Saturday, June 30, 2007

Edwards on coal and nukes

I originally posted this on the Edwards website as a diary post. I attended an Edwards fundraiser early last week, and he said he wanted no more new coal plants and that (unlike Hillary and Obama) he doesn't support nuclear power.

My diary post attracted some comments and eventually this video - Edwards probably meant to say last week that he would fight to stop any new coal plants that didn't have the potential to sequester carbon, which is much less drastic than no new coal plants and not even as far as Senator Dodd's proposal that new coal plants must sequester carbon. I haven't found any elaboration on his stance over nuclear - I suspect he meant no subsidies for nuclear power, but not a ban on new nuclear power plants. I've no problem with cutting subsidies for nukes, but I'd oppose a ban on new ones.

So his position on coal is better than anything from Obama or Hillary, but not as good as Dodd. My guess is that he reasons that he supports an overall carbon cap and rather than force sequestration on new plants, he'll give them a choice of doing it or buying credits. Understandable, but it would just be safer to require sequestration.

It's interesting that Edwards has one of the most fleshed out position on issues of any presidential candidate, and it still hard to know exactly what he wants to do. The other candidates really are blank slates then in terms of figuring out what they want.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The awesome power of Backseat Driving presidential endorsements goes to Edwards and Richardson

Yep, stop the presses. I'm pushing for one first-tier candidate and one second-tier. I think the second tier group has a very difficult row to hoe, so I'm compromising by both supporting one of them and supporting one of the candidates with a better chance of winning.

I think all six of the Democrats would do a good job (with the possible exception of Biden, and maybe I'm not being fair to him), and all of them are definitely better than Bush or the top eight Republicans. The question to me, though, is which candidates would do the most to fix the wrong direction we've taken, and which ones are the most likely to beat the Republican candidate.

Hillary would be good, but she'll move us the least in the right direction of the top tier candidates on Iraq and health care, and in the general sense I have of how she'll operate. And she'll attract the strongest opposition from nutcases and even from some normal humans that just don't like her, fairly or unfairly. As for Obama, he'd be good but needs more experience, and he won't push things as far as Edwards would.

Edwards is the candidate I know the best, and he was the first candidate I supported in 2003. His health care and environmental programs are excellent, his Iraq and poverty stances are good, and on all major issues he's as good or better than the other two in the top tier, while having as good or better chance of getting elected if nominated. I wish Edwards had more government experience, but no one's perfect, and he's the best in the top tier for 2008.

I don't know the second tier candidates as well, but I've been impressed with Richardson's resume and his debate performance, especially on foreign policy. He said that he would shift troops and emphasis from Iraq to Afghanistan, which I think is the correct policy and a winning political strategy. He emphasized pressuring China to fix the Darfur genocide in the Sudan. He'd get all the troops out of Iraq, and he doesn't talk up the idea that Biden and Dodd have, that an international conference is somehow going to fix things at this late date in Iraq. I like his forthrightness, and although his "Latino" style of touching women needs to be fixed immediately, he's also a diplomat so I think that can happen.

I don't see any reason right now to choose between Edwards and Richardson, although I'll give more attention and financial support to Edwards as the first tier candidate. His campaign website has a blog with diaries, and I plan to start cross-posting there.

Should be an interesting campaign!

Edwards' site is here, and Richardson's here.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Worst-case scenarios and betting over climate change

At least some casual skeptics have come around to a reasonable position based on this climate-change video. If you don't feel like watching it, the summary is that the worst case scenario resulting from inaction over climate change, if climate change proves to be true, is far worse than the worst case scenario resulting from taking action over climate change if climate change turns out to be a false theory. Therefore, we're better off taking action.

Whatever convinces people to be reasonable is fine with me. This argument's strength depends on the probabilities you assign to climate change being true or false (I'm disagreeing with Inel here on her claim that the probability of it being true is 100%, but I agree it's very high).

My guess would be that anyone who thinks climate change has at least a 20% chance of being true should find this argument at least partially convincing, and the greater likelihood you give it above 20%, the more it should be convincing.

Conversely, if someone thinks the probability of anthropogenic climate change is less than 20%, the argument wouldn't be convincing. But then, my bet offers should be very attractive, especially the ones about natural warming.

It's back to the usual situation in my opinion - a person should either support action to fight climate change, or the person should bet me.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

General Petraeus' record of being nonpolitical and accurate

Dick Polman has the goods, quoting what Petraeus wrote in the Washington Post six weeks before the 2004 presidential election:

I see tangible progress. Iraqi security elements are being rebuilt from the ground up. The institutions that oversee them are being reestablished from the top down. And Iraqi leaders are stepping forward, leading their country and their security forces courageously…There are reasons for optimism…Training is on track and increasing in capacity. Infrastructure is being repaired…Progress has also been made in police training…Considerable progress is also being made in the reconstruction and refurbishing of infrastructure for Iraq’s security forces…Iraq’s security forces are developing steadily and they are in the fight. Momentum has gathered in recent months. With strong Iraqi leaders out front and with continued coalition – and now NATO – support, this trend will continue.

That'll give us an idea of how much we can trust what we hear from him this September.


Think Progress also discovered this issue.

Monday, June 18, 2007

A lone genius or a quack - what are the odds?

Inel has a dispiriting report on Lindzen managing to confuse non-experts over climate change, even with an actual scientist there to correct him. I wonder if it's an artifact of the "debate" in that nonprofessionals see two experts debate and therefore conclude there's something real to debate.

Still, I'd wish that when people hear someone proclaim that virtually everyone else involved in the scientific field is wrong, then either he's a lone genius or a quack. And he'd have to be quite a genius, because you'd expect the genius would be able to persuade the brighter of the non-geniuses in his field to believe him. So he's either so far above everyone else in his field that they can't comprehend him (note that didn't happen with Einstein), or he's a quack. If you're a non-expert trying to make a policy decision that depends on science, I'd say the odds are in your favor if you put him in the quack category.

Also, I'd at least expect a genius to explain his theories rather than mislead people about it.

For other ideas on how non-experts can judge experts, here's an previous attempt I had on the subject.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Making mandatory national service a choice

My idea for national service is to give young people a choice:

Alternative #1. Before they turn 25, begin serving for a shorter period of time than Alternative 2 would require. I don't know how long; it would depend on the need and could be somewhere between 12 to 24 months.


Alternative #2. Do no mandatory service before 25, but if the national need arises at any age before their retirement, based on a proclaimed national emergency like Bush's War on Terror, those who did not serve earlier and are chosen by lottery will be required to serve twice as long a time period as Alternative 1. Almost no one who failed to serve earlier would be exempt from the lottery.

That's the basic idea, although improvements are possible - you can adjust the incentives so that right number of people sign up for military versus nonmilitary national service, or sign up right away versus taking a chance on the lottery. I recognize that you probably can't make a worthwhile modern soldier out of someone for a useful period out of a total period of 12 months, but special support roles that require less training could be developed.

The key issue is that almost no one who skips the initial service gets out of the lottery. No, a sedentary 55 year-old won't be fighting door to door under this system, but he could very well help with paperwork in Baghdad or Kabul and take his chances along with everyone else. And no exemptions at all based on the person being more valuable doing whatever she happens to be doing currently when her number's called. This is a new social compact we're talking about, and economic efficiency arguments get trumped.

The economic efficiency of not fighting Bush's Iraq War, or ending it much sooner than will otherwise happen, is pretty obvious and a likely benefit if the general and older population had a much closer connection to people being sent involuntarily to Iraq.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Richard Lindzen edging off the denialist bandwagon?

I thought I'd give this reference at Stoat a little more exposure: under questioning, Richard Lindzen apparently acknowledged that doubling CO2 would cause a temperature increase of 0.5 - 2 degrees Celsius. The top of his range overlaps with the bottom of the IPCC consensus position, and shifts significantly from his statement almost exactly two years ago that the odds of warming were 50-50.

Right now this is somewhat poorly sourced, but if Lindzen comes clean and verifies, the thin field of true, humans-ain't-doing-nuthin' denialists just got a lot more emaciated. Now who's their hero? Singer? Bolt? Some crazy English viscount?

Even more important, the no-big-deal denialists might have some trouble claiming Lindzen's new view as supportive. Lindzen's upper range is hitting the point where we would want to do something to control emissions, especially since if we don't, CO2 levels will do much more than double.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Review: "Deliver Us From Evil," both the banal and the blithe

The pedophile-priest documentary, Deliver Us From Evil, deserves its Oscar nomination based on how well and how gut-wrenchingly it does its job. It takes the abstract reality in the newspapers - pedophile priests, anguished victims, and a Catholic hierarchy that facilitated their crimes through coverups and parish transfers - and turns all of them into real people. I don't know how practicing Catholics can watch this, I found some parts of it truly horrible.

Banality of evil is cliched, but you see it up close in the videotaped depositions of Bishop (later Cardinal) Mahoney and other Catholic higher-ups. At least twice they lied to police and to families, saying the particular priest in this documentary would be transferred away from contact with children, when he was just shuffled to an unsuspecting new parish. They weren't initially worried because the first molestation reports was with little girls, which wasn't all that deviant to them.

The pedophile, Oliver O'Grady, was blithe instead of banal in his evil. Intelligent but with no self-understanding and completely selfish, he agreed to participate in the documentary and admitted wrongdoing, but not its importance. He first wrote a letter to his victims suggesting a reconciliation meeting and is taped speculating on how well it would go, but later decided it wasn't convenient. He claims two random acts of priests molesting him as a child along with a lot of sexual involvement with siblings, but appears to think it wasn't that harmful, which may be the basis for his being blithe. I don't know whether to believe him. Some people might be able to move past molestation more easily than others, although he did far more than two acts to many of the children.

So it's hard to watch but very worth watching. Another reason why the American legal system isn't all that bad, as it's the civil trials that finally have started shaking up the Catholic hierarchy.

Yet another reason to watch is this negative member review at Netflix: "This piece of film is inflamatory and disgusting. Documentaries such as this fuel religious hatred throughout the non-Catholic community. Whether or not this particular story is true has little to do with the image that it creates, depicting the Catholic Church as something it is certainly not." (My emphasis). Make that reviewer unhappy, and watch it.


Also worth watching: The Woodsman, a fictional movie about a pedophile who's evolved partially, but only partially beyond O'Grady's level.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The idea of increasing albedo never really went away

Mark Kleiman follows Jane Galt in asking what happened to the idea of increasing surface albedo in urban areas. Mark shouldn't have followed Galt so closely - the fact that she didn't put a link to her statement that "doing that (worldwide) could change the albedo of the earth enough to make a significant dent in global warming" is the first clue that she got the idea wrong.

The main point isn't to increase global albedo, it's to decrease the urban heat island effect that otherwise pumps up air conditioning usage and local smog. Some info here, and more than you could want is on Google. Green roofs, for example, also combat UHI and not incidentally have a higher albedo than blacktop. The idea is still being explored and developed.

Basically, the idea of increasing albedo never went away.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Italian trials are Bush's future

I predict that after Bush leaves office, neither he nor Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft or Gonzalez will visit Western Europe except if sent there as part of a diplomatic mission. The trials being conducted in Italy right now over the CIA kidnappings there a sign of the future on the international level. I might be wrong about this for the first few years, but after a while, they'll remember what happened to Pinochet and stay away.

It's small recompense to the rest of us, but the number of countries these people can't visit will grow over time. And Bush is younger than most of them - 30 years from now, he'll still be around. I wouldn't rule out America being a place where he ultimately gets tried at that point, just as it happened to Pinochet in Chile itself. That'll be worth waiting around for.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Presidential candidate positions on climate change

UPDATE: The now-best chart I've seen so far is at the NY Times.

Nice resource on the main candidates' positions put together by the Council on Foreign Relations, of all the groups to have first thought of doing it. It's not bad, although they should've linked directly to the candidate's sites also for updates, rather than specific articles scattered around the internet. Someone should take it to the next step with a more comprehensive evaluation.

Looking around some more...

Okay, an article in the Christian Science Monitor. More anecdotal than comprehensive though. The statement, "All the major candidates say global warming is real, that it's caused to some extent by human activity" won't hold true if the dumber-and-lazier version of George Bush, Fred Thompson, enters the race. UPDATE: Thompson may be backing off a little.

This is the best I've found so far, a comparison chart from the League of Conservation Voters website. Some of it is hard to believe, frankly. Richardson wants 90% emission reductions by 2050? Besides the fact that it won't happen, I don't even think that's necessary. Chris Dodd says new coal plants must sequester emissions - that translates into "no new coal plants for a decade or two" which is fine I guess, but he might as well acknowledge it. Looking at the chart emphasizes the need to know what concrete, short-term steps each candidate would take as President, as opposed to lofty goals for the future. UPDATE: Chart incorrectly says Edwards would require sequestration from coal, when he would only require the capability to sequester.

More League info on the candidates and warming here, although the chart is the most useful part.

Brookings Institution set up a program to discuss ideas for the next president called "Opportunity 08" that discusses climate change. Earth Day Network blogged about an Opportunity 08 forum by the policy people for several candidates on climate change here (Brookings can't be bothered with reporting about it though, apparently).

That's the best stuff I found so far - I'd love to hear about other resources.

UPDATE: NPR has a chart, although not as good as the League/Heat is On chart above. I expect the two best climate positions are Edwards and Richardson (although Richardson is skimpy on details), so if you're interested in how other candidates stand up, these are the ones they should be compared to.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Man, "The Sword of Shannara" sure is terrible

I think I was warned about this, but I have no idea why The Sword of Shannara was so popular when it came out or is on anyone's top sci-fi/fantasy list. Hopefully his later stuff was better, but this just reads like he tore out pages of the Lords of the Rings, threw them up in the air, and tried to figure out a plot line based on the randomly-reassembled scenes. To be fair, he does add a lot of detail to the scenery, but the writing style is dreck.

Oh well, back to re-reading Guns, Germs, and Steel.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Understanding an Adler: Volokh Correction #21

I think the completely amoral climate denialists are easier to understand and deal with than the others. Steve Milloy, for example, can be understood as simply a person who gets off by serving the worst of all possible corporate interests, with no interest in telling the truth or doing something of benefit to anyone. It might be possible to go deeper in his psyche - maybe it's not really the money for him, it's the pathetic wisps of power that waft in his direction that gets him off - but it doesn't really matter. He's predictable.

I wouldn't quite put Richard Lindzen or Benny Peiser in that category, although both of them are clearly willing to deceive people and deserve little respect. The other shame for them is that unlike Milloy, they aren't complete disgraces in other aspects of their careers. It's too bad about what they've done to themselves, although they've done something worse to the rest of us.

Roger Pielke Jr. has his adaptation-is-more-important-and-everyone-except-me-is-screwing-up-the-science-with-politics viewpoint. I think he's guilty of cramming far too many square pegs into that round hole, but I expect the deception there is self-deception more than anything else.

And then there's my fellow lawyer, Jonathan Adler of the Volokh Conspiracy. He wrote an amicus brief asking the Supreme Court to reject the states' request that EPA regulate greenhouse gas emissions, using legal theories the court eventually dismissed. Adler follows that up with a presentation the US Senate claiming that a completely separate provision in the Clean Air Act allowing California to regulate air emissions in the state should, coincidentally, be interpreted not to apply to climate change, forbidding California from developing regulations that could also be used by other states under the typical federal concept of a "laboratory for democracy."

Warming Law takes apart his legal arguments handily, here. I'll add that his argument saying California imposes costs on other states by increasing the market share of energy efficient vehicles relative to gas guzzlers is ridiculous. First, changing the market share fits the classic definition of a pecuniary externality, recognized not to result in a misallocation of resources. Second, his attempt to make me feel guilty for buying a Prius because his friends will now have to spend more on the per-unit costs of spare parts for their Hummers somehow falls flat. I don't know, I just don't feel guilty. I suggest the real external damage is in the opposite direction from the Orwellian world that Adler lives in.

This despite the fact that Adler, as far as I know, acknowledges climate change is a problem that needs to be addressed. He's just doing everything he can to keep the federal system from trying out two solutions - something real at the California level, and his preferred dithering at the national level, and determining which works better. Fighting a competitive test of solutions is not a record to be proud of.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Suggesting the "Leave No Child Inside" Legal Defense Fund

I've been reading and hearing about Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods and promoter of the Children and Nature Network, an organization that attempts to restore the lost connection between children and the outdoors.

One factor in this lost connection is the fear of liability should something go wrong. Part of that fear is overblown, but regardless, it's there.

I don't know if Louv has a solution to this problem, but I've got an idea that I think would help - set up a legal foundation that pays the legal defense costs of institutions and individuals who brought children outdoors and then were hit with frivolous lawsuits.

Obviously, regardless of how successful this idea could become, it will never cover all the costs of defending against all the frivolous lawsuits. Still it could help, and just the fact that a defendant knew it was possible to recover costs might make the defendant less likely to settle.

When it first starts functioning, it picks the cream of the crop - those who defended against the most frivolous of claims, and against the claims that would have established the worst precedents or had the worst potential impact. It could also assist only defendants who have already won their case, so the foundation doesn't have to do any legal work itself - it just pays all or part of defendant's legal costs afterwards. It only assists defendants who didn't settle the case. I also expect that businesses that support the outdoors would be interested in funding the foundation.

I'll just toss this idea out into the Googleable universe, with the additional mention that I'd be willing to put in some of my own money or time as a lawyer if the idea goes anywhere.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

NASA is a bad place to be anti-science

NASA Administrator Mike Griffin claims to "think" it's arrogant for humanity to reject causing dangerous climate change to future generations. Kevin Vranes takes him apart, as do others noting that Griffin is even worse than Shrub on the issue, and the Shrub Administration had to disavow his remarks.

Griffin was the alleged saviour of NASA several years ago, by the way, and I even had some slight sympathy for the idea of replacing the 100 percent useless Shuttle and Space Station with 98 percent useless NASA manned moon base (plus vague talk of going to Mars that couldn't be taken seriously). Griffin promised "not one thin dime" of science funding would be lost to the new program. Guess what happened to that. The truly amazing Terrestrial Planet Finder telescope has been effectively cancelled, as well as the Mars Sample Return. And now the ability to study climate change via satellite is also being cancelled.

Thanks a lot. Can we have a new administration, please?

Sunday, June 03, 2007

May 2007 Iraq casualties

Avg. daily Coalition fatality rate during the last month: 4.26 (nearly all Americans, and excluding Iraqis)

Previous averages
April 2007: 3.9
March 2007: 2.65
Last year, May 2006: 2.55.

Overall daily average to date is 2.46. Total US dead as of today: 3495.
Iraqi monthly military and police fatalities: 198.

Previous military/police fatality rates

April 2006: 300
March 2007: 215
Last year, May 2006: 150.
Total Iraqi military dead: 6903.

Note that I've seen media reports suggesting the Iraqi military casualty figures are signficant undercounts.

Iraqi monthly civilian fatalities: 1782

April 2006: 1521
March 2007: 1674
Last year, April 2006: 969.
To-date civilian total, begining in March 2005: 33,034.

Note that the civilian numbers are far less accurate than others (most likely to be greatly underestimated, or even ridiculously underestimated), but could still be useful in determining trends.

Comments: Now nine months in a row with American casualties above average, no prior bad stretch lasted longer than three months. The overall average rate continues to move up, from a low of 2.29 deaths daily.

As before, civilian casualties remain terrible. The rate seems to hover around a level that is nearly twice as bad as a year ago, and three times worse than in 2005. Neither we nor the Iraqis realized how good we had it back in 2005.

Four months have passed since the troop escalation began, with no indication in these statistics that it has accomplished anything, except possibly to show higher US military and Iraqi civilian casualties, with no trend yet for Iraqi military and police.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

What the Democrats should have done about Iraq war funding

I think the Democratic Congress made a mistake in mostly giving in to Bush on Iraq war funding. I also think John Edwards is wrong, although less so, in saying the Democrats should've kept sending Bush still more bills with timetables in them for him to veto.

Instead, the Democrats should've done what they had suggested earlier, sending bills with short-term funding of two or three months, and take Bush on in the constitutional crisis he threatened. I think this is similar to what Edwards would've done, except that it would leave the Democrats in a stronger position.

Bush said if he got a short-term funding bill he would veto that, too. Fine. The Democrats can say "we want a timetable to get out, but Bush won't allow it and we don't have the votes to override, so instead we're willing to fund the effort for a short time period and see what happens afterwards. We're simply not going to fund an open-ended war." Bush can try and argue that Democrats aren't funding the troops, but each time the Democrats can just send him a new short-term funding bill. I expect he'll veto it each time, and the military will come closer to a point, some time in mid-summer, when it won't have funding for the war.

Then Bush has a choice, and the Democrats a response to either choice he takes. Bush can obey the law, and begin a precipitous withdrawal, blaming Democrats for the inevitable chaos that he says will follow. Immediately, the Democrats respond by passing a new funding bill dedicating money only to an orderly withdrawal from Iraq over the next four to six months, while allowing to stay (and fund) behind whatever non-combat forces that the Democrats choose to allow. I have trouble believing that Bush would veto this bill as well, leaving M1 tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles in Iraq - and if he did, it's the one veto that would get overridden.

Or Bush will take the unitary executive theory to its extreme, saying as long as Congress has not rescinded the 2002 Iraq military force authorizations, he doesn't need Congressional approval and can spend money without it. While there is some US Civil War legal authority for very limited spending in this situation for a limited time, no precedent would justify an open-ended war.

So then Bush provokes a constitutional crisis. Democrats respond by suing to force him to stop, and the courts either refuse to rule on the issue as a political question or fail to resolve the issue before January 2009. This isn't a Bush victory, unless you call unmasking a dictatorship a victory for the dictator. Instead the war will be seen as all that much more illegal, Bush will be that much more isolated, and Republican congressmen and Republican presidential candidates would have to announce whether they support the interpretation of the president as a dictator.

I think it would have brought us closer to ending the war without having to wait for a Democratic president, without the Democrats getting blamed.

I'll acknowledge that the actual Democratic approach has created benchmarks. Failing to meet these benchmarks will have no real repercussions, but the Democrats will use the failure to call again for a withdrawal. Still, that's not enough to give Bush another year of authorization for catastrophic failure.

Friday, June 01, 2007

"I came from nothing to being able to afford this $400 haircut."

So I went to the Small Change for Big Change rally for John Edwards yesterday in San Jose ($15 donation). A decent size crowd at San Jose State University, maybe several hundred people. About 90-95% white, which is unfortunate but I think not all that unusual at this stage in the political process. Maybe half were students and half were others like myself.

Edwards was good, I thought a little better than on television. He led off with Third World issues, talking about how children are born HIV-positive in Africa because no one will give their mothers $4 worth of medicine. He said he would close Guantanamo the day he arrives in office. He repeated his statement that Congress should've kept sending a funding bill with a deadline to Bush despite the veto (I don't necessarily agree with this, but he just said "a" deadline not the same deadline).

The only environmental issue he talked about was climate change, which he repeated is a crisis. He wants 80% reductions by 2050 (!), have a carbon cap leading to that goal, and 30-40% of the carbon cap would be auction-allocated and the resulting funds used for renewable fuels etc.

He talked about fighting poverty at home (can't remember the specifics) and said people needed to have the same chance to rise up that he had, then giving the quote I headlined this post with.

A pretty good job.