29 September 2006

New Defense Budget Passed

A Status Quo Defense Budget

Congress has passed (unanimously in the Senate) a $448 billion Defense budget. The budget largely maintains the status quo, trimming a little less than 1% from the President's request, and calling for 22 new C-17 transport aircraft rather than the requested 8.

About $70 billion of the total is for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Special appropriations for the war in Iraq now total $379 billion, while special appropriations for the war in Afghanistan now total $97 billion.

The core bill contains $86 billion for personnel costs, enough to support 482,000 Army soldiers and 175,000 Marines. That would provide for a 2.2 percent pay increase for the military, as Bush requested in his February budget.

The bill provides $120 billion for operations and maintenance costs, just less than the Pentagon request. And $81 billion goes for procurement of new weapons, with $76 billion dedicated to research and development costs.

A continuing resolution for the rest of the federal budget until November 17 was tacked onto the bill.

Congressional Tweaks

Congress has made constructive improvements to the budget over the past few years. It has killed the DD(X) after just two ships due to budget overruns and a lack of military necessity, was influential in preventing the military from moth balling the valuable A-10 which is the aircraft best suited to the kinds of conflicts we are now fighting, has restrained Pentagon demand for the F-22 and F-35 in the face of cost overruns and an excess of supply of air to air combat oriented and multirole fighter aircraft, and has boosted the C-17 to address a shortage in airlift capacity. On the other hand, it has also made some bad moves, like delaying a new fixed wing small transport plane for the Army.

But, ultimately, Congress is in a poor position to make up for Donald Rumsfield's mismanagement of the war in Iraq and lack of strategic vision for the U.S. military.

Are We A Nation At War?

For a nation allegedly at war, the Defense Department isn't acting like it.

The Army and Marines are at peace time levels, with both smaller than they were during the Cold War, while we are trying to fight two regional wars. Yet, reserve and national guard resources are increasingly tapped out.

In every other war the United States has ever fought, the number of soldiers in the Army was dramaticallly increased to respond to the increased need. Troop levels set by President Clinton in an era of peace and prosperity, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and before 9-11 may be adequate if we withdraw from Iraq. But, they are not sufficient to fight two regional wars as we are doing now.

There have only been minor and belated efforts to even shift resources within the military itself to shift resources to the needs of the current war, from forces currently in garrison, training and routine operations modes. It is good that Congress has put $1 billion into this year's budget to fund body armor for troops. But, we have been fighting at war for almost as long as it took to fight World War II, so this effort isn't exactly timely.

We are spending tens of billions of dollars to develop a national missile defense, a new long range strategic bomber, new naval ships, and more. But, we are spending far less than we need to learning lessons from this war and implementing those lessons learned. Instead of building language schools to teach soldiers Middle Eastern languages, and upgrading military pistols which have been widely condemned since the very early days of the conflict, we are building systems costing hundreds of millions and billions of dollars for conflicts that might happen someday.

There has been no national mobilization of any kind. The President has told the people to shop, rather than to save. He has pushed for tax cuts and increased spending, both military and domestic, rather than marshal resources for any kind of war effort. He has minimized and underplayed the sacrifices made by the thousands of troops who have been killed and the more than ten thousand who have been seriously injured. Soldiers remains returned to the U.S. have been shrouded in secrecy to avoid negative public opinion. The absence of a draft has helped delay a full fledged national outcry in opposition to these wars, but has only delayed and not prevented this reaction.

Aghanistan and Iraq: Wars Without A Plan

In hindsight, it is clear that simply going to war in Iraq at all was a bad idea supported by flawed intelligence further warped by the administration's personal desires. But, it is hard to fault the military for its overwhelming victory over the Iraqi Army in the early days of the war with few casulties. The early days of the war in Afghanistan likewise fit Rumsfield's vision of small numbers of special forces and air power being used to decisive effect to change the course of a war.

Yet, despite the fact that the State Department and military made plans for what to do after control was seized in each case, those plans were abandoned. The occupation of Iraq has been grossly mismanaged. Iraq is worse now, years later, than we found it. In Afghanistan, the counterinsurgency campaign has gone better, but the objective of the mission, to shut down al-Queda headquarters, was not achieved, and the Taliban are now resurgent.

The pace of insurgent attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq is at an all time high. Overwhelming public opinion in Iraq is that the U.S. presence is counterproductive, and strong public opinion in the United States is that the war needs to end. The NIE confirms the status quo is simply making the problem worse in Iraq. But, the President has called this summary of his own intelligence agency's informed assessments "naive" and openly committed to maintaining a status quo, staying the course approach to Iraq through the end of his Presidency, in January of 2009.

Staying the course is not a strategy. If we are going to stay at current troop levels, we don't have enough troops to do it without sending overtaxed troops that are at low levels of readiness into the field. If we are going to stay at reduced troop levels, we need a new strategy that uses U.S. troops more effectively, so that they have have a positive impact on the situation in Iraq. If we are going to leave, we need to make plans to do so. Instead, the Bush Administration has taken the deer in the headlights approach of doing nothing.

An Absence of Long Term, Big Picture Vision

Whatever long term vision for the military Donald Rumsfield had when he started serving as Bush's Secretary of Defense has grown so hazy it is no longer recognizable. The Office of Transformation has been disbanded. The end of the Cold War, and the start of an era where terrorism and counter-insurgency, nuclear proliferation in nation-states we don't trust, and the continuing threat posed by China to our ally Taiwan are the dominant military considerations, has not been addressed with a sufficiently bold response.


The ultra-high technology Future Combat System vision Rumsfield had for the Army has withered on the vine, in the face of technological constraints, an urgent need for systems that work now, and a $200 billion price tag. Lower budget, shorter term innovations, like new, more reliable small arms with working prototypes ready to field, and the need for increased troop levels to maintain current operations have been ignored or cancelled.

Rumsfield started off on a tack that looked good. He rightly ended the Comanche and Crusader weapons programs, both of which were over budget, gold plated, and didn't serve pressing military needs well. He also had the good fortune to be in charge when the Stryker, an medium sized, lightly armored, multi-purpose military vehicle, which was developed at the end of the Clinton administration, was first fielded. This unambitious "interim" vehicle proved ideal for the demands of the Iraq War.

Rumsfield has implemented a generally worthwhile redesign of the Army's division structure, pushing divisional headquarters resources down to the brigade level, to create increased flexibility. He has also revised personnel policies that will keep units together longer, instead of making soldiers the nation's largest group of nomads. But, while these would be admirable innovations in peace time, it isn't a good idea to try to focus scarce resources on implementing bureacratic organizational chart and personnel policy changes in the middle of fighting two regional wars.

The U.S. Army still doesn't have any unit designed from the ground up for counterinsurgency operations (although the Stryker Brigades come close), despite the fact that this had been the primary demand placed on the Army for the last four decades.


Rumsfield has refused to take the bold steps necessary to downsize our blue sea navy, which is ill suited to current military needs, while he has allowed ships much more likely to be necessary, minesweepers, to be removed from the fleet before replacements are in hand.

The contracts to build the DDG-1000 Zumwalt, and for the San Antonio, an amphibious transport ship, have badly bungled. In the case of the Zumwalt, the project has bloated to about a dozen times the cost of the previous U.S. destroyer. In the cas of the San Antonio, construction quality has been subpar.

Virginia class submarine contruction continues as much to keep the knowledge base required to build it together, just in case, as it does from any pressing need for new attack submarines.

The Littoral Combat Ship program has provided an inexpensive ship which is well suited to likely future American naval needs. The development of high speed intra-theater troop transports is also good. But, these programs, which represent the future of the American navy, has received relatively modest attention.

Air Force

Underlings and contractors have put careful thought into designing particular new military aircraft. Most military observers agree that the F-22 and F-35 are improvements over the F-15, F-16, F-18 and AV-8B that they will replace. But, at a strategic level, the Air Force is running on autopilot, simply replacing old aircraft with new ones that serve the same purpose without seriously rethinking the number and mix of military aircraft that American military strategies put in place decades ago. Trying to, as the Air Force did for a while, sell the F-22 as a close air support and even an anti-land mine aircraft is just idiotic.

The Air Force is dragging its feet on the project of developing unmanned combat aircraft, despite the overwhelming success of these aircraft in surveilance and close air support roles. The Air Force still has no plans in the works for successors to the A-10 and AC-130 attack aircraft tailored to a close air support role that have proved indispensible and effective in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Air Force has still failed to look seriously at a homeland defense interceptor to respond to errant non-military aircraft in the continental United States at a fraction of the cost the F-16s that have been called upon to carry out that mission thousands of times since 9-11.

The Air Force has delayed an Army project to develop a small fixed wing transport aircraft to replace its less reliable, more fuel hungry, shorter range and more expensive cargo helicopters in many circumstances, while making its own parallel program a low priority. Its C-130J program to upgrade and replace existing C-130s with an upgraded replacement has been technologically flawed, despite the fact that the technology involved in unambitious. It has bungled efforts to procure new tanker aircraft with its own corruption.

The Air Force has failed to identify any sucessor to the B-52 in the dumb bomber/cruise missile delivery platform role, despite the fact that a large share of the ordinance dropped in our most recent wars came from these half century old aircraft.

The Air Force has been given a large role to play in developing a national missile defense, but its efforts have largely been screw ups.

The American Air Force is second to none. But, it is also extremely expensive, and has neglected most of its important roles in favor of the priorities of the fighter mafia in its political decision making.


The Marines are doing better.

They have, at least, tried to rethink their operations with their new "over the horizon" strategy, have done a better job of controlling office bloat than the other services, and have been more intelligent is balancing and coordinating air, sea and land operations than the other services. They have not ignored the logistical issues of getting their forces fully equipped to distant battlefields and have worked hard to make their forces modular.

The V-22 is finally coming to fruition, their expeditionary fighting vehicle achieving its purpose of eliminating the need for separate landing craft, and a willingness to settle for safe, but unambitious programs has allowed them to upgrade their small arms more quickly.

They also have the best developed doctrine for fighting counterinsurgency missions and "small wars" of any of the services. But, no one, not even the Marines themselves, have pushed for a major expansion of that service, and the Army has been slow to replicate the Marines' innovations.

Mission Matching To Services

Joint operations are unnatural for the U.S. military. So is joint military planning.

The Key West agreement allocating air power between the Army and the Air Force has grown counterproductive. The Army, which has an interest in developing it, needs to have authority over its own airlift resources, its own sealift resources, and its own fixed wing close air support resources. The Navy and Air Force have both failed dismally at planning for these needs and coordinating with the Army to achieve them in a way that is mindful of the technical requirements of the Army and of the systems that will carry Army equipment.

Too little attention has been paid to the possibility of providing the cruise missile basing resources of the Navy through aircraft instead, which would provide greater flexibilty and responsiveness, while putting fewer American lives at risk. Indeed, the Air Force generally, ought to play a large role in anti-ship combat.

Bottom Line

While another Defense budget has been passed unanimously (in the Senate, at least), this doesn't mean that all is right in the world. The U.S. military is still deeply mismatched to the missions it faces, too expensive for the capabilities it does have, and doing a poor job in its primary mission of fighting two regional wars, do to poor planning and strategy, much of which is a product of poor political leadership.

No Answers In Bailey

Tragedies are predictable to different degrees. We knew that someone, someday, will bring guns into a school and kill. There was no way that anyone could have known it would be Duane Morrison.

He was not a man with a long criminal record. He had a minor offense 13 years ago, and was facing charges on another minor offense now. He owned guns, but as a legitimate outdoorsman, all but the most draconian gun laws would have allowed him to own those guns.

Contrary to initial reports, there was not a domestic dispute pending between him and someone who worked at Platte Canyon High School. Indeed, it appears that he had no connection with the school at all. There were no prior threats, no run ins that captured anyone's attention. He may have planned it, but no one knew that.

He was a loner, but not totally disconnected from society. He had years of experience working as a carpenter building decks. He was part of a group that helped run a haunted house. He had brought women to his apartment complex to use the pool and been a gentlemen, not even having them into his apartment. He borrowed one of the guns used from a relative, apparently under innocent pretenses.

He apparently didn't like the Broncos, but that is no crime.

He was a Baptist. No one claims that this crime had religious overtones.

He may have been homeless. But, there is no sign that he ever asked for help or even alerted anyone to his plight.

He meant to die. He left a suicide note. He didn't tell anyone in advance.

One can second guess the Sheriff's decision to move in. The Sheriff himself has done so. But, I have no doubt that the decision was made in good faith. Knowing, in hindsight, that the man intended to kill himself from the outset, it may have been the right decision and may have saved one girl's life, at least.

One could fault the school for not maintaining tighter security, something a test visit had disclosed not long before, but schools are not prisons. Who knows, had a parent wandered in at the same time, that parent might have noticed something wrong and been able to act.

The design of the school did as much good as harm. And, one can't just rebuild every school with security in mind, which might play out differently in a different incident.

Sometimes, shit happens. I've seen it called the "reverse lottery" and you don't have to buy a ticket to lose it. Maybe you're some high school kid having an ordinary day when a lunatic comes from nowhere and rapes or kills you. Maybe you're driving around Boston with your husband and a massive piece of concrete falls from the ceiling of the tunnel you are in without warning. Maybe you're a family driving down I-70 and a bridge under construction collapses on you. Maybe you're a cop driving down the road on your lunch break and a nut out to kill at random shoots you and you're dead.

Bad things happen to completely innocent people for no reason whatsoever that they could have ever known or prevented. Random fatal total unexpected bad luck is more rare than we might think, but it happens. Sometimes someone else could have prevented it. Sometimes there is just nothing anyone could have done.

Best Quote of the Day, So Far

A conservative is just a liberal who hasn't needed a second chance yet.

-- Daily Kos sig line of Larry McAwful, via Cheers and Jeers.

28 September 2006

Old Airplanes Are Unreliable

Old airplanes spend more time in the shop than new airplanes, and less out flying. This certainly isn't shocking.

It is important to procurement. An old C-5 or C-130 is in the air a third less often, or worse, than a new C-17 or new C-130. Two new planes equal three old planes. Also, maintenance isn't free.

So, while it definitely costs money to buy new planes, it is worth remembering that buying new planes also avoids costs and that they replace old planes on a more than 1-1 basis. Also, once you acknowledge that you have to buy new planes, the relevant consideration then becomes, do you buy expensive new units of old designs, or somewhat more expensive new units of new designs.

This doesn't mean that we should go hog wild buying planes. We have too many of some kinds, light ground based fighters like the F-16, and too few of others, like C-17s. The mix and total size of the air fleet should be adjusted. But, that doesn't mean that we can simply ignore modernization. While the nation may not need as many F-35As as requested, it needs some to replacing aging planes.

Twenty Five Years Of Tax Law In a Nutshell

A brief summary of every major federal tax law passed since 1981 is available here.

John Salazar Wrong On Terrorism

John Salazar is part of the problem when it comes to U.S. policy on terrorism, as are almost all Republicans in this country.

He was one of a 34 Democratic Congressmen who joined all but seven Republicans (including all of them in the Colorado delegation) to vote in favor of H.R. 6166. John Salazar has disgraced himself, shamed our country, and tarnished his political party, by voting for this bill.

The Bill:

1. Suspends the writ of habeas corpus for "an alien detained by the United States who has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination." (Section 7).

2. Grants amnesty to soldiers for committed war crimes by violating the Genvea Conventions "between September 11, 2001, and December 30, 2005." (Section 8).

3. Provides that there is no remedy for victims of U.S. violations of the Geneva Conventions: "No person may invoke the Geneva Conventions or any protocols thereto in any habeas corpus or other civil action or proceeding to which the United States, or a current or former officer, employee, member of the Armed Forces, or other agent of the United States is a party as a source of rights in any court of the United States or its States or territories." (Section 5).

4. Ends criminal liabilty for all but the most egregious violations of the Geneva Conventions in the "war on terrorism" while allowing the President to define those "grave violations" narrowly, even where those definitions are in violation of international laws and precedents interpreting the Geneva Conventions. Thus, the President and U.S. officials are authorized to engage in some forms of torture. For example, many of the abuses at Abu Grahib would be immune from all criminal or civil sanction. Rape secured by means other than brute force is authorized as a form of interrogation immune from criminal or civil sanction. (Section 6).

5. Allows select detainees to face military commissions, which, while improved from President Bush's initial plan, still fail to meet basic standards of justice. For example, these tribunals, which would be allowed to impose the death penalty, would be permitted to punish as war crimes offenses such as conspiracy which have never been recognized as war crimes before, and would also be permitted to consider evidence obtained through torture, and evidence obtained in the United States in violation of U.S. law. (Sections 2, 3, 4 and 9).

6. Does not prevent Americans, even Americans in the United States where courts are functioning, from being detained at the President's say so as enemy combatants.

The New York Times recaps some of the things that are wrong with this bill, echoing my assessment above.

John Salazar apparently thinks, as do each of the Republicans who joined him in this vote, that this is O.K.

This bill will seriously hamper the ability of the United States to receive cooperation from our allies which we need to defeat terrorists. It will encourage abusive treatment of detainees which doesn't product accurate intelligence and creates legitimate grievances against our tyrannical and cruel methods that will spur more terrorism. It makes all of us party to abandoning core prinicipals of the American way. It aids and abets past and future war criminals.

Now the measure goes to the U.S. Senate. I don't have high hopes that Ken Salazar will wake up and see that this bill trashes American values and makes Americans more vulnerable to terrorism. But, I hope none the less that somehow the Senate will stop this horrible betrayal of our country, a mistake more grave than the one we made when we commenced the war in Iraq.

27 September 2006

Now Bailey.

Colorado is, once again, witnessing a school shooting/hostage situation unfold, just down the road from Columbine, in Bailey, Colorado. Shots were fired when it started, but no one is believed to be wounded.

It started at about a quarter to noon today at Platte Canyon High School, a small rural high school with an ajacent middle school. As I write, it is ongoing and negotiators are talking with the hostage taker. Many of the key developments happened in the first couple of hours.

Two female high school students in a second floor English college prep class are being held hostage by a man with at least one gun who claims to have a bomb and is in possession of a suspicious device. He may be connected to someone who works at the school, but it isn't clear. The identity of the hostage taker, a man said to be 30-50 years old, and of the two students, is known, although not yet public. Four other people were held hostage initially, but then released.

The school has been evacuted with the students bused to Dear Creek Elementary school arriving at about 3 p.m., and neighboring schools (Conifer High School, West Jefferson Middle School, West Jefferson Elementary School and Elk Creek Elementary School) were locked down and then sent home. Highway 285, the main road past the school, is shut down between Bailey and Shawnee. A flight for life helicopter and ambulances are waiting nearby.

Nearby Jefferson County's bomb squad and SWAT team are on hand to help the local Park County Sheriff. For them, it is a chance to redeem themselves from Columbine where many of them also responded.

The authorities want the obvious thing, they want to get those two girls out alive and unharmed without putting anyone else in danger. Once that's accomplished, they'd like to apprehend the perpetrator, dead or alive, but that is secondary. Protecting property comes even further down the priorities list.

Just now, according to 9News:

The hostage situation has ended. One of the hostages has been critically injured and flown out on a flight for life helicoptor.

The SWAT team moved in, the perpetrator shot one of the girls, who had vital signs when she was put on a flight for life helicopter to St. Anthony's in critical condition (possibly shot in the head), and the other girl was released unharmed. The perpetrator killed himself after shooting the girl. Apparently, a bomb did not go off.

The fallout from this incident will take time, and more details, to determine.

It will make lockdown drills, which have been a part of many school kids life since Columbine, much more scary for a long time for a lot of kids.

Now, we look again for answers, for ways to prevent it from happening again, for lessons learned. And, we dearly hope that that girl injured survives and regains health. We don't know why the man did it. We don't know who he was, or what could have been done to stop this incident from happening. When, and if, we every do, it will be time for another post.

Army Broke

Defense Tech explains that the allocation of Defense Department funds is more political than it is military, and that the Army, which has a far more dire need right now, is getting screwed.

Leaving Wash Park

5280 blogger Kat Valentine explains why she's leaving Washington Park for the burbs. Shorter version: It offers less house for more money.

She's right, of course. But, there is more to a home than a house, which is why I'm staying.

26 September 2006

Reducing Abortion Demand

Democrats have introduced a bill, H.R. 6067, designed to reduce demand for abortion by preventing unwanted pregnancies and encourage adoption. Republicans don't like it because they oppose contraception as well as abortion. The Democratic bill would:

* cover contraceptives for women with incomes of up to 200% of the federal poverty level
* establish grants for sex education programs
* fund the Title X family planning program
* expand adoption credits
* increase surveillance of abortion data, and
* provide grants to health centers for ultrasound equipment.

It would also require providers to notify patients of the risks of abortion procedures.

The last provision is pure politics, as abortion is almost always less risky than carrying a pregnancy to term, and even in a late term abortion, the risk is comparable with abortion still slightly safer.

Adoption and Abortion

Adoption tax credits, while perhaps good policy, also have limited usefulness in reducing abortion demand.

The hope, of course, is that a pregnant women who knows that a prospective adoptive family really wants a child may be more inclined to carry a pregnancy to term. It is hard to tell if this hypothesis is valid. The stigma associated with having an abortion is often modest, in part, because few people outside a woman's most intimate social circle ever know that she had an abortion. The social stigma associated with carrying a pregnancy to term, something that everyone who knows a woman even vaguely will be aware of, and then giving that child up for adoption, in contrast, remains very real. Carrying a preganancy to term also invites further contact with a baby's father, which could interrupt an adoption and instead impose motherhood and co-parenting with the father upon the mother, yet a long term social relationship with the man who got her pregnant is something many mothers who abort often wish to be rid of for good.

The Missing Piece

The piece missing from this legislation, however, is that our economic system is so unsupportive of single mothers, and of children generally (pre-school tuition is often more expensive than community college tuition), that there is still immense economic pressure on women to have abortions. If having a child means a lifetime a poverty for the mother, and dim prospects for your children, many mothers are going to choose to have an abortion, and have a child later when the prospects for mother and child are better. Yet, Christian conservatives have mysteriously (given the nature of the ministry of Jesus described in the New Testament) tended to blame the poor for their plight, rather than providing assistance to them.

25 September 2006

Introducing George Allen

George Allen is the man the GOP wants Virginia voters to elect to the U.S. Senate this year. His former college football teammate, R. Kendall Shelton, 53, a radiologist in North Carolina, has introduced us to him in a Washington Post interview.

Here's part of what he had to say:

[He] recounted an episode in 1973 or 1974 in which he and Allen and a third friend shot a deer while hunting. Shelton said Allen cut the deer's head off, asked directions to the home of the nearest black person, and shoved the head into that person's oversized mailbox.

A brief history of his campaign against Democratic nominee Jim Webb, can be found here. Suffice it to say that Allen has a long history of racism and confederate affinities.

If you want to know more about Democrat Jim Webb, go here. If you don't need to know any more to contribute to his campaign, go here.

The Virginia race could very well make the difference between a Democratic majority and a Republican one in the U.S. Senate this year.

U.S. Military Not Cheap.

The United States will spend about $573 billion on its military in 2007, which puts it way over the top among the world’s big defense spenders.

The closest rival is China, which spent $81.5 billion in 2005, according to the most recent spending figures published by the CIA. Russia spent about $21 billion, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. The CIA says North Korea spends about $5 billion and Iran about $4.3 billion.

Britain spends about $43 billion on its military; France and Japan each spend about $45 billion; Germany about $35 billion; and Italy about $28 billion.

From Defense News, via this blog.

White House Ignores Spooks On Iraq

A 30-page National Intelligence Estimate completed in April cites the "centrality" of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and the insurgency that has followed, as the leading inspiration for new Islamic extremist networks and cells that are united by little more than an anti-Western agenda. It concludes that, rather than contributing to eventual victory in the global counterterrorism struggle, the situation in Iraq has worsened the U.S. position.

From the Washington Post.

The National Intelligence Estimate sums up the conclusions of the nation's sixteen intelligence agencies. The White House has been ingoring that advice, publicly. Indeed, it has directly contradicted what we are hearing from our nation's intelligence agencies by claiming that the Iraq War has made us safer.

President Bush, aided by hawks Rumsfield and Cheney, has profoundly undermined our national security, with a foolish war, and have been unable to admit their grievous mistake.

Arizona Screwed Up On Sex

In Arizona, the mandatory minimum sentence for being in possession of twenty child porn pictures downloaded off the internet for free, when you have no prior criminal record is 200 years. But, if you are the political connected son of a State Senator who, while in a position of trust, anally rapes dozens of little boys with objects at a youth camp, prosecutors are interested in dropping all charges but one and will "recommend little or no jail time" for your crime.

"Freedom", First LCS Commissioned

The first Littoral Combat Ship, christened "Freedom" was commissioned yesterday. It is about 3,000 tons in displacement, a little smaller than the Oliver Hazard Perry class Frigates which the Navy is phasing out, although larger than some of the anti-mine warfare ships the Navy is removing from its fleet. It has a core crew of 40 and additional crew associated with the particular mission it is dispatched to carry out.

It marks the first new ship design in decades dedicated to coastal, as opposed to blue sea operations. It is designed to address most of the urgent gaps in the U.S. Navy: mine warfare, anti-submarine warfare, and interdiction of smaller or unarmed ships. It is basically a concept ship, in a two design contest.

The Freedom looks like a speedboat on steriods. The second LCS, the Independence, will be a 419-foot trimaran.

Once each team makes two ships, the plan is for the Navy to decide on one of the designs and purchase dozens of them, at about a fifth of the cost of most of the surface combatants in the existing fleet.

The Far Right's Fake Legal History of Treaties

Andrew C. McCarthy, writing for the National Review Online, has penned a fake history worthy of the Mormon church on the status of treaties in U.S. law. The money line:

Increasingly, the ruling is championed as holding that treaties like the 1949 Geneva Conventions are not really compacts between nation states; violations of them are not, as they have been understood from time immemorial, merely grist for diplomatic protest. Instead, Hamdan is being taken to mean that treaties inure to the benefit of individual persons — even if they are jihadists pledged to the annihilation of the West and its human-rights values.

The problem is, that the U.S. Constitution makes clear, and U.S. law has held for a very long time, treaties are binding U.S. law.

This constitution, and the law of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof, and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby; anything in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.

United States Constitution, Article VI, Section 2.

Here's what the U.S. Supreme Court has said about the subject, almost a century ago:

We do not deem it necessary to consider the constitutional limits of the treaty-making power. A treaty, within those limits, by the express words of the Constitution, is the supreme law of the land, binding alike National and state courts, and is capable of enforcement, and must be enforced by them in the litigation of private rights.

Maiorano v. Baltimore and Ohio R.R. Co., 213 U.S. 268. 272-273 (1909).

The U.S. Supreme Court has not since reversed this holding.

Sometimes parts of treaties establish private rights of action, and sometimes not, but treaties are always far more than grist for diplomatic protest. Even when there is no private right of action for damages in a private party (something also true of many domestic U.S. statutes), that does not mean that the United States is not obligated to comply with the treaty. The U.S. Government is still bound to comply with valid laws and treaties, whether or not they create private rights of action, becaue the United States Constitution, Article II, Section 3, provides that the President "shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed."

McCarthy also fails to articulate why our Republic is doomed to fall merely by treating al-Queda suspects in the same manner designed with such bad guys as known Nazis who were just killing Americans on U.S. battlefields in mind. No one has ever said that dangereous detainees must be released pending a determination of the lawfulness of their detention and conditions of detention, if the judiciary determines that it is likely that the United States will prevail in its cause, and that irreperable harm might be caused by not doing so.

McCarthy is the real radical. He thinks that it is just fine for the United States to ignore its binding treaty obligations. Indeed, he thinks it is a violation of national sovereignty to do otherwise. In other words, he thinks that sovereignty is inconsistent with the rule of law. But, the notion that sovereignty requires anarchy is an extreme one.

The United States is already virtually lawless. It is one of the few nations in the world where Congress is allowed to unilaterally violate a treaty, by passing a contrary statute. See, e.g., Whitney v Robertson, 124 U.S. 190 (1888). But, this rule of law on the releative supremacy of statutes and treaties under the U.S. Constitution, at least, demands that an abrogation of our legal obligations under binding treaties be made consciously and democratically, not simply by implication. A man like Mr. McCarthy, whose employer is the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies ought to care about things like that. But, clearly, he is little more than an apologist for a lawless President Bush.

22 September 2006

Solar Power v. Wind Power

Is Wind Power Better Than Solar Power, Environmentally?

The two most environmentally popular alternatives for generating electricity are solar power and wind power.

A European Union study of externalities, via Daily Kos diarist NNadir, suggests that solar power is much more harmful environmentally than wind power, hydroelectric power, or nuclear power, per kilowatt-hour.

The study found that the harms to human health from various electricity generation methods, and global warming impacts, overwhelmed all other negative impacts of electricity generation, such as noise, crop damage, and harm to ecosystems.

In terms of harm to human health, photovoltaic cells were rated more of a problem than natural gas (primarily air pollution), nuclear power (primary risk of nuclear accidents), wind power, and hydroelectric power, although not as great as coal (with lignite coal being the worst), which is a great producer of air pollution.

Also, while, as expected, wind, hydro and nuclear have very little global warming impact, while fossil fuels have a great deal of global warming impact, solar power is rated at a decidedly intermediate level, about ten times a bad the low low impact sources, half the impact of natural gas, and about a fifth the impact of non-lignite coal.

Environmental Harms Associated With Solar Power

The European Union source is obscure regarding the reason for this distinction saying only: "Photovoltaics is a very clean technology at the use stage, but has considerable life cycle impacts." Presumably, this means that making and/or disposing of solar panels has associated health risks to people. The global warming impact is presumably related to the energy costs involved in making solar cells.

The Union of Concerned Scientists goes into greater depth:

Energy is required to manufacture and install solar components, and any fossil fuels used for this purpose will generate emissions. Thus, an important question is how much fossil energy input is required for solar systems compared to the fossil energy consumed by comparable conventional energy systems. Although this varies depending upon the technology and climate, the energy balance is generally favorable to solar systems in applications where they are cost effective, and it is improving with each successive generation of technology. . . .

[T]he manufacturing of photovoltaic cells often requires hazardous materials such as arsenic and cadmium. Even relatively inert silicon, a major material used in solar cells, can be hazardous to workers if it is breathed in as dust. Workers involved in manufacturing photovoltaic modules and components must consequently be protected from exposure to these materials. . . .

The large amount of land required for utility-scale solar power plants-approximately one square kilometer for every 20-60 megawatts (MW) generated-poses an additional problem, especially where wildlife protection is a concern. But this problem is not unique to solar power plants. Generating electricity from coal actually requires as much or more land per unit of energy delivered if the land used in strip mining is taken into account. Solar-thermal plants (like most conventional power plants) also require cooling water, which may be costly or scarce in desert areas. [Land use is even less of a concern when panels are on rooftops.]

Thus, the big concerns seem to be moderately high energy costs to build solar panels, and considerable toxic waste exposure issues in making and disposing of solar panels. By the European Union's estimate, these are greater concerns than nuclear waste or nuclear accidents. Wind farms, in contrast, involve non-toxic materials that take less energy to produce.

All this matters a great deal, because solar and wind power are basically chasing after the same clean electricity market. If solar power is environmentally much worse than wind power, the incentive is to use wind power instead of solar power.

This depends both on the efficiency of the respective power production mechanisms, and on the externalities they impose. Thus, if solar power were more efficient, it would also per less harmful per kilowatt-hour.

Location Matters

While the harm associated with making and eventually disposing of a solar cell is not site specific, the harm per kilowatt-hour may be very site specific.

The figures in the European source, which are based on harm per kilowatt hour produced, may partially reflect the fact that Germany, which is the site evaluated, is not a great place to build photovoltaic power stations.

The United States Get More Sun

If the power generation per photovoltaic cell is low in Germany, than the harm per kilowatt-hour will be articially high.

The Southern tip of Germany is at about the same latitude as Maine. Northern Germany's latitude is about the same as Ketchikan, near the Southern boundary of Alaska. Berlin's summer temperatures are cooler than Duluth, Minnesota (mean high in July of 76 degrees Farenheit), with a mean high in July of 73.6 degrees Farenheit. Denver is South of Lisbon, and at similar latitudes to Sicily and Athens, Greece, locations at the very Southern limit of Europe. Phoenix is at about the same latitude as Casblanca and Beruit, and the high temperature on an average day in Phoenix, Arizona in July is 104 degrees.

Phoenix has 50% to 100% more solar radiation per year than Berlin, which might immediately cut by a third to a half, the environmental impact of photovoltaic systems per kilowatt-hour there.

The United States Is Relatively Hot

Berlin isn't the only place in the world without hot summers. London's summer days are even cooler, and Dublin, Ireland's summers have a mean high of a chilly 66 degrees Farenheit (no wonder the Irish make good sweaters). Down under, summer days (i.e. January) in Auckland, New Zealand are similar in temperature to those in Berlin in the summer. Paris is just a wee bit warmer than Berlin in the summer with mean July highs of 75.2 degrees Farenheit. Mexico City, due largely to its high elevation, is cooler in the summer than Berlin.

Denver has a mean July high temperature of 88 degrees Farenheit. This is about the same as Athens, Greece, Rome, Italy, Havanna, Cuba, or Shanghai, China, cooler than Hawaii or Jerusalem or Tokoyo, and cooler than the year round mean temperature in sweltering Bombay. Yet, many homeowners in Denver have found it tolerable to not install air conditioning.

Some of the major world cities with summers warmer than Denver are Bangkok, Thailand, Cairo, Egypt, Damasacus, Syria, and Tehran, Iran.

Very few places in the United States, outside Maine, the West Coast and the Great Lakes have mean July temperatures below 80 degrees, and in much of the South, temperatures in the 90s in July are the norm. San Francisco is the only major city in the Continental United States where summers are cooler, on average than in Berlin.

The United States Needs More Air Conditioning

As a result of warmer summer tempeartures, the United States needs far more air conditioning than the Europeans, or the Japanese, for instance.

Berlin's mean temperature (average high plus average low, divided by two) in July, the warmest month of the year, is 64.4 degrees Farenheit. Cooling degree days, a measure of air conditioning demand, are the number of day that the mean temperature is above 65 degees Farenheit, times the number of degrees the temperature exceeds 65 degrees on each respective day. Thus, it needs has only a few cooling degree days a year. Denver's mean temperature, in contrast, exceeds 65 degrees for June, July and August producing roughly 540 cooling degree days per year. In Phoenix, mean temperatures exceed 65 degrees seven months a year, while February and November are almost as warm as a Berlin summer.

Where Does Solar Power Make The Most Sense?

The biggest virtue of power from photovoltaics is timing. Solar power generation is greatest precisely on the hot sunny summer days when air conditioning demand is greatest. Winds don't match air conditioning demand nearly so well. And, places with lots of available solar energy (due to clear skies and the more direct sunlight recieved in low latitudes), often coincide with places which have a great need for air conditioning.

This suggests that solar electricity may be best reserved for places with high air conditioning demand and reliable sunlight, but may be undesirable, where air conditioning is a relatively minor part of electricity demand, and where the energy available from sunlight is considerably less. The Northern U.S. and the West Coast of the United States tend to have cool summers. And, it turns out the the Southeast United States, for example, gets significantly less sunlight than the Southwest.

Thus, while most of heavily populated areas of the world, and a good share of the United States, may be ill suited to solar power, it may be ideal for a sizeable chunk of the Southern United States, particular in the Southwest, which both recieves a great deal of sunlight, and has a great many cooling degree days, as a way to provide peak power for air conditioning.

Navy Aircraft Purchase Plans

The long term aircraft purchase plans of the U.S. Navy are discussed here.

The plan:

Fixed wing aircraft:
P-8A patrol aircraft: 37
E-2D Hawkeye aircraft (AWACS): 21 (3 in FY-08)
KC-130J (tanker): 4 in FY-08
T-6A/B (trainer): 44 in FY-08
F-35B (Marine): 0 in FY-08, 91 in FY-09 to FY-13
F-18s and EA-18Gs: 42 in FY-08, none thereafter
F-35C (Navy): 0 in FY-08, 45 in FY-09 to FY-13

Helicopters and Dual Mode:
VH-71 Presidential helicopter (Marines): 3 in FY-08
AH-1/UH-1 helicopters: 15 in FY-08, 20 in FY-09, 24 each in FY-10 to FY-13
V-22 Osprey (Marines): 21 in FY-08, 30 per year FY-09 to FY-13
CH-53K (Marine) Helicopter: unclear, 6 in FY-13
MH-60S helicopters 18 per year from FY-08 to FY-13
MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned drones: 39 (3 in FY-08)

Acquitted Conduct In State Court

The Colorado Court of Appeals has held that acquitted conduct may be considered by a judge in the course of setting a restitution award in a theft case. The theory was that a lower standard of proof applies to restitution awards than to criminal convictions where proof beyond a reasonable doubt is required.

Anarchy In Iraq

It really sucks to be in Iraq right now.

Teacher's Education

Shirah at Unbossed, points us to a report detailing the flaws in existing teacher's education programs, and suggesting a restructuring of the system to make teacher's certification a one year add on to an undergraduate liberal arts degree. It is right on target, and has data to back up its conclusions.

Torture Deal Still Bad.

What's wrong with the Congressional deal on torture:

• Prohibits "grave breaches" of the Geneva Convention. Defines grave breaches as acts such as torture, rape, biological experiments, and cruel and inhuman treatment. [Thus, allowing "minor" breaches of the Geneva Convention.]

• Notes the president has the authority to interpret "the meaning and application" of the Geneva Convention. [Given the President's track record, which found that water boarding and other forms of torture were O.K. and that the constitution doesn't apply in times of war, this is a problem.]

• Allows hearsay evidence. [In other words, executions can be authorized in trials by affidavit not subject to cross-examination.]

• Allows coerced testimony if the statement was acquired before a 2005 ban on cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and a judge finds it to be reliable. Bans coerced statements taken after the 2005 ban went into effect if constitutional definitions of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment were violated. [Statements obtained through torture can be used in trials that could result in death sentences.]

• Bars individuals from protesting violations of Geneva Convention standards in court. [There is no remedy for violations of the Geneva Convention unless those violating them choose to pursue it.]

This compromise is still fails to meet even the minimum obligations of the United States to adhere to our international treaty obligations and protect human and constitutional rights.

Shoplifters, people facing driver's license revokations, and people protesting their credit card bills have more legal protections, than these people who will routinely be facing lengthy prison sentences or executions.

People incarcerated or abused by any state government, local government, private person or foreign government have more rights to bring suit under this law, than someone whose rights are violated by the United States. Federal law allows those abused by state and local government recourse under the civil rights law. The common law protects people from abuse by private persons. Federal law allows those abused by foreign governments or persons to sue for damages in federal court. But, if our own government abuses people, something we can control and have a treaty obligation to control, there is no remedy.

Even if a U.S. soldier is proven to detain, rape, torture and/or kill a detainee out of person spite, causing lifelong harm to the detainee, this law prohibits the person harmed from suing either the soldier or the government, and eliminates any obligation of any kind to this person to provide compensation for the harm. Moreover, the U.S. soldier will face any punishment, only in the absolute discretion of his commanding officers and the U.S. military chain of command, and only if his military peers decide to impose it.

This scenario is not just some crazy obscure possibilty. U.S. soldiers, right now, are facing charges in their rape and murder of Iraqi civilians, and dozens of Iraqis have been killed through torture in CIA and military prisons, at times when they were helpless to harm U.S. soldiers and not trying to escape. Very few of those soldiers have been convicted of any offense. Many of their commanding officers have been promoted and commended.

Waterloo Under Water

It is my sad duty to report that my informants tell me that Waterloo, home to expresso and exquisite crepes on South Broadway in Denver, is no longer serving customers and is being converted into a bar -- something South Broadway clearly lacks. Not!

21 September 2006

Brown Menace B.S. (UPDATED)

Welcome to the strange world of immigration law, where the absurdity is the norm. I'm talking, of course, about the latest immigration enforcement raid that swept up 120 construction workers at a big military housing project at Buckley Air Force base.

The Rocky even managed to find a gag line for its story:

Keith Puhlman, a senior vice president at Investment Builders, said he was "shocked" that illegal immigrants were working on the project.

Puhlman's claim is so laughable, you have to wonder if he was sarcastically quoting Casabalanca, rather than being serious. Undocumented construction workers? In Colorado? Who could have ever imagined that something like that could happen? As the Rocky notes in another part of its coverage:

Undocumented workers account, by some estimates, for half the workers on many construction jobs.

The statements made by government officials commenting on the motives for the raid were no less bizzare, despite the fact that they were accepted uncritically by the Rocky. The notion that these workers are a security risk is a joke.

Immigration agents arrested at least 120 undocumented workers who were building houses for Buckley Air Force Base on Wednesday - part of a nationwide crackdown on illegal immigrants who could pose a security risk to the nation's "critical infrastructure facilities."

The current system is undoubtably corrupt. But, 116 Mexicans and 4 Central Americans building houses, in a part of a military base not yet incorporated with the secure portion of the spy satellite hub, are not a threat to national security.

In any case, if anyone seriously believed that one or more of the men were spies, no doubt passing on covert information about American building codes or the location of satellite dishes that can be seen from miles away or bugging military housing, the stupidest thing in the world that immigration enforcement officers (their agency is known by the acronym ICE) could do is what they did, which was to put 98 of them (all put 3 who were facing outstanding warrants, 4 from Central America, and a few others) on buses straight back to Mexico, without so much as a debriefing on their activites.

Anyone who genuinely thinks Mexican construction workers without work permits are a threat to national security is so paranoid he probably puts cornflakes in his hallways at night to detect the people who he thinks are watching him, freaks out about black helicopters coming to get him, and wears a tin foil hat. Guys like that need to be on medication, not in charge of large government agencies.

While it is generally preferrable to assume people are stupid, before claiming that they are acting maliciously, I have too much faith in the federal government's civil service exams and merit system of hiring to believe that the ICE officials in this case are anything other than mendacious in their claim that this raid had anything to do with military security risks. I have a hard time believing that men like Douglas L. Maurer, Denver field office director in charge of detention and removal for ICE, are really that stupid.

Also, while three of the men had outstanding warrants, that number actually sounds pretty low for any random sample of 120 construction workers.

I can almost believe that some potential terrorist or spy might cross the Rio Grande to enter the United States, except for the fact that I can't recall a single case where a would be terrorist, actual terrorist or spy did so. But, even if he did, the notion that building houses on a military base would somehow be part of such a person's evil scheme is grossly implausible.

Sure, it's ICE's job to find people who are working without proper documentation and deport them. And, raiding large construction projects might very well be a high visibility, efficient way to do their job. But, please, ICE, don't add to national hysteria by creating a Mexican terrorist construction worker menance out of thin air. Absurdity belongs in the theater, not in immigration enforcement.

UPDATE: The Rocky notes the questionable nature of the national security claim today.

20 September 2006

Some Christian Compassion, For Once

Thoughts can count. Too often, those who call themselves Christians condemn others instead of understanding them. Bob Hayes, at Creative Destruction, wakes up and says something positive and personal, from a Christian perspective, about that attitude, in the case of a pregnant, single woman.

Maybe, if abortion opponents read pieces like his, they'll stop forgetting the moral imperative they have to needy, pregnant women with no one that they seem to have forgotten for so long, instead of the standard operating procedure of blaming victims for being poor and condemning them when they make decisions under intense pressure from our current economic system.

Homelessness Intervention Works

There is a common perception that once someone is homeless, they stay that way. Federal Housing and Urban Development grantees have shown that this isn't the case:

Last year, 450 HUD grantees moved about 27,000 people into transitional or permanent housing and fewer than 4 percent ended up back to the streets[.]

Global Warming Is A Local Issue (UPDATED)

Colorado, welcome back the Dust Bowl:

Future Western droughts could last an average of 12 years, spanning half of the region and severely reducing Colorado River flows that supply millions of people . . . . "Climate change is moving us in the direction of a perpetual state that is of the Dust Bowl type."

The models forecast a temperature increase of 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit by 2060 in the interior West, largely because of the buildup of heat-trapping gases emitted by fossil-fuel combustion. . . . Some droughts could be 25 percent worse than the 1930s Dust Bowl . . . On average, half of the interior West will suffer from severe drought each year . . . . Last year . . . a team led by U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist Christoper Milly . . . found that by 2050, drier conditions could lead to a 10 to 20 percent drop in runoff from rivers in the U.S. West.

This isn't the distant future we're talking about here. My kids will be middle aged, and I may well be alive even, in the time frame these predictions are discussing.

The article isn't published yet, although it probably will be. Other studies have argued for a less severe impact. But, this is one scientifically credible voice that is suggesting that the West is in deep shit when it comes to future water supplies.

This isn't an end of civilization as we know it scenario. A majority of Colorado water goes to marginal agriculture. The entire agriculture sector is already economically smaller than fishing and hunting and camping and rafting in Colorado, and it will suffer further. About half of urban water use is devoted to lawns and golf courses. It is possible to be more efficient in indoor water use than we are today. Kill horticulture and our lawns, and life will go on with even 60%-70% smaller water supplies.

But, this study is a shot across the bow to say we are heading for major changes.

Hat Tip to Dexter's Lab.

UPDATE: The University of Colorado is advising us, in a study published in today's edition of the journal Nature, that we don't need to wait for global warming effects either. Greenland's icesheet is losing water in the past two years at 250% of the rate in the previous two years:

The Greenland ice sheet - which holds 70 percent of the world's fresh water - is shedding ice at an accelerating pace . . . . "This raises the question of a much larger loss of the ice sheet in this century that we previously thought," [CU Research] Velicogna said. . . . The Greenland sheet lost the equivalent of 164 million cubic miles of ice from April 2004 to April 2006 - enough water to more than fill Lake Erie. . . . The loss of ice appears to be linked to climate change and a 4.4 degree Fahrenheit increase in recorded Greenland temperatures in the last 20 years. . . . "One the discharge starts it doesn't stop quickly, even if the temperature falls," Velicogna said. "It's like a car rolling down, down."

The data are collected via satellite.

Best Quote of The Day, So Far.

From conservative political blogger ToTheRight, on the Beauprez campaign's latest goof (emphasis added):

This is a whole new level of incompetence. Never before has any campaign managed to screw up this badly on every imaginable level. It’s hard to even call it a campaign anymore; a team of trained apes on unicycles could keep things running more smoothly than this.

Ancient Roanokes

In 1587, the English founded a colony at Roanoke Island, in Virginia. Three years later, only ruins remained. All 117 settlers were gone.

As everyone knows, this didn't stop the English from colonizing North America. Twenty years later, in 1607, they founded Jamestown, and while that colony struggled at first, with the majority of its settlers dying in the hard winter of 1609-1610 until only 60 lived, Jamestown survived and the rest is history.

These early colonies were founded in the recent wake of the Dark Ages, from about 532 A.D. when Rome fell to barbarian invaders, to the early 1500s when the Renaissance took hold. The thousand years in between mark one the longest periods of times in history when people, in this case in Europe, were living in the shadow of an earlier, more advanced civilization than their own. By the Renaissance, technology and social organization were moving forward again to historic new heights.

Progress is like that. It suffers setbacks, but is rarely entirely defeated. When conditions are right, a false step may doom those immediately involved, but rarely prevents someone else from going forward.

In the same vein, when progress gets ahead of itself, it often stalls. Consider the Apollo program. Man set foot on the moon in 1970. Yet, a few missions later, the program was ended, and a generation later, in 2006, we have President Bush making a long term program to return to the moon a priority for NASA.

This wouldn't be the first case of premature progress stalling. The math of chaos and fractals languished in obscure Russian mathematics journals for two generations until researchers aided by computers were able to pick up the ball and move forward again. Fermat's Theorem remained unproven for centuries, until advances in seemingly unrelated areas of mathematics made it possible for scientists to pick up the ball and prove, probably far more crudely than Fermat did, that his theorem was indeed true.

A recurring theme in science fiction is that of a civilization living, as the Europeans of the Dark Ages did, in the shadow of a great prior civilization. Sometimes the prior civilization is alien -- much of Larry Niven's writing and the science fiction writing of Kate Elliot, for example, use the device. At other times, the setting is post-apocalyptic.

Almost everyone in the scientific community agrees that this isn't the situation today. Life on Earth evolved on Earth with no alien assistance (or if you want to be really far fetched, but morally equivalent, with the help of primitive spores that arrived on Earth after floating for millions of years through empty space, several billions of years ago, and life evolved from there).

Likewise, there is strong evidence from numerous sources like archeology, genetics, and linguistics, that corroborate a history in which technology and social organization have never been as advanced as they are today, and that this has been the case for several hundred years, at least. Realistically, humanity has been setting new records of achievement technologically and in terms of social organization, and breaking new ground, continually since around the Renaissance.

Indeed, globally speaking, there are solid arguments that much of the dark ages weren't themselves, all that dark, because the Arabic empire, which was in a golden age by the late 600s, remained a center of advancing intellectual progress, building on Roman and Greek knowledge, until the Ottoman Empire took hold in the 1500s or so, fueling an intellectual and social decline in the Middle East that ultimately gave way, first to Western colonialism, and then to the malaise of an intellectually closed society that much of the Islamic world is still struggling to emerge from today. Still, the Byzantines and Islamic empire carried the torch until the Europeans took it up again in the 1500s, so the every moving peak of technology and social organization for humanity as a whole has seen few setbacks.

You probably have to go back until well before the golden ages of the Greeks and before them the Egyptians, several thousand years ago, before you really see extended periods when human progress was set back in all places by the decline of a particular empire.

Still, this chain of progress goes back only so far. Stone tools, wooden spears and fire making date back to before any species that biologists and anthropologists have been willing to call Homo sapiens, around 750,000 years. Neanderthals roamed the Earth starting about 200,000 years ago. Modern humans may be almost as ancient and certainly date back, at least, 100,000 years. This is all a blink in the eye of the 65,000,000 years since dinosaurs were replaced by mammals and birds, and the 4 billion year history of life, and the 14 billion years that have elapsed since the Big Bang, but, most of that isn't really our history.

But, all modern civilization can trace its roots ultimately to the Neolithic revolution of 10,000-12,000 years ago. Since then, there have always been domesticated plants and animals, alcohol, pottery, cloth, and permanent human settlements, all over the world. We don't know for sure who was first, although we can make some educated guesses, but the word spread fast, over continent size regions within a couple of hundred years. By 6,000 years ago, the Sumerians in present day Iraq had a written language, an elaborate religion (some of whose traces survive in the major religions of today through Judaism, at least), sailboats, and copper and bronze tools.

Before then, about 90-95% of our species' history, we were hunter-gatherers, living in small tribes, without agriculture or metal tools.

This is the basic story, and it comes with lots of evidence to back it up. Still, one wonders, were there ancient Roanokes? Were there outbreaks of Neolithic revolution, pre-bronze age class civilization that arose and survived, perhaps for decades, perhaps for centuries, isolated from the rest of humanity by geography somehow, the ultimately sputtered out and died, with the founders of the Neolithic revolution forced to begin anew, without the benefit of their insights? There are dozens of millennia where we know of no reason why this couldn't have happened, and yet we have no evidence that it did. Why? Have we simply not located, or has posterity simply not preserved, evidence of these false starts? Or did they really simply not happen? How would the discovery of some 50,000 year old ancient Roanoke, perhaps in a mountain valley range, or a former Sarahan oasis, or Madagascar, or Australia change our view about who we are as a species?

Were the conditions that gave rise to agriculture and everything that came with it really so unique that hundreds of thousands of tribes in tens of thousands of years were necessary for some tribe to stumble upon it? Did it take a Neolithic Einstein to get our species over the hump? Did a mutation in a critical, but subtle gene, give us the capacity to take this step? Were weather conditions truly remarkable for some brief period? Did some Neolithic ruler bring together enough people in a peaceful alliance that they finally had the critical mass and lack of distractions necessary to invent agriculture, and perhaps also, the need to do so to maintain their little kingdom? Were the false steps so close in time to the actual event, because some event like those just suggested, make the time ripe, that we simply falsely guess now that they have a common source (and that guess, in fairness, isn't universally held).

18 September 2006

And Then There Was One?

First, there were the big three, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. Then, Daimler, whose flagship brand in Mercedes, merged with Chrysler creating Daimler-Chrysler. Now, it appears that General Motors and Ford discussed a merger in July of this year.

The New York Times' "Deal Book," while acknowledging that the discussions may have taken place, calls a deal unlikely, comparing it to "two drowning swimmers in a watery embrace."

Via NewMexiKen.

15 September 2006

2006 Colorado Ballot Issue Endorsements

Are you a lazy progressive? Do you want to know what statewide ballot issues are worth voting for or against in Colorado in the 2006 General Election, which will have a record long ballot. Check out Colorado Confidential for a link to the Blue Book descriptions. Here are my calls:

Amendment 38: Petitions

Vote No. Why? Colorado makes too much bad policy by petition as it is, making petitions easier to get on the ballot only aggravates the problem. One recent study of the Colorado economy by a blue ribbon panel found that excess policy making by ballot initiative was the single biggest threat to Colorado's economy.

Amendment 39: School District Spending Requirements

Vote No. Why? The extremely strict definition of instructional spending that this initiative mandates 65% of school spending be devoted to, is met by only 11 school districts in the state out of 172.

All are small and either affluent or rural (small rural districts get much higher state funding per pupil than other school districts), both of which have very high per pupil spending. Four of those eleven met the 65% mandate by only one percentage point. The combined instructional spending in these eleven districts is about 14% of the that in the Denver Public Schools alone, so they aren't representative of good practice with normal sized school budgets. Doing things like ending bus service or not paying heating bills, so that more money can be spent on teachers, doesn't make sense. We have elected school boards to make local school budget decisions. Let them do their jobs.

Amendment 40: Term Limits for Supreme Court and Court of Appeals Judges

Vote No. Why? This is a court packing plan designed to kick out Romer appointees from office, pure and simple. It also encourages increased political influence in Colorado's courts. Colorado's system works well.

Amendment 41: Standards of Conduct in Government

Vote No. Why? This is overkill. Colorado hasn't had a serious problem with excessive gifts. It has strict ethics rules already. The limitations on even petty gifts would turn innocent situations (e.g. a single legislator going on a date or a donated pen at a county fair), into political scandals. Government by scandal doesn't make Colorado politics cleaner. The solution to excessive reliance on lobbists is to publicly fund campaigns to some extent, and to provide legislators with sufficient staffs that they can independently research legislation, instead of relying upon information from interested parties, not to ban trivial gifts.

Some of the proposals in Amendment 41, like a ban on lobbying shortly after leaving office, and a statewide independent ethics board, make sense. Legislators can be bought. But, they can't be bought for dinner, a movie, a scholarship to attend an educational conference, or free beer bottle openers, which are the kinds of gifts this proposal bans.

Amendment 42: Colorado Minimum Wage

Your call. Why? I'll probably vote yes, because the minimum wage is too low. But, the state constitution is not an ideal place for minimum wage legislation.

Amendment 43: Marriage

Vote No. Why? This puts in the state constitution something that is already part of state and federal law. Our constitution has too much junk already. And, symbolically, this measure is a discriminatory vote against gays and lesbians. We don't need to enshrine that in our constitution. And, the constitution also isn't the place to address complex issues like polygamy, which may make sense in some contexts (e.g. where there are mutually consenting adults from a culture, such as Islam, where there are clear guidelines and cultural acceptance of the practice), but not others (e.g. where girls are coerced into marriages with much older men).

Amendment 44: Marijuana Possession

Vote Yes. Why? This merely changes a statute, so details can be adjusted. And, Colorado has better ways to spend its money than prosecuting and incarcerating people in essentially harmless minor marijuana possession cases.

Referendum E: Property Tax Reduction for Disabled Veterans

Your Call. Why? Disabled veterans probably deserve a tax break, so it isn't a bad law.

Why disabled veterans deserve more of a property tax break than say, people disabled at birth, is far from obvious. We'd be better off with a generalized homestead exemption that gave a property tax break to say, the first $45,000 of equity in everyone's home, which would disproportionately help low income people, without an elaborate means test.

I'll probably vote yes, but the general scheme is really moving in the wrong direction, and quite frankly, Colorado's residential property taxes are already too low. Colorado puts too much emphasis on sales taxes and too little on property taxes, and that is generally a bad thing. High property taxes aren't the big problem in the state. And, disabled veterans who their own homes, and hence benefit from this bill, are probably, on average better off than disabled veterans who rent, and hence, don't benefit.

Referendum F: Recall Deadlines

Vote Yes. Why? It shouldn't take a constitutional amendment to adjust election deadlines to fit new realities.

Referendum G: Obsolete Constitutional Provisions

Vote Yes. Why? We have to much obsolete junk in our constitution, which is 710 pages long (with annotations) in the statute books.

Referendum H: Limiting a State Business Income Tax Deduction

Vote No. Why? This law makes no sense from a tax policy perspective, increases tax compliance costs for the Colorado Department of Revenue and every employer, and will raise gross revenues by less than $150,000 a year. It is just another piece of xenophobic anti-immigrant grandstanding that has no practical benefits to the state.

Indeed, it is counterproductive. If an employer is going to employ illegal immigrants, from a state revenue perspective, we'd rather have those people classifed as employees and subjected to income tax withholding, rather than classified as independent contractors and exempted from income tax withholding. This measure encourages employers, instead, to structure relationships with people who aren't legally allowed to work as independent contracts not subject to withholding taxes.

Referendum I: Domestic Partnerships

Vote Yes. Why? Gays and lesbians deserve a way to receive most of the legal incidents of marriage. Also, it is a statute, not a constitutional amendment. If there are problems with implementation, they can be fixed relatively easily.

Referendum J: School District Spending Requirements

Vote No. Why? While this measure is far less draconian than Amendment 39 because its 65% of spending on instructional matters is more broadly defined, so that only three districts in Colorado fail to meet the 65% threshold, it addresses a problem that doesn't exist, already safely in the hands of elected school boards, and makes the budget process for schools more complex adding unnecessary expense and complexity to school administration.

Referendum K: Immigration Lawsuit Against Federal Government

Vote No. Why? Ordering the Attorney General to bring a frivilous lawsuit against the federal government is a waste of $190,000. Many similar suits have been thrown out.

Short Version

Vote yes on Amendment 44 (Marijuana), and Referendums F (Recall Deadlines), G (Obsolete Constitutional Provisions) and I (Domestic Partnerships). I lean yes, but have qualms about, Amendment 43 (Minimum Wage) and Referendum E (Disabled Veterans Property Tax Breaks). On everything else, vote no.

14 September 2006

Army Under Strain

From the House Democrats, via Defense Tech:

The Army currently has 39 active-duty combat brigades, as it builds to a total of 42 under the restructuring plan known as “modularity.” Over the coming months, roughly 19.5 combat brigades will be committed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Army doctrine calls for 2 units to be held in reserve (for rest and training) for every unit deployed. As of today, the Army has only one unit in reserve for every unit deployed – a ratio that history shows cannot be sustained for any length of time without serious adverse consequences to the force...

Army military readiness rates have declined to levels not seen since the end of the Vietnam War. Roughly one-half of all Army units (deployed and non-deployed, active and reserves) received the lowest readiness rating any fully formed unit can receive. Prior to 9/11, only about 20 percent of the Army received this lowest rating – a fact driven almost exclusively by shortfalls in the reserves...

The main problem now is a shortage of gear:

Of the 16 active-duty, non-deployed combat brigades in the United States managed by the Army’s Forces Command, the vast majority of them are rated at the lowest readiness ratings. These ratings are caused by severe equipment shortages.

Of particular concern is the readiness rates of the units scheduled to deploy later this year, particularly the 1st Cavalry Division. This division and its 4 brigades will deploy to Iraq in October at the lowest level of readiness because of equipment shortfalls....

Funding shortfalls have created backlogs at all of the Army’s key depot maintenance facilities. At Anniston Army Depot in Alabama, some 600 M1 tanks sit in disuse. At Red River Army Depot in Texas, 700 Bradley Fighting Vehicles and over 450 trucks have not been serviced. Roughly 2,600 Humvees are sitting idle at various Army depots. Tens of thousands of small arms, communications sets, and other key items have been similarly backlogged.

It is also worth recalling that Iraq and Afghanistan aren't the only places that U.S. Army troops are deployed abroad. There is still a substantial presence in both South Korea (not entirely a cakewalk, given recent tensions with North Korea), and in the Balkans.

This also doesn't include Army troops deployed in the nebulous "long war" formerly known as the "war on terrorism" outside of Iraq and Afghanistan. For example, we have troops acting as advisors in counter-insurgency tasks in the Phillipines. The number of troops so engaged is probably small, but the stress levels associated with that duty likely rival those of troops in war zones.

The active duty, regular Army is too small is we are really going to be engaging in sustained military operations in Iraq. But, President Bush has already made clear that troops will remain in Iraq, at least, until his term of office is completed. The Army is staffed at peacetime, post-Cold War levels, yet is being called upon to fight two regional conflicts at once.

In contrast, the Air Force and Navy (exclusive of the Marines) are larger than what the nation needs. The Department of Defense knows this, and is reducing the size of both of those military services, but deeper cuts are called for in those services, which are very lightly taxed at the moment.

Procurement lapses for the Army are unforgiveable, because the Army's needs are dramatically less expensive than those of the Navy and Air Force.

A Bradley fighting vehicle costs $2.4 million give or take. A Stryker costs under $1 million. An armored humvee costs $0.2 million or so.

The cheapest naval ship on order (the Littoral Combat Ship) costs about $200 million. So does an F-22. The DDG-1000 Zumwalt (fka the DD(X)) will cost $3,000+ million each. We are buying both, yet have a pressing shortage of neither fighters nor ships.

More Ford Layoffs

Ford is laying off a lot more workers.

Ford Motor Co. plans to offer buyout and early retirement packages to more than 75,000 of its employees, a United Auto Workers union official said today. . . Ford lost $1.4 billion during the first half of the year and is under pressure from Wall Street to make further cuts and roll out new cars and trucks more quickly.

In July, the company pledged to accelerate its "Way Forward" restructuring plan, which when introduced in January called for cutting up to 30,000 jobs and closing 14 facilities by 2012.

Ford has about 300,000 employees. Even if the 75,000 figure includes the previously announced 30,000 layoffs, we are still talking about a 15% work force reduction, in addition to previously announced cuts.

The brands Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Mazda, Volvo, Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston Martin are all affiliated with Ford.

General Motors now has about 327,000 employees. Both GM and Ford employ far fewer people than they did at their peak employment. Some GM's employees went to Delphi, the automative parts making which GM spun off, which has about 182,500 employees. General Motors once employed about 800,000 and was the largest employer in the nation when I first started looking at these numbers. Now, the largest employers in the United States are Wal-Mart (1.8 million), McDonald's (447,000 million), UPS (407,000, which is about half the employment of the United States Postal Office), Sears Holding (355,000 also declining), and Home Depot (345,000).

Torture Is Bad

The Bush Administation is still wrong on torture, even in its latest version. It is wrong, and it is wrong to immunize the administration from civil lawsuits to prevent it or remedy it. The Washington Post explains why as well as I would.

13 September 2006

Welcome Dwarf Planet Eris & Her Moon Dysnomia

Welcome the newest dwarf planet:

Xena has been officially renamed Eris, the goddess of strife and discord.


The moon of Eris, formerly known as Gabrielle, is now Dysnomia, the goddess of lawlessness. Mind the pun here: Xena was played by Lucy Lawless!

Eris is not to be confused with Eros, whose actions merely indirectly lead to strife, discord, and children.

Ceres, the largest body in the asteroid belt, has also been given dwarf planet status. A report is found here.

Green Tea and Anti-Inflammatories

Green Tea

The verdicts on green tea and your health are mostly in:

Japanese Government: No cancer benefit, but does reduce strokes in particular, and heart disease generally. Women are helped much more than men from comparable amounts of tea consumption.

Their 11 year study involving 40,530 middle aged and elderly Japanese adults showed most of the benefit to overall mortality was associated with 3-4 cups a day in women where it provides an 18% mortality reduction with a range of a 5% to a 30% benefit being within the margin of error. In men 5 or more cups a day provides a 12% reduction in mortality with a range of a 2% to 21% benefit being within the margin of error. The benefit flowed from reduction in cardiovascular deaths, especially stroke.

For one to cups a day, according to the Japanese study, women get a reduction in mortality of 7%, while men get a 2% reduction in mortality, but both groups have a benefit that is well within the margin of error at the 95% confidence level with that amount of green tea consumption.

Thus, while green tea consumption is probably harmless, you have to drink a whole lot of it to get any significant benefit.

There was no statistically significant cancer benefit no matter how much green tea you drink, which is surprising because the main theory behind the benefit of green tea is that it contains anti-oxidants, which are seen primarily as cancer preventers. Indeed, even in this study, the quantities of green tea required to get a benefit are so great that it isn't entirely out of the question that the main benefit may come from drinking large quantities of warm water, relative to your body size, rather than the green tea itself.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration: "no credible scientific evidence to support manufacturers' claims that green tea can cut risks of cardiovascular disease." I suspect it will change that conclusion after this study.

According to the Denver Post:

The National Cancer Institute says human studies on tea and cancer prevention have had contradictory results. But the institute is funding rigorous studies testing whether tea extract can help prevent several kinds of cancer.

Suffice it to say that if the benefits were more dramatic, we wouldn't be seeing such equivocal results from heavy weight studies like these. You have to drink a whole lot of green tea to get health benefits.

Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

One of the main medical decisions the average American makes is what over the counter drug to buy for pain, fever and the like.


The oldest of the class of drugs called anti-inflammatory drugs used for this purpose is asprin. You should have some at home.

Why? A daily regime of baby dose (81 mg) aspirin dramatically reduces the risk of stroke and heart disease. An apsrin regime can greatly reduce breast cancer risk. It is also good at preventing enlarged prostates, oral cancer, and colon cancer (ibuprofin and naproxin also help prostates and against these cancers).

Taking asprin at the first signs of possible impending stroke or heart attack is the best thing you can do while you head to a hospital. It is also cheap.

The down sides? Instestinal bleeding and ulcers with regular use (low dose regime asprin has coating designed to reduce this effect, but some people still find it a problem). There are also possible complications if used to treat fevers associated with chicken pox in children.

A fuller discussion is here.

Ibuprofin and Acetaminophen

Ibuprofin (Advil and Motrin and Nuprin) and Acetaminophen (Tylenol) are common aspirin subsitutes.

Tylenol is easier on the stomach, but carries a risk of liver damage in high doses.

Ibuprofin is easier on the stomach than apsirin, but harder on it than acetaminophen and may be more potent in reducing pain than aspirin. Inconclusive evidence links "regular use . . . to a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease."


One of the new kids on the block, now available for about a decade, is Naproxin (Aleve). It is chemically similar to aspirin and ibuprofin and is marketed primarily for its much longer lasting effect (8-12 hours, as opposed to 4-6 hours fo all of the others above).

It doesn't raise heart attack or stroke risk (although it doesn't have aspirin's protective effects on those risks either), and it is easier on the stomach than aspirin, although not entirely harmless on that score.

This drug is now being recommended for large numbers of patients who used to take one of the drugs discussed below. According to an editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association:

For most patients with arthritis or other conditions who require chronic pain relief, naproxen appears to be the safest NSAID choice from a cardiovascular perspective. For patients at high risk of NSAID-related gastrointestinal tract complications, naproxen plus a proton pump inhibitor is less costly and as effective, and probably safer, than low-dose celecoxib.

COX-2 Inhibitors

Yet another class of drugs (not over the counter), that substitutes for aspirin, particularly for arthritis patients concerned about stomach risks, are COX-2 inhibitors (Celebrex, Vioxx). In an effect opposite of aspirin they increase heart disease and stroke risks. Some of the latest negative studies can be found here


Another new worry is diclofenac (Voltaren, Cataflam). These carry stroke and heart attack risks at least as great, if not worse, than COX-2 inhibitors.

12 September 2006

Why Does Tancredo Love The C.S.A.?

Congressman Tancredo from the 6th Congressional District swore an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America when he took office. Apparently, he got confused along the way, into thinking it was the Confederate States of America and not the United States whose constitution he was sworn to uphold.

Here's how he spent yesterday in South Carolina:

Dressed casually in a yellow t-shirt, Tancredo addressed the standing-room audience of 200-250 from behind a podium draped in a Confederate battle flag. To the congressman's right, a portrait of Robert E. Lee peered out at the crowd of Minutemen activists, local politicians, and red-shirted members of LOS and the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The Confederate trappings of the event found a mismatch in Tancredo's standard nativist polemic, which stayed clear of references to Southern heritage or direct plaudits for the LOS, a Southern white nationalist organization dedicated to "Southern independence, complete, full, and total."

My source does not disclose if Tancredo thinks that citizens of the Confederate State of America should be kept out of Colorado by the the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration Control and Enforcement officers.

11 September 2006

F-35 Buy Cut.

The single biggest military program out there is the F-35 (Lightning II) joint strike fighter program, which seeks to replace the F-16 (Air Force), the F-18 (Navy) and the AV-8B (Marines), as well as other legacy aircraft, like the F-14 (Navy) which is no longer in service. Now, the cuts are starting again.

The total planned buy is about 2500 aircraft for the Air Force, Navy and Marines combined for $276 billion. In addition, our allies plan to buy 770.

A proposed Air Force cut in the program would reduce the number of F-35s it buys in the 2008-2013 fiscal years by 72 planes.

This cut is on top of cuts proposed in their share of the F-35 program by the Navy and the Marines, in mid-August.

[T]he Navy-USMC plan would delay fielding the first Marine Corps F-35 squadron from 2010 to 2012, while also pushing acquisition of 35 additional Air Force and Navy Joint Strike Fighters beyond 2013, according to sources contacted by InsideDefense.com. Those sources said the move would free up nearly $1 billion across Navy and Marine Corps coffers.

The quote above does not completely make sense, but apparently, the Navy and Marines proposed that some of the cuts should come from the Air Force. The Air Force, meanwhile, is willing to cut even more of its planes if the program can stay on schedule.

What is clear is that everyone knows that the F-35 program has fat in it, and now, it is clear that there will be cuts. These cuts are small, and in theory, simply postpone the purchases. But, in military procurement, to delay often means to cut permanently, because if you don't need it right now, maybe you don't need it at all. Also, by the time you get to the end of the purchase period, a new program may have come along to fund instead.