Friday, April 30, 2010

The Disaster

BP had been saying 1000 barrels per day. The US government says 5000 barrels per day. Reality seems to be 20,000 barrels per day.
Amos estimates that the amount of oil leaking into the Gulf is more like 20,000 barrels a day -- four times the Coast Guard estimate, and 20 times what BP originally claimed. That would add up to about 12 million gallons of oil so far, making this spill worse than the 1989 wreck of the Exxon Valdez, which dumped 11 million gallons into Alaska's Prince William Sound -- one of the nation's worst environmental disasters.

The oil spill has now reached shore in fragile Gulf Coast habitat near the mouth of the Mississippi River. What can possibly be said? It's a filthy industry, we consumers are addicts, and the only solution is a transition to renewable energy sources. That transition is occurring, but renewables won't be a full substitute before we'll have left even more casualties, from wildlife to local economies to deadly foreign policy to the poor and vulnerable affected most by climate change. Only a completely amoral idiot could say, "drill, baby, drill!"

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Beckian-Palin Cortex

A recent neuroscience paper, blurbed in New Scientist:
WHEN we fall under the spell of a charismatic figure, areas of the brain responsible for scepticism and vigilance become less active. That's the finding of a study which looked at people's response to prayers spoken by someone purportedly possessing divine healing powers...

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), Schjødt and his colleagues scanned the brains of 20 Pentecostalists and 20 non-believers while playing them recorded prayers. The volunteers were told that six of the prayers were read by a non-Christian, six by an ordinary Christian and six by a healer. In fact, all were read by ordinary Christians.

Only in the devout volunteers did the brain activity monitored by the researchers change in response to the prayers. Parts of the prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortices, which play key roles in vigilance and scepticism when judging the truth and importance of what people say, were deactivated when the subjects listened to a supposed healer. Activity diminished to a lesser extent when the speaker was supposedly a normal Christian....
H/t Chris Blattman.


Convenient Immigration

John Cole:
...ten years ago this month, Republicans were pitching an absolute fit about allowing Elian Gonzalez to go back to Cuba, demanding he be made an American citizen because… his mother almost walked across the border. Ten years later, they want to kick out Hispanic citizens because… their mothers walked across the border.
The difference is likely found in the degree and depth of demagoguery on the right. Immigration is always the issue of choice for demagogues.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Pat Oliphant Today

Profit, Loss, and Proliferation

Risk and Demand - Not the Same Thing

by Molly Cernicek and Cheryl Rofer

In the past few weeks, we have been barraged with messages stating the risk of nuclear terrorism. Arrests for trying to sell nuclear material and, of course, what could happen if nuclear material, components, or devices end up in the wrong hands. Too much nuclear material is still too poorly secured, and the idea of a mushroom cloud over New York may appeal to some terrorist groups. But risk is not the same as demand. Within the context of nuclear terrorism, risk is a source of danger while demand is the ability and desire to purchase or steal goods and services.

Securing the Bomb chapter “The Threat: The Demand for Black Market Fissile Material” states in its first paragraph:
None of the confirmed cases of seizures of stolen nuclear material includes clear evidence of a particular buyer—whether a state seeking nuclear weapons or a terrorist group. Nevertheless, there is significant evidence that both terrorist groups and states hostile to U.S. interests have sought stolen nuclear weapons or weapons-usable nuclear materials, and have attempted to recruit nuclear-weapons expertise.
Those two sentences seem to contradict each other. Three specific instances follow, supposedly illustrating how
demand is becoming more focused and sophisticated and may be overcoming the gap between buyers and potential sellers.

1. Incidents of terrorist teams carrying out reconnaissance at nuclear weapon storage sites and on nuclear weapon transport trains in Russia, whose locations and schedules are state secrets;

2. Reports that the 41 heavily armed terrorists who seized hundreds of hostages at a theater in Moscow in October 2002 considered seizing the Kurchatov Institute, a site with enough highly enriched uranium (HEU) for dozens of nuclear weapons;

3. The 2003 criminal case involving a Russian businessman who was offering $750,000 for stolen weapon-grade plutonium for sale to a foreign client—and succeeded in making contact with residents of the closed city of Sarov, home of one of Russia’s premier nuclear weapons R&D centers.
But none of these examples illustrates demand in the context of buying or acquiring material or a device. Incidents #1 and #2 show the potential risks of a criminal or terrorist act. In fact, the Chechen terrorists described in incident #2 entertained the idea of taking control of Kurchatov’s nuclear power plant and threatening to blow it up. They instead chose to take over Moscow's Dubrovka Theater with 900 hostages and were gassed by the Russian authorities. Example #3 points to the development of a supplier network. The “foreign client” may very well have been an intelligence agent as the criminals involved in supplying the material were apprehended by Russian authorities. No foreign buyer was identified or apprehended.

Ironically, the frequent discussion of the demand for nuclear weapons and materials in the media could be sending a message to potential suppliers that the market is bigger than it really is. Could this be an intelligence strategy to go after would-be suppliers? Some percentage of employees in every organization that handles nuclear materials may be willing to risk all for a perceived payout. The numbers of arrests of would-be sellers of nuclear material support this possibility.

Corruption is certainly mainstream in multi-national companies. In a 2007 report, PriceWaterHouse Coopers found that 63% of the 390 companies they assessed had experienced some kind of actual or attempted form of corruption within their ranks. The study findings shocked the executives who agreed to be part of the study as most of the companies affected by corruption had no deterrence in place for the kind of corruption they experienced. These companies had misjudged how much risk some of their employees were willing to take for a bigger payoff of some kind.

Countries where corruption is ingrained in common business practices, like Russia, also have this problem. The country tops PriceWaterHouse’s 2009 Global Fraud Survey. In spite of this culture, Russia’s lack of modern infrastructure, lack of labor mobility, and lack of trust have created significant obstacles for would-be nuclear smugglers thus far. US programs focused on materials protection, security and accountability have made a huge impact on Russia, but there is more to do in this area. It wasn’t until relatively recently that the Russian government considered a nuclear threat likely to emerge within its borders. Attacks by Chechen groups have motivated the government to be far more vigilant of their nuclear security.

The demand for illicit nuclear materials, devices, and knowledge in actuality seems to be very low and very specific. Any terrorist group with nuclear aspirations is unlikely to be a repeat customer to avoid the risk of getting caught, mishandling material, recruiting participants with inadequate education, and implementing a difficult attack strategy that they will most likely not survive. If a group can get enough material to pull off a nuclear-related attack, the chances are high that they use it in a much simpler dispersion device. States that build nuclear weapons illegally may pay for outside expertise, material and technology, but if they are to control their risks they need to develop their own competencies in house.

Without a continual demand for nuclear knowledge, material and parts, there will never be a sophisticated supplier network because small and indeterminate demand provides no profits on a recurring basis. Reducing the supply of nuclear material and devices will reduce the number of employees associated with them (replacing them with technology) and increase the risk to those interested in supplying these goods illegally. Stating publicly that there is not a great demand for nuclear material and parts is likely to reduce the number of would-be suppliers as well. A reduced supply should increase the costs and risks of potential nuclear terrorists. There will always be some risk of nuclear terrorism as long as we have nuclear material and devices. But we can lower our risk while raising terrorists’ risks further by communicating a more realistic illicit nuclear materials and technology market. It may reduce the supply of frightening articles to the media’s demand, but that’s a risk worth taking.

Update: Here's the same news in English as in that Postimees article.

Something Is Definitely Happening In Russia

I'm not going to be able to write much over the next week. I'd like to be able to present a fuller analysis, but I don't have time, so this post is a marker.

Today's good Russian news is a border deal with Norway in the Barents Sea (AP, NYT). That boundary has been under contention for forty years, back to Soviet times when it was the only boundary between the Soviet Union and a NATO country.

Several agreements were also signed during Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's visit to Oslo: on cooperation in education, between the Prosecutor General’s Offices of the countries, and between the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office and the Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Police, along with memoranda on cooperation on energy efficiency and renewable energy sources and on training of senior managers for "economic entities of Russia and Norway." These are the usual sorts of agreements that are signed by friendly countries.

Nothing special, until you add in the other events of the past week.

Also good news for Russia: Ukraine signed an agreement for Russia's navy base to remain at Sevastopol for the next 25 years. There was a dustup in the Ukrainian parliament about it; Ukraine has a lot of internal problems, largely having to do with corruption. The current president, Viktor Yanukovich, is Russian-leaning but came across as less corrupt and more interested in running the government than the previous president and prime minister. Whether this is a genuine turn toward Russia by Ukraine remains to be seen.

The American and Russian presidents issued a statement recalling Soviet-American "mutual trust and shared commitment to victory" in World War II. A small thing, but suggesting that trust is part of the future in American-Russian relations.

And at the NATO Foreign Ministers' meeting in Tallinn, Estonia, Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen "suggested that Russia be involved in NATO plans to build a missile defense system." Medvedev had some positive words in response. It's being reported below the weather in the Estonian newspaper Postimees; sunny in Tallinn today, enmity toward Russia down.

So we have NATO meeting as close to Russia as Russia has hated it to be, and a hand is extended, a boundary rectified. I am also wondering if that possible Russian acknowledgement of Soviet occupation of Estonia was discussed at the Russian embassy on Vene Tanav or in a back room of one of the restaurants, the park across the street from the Estonian Foreign Ministry, that building once the headquarters of the Estonian Communist Party.

And Dmitry Medvedev is the public face of Russia. We have heard less of Vladimir Putin as these foreign policy actions are reported. Could be a game of good cop, bad cop, one face at home and one outside, or it could be a genuine difference between the two, with Medvedev asserting power.

All this is happening after New START was signed and the American Nuclear Posture Review released. Is the Russian leadership beginning to feel that the relationship with America, its great nuclear rival, is being normalized and the blustery bear face can be put away? (Irresistable interlanguage pun: as the bear (medvedev) reaches out peacefully?)

Nice summary of New START from the US chief negotiator, Rose Gottemoeller.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Another Russian Opening

The FSB (Federal Security Service, successor to the KGB) has released a document that admits that Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved the lives of thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Nazis, was questioned for 16 hours in the Lubyanka Prison. This is more information than Russia has released previously, and it may indicate that there is more.

Amy Knight notes that when you add this to the admissions about the Katyn massacre, it looks like Russia is opening up on some of the uglier parts of its past. I'll add in the flutter of possibility on the occupation of the Baltic States to wonder if Russia is changing some of its policies to act more responsibly.


Sunday, April 25, 2010


That's the title that would be given to a scandal currently in progress in Britain if it proceeded as the scandal of the stolen e-mails from the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit did. Robert Service, the target of Orlando Figes's sockpuppet attacks, responds.

There are a number of things to consider here: why a famous historian should find it necessary to attack a colleague this way, why he failed to understand how these things work on the Internet, and why he threw the blame on his wife. But we can also consider why this is being reported so differently from those stolen e-mails.

The e-mails contained some of the same sort of bile as the anonymous reviews, which is not uncommon in private conversations among consenting adults in the academic community. The difference is that the e-mails failed to damage anyone's reputation or living circumstances, as Figes's anonymous reviews did.

But there is a political faction determined to undermine the science that says that anthropogenic carbon dioxide is warming the planet, and no such faction supporting Figes's views exists. So the admission of sockpuppetry and the response from the aggrieved party are reported more or less straight. I am sure that some sympathy exists for Figes, but it is not supported by large amounts of money from industries that benefit from the results of his actions, as the support of the climate denialists comes from the fossil fuel industries.

The Figes story will fade from the news in a week or so, but climate denialism will continue to be covered by the media. Money matters.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Friday, April 23, 2010

Bits and Pieces - April 23, 2010

Mikhail Gorbachev likes the New START treaty.

Cyberwar ain't going to happen.

More sockpuppitry from an academic.

A bunch of businessmen say that government involvement is essential for energy innovation.

Iran is getting nervous at the prospect of more sanctions. Or something.

Just Wondering...

...why the same commentators (no link, don't want to embarrass them) who were complaining that President Obama was naive for thinking that the Russians would give up their tactical nukes easily are now hollering that he's a warmonger for not unilaterally giving up missile defense and Prompt Global Strike. And for Secretary Clinton's line on NATO nukes.

And why anyone pays any attention at all to David Sanger. Also no links - don't want to raise his ratings.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Bits and Pieces - April 22, 2010

It was the airlines that were griping about the volcanic ash shutdown, but they're also the ones who have resisted the efforts of regulators to set "safe"levels of ash.

Here's a bit about what it takes to decommission a nuclear weapon. Still more to it, as well. Nice photo of one of the big ones.

There have been several articles lately suggesting that the unrest in Kyrgyzstan could destroy that nation. Here's one. The Soviet Union drew lines in Central Asia deliberately across ethnic groups and natural resources to make these countries less likely to want to try to go out on their own. It might make sense for Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan to form a bigger country, or for all three to unite with Kazakhstan, but neither of those will happen any time soon.

This is despicable, and an indication of the sad state of mind of hard-core Israel supporters.

And, in case you didn't have enough to worry about, you might want to think about scalar weapons. I was totally unaware of this overwhelming conspiracy until I read a letter in the local weekly rag that I pick up for Dan Savage's sex column and Dan Brezny's horoscope. I'm wondering when the folks around here who think their brains are being fried by Wi-Fi and other radio-frequency waves are going to realize that their symptoms really are caused by the great scalar conspiracy.

Russia To Recognize Occupation of Baltic States?

This could be a big deal.
Vyacheslav Tuchnin, the minister counselor at the Russian Embassy in Tallinn, [Estonia,] has told local ethnic Russians that “the recognition by Russia of the occupation of Estonia by the Soviet Union is inevitable” and that they should “not interfere with this process,” a Russian activist in Estonia has complained to a sympathetic Russian news agency.
Paul Goble seems to have an exclusive in the English language.

We recall the Berlin Wall as the end of the Soviet Union and the Cold War, but the way to those televisable actions was paved by quiet acknowledgement of reality by the Soviets: that the satellites should be allowed to go their own way; that applying the doctrine of class struggle to international relations really wasn't working.

In 1939, Hitler and Stalin agreed to be allies and, in a secret annex to their agreement, projected how they would divide up Eastern Europe. That agreement is known by the names of the foreign ministers who negotiated it, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Hitler broke the agreement by invading the Soviet Union in June 1941. But the Soviet Union ended World War II occupying or controlling much of the territory ceded to it by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

Even when the Soviet satellites were cast free, the Soviet Union, and later Russia, continued the fiction that the Baltic countries and others that they occupied had joined the Union voluntarily, that occupation was the wrong word.

Going back to the origins of Russia in Muscovy and Kievan Rus, there has been an obsession with what has been called more recently "the near abroad." This obsession is not entirely unjustified; with land borders, Russia has been invaded by Mongols, the French under Napoleon, and the Nazis. There have been issues with other countries as well. The outcome of this obsession has been to engulf the near abroad, to protect the existing boundaries. This, however, extends the boundaries outward and incorporated people who thought they were doing just fine under their own rulers.

For the past decade or so, the concern about the near abroad has flamed up in Russia again. During the Soviet times, ethnic Russians were encouraged to settle in the engulfed territories, and those who remained after the dissolution of the Soviet Union were encouraged to mount demonstrations for their rights. For the first few years after that dissolution, some laws in some of the former Soviet republics were discriminatory, but that discrimination has been removed, particularly in the countries that have joined the European Union.

So, in 2007, ethnic Russians in Tallinn were encouraged by the Russian government to demonstrate against the removal of a Soviet war memorial from downtown Tallinn to a cemetary outside of town.

Now an official of the Russian embassy is telling those same ethnic Russians to prepare for the Russian government's acknowledgement that Estonia was under Soviet occupation.

Victory Day, May 8 or 9 depending on who is celebrating it, commemorates the surrender of Germany in 1945. That day has been traditional for ethnic Russian demonstrations in the "near abroad."

It appears that Moscow may be moving toward a less aggressive stance toward the "near abroad." Moscow may be feeling less threatened by NATO, and the conclusion of the New START treaty may be allaying fears that the Cold War still is active in American thought. It's a positive step for a Russian official to urge reconciliation before any official statement is issued, and it's positive that they are doing this even while Georgia's president, Mikhail Saakashvili, continues his accusatory rhetoric.

Logical Color

AskPhilosophers tackles a question that's been burning a hole in my retinal geniculate receptive antagonistic sub-field.
Are there logical relations between colors? For instance, is it logically true that red and blue make purple?
See the answer here. Unfortunately, it's not nearly as exciting as the question. Some questions are better left unanswered. Some questions simply don't have black or white answers.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Spring Flowers

From the north coast of Estonia.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Business Trip From Hell

All of us who have traveled for business have stories about the times when bad weather or bad judgement intervened in our carefully-laid and often too-closely-scheduled plans.

Volcanic ash over Europe has brought that unpleasantness to a new level. Frank Munger is following the attempt of several Oak Ridge National Laboratory executives to drive from London to Madrid to catch a plane back home. Start here.

So far, they've made it to Paris.

On Bank "Bailouts"

This is for the Wall Street-suspicious left, the paranoiac and ill-informed Tea Party right, and Republican Misinformation Production Engineers. Ezra Klein, as usual, has a good, concise summary:

Here's how the liquidation fund works: A year after the bill is signed, the secretary of the Treasury begins taxing banks based on the risk they pose to the financial system. This tax must raise $50 billion and last for at least five years but no more than 10 years. So first, that's where the fund comes from: a tax on too-big-to-fail banks, which has the added bonus of giving a slight advantage to smaller banks that won't be laboring under this tax.

When it comes to saving failing banks, $50 billion isn't a lot of money. Think of the $700 billion TARP fund. Or even look at the House bill, which has a $150 billion resolution fund. But then, the $50 billion isn't there to save banks. It's there to liquidate them.

Here's the chain of events: A bank is judged failing. The FDIC submits a plan for the bank's liquidation -- which includes firing management, wiping out shareholders, handing losses to creditors, and selling off the firm -- and gets it approved by the Treasury secretary. Then the FDIC takes over the banks. The $50 billion fund is used to keep the lights on while all this happens. It's there to prevent taxpayers from having to foot the bill for the chaos that will occur between when we recognize a bank is failing and when we shut it down.

Whatever you want to call this, it isn't a bailout. It's the death of the company. And the fund is way of forcing too-big-to-fail banks to pay for the execution. But stung by Republican criticisms, the administration is telling Democrats to let the fund go. And they're not all that unhappy to see it die. "The fund isn’t a priority for the Obama administration," reported Business Week, "which instead proposed having the financial industry repay the government for the cost of disassembling a failed firm, an approach preferred by the industry."

So let's just be clear: The alternative to the liquidation fund is Wall Street's preference...

The only question... was whether you pre-fund by taxing the banks, which is what the Republican head of the FDIC wants and the bill does, or whether you post-fund by recouping taxpayer losses after the fact, which the Treasury Department and the industry prefer. That -- and not bailouts -- is the debate.


If some lambs look dishevelled this spring, it is because they are in the process of “shearing” themselves.

The Exlana breed, developed in the South West, moults naturally in spring and the wool is allowed to compost.

The project leader, Peter Baber, 54, who runs a farm in Christow, Devon, said: “The value of wool has reduced so much that it’s no longer economically viable to produce...

“It wasn’t until they were domesticated — somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000 years ago — and bred for their wool that they started needing to be shorn.

“There are breeds around the world, particularly in tropical areas, which still shed their wool naturally, so we imported the genetics to start breeding.

“Now, we have thousands of wool-shedding sheep on our farms.

“Their bodies recognise when it is spring time and they naturally begin to shed their wool.”

The new breed has proved more resistant to gut worms and need less chemical treatment.

I wonder if they've managed yet to engineer sheep that can knit Aran sweaters out of their own wool. That would really cut costs!

Frankly, this will go perfectly with my self-percolating coffee, self-watching television, self-painted paintings, and self-petting pets.

This and That

You know, a couple of days after the health care bill had been signed into law Obama ran around all over the country saying, “Hey, you know, I’m looking around. The earth hadn’t opened up. There’s no Armageddon out there. The birds are still chirping.” I think the earth has opened up. God may have replied. This volcano in Iceland.... - Rush Limbaugh
And that:
Many women who do not dress modestly ... lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes.- Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi, senior Iranian cleric

Monday, April 19, 2010

Wild Mangosteen

Business and Climate Change

Climate change skeptics/laggards in their more lucid moments sometimes suggest that the market will resolve the problem of climate change through innovation. The common assumption is that scarcity generates innovation in finding technological replacements for whatever given good has become scarce. Scarcity (or marginal disutility) and substitution can apply to a material, an activity, an institution, whatever. The market magically guides this innovation by setting price signals along the way.

This article of neoclassical faith is advanced in support of arguments for avoiding organized activity (the UNFCCC, Kyoto, etc.) to combat climate change. The market is an oracle which will in time reveal our true destiny.

This article by Clive Thompson basically makes the case that such claims in support of climate change inaction are obsolete.
...there's one area where doubt hasn't grown—and where, indeed, people are more and more certain that climate change is not only real, but imminent: the world of industry and commerce.

Companies, of course, exist to make money. That's often what makes them seem so rapacious. But their primal greed also plants them inevitably in the "reality-based community." If a firm's bottom line is going to be affected by a changing climate—say, when its supply chains dry up because of drought, or its real estate gets swamped by sea-level rise—then it doesn't particularly matter whether or not the executives want to believe in climate change. Railing at scientists for massaging tree-ring statistics won't stop the globe from warming if the globe is actually, you know, warming. The same applies in reverse, as the folks at Beluga Shipping adroitly realized: If there are serious bucks to be made from the changing climate, then the free market is almost certainly going to jump at it.

This makes capitalism a curiously bracing mechanism for cutting through ideological haze and manufactured doubt. Politicians or pundits can distort or cherry-pick climate science any way they want to try and gain temporary influence with the public. But any serious industrialist who's facing "climate exposure"—as it's now called by money managers—cannot afford to engage in that sort of self-delusion. Spend a couple of hours wandering through the websites of various industrial associations—aluminum manufacturers, real estate agents, wineries, agribusinesses, take your pick—and you'll find straightforward statements about the grim reality of climate change that wouldn't seem out of place coming from Greenpeace. Last year Wall Street analysts issued 214 reports assessing the potential risks and opportunities that will come out of a warming world. One by McKinsey & Co. argued that climate change will shake up industries with the same force that mobile phones reshaped communications.

(h/t Wes)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Profit, Loss, and Proliferation

Russia’s Plans for Jumpstarting Innovation
by Molly Cernicek and Cheryl Rofer

Andrew E. Kramer of the NY Times reports that the Russian government is building the first new scientific city since the collapse of the Soviet Union. “iGorod” – the innovation city, being developed in suburban Skolkovo outside Moscow. The city’s goal will be to incubate scientific ideas into profitable companies. The plan attempts to build technology ventures around universities within the Soviet model of scientific cities. Russia’s Silicon Valley? More than a bit premature, but definitely an important experiment for a country that has let its competency in science and engineering decay for over two decades as it focused heavily on natural resource production.

Soviet scientists designed and built nuclear weapons, supersonic jets, and sophisticated satellites. Their scientific publications and textbooks were renowned globally, especially in theoretical physics and mathematics. Today, Russian scientists continue to lead their fields and win prestigious medals, awards and funding. Unfortunately for Russia, most of them live and work outside of Russia.

Russia’s technical force suffered significant brain drain in the 1990s – not to rogue nations as many feared, but to the West for well-paying jobs. The UNESCO Science Report 2005 estimates that between 1990 and 2002 Russian research and other academic activities lost 1,072,500 technical employees, or by 55.2 percent.

A 2008 Russian Academy of Sciences report (pdf) supports UN estimates and adds more troubling data:
* Research expenditures have fallen 5 times over 18 years nearing the investment level of developing countries;
* The average age of those working at Russian enterprises is over 50;
* 50-74% of capital assets have been in operation past 20 years, far more than the average expected lifetime of 9 years for most equipment;
* High tech development has fallen back 10-20 years depending on the field, although there are some areas where Russia has maintained competencies (nuclear engineering, rocket and space industry, and aircraft)
* Russia controls 0.2 - 0.3% of the global market bringing in $6-$9B total in yearly revenues.

During Vladimir Putin’s presidency, it was assumed that rapid privatization of industry would lead to industrial funding of R&D in Russian universities to make up for their severe budget cuts. Instead, foreign companies rushed in to sell their products, many in sectors the Russians might have grown themselves, such as pharmaceuticals, aviation products and automobiles.

President Dmitry Medvedev’s strategy “Innovation, Investment, Education, and Modernization” is intended to consolidate the high school system, develop specialized high schools, create vocational schools, increase funding and scholarships to universities, recruit more foreign students, lure back Russian scientists who have emigrated, and educate thousands of new professors and students. The high oil prices of 2008 allowed these plans to be started. The collapse of oil prices has slowed their progress.

The challenges are immense:

Entrepreneurialism. The most innovative entrepreneurs operate well outside the law or outside the country. Successful oligarchs have money, but are unlikely to have experience building a business from scratch. The Soviet culture squashed any entrepreneurial activity. The post-Soviet culture is far from accepting entrepreneurs.
Education. The average age of a professor in Russia is now approximately 60 years. (UNESCO). Many of the scientists who left Russia in the 1990s were between twenty and forty years old. The professors’ technical degrees and experience in their fields are decades old.
Research and Development. Russian research has stagnated for the past two decades. The institutes are full of scientists waiting for their pensions.
Managers. Technologists who emigrated had the intra-preneurial skills necessary to envision, sell and manage projects - skills desperately needed within the country’s fledging high tech private sector.
Industry-University Collaboration. The Soviet university system’s close connection with the institutes and laboratories was severed when financial support was reduced in the 1990s. Opportunities were curtailed for students’ field experience and internships that usually led to a career. The connections between the university system and military-industrial complex had substituted for a private-sector role in scientific progress and innovation. There are no obvious career paths for many technical graduates.
Corruption. Transparency International’s 2008 Corruption Perception Index lists Russia at 147 out of 180 nations, tied with Bangladesh, Kenya and Syria. The Russian government has reported that corrupt officials pocket approximately $120 billion or one-third of the government’s annual budget. Many Russians believe it is closer to two-thirds. High-tech startups find that they are levied random and high “taxes,” charged more than others for general products and services, and may anger someone in upper-management in a competing scientific institute with strong connections to government officials.
Qualified Employees. Companies struggle to find employees with modern educations in technology fields and who can excel in a corporate environment. More jobs exist than bodies to fill them, given Russia’s declining population.
Labor Mobility. Renting is not a big business as people prefer to sell an apartment before they buy a new one. Multigenerational families still live together. Companies first look for qualified workers in their location. If a company must look further away for qualified employees, the issues of commuting and living nearby can keep a qualified prospective employee out of consideration.
Business rental space. Almost impossible to find. Expensive to rent. More expensive to heat.
Customs. It is very difficult and expensive to import machinery and components necessary for production. Selling a Russian-made product outside Russia’s borders is even more challenging.

The biggest challenge to President Medvedev is time. By the time a project like iGorod is finished, the rest of the world could have developed two or three new generations of global technology breakthroughs in the city’s technology fields (which revolve around solar energy at the moment). Russia needs to develop and implement plans with much shorter time-spans if it has any chance of gaining domestic, let alone global high tech market share. There is still an expectation that the biggest projects involved with the biggest institutions will bear the most fruit.

It would be interesting to see what would happen if the government took a tiny percent of what it will cost to build iGorod and held a contest that brought out entrepreneurs (Russian and non-Russian) residing in Russia to show their technology developments and then fund good ideas at $50K each for 6 months. After 6 months, fund as many of the successful businesses as possible to keep them developing their technologies inside Russia for the next two years. Repeat and expand the contest every year.

Without an environment friendly to and supportive of entrepreneurs, no innovation city will succeed. The government should take advantage of those already working inside Russia on innovative research and ideas. Many independent scientists and engineers are working hidden in nooks and crannies, building products and finding customers in and outside of Russia. These are the people who already have real results and customers. They should be sought out for their expertise in technology development and strategy within Russia and encouraged to expand their businesses and markets.

Brown Mouse Birds Eat Guava

Lots more here.

Just Wondering

The shutdown of air travel in Europe is nearly complete. And it's not clear how long it will continue; the Eyjafjallajökull volcano has been known to continue its eruptions for months.

The unlucky travelers and would-be vacationers will sort their plans out and the immediate difficulties will pass. But the winds in the northern hemisphere are predominantly westerly, and although the path of the ash may waver north and south a bit, travel to Europe could be affected for some time.

I'm wondering if this is the event that brings home the value of electronic conferencing instead of travel. Volcanoes have affected history before.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Iceland's Volcano

Photo: Fior Kjartansson/AFP/Getty Images
Great photographs of the Iceland volcano at the Big Picture.

Torturous Rabbit Holes

"The Black Hole" is an apt name. Like Alice's rabbit hole. Another black site within a prison. This one is inside the prison at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan. The BBC reports,
Afghan prisoners are being abused in a "secret jail" at Bagram airbase, according to nine witnesses whose stories the BBC has documented.

The abuses are all said to have taken place since US President Barack Obama was elected, promising to end torture.

Sleep deprivation, stress positions, beatings, temperature extremes, and...
In the new jail, prisoners were being moved around in wheelchairs with goggles and headphones on.

The goggles were blacked out, and the purpose of the headphones was to block out all sound. Each prisoner was handcuffed and had their legs shackled.
Extreme sensory deprivation of the sort that drove José Padilla insane.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration is shredding its human rights promises. I'm an Obama-bot on most other things, but this has to stop now.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Bits and Pieces - April 15, 2010

Cue the wailing: Iran has 5 kilos of 20% enriched uranium. I'm wondering if Iran still plans its nuclear summit meeting. It's going to look pretty weak after this week's Nuclear Security Summit. Although I suppose the media can make three guys meeting in a small room like an equivalent.

Russia has shut down its last plutonium production reactor. This is a big deal, because many of the Russian production reactors also produced electricity and hot water for their communities. So in order to shut down the reactors, new power plants had to be built.

Update: Video of the reactor shutdown (in Russian). (h/t IntelSecurity)

Crooked Timber continues the argument with libertarians.

Some great photos out there of the volcano in Iceland. Try here, here, and here.

Update: UK Met Office satellite photos of the ash cloud.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Bits and Pieces - April 14, 2010

Aaaaahhhh! Jeffrey Lewis works through the missile defense implications of New START so I don't have to. Many thanks to Jeff! I will add that Linton Brooks, chief negotiator of the first START treaty, said last night in Los Alamos that we're not planning to change any missile launchers to missile defense, so Jeff's third point is of no concern.

Every graph you could possibly want on climate change.

The world seems to divide into cilantro lovers and haters,
particularly if we take the word of the commenters at Balloon Juice.

The Nuclear Security Summit

Some of the news coverage anticipating this week’s Nuclear Security Summit was confused (WaPo, NYT) about the purpose of this meeting. It’s becoming clear that Barack Obama had many goals for this meeting.

The stated purpose is securing fissionable material. That sounds pretty boring, but David Hoffman gives us one example of why it’s important. The New York Times editorialized a nice list of things that might get done, also pretty boring.

But the news coming out of the summit is not boring. Shoutout to South Africa for giving up its nukes all by itself! And lookee here! Ukraine will give up its stockpile of enriched uranium! Canada too! Georgia has broken a uranium-smuggling ring! Here’s a list of goodies that were offered up, with more here. Let’s hear it from some European high-level politicos! China is getting a lot of attention, too, partly to secure its cooperation on Iran sanctions. Iran and North Korea weren’t invited.

More quietly, there were the side meetings in which all sorts of things were discussed and politicked over, one of which will be next month’s Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference.

It looks like this is one more part of Barack Obama’s long view.

Getting world stocks of fissionable materials under control is a good thing, and this conference looks like it has moved us closer to that goal. Opportunities in this area, despite nice words from Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush, have been squandered since 1991. Barack Obama is serious about this in ways the previous two presidents never were.

But that’s not the only thing that is going on at this conference. As the numbers of nuclear weapons go down, the accounting has to get sharper. Warheads have to be counted, rather than delivery vehicles. All plutonium and uranium will have to be declared and tracked. The agreements from this conference will move a few small steps closer to that goal, bringing it closer to normalization in the minds of the attendees, and eventually their military and bureaucracy, along with the general public.

Additionally, other nations that have nuclear weapons besides the United States and Russia have to be brought into the process. So do nations that don’t have nuclear weapons but do have large stocks of fissionable material, like Japan. And other nations that don’t have that fissionable material but need to watch out for smuggling.

So we have the largest gathering of heads of state since the beginning of the United Nations to tell everyone they’ve got a role and to get them bought into that role.

I share the Armchair Generalist’s skepticism about the degree of hazard in nuclear terrorism. That was the focus of this meeting, and it’s today's biggest nuclear danger as defined by the Nuclear Posture Review. But I would ask J. and others to consider that for this week’s meeting, the hyping was done in order to get people’s attention for the boring things that need to be done. I’m not sure it would have worked if he and I had written the hazard assessment.

There’s a parallel to the development of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The International Atomic Energy Agency was formed in the 1950s, before the NPT, with duties of safeguarding nuclear activities. The Agency then came to serve the NPT. And not everyone signed the NPT at first; it came into force in 1970 with only 43 signatories after almost ten years of drafts and conferences. Hmmm...47 attending the Nuclear Security Summit. There’s nothing magic about those approximately-40 numbers; just that they're enough to get things going. And early in the summit, Obama declared that there will be a followon meeting in two years, to be held in South Korea. That keeps the pressure on countries to deliver and underlines the importance of the effort.

One reason why nations make and hold nuclear weapons is prestige. Britain and France, stung by World War II, showed the world that they still were powerful by building nuclear arsenals. Pakistan is proud of its “Islamic bomb.” There has grown up a sense that to be taken seriously, a country must have nuclear weapons. This sense was powerfully reinforced by Bush’s “Axis of Evil” and the attack on Iraq.

And the Nuclear Security Summit is turning that around. Let’s celebrate NOT having nuclear weapons! Yay South Africa! Congratulations Ukraine! High-five Georgia! It’s hard to make news with good news. But these countries deserve praise for their actions, and they’re getting their fifteen minutes of fame.

There will always be an element of prestige in having nuclear weapons, of course, and there are other reasons for having them as well. But attaching prestige to actions toward a safer and more peaceful world is a useful counterweight.

Steven Walt makes the point that all this took serious staff work before the conference. That’s a big change from the previous president’s practices, and a welcome one. Joe Klein repeats a point that many of us kept making throughout that eight years, that diplomacy consists of a series of small steps, which, I will add, come about because of that hard work in the background. The national leaders at the summit are bound to notice this careful diplomacy.

Glacial Collapse

This glacier collapse in Peru didn't seem to make the news in the US or elsewhere.
A huge glacier broke off and plunged into a lake in Peru, causing a 75-foot (23-meter) tsunami wave that swept away at least three people and destroyed a water processing plant serving 60,000 local residents, government officials said on Monday.

The ice block tumbled into a lake in the Andes on Sunday near the town of Carhuaz, some 200 miles north of the capital, Lima. Three people were feared buried in debris.

Investigators said the chunk of ice from the Hualcan glacier measured 1,640 feet by 656 feet.

Unshackle the Conservatives!

Michael Bérubé does the funny at Crooked Timber, riffing on Megan McArdle's exquisite comparison of oppressed conservatives trying to get jobs in liberal academia to "negro bank managers" trying to get, well, "negro bank manager" jobs in the 1950s.
If McArdle knew her pre-Civil Rights Era history better, perhaps, she would remember that conservatives in the armed forces were not allowed to fight alongside their moderate and liberal fellows until 1948, when President Truman issued his famous antidiscrimination order and provoked the “Dixiecrat” backlash dedicated to preserving the second-class status of conservative-Americans. Even as late as 1964, in Holly Bluff, Mississippi, school officials spent $190 for every liberal or moderate student and $1.26 for every conservative. And let’s not even get into the murders of the civil rights workers who fought for the right of American conservatives to vote—or the fact that if we go back a few generations, we will confront a dark period in US history in which conservatives were forbidden to own property. It is easy enough, today, to decry the separate schools, bathrooms, drinking fountains, hotels, recreational facilities, and railroad cars to which American conservatives were consigned. But it’s harder to realize that systemic, legal discrimination of this kind has had intergenerational effects that continue to render conservatives marginal to the cultural elite on campus and in Hollywood.
I can't wait for the conservative analog of early 1970s black power soul music!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

More Evidence That The Cold War Is Over

The Polish government seems to be making a smooth transition in dealing with all the open posts left by Saturday's terrible plane crash.

And the Poles and Russians are working together to deal with the crash's aftermath.

Evolutionary argument uncovered in Genesis

Genesis says we descend from creatures who did not wear clothes. What is it to suppose such a thing, if not to infer phylogeny from ontogeny? "We are born naked, therefore our ancestors lived naked." Compare to the systematist, who reasons "Our fetuses are born amphibian, therefore our ancestors lived in the sea." Whoever thought up the naked-in-Eden idea, they were no dummies.


A Conservative Judge

Good point. Michael Kinsley (via Sullivan):
Since they don't control Congress or the White House, conservatives are avoiding the term "conservative" as they gird for battle over a replacement for Justice Stevens. Instead they say "mainstream" or "centrist." But this resolves none of the contradictions in their general position on Supreme Court nominees. Do they want someone who respects precedent, or someone who will vote to overturn Roe v. Wade? Do they want an "originalist," or do they want to poison President Obama's health care victory? Do they really believe in "judicial restraint," or do they want "activism" in their own favor?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Bits and Pieces - April 12, 2010

James Carroll:
We may dislike the tax bite, but we loathe the destruction of civic pillars and the deliberate unraveling of safety nets. Citizens long for leaders who will remind us that what we do this week has nobility in it.
The Republicans are like frat boys in Animal House.

The Guardian is following the Caitlin Arctic Survey, which is investigating the extent of ice loss.

Crooked Timber has several posts up on the internal contradictions of libertarianism. Good comments, too.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Nuclear Scorecard

So far we've had the New START Treaty completed by the negotiators and signed by the presidents of the United States and Russia. It lowers the numbers of nuclear weapons and lists the ways each side can track the other's. To come: ratification by the US Senate and Russian Duma. Treaty, Protocol, and videos of the signing here. The treaty is in three parts: the treaty itself, a protocol (how it is to be implemented) and annexes that give all the implementation details. State Department fact sheets here.

Then there was the Nuclear Posture Review from the United States, its statement of policy on use and maintenance of its nuclear arsenal. No first use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states in compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. No new nuclear weapons to be designed and built in the United States. And other things I hope to write about.

This week: The Nuclear Security Summit in Washington (WaPo, Guardian). The focus will be on world's unsecured stocks of weapons-grade nuclear materials. That means, for most countries, research reactors that use highly enriched uranium as their fuel. Many have already been converted to low-enriched uranium fuel. I am wondering if they also will address the plutonium that has been recovered from civilian reactors. A number of countries, including France and Japan, have large stocks, and more exists in the spent fuel stored in the United States. Forty-six countries will attend. There will be some emphasis on how to proceed with international understandings and treaties. More here (pdf).

Coming in May: The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference. A conference on progress and problems with the NPT is held every five years. In 1995, the signatories to the NPT agreed to continue the treaty in perpetuity. But there have been problems: non-nuclear-weapon states feel that the nuclear weapon states haven't been doing enough to fulfill their promise to move toward nuclear disarmament. Three nuclear weapon states (India, Israel, and Pakistan) remain outside the treaty and therefore outside the safeguards it provides. North Korea has withdrawn from the treaty and tested a nuclear device. Iran is barely complying with its obligations as a non-nuclear-weapon state. What to do about states that don't comply or withdraw?

All of these events overlap and interact. The New START Treaty decreases the numbers of nuclear weapons, which the two countries party to it will argue is part of their commitment to nuclear disarmament. The NPR's qualified "no first use" policy is a way to provide a disincentive to proliferating nuclear weapons among states that have signed the NPT as non-nuclear-weapon states. The additional treaties and agreements that may come out of the Nuclear Security Summit will bolster the International Atomic Energy Agency's ability to police the provisions of the NPT.

Update: The New York Times has a nice wish list for the Nuclear Security Summit.

Crossposted at Obsidian Wings and American Footprints.


From here.

Maureen Dowd on the Catholic Church's Problems

I'm usually not much of a fan of Maureen Dowd's snark. She's put the snark away in recent columns to address the Catholic Church's pedophilia problems and seems to me to be making some good arguments, like here:
Negating women is at the heart of the church’s hideous — and criminal — indifference to the welfare of boys and girls in its priests’ care. Lisa Miller writes in Newsweek’s cover story about the danger of continuing to marginalize women in a disgraced church that has Mary at the center of its founding story:

“In the Roman Catholic corporation, the senior executives live and work, as they have for a thousand years, eschewing not just marriage, but intimacy with women ... not to mention any chance to familiarize themselves with the earthy, primal messiness of families and children.” No wonder that, having closed themselves off from women and everything maternal, they treated children as collateral damage, a necessary sacrifice to save face for Mother Church.
She's had a few columns on this subject already, and I wouldn't be surprised to see more.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Alex Chilton's Insurance

A few weeks ago I posted on the passing of dear Alex Chilton. Turns out our idiotic public health policies helped kill him.

At least twice in the week before his fatal heart attack, Chilton experienced shortness of breath and chills while cutting grass. But he did not seek medical attention, Kersting said, in part because he had no health insurance.

On the morning of March 17, she went to work. Chilton called her after suffering another episode; she arrived home before the ambulance, and drove him to the hospital. He lost consciousness a block from the emergency room, after urging Kersting to run the red light.

That week, the health care debate dominated Washington D.C. But Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) took time to memorialize Chilton from the floor of Congress. Chilton, an avid C-SPAN viewer, likely would have appreciated the moment.

I know so many stories of people close to me, acquaintances, and strangers whose quality of life and often very existence end up determined by lack of decent health care. Even if it were correct that health care reform is "socialist," which it's not as anyone who understands the term knows, it would still be unconscionable that a decent society would allow this endless stream of really existing cases of damaged lives in the name of some knee-jerk rallying slogan.

Another Katyn Tragedy

The President of Poland, Lech Kaczynski, and other high government officials have died in a plane crash in Smolensk, Russia, on the way to a commemoration of the Katyn massacre (NYT, WaPo, LA Times, Guardian).

The parallel is horrifying. During World War II, more than twenty thousand Polish military officers were murdered at Katyn, by Russians, in order to destroy possible post-war Polish leaders and ensure Soviet dominance in Poland after the war. Now much of the Polish government has been destroyed in a plane crash.

Although the Russian government has not quite apologized for the massacre, Vladimir Putin was planning to join the Polish president at a commemoration of the event in a gesture of reconciliation. Putin has assumed charge of the investigation into the crash.

The Polish Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, was not on the plane and is the head of government, so this should not provoke a governmental crisis.

There will be rumors and suspicions in Poland, since the crash took place in Russia. One may argue that with symbolism of this kind, the Russians would be crazy to do such a thing, but many in Poland find the Russians capable of any evil you can imagine and more.

Update: James Fallows gives a plausible scenario for how the accident may have happened. It probably wasn't the plane.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Bits and Pieces - More Nuclear Stuff

And this will continue for at least the next week, with a small hiatus before the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference in May.

An analysis from Britain's Royal United Services Institute reminds me that I should have added in the international nature of the NPR as one of its positives.

Good overview of the NPR by Joshua Pollack.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in The Guardian.

Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of the Security Council of Russia, on New START.

I hope Anatoly Dobrynin knew about the nuclear progress before he died.

U.S., Russia reach deal on disposing of plutonium from nuclear weapons. Very likely this was a collateral success alongside the New START negotiations. Not being able to agree on this is one of the dumb things that was exacerbated by George Bush's bellicosity.

Republicans who like New START:
Stephen Hadley, who was George W. Bush's National Security Advisor.

Peter D. Feaver, who was on the National Security Council staff under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

Profit, Loss, and Proliferation

Innovation at the National Laboratories

by Cheryl Rofer and Molly Cernicek

It seems bizarre to many people that the development and maintenance of nuclear weapons is the business of the Department of Energy. There’s a long history behind that which will be far too long for a blog post, so we hope to cram only the most relevant history into this one.

It may also seem bizarre that we claimed in our last post in this series that innovation is badly damaged at the national laboratories and that the Nuclear Posture Review devotes most of a section to improving and encouraging the weapons laboratories. Haven’t they been getting lots of money all along, even more from Obama? Haven’t the weapons scientists been treated as royalty?

The amount of money allocated is not necessarily an indicator, and, CKR having been at a national laboratory for her entire career, she can say that the entire trend over that time was downhill in being able to do research and how the scientists were treated. The weapons scientists fared somewhat better than those of us outside those protected precincts, but they don’t feel like royalty.

So what happened from the innovation of the Manhattan Project, which is where all the DOE national laboratories began, to today?

Vannevar Bush helped to organize the science and engineering that were developed during World War II. That includes The Radiation Laboratory at MIT, which developed radar, as well as nuclear weapons. He saw that well-organized groups of scientists and engineers, working with others across disciplines toward well-defined goals, could accomplish what was needed. He wrote a report on what he had learned from wartime efforts for President Truman in July 1945, “Science, The Endless Frontier.” The section headings alone are instructive. The interdisciplinary approach became the basis of the national laboratories, as well as of industrial research laboratories like the fabled Bell Labs.

The research laboratories developed across a broad spectrum after the war. During the war, research on the effects of radiation on living organisms, the chemistry and physics of the new elements and some old ones, properties of materials, and other basic science advances were necessary to build the reactors, bombs, and radar. The national laboratories added other topics like developing nuclear energy for civilian purposes, and eventually other energy sources, genetics, and large accelerators were added to the mix, along with a wide variety of scientific topics. The industrial laboratories similarly combined a broad basis of research with a focus on their objectives, resulting in both the transistor and discovery of the universe’s microwave background for Bell Labs.

Changes in the tax code undercut the ability of industry to fund the kind of research done at Bell Labs and at the same time encouraged the focus on quarterly profits we see today.

Much of the work at the national laboratories was done in large projects. Uranium resources across the United States were scouted by geologists and geochemists in the National Uranium Resource Evaluation Program. A small reactor to propel space vehicles outside the Earth’s atmosphere was developed in the Rover Program. The Hot Dry Rock Program developed ways to extract energy from geothermal sources that weren’t making steam on their own. The Jumper Program developed laser isotope separation. And there were many others.

But most of those big programs are gone now. The predominant model at the national laboratories is the principal investigator, with perhaps one or two other scientists, a couple of technicians, and maybe a postdoc or two. Just like it is in the universities. And, just as in the universities, much scientific time goes into writing proposals and submitting them to the appropriate agencies. But, less like universities (although the universities are moving in this direction), the principal investigator also must account for how funds are spent and how people in the group spend their time. Fair enough, it would seem, but the funds are actually controlled at a higher level, and the people working on their project often split their time on other projects. So funds may be transferred among projects without the principal investigator’s knowledge. The computer programs used to track time and funding frequently are difficult to use.

Scientific research gets done in the time left over from those pursuits.

Under the larger programs, scientists had roles like principal investigators, but they had fewer proposing and accounting responsibilities. It was the overall project that was accountable to the laboratory’s management, Department of Energy, and, ultimately, Congress.

The decay was gradual, and a full history has yet to be written. Some factors that contributed (as CKR observed them) seem to have been pressure on the Department of Energy from industry not to do research that “competed” with them, a shift in research ethos from valuing research that contributed to specific goals to valuing individual research that started in the universities and spread to the national laboratories, and poor actions on the part of the laboratories’ management. Industry began to complain, as privatization became more of a priority in the 1980s, that research in the national laboratories was competing with their fields at the same time that they were decreasing their investment in research. Programs were ended and never picked up by industry. The shift in research ethos probably was inevitable as people who had not experienced the efforts of the war came into management. And the poor actions included an inability on the part of managers to develop large programs while discouraging scientists who had innovations that could be developed into large programs.

The theory at the national laboratories once was that those doing non-weapons research could be called upon to work on weapons if the situation demanded. That was the bargain that CKR signed on for in 1965, the height of the Cold War. And there was a flow of ideas between the two kinds of work. Laser isotope separation would provide uranium for weapons or civilian reactors. Geology served both hot dry rock and containment of underground nuclear tests. Genetics investigated the damage radiation caused.

The two kinds of research are almost completely separate now at the national laboratories. And that does not bode well for increasing innovation nor for recruiting future nuclear weapons stewards.

Update: Frank Munger shows us that the cycle never ends. At Oak Ridge, as I noted above for Los Alamos, employees once moved around among the various functions. Also, as at Los Alamos, this became less and less the case. And now things may be going back to where they once were.


From here.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

A Mideast Peace Plan?

Daniel Levy has an outstanding analysis of the possibility that the Obama administration is getting ready to present a peace plan for the Middle East.

I think we are beginning to see an Obama strategy emerge, and Levy outlines how it is working in this case. I would generalize it to:

1. Present a goal or direction without a lot of detail.

2. Watch and listen while others develop their own ways to the goal, their opposition, or flounder. This tells you a lot about what you need to do. Avoiding detail in step 1 limits the kinds of attacks the opposition can mount and gives you flexibility in responding.

3. If a coherent plan that is generally in step with your goal emerges, back and encourage it. If no plan emerges, do some nudging to encourage more action or more agreement. If what emerges is mostly opposition, let them overplay their hand or make fools of themselves in other ways; some nudges may help them toward your goal in spite of themselves.

4. Bring things together in the shape of a solution. By now, support has coalesced and the opposition has worn itself out.

5. Get to the goal.

This is essentially what I've been calling the community organizer strategy. It's how the health care bill developed, how New START is going, and, if Levy is right, how a peace plan might develop for the Middle East.

Stay tuned.

The Nuclear Posture Review: The Long View

There are a number of ways to look at the NPR, and I hope to hit several of them in several posts. But I think that the most important aspects of this NPR are broad and long-term.

The first NPR was in 1993; the idea of such a review came from the demise of the Soviet Union, the loss of that strategic rivalry, and the much-reduced probability of general nuclear war. This is the third NPR, and the first to begin to reorient away from the Cold War.

The mood in 1993 was naively festive; there was an expectation that all that Cold War hostility would just melt away. The US and Russia have many reasons to be wary of each other, so that early mood would have dissolved in any case. But George Bush and the neocons he put in positions of power went much further.

The Bush administration took a generally belligerent stance, along with an unwillingness to discuss nuclear strategy beyond wanting new nuclear weapons, combined with its embrace of preventive war and the apparent neocon desire for a renewed rivalry with Russia. For these and other reasons, relations between the United States and Russia deteriorated. Even so, the Russians continued to press for arms control negotiations, particularly toward replacement of the START I agreement that lapsed last December, and the Bush administration blew them off. Other negotiations, for example, in the Conference on Disarmament, got short shrift from the United States, as did the 2005 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review conference.

Barack Obama came to the presidency with the intention of moving toward no nuclear weapons, but first he had to tone down both the rhetoric and fears between the two nations. The simple fact of being willing to negotiate a new START agreement began that process. Achieving an agreement that reduces numbers of warheads and delivery vehicles and keeps improved verification procedures in place was the next step, confirmed in Prague by the two presidents today.

The NPR is another step along the way. A number of specifics, like the qualified no-first-use pledge and the statement that there will be no new weapons designed, move away from the saber-rattling of the Bush years and reverse the destabilizing ambiguity that President Bush favored. That’s significant; the direction has been turned 180 degrees.

Jeffrey Lewis sees this as a pivot point where nuclear policy begins to catch up with the reality of the end of the Soviet Union and that today’s dangers are nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism. He sees this pivot point as extending across the many current nuclear happenings: New START, the NPR, and the upcoming nuclear summit and NPT Review Conference.

Ward Wilson sees the NPR as what President Obama wanted, and that what he wanted was a consensus. That’s important, and it leads into what I see as some of the important things about this NPR.

The entire document is unclassified and on the Web. There will be no smirking of “all options are on the table.” The options are there and readable by everyone. If the administration strays too far from what it has said, we can point that out. It means that within the bureaucracy there will be no excuses that they had the wrong classified annex when they made that decision or that they couldn’t find page 273 of their copy. It is a message that this administration thinks that accountability is important and intends to stand by its words.

The rollout on Tuesday was explicitly interagency, with the Secretaries of Defense, State, and Energy and their question-answering representatives all there. The interagency nature of the document was emphasized, too, with listing of the task forces and committees that contributed. That’s an important message, too: the whole administration is on board with this. No secret meetings in the basement of the Pentagon, no cabals at the National Laboratories. Well, some of the latter might show up after a while, but they will have been marginalized by this interagency solidarity.

The administration, as is becoming customary, held a phone conference for bloggers with some high-up officials. They are happy to talk to everyone.

And a prosaic, but I think important, point. he words “work plan” were repeated at the rollout and in the phone conference. I’ve both used and resisted project management. It has its place and its appropriate level of application, and the developers of the NPR have applied it well. I have to admit to having read only the Executive Summary and skimmed the rest at this point, but the Executive Summary is a gem of project management. All the issues are neatly broken down (as neatly as anything like this can be), and the bullet points are clear and relevant, linked to actions.

So the overall message is that we are working toward a nuclear-free world with the Russians, arms control and more is back on the table, and we’re doing it in a serious way that will direct actions.

Crossposted at Obsidian Wings and American Footprints.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Bits and Pieces - April 7, 2010

Mostly stuff on the NPR, but let's start with these:

Ensnared by Error on Growing U.S. Watch List. The degree of secrecy being applied by the government to these lists is just silly, as evidenced by what the Times has been able to infer. Plus the damage it is doing to constitutional protections.

Kudos to The Globe and Mail for their continuing series on Haiti. This is something that needs to stay in our consciousness until Haiti becomes a functioning country again.

The government has fallen in Kyrgyzstan. Some background here and here.

And now the NPR stuff. I hope to incorporate some of this in a post that I will closet myself to write after I post this.

First reaction to the Nuclear Posture Review by Ward Wilson.

First reaction from Jeffrey Lewis. These two posts take a broad view. That's what I intend to do next, with a few other points.

First reaction from Josh Pollock.

A first reaction from Europe.

If you want one overview, Fred Kaplan's is pretty good.

Obama’s Nuclear Strategy Intended as a Message. David E. Sanger and Thom Shanker try to fit the NPR into the Times's message about attacking Iran.

Nothing surprising from Joe Biden, but you might like to see what he has to say. He's been very involved with these matters over the years, so he has to be pleased.

Sergei Lavrov, mostly on New START.


Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The Next Treaties

The Department of Defense made Bradley H. Roberts, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear and Missile Defense and Admiral John E. Roberti, Deputy Director for Strategy and Policy, J-5, The Joint Staff, available to bloggers on a phone conference this afternoon.

My question was on the next issues to be pursued in treaty negotiations now that New START has been agreed. With no hesitation, the answer was that bilateral talks will continue with the Russians, and the topics will include continuing to reduce the deployed strategic warhead numbers, as well as nonstrategic weapons (also referred to as tactical) and nondeployed warheads. They added that this will require advances in verification. Russia will want ballistic missile defense addressed.

I discussed some of those issues associated with verification of individual warheads, which is what will be required for nonstrategic and nondeployed warheads. This is going to be a big deal, and it's encouraging that there is willingness to address it sooner rather than later.

Another small note on something that has bothered me: There has been talk of replacing nuclear warheads with conventional explosive warheads so that we are not confined to a nuclear response. That had included installing conventional payloads on nuclear-style missiles. The danger there, of course, was that a country seeing what they thought was a nuclear missile incoming would not do a lot of phonecalling to find out exactly what it was carrying and would respond in a nuclear way. We were told that that particular idea is being reconsidered. That's good news. It also sounded like much of this plan is still under development.

President Obama's statement on the release of the NPR.

Update: Podcast is here. Via Armchair Generalist.

And Now a Nuclear Posture Review As Well!

Text of the NPR here.

There is lots of anticipatory commentary (WaPo, NYT, State Department, Guardian), and there will be more to come, including from me.

Just a few things initially. Tone and approach are important. President Obama let his cabinet members introduce the review, and they were all working together and brought along their subordinates to answer questions. It clearly was a team effort.

This is the first NPR to be fully unclassified. That is a signal that we're not keeping secret reservations, unknown priorities, all that mysterious stuff that George Bush and his cabinet liked to tease us with and terrify the rest of the world.

A couple of specifics: Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that $5 billion will be transferred from his department over the next several years to modernize the nuclear weapons facilities of the Department of Energy. Gates deserves plaudits for continuing to argue that money should be reallocated from the Department of Defense to other departments. Defense has grown too big and is sucking up too much responsibility from the civilian side of the house.

Whether there would be a "no first use" declaration has spilled much ink and pixels. The statement that there would be no first use of nuclear weapons against states complying with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty takes a middle way. I tend to agree with Steven Walt that everyone knows that a statement like this would quickly be jettisoned if that seemed necessary in defense of the country. But saying this is better than repeating "all options are on the table." Again, it's a difference in tone and approach.

My own reaction to both the New START Treaty and the NPR is a pleased relief. We've got things going in a much better direction than they were.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Profit, Loss, and Proliferation

Reducing Nuclear Weapons, Jobs, and Innovation

by Cheryl Rofer and Molly Cernicek

How good can you feel about cuts in the nuclear arsenal if your paycheck depends on nuclear weapons and their delivery vehicles? Not very, say the residents of Judith Gap, Montana.
Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming business leaders over the past year have lobbied their congressional delegations, all the while avoiding arguments about whose base is more important, said Dale Steenbergen, president and CEO of the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce.

Instead, they are trying to persuade Congress to keep the ICBM silos at full strength, arguing that they are relatively cheap to maintain and are more secure compared to bombers and submarines that also carry nuclear weapons.
It’s the military who operate those ICBM silos, but it’s private industry who operate the nuclear weapons design and production complex. They are under contract to the Department of Energy, to be sure, but the corporations are the same ones who make a bundle on contracts to the Department of Defense. Batelle, Bechtel, The Washington Group, Lockheed, CH2M Hill, Fluor Daniel, SAIC, Jacobs Engineering, Westinghouse, Kaiser-Hill, BWXT, and Honeywell are some of the more well-known with a fig leaf of universities mixed in.

Those Department of Energy sites are located in several states, including California, Washington, Idaho, New Mexico, Iowa, South Carolina, Tennessee, Nevada, Texas, and Missouri. There are numerous representatives and senators who will be contacted by lobbyists and citizens reminding them that nuclear weapons mean jobs as the New START treaty and other nuclear agreements come up for ratification. And, particularly in today’s difficult economy, that’s a real dilemma for some of our legislators. And yes, representatives may have a hand in the New Start treaty.

The companies that run the nuclear weapons complex are under contract to the Department of Energy and have a number of restrictions placed upon them. Bell Labs ran Sandia National Laboratories for many years, and its management wasn’t a lot different from the University of California’s at Los Alamos and Livermore. For that matter, DuPont ran a number of the production sites for the government during and after the Manhattan Project. Their contract specified a payment of one dollar a year for their services. But those were different times.

Since the 1980s, profit-making has been celebrated, and the argument has been made that profit-making companies will be more efficient than the government. And, as we’ve seen in the Department of Defense contracting, the companies are happy to oblige in the matter of their profit. As time goes on, more questions are raised about efficiency and effectiveness.

Profit-making companies prior to the 1980s saw their work for the government as a public service not just for the sake of the red, white and blue, but because they saw an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the country’s innovation, improving their research and product development. The models for this government contracting were focused on pushing the limits in nuclear physics, chemistry, materials, and engineering without being encumbered by stakeholder expectations of profit as the driver of technology development.

Most recently, the management of the weapons design laboratories (Los Alamos and Livermore) has been shifted from the University of California to private corporations. An unfortunate side-effect of that privatization is its impact on innovation coming from the labs. Very few big corporations in this country create new technologies and product that create new billion dollar markets and fundamentally change the way we live. Apple, Microsoft and Google are unusual in this respect, and their greatest innovations took place as they were growing.

Defense contractors in general are not innovation drivers. They provide services and build products based on technologies developed outside their organizations. Universities and companies that spin-off from universities are fertile ground for new technologies that have huge impacts on the country’s innovation.

A culture that supported cutting-edge research in the national laboratories was set by Bell Labs under AT&T, the University of California, University of Chicago, Princeton, and many other universities. What made these university-government relations so successful in the areas of scientific and engineering breakthroughs was the open thinking of the university interacting with large projects, some of which supported big facilities for advanced scientific experiments. There was far more to the national laboratories than nuclear weapons development and maintenance.

What does this all have to do with ICBM silos in Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming? In its effort to reduce costs and improve safety, security, and efficiency by bringing in defense contractors, the US government may have moved the incentives for the nuclear weapons complex from innovation to a service-based business model. That puts the contractors in the same position as the ICBM workers: reducing reliance on nuclear weapons means reducing their profits and challenging them to meet new objectives. There is no incentive to move to other forms of work as that demands further investments into higher-risk endeavors. When the University of California managed Los Alamos, Livermore and Lawrence Berkeley, it redirected nearly half of its management fee back into the Laboratories for further research, campus collaborations, and unforeseen costs.

If Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming stay in the business of ICBM stewardship, they will find themselves in a worse economic predicament when the United States Congress is forced to cull its defense-related spending. Likewise, Congress will need to reassess the value of its nuclear weapons complex and what it is willing to pay for it despite the best of lobbying efforts.

While our biggest potential nuclear competitor Russia is struggling to get footing outside of natural resource exploitation, lesser nuclear counterparts like China are heavily investing in nanotechnology, information technology, advanced manufacturing, green energy, aerospace and biotechnology. The question now is – how do we translate the work of the nuclear weapons complex into innovation development to support the United States’ future, rather than on cashing in on the past?