State Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA), the Republican candidate for the special U.S. Senate election Tuesday, voted against a bill to provide financial assistance to 9/11 rescue workers who had volunteered to rush to the site of the twin towers after the terrorist attack in 2001. The measure, which was opposed by only two other legislators in addition to Brown, provided paid “leaves of absence for certain Red Cross employees participating in Red Cross emergencies.” Despite Brown’s efforts to kill the legislation, it passed along overwhelmingly bipartisan lines and is now helping to compensate Massachusetts Red Cross employees currently deploying to Haiti to provide emergency assistance after the devastating earthquake. Asked yesterday by ThinkProgress why he opposed the 2001 measure for rescue workers, Brown stated that he had his “own priorities first” at the time. As ThinkProgress reported, during the same period that Brown opposed the financial aid to 9/11 rescue workers, he sponsored a bill to provide a tax-subsidized bond to build a golf course in his district, and voted for across the board corporate tax subsidies.
A little weekend action—Biggie Smalls and Miley Cyrus:
The 21st century is awesome.
Good to know that the absurd conspiracy theory wing of the Republican Party is on the March even in New England:
As best I can tell, it really is all tied up at this point.
Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum—which is why God created Roger Ailes. The president of Fox News is, by default, the closest thing there is to a kingmaker in Anti-Obama America. And that, in turn, makes him the de facto leader of the GOP. In a relentless (and spectacularly successful) hunt for cable ratings, Ailes has given invaluable publicity to the tea partiers, furnished tryout platforms to GOP candidates, and trained a fire hose of populist anger at the president and his allies in Congress. While Beltway Republicans wring their hands or write their tracts, Ailes has worked the countryside, using his feel for Main Street resentment to attract and give voice to this year’s angriest—and most powerful—voter-viewers: those who hate the Feds, the Fed, and the Ivy League. It was Ailes who put the “party” in the tea parties by giving them a round-the-clock national stage. Next month Fox will have priority access to the National Tea Party Convention in Nashville.
It’s worth considering the different incentives of a television executive trying to maximize ratings, a political operative trying to win elections, and an ideologue trying to push public policy in a specific direction. These are not the same thing.
NRC panel of advocates for dead-end hydrogen cars trashes plug-in hybrids in deeply flawed report, Part 2
CalCars.org on battery costs
In a staggering lapse of judgment, the National Research Council let its panel of hydrogen advocates publish a deeply flawed report trashing plug-in hybrids late last year, as I noted in Part 1. The obvious perception of bias, which the media largely failed to report, should have rung many alarm bells for the NRC.
That overview post focused on some of the apparent conflicts of interest of the panel, including the fact that the chair is Michael Ramage, retired Executive VP for ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company, who is apparently still an ExxonMobil advisor. It excerpted a few short critiques of the report and gave a brief intro to the myriad miracles required to make hydrogen fuel cell cars viable and practical as a mass-market consumer vehicle and cost-effective climate solution. In Part 3, I will expand on the hype about hydrogen cars. First, however, Felix Kramer of CalCars now has a detailed debunking up, with a focus on the crucial issue of battery costs, which I’ll excerpt at length below as a guest post:
Bush repudiates criticisms that Obama is ‘politicizing’ Haiti: ‘I don’t know what they’re talking about.’
Last week following the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti, hate radio host Rush Limbaugh controversially said that President Obama was politicizing the disaster by trying to boost his credibility with the “light-skinned and dark-skinned black community in this country.” Fox News host Glenn Beck also said that Obama was “dividing the nation” by reacting “so rapidly to Haiti.” Today on NBC’s Meet the Press, host David Gregory asked President Bush about these criticisms (without specifically mentioning either Limbaugh or Beck). Bush rejected their characterizations:
GREGORY: In some circles, the President’s been criticized for politicizing this disaster. Do you think that’s fair?
BUSH: I don’t know what they’re talking about. I’ve been briefed by the President about the response. And as I said in my opening comment, I appreciate the President’s quick response to this disaster.
Televangelist Pat Robertson has also been receiving a significant negative backlash to his remarks that Haiti’s earthquake was a result of the country’s “pact to the devil” many years ago. As the earthquake has brought out the “fundamental goodness” in many Haitians who are helping to rebuild their country, many religious leaders are incensed by Robertson’s remarks. “I get mad when I hear that Haiti is somehow being punished,” said Arsene Jasmin, head of Haitian outreach for the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington. “It’s unacceptable and wrong.”
Tyler Cowen looks at the very bad estimates that experts were giving in the 1940s of when the USSR would be able to build a nuclear weapons and wonders “whether today’s estimates of Iranian production are any better.”
Today’s estimates are almost certainly worse. Sovietologists had, at a minimum, very solid evidence of Soviet intentions—they were trying to build a bomb as soon as possible, and when they had one they would want everyone to know about it. The Iranians are operating in a different geopolitical context, where they’re clearly trying to gain more nuclear know-how but also trying to avoid international isolation, and it’s not totally clear what they’re aiming for or how much “they” agree.
Meanwhile, read this rundown from Justin Logan of recent efforts to guess what’s happening in Iran:
“Late 1991: In congressional reports and CIA assessments, the United States estimates that there is a ‘high degree of certainty that the government of Iran has acquired all or virtually all of the components required for the construction of two to three nuclear weapons.’ A February 1992 report by the U.S. House of Representatives suggests that these two or three nuclear weapons will be operational between February and April 1992.”
“February 24, 1993: CIA director James Woolsey says that Iran is still 8 to 10 years away from being able to produce its own nuclear weapon, but with assistance from abroad it could become a nuclear power earlier.”
“January 1995: The director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, John Holum, testifies that Iran could have the bomb by 2003.”
“January 5, 1995: U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry says that Iran may be less than five years from building an atomic bomb, although ‘how soon…depends how they go about getting it.’”
“April 29, 1996: Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres says ‘he believes that in four years, they [Iran] may reach nuclear weapons.’”
“October 21, 1998: General Anthony Zinni, head of U.S. Central Command, says Iran could have the capacity to deliver nuclear weapons within five years. ‘If I were a betting man,’ he said, ‘I would say they are on track within five years, they would have the capability.’”
“January 17, 2000: A new CIA assessment on Iran’s nuclear capabilities says that the CIA cannot rule out the possibility that Iran may possess nuclear weapons. The assessment is based on the CIA’s admission that it cannot monitor Iran’s nuclear activities with any precision and hence cannot exclude the prospect that Iran may have nuclear weapons.”
Have you heard that the Intelligence Community is now working on a new NIE about Iranian nuclear activities?
This morning on Fox News Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) argued that the country would benefit from the failure to pass health reform:
HUME: Let’s assume that for the purpose of this question, which is in raw political terms is it better for the Democrats and worse for the Republicans if the bill passes or if it fails?
MCCONNELL: What’s important is it would be good for the country if it failed.
“I think the politics are toxic for the Democrats either way,” McConnell told host Brit Hume. “Whether it passes or whether it fails, it will be a huge issue not just in 2010 but in 2012,” he said. Watch it:
It’s telling that McConnell believes that a Senate health reform bill which would cover more than 30 million uninsured Americans while reducing the deficit is bad for America. McConnell appears to have made a political calculus that health care reform must be defeated in order to help Republicans’ electoral prospects.
Ironically, when Rush Limbaugh declared “I hope Obama fails” shortly before the President’s inauguration, McConnell strenuously disagreed. “No one wants Obama to fail,” McConnell said. But by the end of the year, McConnell’s aides were calling Limbaugh “to explain their tactics” to defeat Obama. “McConnell’s office did call here and say that they are opposing this,” Limbaugh informed his audience.
As President Obama has said, “You can’t just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done.” But that is in fact what McConnell is doing.
This whole crisis has made me think, in a variety of ways, that western policymakers made a mistake with regard to inflation back in the 1990s. In the seventies, the inflation rate was very high and increasing. It was a big problem. In the early 1980s, policymakers largely solved this problem and got inflation down to a much-lower and stable rate. But then having succeeded at this they then went on to push the inflation rate even lower which was done for reasons that were never articulated in a very clear way. This in turn resulted in unusually low nominal interest rates of various kinds, which I’ve come to believe have had a lot of undesirable consequences. For example, the low pre-crash nominal interest rates have meant that the Fed hasn’t been able to do very much with its conventional monetary policy post-crash.
But who am I to say? Andy Harless, by contrast, has a PhD and everything:
But the Fed’s hands were tied. The Fed dropped its federal funds rate target by 5 percentage points in the year and a half following the onset of the financial crisis, and that was as far as conventional monetary policy could go. If the inflation target had started out at 4% instead of 2%, and the federal funds rate had started out at 7.25% instead of 5.25%, the Fed would have had a lot more ammunition. Moreover, the market would have known that the Fed had more ammunition, and investors would have been more confident in the Fed’s ability to minimize the economic impact of the financial crisis, and this would have made financial instruments less risky and thereby ameliorated the financial crisis itself.
You may therefore add my name to the list of those who blame past Fed policies for the severity of the recent crisis – but not because the Fed allowed a bubble to develop. Quite the contrary. The Fed eventually popped the previous bubble – the tech bubble – not because it was a bubble but because the economy was nearing the overheating stage, and the inflation rate risked eventually rising back to levels of a decade earlier. In my opinion, the Fed was wrong to pop that bubble. The Fed should have let the economy overheat, for a while, and let the inflation rate rise. (Higher future product prices might, in fact, have turned out to justify stock valuations that proved to be, in the retrospect of the path actually taken, unreasonable: a bubble is a slippery thing.)
I would like to see more commentary on this matter from smart and informed people before I say I’m taking this account to the bank. But it seems to me to be an obvious enough question to ask especially since there are a variety of other reasons to think that something like a 3-4 percent inflation rate would be more desirable than a 2 percent inflation rate.
As as been strongly hinted at elsewhere in recent months, Newsweek reports that U.S. intelligence agencies are “revising their widely disputed assertion that Iran has no active program to design or build a nuclear bomb.”
Three U.S. and two foreign counterproliferation officials tell NEWSWEEK that, as soon as next month, the intel agencies are expected to complete an “update” to their controversial 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, which concluded that Tehran “halted its nuclear weapons program” in 2003 and “had not restarted” it as of mid-2007. The officials, who asked for anonymity to discuss sensitive information, say the revised report will bring U.S. intel agencies more in line with other countries’ spy agencies (such as Britain’s MI6, Germany’s BND, and Israel’s Mossad), which have maintained that Iran has been pursuing a nuclear weapon.
Yet two of the U.S. sources caution the new assessment will likely be “Talmudic” in its parsing. They say U.S. analysts now believe that Iran may well have resumed “research” on nuclear weapons — theoretical work on how to design and construct a bomb — but that Tehran is not engaged in “development” — actually trying to build a weapon. “The intelligence community is always reluctant to make a total retreat because it makes them look bad,” says the third American.
It’s interesting to read this in light of an interview published Tuesday with the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), Lieutenant General Ronald Burgess, in which Burgess stressed that there is still no evidence that Iran has made a final decision to build nuclear weapons:
Burgess says the key finding that Iran has not yet committed itself to nuclear weapons, contained in a controversial 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), is still valid.
“The bottom line assessments of the NIE still hold true,” he said. “We have not seen indication that the government has made the decision to move ahead with the program. But the fact still remains that we don’t know what we don’t know.”
General Burgess says it is difficult to ascertain the intentions of Iran’s leaders or the level of political infighting among the country’s leadership.
While clearly a walk-back of the 2007 NIE, Burgess’ point is still very significant. As MIT nonproliferation expert Jim Walsh has pointed out, the decision to move forward with nuclear weaponization is a serious one for any government, fraught with numerous political implications. It’s not simply a matter of Ayatollah Khamenei waking up one morning and saying “I think I’ll build a nuke today.”
Whether one terms them “Talmudic” or just “appropriately rigorous given the stakes,” these kinds of distinctions — research vs. development, design vs. build, nuclear weapon vs. weapons capability — will be really important to the debate going forward. As there was with Iraq, there is a highly organized movement afoot to pretend that none of this matters, that “the mullahs” have always intended to get their hands on a nuke, and that we should therefore prepare to
bomb the hell out of Iran do what is necessary. We’ve already seen the beginning of an effort by some neocons to resurrect a “Team B” approach to hype the threat of Islamic extremism, ignoring the fact that such an approach, in all of its previous incarnations, generated nothing but staggeringly wrong conclusions about enemy capabilities, resulting is disastrously counterproductive policies.