Archive for March 2nd, 2010
Oh look! Crooks clear crooks of being crooks! What a total, absolute surprise!
Straight from Yahoo News via Reuters: “The House ethics committee on Friday cleared seven lawmakers of improperly or illegally considering campaign contributions when steering earmarks amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars in mostly no-bid contracts to some 40 companies.
In a 305-page report, the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct said its nine-month investigation revealed a widespread perception among corporations and lobbyists that campaign contributions provided enhanced access to lawmakers or a greater chance of getting earmarks.
In reality, members of Congress “by and large, take great care to separate their official and campaign functions, particularly with respect to earmark requests,” it said in a unanimous decision.
In fact, it cited many cases of companies questioning why they had not obtained funding for a project after making substantial campaign contributions.
The committee said its investigation showed that earmarks were judged on “criteria independent of campaign contributions, such as the number of jobs created in the member’s district or the value to the taxpayer or the U.S. military.”
The investigation had focused on seven House members with connections to an influential, now-defunct lobbying firm, PMA Group: Representatives Norm Dicks, Marcy Kaptur, James Moran, John Murtha, C.W. Bill Young, Todd Tiahrt and Peter Visclosky.
Murtha, who was chairman of the defense subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, died on February 8. The other six lawmakers were members of the panel, and Dicks is expected to be voted as Murtha’s successor.
The Office of Congressional Ethics, which conducts preliminary reviews, had recommended in December that the first five of those cases be dismissed, while urging further review of allegations against Tiahrt and Visclosky.
The ethics committee said it reviewed nearly 250,000 pages of documents in its comprehensive investigation, concluding unanimously that “the evidence presently before the Committee does not support a determination that any House Member or employee violated any law, regulation, rule or other applicable standard of conduct.”
“Simply because a member sponsors an earmark for an entity that also happens to be a campaign contributor does not … support a claim that a member’s actions are being influenced by campaign contributions,” the report said.
Taxpayers for Common Sense and other watchdog groups criticized the ethics committee’s decision to clear the lawmakers, but said it was not surprising.
Members of the ethics committee themselves obtained $200 million in earmarks either by themselves or with other lawmakers, Taxpayers said on its web site.
“The ethics committee seems to have taken a ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ approach to potential earmark quid pro quo,” the group said. It said the idea that lawmakers ignore previous or future campaign contributions “flies in the face of political realities and, quite frankly, common sense.”
The ethics committee report did find did what it called “troubling aspects” to PMA’s conduct, including some “strong-arm tactics” in which the lobbying group threatened to withdraw financial support or encourage businesses to relocate out of a member’s district. But the report said in those cases, members refused to change their positions opposing earmarks, and in one case, even notified the ethics panel.
The PMA Group, founded by Paul Magliocchetti, a long-staffer on Murtha’s committee, closed about a year ago after FBI agents raided its office as part of an investigation focused on illegal campaign contributions and earmarks.”
Straight from Fox News: “NASA chief Charles Bolden told senators Wednesday that sending astronauts to Mars is still the ultimate goal for U.S. human spaceflight, as he defended the agency’s new space plan against criticism in a heated budget hearing.
“Mars is what I believe to be the ultimate destination for human exploration in our solar system,” Bolden told the Senate’s Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee.
But NASA will likely not have the technology to send astronauts to Mars for at least the next 10 years, he said.
“There are too many capabilities that we don’t have in our kit bag,” Bolden said.
That’s where the NASA’s 2011 budget request comes in, Bolden said. It sets the stage for future manned spaceflights to the moon, asteroids and Mars, by focusing on the technologies needed to explore beyond low-Earth orbit faster, he added.
But Bolden’s comments were met with criticism and, at times, open hostility from some committee members and experts because the new budget request effectively canceled NASA’s Constellation program, which was building new rockets and spaceships capable of returning astronauts to the moon.
Without a successor to the space shuttle, NASA will lose talented engineers from layoffs and attrition, which poses a threat to the United States’ prowess in human spaceflight, former shuttle commander Robert “Hoot” Gibson told the committee as part of a later hearing with a panel of space experts.
“With the retirement of the space shuttle later this year, and if the administration’s proposal is followed, the United States will no longer be a space-faring nation,” said Gibson, who flew on five shuttle missions before retiring from spaceflight in 1996.
Next stop for NASA?
While Bolden said Mars is a goal, NASA and the Obama administration have yet to release an official outline for future destinations. That official space plan could take months, agency officials have said.
“You don’t accomplish great things without a clearly defined mission,” said Sen. David Vitter (R-Louisiana). “And this budget has no clearly defined mission.”
NASA’s 2011 budget request, released Feb. 1, sets aside $19 billion for the space agency for next year. It is a slight increase from the 2010 budget, and included a life extension through at least 2020 for the International Space Station, as well new funds for space technology development and basic scientific research.
But President Obama’s budget assures the retirement of NASA’s shuttle program in the fall. In place of NASA-built spaceships to replace them, the budget request would set aside $6 billion over the next five years to support the development of commercial spaceships capable of launching American astronauts.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida) agreed that President Obama and NASA need to state a clear goal. But the agency must also work to be sure it does not trade astronaut safety for commercially built spacecraft that are cheaper and faster to produce, he added.
“The shift to commercial spaceflight cannot come at the expense of astronaut safety,” Nelson said.
Bridging the gap
NASA’s three aging space shuttles are due to retire in September after four final missions. After that, American astronauts will be dependent on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to reach the International Space Station during the gap between the shuttle program and when new spacecraft come online.
That gap, Vitter said, is unacceptable and will erode the United States’ claim as a leader in space exploration.
“I will fight with every ounce of energy I have to defeat this budget or anything like it,” he added.
Vitter asked Bolden how he explained the looming gap, and subsequent job layoffs, to NASA employees who will lose their jobs when the shuttle fleet retires without a successor program.
Bolden, known for his emotions, teared up.
“I can tell them, as I have, that I’m going to do everything in my power to try to make sure that we develop some programs that are going to get to where we all want to go as soon as possible,” Bolden said.
That includes funding research into new technologies, including ones to combat radiation and health effects for deep space missions, and others that have the potential to shave months off manned trip to Mars, he added.
“We are oh so close,” Bolden said. “But we are not there yet.”"
Straight from Fox News: “The United States is deep in debt. And while there are many reasons, Washington’s lack of self control is certainly one of them.
Each week, Tracking Your Taxes exposes Congressional appropriations most taxpayers consider wasteful but that lawmakers claim are essential. This week we’ve compiled a list of projects that have received tens of millions of dollars — and in one case nearly $2 billion — but never got off the ground.
For perspective, we went back more than a decade to examine some of of the bigger ideas out of Capitol Hill and how much they ultimately cost. Judge for yourself: Did you get your money’s worth?
There was the $50 million Congress handed out in 2004 for an indoor rainforest in Iowa at the behest of Republican Sen. Charles Grassley, a self-described fiscal conservative. As the local newspaper in Coralville joked, for that much money, “we could send the whole town on a rainforest vacation.”
Tom Schatz, president of the taxpayer watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste, said the earmark had “no discussion, no vote in the House or Senate — Grassley just threw it in. The $50 million is not only significant because of the project itself, but because of the size of the earmark.
“The average non-defense earmark is about $1.5-$2 million dollars; this was by far the largest non-defense earmark in that bill.”
Like many earmarks, the story behind the story actually explains how something so outlandish came to pass in Congress, a body full of highly educated lawyers. The roots of the appropriation came from a former special assistant to Grassley hired by a politically connected Iowa millionaire. Ultimately, because of a lack of local matching funds, the project died, but only after Washington wasted $4 million in federal money and $17 million in local funds.
Another project that crashed and burned came out of San Diego, Calif., where an entrepreneur convinced another politician he had the idea of a lifetime: a Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) troop-carrying airplane. The military didn’t want it, but Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., did. Year after year, Washington went along, appropriating more and more million-dollar earmarks. Finally, after 20 years and $63 million taxpayer dollars, the farthest the DP-2 Vectored Thrust Aircraft ever got was two feet off the ground.
Again, the appropriation began after a wealthy local businessman and campaign contributor, the scion of the DuPont family, convinced Hunter in 1988 that he could do what the Pentagon could not: build a combat aircraft capable of carrying 20 soldiers into a battlefield with no airstrip required. He was wrong — and taxpayers paid the price for yet another Congressional folly.
Another $70 million of taxpayer money was blown on a wind tunnel in Montana. The MARIAH project wasn’t requested by the Pentagon or NASA, but Congress funded it for more than a decade, usually with a $7 million earmark requested by the Montana delegation.
“The Air Force, (the) leader in hypersonic testing and technology, lost interest in 2004, so appropriators moved the program to the Army,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.. “The Army has no official requirement for this capability and published a report in 2005 stating their (lack of interest) in the program. To date, the Army has no plans to fund the MARIAH wind tunnel effort, as they have stated in their budget documents. That hasn’t kept Congress from pouring more than $70 million into it, with no discernable return.”
If a project doesn’t make economic sense, how does it survive year after year? The answer often lies in the power of the sponsor, and over the last 50 years there has been no more powerful appropriator than West Virginia Democrat Sen. Robert Byrd. By some accounts, Byrd himself has spent $3 billion dollars in taxpayer money. More than 40 projects in West Virginia that have been paid for with tax dollars are named after him.
From the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam to the Robert C. Byrd Telescope to the Robert C. Byrd Hilltop Office Complex, the list goes on and on. But one of his most ambitious projects is “Corridor H,” a four-lane highway in his home state that goes, literally, nowhere.
“Corridor H … has certainly helped (Byrd) retain the title of the ‘King of Pork.’” said Schatz, the taxpayer watchdog. “Corridor H has been a boondoggle since the beginning. It’s something that is one of these roads to nowhere that ends short of the adjoining state line.”
So far, taxpayers have invested almost $2 billion in the massive highway, which ends in a field. Virginia has no plans to ever actually connect a companion highway to West Virginia’s 25-mile stretch of concrete, leaving the monster as yet another monument to waste, or one of the more expensive examples of how Congress works.”
Straight from Fox News: “The scientist who has been put in charge of the Commerce Department’s new climate change office is coming under attack from both sides of the global warming debate over his handling of what they say is contradictory scientific data related to the subject.
Thomas Karl, 58, was appointed to oversee the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Climatic Data Center, an ambitious new office that will collect climate change data and disseminate it to businesses and communities.
According to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, the office will “help tackle head-on the challenges of mitigating and adapting to climate change. In the process, we’ll discover new technologies, build new businesses and create new jobs.”
Karl, who has played a pivotal role in key climate decisions over the past decade, has kept a low profile as director of National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) since 1998, and he has led all of the NOAA climate services since 2009. His name surfaced numerous times in leaked “climate-gate” e-mails from the University of East Anglia, but there was little in the e-mails that tied him to playing politics with climate data. Mostly, the e-mails show he was in the center of the politics of climate change decisions
According to a school biography published by Northern Illinois University, Karl shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore and other leading scientists based on his work at the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and he was “one of the 10 most influential researchers of the 1990s who have formed or changed the course of research in a given area.”
His appointment was hailed by both the Sierra Club and Duke Energy Company of North Carolina. Sierra Club President Carl Pope said, “As polluters and their allies continue to try to muddy the waters around climate science, the Climate Service will provide easy, direct access to the valuable scientific research undertaken by government scientists and others.” And Duke Energy CEO Jin Rogers said the new office, under Karl, will “spark the consensus we need to move forward.”
But Roger Pielke Sr., a climatologist affiliated with the University of Colorado who has crossed horns with Karl in the past, says his appointment was a mistake. He accused Karl of suppressing data he submitted for the IPCC’s most recent report on climate change and having a very narrow view of its causes.
The IPCC is charged with reviewing scientific data on climate change and providing policy makers and others with an assessment of current knowledge.
Pielke said he agrees that global warming is happening and that man plays a significant role in it, but he said there are many factors in addition to the release of carbon into the atmosphere that need to be studied to fully understand the phenomenon. He said he resigned from the IPCC in August 2005 because his data, and the work of numerous other scientists, were not included in its most recent report.
In his resignation letter, Pielke wrote that he had completed the assessment of current knowledge for his chapter of the report, when Karl abruptly took control of the final draft. He said the chapter he had nearly completed was then rewritten with a too-narrow focus.
One of the key areas of dispute, he said, was in describing “recent regional trends in surface and tropospheric temperatures,” and the impact of land use on temperatures. It is the interpretation of this data on which the intellectual basis of the idea of global warming hangs.
In an interview, Pielke reiterated that Karl “has actively opposed views different from his own.” And on his Web site last week, he said Karl’s appointment “assures that policy makers will continue to receive an inappropriately narrow view of our actual knowledge with respect to climate science.”
He said the people who run the agencies in charge of climate monitoring are too narrowly focused, and he worries that the creation of the new office “would give the same small group of people the chance to speak on the issue and exclude others” whose views might diverge from theirs.
Responding to the criticism, Karl told the Washington Post, “the literature doesn’t show [Pielke's] ideas about the importance of land use are correct.”
Calls to The Commerce Department and to Karl’s office went unanswered.
The IPCC in recent weeks has come under severe criticism after e-mails, hacked from a prestigious climate center, revealed some of the political infighting that occurred as its assessments were being put together and called into question its impartiality.
Climate change skeptics, meanwhile, say Karl’s appointment was unnecessary and pulls scarce resources from more pressing needs.
“The unconstitutional global warming office and its new Web site climate.gov would be charged with propagandizing Americans with eco-alarmism,” wrote Alex Newman of the Liberty Sentinel of Gainesville, Fla.
On the popular skeptic site “Watts Up With That,” Anthony Watts called the climate.gov site a “waste of more taxpayer money” and charged that it is nothing more than a “fast track press release service.” He wrote that putting Karl in charge was an issue, because he had fabricated photos of “floods that didn’t happen” in an earlier NOAA report.”
Straight from the Daily Mail: “Scientists at the heart of the Climategate row were yesterday accused by a leading academic body of undermining science’s credibility.
The Institute of Physics said ‘worrying implications’ had been raised after it was revealed the University of East Anglia had manipulated data on global warming.
The rebuke – the strongest yet from the scientific community – came as Professor Phil Jones, the researcher at the heart of the scandal, told MPs he had written ‘some pretty awful emails’ – but denied trying to suppress data.
The Climategate row, which was first revealed by the Daily Mail in November, was triggered when a hacker stole hundreds of emails sent from East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit.
They revealed scientists plotting how to avoid responding to Freedom of Information requests from climate change sceptics.
Some even appeared to show the researchers discussing how to manipulate raw data from tree rings about historical temperatures.
In one, Professor Jones talks about using a ‘trick’ to massage figures and ‘hide the decline’.
Giving evidence to a Science and Technology Committee inquiry, the Institute of Physics said: ‘Unless the disclosed emails are proved to be forgeries or adaptations, worrying implications arise for the integrity of scientific research and for the credibility of the scientific method.
‘The principle that scientists should be willing to expose their results to independent testing and replication by others, which requires the open exchange of data, procedures and materials, is vital.’
Last month, the Information Commissioner ruled the CRU had broken Freedom of Information rules by refusing to hand over raw data.
But yesterday Professor Jones – in his first public appearance since the scandal broke – denied manipulating the figures.
Looking pale and clasping his shaking hands in front of him, he told MPs: ‘I have obviously written some pretty awful emails.’
He admitted withholding data about global temperatures but said the information was publicly available from American websites.
And he claimed it was not ‘standard practice’ to release data and computer models so other scientists could check and challenge research.
‘I don’t think there is anything in those emails that really supports any view that I, or the CRU, have been trying to pervert the peer review process in any way,’ he said.
Professor Jones, who was forced to stand down as head of the CRU last year, also insisted the scientific findings on climate change were robust.”
Straight from The Guardian: “Phil Jones, the beleaguered British climate scientist at the centre of the leaked emails controversy, is facing fresh claims that he sought to hide problems in key temperature data on which some of his work was based.
A Guardian investigation of thousands of emails and documents apparently hacked from the University of East Anglia’s climatic research unit has found evidence that a series of measurements from Chinese weather stations were seriously flawed and that documents relating to them could not be produced.
Jones and a collaborator have been accused by a climate change sceptic and researcher of scientific fraud for attempting to suppress data that could cast doubt on a key 1990 study on the effect of cities on warming – a hotly contested issue.
Today the Guardian reveals how Jones withheld the information requested under freedom of information laws. Subsequently a senior colleague told him he feared that Jones’s collaborator, Wei-Chyung Wang of the University at Albany, had “screwed up”.
The revelations on the inadequacies of the 1990 paper do not undermine the case that humans are causing climate change, and other studies have produced similar findings. But they do call into question the probity of some climate change science.
The apparent attempts to cover up problems with temperature data from the Chinese weather stations provide the first link between the email scandal and the UN’s embattled climate science body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, as a paper based on the measurements was used to bolster IPCC statements about rapid global warming in recent decades.
Wang was cleared of scientific fraud by his university, but new information brought to light today indicates at least one senior colleague had serious concerns about the affair.
It also emerges that documents which Wang claimed would exonerate him and Jones did not exist.
The revelations come at a torrid time for climate science, with the IPPC suffering heavy criticism for its use of information that had not been rigorously checked – in particular a false claim that all Himalayan glaciers could melt by 2035 – and UEA having been criticised last week by the deputy information commissioner for refusing valid requests for data under the Freedom of Information Act.
The Guardian has learned that of 105 freedom of information requests to the university concerning the climatic research unit (CRU), which Jones headed up to the end of December, only 10 had been released in full.
The temperature data from the Chinese weather stations measured the warming there over the past half century and appeared in a 1990 paper in the prestigious journal Nature, which was cited by the IPCC’s latest report in 2007.
Climate change sceptics asked the UEA, via FOI requests, for location data for the 84 weather stations in eastern China, half of which were urban and half rural.
The history of where the weather stations were sited was crucial to Jones and Wang’s 1990 study, as it concluded the rising temperatures recorded in China were the result of global climate changes rather the warming effects of expanding cities.
The IPCC’s 2007 report used the study to justify the claim that “any urban-related trend” in global temperatures was small. Jones was one of two “coordinating lead authors” for the relevant chapter.
The leaked emails from the CRU reveal that the former director of the unit, Tom Wigley, harboured grave doubts about the cover-up of the shortcomings in Jones and Wang’s work. Wigley was in charge of CRU when the original paper was published. “Were you taking W-CW [Wang] on trust?” he asked Jones. He continued: “Why, why, why did you and W-CW not simply say this right at the start?”
Jones said he was not able to comment on the story.
Wang said: “I have been exonerated by my university on all the charges. When we started on the paper we had all the station location details in order to identify our network, but we cannot find them any more.
“Some of the location changes were probably only a few metres, and where they were more we corrected for them.”
In an interview with the Observer on Sunday Ed Miliband, the climate change secretary, warned of the danger of a public backlash against mainstream climate science over claims that scientists manipulated data. He declared a “battle” against the “siren voices” who denied global warming was real or caused by humans. “It’s right that there’s rigour applied to all the reports about climate change, but I think it would be wrong that when a mistake is made it’s somehow used to undermine the overwhelming picture that’s there,” he said.
Last week the Information Commissioner’s Office – the body that administers the Freedom of Information Act – said the University of East Anglia had flouted the rules in its handling of an FOI request in May 2008.
Days after receiving the request for information from the British climate change sceptic David Holland, Jones asked Prof Mike Mann of Pennsylvania State University in the United States: “Can you delete any emails you may have had with Keith [Briffa] re AR4? Keith will do likewise.
“Can you also email Gene [Eugene Wahl, a paleoclimatologist in Boulder, Colorado] and get him to do the same … We will be getting Caspar [Ammann, also from Boulder] to do the same.”
The University of East Anglia says that no emails were deleted following this exchange.”