China-U.S. climate talks started before Obama took office

Xie Zhenhua at the UN climate change conference in Poznan, December 2008
Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

A high-powered group of senior Republicans and Democrats led two missions to China in the final months of the Bush administration for secret backchannel negotiations aimed at securing a deal on joint US-Chinese action on climate change.

The initiative, involving John Holdren, now the White House science adviser, and others who went on to positions in Barack Obama’s administration, produced a draft agreement in March, barely two months after the Democrat assumed the presidency…

“My sense is that we are now working towards something in the fall,” said Bill Chandler, director of the energy and climate programme at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the driving force behind the talks. “It will be serious. It will be substantive, and it will happen.”

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Joint Chiefs Chairman criticizes results of Afghan air strikes

Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

In remarks to scholars, national security experts and the media at the Brookings Institution, Admiral Mullen said that the American air strikes that killed an undetermined number of civilians in Afghanistan’s Farah Province two weeks ago had put the U.S. strategy in the country in jeopardy.

“We cannot succeed in Afghanistan or anywhere else, but let’s talk specifically about Afghanistan, by killing Afghan civilians,” Admiral Mullen said, adding that “we can’t keep going through incidents like this and expect the strategy to work.”

At the same time, Admiral Mullen said, “we can’t tie our troops’ hands behind their backs.”

Admiral Mullen’s comments on the civilian casualties from the Farah air strikes, which have caused an uproar in Afghanistan, reflect deep concern within the Pentagon about the intensifying criticism from Kabul against the American military. Admiral Mullen, who noted that commanders in the region had in recent months imposed more restrictive rules on air strikes to avoid civilian casualties, offered no new solutions in his remarks. He only said that “we’ve got to be very, very focused on making sure that we proceed deliberately, that we know who the enemy is…”

Colonel Julian said at the peak of the fighting that day, some 150 Afghan soldiers and 60 Afghan police, along with their 30 American trainers, as well as two Marine Special Operations teams that made up a quick-reaction force, were battling about 300 militants, including a large number of foreign fighters…

The Fog of War gets thicker and thicker. From my cyber-viewpoint it isn’t easy to discern which of several causes are real and which are fiction.

I haven’t the level of confidence in satellite-guided bombs’ accuracy that some have. Even less in accepting the overkill of bomb sizes chosen for anti-personnel missions.

But, from personal experience, I have even less confidence in casualty figures from tribal villages and what passes for Taliban insurgent tactics. Imperial armies always claim anti-civilian tactics by their enemy. Even when I know there is some likelihood of truth, there have been so many decades of crying wolf, I find it hard to credit the “official story”.

Life online – after death

What happens to our online lives after we log off for the final time. The answer, until recently, was nothing.

But now, as online usage increases and social-media sites soar in popularity, more companies are popping up to try and fill that void created in your digital life after death.

Jeremy Toeman built his company to change all that. Legacy Locker allows users to set up a kind of online will, with beneficiaries that would receive the customer’s account information and passwords after they die.

“We know it’s a hard thing to think about — to get people to face mortality. We know it’s kind of morbid, but for those who live their entire lives online, it’s also very real…”

Legacy Locker isn’t the only new company helping techies plan for death in the digital age.

AssetLock (formerly offers a “secure safe deposit box” for digital copies of documents, wishes, letters and e-mails. Deathswitch and Slightly Morbid also offer similar services in a variety of prices and packages, depending on how many accounts are involved.

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Toyota responds to Honda Insight with two Prius price-cuts


Toyota, which has dominated the market for gasoline-electric cars so far, is looking to take back the crown after Honda’s new Insight became the first hybrid ever to top the best-sellers’ list in Japan last month.

The hybrid market is going to be one of the fastest-growing segments in the world,” said JPMorgan Securities auto analyst Takaki Nakanishi. “With the global economy in a recession, luxury and large cars are not selling but fuel-conscious cars are in fact growing. Toyota’s earnings performance is hurting right now, and they can’t afford to lose the lead in this market”.

Introducing the third-generation Prius, Executive Vice President Akio Toyoda said the upgraded model…costs about $3,000 less than the previous version…

Although gasoline prices have nearly halved since peaking last July, automakers expect growing interest in the fuel-saving technology with consumers continuing to trade in big SUVs in favor of small cars, even in the United States.

By 2018, JPMorgan Securities expects roughly one in every 10 cars to be a hybrid, with global sales reaching 9.96 million vehicles as more brands such as Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen, as well as General Motors Corp’s plug-in Chevy Volt, join the market…

The new Prius will start at $21,620, or at least 300,000 yen less than what executives had originally said the car would cost.

With an eye on competing with the Insight, Toyota will also take the unprecedented move of…selling the entry-level grade of the previous Prius in Japan at the same price as the Insight’s $19,190.

The about-face came after Honda’s Insight became an instant hit after going on sale in Japan in early February. Honda sold nearly 10,500 Insights in April, more than double its target of 5,000 units a month.

Competition is good. Competition is fun. Competition is something that both Honda and Toyota know all about.

True – it ain’t going to be a bed of roses for management-types; but, it should help out us ordinary garden-variety consumers and that’s who I really care about.

Prosecutors resist DNA testing – there’s a surprise!

In an age of advanced forensic science, the first step toward ending Kenneth Reed’s prolonged series of legal appeals should be simple and quick: a DNA test, for which he has offered to pay, on evidence from the 1991 rape of which he was convicted.

Louisiana, where Mr. Reed is in prison, is one of 46 states that have passed laws to enable inmates like him to get such a test. But in many jurisdictions, prosecutors are using new arguments to get around the intent of those laws, particularly in cases with multiple defendants, when it is not clear how many DNA profiles will be found in a sample.

The laws were enacted after DNA evidence exonerated a first wave of prisoners in the early 1990s, when law enforcement authorities strongly resisted reopening old cases. Continued resistance by prosecutors is causing years of delay and, in some cases, eliminating the chance to try other suspects because the statute of limitations has passed by the time the test is granted.

Mr. Reed has been seeking a DNA test for three years, saying it will prove his innocence. But prosecutors have refused, saying he was identified by witnesses, making his identification by DNA unnecessary.

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Legalization? So, what’s the hard question?

Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, has been advocating for legalization of marijuana for 20 years and says he’s seen more progress in the last four months than in the previous two decades. “It’s starting to cascade,” he said. “Our model is the gay rights movement and their recent string of successes with gay marriage.”

Mr. Nadelmann is a smart guy; he has a law degree and a doctorate from Harvard. He so impressed George Soros that the billionaire investor became the biggest financial backer for Mr. Nadelmann’s advocacy. The Drug Policy Alliance has 45 staff members in seven offices nationwide working for legalization…

“We need to drop the ‘d’ from ‘smoked,’ ” Mr. Nadelmann said, “and move from past to present.”

For many reasons, the advocates are feeling hopeful. The Obama administration has reversed a Bush policy of prosecuting medical marijuana use, which is now legal in 13 states; a recent Field poll in California showed for the first time that a majority of registered voters in that state favors legalizing and taxing pot; Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has opposed legalization, now says he’d like to see a study done…

Mr. Nadelmann, a boomer himself at 52, says the biggest difference since the last legalization push, in the late 1970s, is the drug savvy of parents now versus then. “In the ’70s, that older generation of parents didn’t know the difference between marijuana and heroin,” Mr. Nadelmann said. “This generation of boomer parents has a high familiarity with marijuana. An awful lot tried it, liked it; the vast number never went on to cocaine or heroin or even had a problem with marijuana…”

As to concern voiced by law enforcement officials that today’s pot is far stronger than the drug smoked in the 1970s, Mr. Nadelmann maintains that if marijuana were legalized, the potency could be regulated the way it’s done for alcohol…

So much is changing: our first African-American president; our worst economic collapse in 80 years; five states legalizing gay marriage. Is legalizing marijuana next? It may make sense. It may happen

RTFA. You can sort the Reefer Madness illogic out on your own.

Too bad the author wasn’t a bit more courageous – because I think like Ethan Nadelmann – the time has come to rid our nation of one more piece of reactionary foolishness.

I’m not about to smart smoking 2 joints a day if and when grass is legalized. Among other reasons, I don’t smoke. But, I’d probably bake one batch of Alice B. Toklas bran muffins every now and then to have a few choices. Or none. After all, I only have about 6 alcoholic drinks each year. My choice.

Even in space, an old-fashioned fix can involve brute force

Daylife/Reuters Pictures

Just give it a whack. Sometimes, it seems, even in the highest of high-tech circles, there is no substitute for good old brute force.

The question aboard the space shuttle Atlantis on Sunday was whether Michael J. Massimino would rock a handrail on the Hubble Space Telescope back and forth to fatigue a stripped bolt that was stubbornly holding it, or just give the rail a big yank to break it and the bolt off.

Beyond the rail were 111 screws. Beyond the screws were the internal electronics of the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph, the intended object of “brain surgery” on the fourth of five days of spacewalks meant to repair and upgrade the telescope…For the last three years, engineers and astronauts had been preparing a procedure to break into the instrument, capture all the screws and fix the power supply.

But first the spacewalkers, Dr. Massimino and Col. Michael T. Good of the Air Force, had to get the handrail off.

It was the third of four spacewalks in this mission, the last to the 19-year-old telescope, to be stymied by low-tech problems like bad bolts. Meanwhile, trickier jobs, like the repair on Saturday of the Advanced Camera for Surveys, have gone smoothly…

Adam Riess, a heavy Hubble user at the Space Telescope Science Institute and Johns Hopkins University who was watching on NASA TV, wrote in an e-mail message: “We always joke that they wait until they are out of TV view to use the hammers and crowbars.” He added, “I guess they really do!”

Every little bit helps. I go all the way back to kin who helped produce this critter – and tried to get officialdom to comprehend the essential problems that were built-in by mistake. So, the history of “repairs” and corrections are always of special interest.

We’re already well past any original projected lifespan – so, we’re all winners.