Friday, January 19, 2007

Morning News Roundup (19 March)

BushCo's Wars
  • Lawrence Wilkerson, an aide to Colin Powell when he was secretary of state says that Iran in 2003 offered to help stabilize Iraq and to cut off aid to Hizbullah in Lebanon and to Hamas. Wilkerson says that the State Department was interested in pursuing the offer, which presumably came from reformist president Mohammad Khatami. He says that when the issue was broached with VP Richard Bruce Cheney, Cheney shot down any notion of "talking to evil." As if Mohammad Khatami is evil and Richard Bruce Cheney is not. (Cheney's lies about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and connection to 9/11 have gotten hundreds of thousands of people killed).

    Because Khatami kept promising that his reforms would make Iranians better off, and because the US rejected all his overtures and left him with no achievements to show for them, the Iranian electorate turned against the reform movement and put Mahmud Ahmadinejad into power, a loud-mouthed braggart of a sort that Cheney's Likudniks could then build up into a bogey man to frighten Americans with. Cheney created Iran as a menace. [Juan Cole's Informed Comment]

  • From Foreign Polciy's Passport blog:
    David Leonhardt estimates in the New York Times that $1.2 trillion is the total cost of the war in Iraq. Others, notably Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, have calculated far higher totals. But Leonhardt's more interested in what Americans could have bought with their tax dollars had the United States military not been in Iraq for the past four years. So he stacked the war, at a rate of $200 billion per year, up against the price tag for other items:

nytimes iraq war cost

Climate Crisis
  • A computer model of climate run on home PCs in conjunction with the BBC has yielded its first results. About 250,000 people downloaded software from onto their home computers, each running a single simulation of the future. The results suggest the UK could be about 3C warmer than now in 75 years' time, agreeing with other models (global assessment to follow). Members of the scientific team say they have been staggered by the level of interest shown in the project. "When it started, we said to ourselves that we would be happy if 10,000 people took part," said Nick Faull, project co-ordinator.

    Distributed computing has been used before, notably by the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (Seti), where several million people have downloaded software enabling them to analyse data from observations of distant stars for signs of alien life. [BBC; note that, unfortunately, the software is available only for Windows and Linux systems]

  • Poland and the Czech Republic are now taking the full force of a storm that has swept northern Europe leaving at least 39 people dead. At least six people were reported killed in Poland as winds of more than 200km/h (124mph) were recorded. [BBC]

  • Carbon dioxide is accumulating in the atmosphere much faster than scientists expected, raising fears that humankind may have less time to tackle climate change than previously thought. New figures from dozens of measuring stations across the world reveal that concentrations of CO2, the main greenhouse gas, rose at record levels during 2006 - the fourth year in the last five to show a sharp increase. Experts are puzzled because the spike, which follows decades of more modest annual rises, does not appear to match the pattern of steady increases in human emissions.

    At its most far reaching, the finding could indicate that global temperatures are making forests, soils and oceans less able to absorb carbon dioxide - a shift that would make it harder to tackle global warming. Such a shift would worsen even the gloomy predictions of the Stern Review which warned that we had little over a decade to tackle rising emissions to avoid the worst effects of climate change. [The Guardian]

  • A series of winter storms blanketed most of Texas and the south-central Plains on Wednesday, leaving hundreds of thousands without power and causing as many as 60 weather-related deaths in nine states.

    The fronts -- a fast-moving mass of dry arctic air from Canada and a lumbering line of warm, moist air coming off the Gulf of Mexico -- collided on the meteorological battlefield between California and Missouri, spewing sleet, snow and ice and leaving destruction in their wake. [WaPo]

  • Ten major companies with operations across the economy — utilities, manufacturing, petroleum, chemicals and financial services — have banded together with leading environmental groups to call for a firm nationwide limit on carbon dioxide emissions that would lead to reductions of 10 to 30 percent over the next 15 years.

    Introduction of this group, which includes industry giants like General Electric, DuPont and Alcoa, is aimed at adding to the recent impetus for Congressional action on emissions controls and the creation of a market in which allowances to emit carbon dioxide could be traded in a way that achieves the greatest reduction at the lowest cost.

    The diversity of the coalition — some members had already come out for other forms of emissions control, like a carbon tax or voluntary controls, but others had been silent on climate-change issues until now — could send a strong signal that businesses want to get ahead of the increasing political momentum for federal emissions controls, in part to ensure that their long-term interests are protected. [NYTimes]

Domestic Potpourri
  • House Democrats brought their "100-hour" legislative agenda to a successful close Thursday evening with passage of legislation designed to force oil and gas companies to pay more royalties on some offshore leases and end subsidies and tax deductions they have been receiving amid record prices for crude.

    The House finished work on all six measures in about 42 hours of floor time, less than half the limit set on their self-imposed clock. However, the legislation must still navigate the Senate, which tends to operate at a more leisurely pace, and could also face President Bush's veto pen. [CNN]

  • Senate Democrats and Republicans broke a difficult stalemate last night and approved 96 to 2 expansive legislation to curtail the influence of lobbyists, tighten congressional ethics rules and prevent the spouses of senators from lobbying senators and their staffs.
    The measure appeared dead Wednesday night after Republicans refused to allow passage without a vote on an unrelated amendment that would hand the president virtual line-item veto authority. For nearly two days, Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) -- who jealously guards the Senate's prerogatives on spending matters -- single-handedly blocked efforts to come to an accord on that line-item veto vote. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid found a path around Byrd, offering Republicans a chance next week to add the spending control measure to a bill to raise the minimum wage if they can find the votes. [WaPo]

  • The Medicare prescription drug program increased U.S. drug sales by $2.5 billion in 2006, bolstering earnings at Pfizer Inc. and UnitedHealth Group Inc. as well as other pharmaceutical and insurance companies. “Purchases under the benefit, offered through the Medicare health program for the elderly for the first time last year, accounted for one-sixth of the growth in sales.” [ThinkProgress' ThinkFast]

Obama Watch
  • IN HIS 1995 memoir, “Dreams from My Father”, Barack Obama confessed to youthful dabbling with pot, booze and “maybe a little blow”. These admissions have not hurt his cause. If anything, they have been taken as a sign of candour. But the senator has at least one more vice. He smokes cigarettes. “It's not something I'm proud of,” he said last year. He is trying to quit. If he fails, some voters may hold it against him.
    But as habits go, Mr Obama's smoking is less annoying than John Kerry's poetry-writing and less odd than George Bush's obsessive brush-clearing. Americans will have to resign themselves to the fact that no one is perfect, not even Mr Obama. It has also emerged that his middle name is Hussein, and that his ears stick out. If this is the worst that can be said, so much the better for him. [The Economist]

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