strongly suggests that agents engaged in illegal use of so-called “exigent letters” resisted the introduction of new records systems precisely because they knew (or at least suspected) their methods weren’t quite kosher.

The new rules will also permit agents to rifle through a person’s garbage when conducting an “assessment” of someone they’d like to recruit as an informant or mole. The reason, according to the Times, is that “they want the ability to use information found in a subject’s trash to put pressure on that person to assist the government in the investigation of others.” Not keen into being dragooned into FBI service? Hope you don’t have anything embarrassing in your dumpster! Physical surveillance squads can only be assigned to a target once, for a limited time, in the course of an assessment under the current rules—that limit, too, falls by the wayside in the revised DIOG.

The Bureau characterizes the latest round of changes as “tweaks” to the most recent revisions. That probably understates the significance of some of the changes, but one reason it’s worrying to see another bundle of revisions so soon after the last overhaul is precisely that it’s awfully easy to slip a big aggregate change under the radar by breaking it up into a series of “tweaks.”

We’ve seen such a move already with respect to National Security Letters, which enable access to a wide array of sensitive financial, phone, and Internet records without a court order—as long as the information is deemed relevant to an “authorized investigation.” When Congress massively expanded the scope of these tools under the USA Patriot Act, legislators understood that to mean full investigations, which must be based on “specific facts” suggesting that a crime is being committed or that a threat to national security exists. Just two years later, the Attorney General’s guidelines were quietly changed to permit the use of NSLs during “preliminary” investigations, which need not meet that standard. Soon, more than half of the NSLs issued each year were used for such preliminary inquiries (though they aren’t available for mere “assessments”… yet).

The FBI, of course, prefers to emphasize all the restrictions that remain in place. We’ll probably have to wait a year or two to see which of those get “tweaked” away next.’s-new-guidelines-further-loosen-constraints-on-monitoring/
217  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Those Who can't Do Form an Advisory Board on: June 15, 2011, 01:45:49 PM
Editorial: Obama's Job-Killing Jobs Council
Posted 06/13/2011 06:41 PM ET

Economy: President Obama says he's 100% focused these days on creating jobs. So why is he taking advice from a bunch of CEOs whose companies have been shedding jobs for years?

In February, Obama chartered the Jobs and Competitiveness Council with a mission of leaving "no stone unturned" in the search of ways to boost the country's anemic job growth. But you could tell from the start that this council would have trouble even finding those stones, let alone turning them over.

After all, Obama stuffed the group full of Fortune 500 CEOs — General Electric, American Express, DuPont, Time Warner, Eastman Kodak and Xerox, among them. While these may be good companies, they've hardly been roaring engines of job growth. In most cases, in fact, the opposite is true. Some examples:

• GE's domestic workforce shrank by 25,000 — almost 16% — between 2001 and 2010, according to the company's annual reports. (The number of overseas GE jobs climbed over those years.)

• AmEx employed 28% fewer workers in 2010 than it did a decade ago.

• Kodak's workforce cratered to just 18,800 last year from 75,000 in 2001.

• Xerox's employee base shrank by nearly a third between 2001 and 2009, before it acquired Affiliated Computer Services and its 74,000 workers in 2010.

• Even Intel has trimmed the number of workers it employs over the past decade.

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Beyond this, the board is made up of the heads of two big unions, an energy company, a railroad, an airline, a couple investment firms, and the like.

Just one business represented on the board — Facebook — is a genuine growth company. And the council is all but devoid of the kind of small- and midsize firms responsible for two-thirds of the nation's new jobs.

It's little wonder, then, that the list of immediate must-do, job-creating ideas the council came up with — and outlined in a Monday op-ed signed by GE's Jeff Immelt and AmEx's Ken Chenault — is so uninspiring.

More money to retrain workers? More tax dollars retrofitting commercial buildings to boost energy efficiency? More government loans passed out by the Small Business Administration? That's the best the council could come up with after almost four months' work?

At least the board did give a nod to job-choking red tape, calling on the administration to streamline permitting processes. But what about the three job-creating free-trade agreements Obama has locked up in his desk drawer? How about an immediate cut in corporate and capital gains taxes? Or for that matter any of the many other job creation ideas we detailed in this space last week?
218  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / How Best to Crash and Burn? on: June 15, 2011, 01:41:45 PM
Entitlement Overstretch
This great country has reached such a point of fiscal insanity that we may need a monumental crisis to save it.

In the late 1980s, Prof. Paul Kennedy of Yale achieved academic celebrity with his bestseller, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. In it, he wrote that the United States was likely to collapse because of a phenomenon he called “imperial overstretch.” As Kennedy saw it, the approximately 6 percent of GDP the United States spent on maintaining its military and meeting other global commitments was too great a burden. It was only a matter of time until our ambitious agenda would push us into decline and eventual collapse. This thesis, as it applied to the United States, was simple, beautiful, and spectacularly wrong.

Kennedy’s overstretch theory was not, however, without merit. Hindsight makes clear that much of what Kennedy wrote provides a valid description of the Soviet Union’s collapse. Furthermore, while Kennedy misjudged America’s ability to sustain its military commitments, if he had looked deeper into our national balance sheet, he would have seen the true danger: entitlement overstretch. What the historian failed to see — because there was no historical precedent for him to analyze — was the dangers brought on by the rise of the entitlement state. The 6 percent of GDP spent on national security that so concerned Kennedy is dwarfed by projected entitlement expenditures that are far beyond America’s ability to pay.

There is a basic law of economics: What can’t happen won’t happen. As it is impossible for a $14 trillion economy to pay $60 trillion or more of unfunded liabilities, it won’t happen. Even after raising taxes to crippling levels and sucking every other revenue source dry, the United States will still face tens of trillions of dollars of expected payments it cannot meet. That being the case, only one question remains: What form will the nation’s default take?

The first option is a default in expectations. Unfunded liabilities are not yet debt, as the money has not been spent. The government is therefore free to change its implicit contract with the citizenry. In other words, it can renege on its promises with regard to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. This requires a huge amount of political courage and a willingness to pay a severe price at the ballot box. As neither side of the political divide has shown any inclination toward taking the draconian measures that restoring fiscal sanity requires, there is little reason for optimism along this path.

The second option is the historical favorite of countries that find themselves in a fiscal crisis: debasing the currency. Because the dollar is the key global reserve currency and is viewed by many — irrationally, of late — as a secure store of value, the United States is able to issue all its debts denominated in dollars. Therefore, by pressing a few computer keys, the Federal Reserve can create $60 trillion in an instant. Of course, the Fed would be much cleverer about it and spread its money creation over a number of years or even decades. No matter how the debasement is done, though, the results are easy to foresee. Inflation on a scale that could see us envying Weimar Germany’s fiscal propriety would wreck the U.S. economy as the nation’s wealth and savings were destroyed. Unfortunately, this option always seems the most appealing to policymakers, as it is easy and apparently painless. Well, it is painless — right up until the cataclysm, the onset of which no doubt will be as sudden as the crisis of 2008. We must all hope that our elected officials are wise enough not to go down this road. Of course, betting on the wisdom of politicians is more often than not a fool’s wager.

The final option is to keep going as we are, making cosmetic changes of the type we have seen recently. This head-in-the-sand option will work just fine, until the calamity can no longer be postponed. In this scenario, the government runs up taxes until the economy falters while continuing to issue debt until it can no longer afford even the interest payments. This, for worse or worse, is the road we are heading down. Make no mistake about it: The final outcome will be crushing. Entitlement overstretch will cause the collapse of the national economy and end America’s global dominance.

But only for a time.

Modern nations do not just disappear. After a default, the United States will still have a productive population, a sound economic base, and, most important, a clean balance sheet. If we are lucky, our chastened politicians, given all these advantages and a clean slate, will then undertake only those commitments the economy can afford. If so, there is reason for optimism that, after the harrowing experience of default, the United States will roar back stronger than before. Conversely, if politicians prove incapable of mending their ways, then the country will join the list of serial defaulters and begin an inevitable and ugly decline.

It is a sad state of affairs when one has to pin the long-term hopes of this great nation on a crisis so monumental that one has to count on the “day after” to return reason to the nation’s fiscal policy. But at a time when proposals to cut a mere 1 percent from the budget can bring vested interests to the barricades, there appears little hope that policy sanity can be restored in any conditions short of a fiscal implosion.

Rumor has it that Professor Kennedy is now updating his seminal work for a new edition. One must hope that, this time around, he puts his finger on the true crisis undermining America.

— Jim Lacey is professor of strategic studies at the Marine Corps War College. He is the author of the recently released The First Clash and Keep from All Thoughtful Men. The opinions in this article are entirely his own and do not represent those of the Department of Defense or any of its members.
219  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Attribution Issues on: June 15, 2011, 01:28:17 PM
Lengthy piece that looks at the underlying assumptions of the latest IPCC report. Serious holes are poked in its various assumptions.
220  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Reconstruction Deconstruction on: June 03, 2011, 11:29:32 AM
For those tracking these sorts of tempests and tea pots, the University of VA is currently fighting a FOIA request for hockey stick peddler Michael Mann's emails, while George Mason University just released skeptic Ed Wegman's emails without any fuss. An amusing deconstruction follows:

Mann’s Hockey Stick, Climategate, and FOI – in a nutshell
Posted on June 2, 2011 by Anthony Watts

On the Climate Audit thread, The Vergano FOI Request the irascible Nick Stokes provokes another commenter “mpaul”, to lay out all the history in a simple summary that even Nick might understand. I thought it was worth repeating here for readers who have not followed the twists and turns in detail, and also in the hope that Dr. Michael Mann might read it and get a clue. Obstruction doesn’t pay.

From this Climate Audit comment:


Posted May 30, 2011 at 1:16 PM | Permalink

Nick writes:

But I don’t think snooping through people’s private emails is a dignified activity.

Nick, I’ll turn the sarcasm off for a moment. I agree with you on this point. I have been an advocate for Cuccinelli CID process. Say what you will about Cuccinelli’s motives, but the American justice system provides protections for the accused and standards of procedure that do not exist in the court of public opinion.

We have arrived at this point in history along the following path:

(1) Steve wanted to replicate MBH98 and asked for data. Mann initially complied, but then began to obstruct.

(2) Steve successfully obtained the needed data and demonstrated serious flaws in Mann’s approach.

(3) Mann defended his work by saying that other Hockey Stick reconstructions validated his method and his conclusions.

(4) Attention turned to replicating the other reconstructions. By now, the Team had become extremely defensive and a sort of bunker mentality took over. Years of obstruction followed.

(5) Those seeking the data and methods used in the HS reconstructions became more and more aggressive, eventually turning to FOIA as a tool to pry loose the information.

(6) Then “a miracle happened’. A file containing materials and emails requested under FOIA turned up on the internet. Most everyone would agree that the contents of the emails warranted an investigation. The only investigation that specifically looked into Mann’s conduct was undertaken by Penn State. Penn State cleared Mann noting that Mann stated:

(a) he had never falsified any data, nor had he had ever manipulated data to serve a given predetermined outcome;
(b) he never used inappropriate influence in reviewing papers by other scientists who disagreed with the conclusions of his science;
(c) he never deleted emails at the behest of any other scientist, specifically including Dr. Phil Jones, and that he never withheld data with the intention of obstructing science; and
(d) he never engaged in activities or behaviors that were inconsistent with accepted academic practices.

(7) Critics have charged that the Penn State investigation was inadequate. Michael Mann has subsequently stated that he did, in fact, participate in an orchestrated effort to delete emails covered under FOIA, raising questions about the veracity of statements he made to the Penn State investigators. Penn State seems untroubled by this.

A real, independent investigation, subject to rules of evidence and judicial procedures, is needed. Such an investigation is the only way to put and end to Climategate and is the only way to restore the tattered reputation of climate science. I think both Virginia and Pennsylvania should conduct an investigation. However, if UVa continues to obstruct the CID, then FOIA is the only option and Mann will be afforded no protection of his privacy.

Mann and UVa are playing a losing game. Its sheer folly to attempt to frustrate a State AG in a law enforcement investigation. Cuccinelli has nuclear weapons at his disposal and UVa has water pistols. If Cuccinelli loses the CID battle, he will simply file a lawsuit and obtain the materials through discovery. Or, if UVa really pisses him off, he will convene a Grand Jury. For Mann personally, this would be catastrophic. Mann and UVa should cooperate with the CID process.

It’s sad that we have arrived at this place. But at every juncture in this journey, Mann has chosen the wrong path.
221  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Privacy, Big Brother (State and Corporate) & the 4th Amendment on: June 03, 2011, 11:22:13 AM
Yup. Unconstitutionally, but my bet is it is vacuuming it all up nonetheless and likely using the rationale that they only look at the archived files if they have good reason to so American citizens should not be concerned if there every phone call, every identifiable location, every internet activity, every purchase, and so on is being collected, collated, and cross referenced by organs of the federal government.

George Orwell, Big Brother is holding your calls.
222  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / What the Auto Bailout Bodes on: June 03, 2011, 11:17:25 AM
Whitewashing the Auto Bailouts

Posted by Daniel Ikenson

With his appearance at a Toledo factory today, President Obama seems to want to make the auto bailout a campaign issue. Let’s welcome that. Americans should understand what transpired.
Fancying himself “Savior of the Auto Industry,” the president deserves credit only for choosing to insulate two companies (and the UAW) from the consequences of their decisions. But with that credit he must accept responsibility for sluggish U.S. business investment, limited job creation, and the anemic economic recovery, which is due in no small measure to the regime uncertainty that descends from his intervention in the auto industry.

The administration suggests that the entire cost of the auto bailout is captured by the outlays that haven’t or won’t be returned. Despite much smaller claims from the administration, that figure will be about $5.5 billion in Chrysler’s case (the administration is overlooking $4 billion written off when New Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy), and somewhere from $7-$15 billion in GM’s case (depending on average share price for 500 million shares). Should that loss have to be reported to the FEC on a dollar-per-auto-worker-vote basis?
But the costs are much greater than these outlays.

The most compelling objections to the bailout were not rooted in the belief that the government couldn’t use its assumed power to help Chrysler and GM. On the contrary, the most compelling objections were over concerns that the government would do just that. It is the consequences of that intervention—the undermining of the rule of law, the confiscations, the politically driven decisions, and the distortion of market signals—that animated the most serious objections. Ford never publicly objected to the interventions to rescue its rivals. Do you think Ford may feel entitled to a future bailout if needed, having foregone the recent one? Does Ford think it has a pretty good insurance policy if it takes excessive risks that go awry?  This is a cost that’s tough to measure, but an important cost nonetheless.

Any verdict on the outcome of the auto industry intervention must take into account, among other things, the billions of dollars in property confiscated from the auto companies’ debt-holders; the higher risk premium built into U.S. corporate debt as a result; the costs of denying the other more successful auto producers the spoils of competition (including additional market share and access to the resources misallocated at Chrysler and GM); the costs of rewarding irresponsible actors, like the UAW, by insulating them from the outcomes of what should have been an apolitical bankruptcy proceeding; the effects of GM’s nationalization on production, investment, and public policy decisions; the diminution of U.S. moral authority to counsel foreign governments against market interventions that can adversely affect U.S. businesses competing abroad, and; the corrosive impact on America’s institutions of the illegal diversion of TARP funds to achieve politically desirable outcomes.

Let’s make the auto bailout a campaign issue and see if we can’t reconcile all of its costs.
223  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The War on Drugs on: June 03, 2011, 11:16:25 AM
Again, I'm trying to get your criteria you'd use to judge any law enforcement policy's effectiveness.

If you deem the WOD a failure, please explain how the other "wars" are or are not a failure. Didn't Nixon also declare a war on cancer? We still have cancer, right?

Hmm, I think I understand. You are conceding the point that the WOD has failed by any rational standard, but it's a double secret concession, and now want to move on to a thesis that you won't state aloud 'cause it's silly, namely that a failed policy can't be abandoned despite it's failure unless it's failure is fully defined, not counting the trillion dollars, half million incarcerated, millions arrested, enriched enemies, damage done to our founding values, families ripped apart, law enforcement bribed and subverted and on and on and on.

You are sounding like others I won't bother naming; the contortions you have embraced to avoid speaking to the thesis under discussion speaks for itself.

BTW, there has been progress made in the war on cancer. Has there been progress made in the WOD, or does using the term "war" requires us to keep fighting wars we've lost by any rational standard?
224  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / What the Auto Bailouts Bode on: June 03, 2011, 11:05:52 AM
Whitewashing the Auto Bailouts

Posted by Daniel Ikenson

With his appearance at a Toledo factory today, President Obama seems to want to make the auto bailout a campaign issue. Let’s welcome that. Americans should understand what transpired.
Fancying himself “Savior of the Auto Industry,” the president deserves credit only for choosing to insulate two companies (and the UAW) from the consequences of their decisions. But with that credit he must accept responsibility for sluggish U.S. business investment, limited job creation, and the anemic economic recovery, which is due in no small measure to the regime uncertainty that descends from his intervention in the auto industry.

The administration suggests that the entire cost of the auto bailout is captured by the outlays that haven’t or won’t be returned. Despite much smaller claims from the administration, that figure will be about $5.5 billion in Chrysler’s case (the administration is overlooking $4 billion written off when New Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy), and somewhere from $7-$15 billion in GM’s case (depending on average share price for 500 million shares). Should that loss have to be reported to the FEC on a dollar-per-auto-worker-vote basis?
But the costs are much greater than these outlays.

The most compelling objections to the bailout were not rooted in the belief that the government couldn’t use its assumed power to help Chrysler and GM. On the contrary, the most compelling objections were over concerns that the government would do just that. It is the consequences of that intervention—the undermining of the rule of law, the confiscations, the politically driven decisions, and the distortion of market signals—that animated the most serious objections. Ford never publicly objected to the interventions to rescue its rivals. Do you think Ford may feel entitled to a future bailout if needed, having foregone the recent one? Does Ford think it has a pretty good insurance policy if it takes excessive risks that go awry?  This is a cost that’s tough to measure, but an important cost nonetheless.

Any verdict on the outcome of the auto industry intervention must take into account, among other things, the billions of dollars in property confiscated from the auto companies’ debt-holders; the higher risk premium built into U.S. corporate debt as a result; the costs of denying the other more successful auto producers the spoils of competition (including additional market share and access to the resources misallocated at Chrysler and GM); the costs of rewarding irresponsible actors, like the UAW, by insulating them from the outcomes of what should have been an apolitical bankruptcy proceeding; the effects of GM’s nationalization on production, investment, and public policy decisions; the diminution of U.S. moral authority to counsel foreign governments against market interventions that can adversely affect U.S. businesses competing abroad, and; the corrosive impact on America’s institutions of the illegal diversion of TARP funds to achieve politically desirable outcomes.

Let’s make the auto bailout a campaign issue and see if we can’t reconcile all of its costs.
225  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Privacy, Big Brother (State and Corporate) & the 4th Amendment on: June 03, 2011, 08:48:40 AM
And so all those yottabytes or storage are for. . . ? And the two pieces I've posted that are starting to unravel this mystery should be dismissed for what reason?

Just so you can get an idea of the scale of the storage that I guess is being used to catalog chicken salad sandwich recipes or something:

How Big is a Yottabyte? [Infographic]

By Alex Williams / May 17, 2011 9:30 AM / 0 Comments
Hacker News Share & Save

This post is part of our ReadWriteWeb Solution Series, which explores specific technologies and industries that use virtualization for critical operations. We hope this expert analysis and discussion will inspire you in use new ways to use virtualization technology within your organization. This post is sponsored by VMware & IBM. For more, see: IBM Tivoli Manager: Overcoming the Challenges of Backing Up and Restoring Virtual Machines

This year it's become clear that data is scaling to such an degree that you have to change how you manage your desktop and your entire information architecture in order to not just manage your daily work but to succeed.

It's the core issue of our day, one that's that's a top priority when planning to adopt a virtualized infrastructure that allows for people to access apps from tablets and smartphones.

The first step is to get a perspective on the size of the data. This infographic shows what a yottabyte represents in comparison to other terms for units of measurement. It may seem far out to think in such terms but considering projected storage requirements, the concept doesn't seem so far fetched.

As I'm sure you know, when evaluating an opponent you have to assess his capabilities rather than his intentions. The capabilities of US intelligence collection agencies is truly jaw dropping; you think we should dismiss those capabilities as we attempt to provide oversight for them?
226  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The War on Drugs on: June 03, 2011, 08:41:32 AM
What is the standard you want to use to decide if a law is worth enforcing or not? Simple question. Your answer is?

I see, so "failed by any rational standard," an argument you've yet to address in any meaningful way, gets trumped by "it's on the books so we gotta enforce" it even if it causes more problems than it cures, tears American founding ideals asunder, and enriches our enemies, too boot. That is your repartee?

It's not that I don't understand that you are trying to create an unstated syllogism, or in this case something better labeled a sillygism, that as best I can tell goes something like this:

All laws must be enforced,

The WOD embodies a lot of freaking laws,

Therefore you can't not enforce drug laws unless you're willing to not enforce murder laws either, so there. 

Don't see how those verbal gymnastics dispute my contention that the WOD has failed miserably by any sane standard, and can't see a reason to get involved in sophist sideshows when you've done such a poor job of addressing the thesis I've been harping on. All I can conclude is that you have an emotional investment in the WOD that trumps the rational debate you are usually capable of and hence I see no percentage in engaging the red herrings that appear to be all you are able to muster.
227  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / If it Can't Hurt, Then Stupid Oughta Cost on: June 03, 2011, 08:29:14 AM
Win on attorneys' fees in Chicago case
7th Circuit ruling here. After losing in the Supreme Court, and before the case came back down to the trial court so it could enter judgment, the defendant cities changed their handgun bans, and the trial court dismissed the case as moot. It then ruled in the NRA case that there were no "prevailing parties" to recover fees, since the only final judgment was a dismissal.

The Seventh Circuit reverses this. As the court asks, "By the time defendants bowed to the inevitable, plaintiffs had in hand a judgment of the Supreme Court that gave them everything they needed. If a favorable decision of the Supreme Court does not count as “the necessary judicial imprimatur” on the plaintiffs’ position (Buckhannon, 532 U.S. at 605), what would?"
228  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The War on Drugs on: June 02, 2011, 12:16:26 PM
In other words: "I got nothin'".

I assume that is self-referential as I've posted plenty that has yet to be responded to in a cogent manner. Or are you truly expecting me to make an argument neither of us agree with to the effect that because murders still occur we shouldn't prosecute murders and then extrapolate that finding in a manner magically demonstrating that the war on drugs has not failed by any rational standard? Whut?
229  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Privacy, Big Brother (State and Corporate) & the 4th Amendment on: June 02, 2011, 12:09:42 PM
If these methods are being used for counterterrorism investigations, do you think it would make sense to have an organizational chart of suspects that sprawls into the millions? If you have identified a "person of interest", you'd be looking to connect him/her to others in a cell, which would involve specifically sorting out all the chaff of normal interactions in the day to day life of the suspect.

Sure, which would by necessity require whomever to have recorded the locational data of every trackable device for a number of years as the only way to correlate that stuff would be to have all available location data stored somewhere. Once you find an association you wouldn't only want to project it forward, but mine it backwards too, yes? Guess we know what the NSA needs all those yottabytes of storage for. It'll be interesting to see what happens when American citizens discover that they all are being tracked all the time.
230  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / That's the Way the Carbon Crumbles on: June 02, 2011, 11:56:28 AM
Kyoto is croaking and now the bottom is falling out of carbon trading. Snicker:

Countdown to flatline: world carbon trading market falls for first time – World Bank reports rumblings of possible failure
Posted on June 2, 2011  by Anthony Watts
I wonder how long before flatlining occurs, like last year with the Chicago Climate   Exchange  (CCX):


Even the Guardian is covering this “failure” of carbon markets . They write:

The international market in carbon credits has suffered an almost total collapse, with only $1.5bn (£916m) of credits traded last year…

Now that the Kyoto protocol is essentially dead , the economic markets will surely pull life support for carbon trading with no political support in place for emissions reduction. With this report and news coverage, you can hear the traders already running for the exits.

Then there’s this from Reuters  – The Europe Union’s carbon market could be flooded with excess pollution permits over the next decade, cutting prices in half and depriving governments of billions in budgeted revenues, EU sources say

Growth in Global Carbon Market Pauses Amid Uncertainty

Press Release No:2011/514/SDN

World Bank Releases 2011 “State and Trends of the Carbon Market” Report

Barcelona, June 1, 2011 – The World Bank’s annual review of the global carbon market shows that 2010 was a watershed year as the market ended five years of robust growth with a slight decline compared to 2009. The State and Trends of the Carbon Market 2011, released today at Carbon Expo in Barcelona, shows that the total value of the global carbon market was estimated to be US$142 billion last year.

The report’s authors noted that several reasons help to explain the decline, including the continuing lack of clarity about the market after 2012 and the loss of political momentum on setting up new cap-and-trade schemes in several developed economies. Some buyers from industrialized countries, which in previous years had reached or surpassed targets, consequently made fewer purchases in 2010. As well, lingering effects of the recession in several industrialized countries led to lower greenhouse gas emissions, easing emissions reduction compliance obligations.

Furthermore, the primary Certified Emission Reductions (CERs) market, which accounts for the bulk of project-based transactions, fell by double digits for a variety of reasons, including lower demand for credits and competition from more predictable assets (Assigned Amount Units and secondary CERs). The CDM market is now at its lowest level since the Kyoto Protocol entered into force in 2005, having dropped by 46% to an estimated US$1.5 billion in new project-based transactions. Similarly, other carbon markets also declined or stayed at their plateau. Nevertheless, cumulatively, primary offset transactions have reached almost US$30 billion since 2005 and are expected to have catalyzed much larger resources, mostly from the private sector.

“The global carbon market is at a crossroads. If we take the wrong turn we risk losing billions of lower cost private investment and new technology solutions in developing countries,” said Andrew Steer, World Bank Special Envoy for Climate Change. “This report sends a message of the need to ensure a stronger, more robust carbon market with clear signals.”

State and Trends of the Carbon Market 2011 shows that, relative to each other, EU Allowances (traded under the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, ETS) remain the largest segment by far, with 84% of the total value of the carbon market. Taking secondary CDM transactions into account, the value of the market driven by the ETS reached 97% of the global market value.

The authors of the report predict that, in the next two years, the difference between gross demand for and the cumulative supply of carbon credits generated under the Kyoto flexibility mechanisms will be slightly less than US$140 million. Virtually all demand will be from European governments. Beyond 2012, although the potential demand for emission reductions could reach 3 billion tons or more, the only substantial and unconditional demand to date comes from Europe, estimated at 1.7 billion tons. The supply available between 2013 and 2020, through existing projects, is seen as sufficient to fill that demand, leaving little incentive for project developers to invest further and create a future supply of emission reductions.

The fall in market value was contrasted with what was generally seen as the successful outcomes of negotiations at the UN climate change conference in Cancun in December which resulted in relatively more positive market sentiment.

Although some opportunities for strengthening regulatory frameworks were missed in industrialized countries, national and local low-carbon initiatives gathered strength and offered hope.

“Carbon market growth halted at a particularly inopportune time: 2010 proved to be the hottest year on record, while global emission levels continued to rise relentlessly,” said Alexandre Kossoy, World Bank Senior Financial Specialist. “At the same time, other national and local low-carbon initiatives have picked up noticeably in both developed and developing economies. Collectively, they offer the possibility overcome regulatory uncertainty and signal that, one way or another, solutions that address the climate challenge will emerge.”

In the face of lagging demand, the World Bank has undertaken a number of initiatives to give confidence to a post-2012 carbon market. The Partnership for Market Readiness, launched in Cancun in December 2010, aims to support the trend of national mitigation efforts using market approaches. A number of the World Bank’s carbon funds and facilities, such as the Carbon Partnership Facility, the second tranche of the Umbrella Carbon Facility, and a new facility for low-income countries currently under development, also respond to future needs by supporting scaled up mitigation and purchasing carbon credits beyond 2012. Furthermore, the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility is supporting REDD+ initiatives which, to date, have not been included under the CDM. The Bank sees carbon markets as an important and versatile tool to provide incentives for a shift to lower carbon development paths.

State and Trends of the Carbon Market 2011 was released at CARBON EXPO 2011, the largest carbon fair in the world with more than 3,000 representatives from governments, private sector and civil society organizations involved in greenhouse gas emission reduction transactions around the world.

For more information on the World Bank’s carbon finance activities and the electronic version of this report, please visit the website:
231  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The War on Drugs on: May 28, 2011, 06:22:08 AM
What is the rational measure for success/failure in enforcing any law? If we enforce laws against any crime, and we still have more crimes committed, is that a failure?

Sir: I have a long list of questions and statements that you have failed to address in any meaningful way throughout this thread, unless one counts the ad hominem. Before I devote the energy to untangle yet more rank sophistry such as that quoted above, do you have any data that suggest the WOD has not failed by any rational standard? You know, the thing we are arguing about here?

This discussion has crossed the line from informed debate to the sort of uninspired, repetitive, non-sequitor laden verbal gymnastics you have given others grief for in no uncertain terms when encountered elsewhere on this forum. Are you unable to grasp that irony? Are you so locked into the anti-drug dogma that the complete failure of the WOD impacts your thinking not one whit? If so, further conversation makes no more sense than debating the heliocentric universe with a medieval bishop and I will devote no more time to it where you are concerned.
232  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Who's Near Fear on: May 28, 2011, 06:07:42 AM
A lot of inferences and suppositions here, but I think they are on to something. My guess is that, among other things, domestic spooks are tracking terror suspects via cell phone locational data, noting what other cells are proximate to suspects as they go about their day, then looking for patterns within that locational data post facto. This leads to a couple scary conclusions: first, if you find yourself stopped at a light next to a suspect of some sort, your locational data likely now has someone's interest piqued. Say you work at a college with several active Muslim organizations on it; there is likely no way not to end up next to someone who's phone is being tracked.

Secondly, there is no way these sorts of associational searches are being run in real time. That strongly implies that all "business record" (see below) locational data for all cell phones are being obtained and archived somewhere, with the situational searches run after the fact. If true that means ever citizen owning something with locational tracking ability has all their movements stored somewhere by who knows who, with who knows what kind of shelf life, accessible for who knows what reason, to who knows what end. Oversight would appear negligible in the vacuum within which all this is occurring. A massive infringement on constitutional protections as I understand them, in other words, one sure to be answered to some day.

Atlas Bugged: Why the “Secret Law” of the Patriot Act Is Probably About Location Tracking

Posted by Julian Sanchez

Barack Obama’s AutoPen has signed another four-year extension of three Patriot Act powers, but one silver lining of this week’s lopsided battle over the law is that mainstream papers like The New York Times have finally started to take note of the growing number of senators who have raised an alarm over a “secret interpretation” of Patriot’s “business records” authority (aka Section 215). It would appear to be linked to a “sensitive collection program” referenced by a Justice Department official at hearings during the previous reauthorization debate—one that would be disrupted if 215 orders were restricted to the records of suspected terrorists, their associates, or their “activities” (e.g., large purchases of chemicals used to make bombs). Naturally, lots of people are starting to wonder just what this program, and the secret interpretation of the law that may be associated with it, are all about.

All we can do is speculate, of course: only a handful of legislators and people with top-secret clearances know for sure. But a few of us who closely monitor national security and surveillance issues have come to the same conclusion: it probably involves some form of cellular phone geolocation tracking, potentially on a large scale. The evidence for this is necessarily circumstantial, but I think it’s fairly persuasive when you add it all up.

First, a bit of background. The recent fiery floor speeches from Sens. Wyden and Udall are the first time widespread attention has been drawn to this issue—but it was actually first broached over a year ago, by Sen. Richard Durbin and then-Sen. Russ Feingold, as I point out in my new paper on Patriot surveillance. Back in 2005, language that would have required Section 215 business record orders to pertain to terror suspects, or their associates, or the “activities” of a terror group won the unanimous support of the Senate Judiciary Committee, though was not ultimately included in the final reauthorization bill. Four years later, however, the Justice Department was warning that such a requirement would interfere with that “sensitive collection program.” As Durbin complained at the time:

The real reason for resisting this obvious, common-sense modification of Section 215 is unfortunately cloaked in secrecy. Some day that cloak will be lifted, and future generations will ask whether our actions today meet the test of a democratic society: transparency, accountability, and fidelity to the rule of law and our Constitution.

Those are three pretty broad categories of information—and it should raise a few eyebrows to learn that the Justice Department believes it routinely needs to get information outside its scope for counterterror investigations. Currently, any record asserted to be “relevant” to an investigation (a standard so low it’s barely a standard) is subject to Section 215, and records falling within those three categories enjoy a “presumption of relevance.” That means the judges on the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court lack discretion to evaluate for themselves whether such records are really relevant to an investigation; they must presume their relevance. With that in mind, consider that the most recent report to Congress on the use of these powers shows a record 96 uses of Section 215 in 2010, up from 22 the previous year. Perhaps most surprisingly though, the FISC saw fit to “modify” (which almost certainly means “narrow the scope of”) 42 of those orders. Since the court’s discretion is limited with respect to records of suspected terrorists and their associates, it seems probable that those “modifications” involved applications for orders that sweep more broadly. But why would such records be needed? Hold that thought.

Fast forward to this week. We hear Sen. Wyden warning that “When the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned and they will be angry,” a warning echoed by Sen. Udall. We know that this surprising and disturbing interpretation concerns one of the three provisions that had been slated for sunset. Lone Wolf remains unused, so that’s out, leaving roving wiretaps and Section 215. In the context of remarks by Sens. Feingold and Durbin, and the emphasis recently placed on concerns about Section 215 by Sen. Udall, the business records provision seems like a safe bet. By its explicit terms, that authority is already quite broad: What strained secret interpretation of it could be surprising to both legislators and the general public, but also meet with the approval of the FISC and the Office of Legal Counsel?

For one possible answer, look to the criminal context, where the Department of Justice has developed a novel legal theory, known as the “hybrid theory,” according to which law enforcement may do some types of geolocation tracking of suspects’ cellular phones without obtaining a full-blown probable cause warrant. The “hybrid theory” involves fusing two very different types of surveillance authority. “Pen registers” allow the monitoring, in real time, of the communications “metadata” from phones or other communications devices (phone numbers dialed, IP addresses connected to). For cellular phones, that “metadata” would often make it possible to pinpoint at least approximately—and, increasingly, with a good deal of precision, especially in urban areas—the location of the user. Federal law, however, prohibits carriers from disclosing location information “solely” pursuant to a pen register order. Another type of authority, known as a 2703(d) order, is a bit like Patriot’s business records authority (though only for telecommunications providers), and is used to compel the production of historical (as opposed to real-time/prospective) records, without any exclusion on location information. The Justice Department’s novel theory—which I discussed at a recent Cato event with Sen. Wyden on geolocation tracking—is that by bundling these two authorities in a new kind of combination order, they can do real-time geolocation tracking without the need to obtain a full Fourth Amendment warrant based on probable cause. Many courts have been skeptical of this theory and rejected it—but at least some have gone along with this clever bit of legal origami. Using the broad business records power of Patriot’s Section 215 in a similar way, to enable physical tracking of anyone with a cellphone, would seem to fit the bill, then: certainly surprising and counterintuitive, not what most people think of when we talk about “obtaining business records,” but nevertheless a maneuver with a legal track record of convincing some courts.

Now, consider that Sen. Wyden has also recently developed a concern with the practice of mobile location tracking, which has become so popular that the U.S. Marshall Service, now the federal government’s most prolific (known) user of pen register orders, of which it issued over 6,000 last year, employs the “hybrid theory” to obtain location information by default with each such order. Wyden has introduced legislation that would establish standards for mobile location tracking, which has two surprising and notable feature. First, while the location tracking known to the public all involves criminal investigations subject to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), that’s not where Wyden’s bill makes its primary modifications. Instead, the key amendments are made directly to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act—which language is then incorporated by reference into ECPA. Second, even though one section establishes the “exclusive means” for geolocation tracking, the proposal goes out of its way to additionally modify the FISA pen register provision and the Section 215 business records provision to explicitly prohibit their use to obtain geolocation information—as though there is some special reason to worry about those provisions being used that way, requiring any possible ambiguity to be removed.

Sen. Udall, meanwhile, always uses the same two examples when he talks about his concerns regarding Section 215: he warns about “unfettered” government access to “business records ranging from a cell phone company’s phone records to an individual’s library history,” even when the records relate to people with no connection to terrorism.  The reference to libraries is no surprise, because the specter of Section 215 being used to probe people’s reading habits was raised so insistently by librarians that it became common to see it referenced as the “library provision.” The other example is awfully specific though: he singles out cell phone records, even though many types of sensitive phone records can already be obtained without judicial oversight using National Security Letters. But he doesn’t just say “phone records”—it’s cell phone records he’s especially concerned about. And where he talks about “an individual’s” library records, he doesn’t warn about access to “an individual’s” cell phone records, but rather the company’s records.  As in, the lot of them.

Tracking the location of suspected terrorists, and perhaps their known associates, might not seem so objectionable—though one could argue whether Section 215′s “relevance” standard was sufficient, or whether a full FISA electronic surveillance warrant (requiring a showing of probable cause) would be a more appropriate tool. But that kind of targeted tracking would not require broad access to records of people unconnected to terror suspects and their known associates, which is hinted at by both Sen. Udall’s remarks and the high rate of modifications imposed on Section 215 orders by the FISA court. Why might that be needed in the course of a geolocation tracking program?

For a possible answer, turn to the “LocInt” or “Location Intelligence” services marketed to U.S. law enforcement and national security clients by the firm TruePosition. Among the capabilities the company boasts for its software (drawn from both its site and a 2008 white paper the company sponsored) are:

● the ability to analyze location intelligence to detect suspicious behavioral patterns,
● the ability to mine historical mobile phone data to detect relationships between people, locations, and events,
● TruePosition LOCINT can mine location data to find out if the geoprofile of a prepaid phone matches the geoprofile of a potential threat and identify it as such, and
● leveraging location intelligence, officials can identify mobile phones of interest that frequently communicate with each other, or are within close proximity, making it easier to identify criminals and their associates. [Emphasis added.]

Certainly one can see how these functions might be useful: terrorists trained in counterintelligence tactics might seek to avoid surveillance, or identification of co-conspirators, by communicating only in person. Calling records would be useless for revealing physical meetings—but location records are another story. What these functions have in common, however, is that like any kind of data mining, they require access to a large pool of data, not just the records of a known suspect. You can find out who your suspect is phoning by looking at his phone records. But if you want to know who he’s in close physical proximity to—with unusual frequency, and most likely alone—you need to sift through everyone’s phone location records, or at any rate a whole lot of them.  The interesting thing is, it’s not obvious there’s any legal way to actually do all that: full-fledged electronic surveillance warrants would be a non-starter, since they require probable cause for each target. But clearly the company expects to be able to sell these capabilities to some government entity. The obvious candidate is the FBI, availing itself of the broad authority of Section 215—perhaps in combination with FISA pen registers when the tracking needs to happen in real time.

As a final note of interest, the Office of the Inspector Generals’ reports on National Security Letter contain numerous oblique references to “community of interest [REDACTED]” requests. Traditional “community of interest” analysis means looking at the pattern of communications of not just the primary suspect of an investigation, but their whole social circle—the people the suspect communicates with, and perhaps the people they in turn communicate with, and so on. Apparently the fact that the FBI does this sort of traditional CoI analysis is not considered secret, because that phrase remains unredacted. What, then, could that single omitted word be? One candidate that would fit in the available space is “location” or “geolocation”—meaning either location tracking of people called by the suspect or perhaps the use of location records to build a suspect’s “community of interest” by “identify[ing] mobile phones…within close proximity” to the suspects. The Inspector General reports cover the first few years following passage of the Patriot Act, before an opinion from the Office of Legal Counsel held that NSLs could not properly be used to obtain the full range of communications metadata the FBI had been getting under them. If NSLs had been used for location-tracking information prior to that 2008 opinion, it would likely have been necessary to rely on Section 215 past that point, which would fit the timeline.

Is all of that conclusive? Of course not; again, this is speculation. But a lot of data points fit, and it would be quite surprising if the geolocation capabilities increasingly being called upon for criminal investigations were not being used for intelligence purposes. If they are, Section 215 is the natural mechanism.

Even if I’m completely wrong, however, the larger point remains: while intelligence operations must remain secret, a free and democratic society is not supposed to be governed by secret laws—and substantive judicial interpretations are no less a part of “the law” than the text of statutes. Whatever power the government has arrogated to itself by an “innovative” interpretation of the Patriot Act, it should be up to a free citizenry to consider the case for it, determine whether it is so vital to security to justify the intrusion on privacy, and hold their representatives accountable accordingly. Instead, Congress has essential voted blind—reauthorizing powers that even legislators, let alone the public, do not truly understand. Whether it’s location tracking or something else, this is fundamentally incompatible with the preconditions of both democracy and a free society.
233  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The War on Drugs on: May 27, 2011, 12:57:30 PM
GM: Feel free to post stories of drug orphans that supports your arrest millions, incarcerate hundreds of thousands, spend trillions all to no discernible benefit position. I've no desire to foist prior restraint, and offer no apologies when I provide a concrete example of the utter folly of the drug war and drug warriors. Please further note a qualitative difference in our posting habits: I post a primary source speaking specifically to the thesis I've outlined repeatedly, while your drug orphans appear generically, with few specifics, specifics I suspect would bulwark my thesis far better than they would support yours if they were indeed offered. Red herrings, in other words, brought forth to guise your inability to seriously challenge the thesis that the drug war has failed by any rational measure.

BTW, see the recently released FBI crime stats? It seems serious crime is falling, which suggests to me something is being done correctly. Any similar dataset to support your authoritarian predilections where the drug war is concerned or does my thesis that the war on drugs has failed by any rational criteria still stand?
234  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Missing Bits of Universe Found? on: May 27, 2011, 12:36:05 PM
I love it when amateurs make big discoveries:

Universe's Not-So-Missing Mass
ScienceDaily (May 24, 2011) — A Monash student has made a breakthrough in the field of astrophysics, discovering what has until now been described as the Universe's 'missing mass'. Amelia Fraser-McKelvie, working within a team at the Monash School of Physics, conducted a targeted X-ray search for the matter and within just three months found it -- or at least some of it.

What makes the discovery all the more noteworthy is the fact that Ms Fraser-McKelvie is not a career researcher, or even studying at a postgraduate level. She is a 22-year-old undergraduate Aerospace Engineering/Science student who pinpointed the missing mass during a summer scholarship, working with two astrophysicists at the School of Physics, Dr Kevin Pimbblet and Dr Jasmina Lazendic-Galloway.
The School of Physics put out a call for students interested in a six-week paid astrophysics research internship during a recent vacation period, and chose Ms Fraser-McKelvie from a large number of applicants. Dr Pimbblet, lecturer in the School of Physics put the magnitude of the discovery in context by explaining that scientists had been hunting for the Universe's missing mass for decades.
"It was thought from a theoretical viewpoint that there should be about double the amount of matter in the local Universe compared to what was observed. It was predicted that the majority of this missing mass should be located in large-scale cosmic structures called filaments -- a bit like thick shoelaces," said Dr Pimbblet.
Astrophysicists also predicted that the mass would be low in density, but high in temperature -- approximately one million degrees Celsius. This meant that, in theory, the matter should have been observable at X-ray wavelengths. Amelia Fraser-McKelvie's discovery has proved that prediction correct.
Ms Fraser-McKelvie said the 'Eureka moment' came when Dr Lazendic-Galloway closely examined the data they had collected.
"Using her expert knowledge in the X-ray astronomy field, Jasmina reanalysed our results to find that we had in fact detected the filaments in our data, where previously we believed we had not."
X-ray observations provide important information about physical properties of large-scale structures, which can help astrophysicists better understand their true nature. Until now, they had been making deductions based only on numerical models, so the discovery is a huge step forward in determining what amount of mass is actually contained within filaments.
Still a year away from undertaking her Honours year (which she will complete under the supervision of Dr Pimbblet), Ms Fraser-McKelvie is being hailed as one of Australia's most exciting young students. Her work has been published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
"Being a published author is very exciting for me, and something I could never have achieved without the help of both Kevin and Jasmina. Their passion and commitment for this project ensured the great result and I am very thankful to them for all the help they have given me and time they have invested," said Ms Fraser-McKelvie.
Dr Pimbblet said that he had under his tuition a very talented student who excelled in performing the breakthrough research.
"She has managed to get a refereed publication accepted by one of the highest ranking astronomy journals in the world as a result of her endeavours. I cannot underscore enough what a terrific achievement this is. We will use this research as a science driver for future telescopes that are being planned, such as the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder, which is being built in outback Western Australian."
235  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Fracking Unbelievable on: May 26, 2011, 05:23:30 PM
Reason Magazine

Is Natural Gas Really Worse Than Coal? A Case of Activist Science Versus Real Science?

Ronald Bailey | May 26, 2011

Cornell University environmental biologist Robert Howarth led a team of researchers that put together and published an article in Climatic Change back in April that claimed natural gas produced by means of hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking) is worse than burning coal when it comes to man-made warming of the atmosphere. The argument turns on the fact that a molecule of methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than is carbon dioxide.

Howarth and his team made some highly contestable number jiggering with methane's over-all global warming potential (GWP) and estimates about how much methane escapes from wells and pipelines into the atmosphere. Climatologists generally consider the effect of methane over a 100 year period, but Howarth's team decided to use a 20-year period. This considerably boosts methane's near-term GWP from the more usual 25 times that of carbon dioxide to more than 105 times. In addition, Howarth uses very dodgy data with regard to just how much methane escapes into the atmosphere.

Now the Department of Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory has done a life cycle analysis of gas versus coal and comes to a very different conclusion with regard to their effects on climate change:

Average natural gas baseload power generation has a life cycle GWP 50 percent lower (emphasis added) than average coal baseload power generation on a 20-year time horizon.

So even accepting Howarth's controversial 20-year time horizon, natural gas is much better than coal. This is basically the conclusion that most analysts had reached for years now. Never mind, the damage is done. Funds will be wasted on unnecessary research and regulations.

I cannot prove it, but I am beginning to get scared that Howarth's paper is an example of a growing trend in politicized sciences. When the herd of independent minds that constitutes the environmental community decides something is "bad," some activist scientist (motivated by the best of intentions I am sure) will step into the breach to cobble together a paper in support that foregone conclusion. Peer review appears to be powerless before the pressure of this kind of groupthink.
236  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The War on Drugs on: May 26, 2011, 11:38:49 AM
Oy vey. Victim v. victimless crimes. We've been there. Now that we've disposed of the reductio ad absurdum what's next? Ad hominem? Appeal to authority? Roll out the drug orphans again?
237  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / What's the Blue Book Price? on: May 26, 2011, 11:32:22 AM
By Conn Carroll
Created May 24 2011 - 4:26pm
The truth behind Chrysler’s fake auto bailout pay back

It is not every day that the White House and Democratic National Committee celebrate a supposedly private company’s debt restructuring plan, but such is the marriage of big government and big business under the Obama administration. The New York Times reports: “Chrysler said Tuesday that it had paid back $7.6 billion in loans from the American and Canadian governments, marking another significant step in the revival of the company, the smallest of the Detroit automakers.”

But as The Truth About Cars reports, the loan pay back is just another Obama con job:

Back in November of 2009, when GM announced that it would repay its government loans, it didn’t take much investigation to realize that The General was simply shuffling government money from one pocket to the other and that true “payback” was still a ways off. … And now that our government finds itself “contemplating a runaway deficit and getting rid of its 8 percent of Chrysler’s equity,” would you believe that a similar federal money-shuffle is under way? Believe it.

American taxpayers have already spent more than $13 billion bailing out Chrysler. The Obama administration already forgave more than $4 billion of that debt when the company filed for bankruptcy in 2009. Taxpayers are never getting that money back. But how is Chrysler now paying off the rest of the $7.6 billion they owe the Treasury Department?

The Obama administration’s bailout agreement with Fiat gave the Italian car company a “Incremental Call Option” that allows it to buy up to 16% of Chrysler stock at a reduced price. But in order to exercise the option, Fiat had to first pay back at least $3.5 billion of its loan to the Treasury Department. But Fiat was having trouble getting private banks to lend it the money. Enter Obama Energy Secretary Steven Chu who has signaled that he will approve a fuel-efficient vehicle loan to Chrysler for … wait for it … $3.5 billion. TTAC comments:

Now, technically the DOE loan program is supposed to be used for specific, qualifying retooling projects, so Fiat can’t literally take the DOE money and use it to pay back the government loans. But freeing up $3.5b in capital that would otherwise be spent on retooling with low-cost loans will make it infinitely easier for Chrysler to secure the $3.5b in debt refinancing it needs. And, in light of the GAO’s pointed criticisms of the DOE loan program’s fairness and transparency, it’s hard to overlook the coincidental nature of Chrysler’s need for $3.5b and the government’s allocation of extra funds to apparently guarantee a low cost loan to Chrysler for precisely the same amount. After all, we’ve seen this movie before..

So, to recap, the Obama Energy Department is loaning a foreign car company $3.5 billion so that it can pay the Treasury Department $7.6 billion even though American taxpayers spent $13 billion to save an American car company that is currently only worth $5 billion.

Oh, and Obama plans to make this “success” a centerpiece of his 2012 campaign.

Beltway Confidential audacity auto bailout Chrysler Fiat
Source URL:
238  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Chasing One's Tail in the Big Muddy on: May 25, 2011, 06:42:22 PM
Oh my goodness. The thesis I've been hammering on in this thread--US drug policy has failed by any sane standard--has not been seriously challenged by any post herein. We've been treated to equivocation, tail chasing, law and order chest thrumming, blamed the symptoms for the disease, and all manner of other sophistry, but NOTHING posted in this thread has come close to causing me to rethink the proposition that our drug policy is the rankest kind of counterproductive folly, and I expect I am not alone in that belief.

So here we have a couple of sexagenarians on social security with no insurance dealing with what appears to be a terminal disease and contending with these sad circumstances by planting an herb that has been used medicinally for thousands of years and the best you got is that these folks of little means should move out of state or suck it up and do the time? For real? This, in your opinion, conforms with the protect and serve ethic? Think the nation's founders would give this travesty a thumbs up? There have been a lot of jurisdictions with a lot of stupid laws--say the eugenic folly foisted by progressive forbearers--would you back all of them as long as they are on the books or does there come a time when rational examination of costs, benefits, results and impact on our humanity suggests that perhaps a policy with no demonstrable upside should be, oh I dunno, reassessed?

There have been folks on this list who have presented global warming as a issue so dire that only policies that would return this nation to a pre-industrial age can save us and no amount of evidence to the contrary caused them to reassess their Luddite proscriptions. There are others who think world opinion bears so much weight that Israel should return to pre-'67 borders despite the fact they are surrounded by sworn enemies committed to their national destruction that would then exploit that return to accomplish what they've never forsworn, yet no argument against national suicide sways them, either. And then there's you who has been shown the unmitigated stupidity of our current anti-drug crusade yet continues to insists against all evidence that this is the Big Muddy in which we must continue to wade. Is this the company you really want to be counted among?

I guess it's time to make fun of Libertarian impotence again, or launch another appeal on the behalf of the kids made drug orphans and wards by the policies of the state, or toss out a one liner about some other substance issue dealt with by another state in another time that has little bearing on current discussion, or do an internet dump, or just generally behave so didactically that it's easier to avoid the conversation than to deal with another lap around an unproductive track. But should you do any or all the fact remains that current US drug policy has utterly failed by any sane measure, a thesis you have yet to address to any successful degree.
239  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The War on Drugs on: May 25, 2011, 01:36:33 PM
That would be the rule of law meant to protect 69 year old cancer patients from . . . oh wait a second. Nevermind.
240  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / A Tale Sure to Warm the Heart of Every Drug Warrior on: May 25, 2011, 12:27:42 PM
New and Improved, and now without any Iranian Plutonium!

Illegal Act of Love: Wife Says Husband Grew Pot for Her
Autumn Ziemba
Fox 8 News Reporter
6:57 p.m. EDT, May 6, 2011

MEDINA, Ohio -- A Medina County senior citizen is sentenced to jail time for cultivating marijuana that he says was medicinal for his wife with cancer.

Friday, 69-year-old Gary Burton was sentenced to 60 days in jail, 30 days house arrest and two years probation, with credit for time served.
Burton was arrested in January for cultivating marijuana in excess of 1,000 grams, which is a third degree felony.

But some argue that Burton's reason for committing the crime far outweighs the law.

"He was just trying to take care of me, the best way he knew how," says a tearful Sherri Burton, Gary's wife of 44 years.

Sherri suffers from depression and anxiety, and was diagnosed with breast cancer  that has now spread to her lymph nodes .

The diagnosis was a major blow to the couple.

"If I didn't have Gary there to hang onto me and hold me and say 'it's okay,' I probably wouldn't have gotten through a lot of those days," Sherri says.

But she says Gary wanted to ease her fear and pain with something natural that he could provide on his own.

"[The marijuana has] helped me in sleeping at night. Even though I'm on other medication, it's helped me to relax and not be consumed by the cancer," Sherri explains.

The couple planted two marijuana plants in a secluded spot in their own Chippewa Lake back yard.

Sherri says they chose to grow their own because they wanted it to be pure and free of chemicals.

Gary is now serving his sentence at the Medina County Jail--a sentence some consider to be lenient, but to Sherri, it might as well be a lifetime.

"I don't even want to think about the next 60 days. I don't even want to think about tomorrow," she says.

Their vow was 'in sickness and in health,' but with Gary behind bars, Sherri will have to endure her next two months of treatment alone.

"I refuse to go for surgery unless he's by my side. I need him by my side," she says. "We just want to relax and enjoy what time we have left, and who knows how long that will be. Nobody knows."

Now Sherri want to public to understand one thing.

"Marijuana is not as evil or bad as they think it is," she says. "They need to keep an open mind, and someday, they may need it themselves."

The couple hasn't had health insurance since Gary retired several years ago.

It's possible they may also lose their social security benefits while Gary is behind bars.,0,1667279.story
241  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Privacy, Big Brother (State and Corporate) & the 4th Amendment on: May 25, 2011, 12:15:15 PM
Don't forget all those horrific counter-terrorism efforts intended to prevent religious activists from using plutonium as an aspect of their belief system. Plutonium is NATURAL, and thus incapible of doing anything bad.

Apples, meet oranges. Or kumquats. Or something.
242  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Bad Guys & Bonehead Response on: May 25, 2011, 12:11:03 PM
Almost posted this in both the cognitive dissonance of the right, and left's threads:

About the Authors
Donald Boudreaux is professor of economics at George Mason University, a former FEE president, and the author of Globalization. He is the winner of the 2009 Thomas Szasz Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Cause of Civil Liberties (general category). ... See All Posts by This Author

Thoughts on Freedom | Donald J. Boudreaux
Stop the Bad Guys
June 2011 • Volume: 61 • Issue: 5 •    Print This Post • 0 comments
It’s not too much of a simplification to say that modern American conservatives believe the national government to be ignorant, bumbling, and corrupt when it meddles in the U.S. economy, but sagacious, sure-footed, and righteous when it meddles in foreign-government affairs.

Nor are the boundaries of acceptable simplification breached by saying that modern American “liberals” believe the national government to be sagacious, sure-footed, and righteous when it meddles in the U.S. economy, but ignorant, bumbling, and corrupt when it meddles in foreign-government affairs.

This striking contradiction in political viewpoints has not, of course, gone unnoticed.

I was prompted to ponder this contradiction not long ago after I read an op-ed in the Washington Post by the neoconservative William Kristol calling on Uncle Sam to attempt to influence the outcomes of the recent popular uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East. My ponderings produced a hypothesis: Modern conservatives and “liberals” are obsessively fixated on bad guys (just different ones).

For both conservatives and “liberals” the world is full of problems caused by bad actors—greedy, heartless, power-hungry autocrats who deploy illegitimately acquired power to trample the rights and livelihoods of the masses. Ordinary men and women seek liberation from these tyrants, but—being ordinary and oppressed—the typical person cannot escape the overlords’ predation without help. Their liberation requires forceful intervention by well-meaning and courageous outsiders.

For “liberals” the oppressed masses consist of workers and the poor, and the oligarchs who do the oppressing are business people and private corporations. What encourages this oppression are free markets and their accompanying doctrine of nonintervention by government into the economy.

However, contrary to the “liberals,” nonintervention rests on at least three truths: First, the complexities of modern economies are so great, and hard to discern, that it is absurdly fanciful to suppose that government officials can intervene without causing more harm than good. Even the most well-meaning government is akin to a bull in a china shop: Out of its natural element, even government’s most careful actions will be so sweeping and awkward that the net result will be unintentionally destructive.

Second, even if economic intervention begins with the best of motives, it degenerates into a process of transferring wealth from the politically powerless to the politically powerful. The interventions continue to sport noble names (such as the “Great Society programs” and the “Fair Labor Standards Act”) and to be marketed as heroic efforts to defend the weak against the strong. But these, however, are nothing more than cynical and disingenuous political marketing efforts aimed at hiding from the general public the actual, unsavory consequences of these interventions.

Third, many situations that appear to well-meaning outsiders to be so undesirable that someone simply must intervene to correct them are understood by many of the people most closely affected by these situations to be superior to likely alternatives.

“Unequal income distribution” is perhaps the foremost such situation. While most “liberals” are obsessed with the “distribution” of income and believe that people of modest means must be especially disturbed by the fact that some other people earn more than they earn, in fact the typical American of modest means is far less bothered by “unequal” income “distribution” than are members of the “liberal” academy and punditry. This latter fact only further confirms to the “liberal” mind that ordinary Americans need third-party intervention to save them from their own naiveté; ordinary Americans just don’t know what glories they are denying themselves by acquiescing in the prevailing economic power structure.

Modern “liberals” dismiss these three objections to economic intervention as being fanciful excuses used by the economically powerful—and, even worse, also by the economically naive free-market faithful—to provide (flimsy) intellectual cover for predations by capitalist bad guys. The realistic assessments by modern “liberals” indicate to them that economic intervention is necessary and righteous.

A nearly identical debate plays out on the foreign-policy front, but with the sides switched.

For modern American conservatives the oppressed masses consist of foreign peoples yearning for American-style freedom and political franchise. But these unfortunate foreigners are oppressed by oligarchs who happen to control their governments. “Liberals” (and liberals) who adhere to a doctrine of U.S. government nonintervention in foreign affairs raise the same three objections that conservatives (and liberals) raise against government intervention in the economy.

First, the complexities of foreign governments’ relationships with their citizens are so great and hard to discern that it is absurdly fanciful to suppose that Uncle Sam can intervene without causing more harm than good. Even the most well-meaning intervention is akin to a bull in a china shop: Out of its natural element, even Uncle Sam’s most careful actions will be so sweeping and awkward that the net result will be unintentionally destructive.

Second, even if foreign intervention begins with the best of motives, it degenerates into a process of transferring wealth from the politically powerless to the politically powerful. The interventions continue to enjoy noble names (such as “Operation Iraqi Freedom”) and to be marketed as heroic efforts to defend the weak against the strong. But these, however, are nothing more than cynical and disingenuous political marketing efforts aimed at hiding from the general public the actual, unsavory consequences of these interventions in which corporations such as Halliburton and Blackwater rake in huge, undeserved profits at the expense of the American taxpayer and the foreign populations ostensibly being helped.

Third, many situations that appear to well-meaning outsiders to be so undesirable that someone simply must intervene are understood by many of the people most closely affected by these situations to be superior to likely alternatives. As oppressive as Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime genuinely was, it’s not at all clear that merely disposing of this particular bad guy has liberated Iraqis from oppression. Saddam’s rule was very much a result—and certainly not the principal cause—of Iraq’s anti-liberal culture and dysfunctional social institutions, not to mention earlier U.S. intervention.

Foreign countries’ political, economic, and social institutions are too complex and too deeply rooted in unique histories to be adequately grasped by American politicians and military leaders. Therefore American intervention—which is inevitably ham-fisted—adds to this mix only confusion and turmoil.

The two kinds of intervention situations aren’t analogous in all details; differences exist. But these differences are small when compared to the similarities. “Liberals’” confidence that domestic markets can be improved by battalions of bureaucrats charged with keeping bad guys in line is surprisingly similar to conservatives’ confidence that the welfare of foreigners can be improved by battalions of U.S. military troops charged with keeping bad guys in line.
243  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Privacy, Big Brother (State and Corporate) & the 4th Amendment on: May 25, 2011, 08:56:27 AM
And abominable, counterproductive drug laws that produce the appearance of probable cause every time an herb is ignited.
244  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Mexican Trace Data Mayhem on: May 25, 2011, 08:53:04 AM
Hmm, very telling exploration of Mexican gun trace request data, one that I expect won't see much ink in American papers:

Excerpts, along with an astute comment, via Of Arms & the Law blog:

Guns tracing to Mexico
Colby Goodman, of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars has an interesting study. A few excerpts:

"While ATF has some information on firearms recovered in Mexico, a total of 69,808 firearms as of May 2010, ATF agents say they can use only about eight percent of Mexico’s firearm trace requests to initiate investigations, in part because many of the trace requests lack basic identification data and were purchased in the United States more than five years ago. The U.S. government also faces substantial challenges, particularly in identifying firearms traffickers and persuading U.S. Attorneys to accept more criminal cases related to firearms trafficking to Mexico. Perhaps the most worrying from the Mexican government’s point of view, however, is ATF’s Fast and Furious Operation based out of Phoenix, Arizona, which reportedly allowed hundreds of firearms to be sold to potentially known traffickers as a way to build more attractive cases for U.S. Attorneys and ATF did not notify Mexican authorities."

"According to new statistics provided by the U.S. and Mexican governments, Mexico has submitted a total of 78,194 firearm trace requests to the United States from FY 2007 to FY 2010.34 During approximately the same time frame, President Calderon said Mexico had seized about 90,000 arms.35 Looking at these numbers, it may appear Mexico is providing ATF with information on a large number of the firearms it has seized since the start of the Calderon Administration, but ATF now reports that tens of thousands of the trace requests are duplicates.36 In some cases, ATF has received information on the same firearm up to five times as Mexican police, a crime lab, the military, and the Attorney General’s office all write down information on the same firearm, and the individual in the Attorney General’s office in Mexico City submits trace requests on all of them."

"According to a detailed U.S. DOJ Inspector General report released in November 2010, about 26 percent of Mexico’s trace requests to the U.S. government for FY 2009 were untraceable because of serial number errors."

" In addition, according to the same Inspector General’s report, 75 percent of the firearms ATF was able to trace to the first purchaser in the United States were purchased more than five years ago. The report further says that only about 18 percent of the firearms were purchased less than three years ago."

"For example, ATF agents frequently use the act of illegally buying a firearm for someone else, otherwise known as straw purchasing, in seeking to stop firearms trafficking to Mexico, but the overwhelming majority of the defendants convicted of this crime have received less than one year in prison.48 The average prison sentences for two other crimes ATF most often uses to stop firearms trafficking – knowingly making a false statement and willfully engaging in a firearms business without a license – were also just over a one year.49 By comparison, drug conspiracy charges averaged 10 year sentences. As a result, ATF officials have said there is often an unwritten, minimum threshold of 10 to 20 illegal trafficked firearms and one firearm used in a crime before a U.S. Attorney will accept the case, which appears to have led to the problems with ATF’s Fast and Furious Operation.50 U.S. Attorneys also stated that they decided to reject ATF referred cases related to Project Gunrunner because the cases sometimes lacked evidence of criminal intent or had insufficient evidence"

"Lastly, although ATF could increase the penalties firearms traffickers face by engaging in joint investigations with ICE on criminal cases related to smuggling and arms export controls, it has continued to largely avoid working with ICE, which has the most experience on these types of violations.58 For example, the DOJ Inspector General found that charges related to smuggling on average resulted in five year prison sentences, which are much longer than the crimes ATF often pursues.59 However, the Inspector General found that from “FY 2004 through FY 2009, only seven defendants in Project Gunrunner cases were convicted of smuggling.”"

" In addition, according to the same Inspector General’s report, 75 percent of the firearms ATF was able to trace to the first purchaser in the United States were purchased more than five years ago. The report further says that only about 18 percent of the firearms were purchased less than three years ago."

In other words, the only seriously organized operation to buy guns in the US and smuggle them into Mexico is run by the BATFE.
245  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Iceland's Eruption . . . From Space on: May 23, 2011, 02:40:15 PM
Weather satellites capture shots of volcanic plume blasting through clouds


[Note: at the bottom of this post is a gallery of volcano pictures taken from space.]
Just in case you forgot that the Earth is one of the most geologically active worlds in the solar system*, the Icelandic volcano Grimsvötn has sent a very loud reminder: after seven years of relative inactivity, the volcano woke up on Saturday, rocketing a plume 11 kilometers (7 miles) into the air. The ash column blasted through the cloud layer, and was seen by weather satellites in space! Check out this amazing animation:

That was the view from the Meteosat-9, a European satellite in geostationary orbit. The animation is composed of visible light images and covers just under a three hour time span on May 21. You can clearly see the plume breaching the cloud layer and spreading out, then a second plume blowing through shortly thereafter. The shadow of the plume on the clouds gives an excellent but eerie sense of the scale of this event.
Here’s a similar view from the US GOES 13 satellite showing 3.5 hours of the eruption:

Note the oblique angle and distance; GOES 13 orbits the Earth far west of the volcano. In the last frame of the animation you can see the outline of Iceland to give you an idea of the size of this event.
This volcano has erupted many times over the past few decades. I knew Iceland was active, but what really brought it home to me in this case was a quote by a company that operates the airport facilities in Iceland, when a 220 km no-fly zone around the volcano was established: it was described as "standard procedure around eruptions".
Yikes. The fact that they even need a "standard procedure" is eyebrow-raising to me; where I live, volcanoes are somewhat rare (maybe more so now than a millennia ago). However, this eruption doesn’t currently look like it will be a big danger to air travel like last year’s eruption of Eyjafjalajökull was; the ash is made of bigger particles which fall to the ground more quickly, and the volcano itself is located in a relatively isolated part of southeast Iceland.
Still, clearly, researching volcanoes and their eruptions is critical to many areas of life. Besides the knowledge added to our basic scientific understanding of geology and the Earth, monitoring and understanding volcanoes has a huge impact on air traffic, weather, and the daily lives of millions of people.
Image credits: EUMETSAT; NOAA. Tip o’ the caldera to Jonatan Gislason.
I love these satellite views of volcanoes from space, and I’ve collected quite a few into a gallery slideshow. Click the thumbnail picture to get a bigger picture and more information, and scroll through the gallery using the left and right arrows.]

There are a handful of volcanoes in the world that evoke an immediate recognition, dormant or not. Vesuvius, Krakatoa, Mt. St. Helens. Certainly, Sicily's Mt. Etna is another. At 3300 meters in elevation, it's the largest active volcano in Italy... and by active, I do mean active.

In 2002, Etna erupted in a relatively large display of lava and ash. This view was taken by Expedition 5 about the International Space Station, looking southeast at a low angle. This eruption let loose a river of lava down the flank of the volcano which set fire to pine trees there; the dark plume is from the eruption, but the whiter ones are from burning pine trees. The plume from this eruption blew south and was reported as far away as Libya, nearly 600 km distant.

Unlike Earth observing satellites, which point straight down, astronauts on the ISS have the luxury of seeing things at an angle, providing a more natural - and in this case, more spectacular - view to our human eyes and brain.
246  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Misplaced Renewable Faith on: May 23, 2011, 02:32:12 PM
Inconvenient Truths About 'Renewable' Energy

What does the word "renewable" mean?

Last week the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a thousand-page report on the future of renewable energy, which it defined as solar, hydro, wind, tidal, wave, geothermal and biomass. These energy sources, said the IPCC, generate about 13.8% of our energy and, if encouraged to grow, could eventually displace most fossil fuel use.

It turns out that the great majority of this energy, 10.2% out of the 13.8% share, comes from biomass, mainly wood (often transformed into charcoal) and dung. Most of the rest is hydro; less than 0.5% of the world's energy comes from wind, tide, wave, solar and geothermal put together. Wood and dung are indeed renewable, in the sense that they reappear as fast as you use them. Or do they? It depends on how fast you use them.

One of the greatest threats to rain forests is the cutting of wood for fuel by impoverished people. Haiti meets about 60% of its energy needs with charcoal produced from forests. Even bakeries, laundries, sugar refineries and rum distilleries run on the stuff. Full marks to renewable Haiti, the harbinger of a sustainable future! Or maybe not: Haiti has felled 98% of its tree cover and counting; it's an ecological disaster compared with its fossil-fuel burning neighbor, the Dominican Republic, whose forest cover is 41% and stable. Haitians are now burning tree roots to make charcoal.

You can likewise question the green and clean credentials of other renewables. The wind may never stop blowing, but the wind industry depends on steel, concrete and rare-earth metals (for the turbine magnets), none of which are renewable. Wind generates 0.2% of the world's energy at present. Assuming that energy needs double in coming decades, we would have to build 100 times as many wind farms as we have today just to get to a paltry 10% from wind. We'd run out of non-renewable places to put them.

You may think I'm splitting hairs. Iron ore for making steel is unlikely to run out any time soon. True, but you can say the same about fossil fuels. The hydrocarbons in the earth's crust amount to more than 500,000 exajoules of energy. (This includes methane clathrates—gas on the ocean floor in solid, ice-like form—which may or may not be accessible as fuel someday.) The whole planet uses about 500 exajoules a year, so there may be a millennium's worth of hydrocarbons left at current rates.

Contrast that with blue whales, cod and passenger pigeons, all of which plainly renew themselves by breeding. But exploiting them caused their populations to collapse or disappear in just a few short decades. It's a startling fact that such "renewable" resources keep running short, while no non-renewable resource has yet run out: not oil, gold, uranium or phosphate. The stone age did not end for lack of stone (a remark often attributed to the former Saudi oil minister Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani).

Guano, a key contributor to 19th-century farming, was renewable fertilizer, made from seabird dung harvested off Peruvian and Namibian islands, but it soon ran out. Modern synthetic fertilizer is made from the air and returns to the air via denitrifying bacteria, yet few would call it a renewable resource. Even fossil fuels are renewable in the sense that they are still being laid down somewhere in the world—not nearly as fast as we use them, of course, but then that's true of Haiti's forests and Newfoundland's cod as well.

And then there is nuclear power. Uranium is not renewable, but plutonium is, in the sense that you can "breed" it in the right kind of reactor. Given how much we dislike plutonium and breeder reactors, it seems that the more renewable nuclear fuel is, the less we like it.

All in all, once you examine it closely, the idea that "renewable" energy is green and clean looks less like a deduction than a superstition.
247  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Four Million Dollar Bunnies on: May 23, 2011, 12:22:29 PM
No, they aren't bionic:

Family Facing $4 Million in Fines for Selling Bunnies
by Bob McCarty
Almost nine months after a Missouri dairy was ordered to stop selling cheese made from raw milk, I share details of another hare-raising story from the Show-Me State: John Dollarhite and his wife Judy of tiny Nixa, Mo., have been told by the USDA that, by Monday, they must pay a fine exceeding $90,000. If they don’t pay that fine, they could face additional fines of almost $4 million. Why? Because they sold more than $500 worth of bunnies — $4,600 worth to be exact — in a single calendar year.

About six years ago, the Dollarhites wanted to teach their young teenage son responsibility and the value of the dollar. So they rescued a pair of rabbits — one male and one female — and those rabbits did what rabbits do; they reproduced. Before long, things were literally hopping on the three-acre homestead 30 miles south of Springfield, and Dollarvalue Rabbitry was launched as more of a hobby than a business.
“We’d sell ‘em for 10 or 15 dollars a piece,” John said during a phone interview Tuesday afternoon, comparing the venture to a kid running a lemonade stand. In addition, they set up a web site and posted a “Rabbits for Sale” sign in their front yard. Most customers, however, came via word of mouth.
In the early stages, some of the bunnies were raised and sold for their meat. Much further down the road, John said, they determined it more profitable to sell live bunnies at four weeks old than to feed bunnies for 12 weeks and then sell them as meat.
“We started becoming the go-to people” for rabbits in the Springfield area, John said. “If you wanted a rabbit, you’d go to Dollarvalue Rabbitry.” He added that the family even made the local television news just before Easter in 2008 for a report about the care and feeding of “Easter bunnies.”
Initially, the Dollarhites sold the large, white, pink-eyed variety of rabbits. Eventually, however, they switched to selling a couple of different varieties of miniature rabbits, the mating pairs of which were purchased from breeders across the state. Not only did their “show-quality” miniatures reproduce well, but they ate less and seemed to be more popular with theme park visitors and retail buyers.
During the summer of 2009, the Dollarhites bought the rabbitry from their son who had grown tired of managing it. They paid him what he asked for it, $200. Things kept growing, however, and the Dollarhite’s landed a pair of big accounts in 2009.
A well-known Branson theme park, Silver Dollar City, asked the Dollarhites to have them provide four-week-old bunnies per week to their petting zoo May through September. When the bunnies turned six weeks old, they were sold to park visitors. The Springfield location of a national pet store chain, Petland, purchased rabbits from the Dollarhites as well.
In the fall of 2009, the theme park deliveries ended for the year and the Dollarhites scaled back their operation. At about the same time, the folks at Petland asked the Dollarhites to raise guinea pigs that the store would purchase from them. No big deal.
By the year’s end, the Dollarhites had moved approximately 440 rabbits and grossed about $4,600 for a profit of approximately $200 — enough, John said, to provide the family “pocket money” to do things such as eat out at Red Lobster once in a while. That was better than the loss they experienced in 2008.
Then some unexpected matters began demanding their attention.
It’s an understatement to describe the Dollarhites as being “beyond surprised” when, in the fall of 2009, a female inspector from the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed up at the front door of the family home, wanting to do a “spot inspection” of their rabbitry. She said she had come across Dollarhite Rabbitry invoices while inspecting the petting zoo at Silver Dollar City.
“She did not tell us that we were in violation of any laws, rules, anything whatsoever,” John said, explaining that the inspector said she just wanted to see what type of operation they had. Having nothing to hide or any reason to fear they were doing anything wrong, the Dollarhites allowed the inspection to proceed.
John said he had to go to work at the family’s computer store, so Judy took the inspector to the back of their property where the rabbits were raised. There, the inspector began running the width of her finger across the cage and told the Dollarhites they would need to replace the cage, because it was a quarter-inch too small and, therefore, did not meet federal regulations.
Such a requirement came as a shock to the Dollarhites, because they had just invested in new cages to ensure the bunnies had a healthy amount of space to develop, John explained. Though raising dwarf breed varieties of rabbits which require less space, they had opted to purchase cages designed for “large breed rabbits” so the dwarfs would have plenty of room. All for naught.
Not only was the cage too small, according to the inspector, but she noted a small rust spot on a feeder and cited it as being out of compliance. When the Dollarhites told the inspector that rabbit urine causes the cages to rust and that they worked hard to keep the rabbits cages in top shape, she told them it didn’t matter. The rust spot would count as an infraction.
The inspector then asked how the cages were sanitized, John said, and Judy explained how she moved the bunnies to travel carriers and powerwashed the cages, using bleach when necessary. Afterward, she allowed the cages to dry in the sun before putting the bunnies back inside them.
The Dollarhites’ practice was much safer than that used by some breeders who used blow torches to burn hair and manure from the cages — a practice that can lead to rusting metal and produce toxic fumes from burning metal.
During the course of the spot inspection, John said, the inspector asked his wife if she and John would like to have their operation certified by USDA. Judy said she wasn’t sure and asked what certification would entail and if it would help them sell more rabbits. The inspector responded, telling her it would involve monthly inspections and was completely voluntary. The inspection ended with the inspector telling Judy that the Dollarhites rabbits looked healthy and well-cared for.
After the inspection, the Dollarhites didn’t hear from the USDA again until January 2010, John said, when he received a phone call from a Kansas City-based investigator from the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
“He called us and said, ‘I need to have a meeting with you and your wife,’” John recalled.
After explaining that he asked the investigator to come after the workday at the computer store had ended, John said he asked the investigator about the purpose of the meeting,
“He said, ‘Well, it’s because you’re selling rabbits and you’ve exceeded more than $500 dollars in a year,’” John said, “and I went, ‘Okay, what does that have to do with anything?’”
John said the investigator refused to discuss details over the phone and made it clear that rejecting his request for a meeting would be a costly error in judgment.
When Judy asked if they should have an attorney present, the investigator responded, saying, “Well, that might be a good thing.”
“At that point, we kind of set back, (wondering) what in the world is going on,” John said. Then he found an attorney who is also a farmer.
“I didn’t want a ‘city slicker,’” said John, a farmer himself until 1996 when he sold his farm to build a home in Nixa. “I wanted someone that had been around the agriculture and farm business.”
John found a guy and they met for the first time a couple of days later — at the same time both met the APHIS investigator in person at John’s home.
“The first thing (the investigator) said was ‘My name is so and so, I’ve been in the USDA for 30-plus years, and I’ve never lost a case,’” John recalled, continuing. “He said, ‘I’m not here to debate the law, interpret the law or discuss the law, I’m here just to do an investigation.’”
John said the investigator went on to explain that he would ask questions, write a report based on the answers and send that report to his superiors at the USDA regional office in Colorado Springs, Colo. The entire process was suppose to take about a month, and John was told to contact the regional office if he had not heard anything in six weeks.
“At this point in time, we were still not knowing anything about the law he was talking about,” John explained, adding that his rabbitry had never had any issues with any animal welfare agencies.
Eight weeks passed, and John decided to call Colorado Springs. Immediately, he was given the number to a USDA office in the nation’s capitol. He called the new number, and the lady he reached there was blunt, John said.
“She said, ‘Well, Mr. Dollarhite, I’ve got the report on my desk, and I’m just gonna tell you that, once I review it, it’s our intent to prosecute you to the maximum that we can’ and that ‘we will make an example out of you.”
When John once again tried to determine which law he and his wife had violated, he said the USDA lady replied, “We’ll forward you everything.”
“Ma’am, what law have we broken,” John said.
“Well, you sold more than $500 worth of rabbits in one calendar year,” she replied, according to John.
“Okay, what does that have to do with anything?” John countered.
The lady replied by saying there is a guideline which prohibits anyone from selling more than $500 worth of rabbits per year, John recalled, but she refused to cite any specific law and, instead, promised to send him the report containing details.
At that point, John said he called his attorney and was told not to worry about it, because he couldn’t find evidence of any law or regulation the Dollarhites had violated.
Soon after the meeting with the APHIS investigator and with the stress of the investigation hanging over their heads, John said he and his wife traded everything associated with the rabbit operation for other agricultural equipment.
At this point, some important facts about the manner in which the Dollarhites conducted their operation are worth reviewing:
The business was carefully conducted on the property of their Missouri home;
The business complied with all applicable state laws;
The bunnies were kept in large, clean and well-maintained cages; and
Not a single bunny was sold across state lines.
Recently, the Dollarhites received a “Certified Mail Return Receipt” letter (dated April 19, 2011) from the USDA informing them that they had broken the law and must pay USDA a fine of $90,643. Their crime? Violating violating 9 C.F.R. § 2.1 (a) (1): Selling more than $500 worth of rabbits in a calendar year.
At this point, Dollarvalue Rabbitry is expected to produced a $90,643 certified check to cover the fine issued by the Department of Agriculture. The USDA was, however, kind enough to provide in the letter the web address for a website — — where they could go to pay their fine by credit card by May 23, 2011. Now, that’s convenient!
Based on an average price per rabbit sold being $10.45, the fine comes out to more than $206 per rabbit. In addition, the letter contains the following statement:
APHIS laws and regulations provide for administrative and criminal penalties to enforce these regulatory requirements, including civil penalties of up to $10,000 for each of the violations documented in our investigation.
If the threat contained in the letter is to be believed, the family could be fined as much as $10,000 per rabbit beyond the first 50 bunnies that netted the family its first $500. Do the math (390 rabbits x $10,000 each) and, if they don’t pay the initial fine, they could face additional fines totaling $3.9 million.
Needless to say, the Dollarhites stopped selling rabbits in January 2010 and are considering setting up a legal defense fund.
To see what the USDA has to say about the matter, read my follow-up post, USDA Stands Behind Hare-Raising Fine.
Hat tip: Bungalow Bill’s Conservative Wisdom
248  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / CYA in Full Swing on: May 23, 2011, 08:10:07 AM
More on "Project Gunwalker"
CBS News: DEA and ATF in tug of war after DEA seizes guns "walked" by ATF.

David Codrea has a post on new revelations in the case, with video interview of a a BATF informant (i.e., not an agent) here. He has some interesting insights. Agencies don't need more money, they need less turf fighting and human intel. He was ordered to give info to one agency only, and not to communicate with others. He was informed by contacts in Mexico that full auto guns were coming in with approval of US government agencies. The smugglers had both American and Mexican LEOs paid off. Corruption is on both sides of the border, probably worse here. He also talks of military weapons being smuggled from Mexico into the US. He knows of one agent who gets a down payment, with final payment made after delivery.

Weapons coming in northward include a lot of US made weapons sold to Latin American governments, which now turn them for a profit in Mexico.

When ATF debriefed him... they sought info on where guns were being obtained, who was smuggling them, etc., but the purpose seemed to be to ensure nobody got caught with egg on the face. When he brought up the gun that killed Agent Terry, where he had reported the identity of the killer, he was told to forget about it, someone else was investigating that. He doesn't believe local LEOs are corrupted; they wouldn't have a role in moving guns or drugs, the cartels want to corrupt Federal agents. Local LEOs have no power over a port of entry.

Evidence indicates tunnels are being driven near Douglas AZ, from the Mexican side. Met with a contact involved in the tunnel, he said it would cost $100-200K, but since you can move tons of cocaine thru it, that's pocket change.

Worked with many, many agencies, Federal and State. Pay can be percent of drugs seized, but lately is low. Initial work was driven by concerns about terrorism and bio weapons. Then was in it for the money, now talking in hopes someone will see info and act. Drug war, terror war, claims that they are being fought successfully is a lie. Programs are failures. Drug war ... the amount of drugs coming in, not being interdicted, drug use steadily increasing. Heart of problem is in senior management, dismantling operations that are effective. Disillusioned, because been on ground, saw drugs and guns, reported it, watched cases dropped or dismissed, or agents say can't do it because his boss doesn't want to get involved in a field operation.

Link to the CBS story cited above:
249  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Privacy, Big Brother (State and Corporate) & the 4th Amendment on: May 20, 2011, 09:28:13 PM
Dude, don't ask questions if you don't want them answered, and if you get an answer that doesn't conform to your screed du jour how about if you respond to the point rather than sliding into the ad hominen?
250  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Open Carry Foolishness in Philly on: May 20, 2011, 09:25:39 PM
Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams Should Be Arrested
Thursday, May 19th, 2011

I wanted to comment a bit more on the Mark Fiorino story that guest blogger Dave Kruger posted earlier this week, because it’s pretty goddamned outrageous.

Fiorino is the guy who was accosted by police officers in Philadelphia for openly carrying a gun in the city, despite the fact that he was perfectly within his legal rights to do so. He was in full compliance with the law. The problem is that the Philadelphia cops who confronted him were ignorant of the law. In the course of the confrontation, the cops repeatedly threatened to kill Fiorino, despite the fact that, again, he had broken no laws. They also illegally detained and arrested him. They then had to release him when they actually checked the law and discovered they were wrong.

When I’ve written about the arrests of citizens who record or photograph cops over the last couple years, I’ve repeatedly pointed out the double standard that exists when it comes to ignorance of the law. Citizens are expected to know every law. Break one, and you suffer the consequences. Ignorance is no defense, even when it comes to vague, obscure, or densely-written laws. But when law enforcement officials—the people we pay to enforce the criminal code—when they prove to be ignorant of the law, when they illegally detain, arrest, and jail someone based on a mistaken understanding of the law, they rarely if ever suffer any consequences.

The Fiorino case is a perfect example of that double standard. But the Fiorino case is even more pernicious. Because he’d had previous episodes with cops who were ignorant of local gun laws, Fiorino was carrying an audio recorder with him in Philadelphia. He recorded his confrontation with the Philly cops, and that audio exposed them for the ignorant, thuggish threats to the public that they are. (Note: I regularly caution against holding individual cops responsible for enforcing bad policy. I don’t use words like “ignorant” and “thuggish” lightly. These cops were both.) The recording Fiorino made of his encounter was also perfectly legal.

So what are we to then make of Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams’ decision to arrest and charge Fiorino after Fiorino posted the recordings on the Internet?

Here’s what I make of it: It’s criminal. Fiorino embarrassed Philadelphia cops, and Williams is punishing him for it. Williams and the police spokesman are claiming Fiorino deliberately provoked the cops. No, he didn’t. He didn’t wave the gun at anyone. He didn’t invite police scrutiny. The cops confronted him upon seeing a weapon he was legally carrying in a perfectly legal manner. And they were wrong. Make no mistake. This is blatant intimidation.

But while their behavior in this story was repugnant, at least the cops had the plausible explanation of ignorance for the initial confrontation, then fear for their safety when an armed man they incorrectly thought was violating the law pushed back (though neither is an excuse, and neither should exclude them from discipline). What Williams has done since is much worse. It is premeditated. Much more than the cops, Williams should know the law. Moreover, even if he didn’t know the law at the time, he has since had plenty of time to research it. By now, Williams  does know the law. (If he doesn’t, he is incompetent.) And he knows that even if Fiorino did deliberately provoke the cops to test their knowledge of Philadelphia’s gun laws, that also is not a crime.

Yet he’s charging Fiorino anyway, with “reckless endangerment and disorderly conduct”—the vague sorts of charges cops and prosecutors often fall back on when they can’t show any actual crime. A spokesperson for Williams said Fiorino was “”belligerent and hostile” to police who were investigating a possible crime. Read the transcript of the audio in the linked article above and tell me who is “belligerent and hostile.” Read it knowing who was breaking the law, who was following it, and while remaining cognizant of which party was threatening to put a bullet in the head of the other.

Note that nothing Fiorino did was on its own illegal. Willliams is attempting a striking, blatantly dishonest bit of legal chicanery. His theory goes like this:  If you undertake a series of actions that are perfectly legal and well within your rights, but that cause government agents to react in irrational ways that jeopardize public safety, you are guilty of endangering the public.

This can’t stand. It’s a blatant abuse of office. Williams is using the state’s awesome power to arrest and incarcerate to intimidate a man who exposed and embarrassed law enforcement officials who, because of their own ignorance, nearly killed him. Exposing that sort of government incompetence cannot be illegal. And it isn’t illegal.

The message Williams is sending is this: Yes, you might technically have the right to carry a gun in Philadelphia. But if you exercise that right, you should be prepared for the possibility that police officers will illegally stop you, detain you, threaten to kill you, and arrest you. And I’m not going to do a damn thing about it.  And yes, you may technically also have First Amendment rights in Philadelphia, but if you dare exercise them to let the larger public know what happened to you for exercising your right to carry a gun, I will try to put you in prison.

I’m not trying to be needlessly provocative, here. This is important. Prosecutors can’t get away with this kind of behavior. Even if the charges are eventually dropped, that isn’t enough. Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams should be arrested. And he should be charged with knowingly, criminally violating Mark Fiorino’s civil rights.
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