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This Declassified CIA Report Shows the Shaky Case for the Iraq War

| Fri Mar. 20, 2015 1:31 PM EDT

The United States began its invasion of Iraq 12 years ago. Yesterday, a previously classified Central Intelligence Agency report containing supposed proof of the country's weapons of mass destruction was published by Jason Leopold of Vice News. Put together nine months before the start of the war, the National Intelligence Estimate spells out what the CIA knew about Iraq's ability to produce biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons. It would become the backbone of the Bush administration's mistaken assertions that Saddam Hussein possessed WMDs and posed a direct threat to the post-9/11 world.

The report is rife with what now are obvious red flags that the Bush White House oversold the case for war. It asserts that Iraq had an active chemical weapons program at one point, though it admits that the CIA had found no evidence of the program's continuation. It repeatedly includes caveats like "credible evidence is limited." It gives little space to the doubts of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, which found the CIA's findings on Iraq's nuclear program unconvincing and "at best ambiguous."

This isn't the first time the report's been released in full: A version was made public in 2004, but nearly all the text was redacted. Last year, transparency advocate John Greenwald successfully petitioned the CIA for a more complete version. Greenwald shared the document with Leopold.

Here's the full report:

 

 

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Obama Administration Reveals New Federal Rules on Fracking

| Fri Mar. 20, 2015 1:27 PM EDT

On Friday, the Obama administration put forth the first major federal standards regulating hydraulic fracturing—the oil and gas extraction technique commonly referred to as fracking. The regulations will, among other things, require companies working on public lands to reveal which chemicals they used in their drilling processes. But as the New York Times notes, the impact of the new rules will be limited since most fracking in the United States takes place on private land. From the Times story:

The regulations, which are to take effect in 90 days, will allow government workers to inspect and validate the safety and integrity of the cement barriers that line fracking wells. They will require companies to publicly disclose the chemicals used in the fracturing process within 30 days of completing fracking operations.

The rules will also set safety standards for how companies can store used fracking chemicals around well sites, and will require companies to submit detailed information on well geology to the Bureau of Land Management, a part of the Interior Department.

Environmentalists aren't exactly thrilled with the new regulations; many were instead calling for the government to ban fracking on all public lands.

"This fracking rule is merely a continuation of Obama's harmful all-of-the-above energy policy that emphasizes natural gas development over protection of public health and the environment," said Friends of the Earth's Kate DeAngelis in a press release. "This country needs real climate leadership from President Obama, not weak regulations that do nothing to stop the devastating impacts of climate disruption."

Facebook Is Being Sued for Gender and Racial Discrimination. Here's Why.

| Thu Mar. 19, 2015 3:59 PM EDT

In a lawsuit filed against Facebook on Monday, former employee Chia Hong accused the company of gender discrimination, racial discrimination, and sex harassment.* She is represented by Lawless & Lawless, the same law firm representing Ellen Pao in the high-profile gender discrimination case against venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins. (And yes, Lawless really is the last name of the two sisters who head the firm.)

Hong, who worked as a product manager at Facebook until October 2013, alleges that she suffered from discrimination by her boss, Anil Wilson, and dozens of other coworkers during her three years at the company. She also claims that she was wrongfully terminated after complaining about the harassment and discrimination.

The complaint states that Facebook employment policies were "neutral on their face" but "resulted in a disparate impact" on Hong, due to her gender:

The harassment included, but was not limited to, ANIL WILSON regularly ignoring or belittling plaintiff's professional opinions and input at group meetings in which she was the only woman or one of very few; asking plaintiff why she did not just stay home and take care of her child instead of having a career; admonishing plaintiff for taking one personal day per month to volunteer at her child' s school, which was permitted under company policy; ordering plaintiff to organize parties and serve drinks to male colleagues, which was not a part of plaintiff's job description and not something that was requested of males with whom she worked; and telling plaintiff he had heard she was an "order taker," by which he meant that she did not exercise independent discretion in the execution of her job duties.

It also alleges racial discrimination against her:

The discrimination included, but was not limited to, plaintiff having her professional opinions belittled or ignored at group meetings in which she was one of the only employees of Chinese descent; plaintiff being told that she was not integrated into the team because she looks different and talks differently than other team members, and plaintiff being replaced by a less qualified, less experienced Indian male.

This latest case comes as various Silicon Valley companies are struggling to diversify their conspicuously white, male workforces. According to a report issued by Facebook last June, 69 percent of its employees are male—including 77 percent among senior staff and 85 percent among its tech workers. The report also found that Facebook's overall workforce was 57 percent white and 34 percent Asian.

In a statement to TechCrunch on Wednesday about the lawsuit, a Facebook spokesperson refuted Hong's allegations: "We work extremely hard on issues related to diversity, gender and equality, and we believe we’ve made progress. In this case we have substantive disagreements on the facts, and we believe the record shows the employee was treated fairly."

Correction: The initial version of this post misstated the allegation as "sexual harassment."

This Adorable Video of a Baby Frog Squeaking Is the Best Thing You'll See Today

| Thu Mar. 19, 2015 3:54 PM EDT

The following is a delightful clip of a baby frog screaming, apparently discovered by BBC in the desert. It's the kind of high-pitched yelling normally expected from a dog's chew toy, not a frog. It's adorable and should be watched on repeat below:

(h/t Gabrielle Canon)

Thursday Hummingbird Blogging - 19 March 2015

| Thu Mar. 19, 2015 2:15 PM EDT

Sorry for the lack of blogging yet again. In the meantime, here's the latest pic of our baby hummingbirds. They look perilously close to flapping their wings and leaving the nest.

Obama Is Ordering the Federal Government to Slash Its Greenhouse Emissions

| Thu Mar. 19, 2015 11:19 AM EDT

President Barack Obama will once again use his executive authority to mandate action on climate change, the White House announced this morning. Later today, Obama plans to sign an executive order directing the federal government to reduce its carbon footprint by 40 percent below 2008 levels within a decade. The White House announcement also includes carbon-reduction commitments from a number of large government contractors, including GE and IBM.

From the Associated Press:

All told, the government pollution cuts along with industry contributions will have the effect of keeping 26 million metric tons of greenhouse gases out of the air by 2025, or the equivalent of what about 5.5 million cars would pump out through their tailpipes in an average year, the White House said. Yet it was unclear exactly how either the government or private companies planned to meet those targets.

In other words, it will take until 2025 to for the cuts to reach 26 million metric tons per year. And even that is a pretty small fraction of the nation's total carbon footprint, which was nearly 7 billion metric tons in 2013. But the announcement garnered praise from environmental groups as a sign of Obama's leadership on climate. In a statement, Natural Resources Defense Council president Rhea Suh called the announcement "a powerful reminder of how much progress we can make simply through energy efficiency and greater reliance on clean, renewable sources of energy."

The executive order will be the latest step the president has taken to confront climate change that won't require him to push legislation through a recalcitrant, GOP-controlled Congress. In the last couple years his administration has imposed tight limits on vehicle emissions and has put forward a flagship set of new rules under the Clean Air Act to slash carbon pollution from power plants. Obama also negotiated a bilateral deal with China that featured a suite of new climate promises from both countries. And sometime this spring, the president will announce what kind of commitments his administration will bring to the table for a high-stakes round of UN-led negotiations that are meant to produce a new international climate accord.

According to the White House, today's executive order directs federal agencies to:

  • Procure a quarter of their total energy from clean sources by 2025;
  • Cut energy use in federal buildings 2.5 percent per year over the next decade;
  • Purchase more plug-in hybrid vehicles for federal fleets and reduce per-mile greenhouse gas emissions overall by 30 percent by 2025;
  • Reduce water use in federal buildings 2 percent per year through 2025.

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UVA Student's Violent Arrest Sparks Outrage and Calls for #JusticeForMartese

| Thu Mar. 19, 2015 11:06 AM EDT

Images and footage capturing the arrest of Martese Johnson, a University of Virginia student who needed 10 stitches after being arrested by state liquor police for allegedly having a fake ID, prompted large protests at UVA's Charlottesville campus on Wednesday, with hundreds of students gathering to demand justice.

Johnson, 20-years-old and a member of the school's Honor Committee, was arrested on Tuesday by officers from the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control as bystanders recorded the bloody encounter. In one video, Johnson's head appears covered in blood, and he screams "you fucking racists." According to Johnson's lawyer, he was charged with "obstructing justice without force" and public intoxication.

After footage of the arrest emerged online, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe launched an investigation into the incident.

"Governor McAuliffe is concerned by the reports of this incident and has asked the Secretary of Public Safety to initiate an independent Virginia State Police investigation into the use of force in this matter," his office said in a statement.

It is unclear what led to the arrest. A statement from the state's liquor agents said that "a determination was made by the agents to further detain the individual based on their observations and further questioning." On Wednesday night, Johnson joined the demonstrators and appeared with a gash wound to the head.

"His head was slammed into the hard pavement with excessive force," UVA officials said in a released statement. "This was wrong and should not have occurred. In the many years of our medical, professional and leadership roles at the University, we view the nature of this assault as highly unusual and appalling based on the information we have received."

As images of both the protest and Johnson's arrest flooded online with the hashtag #JusticeForMartese, demonstrators chanted "black lives matter" and "shut it down."

Scientists: Ted Cruz's Climate Theories Are a "Load of Claptrap"

| Wed Mar. 18, 2015 5:00 PM EDT

Last night, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a probable candidate for the GOP presidential nomination, shared his thoughts about climate change with late-night host Seth Meyers (video above). Here's what he said:

CRUZ: I just came back from New Hampshire where there's snow and ice everywhere. And my view actually is simple. Debates on this should follow science and should follow data. And many of the alarmists on global warming, they've got a problem because the science doesn't back them up. And in particular, satellite data demonstrate for the last 17 years there's been zero warming, none whatsoever. It's why, you remember how it used to be called global warming, and then magically the theory changed to climate change?

MEYERS: Sure.

CRUZ: The reason is it wasn't warming. But the computer models still say it is, except the satellites show it's not.

We totally agree with his point that debates about climate "should follow science and should follow data." Right on! But according to Kevin Trenberth, a leading climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, everything else in Cruz's quote is "a load of claptrap…absolute bunk."

Trenberth wasn't alone in his criticism. Several prominent climate scientists contacted by Climate Desk dismissed Cruz's analysis. "It is disturbing that some of our most prominent elected officials have decided to engage in distortions of and cynical attacks against the science," said Michael Mann of Penn State.

"Lawmakers have a responsibility to understand the science, and not to embrace ignorance with open arms, as Senator Cruz is doing here," added Ben Santer, a researcher at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab.

So what's wrong with what Cruz said? For starters, the satellite record does, in fact, show warming. Here's a view of temperature anomalies (that is, the deviation from the long-term average) reported by Remote Sensing Systems, a NASA-backed private satellite lab. It shows warming of about 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit per decade since 1980, the beginning of the satellite record:

Remote Sensing Systems

Even still, there are a couple important caveats with satellite temperature data that Cruz would do well to make note of. One, Santer said, is that it has a "huge" degree of uncertainty (compared to land-based thermometers), so it should be approached with caution. That's because satellites don't make direct measurements of temperature but instead pick up microwaves from oxygen molecules in the atmosphere that vary with temperature. Fluctuations in a satellite's orbit and altitude and calibrations to its microwave-sensing equipment can all drastically affect its temperature readings. 

More importantly, satellites measure temperatures in the atmosphere, high above the surface. The chart above shows the lower troposphere, about six miles above the surface. This data is an important piece of the climate and weather system, but it's only one piece. There are plenty of other signs that are far less equivocal, and perhaps even more relevant to those of us who live on the Earth's surface: Land and ocean surface temperatures are increasing, sea ice is declining, glaciers are shrinking, oceans are rising, the list goes on. In other words, the satellites-vs-computers dichotomy described by Cruz ignores most of the full picture.

For example, here's the most recent land and ocean-surface temperature data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, showing how temperatures this winter deviated from the long-term average (dating all the way back to 1880). Much of the globe is warmer than average, some parts are the hottest on record, and the overall global temperature was the warmest on record:

NOAA

There's also a big underlying flaw with Cruz's cherry-picked timespan of 17 years, which almost any climate scientist would agree is far too short to observe any meaningful trend. 1998, the year Cruz starts with, was itself exceptionally warm thanks to the biggest El Nino event of the 20th century. If that's your starting place, the warming trend does indeed look weak. But look over a longer time period, and it's obvious that very warm years are more common now than before.

NOAA

And in any case, even the modest "slow-down" in warming that has occurred since 2000 isn't inconsistent with what scientists have always expected man-made climate change will look like. Even the earliest climate models predicted the possibility of occasional leveling-off periods in upward-bound global temperature, like a landing on a staircase.

In fact, one reason why many scientists "magically" (as Cruz put it) have begun to prefer the term "climate change" to "global warming" is because they think the latter can misleadingly imply that every year will be incrementally warmer than the last. In reality, climate change is all about odds: Man-made greenhouse gas emissions substantially increase the chances of an exceptionally warm year, but they don't eliminate the possibility for average or even cold years to happen.

Even accounting for the apparent stability of the last few years, Santer said, "everything tells us that what's going on isn't natural."

As for Cruz's reference to snowy weather in New Hampshire...give us a break.

California Nutritionists Just Voted Not To Invite McDonald's Back as a Sponsor

| Wed Mar. 18, 2015 2:08 PM EDT

Last year, I attended the annual conference of the California Dietetic Association, the state's chapter of the country's largest professional organization for nutritionists and dietitians. Its premier sponsor—and lunch caterer—was McDonald's. That won't be the case at this year's conference in April: The organization just voted not to invite the fast-food chain back.

Today a member of the California Dietetics Association shared the following letter from conference leadership on the Facebook page of Dietitians for Professional Integrity:

We would like to direct your attention to what the California Dietetic Association (CDA) has done to address our own issues surrounding sponsorship. We heard your concerns regarding CDA Annual Conference sponsorship and we have listened. We voted and McDonalds was not invited as a sponsor in 2015. This decision has impacted our finances; however, we believe it was important to respond to our member feedback. In addition, an ad hoc committee approved by the CDA executive board, reevaluated the sponsorship guidelines. The new sponsorship policy will be posted soon on www.dietitian.org. Any questions regarding the new policy can be directed to Kathryn Sucher, CDA President-elect [email address redacted]
We look forward to seeing you at the CDA Annual Conference.
Your 2014-2015 CDA Executive Board

That's not to say that the conference organizers have ditched corporate funders entirely. According to the schedule (PDF), Kellogg's is sponsoring a panel called "The Evolution of Breakfast: Nutrition and Health Concerns in the Future," while Soy Connection, the communications arm of the United Soybean Board, is hosting a session titled "Busting the Myths Surrounding Genetically Engineered Foods" (and sponsoring a "light breakfast"). A few other sessions sponsored by corporations and trade groups:

  • "Why We Eat What We Eat in America and What We Can Do About It" (California Beef Council)
  • "Probiotics and the Microbiome: Key to Health and Disease Prevention" (Dairy Council of California)
  • "New Research – Understanding Optimal Levels Of Protein And Carb To Prevent Obesity, Sarcopenia, Type 2 Diabetes, And Metabolic Syndrome" (Egg Nutrition Center)
  • "New evidence of Non-Nutritive Sweeteners: Help or Hindrance for Weight and Diabetes Management" (Johnson & Johnson McNeil, Inc, LLC)
  • "Plant-based Meals from Around the Globe" (Barilla Pasta)

Still, says Andy Bellatti, a dietitian and leader of the group Dietitians for Professional Integrity, ditching McDonald's as a sponsor is a step in the right direction. "There's still a long way to go," he said. "But the McDonald's sponsorship was just so egregious. I'm glad they came to their senses and got rid of it."

My Stake In the 2016 Election Is Way More Personal Than Usual

| Wed Mar. 18, 2015 1:20 PM EDT

Ed Kilgore:

I'm increasingly convinced that by the end of the Republican presidential nominating process the candidates will have pressured each other into a Pact of Steel to revoke all of Obama's executive orders and regulations. The post-2012 GOP plan to quickly implement the Ryan Budget and an Obamacare repeal in a single reconciliation bill will almost certainly be back in play if Republicans win the White House while holding on to Congress. Republicans (with even Rand Paul more or less going along) are all but calling for a re-invasion of Iraq plus a deliberate lurch into a war footing with Iran. And now more than ever, the direction of the U.S. Supreme Court would seem to vary almost 180 degrees based on which party will control the next couple of appointments.

This is more personal for me than usual. Scary, too. There are no guarantees in life, and there's no guarantee that MoJo will employ me forever. If I lose my job, and Republicans repeal Obamacare, I will be left with a very serious and very expensive medical condition and no insurance to pay for it. And I feel quite certain that Republicans will do nothing to help me out.

Obviously lots of other people are in the same position, and have been for a long time. But there's nothing like being in the crosshairs yourself to bring it all home. If Republicans win in 2016, my life is likely to take a very hard, very personal turn for the worse.