Wednesday, February 11, 2009

US Provides Malaria Assistance to Zimbabwe

USAID Provides Malaria Assistance to Zimbabwe
USAID, February 11, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The collapse of the health system has left the people of Zimbabwe at great risk of contracting illnesses such as cholera, which claimed more than 3,400 lives, and increased the threat of a malaria epidemic.

To help mitigate a malaria outbreak, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is supporting emergency indoor residual spraying to fill gaps in the country's traditionally strong malaria control program.

Timing is critical; in most years spraying should be completed by December. But Zimbabwe's national malaria program lacks the financial resources to achieve three quarters of its scheduled spraying, which would target 20 high-risk districts and protect more than 400,000 households.

To respond to the critical gap and avoid another catastrophic epidemic caused by the near collapse of Zimbabwe's health sector, USAID provided $200,000 in emergency funding, matched with £200,000 from the UK's Department for International Development (DFID). This accelerated program will apply the insecticide in February and March before the usual peak in cases in April and May. USAID and DFID coordinated the program with the World Health Organization and implementing partners John Snow International, Crown Agents, and PLAN International, which organized the operation's logistics, personnel, equipment, and management needs.

Indoor residual spraying applies a WHO-approved insecticide to the indoor walls, ceilings, and eaves of houses to kill or shorten the lifetime of mosquitoes that carry the malaria parasite. Decades of experience have shown that timely and properly conducted spraying can have an immediate and dramatic impact on malaria transmission. Combined with the increased deployment of long-lasting insecticide-treated bednets, diagnostics, and drugs, indoor residual spraying will play a major role in reducing the risk of a malaria epidemic in Zimbabwe-and yet another burden in an already severe humanitarian crisis.

For more information about USAID's malaria programs visit: and

Industry Views On Offshore Energy Exploration: Myth vs. Fact

Offshore Energy Exploration: Myth vs. Fact
IER, Feb 11, 2009

Myth: There’s not enough energy in the outer continental shelf (OCS) to make exploration worthwhile.

Fact: The Minerals Management Service (MMS) estimates that the OCS contains 86 billion barrels of oil and 420 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. These estimates are likely very conservative, as bans on offshore leasing have made it illegal to explore and determine how much more energy is available. In other words, this is just the tip of the iceberg­—history has proven that when people are allowed to look for energy, they generally find it. The best way to stop them from finding it is to stop them from looking for it.

Myth: Offshore energy development would do nothing to lower prices because it would take too long for the energy resources to make it into the market.

Fact: Economists have long disputed the notion that offshore energy development would not affect consumer prices. Both economic theory and now empirical evidence demonstrate that government policies promising future oil production lead to immediate price relief. IER economist Robert Murphy made this point on a TV interview on June 26, 2008,[1] while Martin Feldstein made the point in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on July 1, 2008.

Further, while there may be areas along the Atlantic coast without the significant build-out of infrastructure needed to facilitate quick energy production, other currently unexplored areas do have that infrastructure in place, such as the eastern Gulf of Mexico. No serious observer has ever suggested that it would take anywhere close to ten years to access those energy resources and deliver them to American consumers. Furthermore, in places like California, where an infrastructure is already in place and the local community supports offshore exploration, those resources could be available in a significantly shorter period of time.

Myth: Offshore energy production is dangerous and harmful to the environment.

Fact: Offshore energy production is safe and environmentally sound. In the last 50 years, the oil and gas industry has developed innovative technologies and exploration methods that are efficient, pose little threat to the environment, and keep workers safe. The industry has taken additional precautions to prepare for any type of unwanted incident.

Some of those technologies include:
  • Advanced 3-D seismic and 4-D time imaging technologies: enable offshore operators to locate oil and gas resources far more accurately to necessitate less drilling and allow greater resource recovery.[2]
  • Storm chokes: placed on all offshore wells to detect damage to surface valves and shut down production during an emergency.[3]
  • Blowout preventers: continuously monitor the subsurface and subsea-bed conditions to prepare for unexpected changes in well pressure.[4]
  • Waste product reuse technology: transforms drill cuttings, a waste product of rock pieces and drilling fluids produced when drilling a well, into raw material for bricks, roads, and even rebuilding Louisiana’s wetlands.[5]

These technologies and practices are yielding results:

  • According to the U.S. Department of Interior data, offshore operators produced 7 billion barrels of oil from 1985 to 2001 with a spill rate of only .001 percent.[6]
  • In 2005, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita destroyed 115 Gulf of Mexico oil and gas platforms and damaged 535 pipeline segments, but there were no major oil spills attributed to either storm.[7]

Myth: Offshore oil and gas production is the number one contributor to oil in our oceans.

Fact: Less than 1 percent of all oil found in the North American marine environment comes from offshore oil and gas development.[8] According to the National Academy of Sciences, the majority—60 percent—is the result of natural seeps through the ocean floor.[9] In many places it is higher. For example, all of the tar on the beaches of Santa Barbara is from natural seeps.[10] Moreover, these seeps are reduced when the oil is produced and transported to shore, where it can be put to use as energy for America.[11]

Oil seeps—underwater cracks in the Earth’s crust—release more than 60 percent of the petroleum entering North American waters and over 45 percent of the petroleum in waters around the globe.[12] Natural seepage of crude oil from geologic formations below the seafloor is estimated to exceed 47,000,000 gallons in North American waters and 180,000,000 gallons globally every year.[13]

Myth: Oil companies are sitting on 68 million acres of untapped leases and don’t need access to new areas.

Fact: Lease agreements already contain federal requirements that require oil companies to use leased land in a timely manner. The 1992 Comprehensive Energy Policy Act requires energy companies to comply with lease provisions and explore expeditiously or risk forfeiture of the lease. Energy companies cannot “stockpile” leases (even those found to contain no oil or gas) to drive prices up. What’s more, historical data show only one discovery results from every 60 leases granted to energy companies.

Companies are not “sitting” on the leases they now have. Technology has allowed companies to increase their production on leased acreage.

The Hard Facts:

97 percent of Federal offshore areas are not leased.
94 percent of Federal onshore areas are not leased.


[1] See also Robert Murphy, Lifting the Offshore Ban Gave Immediate Price Relief, Institute for Energy Research,
[2] U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Fossil Energy, Environmental Benefits of Advanced Oil and Gas Exploration and Production Technology, October 1999, p. 28. [3] Id. at 41.
[4] Id.
[5] See id. at 54.
[6] SAFE Commends Movement Toward Lifting Ban on Offshore Oil and Natural Gas Production,, June 18, 2008.
[7] Id.
[8] See National Research Council, Oil in the Sea III: Inputs, Fates, and Effects: Report in Brief,
[9] National Research Council, Oil in the Sea III: Inputs, Fates, and Effects, p. 2 (2003).
[10] See Kolpack 77 and Harman 198 R. L. Kolpack, Relationship of migratin of natural seep material to oceanography of Santa Barbara Channel, California Offshore Gas, Oil, and Tar Seeps, Staff Report, California State Lands Commission p. 226-55 (1977); B. Hartman & D. Hammond, The use of carbon and sulfurisotopes as correlation parameters tor the source identilication of beach tar in the southern California borderland, 45 Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 309 (1981).
[11] Stop Oil Seeps California,
[12] Id. at 2.
[13] Id.

DOE Partners Initiate CO2 Injection Study in Virginia

DOE Regional Partner Initiates CO2 Injection Study in Virginia
Project to Examine Carbon Storage in Unmineable Coal Seams, Enhanced Coalbed Methane Recovery
Energy Dept, February 11, 2009

Washington, D.C. — A U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) team of regional partners has begun injecting carbon dioxide (CO2) into coal seams in the Central Appalachian Basin to determine the feasibility of CO2 storage in unmineable coal seams and the potential for enhanced coalbed methane recovery. The results of the study will be vital in assessing the potential of carbon storage in coal seams as a safe and permanent method to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions while enhancing production of natural gas.

DOE's Southeast Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership (SECARB) began injecting CO2 at the test site in Russell County, Virginia, in mid January. Earlier, an existing coalbed methane well had been converted for CO2 injection, and two wells has been drilled to monitor reservoir pressure, gas composition, and the CO2 plume. The targeted coal seams are in the Pocahontas and Lee formations and range from 1,400 to 2,200 feet in depth and from 0.7 to 3.0 feet in thickness. One thousand tons of CO2 will be injected over a 45-day period.

The site was selected because it is representative of the Central Appalachian Basin, an area of about 10,000 square miles located in southern West Virginia and southwestern Virginia. This area has been assessed by researchers to have the capacity to store 1.3 billion tons of CO2 in the coal seams while increasing natural gas production up to 2.5 trillion cubic feet.

The Central Appalachian Basin CO2 Storage Project will explore the concept of multiple use of subsurface storage volume. Injecting CO2 into coal seams boosts coalbed methane recovery, which provides an immediate commercial benefit and offsets infrastructure development costs, while providing long-term storage of CO2 in the formation—a win-win situation.

The project is being coordinated by the Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research. The center's director, Dr. Michael Karmis, has praised the gas operator, CNX Gas, the mineral owner, Buckhorn Coal, and the supply vendors, including Praxair and Denbury Resources, for their "tremendous cooperation and support" of the project. "In addition," he said, "I would like to thank the NETL team that has worked with Virginia Tech and Marshall Miller and Associates researchers to establish baseline measurements and develop a comprehensive monitoring program."

Initiated in 2003, DOE's Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership Program now includes seven partnering regions that were established to determine the best approaches for capturing and permanently storing CO2, a greenhouse gas that contributes to global climate change. The partnerships are made up of state agencies, universities, private companies, and nonprofit organizations that form the core of a nationwide network helping to establish the most suitable technologies, regulations, and infrastructure needs for large scale carbon capture and storage. The partnerships include more than 350 organizations, spanning 42 states, three Indian nations, and four Canadian provinces. NETL manages the partnership program for DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy.

SECARB is led by the Southern States Energy Board and represents more than 100 partners and stakeholders in 13 southeastern states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. The Central Appalachian Basin CO2 Storage Project is one of four pilot tests that the partnership is sponsoring for the validation phase of the project. In this phase, multiple sequestration sites and technologies are being validated in preparation for large-scale injection that will occur in the development phase.

CO2 emissions and renewable energies

Costs With No Benefits . . . Sounds Like a Plan. By Drew Thornley
Planet Gore/NRO, Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Der Spiegel Online has an interesting exposé on Europe’s fight to reduce CO2 emissions via renewable energies like wind and solar, a story highlighted at the top of this morning’s Daily Peiser.

Despite Europe's boom in solar and wind energy, CO2 emissions haven't been reduced by even a single gram. Now, even the Green Party is taking a new look at the issue — as shown in e-mails obtained by SPIEGEL ONLINE.

Germany's renewable energy companies are a tremendous success story. Roughly 15 percent of the country's electricity comes from solar, wind or biomass facilities, almost 250,000 jobs have been created and the net worth of the business is €35 billion per year.

But there's a catch: The climate hasn't in fact profited from these developments. As astonishing as it may sound, the new wind turbines and solar cells haven't prohibited the emission of even a single gram of CO2.

Experts have known about this situation for some time, but it still isn't widely known to the public. Even Germany's government officials mention it only under their breath. No one wants to discuss the political ramifications.

It's a sensitive subject: Germany is recognized worldwide as a leader in all things related to renewable energy. The environmental energy sector doesn't want this image to be tarnished. Under no circumstances does Berlin want the Renewable Energy Law (EEG) — which mandates the prices at which energy companies have to buy green power — to fall into disrepute.

In truth, however, even the Green Party has recognized the problem, as evidenced by an e-mail exchange last year between party energy experts and obtained by SPIEGEL ONLINE. One wrote the following message to a colleague: "Dear Daniel, sorry, but the EEG won't do anything for the climate anyway." Ever since the introduction of the emissions trading system, the Renewable Energy Law had become "an instrument of structural change, but not an instrument to combat climate change."

Indeed, when it comes to climage change, investments in wind and solar energy are not very efficient. Preventing one ton of CO2 emissions requires a relatively large amount of money. Other measures, especially building renovations, cost much less — and have the same effect.
The e-mail exchange ends with a conciliatory "What do you think?" But it is quickly followed by a bitter PS: "Do the Greens think that this problem (of climate change) will solve itself if we just screw solar panels onto our rooftops?"

The article doesn’t mention it, but energy and electricity prices in Europe are considerably higher than those in the United States. So, Europe agrees to the Kyoto Protocol, mandates that large amounts of their energy supplies come from renewables, and the result is higher prices for producers and consumers and no benefit to the climate. Unfortunately, this is exactly where the U.S. is headed, if the Obama administration’s energy plans are realized. If we turn our backs on coal power, refuse to ramp up nuclear power, and mandate “green” energies before they are proven, commercially viable technolgies, the days of relatively affordable (and reliable) energy and electricity are numbered.

In Obama's Press Conference on the Stimulus

Obama's Press Conference on the Stimulus Was Not Reassuring. By Philip I. Levy, Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The most interesting aspect of President Obama's prime time press conference yesterday was not the substance but the style. Without introducing any new plans, the president was making the case for the stimulus bill as best he could. I was disturbed by some of the rhetorical approaches he has adopted.

1. The Straw Man

"[T]he one concern I've got on the stimulus package, in terms of the debate and listening to some of what's been said in Congress is that there seems to be a set of folks who--I don't doubt their sincerity--who just believe that we should do nothing."

It's hard to rule out the possibility that there are such folks, but they are well-hidden. As far as I can see, there's pretty broad agreement that we have a crisis. There's pretty broad agreement that we should at least run a record-setting deficit of over $1.2 trillion this year (before any stimulus package). Then there are arguments over how we should spend trillions on some combination of spending programs, tax cuts, fiscal resuscitation, or housing market revival. Yet at least since his George Mason speech of early January, President Obama has made the argument that those who oppose his version of the stimulus favor inaction.

2. Fear

The President has argued repeatedly that if his plan is not adopted, disaster will ensue. This led to the first question last night, from Jennifer Loven of the Associated Press:

Earlier today in Indiana you said something striking. You said that this nation could end up in a crisis, without action, that we would be unable to reverse. Can you talk about what you know or what you're hearing that would lead you to say that our recession might be permanent when others in our history have not? And do you think that you risk losing some credibility or even talking down the economy by using dire language like that?

Obama backed off a little, but not much. This is a particularly dangerous game. Some of the time, the administration pretends that they are responding to the crisis with scientific precision ("$800 billion... wasn't just some random number that I plucked out of a hat"). Other times, there's a recognition that public sentiment is playing a major role. $800 billion over several years is fairly small relative to the size of the economy; the goal is to lift public spirits. But the cries of impending doom can have the opposite effect. John Taylor argues that such cries from then-Secretary Hank Paulson and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, coupled with an inadequate response, helped bring on the worst of the crisis last fall.

The president's message seems to be that we should be so scared that we should not stop and subject the proposal to scrutiny. This was the sort of approach the president's supporters roundly denounced when it emerged in national security debates during the Bush administration.

3. Taxes and the election

Arguing against alternative proposals that rely heavily on tax cuts, the president said:

"What I won't do is return to the failed theories of the last eight years that got us into this fix in the first place, because those theories have been tested and they have failed. And that's part of what the election in November was all about."

My recollection of the November election was somewhat different. I recall promises of a tax cut for 95 percent of the public. I recall large posters on street corners in Northern Virginia that read "Obama-Biden: Lower Taxes." Neither then nor afterward do I recall the argument about how lower taxes brought on the current crisis. One might make that argument with respect to the deductibility of mortgage interest--a large subsidy to housing--but I don't believe the president has done so.

4. Earmarks and waste

"But when [critics] start characterizing this as pork without acknowledging that there are no earmarks in this package--something, again, that was pretty rare over the last eight years--then you get a feeling that maybe we're playing politics instead of actually trying to solve problems for the American people."

Here the president either misunderstands the concerns about wasteful spending or has succumbed to the peculiarities of Capitol Hill thinking in his short time there. He is correct that one can define an earmark as a spending suggestion tucked into a bill by a single lawmaker and not subjected to broad scrutiny. That's a more technical definition. A broader description, one more likely to drive public concern, is wasteful spending. Greg Mankiw cites an example from Milwaukee, which was to receive $88.6 million for new school construction in the stimulus package, even though it had vacant schools and declining enrollment.

That example is small relative to the overall package, but the lack of hearings and planning raise legitimate concerns that bigger ticket items, like approaches to renewable energy, could be equally misguided. The president is sidestepping the substance of the concern by focusing on the procedure: whether it is wasteful or not, it will receive a full Congressional vote and will be monitored to make sure the funds are spent as intended. That's not so reassuring.

5. Four million jobs

The key selling point, to which the president kept returning, was the jobs impact of the stimulus package. As he said ast night: "So my bottom line when it comes to the recovery package is send me a bill that creates or saves 4 million jobs...."

The implication is that White House economists can turn the dials and adjust the levers so as to achieve a particular level of employment in the economy. They cannot. He is basing the jobs estimate on an analysis by Christina Romer and Jared Bernstein. Romer is a highly respected economist and the numbers they provide are a reasonable guess. But they're just that--a guess amidst enormous uncertainty. A little history shows why it is misleading to think we can call up 4 million help wanted ads with a calibrated stimulus plan.

As Ben Bernanke noted in a 2004 speech, the economy in an average year creates 17 million jobs and loses 15 million, for a net gain of 2 million jobs. The President says he wants to "create or save" 4 million jobs, and this will be the key measure of his package's success. Given both normal and extraordinary labor market turmoil, such a change would be very difficult to measure. If the economy revives, 4 million gross jobs will seem small. If the economy does not, one can always argue that it could have been worse.

Last year the economy suffered a net loss of 3.6 million jobs. One of the striking features of that job-loss was that it occurred at a time when the economy was growing by 1.3 percent. This divergence between jobs and growth led to the breakdown of the old rule of thumb: a recession occurs when there are two consecutive quarters of negative growth. Yet it is exactly that broken-down relationship between spending and jobs that underlies the analysis promising the new jobs. The numbers are far more tenuous than the president lets on.

6. Bipartisanship

Throughout the press conference, the president was repeatedly asked about his pledges of bipartisanship. He noted that he had gone to visit Republicans on Capitol Hill and invited them to the White House. Perhaps a better measure of bipartisanship is the willingness to treat an opponent's arguments with respect.

How will Obama's liberalism shape America?

How will Obama's liberalism shape America? By Charles R. Kesler
The answer lies in understanding the three waves of liberalism in America's past.
The Christian Science Monitor, February 11, 2009 edition

Claremont, Calif. - Despite all his efforts to transcend partisanship, President Barack Obama is demonstrably a liberal. But what kind of liberal is he? And what does his brand of liberalism augur for America?

Even in the Democratic primaries, he shunned the "liberal" label. (Hillary Clinton did, too, preferring to be called a progressive.) Mr. Obama's favorite tack was to assail the whole argument between left and right as cynical and outdated. In its place he offered a pragmatic, hopeful, allegedly nonideological way forward.

On Election Day, his "working majority for change" turned out for him and the Democratic Party. Since then, Obama has tried to live up to his inaugural pledge to put an end to "the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for too long have strangled our politics." He has emphasized national unity and invoked the Founding Fathers. He met with congressional Republicans, and dined with conservative commentators at George Will's home.

Yet how nonideological can a politician be who was recognized by the National Journal as the most liberal-voting senator in 2007? Almost his first act as president was to issue executive orders repealing the policies of his Republican predecessor. Obama's healthcare and foreign-policy ideas are standard liberal issue.

His stimulus bill, meanwhile, did not get a single Republican vote in the House, and won't get many in the Senate. The problem is that the bill stimulates Democratic constituency groups – government employees, unions, community organizers – more obviously than it does the economy.

Obama's "new politics for a new time" looks increasingly familiar – "pork still, with but a little change of sauce," to quote Alexander Hamilton at the Constitutional Convention. But that doesn't mean that this president's liberalism will not be interesting. Indeed, he has endeavored to do no less than complete and perfect the grand liberal project begun a century ago.

Three waves of liberalism

Modern liberalism came to America in three waves, and it's useful to think of Obama in this light.
The progressives of the early 20th century were the original liberals, developing the essential tenets of liberalism as a political doctrine. Woodrow Wilson and others argued that the Constitution was an 18th-century document, based on 18th-century notions of rights. While suited to its day, they said, it was now painfully inadequate unless interpreted in a vital new spirit.

This spirit was Darwinian and evolutionary, turning Hamilton's "limited Constitution" into a "living Constitution" that must be able to adapt its structure and function to meet the latest social and economic challenges. To guide this evolution, to organize society's march into the future, presidents had to cease being merely constitutional officers and become dynamic leaders of popular opinion.

Obama accepts all the major elements of this evolutionary approach to the Constitution and American government. As he wrote in "The Audacity of Hope," the Constitution "is not a static but rather a living document, and must be read in the context of an ever-changing world."

Likewise, in his inaugural address he declared, "The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works…."

This emphasis on what "works" is his nod to pragmatism, which he implies is almost the opposite of ideological liberalism. In fact, however, such pragmatism is part of liberalism.

What "works," after all, depends on what you think government's purpose is supposed to be. Pragmatism tries to distract us from those ultimate questions, while assuming liberal answers to them. Thus Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal promised "bold, persistent experimentation." Obama's domestic agenda betrays the same eagerness.

Liberalism's second stage was economic. In the New Deal, the Great Society, and its sequels, liberals turned to the wholesale minting of new kinds of rights. Citizens were thus entitled to socioeconomic benefits through programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Besides these entitlements, the federal government also extended its regulatory authority to areas previously private or under state and local jurisdiction.

But this wave crested unexpectedly, and for a while, contemporary liberals seemingly lost their enthusiasm for such top-down regulation and the work of transforming privileges into rights.
With the fall of the Soviet Union and the discrediting of socialist economies around the globe, liberals such as Bill Clinton took a second look at the free market. He populated his Treasury department with highfliers from Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street firms. In left-leaning think tanks and even in the academy, capitalism commanded strange new respect. This rehabilitation of the market, though never more than partial, was the greatest change in American liberalism in the past 40 years. Obama absorbed it, as did many members of his new administration.

But the financial crisis and market meltdown have changed things.

It looks like 1932 again, a time for reinvigorated government activism. "Without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control," Obama said in his inaugural. But does the market merely need watching – or some weightier form of "control"?

The final wave of liberalism crashed over America in the 1960s and '70s. Cultural liberalism erupted in the universities but the counterculture quickly went mainstream, bringing sex, drugs, and rock 'n 'roll, not to mention women's liberation, gay liberation, and abortion, to the masses.

So far, the most innovative aspect of Obama's liberalism is how he has tried to transcend its cultural excesses.

Whereas Bill Clinton sometimes embodied the immaturity and self-indulgence of the '60s, Obama's demeanor and family life – even his suits – bespeak a mature, serious liberalism that sees self-control and adulthood as cool.

Still, Obama's political dealings with cultural liberalism are bound to be complicated. He tries to defuse issues such as abortion and gay marriage by not talking about them, except in front of the relevant audience. But as president, his remarks anywhere will be noticed. Though he claims to believe that gun ownership is an individual right protected by the Second Amendment, his support for sweeping gun-control measures suggests a different perspective.

His landmark speech on race managed to divorce him from the worst of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's fulminations, without quite repudiating the most pernicious of Mr. Wright's assumptions, namely, that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were, at least originally, racist documents.

Obama's religious rhetoric

On such issues Obama's best defense is a good offense, and he will doubtless continue therefore to celebrate the importance of religion in his life and in the country's, and to praise America's founders and heroes.

On Jan. 20, from the Capitol's west steps he proclaimed, "We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and nonbelievers." But he also invoked God five times and Scripture once. The multicultural reflex cannot be banished, but Obama clearly intends to speak in the name of religion. He does not want to leave a naked public square into which only conservative faiths and believers may stroll.

This determination will make for awkward moments: Are all those faiths equally constitutive of American mores? Whose scripture is being consulted here? (His inaugural cited First Corinthians 13:11.) Nonetheless, he is keen for liberalism to become a firm ally of American religiosity, especially insofar as churches are willing to preach a new social gospel devoted to improving the lives of people in this world and around the globe.

The patriotic theme, so prominent in his inaugural, is Obama's reply to the anti-Americanism of the cultural and academic left, those last redoubts of the radical '60s. If he is persuasive, over time he may well heal the worst of the Democratic Party's self-inflicted wounds and prepare it to be the defender of "our better history," as he put it.

A lasting Democratic majority

His ambitions are clear: The speech was a pastiche of themes adapted from FDR and Ronald Reagan, the last two presidents to pull off major electoral realignments (less enduring in Reagan's case). What Obama hopes for is a similar breakthrough for the forces of liberalism in this generation.

An enduring Democratic majority is not out of the question. The wild scramble to stop the economic and financial downturn may well leave America with a politically controlled economy that would corrupt the relationship between citizens and the federal government – sapping entrepreneurship and encouraging new forms of dependence on the state, as in much of Europe. That would be consistent with the more socialized democracy that liberalism has been striving for ever since the Progressive Era.

Obama likes to emphasize that America is more like the world than we realize, and must become still more like it if the US is to remain the world's leader. Despite his summoning oratory, his sense of American exceptionalism thus is far less lofty, far more constrained, than Reagan's or FDR's. The greatest stumbling block to Obama's ambition is likely to be the inability of this exceptional president to persuade Americans to follow him into so unexceptional a future.

Charles R. Kesler is a senior fellow at The Claremont Institute, editor of the Claremont Review of Books, and a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College.

Why isn't there more consensus among economists?

Why isn't there more consensus among economists? Tyler Cowen
Marginal Revolution, February 10, 2009 at 09:57 AM

Clive Crook asks that question about the fiscal stimulus (by the way, Paul Krugman responds to the part of the column about him). I do think there is more of a consensus than the current debates in the media, and the blogosphere, might imply. I take the general consensus of macroeconomics to be not too far from the position articulated by Alice Rivlin. That means accelerate the truly stimulative parts of the proposal and ponder the rest at greater length, plus emphasize aid to state and local governments. I'm not suggesting that you have to bow down and yield to that view, only that the view makes sense to a large number of macroeconomists.

In part the appearance of so much disagreement is driven by the fact that both MSM and the blogosphere select for opinions which deviate from the mainstream. Many segments of MSM are willing to represent the mainstream opinion, but there is then a sense that some new point of view must be offered, if only to hold the interest of the reader or viewer. And some parts of MSM are openly partisan and thus they skew toward extreme points of view. In the blogosphere libertarians are overrepresented, relative to their numbers in the profession. On the Democratic side, Paul Krugman is the most influential figure, and I would place him to the left of most Democratic economists. Progressives, like libertarians, are overrepresented on the web, relative to their numbers in the economics profession or elsewhere.

It is good that so many different points of view are being reflected, but we need to keep the biases of our filters in mind. Repeating a moderate view, again and again and again, isn't always the best way to attract or keep an audience.

President Prescreens Reporters at Press Conference?

Obama's Press List. WSJ Editorial
Membership shall have its privileges

About half-way through President Obama's press conference Monday night, he had an unscripted question of his own. "All, Chuck Todd," the President said, referring to NBC's White House correspondent. "Where's Chuck?" He had the same strange question about Fox News's Major Garrett: "Where's Major?"

The problem wasn't the lighting in the East Room. The President was running down a list of reporters preselected to ask questions. The White House had decided in advance who would be allowed to question the President and who was left out.

Presidents are free to conduct press conferences however they like, but the decision to preselect questioners is an odd one, especially for a White House famously pledged to openness. We doubt that President Bush, who was notorious for being parsimonious with follow-ups, would have gotten away with prescreening his interlocutors. Mr. Obama can more than handle his own, so our guess is that this is an attempt to discipline reporters who aren't White House favorites.

Few accounts of Monday night's event even mentioned the curious fact that the White House had picked its speakers in advance. We hope that omission wasn't out of fear of being left off the list the next time.

Conservative views: The U.S. and U.K. Must Oppose French Plans to Weaken NATO

The U.S. and U.K. Must Oppose French Plans to Weaken NATO. By Nile Gardiner, Ph.D., and Sally McNamara
Heritage, Feb 10, 2009

Full article w/references here.

The Obama Administration has announced it will back the full reintegration of France into the NATO command structure, with French officers reportedly in line to take two senior Alliance command positions: Allied Command Transformation (one of NATO's two supreme commands, based in Norfolk, Virginia) and Joint Command Lisbon (one of NATO's three main operations headquarters, which also commands the NATO Rapid Reaction Force).[1]

This is a highly significant development that would put France at the heart of NATO military planning and reform proposals and represents an ill-thought-out and risky concession by Washington to the Sarkozy administration.

In a major speech at the Munich Security Conference on February 7,[2] Vice President Joe Biden welcomed France's decision "to fully participate in NATO structures" and also made it clear that the United States will "support the further strengthening of European defense, an increased role for the European Union in preserving peace and security, [and] a fundamentally stronger NATO-EU partnership." Biden's remarks echoed the views of British Defence Secretary John Hutton, who recklessly backed French plans for a European Union army last October.[3]

Both the United States and Great Britain must take a step back and launch a fundamental, wide-ranging review of the long-term implications of French demands for the future of NATO. The U.S. Congress should hold hearings to assess the new Administration's strategy with regard to French reintegration in order to highlight any dangers posed to U.S. interests.
It would be a huge strategic error of judgment by the new U.S. Administration and the British government to continue supporting French ambitions for restructuring Europe's security architecture. Such acquiescence would hand Paris an extraordinary degree of power and influence within NATO--power and influence well out of proportion to France's actual military role in Alliance operations.

Providing France with such influence would also ultimately weaken the Anglo-American Special Relationship, shifting power away from Washington and London and toward continental Europe while paving the way for the development of a separate European Union defense identity--all of which will undermine NATO.

French Reintegration into NATO

When President Sarkozy first floated the idea of French reintegration into NATO's military command in June 2007, he outlined two preconditions: guaranteed senior command posts for French officers within the Alliance, and American endorsement of an increased EU defense identity (the latter of which he emphasized as the more important of the two).[4] To formally establish the principle of reintegration, Sarkozy commissioned an influential "White Paper on Defense and National Security," which was published in March 2008.

Designed to promote an independent European defense identity, the French White Paper on Defense and National Security clearly states:

The European ambition stands as a priority. Making the European Union a major player in crisis management and international security is one of the central tenets of our security policy. France wants Europe to be equipped with the corresponding military and civilian capability.[5]

The paper endorses several key principles:

  • Redefinition of responsibility-sharing between America and Europe;
  • An explicit rejection of the idea that the EU act as a civilian complement to NATO; and
  • A strong preference for buying European defense technologies.

In June 2008, President Sarkozy circulated an additional document outlining Paris's policy initiatives for European military integration. It presents the major elements of what an EU defense identity will entail, including:

  • A permanent operation headquarters in Brussels;
  • Common EU funding for military operations; and
  • European exchange programs for military personnel.[6]

America Has Little to Gain--and a Lot to Lose

It is likely that the Obama Administration will regard France's reintegration into NATO as a diplomatic masterstroke. The Administration will claim that it has rebuilt the Franco-American relationship in a mutually beneficial way, and Sarkozy will in turn claim that it tangibly demonstrates France's commitment to standing alongside America.

However, the Administration must ask itself what the U.S. actually gains from such a quid pro quo. Such reintegration may extract a few hundred additional French troops for eastern Afghanistan and generate stronger French public support for the Afghan mission. But President Obama will find that he has rescued the furniture only to give away the house. Not only is France already able to commit as many troops as it wishes to NATO missions (as it proved last year when 700 additional French troops were sent to Afghanistan), but 10 years of EU security initiatives have actually seen a decrease in European defense spending.

Washington continues to argue that supporting the European Security and Defense Policy is a means toward improving European defense spending and military capabilities. But after 10 years, such improvement has yet to occur and is not reflected in the projected defense budgets of any major European power. Since the EU and NATO operate in the same areas both militarily and geographically, the competition for resources will become fiercer, and Washington is likely to see its requests for military help increasingly rebuffed as France demands European commitments to EU missions.[7] Once the United States gives its blessing to the creation of a separate European defense structure, it will have no grounds to compel Europe to choose NATO over EU requests in the future.

A Parisian Power Play

Rather than genuinely attempting to increase Europe's contribution to defense on the international stage, France is seeking to expand both Paris's and the EU's power base. Sarkozy's proposal is largely political, not military. In practice, France is already involved with almost all of NATO's structures and operations, including all political bodies and the NATO Response Force. It also partakes in joint training exercises.

French reintegration into NATO command structures offers little additional value to Washington but gives immense momentum to French ambitions for an autonomous EU foreign and defense policy. When French presidents talk about European foreign policy, they more often than not mean French foreign policy. Equally, when Sarkozy talks about increasing European security capabilities, he means decreasing American involvement in Europe.

For instance, in January 2007 the EU established a military operations center in Brussels, which later that year conducted "a nine-day exercise involving the virtual deployment of 2,000 European soldiers to deal with a crisis in the fictional country of Alisia."[8] The operational center is without doubt a fledgling EU military headquarters that duplicates and will eventually compete with the NATO command.

The French proposal for an independent European defense structure will build upon the foundations laid by this new EU military headquarters. If the United States agrees to the French plan, it will represent yet another reversal of the Berlin Plus arrangements and a further erosion of the supremacy of NATO in Europe.

No Quid Pro Quo with France

If the Obama Administration agrees to support an independent EU defense structure as part of the French plan for rejoining NATO's command, such backing would represent a major transformation in U.S. strategic thinking that would have a dramatic, negative impact on the future of the alliance. It would shift the political balance of power within NATO away from Washington and London toward the main centers of power within the European Union: Paris, Berlin, and Brussels. Far from encouraging European countries to spend more on defense, it would foster an even greater dependency culture within continental Europe upon NATO resources. Such a shift would also lead to a duplication of the NATO command structure without a doubling of manpower or materiel.

It is vital that both the U.S. and U.K. reject any French proposal predicated on American and British support for an independent European defense organization. Paris should be welcomed back into NATO's leadership club only on terms that are acceptable to all NATO members, and without the doling out of powerful command positions to a country that is at best a half-hearted member of the alliance.

Simply Unacceptable

It is difficult to see how a greater EU defense capability will actually strengthen the NATO mission or the broader transatlantic alliance. Indeed, encouraging a bigger military role for the EU can only make NATO's task more complicated.

NATO has been the most successful post-war multilateral organization precisely because it is a truly transatlantic defense and security alliance of independent nation-states with a single command. The French proposal to build up a separate EU defense structure--i.e., a competitor to NATO sucking up valuable NATO resources--is simply unacceptable and should be firmly rejected.

Nile Gardiner Ph.D. is the Director of, and Sally McNamara is Senior Policy Analyst in European Affairs in, the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation. Erica Munkwitz assisted with research for this paper.

State Sec: The Czech Republic and the United States Share a Strong Commitment to Defense, Development, and Human Rights

The Czech Republic and the United States Share a Strong Commitment to Defense, Development, and Human Rights. By Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of State
Remarks With Czech Republic Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg After Their Meeting
Treaty room, Washington, DC, February 10, 2009

SECRETARY CLINTON: I am delighted today to welcome Foreign Minister Schwarzenberg to the Department of State. The minister and I just had a wide-ranging, good discussion about global, European, and bilateral issues. The Czech Republic is an important ally of the United States and, of course, our two nations share a strong commitment to defense, development, and human rights. And we are dedicated to strengthening our transatlantic alliance.

I also welcomed the foreign minister in his current European Union presidency role. The U.S. and Europe have great responsibilities in the world, especially at this time of global challenges and opportunities. And the United States appreciates Czech leadership on such key issues as Afghanistan, energy security, and the Middle East.

It was also a pleasure for me to particularly thank the Czech Republic for being at the forefront of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, with a commitment of 500 troops and leadership of the Logar Provincial Reconstruction Team. Europe and the United States, the Czech Republic and the United States, we have a big, important agenda before us. And I’m confident, as I told the minister, that our shared values, our common objectives, our commitment to freedom will continue to strengthen and deepen our partnership. So it’s a great personal pleasure for me to welcome the foreign minister here today.

FOREIGN MINISTER SCHWARZENBERG: Well, I would like to say that this is, for me, great honor and pleasure to be one of the first visits to Secretary Clinton. I do think we have a certain luck because it coincides that the new Administration started vigorously its work, and the Czech presidency of the European Union is at its beginning.

And the fact that at one side, the Czech Republic is probably the country that Americans have the most sympathies in all of Europe, and we are staunch allies of the United States on one side, as is American – your Administration changed not only America, but the world. It is an important start – motivation to work together to rejuvenate the process of (inaudible), which, after all – I mean, there are – NATO becomes 60 years old, we all became older, and we sometimes stuck too much to the routine. And now, there’s a change, a chance to make a real change, to rejuvenate the relation, to invigorate it, and to start together to tackle the enormous problems we have in the world. Some were mentioned by Secretary Clinton.

And of one thing – I’m sure that if we stick together, if the cooperation between the United States and the European Union goes with a new attitude (inaudible), we can really achieve something in the world to make it and to change it to the better. Thank you so much.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, Minister.

QUESTION: Thank you, Madame Secretary, and Mr. Minister, if you want to jump in as well. On the Israeli elections, you’ve said you’re looking forward to working with the new government, but certainly some of the candidates would make it easier to advance some of the goals that you’ve been talking about on a deal with Israeli and Palestinians. Could you talk about what’s at stake at this election, in terms of U.S. and European foreign policy?

And on Iran, there does – there definitely seems to be an interesting dance going on between the U.S. and Iran. Last night, after President Obama’s comments about engaging Iran, President Ahmadinejad said that Iran would hold talks based on mutual respect. Your review notwithstanding, what do you think is going on here, and are you heartened by the Iranian messages that they’ve been trying to send to the U.S.?

Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, as to the Israeli elections, I’m going to wait to find out what the people of Israel have decided.

As to Iran, we have been very clear that, as the Vice President discussed in Munich over the weekend, as the President said again last night, there is an opportunity for the Iranian Government to demonstrate a willingness to unclench their fist and to begin a serious and responsible discussion about a range of matters.

We still persist in our view that Iran should not obtain nuclear weapons, that it would be a very unfortunate course for them to pursue. And we hope that there will be opportunities in the future for us to develop a better understanding of one another and to work out a way of talking that would produce positive results for the people of Iran.

QUESTION: Czech television. Madame Secretary, this is a question about missile defense. Does your Administration have a, kind of like, plan to be presented – a clear plan, including timeframe, to be presented at NATO summit?

And on both of you, is there still an option to abandon this project if there would be a kind of diplomatic agreement with Iran or with Russia?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, as the Vice President also said in Munich, we are first and foremost very grateful to the Czech Republic, to the government and the people, for working with us to try to deter the threat from Iran. If we are able to deter that threat, it will be, in some measure, due to the courage of the Czech people in stepping up and being a partner to provide a strong defense in Europe against Iranian aggression that would certainly be present were they to obtain nuclear weapons.

There are technical issues concerning missile defense that you – that you know well. We had a very good discussion about our hopes to work together – the European Union and the United States – in dissuading the Iranians from pursuing nuclear weapons. But if the Iranians continue on this path, certainly one of the options for free countries like the Czech Republic, other Europeans, and the United States, is to defend ourselves. So this is one of those issues that really will rest with the decisions made by the Iranian Government.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, there is a prospect looming on the Korean Peninsula of possible military clashes between the two Koreas, as a result of some actions that the North has taken in the past couple of weeks. And there are some reports that Chinese fishing boats are being pulled out of the area in case something happens. You’re going to Asia next week.

Can you tell us what can you do to make sure that such a situation doesn’t occur? And more broadly, what is your expectation on that trip? What do you hope to – what message do you hope to convey to not only the government, but the people of Asia?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I am going to Asia to reassert our commitment to our allies and partners in Asia, to work on a range of issues with Japan and South Korea, China, and Indonesia, as well as reaching out to the rest of East Asia.

And clearly, with respect to North Korea, our position remains the same. We intend to pursue the Six-Party Talks. We expect that -- with our partners in those talks to continue a policy that would lead to the denuclearization of North Korea and the end of any proliferating activities by North Korea.

We are hopeful that some of the behavior that we have seen coming from North Korea in the last few weeks is, you know, not a precursor of any action that would up the ante, or threaten the stability and peace and security of the neighbors in the region.

But again, North Korea has to understand that all of the countries in East Asia have made it clear that its behavior is viewed as unacceptable. And there are opportunities for the government and people of North Korea were they to begin, once again, to engage through the Six-Party Talks, through other bilateral and multilateral forums. And we’re hopeful that we’ll see that in the weeks and months ahead. But I know of the continuing concern on the part of the other members of the Six-Party Talks with respect to North Korea’s attitude in the last weeks, and I’ll be talking with our counterparts to determine the most effective way forward. Thank you.
Last question?

QUESTION: Czech daily newspaper. Madame Secretary, do you think that the current financial crisis could anyhow delay the plans for development and deployment of the missile defense systems?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, our concerns about missile defense are primarily technical. There may be some economic factors. But we’ve always seen this as primarily a technical challenge. Obviously, we expect any system that we deploy to be able to operate effectively to achieve the goals that are set. And as I have said earlier, our concern, the concern of other nations within the broad geographic area that could be affected by an Iranian missile, you know, are looking for ways to deter and end that behavior.

But you know, we have to be realistic, you know. Our slogan can be “hope for the best, but plan for the worst.” I think that’s a realistic approach that we should be taking, and that’s why I admire the Czech Government. I know that that was a difficult decision. I understand that. But the Czech people won their freedom and do not want to be intimidated by the specter of, you know, nuclear weapons in the hands of unfriendly regimes. So I think that what the Czech Government and the Polish Government did in saying, you know, we want to be prepared in the event that we are unable to persuade, dissuade, deter, the Iranians from pursuing nuclear weapons makes a great deal of sense.

Now, the timing and the, you know, actual deployment, those are largely technical matters. And as the Vice President said, which I underscore, if we are able to see a change in behavior on the part of the Iranians with respect to what we believe to be their pursuit of nuclear weapons, you know, then – you know, we will reconsider where we stand. But we are a long, long way from seeing such evidence of any behavior change.

Mr. Minister, do you want to add anything?

FOREIGN MINISTER SCHWARZENBERG: No. I’d have to agree with what you have said. And I think the most necessary thing is that as with Iran, as to other dangers in this world, we need to stick together and we can rely on each other.

And just I would like to add one thing. It was a special pleasure for me – the meeting today with Secretary Clinton, whom I had the honor and pleasure to meet before already in Prague when she visit my former chief, President Havel. And I already was impressed by her great energy. Now to see her as Secretary of State of the United States is a special pleasure.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. Thank you all very much. Thank you.


Czech views: Russia Shouldn't Have a Veto on Missile Defense

Russia Shouldn't Have a Veto on Missile Defense, by Milan Vodicka
European leaders relied on U.S. commitments.
WSJ, Feb 11, 2009


If the United States builds a radar system in the Czech Republic as part of the missile defense program developed by the Bush administration, it's likely that the Russians will target the Czech Republic with their tactical nuclear missiles. But many Czechs are fearful of an even greater danger than Russia: The possibility that the U.S. may decide not to deploy the defense system. Unfortunately, Vice President Joseph Biden suggested this prospect last week in Munich when he said, "We will wait for what the experts say and then we will see."

Czech politicians and their Polish counterparts have invested a lot of political capital in the missile defense project. If the Obama administration doesn't follow through, supporters of the missile shield would feel abandoned by the U.S.

What's worse, Czech and Polish leaders would lose credibility among their opponents and, most importantly, Russia. Moscow would see the failure to build the radar system as proof of its influence over Central Europe, and as recognition of its veto power over European security policy.

Mr. Biden doesn't seem to appreciate that the missile defense project isn't just about American interests. It's about the Czechs and the Poles, too.

The Americans wanted the radar and the interceptors, and they wanted them within the borders of our countries. Our leaders went to great lengths to meet Washington's requests. They stood firm in the face of passionate protests at home and intimidation from Russia. Recently, Moscow backed down from its threat to deploy Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad, but it stands ready to follow through if missile defense becomes a reality.

It's beginning to look as though the Americans were taking us for a ride. Now that there's a new driver in the White House, they think they can just drop us off at the curb.

Even if the Obama administration wants to backtrack on missile defense, doing so won't return relations with Russia to the status quo ante. This is because Russia has transformed the issue of the missile defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland into evidence of its growing influence. Russia has turned this into a question of its power beyond its borders.

If it weren't for Russia, there would be little difficulty in Washington's change of heart. Yet Russia's involvement makes the game a different one entirely. While several interceptors in Poland can stop individual missiles, they can't prevent a massive strike by a nuclear power like Russia. This is because the system is aimed at Iran, not Russia.

Moscow's rigid position has hardened the resolve of Prague and Warsaw, which fear that the Kremlin is attempting to dictate the limits of Czech and Polish sovereignty and foreign policy. We have experienced this before.

This, at least, is how the situation appears from the Czech point of view. I can already anticipate the Obama administration's conclusion: that missile defense is an expensive diversion with uncertain benefits and unpleasant side effects. Such an outcome is all the more likely given the global economic crisis and the difficult fiscal situation in the U.S.

There's no doubt that Russia would profit from a scenario in which the U.S. put the missile defense project on hold. Just consider the situation in Georgia last summer.

During the conflict in South Ossetia, it was alarming how many observers in the U.S. press implied that NATO enlargement was a mistake. The tone of these articles strongly suggested that expansion of the Atlantic alliance only caused the U.S. more trouble with Russia. They also implied that the U.S. and other Western powers were less than fully committed to their new eastern partners.

In this light, it's clear that American retreat on the missile defense program would hand Moscow a huge victory. Washington can't afford to leave the Czechs out in the cold.

Mr. Vodicka is senior writer for the Czech newspaper Mladá Fronta Dnes.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Michelle Obama at Mary's Center for Maternal and Child Care

Do the right thing
White House, Tuesday, February 10th, 2009 at 9:25 pm

"No matter what you do, you can't pass a law that makes somebody do the right thing, right?"

That was First Lady Michelle Obama's message to a group of young people she met with on a visit to Mary's Center for Maternal and Child Care, a Washington, D.C. nonprofit that provides a range of social services.

Instead, she said, it's the responsibility of every individual, family, and community to do the right thing. But where you come from shouldn't be a barrier to success."

I didn't come into this position with a lot of wealth, with a lot of resources," she said. "There is no magic dust that was sprinkled on my head or on Barack's head. You know, we were kids much like you who figured out one day that our fate was in our own hands, you know, and we made decisions to listen to our parents and to work hard and to work even harder when somebody doubted us."

See photos from the event below, or read the full transcript of the First Lady's meeting at the center.

In the End, People Are Still the Problem

In the End, People Are Still the Problem, by Chris Horner
Planet Gore/NRO, Feb 10, 2009

The New York Times’s Andy Revkin wonders if the worst thing we could do would be to give humans abundant, cheap, clean energy . . .

A solar-powered city, Masdar, is being built in Abu Dhabi. If super-cheap solar power is achieved, will humanity grow too much?

One aim of this blog is to explore efforts to expand the menu of cheap, non-polluting, renewable energy options. That’s a pretty clearcut need given the risks attending the unfettered use of fossil fuels and the reality that 2 billion people today cook on guttering fires using fuelwood or dung harvested mainly by girls who are not going to school as a result.

But I had a dream about energy one fitful night not long ago and it left me a little cold. I pondered what kind of world might result if Nate Lewis at Caltech or Dan Nocera at M.I.T. or Shi Zhengrong at Suntech Power Systems in China had a breakthrough that made solar panels as cheap as paint?

We could synthesize food, even meat, in solar-powered factories. We could render water from the sea or briny aquifers drinkable in endless amounts (as is being done with wind power in sere parts of Australia even now).

And we could, in essence, vastly increase the carrying capacity of the planet. Fossil fuels were a bit part of the growth spurt from 1 billion to nearly 7 billion people in two short centuries. On a finite planet, where would limitless energy, combined with humanity’s infinite aspirations, take us? This leads to a question that’s been touched on here periodically. Does a shift in values and aspirations have to accompany the technological leaps that will assuredly be made in the coming decades? . . .

There is, of course, nothing new to this view:
If you ask me, it'd be a little short of disastrous for us to discover a source
of clean, cheap, abundant energy because of what we would do with it. We ought
to be looking for energy sources that are adequate for our needs, but that won't
give us the excesses of concentrated energy with which we could do mischief to
the earth or to each other.— Amory Lovins in The Mother Earth—Plowboy Interview, Nov/Dec 1977, p. 22
Giving society cheap, abundant energy . . . would be the equivalent of
giving an idiot child a machine gun. — Paul Ehrlich, “An Ecologist's Perspective
on Nuclear Power,” May/June 1978 issue of Federation of American Scientists
Public Issue Report

FDA, foodborne illness outbreaks and inspections

FDA Must Shift Priorities. By Scott Gottlieb, M.D.
AEI, Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Food and Drug Administration spent about 10 years to set a standard for how many peanuts needed to be in peanut butter before food companies could call the spread by that name, last amending that "peanut butter rule" in the 1990s.

More recently, a Georgia peanut plant was able to knowingly ship dangerously tainted peanut butter in one of the largest food contamination scares in the nation's history.

How can an agency that spends a decade carefully defining what's meant by the words "peanut butter" allow tons of the stuff to become contaminated with a deadly bacterium and evade detection, even though the foodmaker itself was aware of the dangerous adulteration?

Already, more than 1,550 products--from Little Debbie peanut butter crackers to Wal-Mart bakery peanut butter cookies--have been recalled after eight people died and more than 500 people (half of them children) were sickened. Salmonella had seeped into huge vats of raw peanut butter produced by a single manufacturer, the Peanut Corp. of America, investigators say.

FDA's approach to these two regulatory endeavors--setting the ingredient list for "peanut butter" and ensuring its safety--shows how the agency's priorities are out of proportion.

FDA has an entire office dedicated to debating what claims firms can make on food product labels. For example, when can products with fish oil carry claims that they reduce heart risks, or what defines the "standards of identity" that dictate when crushed tomatoes can be called "ketchup."

These regulatory tasks provide clarity for consumers--and rules of competition for manufacturers. The regulation itself is not without some merit. But what does it matter what percentage of peanuts makes up a spread when you can't even guarantee that it's free from deadly contaminants?

Go where danger lurks

What the FDA needs most of all is a risk-based regulatory mind-set. Resources, and focus, must be apportioned based on a top-down view of where the greatest consumer dangers lurk. That means riskless endeavors, such as defining what constitutes peanut butter, can be handled by private or academic entities working with FDA. There's precedent for this sort of collaboration.

This doesn't mean FDA already has all the resources and tools it needs to do the high-risk stuff--far from it. According to news reports, the actions of the Georgia peanut plant appear so deliberate that it's easy to say no amount of regulation could have prevented that harm. But greater authorities would have tightened the regulatory net around this and other bad actors.

More than a year ago, the FDA issued a "Food Protection Plan," asking Congress to give it authority to demand access to records that food producers keep. The plan has gone largely ignored. In the case of something like a peanut butter plant, if the producer manufactures on three lines and one is found to be contaminated, FDA can't demand that the firm divulge results of tests on its other two lines, even though there's a reasonable chance similar problems exist.

Firms with "positive" test results also aren't required to report those to FDA, even for deadly pathogens. They should be. But right now, even if the findings went back to FDA they would be fed into an outdated information system that makes it hard for the agency to sort through the reports. That computer system needs updating so that it flags the highest risk findings.

The lack of information tools also means that FDA can't easily trace the source of contamination. So every time there's a food scare, everything gets recalled even though only a fraction of products are actually contaminated. Industry could help with the creation of a better "trace back" system.

FDA also needs more direct control over food plant inspections. As a piece of political pork, Congress gives a lot of the money for inspections to states, which conduct the assessments (sometimes poorly) on FDA's behalf. The Georgia peanut plant was inspected by state, not FDA, regulators.

Better tests, better tools

Finally, FDA also needs money for developing better scientific tools to isolate contaminants. During the pepper recall last summer, the diagnostic test used by FDA to detect the contaminating bacteria took two weeks to read out a result. The FDA's food center can acquire all these new resources without being split off into a separate food agency, as some in Congress are advocating.

But an equally large part of FDA's problems doesn't relate to inadequate resources per se, but to the disparate and far flung nature of the agency's various functions itself, and the FDA's lack of perspective on how to focus on the most important from among those responsibilities. Regulators aren't marshalling resources in support of the things that matter most to ensuring consumer safety.

Congress exacerbates FDA's strain by foisting on it new responsibilities every time a consumer cause célèbre crops up. Now, many lawmakers want FDA regulation of the entire cigarette industry. Whatever the merits, this new responsibility would divert from more pressing FDA tasks such as, say, ensuring the safety of the nation's blood supply. Nor does a cigarette center fit FDA's historical mission of health protection and promotion.

Longstanding preoccupations, and mission creep, divert too much of FDA's attention from pressing tasks. FDA needs to more tightly focus itself on the areas that pose the biggest risks to consumers.

Scott Gottlieb, M.D., is a resident fellow at AEI.

Obama: Hoping for Action

Obama: Hoping for Action. By Jennifer Donahue
Huffington Post, February 10, 2009 12:32 PM (EST)

"I believe in hope, but I also believe in action," President Obama said today in Florida.

This guy can deliver a soundbite, and he knows it. Last week, the question was, how could Obama let the Republicans hijack the Economic Stimulus plan, "screw up" on Daschle, and allow negative stories to define the week?

This week, the ever-disciplined Obama is hitting back. He knows where he needed to take this: to the majority of Americans who elected him. To the growing number of unemployed Americans. To those whose mortgages are more than the value of their homes.

Obama may not be used to the ways of Washington yet, but he certainly knows how to deliver his message to the American people. His style, his delivery, his tone, his words: all still sharp from a campaign that ended only months ago.

Even on the details, he is getting it right this week. An 8pm news conference instead of 9pm. More eyeballs, more age groups, more Americans reached. Daytime campaign events orchestrated better than Hollywood could.

Republicans thougth they had a slam-dunk last week, but this week, they are facing the music. I'm not a betting person, but I would bet on this: calls into House and Senate offices will tell lawmakers this: listen to your President.

In Cato: It's a Recession, Not a 'Catastrophe'

It's a Recession Not a 'Catastrophe'. By Alan Reynolds
Cato, February 9, 2009

President Obama, writing in the Washington Post, said, "By now, it's clear to everyone that we have inherited an economic crisis as deep and dire as any since the days of the Great Depression." But how would we know if and when this crisis is really more "deep and dire" than others?

Many may believe we're in the worst recession since the Great Depression, if only because politicians and the press keep repeating that claim. But we need to compare some facts to discern whether this recession is (or will be) "worse" in some sense than those of 1973-75 or 1981-82.

Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf told the House Budget Committee that if the economy is still contracting by mid-year, then this recession will be longer than the 1981-82 and 1973-75 downturns, each of which lasted 16 months. Yet this recession was quite mild until last September. And the severity and human discomfort of downturns can't be measured by their duration.

A wise adviser to President John Kennedy, Arthur Okun of Yale, devised the "misery index" to gauge the pain of economic crisis - a measure that simply adds together the unemployment rate and the inflation rate. It hit 22 percent in June 1980, during an inflationary recession that preceded the Fed's disinflationary squeeze of 1981-82. The misery index was nearly as bad in January 1975, at 19.9 percent.

Assuming inflation was close to zero this January, the misery index would have been roughly the same as the unemployment rate, or 7.6 percent. By this standard, we have a very long way to go before the economy feels nearly as miserable as it did in 1975 or 1980.

There are several other ways to measure economic distress, however, some of which are shown in the nearby table. The first two columns show the total change in real GDP and industrial production from the economy's peak to its trough for that cycle.

[graph in the original article]

Current data show only what happened so far, of course. But that gives us some idea of how much further the economy would have to fall to end up as "deep and dire" as the recessions of 1973-75 or 1981-82.

An average of 55 forecasters in the Jan. 15 Wall Street Journal survey expect real GDP to fall by another percentage point (a 2.1 percent drop in total) before recovering in the third quarter. If they're right, this would be just the third deepest postwar recession by that broad measure.

Measured by unemployment, on the other hand, this might well be the second deepest recession. The current unemployment rate of 7.6 percent is quite unlikely to reach the postwar record of 10.8 percent. But the Journal forecasters expect the jobless rate to top out at 8.9 percent after the recession is technically over - making this very close to becoming the second worst recession in terms of job loss.

In a 1999 Business Week column, Harvard economist Robert Barro suggested we should also improve the misery index by adding a long-term interest rate (and GDP). The table shows 30-year mortgage rates. By that measure, there's no way we'll come close to matching the sort of misery of past recessions - notably, the 18.45 percent mortgage rate of October 1981.

With one exception - the steep 45 percent drop in the S&P 500 stock index since October 2007 - few other indicators of economic distress could support this being the worst postwar recession. Thanks to low inflation, for example, real disposable income rose every month during the fourth quarter - at an annual rate above 6 percent.

The president needs to be a calming voice right now, a source of strength. It's not helpful for him to be warning of a "catastrophe" and making vague, untenable allusions to the Great Depression.

Recessions have almost always ended within a year or so, long before there was a Federal Reserve or Keynesian theory. Debts have to be worked down and excess inventories sold off so that profits, and therefore stock prices and wealth, can revive.

Such curative processes do not take years, as the president suggests - unless the government does too much foolish tinkering. But recovery will require more perspective and patience than we've been seeing from the White House lately, because time really does heal many economic wounds.

Alan Reynolds is a senior fellow with the Cato Institute and the author of Income and Wealth.

WaPo on granting early release to nonviolent offenders

Inmates Who Should Walk. WaPo Editorial
A Virginia proposal would free tax dollars by granting early release to nonviolent offenders
WaPo, Tuesday, February 10, 2009; Page A16

A BIPARTISAN group of Virginia state senators, led by Janet D. Howell (D-Fairfax) and Kenneth W. Stolle (R-Virginia Beach), have drawn up a plan to save taxpayers millions of dollars by allowing some nonviolent offenders to be released early from prison. The proposal would let prison officials use their discretion to release low-risk offenders up to 90 days before the end of their sentences. Officials already have the power to shorten sentences by 30 days.

Those convicted of drug possession would be given an opportunity for even greater leniency. The plan would mandate that such inmates have access to treatment programs at the beginning of their incarceration; currently, inmates are offered treatment toward the end of their terms. A judge, in consultation with prison officials, would have discretion to order the early release of an inmate who successfully completed extensive drug rehabilitation. The proposal also calls for some nonviolent offenders to be placed in community-based programs rather than jail and for others to be monitored electronically instead of being locked up.

The plan, rooted in the state's growing fiscal crisis, is aimed at advancing the effort by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) to save roughly $50 million by closing two prisons. The success of a program in the state of Washington that is similar to the one being mulled in Virginia suggests the risks are reasonable and the potential savings substantial.

In 2003, Washington state legislators allowed for sentence reductions of up to 50 percent for nonviolent offenders. Excluded from this program are those who have been convicted of a violent crime or sexual offense, as well as those guilty of selling drugs to a minor or any other crime against a person. Eligible inmates earn early release credits each month by staying out of trouble and completing work, education and treatment programs. Inmates can lose credits because of bad behavior or become ineligible for release if they commit a serious infraction behind bars.

The Washington State Institute for Public Policy, the research arm of the state's legislature, followed roughly 2,600 inmates released early from 2003 to 2007. The institute compared this group to roughly 4,800 similar inmates who had served their full sentences and were released before the inception of the 2003 program. In a report released in November, the institute concluded that the program saved taxpayers an average of $10,000 per prisoner. The recidivism rate for those released early was about 3 percent lower than for the control group.

Releasing offenders early always carries political and real-life risks. But Washington's example shows that carefully screening inmates for eligibility and strictly limiting early release to well-behaved, nonviolent offenders can save tax dollars, preserve public safety and result in a more rational penal system.

U.S.–India Homeland Security Cooperation: Moving Forward

U.S.–India Homeland Security Cooperation: Moving Forward, by Lisa Curtis and Jena Baker McNeill
Heritage, February 9, 2009

Full text w/references here.

On December 31, 2008, the Indian government passed legislation that would strengthen its ability to investigate, prosecute, and--most importantly--prevent acts of terrorism. Much like the effects of 9/11 on the U.S., the Mumbai attacks have catalyzed Indian efforts to adopt a more integrated and structured approach to homeland security. The U.S. and India alike should recognize the value of their shared experiences in the war on terrorism. Drawing on these experiences, India and the U.S. should pursue a robust dialogue through which to share counterterrorism strategies, thereby improving the security of both nations.

Countering Terrorism at its Source

One of the most important aspects of terrorism prevention is undercutting the terrorists' support base while denying terrorists access to money, training, and weapons. Additionally, counterterrorism measures must disrupt terrorists' ability to propagate their message, recruit new members, and network with cohorts and other supporters. Therefore, the most important measures that can be taken to prevent another Mumbai-like attack anywhere in the world is for Pakistan to punish those involved in the inspiration, planning, training, and equipping of the terrorists while proactively undercutting the extremist propaganda that led to the Mumbai massacre.

Pakistan has allowed the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LT)--the terrorist organization responsible for the Mumbai attacks--to operate openly in the country since the early 1990s. However, since the Mumbai massacre, Islamabad has raided key LT training facilities, shut down several LT offices throughout the country, arrested and detained key LT members, and pledged to turn over administration of the LT headquarters outside of Lahore, Pakistan, to government authorities. These are positive, albeit much belated, steps. But Islamabad must go further: It must prosecute individuals found to be involved in the Mumbai attacks and shut down LT's ability to sustain itself as a terrorist organization.

Mumbai Attacks Prompt Changes in Indian Anti-Terrorism Policies

The Mumbai attacks were a wake-up call for India regarding the urgent need to address its homeland security shortfalls and to institute a more effective nationwide approach to countering terrorism. As a result of the attacks, India passed legislation establishing a National Investigation Agency (NIA), much like America's FBI, to investigate threats or acts of terrorism. Senior NIA officers will have unique authority to pursue and investigate terrorism cases throughout the country, thereby addressing the challenge of separate jurisdictions between Indian states.

Furthermore, the Indian parliament acted to strengthen existing anti-terror laws by expanding definitions of terrorist attacks and instituting legal reforms and other judicial modifications, including establishing special courts for speedy trials and revising burdens of proof and search and seizure standards.[1]

During a gathering of India's state chief ministers in early January, Home Minister Chidambaram defined two broad goals to improve India's counterterrorism efforts: first, to raise national preparedness to meet an increasingly sophisticated terrorist threat, and second, to enhance the speed and decisiveness of the nation's response to a terrorist threat or attack.

To meet these objectives, India has begun to modernize police weaponry as well as the way in which police departments operate. The Indian Home Minister also issued an executive order to start the functioning of the Multi-Agency Center (MAC) as an interagency counterterrorism center similar to the CIA's National Counterterrorism Center. The MAC was created several years ago to analyze intelligence flowing in from different organizations and to coordinate follow-up actions, but its work had been inhibited by lack of staffing and resources.[2] The government also intends to set up subsidiary MACs at the state level to streamline local intelligence gathering.On several occasions, Indian terrorism analysts have cited lack of coordination among the various Indian investigative and intelligence organizations operating across the country as a major impediment to improving terrorism prevention.

The U.S. Experience Following 9/11

Like India, the U.S. experience with the 9/11 attacks was a catalyst for widespread change in the American security model. In the aftermath of 9/11, the U.S. began to reevaluate its terrorism policies, homeland security efforts, and disaster response structure. Several of the priorities the U.S. identified included:

  • Integration. The 9/11 attacks demonstrated that stovepipes of authority only led to a lack of information and confusion in the wake of disaster. As a result, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created, bringing together 22 different agencies, each with their own role to play in the homeland security enterprise. Along with the creation of DHS, the birth of the Homeland Security Council provided momentum for more robust national disaster planning. And Homeland Security Presidential Directive 8 established new requirements for national disaster readiness, which included a major role for DHS.
  • Resiliency. Resiliency is the capacity to carry on in the wake of disaster. After 9/11, the U.S. realized that it was important to protect people from terrorism, but it was equally important to ensure that the nation can persevere in the case of disaster, natural or otherwise. For example, the U.S. developed a Target Capabilities List, which cut across 15 scenarios and examined what resources and responses were needed to protect against, prevent, respond to, or recover from a terrorist attack or natural disaster.
  • International Cooperation. The U.S. learned that the transnational nature of contemporary terrorist threats, the interdependence of modern societies resulting from globalization, and the concept of using layered defense to thwart attack from conception to execution all demonstrated the need for multinational homeland security partnerships.
Shared Experiences, Common Goals
There is much room to expand U.S.-India cooperation on matters of intelligence and homeland security. Since 90 percent of counterterrorism concerns intelligence, Washington and New Delhi should focus on breaking down barriers to sharing intelligence. Indeed, the Mumbai attacks have already spurred greater U.S.-India counterterrorism cooperation.

New Delhi and Washington should also increase official diplomatic and non-governmental exchanges on improving counterterrorism cooperation. The level and frequency of the U.S.-Indian Counterterrorism Joint Working Group (CTJWG) meetings should be raised. These meetings should include talks on ways to organize and streamline operations of various intelligence-gathering and investigative institutions as well as a free exchange of ideas on how to address the ideological foundations of terrorism. India's experience in addressing new terrorism threats that involve both homegrown and international elements should be a focal point of these discussions. To help introduce new ideas on the latest counterterrorism technology and research, the CTJWG talks should also incorporate private sector entities and think tanks specializing in counterterrorism.

Finally, the United States should position itself to be a resource to India, finding means of sharing the lessons it learned after 9/11. For instance, the U.S. could improve its international counterterrorism assistance programs by allocating more funding and authority to the DHS to lead those programs that are consistent with its mission sets. Currently, most of America's counterterrorism assistance programs are controlled by the Department of Defense and the State Department. While these government agencies should remain at the forefront of U.S. international counterterrorism assistance, DHS can take the lead, for example, in programs that help other countries improve their disaster response efforts and aviation and maritime security policies.

Increased Cooperation Is Critical

As the U.S. and India both continue to look for strategies that can effectively protect their citizens from terrorism, each country stands to gain considerably by sharing experiences and best practices and increasing their overall intelligence cooperation against global and regional terrorist threats.

Lisa Curtis is Senior Research Fellow for South Asia in the Asian Studies Center, and Jena Baker McNeill is Policy Analyst for Homeland Security in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.