Politics Science

The Dead Sea has disappeared

NASA uses its GRACE (Gravity Recovery And Climate Experiment) satellites to measure the differential in gravity from place to place across the Earth to infer differences in water content. Launched in 2002 in partnership with the German Aerospace Center and the German Research Center for Geosciences, it is the first accurate observation of water availability from space. If that sounds a lot like GRAIL, which recently spiked into the moon, that’s because it is precisely the same technology.

GRACE is helpful, as they say, “when hydrologic observations are not routinely collected or shared beyond political boundaries.” In other words, where people don’t particularly like us.

And their observation? Second only to the Indian subcontinent, the Fertile Crescent is losing a shocking amount of fresh water:

Scientists at the University of California, Irvine; NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.; and the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., found during a seven-year period beginning in 2003 that parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran along the Tigris and Euphrates river basins lost 117 million acre feet (144 cubic kilometers) of total stored freshwater. That is almost the amount of water in the Dead Sea. The researchers attribute about 60 percent of the loss to pumping of groundwater from underground reservoirs.

The presser goes on to state that this amount of water would service as many as 100 million people. Where would that much water go?

As much as one fifth of the loss is due to drought in the region. But the rest is purely a function of irrigation and siphoning of water away from the ground and into cities.

When we talk about destabilizing forces in a region, the too-often missed component is fresh water. Without fresh water, humans cannot survive. And when groundwater becomes municipal well water, it becomes political and a commodity. Particularly in this region, that is worrisome.


… And Here Come the Apologists…

Ever since distancing himself from the Bush Administration when it was painfully obvious that the Iraq War was a clusterfuck, Charles Krauthammer must have been itching for a reason to tell us he was right all along. So now that “freedom is on the march,” as the phrase goes, he’s gotta climb out of his ideological bunker and get his digs in. Surprised it took so long:

Charles Krauthammer – From Baghdad to Benghazi.

So, to distill it down to the essences – because man, is there a lot of logical fallacy horseshit in there – the Bush Administration’s policy of encouraging democracy at the tip of the spear was right all along, but Obama’s been too slow to realize it. Never mind that there is a surprisingly-obvious and unsubtle difference between verbally and diplomatically supporting regime change that’s already in progress because of a revolution and just barging into another country with visions of democracy.

Oh, and the last line is the line I’ve been waiting for all along: “Facebook and Twitter have surely mediated this pan-Arab (and Iranian) reach for dignity and freedom. But the Bush Doctrine set the premise.”

Before the Iraq War, we were told that the Middle East was just aching for democracy. That now appears to have been entirely, demonstrably correct. But what Krauthammer is now arguing is that, because it was going to happen anyway, the Bush Administration’s bumbling escapade in Iraq wasn’t just a catalyst, but the “premise” itself. He has entirely inverted the argument and come out looking just totally fucking awesome.

That people manage to cobble together a self-governing system in Iraq – the birthplace of human civilization – is not a sign of the efficacy of the Bush Doctrine: it is a predictable outcome. Events that happen in order do not prove causality: the rooster does not cause the sun to rise, and likewise, the Iraq War did not precipitate the Middle Eastern awakening that is in progress.


With Gog and Magog Swarming Around. . .

The Pied Piper takes his children underground. . .

Yes, George W. Bush has now officially been outed as having claimed to be getting messages from god about Gog and Magog, the biblical forces of the Apocolypse at work in Iraq to none other than Jacques Chirac himself. Wonder why France wanted none of this shit, eh?

And just wait till it finally comes out that he was snorting cocaine at the same time. Don’t believe me? Check out one of your coke-head friends camel-jawing after a line and then go back and watch all those 2003-2004 videos. Oh, yeah. Not a doubt in my mind, then or now.


Shoe Thrower Jailed for Three Years

Well, no matter how much of a hero you are to the people, heads of state cannot let a thing like this go I suppose. Muntadar al-Zaidi, the heralded thrower of loafers, has been jailed for three years.

I’m just going to throw this out there: three years actually seems like a remarkably short stint in the joint for an offense like this, even in the States?


More Thinking of Thoughts

Do Republicans think George Bush invented government? Because if not, and if you take the more accepted version of history, namely that large social structures and governments are really a product of human evolution, it’s difficult to understand how he deserves credit for the fact that Iraqis are finally forming their own government. It seems like anywhere on the map where an assemblage of humans has existed with an absence of government, a government has eventually formed.

That our troops happen to have been there at the time, struggling to keep the peace, does not mean that Bush’s policies are what led us to this pass.


Get it All Out at Once

Boing Boing has a more than adequate roll of Bush v Shoe Chucker animations that’s sure to please.


Gates to Stay On as Sec Def

The announcement has been made that it looks as though Defense Secretary Robert Gates is going to be staying on in the Obama Administration for at least the next year. There are many among us on the left and in the anti-war crowd who have not been at all pleased with this turn of events.

But as I see it – and I believe I’ve made this point somewhere along the line in the past – you can’t expect a new Sec Def to swoop in and move one hundred and forty thousand troops out of Iraq in a year without huge problems. I mean, you couldn’t even unpack a box before you started planning the withdrawal, and it would likely be a disaster no matter who you were. I think that if you’re serious about your pledge to get troops out of Iraq in the next eighteen months, you have to maintain some sense of continuity in the military hierarchy to do that. Of course, my years of working as a Secretary of Defense((that would be zero years, for you keeping track)) don’t lend themselves to an educated opinion on the matter.

Besides which, I think anyone whose been paying attention knows that Robert Gates has been as forthcoming as any member of the Bush Administration with Congress and the public. That’s not saying a lot, I grant. But it seems like he’s more sure of himself and less inclined to stonewall for the sake of his personal reputation alone. I think that, with a new president of the same party as the majority in the Congress, you will probably see much more candor going forward. That’s just a guess.

And its a damned shame that we can’t do the same with the economic team, but goddamn. I’ve never seen a guy fall so far so fast as has Hank Paulson. Ben Bernanke just seems like a putz lately, too. These are two guys I know from watching Wall Street Week for years, and I’ve been nothing short of shocked to watch them crumble in the face of this crisis. So, on that level, we need new leadership.


Addressing the Public

OK, so today is short-blogging day.

It just occurred to me whilst watching Countdown without Keith Olbermann from last night: why didn’t George Bush ever address the Iraqi Parliament, such as it is, to make his case for U.S. plans there? Such a move would be huge – even amid protest, especially amid protest – because it would legitimize the Iraqi Parliament as a legitimate chamber of governance. Would Barack Obama consider doing such a thing? It would go a long way towards easing tensions among the nominally ruling class of Iraq to know that the President of the United States puts such stock in what they are doing there.


The Surge in Surging

If Barack Obama’s trip to the Mid East – and the sudden injection of Iraq’s Prime Minister Maliki’s plans into the U.S. political mix – have done anything, they’ve definitely flipped the entire conversation in unexpected ways.  But while many are viewing this as a positive for Barack Obama, there is one highly important question on which the media has jumped the shark entirely, even those dying to be supportive of the presumptive Democratic nominee: we’re now operating under the assumption that The Surge Is Working.

How did we arrive at that?  Is that even true?

What’s even more frustrating is the fact that media icons of the Left are struggling to find ways to continue arguing against a McCain presidency, insisting for example that the “Sunni Awakening” happened before The Surge, tacitly admitting that not only do they believe The Surge is working, but that they refuse to admit this “fact.”  It’s even getting “Digged” as I type.

And I can’t help but notice a critical element missing in all this. . . the facts.  The Surge isn’t failing, exactly, but it’s not working either.  Maliki is playing for his constituency, which is fine and I applaud him doing so, but that doesn’t mean anything else has changed.  What’s happened is that Barack Obama said he would stick to the 16-month timeline, then Maliki agreed to the timeline, then McCain said “but, but, but, . . he couldn’t agree to that if The Surge wasn’t working!”

… And then the media bought it, hook like and sinker without so much as a moment’s cricital inspection.  Now we’re off to the races with another line of BS that ultimately helps John McCain.


What Happens if the Surge Works?

After a back and forth akin to a poorly-constructed Keystone Cops routine, the Nuri al-Maliki government has made it as clear as possible: call it what you want, but we want the U.S. troops out by 2010.  That happens to be Barack Obama’s timeline, but any way you slice it, they want the U.S. out.  As RT points out, you could hear a pin drop on the subject, here or nationally.

I think Josh Marshall has it about right: they may not want to make it look like they’re affecting politics in the United States, but the Maliki government has made the decision to support the Obama withdrawal timeline most likely in the hopes of exercising at least some control over the occupation and it’s eventual conclusion.  Its a classic example of swinging the political discussion over to your own side of things, and they’re playing it beautifully.  This is a full-scale defection from the Bush Camp in favour of the withdrawal supported not just by Barack Obama but by the Iraqi and American people, both.

So here’s a question which has proved historically entertaining for the last hundred and fifty years or so of American interventionism: what happens if the democracy we supposedly want to setup in Country X actually starts operating in the interest of it’s people – like a democracy should – against our interests?  What if “The Surge” actually works?  What will happen to the Bush agenda in Iraq?  The McCain hopes of a Hundred Year Occupation?

Of course, this whole line of questioning is a bit tongue-in-cheek, anyway: even if by supporting withdrawal, Maliki is pleasing a majority of Iraqis, that doesn’t mean he can pull that coalition together around a stable democracy.  My guess is that, regardless of when we pull out, some additional assistance will be required, hopefully from a more international or even largely-Arab force.

And, oh yeah: even if the press is trying its damnedest to ignore this turn of events at the moment, the long-term effect of this is going to be one more major plus for the Obama camp.  Just wait till it’s time to start the debates.

Late Update: Oh, lame.  Not only is the press trying to ignore the Obama/Maliki connection, but they’re even stooping to split hairs to make distinctions without difference.


Bugliosi on Prosecuting Bush

Vincent Bugliosi, the man who convicted Charles Manson and 20 other murderers without ever losing a case, is convinced that a murder charge can be brought against George Bush and he seems pretty serious about following through on it:

Bugliosi v. Bush

I’ve also drafted a letter to DAs across the country offering my services. I’m dead serious about this. With my record as a prosecutor with twenty-one consecutive murder convictions, I would never in a million years argue for a prosecution against the President of the United States unless I knew I was standing on firm and strong legal grounds.

I’m going after Bush and I’m not going to be satisfied until I see him in an American courtroom prosecuted for murder.


Veteran Experiments: Because Monkeys are Expensive

Anybody remember how the U.S. Army gave soldiers LSD back during Korea? Or how about how the “Reefer Madness” propaganda convinced the Army to give soldiers pot to see if they could turn them into killing machines? Results fell somewhat short of expectations, comically so, but what is happening now is not even remotely funny:

ABC News: ‘Disposable Heroes’: Mentally Distressed Veterans Used to Test Suicide-Linked Drugs

Mentally distressed veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are being recruited for government tests on pharmaceutical drugs linked to suicide and other violent side effects, an investigation by ABC News and “The Washington Times” has found.

I’m sure the Veterans Administration will have some snappy answer as to why they didn’t warn soldiers, even after repeated warnings from the manufacturers of the drug. But if I were a cynical man – and as luck would have it, I am – I’d say that the Veterans Administration is doing the Pharmaceutical industry’s own worst-case drug testing on the cheap.

So, let us now drop this silly pretense about “supporting the troops,” shall we?