Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard On Biotech Opponents

Biotech Opponents Are Playing with Human Lives, by Till Behrend
Nobel laureate Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard discusses the environmentalists' war against genetically modified food.
Pajamas Media, January 3, 2009

There is a specter haunting Europe: the specter of genetically modified foods. Although regularly consumed in the U.S. and around the world, in Europe GM foods are the target of veritable scare campaigns by environmental pressure groups and in the media. As a consequence, even GM crops that have been formally approved by the European Commission are the subject of increasing restrictions in Germany, France, and other European countries. GM crops — including such as have been planted merely for experimental purposes — are regularly destroyed by anti-GM militants in acts of would-be “civil disobedience.” Till Behrend of [1] the German weekly Focus spoke with the geneticist and Nobel Prize laureate Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard about the sources of biotech-phobia.

John Rosenthal (Translator)


FOCUS: Professor Nüsslein-Volhard, farmers all around the world are cultivating genetically modified crops on an ever larger scale. But many Germans appear to be afraid of the new technology. Are they right to be?

Nüsslein-Volhard: Well, we Germans are always afraid of new things. But what are these people actually afraid about? They’re afraid that they will assimilate alien genes while eating genetically modified foods. But that’s nonsense. The genes are digested, broken down, and eliminated from the body just like in the case of traditional foods. This has been proven beyond any shadow of a doubt. The human genome is sequential and you can examine whether there are any cow genes or plant genes in there. Have no fear: there aren’t any.

FOCUS: What distinguishes, then, classically bred crops from genetically modified crops?

Nüsslein-Volhard: People seem to be unaware that practically all the grains and vegetables that we eat nowadays have been highly genetically modified as compared to their natural forms. There’s hardly any crop as artificial as a potato. In the wild, potatoes are tiny and highly poisonous. It took thousands of generations to turn the potato into a decent sort of food. In contrast to the classical development of new plant strains, “green” biotechnology has the advantage that with its help one can proceed much faster and in a much more targeted fashion.

FOCUS: It’s true that for plant breeders that might be a fine thing. But lots of people want to do what’s right for nature and for themselves, and consequently they insist on “organic” products.

Nüsslein-Volhard: Given our level of material well-being and the fertility of our soil, we can afford to do that. But actually that’s a snobby, elitist attitude. Organic farming cannot feed large cities. And it certainly cannot feed the world’s population. It’s not possible, since the yields of organic farming are too small and the area one has to plant is way too much. It really makes more sense to use the particularly rich fields that we have intensively and in a sustainable manner by planting high-yield crops. The environment benefits, too, since then we can return other fields to their natural state.

FOCUS: Nonetheless, organic farming is thought to stand for a more respectful treatment of the environment.

Nüsslein-Volhard: Wrongly. Or do you imagine perhaps that organic farming can do without the spraying of pesticides? On organic farms, too, one sprays pesticides constantly and all over the place! In this respect, genetic engineering really has more intelligent solutions to offer. For example, with the help of genetic engineering we can make corn or cotton that is resistant to insect damage. If we incorporate a particular gene, they become poisonous for harmful insects, but not for humans or for mice. Then you can do without the insecticide. I find this rather smart. There are also strains being developed that grow with less water or that grow on salt-affected soils. It’s both sophisticated and ecologically beneficial!

FOCUS: If green biotechnology is so beneficial, why hasn’t it gained ground here in Germany?

Nüsslein-Volhard: We have groups like Greenpeace to thank for that: groups that put ideology above everything else — regardless of all the positive results that have been had [with GM crops] in the meanwhile in many countries. As a consequence, green biotechnology is practically a social taboo here.

FOCUS: What are the implications for scientific research?

Nüsslein-Volhard: For theoretical research, there are no consequences. But as soon as it’s a matter of practical applications, things become difficult for the scientists. In Germany, there are practically no positions to be found anymore that would permit them to translate their ideas and research into practice. We do have a biotechnology law, which to some extent makes possible the field experiments that are necessary to gain authorization [for GM crops]. But if the fields are constantly being destroyed and nothing is done about it, then it’s just not possible. Not far from here, at the University of Hohenheim, a whole course had to be canceled because anti-GM militants tore up all the experimental fields. The consequence is that Germany exports exceptionally well-trained scientists to other countries. They don’t see any future for themselves here.

FOCUS: Using the techniques of genetic engineering, German scientists have developed the so-called golden rice. The rice is enriched with vitamin A and it has the potential to spare millions of people in the world’s poorest countries from losing their eyesight. Greenpeace is opposed to the golden rice, because they don’t want people in the Third World to serve as guinea pigs. Do you share this concern?

Nüsslein-Volhard: But that’s total nonsense. The behavior of Greenpeace in this matter is profoundly inhuman! Without a second thought, they are playing with human lives. I’ll give you another example. A few years ago, the Americans sent aid shipments of corn to African countries that were suffering from famine. The corn was genetically modified. In America, everyone eats it (including the German tourist), but the starving Africans were not permitted to eat the corn, because Greenpeace and other groups warned that it was genetically modified. These are unbelievable absurdities. I find it extremely depressing.

FOCUS: Critics of green biotechnologies complain that small farmers in the Third World become dependent on the big agro-industrial firms, which have their newly developed crop strains patented.

Nüsslein-Volhard: Okay, I find this criticism bizarre. As if it is somehow immoral to sell corn kernels as seed. Nobody is giving cars away, after all! The seed for all high-performance crop strains, including those that have not been genetically engineered, is specially produced nowadays, in order to guarantee the maximum yield. It’s just that hardly anyone knows that. The image of the farmer who retains a part of his harvest and replants the kernels the following spring is very romantic, of course. But in the case of corn, for example, such behavior would be totally irrational, since he would then only be able to collect half of the potential yields. But farmers have to try to get as much out of their land as possible. When they don’t manage to do so in an economically efficient fashion, then they need subsidies. Of course, we could pay them such subsidies, in order for them to continue sowing seed that they have themselves harvested. But I don’t find this particularly shrewd.

FOCUS: You’re reputed to be a passionate cook and you’ve even published a cookbook. As a cook, what would you like to see done with biotechnology?

Nüsslein-Volhard: Sometimes I regret the fact that you can’t find certain old-fashioned sorts of fruit in the stores anymore, simply because they spoil too quickly. There are particularly tasty sorts of strawberries or sour cherries, for example, that don’t keep well. You can tell that many types of fruits and vegetables are cultivated for their robustness and the quantity of the yield, but not for their flavor. If it would be possible by using genetic engineering to make the tastier sort of strawberries keep longer, personally I’d have nothing against it. You can’t have everything. But by using genetic engineering you can perhaps have more.

Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard is the director of the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen. In 1995, she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine. The above interview first appeared on the German news site [2] Focus-Online. The German version is available [3] here. The English translation is by John Rosenthal.

[References at the original link at the beginning]

Media Botches Story on Obama’s NASA Plans

Media Botches Story on Obama’s NASA Plans, by Rand Simberg
Panic over "tearing down" barriers between military and civilian space programs is much ado about nothing.
Pajamas Media, January 6, 2009



The same thing happens in the news business, particularly when the reporters aren’t very familiar with the field on which they’re reporting — and particularly when they think they are more familiar than they actually are. We had a good example of this over the holidays, when Bloomberg news came out with a “[1] scoop.” The Obama transition team was considering recommending a merger of NASA and the Air Force, to address the threat of the Yellow Peril — Chinese beating us to the moon. Shortly afterward, it was breathlessly picked up by [2] Fox News, [3] DBTechno, and [4] the Register in the UK, probably among others.

The story was nonsensical on several levels, right from the very first paragraph:

President-elect Barack Obama will probably tear down long-standing barriers
between the U.S.’s civilian and military space programs to speed up a mission to
the moon amid the prospect of a new space race with China.

While there may be “long-standing barriers” between civilian and military space programs — this is, in fact, why Dwight Eisenhower originally established a purely civilian space agency half a century ago — there is nothing in the article to indicate that they are going to be “torn down.” The only evidence that they come up with is that one of the options being considered for future human spaceflight is the so-called Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV), specifically Boeing’s Delta IV and Lockheed Martin’s Atlas V:

Obama’s transition team is considering a collaboration between the Defense
Department and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration because
military rockets may be cheaper and ready sooner than the space agency’s planned
launch vehicle, which isn’t slated to fly until 2015, according to people who’ve
discussed the idea with the Obama team.

The only problem with this is that — unless they are talking about some other vehicles, and if so, it’s hard to imagine what they are — the EELVs aren’t “military rockets.” Their development was subsidized with Air Force funds, but they were developed with Boeing and Lockheed Martin’s money as well, and they are commercial rockets, available to the military, commercial users, and NASA. There is no need to “tear down a barrier” for NASA to use them, as evidenced by the fact that NASA is already using them. For example, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was blasted to orbit and off to Mars with an Atlas V/Centaur [5] over three years ago.

There is NASA resistance to using EELVs, but not because they are “military rockets.” It’s because they are seen as a threat to the agency’s — or more specifically, administrator Mike Griffin’s — desire to develop a new NASA-only vehicle, called Ares 1, and perhaps later, the larger version of it, Ares 5. If the EELVs become viewed as viable launchers for the human missions, the case for the Ares, already weak — particularly considering its [6] extensive development teething problems — becomes much weaker, perhaps to the point at which the program dies. (It should be noted that five years ago, prior to becoming NASA administrator, Dr. Griffin, who is [7] apparently desperately attempting to hang on to his job, had [8] no problems with using EELVs for crewed spaceflight.)

As for the “China space race” part, it makes little sense, either. This part is true, as far as it goes:

The potential change comes as Pentagon concerns are rising over China’s space
ambitions because of what is perceived as an eventual threat to U.S. defense
satellites, the lofty battlefield eyes of the military.

Yes, the Pentagon is legitimately concerned about the Chinese space threat, particularly since they have demonstrated the ability to destroy a low-earth-orbit satellite a couple of years ago, making a [9] terrible mess up there in the process. But this part of the story is a complete non sequitur:

China, which destroyed one of its aging satellites in a surprise missile test in
2007, is making strides in its spaceflight program. The military-run effort
carried out a first spacewalk in September and aims to land a robotic rover on
the moon in 2012, with a human mission several years later.

Despite what some of the (non-transition) sources quoted say, there is little relationship between a human moon landing and space warfare in near-earth orbit. Guidance systems for the latter are easily developed in the absence of orbital rendezvous and docking, which have different requirements. And despite [10] myths promulgated by science fiction about being bombarded from the moon, it is really not a militarily useful high ground against the earth.

Yes, it will save costs if NASA can use existing, or modified existing, vehicles, but this wouldn’t involve any “tearing down of walls,” and it should be done regardless of what the Chinese are doing, simply to make the program more affordable and sustainable.

How did this confusing and misleading story happen? In an email from someone familiar with the transition team’s activities, it seems pretty simple:

This story is very strange. We asked questions about EELVs; about how the DOD
and NASA cooperate; and what has been discussed with China. They were unrelated
questions. It seems as though the reporter tied them together for his odd

Which demonstrates the old adage about a little knowledge being a dangerous thing. Unfortunately, to paraphrase Mark Twain, a confusing story can find its way halfway around the world — and perhaps to the moon — before the reality can get its boots on. Particularly at Internet speed.

[References in the original link above]

Do Obama “Green Jobs” Plan Requires Expanding Government Payroll with 600K Bureaucrats?

Job Mirage: Obama “Green Jobs” Plan Requires Expanding Government Payroll with 600K Bureaucrats
Institute for Energy Research, January 6, 2009

Washington, DC – Institute for Energy Research president Thomas J. Pyle released the following statement today in response to the president-elect’s announcement this past weekend that his plan to generate three million so-called “green jobs” includes expanding the government’s payroll to accommodate 600,000 new wage earners:
“The road back to economic recovery and long-term prosperity will be built by an active, job-creating private-sector, paved by reliable, affordable energy, and financed by the revenues and royalties generated as a result of it. Expanding the government’s payroll in times of unemployment is no different than printing out more money in times of recession – both may change the short-term perception of the economy, but neither will improve the actual performance of it.

“You can create all the new government jobs you want, but if those jobs can’t survive the night without the constant nourishment of subsidies, mandates and distorted tax treatment, you haven’t created any new wealth – only re-distributed it. A national policy that requires consumers to pay more for their energy will only price American goods above foreign ones, and contribute to economic decline.

“Activity is not the same thing as achievement, and to the extent we continue confusing the two, the more protracted and severe our current economic downturn will be.”

NOTE: On Saturday, President-elect Obama offered a revised assessment of how many new “green jobs” could be created by his administration, upping the number to three million – “more than eighty percent of them in the private sector.” The burden of supporting the remaining 20 percent would presumably fall to the public sector, which means that 600,000 new government jobs would need to be created to meet the president-elect’s goal

Change.gov: No earmarks

No earmarks, by Dan McSwain
Change.gov, Tuesday, January 6, 2009 02:24pm EST

President-elect Barack Obama said today in a meeting with members of his budget team that he will ban earmarks from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that will soon go before Congress.

The President-elect also said he expects his administration to inherit a budget deficit of up to $1 trillion.

He was joined in the meeting by Peter Orszag, Director-designate, Office of Managment and Budget; Christina Romer, Christina Romer, Director-designate, Council of Economic Advisors and Lawrence Summers, Director-designate, National Economic Council, among others.

Below are pictures and video from the event.


RealClimate FAQ on climate models: Part II

FAQ on climate models: Part II. By Gavin Schmidt
Real Climate, Jan 06, 2009 @ 8:09 AM

[This is a continuation of a previous post including interesting questions from the comments.]

What are parameterisations?

Some physics in the real world, that is necessary for a climate model to work, is only known empirically. Or perhaps the theory only really applies at scales much smaller than the model grid size. This physics needs to be 'parameterised' i.e. a formulation is used that captures the phenomenology of the process and its sensitivity to change but without going into all of the very small scale details. These parameterisations are approximations to the phenomena that we wish to model, but which work at the scales the models actually resolve. A simple example is the radiation code - instead of using a line-by-line code which would resolve the absorption at over 10,000 individual wavelengths, a GCM generally uses a broad-band approximation (with 30 to 50 bands) which gives very close to the same results as a full calculation. Another example is the formula for the evaporation from the ocean as a function of the large-scale humidity, temperature and wind-speed. This is really a highly turbulent phenomena, but there are good approximations that give the net evaporation as a function of the large scale ('bulk') conditions. In some parameterisations, the functional form is reasonably well known, but the values of specific coefficients might not be. In these cases, the parameterisations are 'tuned' to reproduce the observed processes as much as possible.

How are the parameterisations evaluated?

In at least two ways. At the process scale, and at the emergent phenomena scale. For instance, taking one of the two examples mentioned above, the radiation code can be tested against field measurements at specific times and places where the composition of the atmosphere is known alongside a line-by-line code. It would need to capture the variations seen over time (the daily cycle, weather, cloudiness etc.). This is a test at the level of the actual process being parameterised and is a necessary component in all parameterisations. The more important tests occur when we examine how the parameterisation impacts larger-scale or emergent phenomena. Does changing the evaporation improve the patterns of precipitation? the match of the specific humidity field to observations? etc. This can be an exhaustive set of tests but again are mostly necessary. Note that most 'tunings' are done at the process level. Only those that can't be constrained using direct observations of the phenomena are available for tuning to get better large scale climate features. As mentioned in the previous post, there are only a handful of such parameters that get used in practice.

Are clouds included in models? How are they parameterised?

Models do indeed include clouds, and do allow changes in clouds as a response to forcings. There are certainly questions about how realistic those clouds are and whether they have the right sensitivity - but all models do have them! In general, models suggest that they are a positive feedback - i.e. there is a relative increase in high clouds (which warm more than they cool) compared to low clouds (which cool more than they warm) - but this is quite variable among models and not very well constrained from data.

Cloud parameterisations are amongst the most complex in the models. The large differences in mechanisms for cloud formation (tropical convection, mid-latitude storms, marine stratus decks) require multiple cases to be looked at and many sensitivities to be explored (to vertical motion, humidity, stratification etc.). Clouds also have important micro-physics that determine their properties (such as cloud particle size and phase) and interact strongly with aerosols. Standard GCMs have most of this physics included, and some are even going so far as to embed cloud resolving models in each grid box. These models are supposed to do away with much of the parameterisation (though they too need some, smaller-scale, ones), but at the cost of greatly increased complexity and computation time. Something like this is probably the way of the future.

What is being done to address the considerable uncertainty associated with cloud and aerosol forcings?

As alluded to above, cloud parameterisations are becoming much more detailed and are being matched to an ever larger amount of observations. However, there are still problems in getting sufficient data to constrain the models. For instance, it's only recently that separate diagnostics for cloud liquid water and cloud ice have become available. We still aren't able to distinguish different kinds of aerosols from satellites (though maybe by this time next year).

However, none of this is to say that clouds are a done deal, they certainly aren't. In both cloud and aerosol modelling the current approach is get as wide a spectrum of approaches as possible and to discern what is and what is not robust among those results. Hopefully soon we will start converging on the approaches that are the most realistic, but we are not there yet.

Forcings over time are a slightly different issue, and there it is likely that substantial uncertainties will remain because of the difficulty in reconstructing the true emission data for periods more than a few decades back. That involves making pretty unconstrained estimates of the efficiency of 1930s technology (for instance) and 19th Century deforestation rates. Educated guesses are possible, but independent constraints (such as particulates in ice cores) are partial at best.

Do models assume a constant relative humidity?

No. Relative humidity is a diagnostic of the models' temperature and water distribution and will vary according to the dynamics, convection etc. However, many processes that remove water from the atmosphere (i.e. cloud formation and rainfall) have a clear functional dependence on the relative humidity rather than the total amount of water (i.e. clouds form when air parcels are saturated at their local temperature, not when humidity reaches X g/m3). These leads to the phenomenon observed in the models and the real world that long-term mean relative humidity is pretty stable. In models it varies by a couple of percent over temperature changes that lead to specific humidity (the total amount of water) changing by much larger amounts. Thus a good estimate of the model relative humidity response is that it is roughly constant, similar to the situation seen in observations. But this is a derived result, not an assumption. You can see for yourself here (select Relative Humidty (%) from the diagnostics).

What are boundary conditions?

These are the basic data input into the models that define the land/ocean mask, the height of the mountains, river routing and the orbit of the Earth. For standard models additional inputs are the distribution of vegetation types and their properties, soil properties, and mountain glacier, lake, and wetland distributions. In more sophisticated models some of what were boundary conditions in simpler models have now become prognostic variables. For instance, dynamic vegetation models predict the vegetation types as a function of climate. Other examples in a simple atmospheric model might be the distribution of ozone or the level of carbon dioxide. In more complex models that calculate atmospheric chemistry or the carbon cycle, the boundary conditions would instead be the emissions of ozone precursors or anthropogenic CO2. Variations in these boundary conditions (for whatever reason) will change the climate simulation and can be considered forcings in the most general sense (see the next few questions).

Does the climate change if the boundary conditions are stable?

The answer to this question depends very much on perspective. On the longest timescales a climate model with constant boundary conditions is stable - that is, the mean properties and their statistical distribution don't vary. However, the spectrum of variability can be wide, and so there is variation from one decade to the next, from one century to the next, that are the result of internal variations in (for instance) the ocean circulation. While the long term stability is easy to demonstrate in climate models, it can't be unambiguously determined whether this is true in the real world since boundary conditions are always changing (albeit slowly most of the time).

Does the climate change if boundary conditions change?

Yes. If any of the factors that influence the simulation change, there will be a response in the climate. It might be large or small, but it will always be detectable if you run the model for long enough. For example, making the Rockies smaller (as they were a few million years ago) changes the planetary wave patterns and the temperature patterns downstream. Changing the ozone distribution changes temperatures, the height of the tropopause and stratospheric winds. Changing the land-ocean mask (because of sea level rise or tectonic changes for instance) changes ocean circulation, patterns of atmospheric convection and heat transports.

What is a forcing then?

The most straightforward definition is simply that a forcing is a change in any of the boundary conditions. Note however that this definition is not absolute with respect to any particular bit of physics. Take ozone for instance. In a standard atmospheric model, the ozone distribution is fixed and any change in that fixed distribution (because of stratospheric ozone depletion, tropospheric pollution, or changes over a solar cycle) would be a forcing causing the climate to change. In a model that calculates atmospheric chemistry, the ozone distribution is a function of the emissions of chemical precursors, the solar UV input and the climate itself. In such a model, ozone changes are a response (possibly leading to a feedback) to other imposed changes. Thus it doesn't make sense to ask whether ozone changes are or aren't a forcing without discussing what kind of model you are talking about.

There is however a default model setup in which many forcings are considered. This is not always stated explicitly and leads to (somewhat semantic) confusion even among specialists. This setup consists of an atmospheric model with a simple mixed-layer ocean model, but that doesn't include chemistry, aerosol vegetation or dynamic ice sheet modules. Not coincidentally this corresponds to the state-of-the-art of climate models around 1980 when the first comparisons of different forcings started to be done. It persists in the literature all the way through to the latest IPCC report (figure xx). However, there is a good reason for this, and that is observation that different forcings that have equal 'radiative' impacts have very similar responses. This allows many different forcings to be compared in magnitude and added up.

The 'radiative forcing' is calculated (roughly) as the net change in radiative fluxes (both short wave and long wave) at the top of the atmosphere when a component of the default model set up is changed. Increased solar irradiance is an easy radiative forcing to calculate, as is the value for well-mixed greenhouse gases. The direct effect of aerosols (the change in reflectance and absorption) is also easy (though uncertain due to the distributional uncertainty), while the indirect effect of aerosols on clouds is a little trickier. However, some forcings in the general sense defined above don't have an easy-to-caclulate 'radiative forcing' at all. What is the radiative impact of opening the isthmus of Panama? or the collapse of Lake Agassiz? Yet both of these examples have large impacts on the models' climate. Some other forcings have a very small global radiative forcing and yet lead to large impacts (orbital changes for instance) through components of the climate that aren't included in the default set-up. This isn't a problem for actually modelling the effects, but it does make comparing them to other forcings without doing the calculations a little more tricky.

What are the differences between climate models and weather models?

Conceptually they are very similar, but in practice they are used very differently. Weather models use as much data as there is available to start off close to the current weather situation and then use their knowledge of physics to step forward in time. This has good skill for a few days and some skill for a little longer. Because they are run for short periods of time only, they tend to have much higher resolution and more detailed physics than climate models (but note that the Hadley Centre for instance, uses the same model for climate and weather purposes). Weather models develop in ways that improve the short term predictions, though the impact for long term statistics or the climatology needs to be assessed independently. Curiously, the best weather models often have a much worse climatology than the best climate models. There are many current attempts to improve the short-term predictability in climate models in line with the best weather models, though it is unclear what impact that will have on projections.

How are solar variations represented in the models?

This varies a lot because of uncertainties in the past record and complexities in the responses. But given a particular estimate of solar activity there are a number of modelled responses. First, the total amount of solar radiation (TSI) can be varied - this changes the total amount of energy coming into the system and is very easy to implement. Second, the variation over the the solar cycle at different frequencies (from the UV to the near infra-red) don't all vary with the same amplitude - UV changes are about 10 times as large as those in the total irradiance. Since UV is mostly absorbed by ozone in the stratosphere, including these changes increases the magnitude of the solar cycle variability in the stratosphere. Furthermore, the change in UV has an impact on the production of ozone itself (even down into the troposphere). This can be calculated with chemistry-climate models, and is increasingly being used in climate model scenarios (see here for instance).

There are also other hypothesised impacts of solar activity on climate, most notably the impact of galactic cosmic rays (which are modulated by the solar magnetic activity on solar cycle timescales) on atmospheric ionisation, which in turn has been linked to aerosol formation, and in turn linked to cloud amounts. Most of these links are based on untested theories and somewhat dubious correlations, however, as was recognised many years ago (Dickinson, 1975), this is a plausible idea. Implementing it in climate models is however a challenge. It requires models to have a full model of aerosol creation, growth, accretion and cloud nucleation. There are many other processes that affect aerosols and GCR-related ionisation is only a small part of that. Additionally there is a huge amount of uncertainty in aerosol-cloud effects (the 'aerosol indirect effect'). Preliminary work seems to indicate that the GCR-aerosol-cloud link is very small (i.e. the other effects dominate), but this is still in the early stages of research. Should this prove to be significant, climate models will likely incorporate this directly (using embedded aerosol codes), or will parameterise the effects based on calculated cloud variations from more detailed models. What models can't do (except perhaps as a sensitivity study) is take purported global scale correlations and just 'stick them in' - cloud processes and effects are so tightly wound up in the model dynamics and radiation and have so much spatial and temporal structure that this couldn't be done in a way that made physical sense. For instance, part of the observed correlation could be due to the other solar effects, and so how could they be separated out? (and that's even assuming that the correlations actually hold up over time, which doesn't seem to be the case).

What do you mean when you say model has “skill”?

'Skill' is a relative concept. A model is said to have skill if it gives more information than a naive heuristic. Thus for weather forecasts, a prediction is described as skilful if it works better than just assuming that each day is the same as the last ('persistence'). It should be noted that 'persistence' itself is much more skillful than climatology (the historical average for that day) for about a week. For climate models, there is a much larger range of tests available and there isn't necessarily an analogue for 'persistence' in all cases. For a simulation of a previous time period (say the mid-Holocene), skill is determined relative to a 'no change from the present'. Thus if a model predicts a shift northwards of the tropical rain bands (as was observed), that would be skillful. This can be quantified and different models can exhibit more or less skill with respect to that metric. For the 20th Century, models show skill for the long-term changes in global and continental-scale temperatures - but only if natural and anthropogenic forcings are used - compared to an expectation of no change. Standard climate models don't show skill at the interannual timescales which depend heavily on El Niño's and other relatively unpredictable internal variations (note that initiallised climate model projections that use historical ocean conditions may show some skill, but this is still a very experimental endeavour).

How much can we learn from paleoclimate?

Lots! The main issue is that for the modern instrumental period the changes in many aspects of climate have not been very large - either compared with what is projected for the 21st Century, or from what we see in the past climate record. Thus we can't rely on the modern observations to properly assess the sensitivity of the climate to future changes. For instance, we don't have any good observations of changes in the ocean's thermohaline circulation over recent decades because a) the measurements are difficult, and b) there is a lot of noise. However, in periods in the past, say around 8,200 years ago, or during the last ice age, there is lots of evidence that this circulation was greatly reduced, possibly as a function of surface freshwater forcing from large lake collapses or from the ice sheets. If those forcings and the response can be quantified they provide good targets against which the models' sensitivity can be tested. Periods that are of possibly the most interest for testing sensitivities associated with uncertainties in future projections are the mid-Holocene (for tropical rainfall, sea ice), the 8.2kyr event (for the ocean thermohaline circulation), the last two millennia (for decadal/multi-decadal variability), the last interglacial (for ice sheets/sea level) etc. There are plenty of other examples, and of course, there is a lot of intrinsic interest in paleoclimate that is not related to climate models at all!

As before, if there are additional questions you'd like answered, put them in the comments and we'll collate the interesting ones for the next FAQ.

Open Thread: Appreciation of Past and Current Federal Commander-in-Chiefs

Please add your appreciation posts for past and current Federal Commander-in-Chiefs here.

Let's start with the current one:

1 President Bush Attends Military Appreciation Parade with Chairman of the Joint of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates

Fort Myer, Arlington, Virginia, January 6, 2009

10:21 A.M. EST

ADMIRAL MULLEN: President and Mrs. Bush; Mr. Vice President; Secretary and Mrs. Gates; members of the Cabinet; distinguished members of Congress; fellow members of the Joint Chiefs; members of the Armed Forces of the United States, past and present; ladies and gentlemen: Thank you for honoring us with your presence, and welcome to the grounds of the Old Guard, which both sanctify our past and herald our future.

On behalf of the 2.2 million uniform men and women of our Armed Forces, I am humbled to be able to formally thank President and Mrs. Bush for all they have done for our military and for our nation. More than 280,000 are walking point right now on the front lines. They stand tallest with us on this day, and it is right to thank them for making this celebration possible. (Applause.)

Truly it is not my privilege alone to tell the story of the Bush name -- a story that waits not only to be said in volumes, but one carried in the hearts of those patriots out there; a story which rushes with the oral history of life, warm with gratitude, flush with inspiration; a story best told by the voices of our service members themselves, who recently had an opportunity to place in a journal their thoughts to President and Mrs. Bush. Deborah and I passed that journal to the troops as we recently traveled around the world.

And so if you don't mind, Mr. President and Madam First Lady, I wanted to share a few handwritten lines from them.

"Mr. President, thank you and your family for your service. I am proud to serve under you, sir. You are awesome, and made a difference in the world." Staff Sergeant Ward, Queens, New York.
"Sir, nice to see that our President is still quick on his feet after eight years in office." (Laughter.) "Next time, pick up the shoe and throw it back." (Laughter and applause.) "We got your back." Master Sergeant Michael Frazier, United States Air Force.

"Sir, you truly set the standard to uphold the peace and our very way of life so our kids can grow up in a peaceful world. We will always stand tall, one great nation and one great state -- Texas." (Hoo-ah.) Sergeant First Class Claude Corey, Waco, Texas.

"Mrs. Bush, your class and dignity were an inspiration to us all." Lieutenant Colonel Scott Rainey, United States Army, Baghdad.

"Sir, thank you for your service, example and leadership. We have not faltered, we will not fail. With greatest respect and honor, we serve." Signed simply, Your Soldiers.

Those voices are an answering volley to you for your high regard and great respect for every single man and woman who serves this nation.

After this nation was attacked by a rising evil, the same evil which later murdered many others in places like London, Madrid, Islamabad and Mumbai, you quickly led us from the grip of fear to a serenity of purpose and unity of action -- serenity well beyond our dreams on September 12th, when all thought further attack was not only likely, but gravely imminent. And through your vision, a new national security was rendered to reach our enemies where they hid and trained and celebrated deadly crimes.

We sent our forces to hills and caves, alongside tribesman on horseback to root them out and hunt them down. We liberated Iraq from tyranny, now on the road to renewal. And we are shifting our focus to Afghanistan. We applauded as you, Mrs. Bush, worked for the freedom and education of young women, and gave hope to children scarred by hate. And always, sir, we felt your unmatched confidence in us, which only made us better.

Yes, we know these images well and we treasure them. But what wasn't always often an image was how you, as our First Family, fully embraced our military family with words of love and prayers of hope. For you have proven that how well we care for our wounded and the families of the fallen defines who and what we really are as a nation. You made it personal, and that has made all the difference.

With quiet dignity, you stretched out hands to those touched by loss, unimaginable loss that can never be made whole so they might be touched yet again.

There are many moments I will never forget, such as when you, Mr. President, presented Michael Monsoor's family with the Medal of Honor, and how in that very presidential setting you were so visibly moved. We will never know of all the private embraces and words of healing that you provided, but we do know the wholeness they created. For with every minute which melted into many gracious hours spent with our veterans and families, you gave something precious to us all -- gifts which will forever adorn our chords of memory.

Indeed, not far from these grounds where both Union and Confederate soldiers lay in white, tented hospitals, President Lincoln also walked through the lines and personally brought the meaning of hope and sacrifice to those straining to touch it from every side. So true today. A reporter who followed Lincoln wrote, "From the outset, he was the personal friend of every soldier he sent to the front, and somehow, every man seemed to know it." So true today.

In my 44 years of wearing this uniform, I have never seen the American public and our military as bonded in understanding, purpose, and spirit as I do right now. For this, Mr. President, we owe you our greatest gratitude.

Finally, sir, I want to personally thank you for your trust in me as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and, honestly, a trust I do not hold alone, a confidence every other uniformed member also holds so dear: the honor to serve and represent the American people.

Mr. President, you have selected a tremendous civilian leadership team in Secretary Gates and the Deputy Secretary, our former Secretary of the Navy, Gordon England. It is a great personal honor to serve alongside them.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to introduce to you the Secretary of Defense, the honorable Robert Gates. (Applause.)

SECRETARY GATES: Thank you, Admiral Mullen.

Some of you of a certain generation might remember a line from the John Wayne movie, "Red River" -- an epic story of a thousand-mile cattle drive across Texas. At one point, one of the characters says, "There's three times in a life -- in a man's life when he has the right to yell at the moon -- when he marries, when his children come, and when he finishes a job he had to be crazy to start." (Laughter.) Well, before President Bush finishes his job, I'm pleased to have this chance, on behalf of the United States military, to pay tribute to our Commander-in-Chief, and to give him proper thanks.

The legacy of George W. Bush in matters of war and peace began taking form more than a year before he first took the oath of office. In the fall of 1999, then Governor Bush gave a speech at the Citadel, titled, "A Period of Consequences." He observed that nearly a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States military was still organized more for Cold War threats than for the challenges of a new century -- what he called an era of car-bombers and plutonium merchants and cyber-terrorists and drug cartels and unbalanced dictators, all the unconventional and invisible threats of new technologies and old hatreds.

On a bright Tuesday morning in September, eight months into President Bush's first term, we learned how dangerous and unpredictable this new era could be, and saw in the starkest terms how necessary was the task of transforming the American defense establishment to meet these challenges. It was a task inspired by the vision of President Bush, propelled by the energetic advocacy of Secretary Rumsfeld, informed by the experience of our senior military leaders, and accelerated by the urgent demands of two unconventional ground wars.

The result is an American military that has become more agile, lethal, and prepared to deal with the full spectrum of 21st century conflict -- and on a personal note, a force that is dramatically more deployable and expeditionary than when I last served in government 15 years ago.

Consider just a few of the historical changes: The Army has undergone its most significant restructuring in more than two generations, moving from a division-based to a modular brigades-based force. The Navy's fleet response plan has nearly doubled the number of strike carrier groups that can be surged in the first weeks of a crisis.

America's Special Forces have seen vast increases in budget, personnel, authorities, and most importantly, in capabilities in the campaign against terrorism worldwide. The number of unmanned aerial vehicles has grown some 40-fold, to more than 6,000, and we have seen a genuine revolution in the military's ability to fuse intelligence and operations.

Cold War basing arrangements in Germany, Korea and Japan have been modernized and sized to better reflect the security requirements of this century. New authorities and programs enable the military to build the capacity of allies and partners in cooperation with civilian agencies and organizations. And much, much more.

As this historical institutional shift was underway, President Bush led our military through two major conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a broader struggle against terrorist networks worldwide. He has not flinched when faced with difficult wartime decisions, including the momentous decision two years ago to send more troops into Iraq and revamp our strategy there.

Nor has the President ever hidden from the human consequences of his decisions. We have seen this in countless visits with the wounded at Walter Reed, Bethesda, and other military hospitals. And there are the meetings that he and the First Lady have held with thousands of family members of wounded and fallen troops. The President's deep regard and affection for our service members and their families has played out in ways big and small: Surprise visits to Iraq and Afghanistan to shake hands and high-five, and personal phone calls to those deployed over Thanksgiving, even the occasional chest bump to unwary cadets.

Some might remember the story of Staff Sergeant Michael McNaughton of Louisiana National Guard. In January 2003, he stepped on a landmine 30 miles north of Kabul, and lost his right leg. President Bush visited Michael at Walter Reed, and suggested they go for a run when he received his prosthetic. Months later, Michael and the President jogged around the South Lawn of the White House together. A single promise to a single soldier: A small act that reflects President Bush's commitment to care for and honor every member of the Armed Forces.

Mr. President, every day these volunteers execute your orders with courage and determination, facing down danger for the greater good of America. On behalf of more than two million men and women in uniform, we are deeply grateful for your leadership and service to America in a time of war.

Finally, and personally, I would like to thank you for granting me the opportunity to serve as Secretary of Defense. It is true that I have been known to grouse from time to time about coming back to Washington, D.C. Yet working every day with our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines has been the greatest honor of my life. And I will always owe you a debt of gratitude for that. I have appreciated your steadfast confidence and support over these past two years, and I wish you and Laura the very best as you begin the next phase of your lives.

Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. At ease.

Mr. Secretary, thank you for the kind introduction -- and thank you for being an outstanding Secretary of Defense. (Applause.) For a while, we expected this event to be a joint retirement party. It didn't turn out that way, did it? (Laughter.) I am pleased that President-Elect Obama has asked you to stay on, and I am confident that you'll continue to be a strong leader as the Secretary of Defense. (Applause.)

And, Admiral Mullen, thank you for your strong advice, your clear thinking, and your years of service to our country. (Applause.)

I want to thank you for honoring Laura, who's been a fabulous First Lady. (Applause.) The military gave her the Distinguished Service Award -- a lot of friends from Texas think she deserved the Purple Heart. (Laughter.) I wish I'd have thought of the roses.

Mr. Vice President, I am proud to have served with you for eight years. The military has had no stauncher defender in my administration than Vice President Dick Cheney. (Applause.)
I thank members of the Cabinet, members of the administration, and former members of the Cabinet, especially the former Secretary of Defense, who did an outstanding job -- Secretary Don Rumsfeld. (Applause.)

I thank the current members of the Joint Chiefs and their families, as well as the former members of the Joint Chiefs and their families for joining us today. I want to thank those who wear the uniform; distinguished guests.

As my time in office winds down, the days bring a series of "lasts." I made my last overseas trip on Air Force One. I have delivered my final college commencement as President. And after much consideration, I pardoned my last Thanksgiving turkey. (Laughter.) These have all been wonderful experiences. But nothing compares to the honor of standing before you today, and addressing America's Armed Forces as your Commander-in-Chief.

Over the past eight years, I have seen the valor of the American military time and time again. I saw your valor on September the 11th, 2001, in service members rushing into smoke-filled corridors to save their colleagues at the Pentagon -- and in planes patrolling the skies above New York City and Washington. I saw your valor in the days after the attack, when Americans crowded into recruiting centers across our country, raised their hands to serve, and pledged to defend our people and our freedom.

I saw your valor in the forces who deployed to Afghanistan. Within weeks of September the 11th, you closed down the terrorist training camps, and you drove the Taliban from power. I saw your valor in the fearless troops who stormed across the Iraqi desert -- and destroyed a regime that threatened America. I saw your valor in battle-tested warriors who signed up for a second, or third, or fourth tour -- and made the surge in Iraq one of the great successes in America's military history.

The valor of America's Armed Forces have made our nation safer. Because you've taken the fight to the terrorists abroad, we have not had to face them here at home. And the world has seen something that almost no one thought possible: More than seven years after September the 11th, there has not been another attack on American soil.

The decisions I made as your Commander-in-Chief have not always been popular. But the cause you have served has always been just and right. The missions you have carried out have always been necessary. And the work you have done has every bit -- has been every bit as courageous and idealistic as that of any generation that came before you.

In the years since the war on terror began, America's Armed Forces have led the largest military liberation since World War II. Because of your actions, more than 50 million Afghans and Iraqis have seen the chains of despotism broken -- and are living in the liberty that the Creator intended. The new wave of freedom in the Middle East has made America more secure at home -- because it is undermining the culture of tyranny that fosters radicalism.

There will become a day when your grandchildren will ask, what did you do during your time in uniform? And you'll be able to say: We made the military stronger. We made the world freer. And we made America more secure.

You'll be able to tell them the story of the first decade in the 21st century -- their early days of a generational struggle against terror and extremism. It is a story of a global coalition led by the United States that is dedicated to eliminating the forces of oppression and fear. It is the story of the Iraqi people proudly holding up ink-stained fingers to show that the threat of violence could not break their commitment to liberty. It is the story of young girls going to school in Afghanistan after years when educating a woman could be punished with beatings or imprisonment. It is the story about the character in men and women who volunteered to leave the comforts of home to defend freedom and keep our nation safe.

On behalf of the American people, I thank you for making that sacrifice. I know you have not shouldered the burdens of military life alone. You've had the support of strong and loving families to sustain you. And this morning, I want all of you and your families to hear your Commander-in-Chief loud and clear: We appreciate you, we love you, and we honor your service. (Applause.)

We also honor our wounded warriors -- and those who never returned home from the field of battle. In their sacrifices, we see one of the extraordinary legacies of our Armed Forces -- the willingness to give everything to secure safety at home and liberty abroad.

As the Admiral pointed out, we saw that selfless spirit in people like Petty Officer Michael Monsoor, a Navy SEAL who served in Iraq. In the fall of 2006, on a rooftop in Iraq, Mike threw himself onto a grenade in order to save the lives of his teammates. As Admiral Mullen mentioned, I had the honor of presenting Michael Monsoor's parents his posthumous Medal of Honor in the White House. On that day, I saw the deep sadness that is familiar to anyone who has lost a loved one in the line of duty. But I also saw the pride that comes with such noble sacrifice -- and the recognition that our freedom and our security only endure because of the acts of bravery like Michael Monsoor's.

That kind of courage, character, and devotion defines our Armed Forces. So this morning, I cannot accept your kind tribute unless I'm allowed to return the favor. To the men and women of the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and all those who serve in the Department of Defense: You have the respect of a grateful nation that you have kept safe. You have the admiration of millions around the world who would have never tasted freedom without you. You have the undying love and respect of a man who has been proud to call himself your Commander-in-Chief.

Two weeks from today, Laura and I will take our final trip back to Texas -- or, as you Texans understand, back to the promised land. We have the honor of doing it onboard a 747 piloted by the United States Air Force -- Colonel Mark Tillman will be the lead pilot. This brings a fitting symmetry: The military brought me to Washington eight years ago -- and on January the 20th, the military is taking me home.

We will take with us many fond memories that we will cherish for the rest of our lives. We will always remember that you answered the call to serve when your nation needed you most. We will always remember that you did your duty with honor and dignity. And we will always remember the debt of gratitude that each of us who lives in freedom owes to each of you who has protected it.

May God bless you. And may God always bless the United States. (Applause.)

END 10:49 A.M. EST

2 Tribute to President Obama

Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Celebrities pay powerful, heartfelt tribute to President Obama

3 Remarks by the Federal President to the Troops in Baghdad

Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Al Faw Palace
Baghdad, Iraq
6:08 P.M. (Local)

4 Remarks by the Federal President on Memorial Day

Monday, May 25, 2009
Memorial Amphitheater
Arlington National Cemetery

5 'He Just Does What He Thinks Is Right'

Wall Street Journal, Saturday, December 26, 2009
By Peggy Noonan

Securing U.S. Objectives in North Korea: A Memo to President-elect Obama

Securing U.S. Objectives in North Korea: A Memo to President-elect Obama. By Bruce Klingner and Walter Lohman
Heritage, January 6, 2009Special Report #37

I have no illusions about North Korea, and we must be firm and unyielding in our commitment to a non-nuclear Korean peninsula.
--Barack Obama, Chosun Ilbo, February 15, 2008

President-elect Obama, during the campaign you stressed the need for "sustained, direct, and aggressive diplomacy" with North Korea in order to achieve "the complete and verifiable elimination of all of North Korea's nuclear weapons programs, as well as its past proliferation activities, including with Syria."[2] When North Korea provided data on its nuclear weapons programs, you stated that:

[S]anctions are a critical part of our leverage to pressure North Korea to act. They should only be lifted based on performance. If the North Koreans do not meet their obligations, we should move quickly to re-impose sanctions that have been waived, and consider new restrictions going forward.[3]

Yet, after National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley admitted that North Korea's data declaration "was not the complete and correct declaration that we had hoped,"[4] you did not advocate re-imposing any sanctions on North Korea.

You also stated that a strict verification protocol was an absolute prerequisite for removing North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, as well as for making further progress in the nuclear negotiations. You called for "a clear understanding that if North Korea fails to follow through there will be immediate consequences." Specifically, "If North Korea refuses to permit robust verification, we should lead all members of the Six Party talks in suspending energy assistance, re-imposing sanctions that have recently been waived, and considering new restrictions."[5]

It has become evident that the verification protocol has significant shortcomings and does not apply to Pyongyang's uranium-based weapons program or proliferation activities. North Korea declared on November 12 that no scientific sampling of Pyongyang's nuclear programs will be allowed, that inspections will be confined to the Yongbyon facility, and that divergence "even by one word, [would] lead inevitably to war."[6] Yet you have not altered your description of North Korea's removal from the terrorism list as a "modest step forward" and have not called for any slowdown in negotiations.

You have blamed the Bush Administration's initial hard-line policy for allowing "North Korea to expand its nuclear arsenal as it resumed reprocessing of plutonium and tested a nuclear device."[7] But this ignores North Korea's role in instigating the crisis. Pyongyang began violating its international denuclearization commitments in the benign threat environment of the 1990s during the administrations of U.S. President William J. Clinton and South Korean President Kim Dae-jung. At the time, both presidents were intent on engaging North Korea and providing diplomatic and economic benefits in return for non-threatening behavior by Pyongyang.

During the past two years, the Bush Administration has engaged in the direct bilateral diplomacy with Pyongyang that you advocate, but North Korea's intransigence, noncompliance, and brinksmanship have continued. Nor--three years after Pyongyang agreed to do so--have diplomats yet begun the real negotiations to discuss the elimination of nuclear weapons. This strategy has resulted in the abandonment of important principles, including enforcement of international law and attaining sufficient verification measures.

North Korean denuclearization is a critically important goal, but how it is attained is equally important. Being excessively eager to compromise not only rewards abhorrent behavior, but also undermines the negotiating leverage that is necessary to get Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons. An engagement policy toward North Korea should be based on several key negotiating precepts:

Insist that North Korea fulfill its existing requirements. Pyongyang should provide full disclosure of its plutonium-based and uranium-based nuclear weapons programs before receiving the entirety of Phase Two benefits. Required information includes all nuclear production, weaponization, and test facilities; the number of nuclear weapons produced; and the export (proliferation) of nuclear technology, materials, and equipment to Syria, Iran, and any other countries. Until North Korea fully complies, the Six-Party-Talks nations should not provide all of the Phase Two benefits.

Implement a rigorous and intrusive verification mechanism. The U.S. should insist on verification requirements as called for under U.N. Resolution 1718; North Korea's accession to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Safeguards, as Pyongyang promised to do at an early date in September 2005; and observance of the precedence of previous U.S. arms control treaties. The verification protocol should include short-notice challenge inspections of non-declared facilities for the duration of the agree­ment to redress any questions about North Korea's nuclear weapons programs.

Require more detailed follow-on joint statements. North Korea has used the vagaries of existing Six-Party-Talks agreements to exploit loopholes and defer full compliance. The U.S. should insist that follow-on agreements explicitly define the linkages between North Korean steps toward denuclearization and the economic and diplomatic benefits to be provided.

Use all of the instruments of national power (diplomatic, informational, military, and economic) in a coordinated, integrated strategy. While it is important to continue negotiations to seek a diplomatic resolution to the North Korean nuclear problem, the U.S. and its allies should simultaneously use outside pressure to influence North Korea's negotiating behavior.

Realize that talking is not progress. The U.S. should favor resolving issues rather than repeatedly lowering the bar simply to maintain the negotiating process. North Korea should not be treated differently from every other country in the world. You should insist that North Korea abide by international standards of behavior and not be allowed to carve out another "special status" within the NPT and IAEA Safeguards.

Define redlines and their consequences. The Bush Administration's abandonment of its stated resolve to impose costs on North Korea for proliferating nuclear technology to Syria undermined U.S. credibility and sent a dangerous signal to other potential proliferators.

Establish deadlines with consequences for failure to meet them. North Korea must not be allowed to drag out the Six-Party Talks indefinitely in order to achieve de facto international acceptance as a nuclear weapons state. Repeatedly deferring difficult issues in response to Pyongyang's intransigence is not an effective way to achieve U.S. strategic objectives.

In addition to these heightened standards for negotiating with North Korea, the U.S. should deepen its relations with South Korea to retain its influence in the region and ensure that U.S. security interests are safeguarded. The first step should be to extend the current relationship from a primarily military one to one that includes bilateral economic ties. Government and independent studies overwhelmingly conclude that the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement (KORUS FTA) will provide clear economic benefits to the United States, but it will also strengthen ties on the Korean peninsula and ensure that the U.S. maintains a strategic ally in dealing with North Korea.


You have stated the need for an aggressive policy toward North Korea and recognize the threat that it poses. But while denuclearization is critical, the measures used to achieve it are just as critical. You must pursue a policy that does not reward blatant disobedience and disregard for agreed-to measures and that does not compromise on something that is so fundamental to U.S. security.

Specifically, you should abide by strict negotiation standards and not reward North Korea when it breaks them. Additionally, you should deepen ties with South Korea, our key ally on the peninsula. The KORUS agreement will bolster this critically important alliance and continue to build the strategic relationship that is crucial to protecting U.S. security interests and ensuring continued U.S. influence in the region.

Bruce Klingner is Senior Research Fellow for Northeast Asia in, and Walter Lohman is Director of, the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation.


[1] "Obama Has Misgivings About Korea-US FTA," Chosun Ilbo, February 15, 2008.
[2] "Barack Obama and Joe Biden's Plan to Renew U.S. Leadership in Asia," at http://obama.3cdn.net/ef3d1c1c34cf996edf_s3w2mv24t.pdf (December 8, 2008).
[3] Jonathan Ellis, "McCain and Obama on North Korea," The New York Times, political blog, June 26, 2008, at http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/06/26/mccain-and-obama-on-north-korea (December 8, 2008).
[4] Press release, "Press Briefing by National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley on the Upcoming United Nations General Assembly," The White House, September 20, 2008, at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2008/09/20080920-2.html (December 8, 2008).
[5] "Candidate Statements on North Korea," RealClearPolitics, at http://realclearpolitics.blogs.time.com/2008/10/11/candidate_statements_on_north (December 8, 2008).
[6] Choe Sang-hun, "North Korea to Bar Taking of Nuclear Samples," International Herald Tribune, November 12, 2008.
[7] "Obama Has Misgivings About Korea-US FTA."

David Boaz on Blagojevich and corruption in politics

Politics and Corruption, Together Again. By David Boaz
This article appeared in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on January 6, 2009.

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is the new poster boy for political corruption, but he is really just the most recent reminder of the fundamentally grubby and corrupt nature of politics. In Illinois alone, three recent governors — liberal "reformers" Otto Kerner and Dan Walker and career politician George Ryan — have preceded Blagojevich in making the journey from the statehouse to the big house.

Cases like these remind us of the fundamental nature of politics. Blagojevich showed less intelligence and more vulgarity than most politicians, but trading taxpayer money for personal or political gain is the common coin of politicians. In his first post-indictment news conference, Blagojevich himself strongly hinted that he will defend himself with the notion that swapping appointments and favors is merely stock in trade for politicians of the upper echelon.

That leads to a virtually inescapable conclusion: The best way to limit such tawdry quid pro quo is to limit the power of politicians and of government.

Stories of ambitious men being corrupted by the political game have been plentiful since my youth. It amazes me, here amid many calls for the government to take an ever more active role in our country’s doings, that so many of these cautionary tales seem to be forgotten.

Spiro T. Agnew got his start on the Baltimore County zoning board, which is probably evidence enough that he was a crook from the start. He went on to serve as Baltimore County executive, governor of Maryland and vice president under President Richard M. Nixon, taking bribes in return for government contracts the whole way through.

Agnew pleaded no contest to one count of tax evasion and resigned the vice presidency. But one of the federal attorneys on the case said: "I’ve never seen a stronger extortion case. The man is a crook."

When I was a college student in Nashville, Rep. Ray Blanton was elected governor of Tennessee. Four years later, he lost his bid for re-election to Lamar Alexander, who now serves in the U.S. Senate. On Jan. 16, 1979, Alexander was suddenly sworn in as governor, three days before his scheduled inauguration, to prevent Blanton from commuting the sentences of any more prisoners.

Blanton accelerated his sales of pardons after he was defeated for re-election and realized his time to profit was drawing short. Blagojevich is accused of speeding up his efforts to trade favors for campaign funds before a Dec. 31 change in the campaign finance laws.

Blanton had ordered commutations or pardons for 24 convicted murderers and 28 other prisoners before his signing frenzy ended with Alexander’s surprise swearing-in. Those 52 last-minute pardons came a month after three state employees, including two members of his office legal staff, were arrested by the FBI and charged with extortion and conspiracy to sell pardons, paroles and commutations. As with Blagojevich, the knowledge that an FBI investigation was under way just made Blanton double down.

The Blanton pardons were recalled to public memory when another Southern politician created a pardon scandal as he left office in 2001. President Bill Clinton’s pardons differed from Blanton’s in many ways. Blanton’s aides apparently sold pardons and commutations for straight cash on the barrelhead, though the governor himself did not pocket any of the loot. Blanton commuted the sentences of convicted murderers, some of whom had served only a few years.

Clinton’s last-minute pardons involved a broader range of offenses against decency and good sense. His notorious pardons for Marc Rich and Pincus Green, who had fled the country and never faced trial, overshadowed many of the other outrages on the morning of Jan. 20.

In his rush to the door, Clinton pardoned his brother; people associated with Whitewater and related Clinton scandals; his former Cabinet secretary Henry Cisneros and Cisneros’ former mistress; several people convicted of bribery involving another Clinton Cabinet member; former Rep. Mel Reynolds, convicted of wire fraud, bank fraud and sex with an underage girl; a Clinton fundraiser who had embezzled clients’ money; supporters of Hillary Clinton’s Senate bid; a Democratic party activist who had embezzled money intended for the homeless; several people smart enough to hire former Clinton staffers as their lawyers; a group of female leftist bombers, one of whom told the media that she was excited about resuming her activism; and a convicted defrauder then under investigation in yet another money-laundering scheme.

FBI investigations and anti-bribery laws will never take the corruption out of politics. The best way to limit it is to keep government small, with few jobs to fill and limited money to spend.