New El NiƱo Making More Hurricanes

El Niño years typically produce fewer Atlantic hurricanes. But that seems to be changing. According to a report in this week's Science a new kind of El Niño is appearing, one birthed in the Central not Eastern Pacific. It's called El Niño Modoki, from the Japanese meaning: similar but different.

What's different about El Niño Modoki is that its Central Pacific warming is associated with a higher-than-average hurricane frequency and a greater potential for those storms to make landfall along the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico and Central America.

Why El Niño is changing is unclear. It could be part of a natural oscillation of El Niño (the data are sparse before the 1920s). Or it could be El Niño’s response to a warming atmosphere. Pacific trade winds appearing to be weakening, which might account for the warming of the tropical Pacific shifting westward.

The researchers are also currently investigating La Niña, the cooling of the surface waters in the Eastern and Central Pacific. In the past, La Nina was associated with a greater-than-average number of North Atlantic hurricanes. But La Nina seems to be changing its structure as well.

The latest ENSO quick look shows a possible El Niño developing sometime between now and the end of August based on elevated sea surface temperatures across both the Central and Eastern Pacific.
 

Cameron Jessen works the controls of an EOD robot as his cousin, Michael Miller, watches through a protective mask. The two were at the 22d Chemical Battalion June 19 for the dedication of a conference room in the name of Cameron's father, Sgt. 1st Class Kevin P. Jessen, who was killed in Iraq. (Photo courtesy army.mil).

Washington Postgate

Journalistas in Washington and beyond the Beltway on Thursday were chortling over the news--brought to you by Politico--that the Watergate-famed Washington Post had cooked up a plan to hold private salons, where lobbyists and association heads could pay mucho bucks (up to $250,000) to wine and dine (or tea and snack) with Obama administration officials, lawmakers, and Post editors and reporters.

Selling access! Both anti-MSMers and non-Post MSMers jumped on Washington's big-gun newspaper for this violation of journalistic probity. And before the story could make the evening news, publisher Katharine Weymouth had strangled this for-profit salon in its crib, claiming the paper's marketing department had gone overboard. She noted that the paper had indeed decided to hold a series of dinners, but that the flier promoting the pay-to-sup salons had not been vetted by her or the newsroom. It does sound to me like the marketing guys and gals might have been too exuberant. No newspaper exec or editor in his or her right mind would have greenlighted the project described in that flier.

Still, there's nothing like kicking a newspaper when it's down. At the White House press briefing room, there was much eye-rolling and amusement over the caper. Journalists there joked with Washington Post correspondent Michael Shear about paying five bucks to have coffee with him. (All day long, Washington Post reporters were expressing their own outrage to friends and associates.)

When it was Shear's turn to ask a question of press secretary Robert Gibbs--he said he wanted to ask about health care, as other journalists giggled in anticipation--Gibbs could not refrain. He quipped, "the counsel's office has advised me to ask Mike exactly how much each of these questions will cost me." Pretty funny. But Shear took his lumps for his team well and pressed ahead with his queries. (What were they? Who was paying attention to that?) 

Next up for questioning came Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times. And what was the most pressing issue of the day for the newspaper of record? The troops pull-back in Iraq? The opposition in Iran? North Korea missile launches? The god-awful job loss numbers? No, it was that embarrassing story about the Washington Post. Zeleny asked if any White House officials had been solicited by the Post to be special guests at these salons. Gibbs said not that he was aware of any WHite House aides who had been invited, but the press secretary indicated that administration officials at other agencies might have been roped in by the Post. He said he could check on that. So far, the White House has not released any statements expanding on his answer.

What does all this mean? Probably not much. It's obvious that drenched-in-red-ink newspapers are trying to find new revenue streams. The marketeers of the Post just went a wee bit too far. It's not as if they were trying to be sneaky about it. After all, the story emerged because the business side of the Post was circulating a flier promoting the salons. And as soon as this terrible idea became public, it was killed. But as one somber New York Times reporter told me, this episode is a sign that at all major newspapers--including his own--the marketing people are in ascendance. That's natural, considering the state of newspapers, and, on one level, those of us who enjoy and support papers like the Times and the Post (even though they can be quite aggravating at times) ought to be rooting for the marketing teams. But this tale is a reminder that the marketing of journalism can be a two-edged sword. Today, a lot of media folks eagerly grabbed that sword and slashed away at the Post.

Quote of the Day

From Tyler Cowen:

About a year ago, five or so people sent me links about chessboxing for "Markets in Everything."  I didn't think it was weird enough to merit inclusion in the series.  But now, with the addition of "Swedish" and "ladies" to the mix (or is it the "convivial party atmosphere"?), I think it is weird enough.

Roger that.

Although President Barack Obama pledged that taxpayers would be able to monitor "every dime" of the $787 billion dollar stimulus bill, a government website that is supposed to track the expenditures is off to a rocky start. Months after going live, Recovery.gov provides only sketchy information about government purchasing and is undergoing a rushed bidding process to be revamped. The problems that Recovery.gov faces are the central problems of the stimulus: The need to roll out projects quickly while meeting long-term goals and preventing taxpayer money from being wasted.

From the start, Recovery.gov was an ambitious project. Never before has the government sought to provide so much data about contracting in a single, user-friendly format. Moreover, the Obama administration is requiring that stimulus money be tracked not only to recipients like state agencies--which is normal practice for federal spending--but also to sub-recipients that could include individual contractors. Yet so far, Recovery.gov hasn't delivered on that promise. It's little more than a collection of press releases and general breakdowns of spending.

After taking considerable flak over the site, the Federal Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board issued a request for bids to revamp Recovery.gov on June 15th, requiring proposals to be submitted a mere 11 days later. Bypassing the typical "full and open competition" bidding process, the board limited bids to 59 pre-approved contractors "because of the speed with which we have to handle this particular procurement," a spokesman told Federal News Radio. Whoever won the contract would have to roll out the new site in less than a month. On Tuesday, Federal News Radio reported that only two contractors actually submitted bids--far from an ideal level of competition.

"They are required to have open competition, but everyone pretty much knew that the incumbent vendor was going to get the contract," says Tom Lee, a technology director at the Sunlight Foundation, an open government advocacy group that had considered submitting a bid of its own. "There's just no way another organization could get up to speed quickly enough to get the work done."

 

Cheney's Interview with the Feds

I've been unhappy about the Obama administration's embrace of several Bush-era secrecy rules, but I'm on the fence about the latest one.  David Corn reports that they're continuing to fight the release of Dick Cheney's interview with the FBI in the Valerie Plame case:

On Wednesday night, in another move that puts the administration on the side of secrecy over openness, Obama's Justice Department filed a memo supporting its ongoing opposition to a lawsuit requesting the release of the Cheney interview. This memo included a declaration from Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, who said that if the Cheney interview is made public it could cause public officials in the future to not cooperate with criminal investigations.

I guess what I'm unclear about here is the distinction, if there is one, between an ordinary FBI interview and one with a high-ranking politico.  Just speaking generally, it strikes me that it's genuinely in the public interest for interviews like these to be kept private unless they lead to criminal prosecutions.  Lots of people really would would be less forthcoming during FBI investigations if they knew their interviews might become public, so it's reasonable that the default position should be that they stay confidential.  That's certainly how I'd want things to stand if I were dishing dirt to the FBI.

Now, perhaps things should be different for non-ordinary people like vice presidents.  But I don't know if that's part of the legal argument here or not.  Are there any law bloggers out there who can step in and explain what's going on here?

UPDATE : Jeralyn Merritt points out that FBI interviews are also kept private in order to protect the names and reputations of the innocent, those who don't get indicted:

Even though this isn't a grand jury secrecy case, I think in order to protect the privacy and reputation of those who are mentioned or discussed by the subject of a law enforcement interview, the reports of these interviews, untested by cross-examination, should remain in government hands and not subject to release via a FOIA request.

....The same rule should apply to Cheney as to everyone else. In my view, the Congressional Committee had a right to the documents since they are federal officials investigating a matter related to the subject matter of the grand jury's Valerie Plame leak investigation. But CREW and the public don't. It's too bad that Dick Cheney is the one who wins if the material is not released to CREW and the public, but I'd rather have that than a precedent that allows reports of law enforcement interviews of the average citizen who ultimately is not indicted, and who may have slandered Tom, Dick and Mary during their interview, subject to public disclosure.

How Long in Afghanistan?

I haven't been keeping close tabs on the details of our mission in Afghanistan lately, but Steve Hynd mentions something today that's interesting.  Back in March, Barack Obama said we would be focused primarily on counterterrorism — killing bad guys — but now that's changed.  Without really announcing anything, the mission is now apparently focused on counterinsurgency and nation building:

Counter-insurgency "clear, hold and build" has entirely taken over from counter-terrorism "hunt, kill and disupt". That might be the right thing to do — although I have my doubts — but the point is that it wasn't what Obama said would happen and government policy has radically shifted in favor of an interventionist, long-war, nation-building policy straight from the military and the folks at CNAS without any official announcement or very much public debate. In fact, it's almost as if Obama himself hasn't been told.

I don't have anything much to say about this, and it might even be that Steve is drawing too strong a conclusion from a couple of hazy data points.  I'm not sure. But it seemed worth sharing.  Just how long is Obama planning on staying in Afghanistan, I wonder?

Outrage Blogging

Via McMegan, Laura at 11D has a very good post about the evolution of the blogosphere over the past few years.  In particular, she mentions something I've noticed too:

3. Norms and practices. Bloggers have undermined the blogosphere. Bloggers do not link to each other as much as they used to.  It's a lot of work to look for good posts elsewhere and most bloggers became burnt out. Drezner and Farrell had a theory that even small potato bloggers would have their day in the sun, if they wrote something so great that it garnered the attention of the big guys. But the big guys are too burnt out to find the hidden gems. So, good stuff is being written all the time, and it isn't bubbling to the top.

I write as much as I ever have, but in my posts I link more to news sources and less to other bloggers than I used to.  I'm not sure why.  Part of it might be related to another evolution I've noticed: the political blogosphere increasingly seems to latch on to four or five outrages of the day that suck up most of its attention.  It seems like every blog I read posts about the same few political nano-scandals every day, and since I mostly find this stuff kind of boring I don't link to it very much.

I don't know for sure if that's a real trend or not.  My memory is famously fuzzy and I have a hard time really remembering what things were like four years ago compared to today.  But whatever the case, the end result is less engagement with other bloggers and less conversational tone to the blogosphere.  That may or may not be entirely a bad thing, but I kind of miss it.

Chart of the Day

From Calculated Risk, here's a chart incorporating today's bad unemployment news.  We're now clearly in the worst slump since the Great Depression, and by far the worst slump in the past 50 years.  And if that's still not bad enough news for you, keep in mind that we're in good shape compared to Europe and China.  If and when another shoe drops (ARM resets? Eastern European defaults? a big bank collapse? an oil price spike?), it could be 2008 all over again.

On the bright side, the Wall Street Journal reports that banker pay has rebounded and is now back up to bubblicious 2007 levels.  It's good to see that not everyone is suffering.

John Bolton: Bomb Bomb Bomb, Bomb Bomb Iran

John Bolton says that Iranians' rejection of their rulers means now is as good a time as any for the Israelis to bomb Iran. I actually heard this argument bandied around last week by a friend who had heard it at a dinner with high-powered New York business and media types, but I couldn't really take it seriously. I guess I underestimated the Right once again. Is it any surprise that the man who joked about nuking Chicago and virulently supported the Iraq war thinks that bombing Iran will solve Israel's problems?

The broader point is that Bolton does a lot to attack Obama's position but very little to defend his own. It's as if he believes the burden of proof is on those who don't favor war. But this is not 1981, Natanz is not Osirak, and the Iranian nuclear program will not be easy to destroy. The best the Israelis could hope for from an attack on Iran is a temporary setback to Iran's bombmaking capabilities, offset by a redoubled Iranian desire for a bomb. That doesn't seem like a good outcome for Israel.