That was the question discussed by three Iraq experts on a press call Friday morning hosted by the National Security Network. In compliance with the Status of Forces Agreement struck with the Iraqi government in November 2008, US troops will complete their withdrawal from Iraq's cities by Tuesday, thus (hopefully?) ending an era of US involvement in the country--and, of course, inaugurating a new one. Come next week, Iraqi soldiers and police will take over all active patrols in the country's major urban centers. They've been training for the job for years. And though we all remember reports from a few years ago of Iraqi units that were nothing more than paper phantoms, by all accounts the security forces have more recently made great strides.

But while Iraqi units have been trained and equipped, one of the more pressing questions is whether they have the logistical capacity to maintain operations without extensive US assistance. "Everybody claims to be a tactician, [but] professionals are logisticians," says Paul Eaton, a former Army major general who led the training of Iraqi forces after the 2003 invasion. "When American soldiers pull out of the urban concentrations, will there be a logistical tail to support the Iraqi soldiers, so [they] will have faith in the chain of command that they're gonna be resupplied and, if wounded or hurt, that they'll be evacuated? That 'if' I cannot answer. We will see it develop." 

Happy Friday. Before the weekend gets rolling, here are the environment, health, and energy-related stories from our other blogs.

Like a Dog who Speaks Norwegian: Sanford is a rare, rare creature: an introverted politician.

Have it Your Way: Burger King equates a big sandwich with something else... big.

The C Word: Obama talks about cap and trade bill without using the phrase "climate change."

And Now He's Dead: King of Pop dies not of mysterious ailment, but likely of a very ordinary heart attack. News arc swings wildly in response. At least for a day or two.

In what may be this week's worst amendment to the Waxman-Markey climate bill, a midwestern Congressman has introduced a provision that would ban the EPA from accounting for the full carbon footprint of biofuels.

Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), the powerful chair of the House Committee on Agriculture, is expected to attach the amendment before releasing the bill to the House floor, where a vote is expected as early as tomorrow. The change would prevent the EPA from accounting for the way that growing biofuel crops in the U.S. drives food production abroad, causing deforestation that contributes to climate change. Ignoring this "indirect land-use change"--the technical term for a phenemon that can account for up to 40 percent of corn-based ethanol's carbon emissions--would allow the fuel to qualify under the 2007 Renewable Fuel Standard, making it eligible for government subsidies.

In effect, the ethanol industry is hiding behind the difficulty of calculating its own environmental footprint. Though the EPA  has already devised a method to account for the land-use impacts of biofuels, the amendment prohibits the agency from implementing it for six years, at which point the National Academy of Sciences will have completed a study that is supposed to resolve lingering uncertanties with the method. 

 

Clearly Michael Jackson will leave his mark. He might not on those young enough for whom their memories of Jackson are of a bizarre Neverland, of a baby hanging out a window, of a bed inappropriately crowded with children. But those of us who lugged our boom boxes to school to play "Thriller" and "Beat It" on cassette tape during recess, we are the ones who know the impact that the troubled but absolutely brilliant artist had on our lives. Still, since Jackson's brilliance changed music, he'll leave tracks on anyone who's every moonwalked, breakdanced, or rhymed in the cadence and pitch that made him, well, the King of Pop. Anyone who grooves to an iPod, you have Michael to thank somehow.

On a less eulogic note (and there will be oh-so-many retrospectives), this news is already rocking the headlines and leaving everything else (even Farrah) in its dust. As Andrew Sullivan points out, there goes cable coverage of Iran. And now Mark Sanford doesn't have to worry about gracing the cover of any of the weekly tabs. He and his too-much-information emails can fade to black now (and we don't even have to worry about whether it's okay that the governor of South Carolina doesn't know the difference between a whirlwind and a "world wind").

Favorite Michael song of all time? "We are the World" was iconic, the whole Thriller album had the dance beats ("PYT," "Human Nature," etc.) people still cling to, but my pick is "Man in the Mirror." Maybe because to me it feels most ironic, and most honest.

Yours?

As I noted earlier, I was at the White House for President Barack Obama's remarks on the pending energy bill. The fact that he held this event was widely seen as a sign that the White House is worried about tomorrow's vote in the House on this cap and trade measure. Actually, this wasn't really an event. Obama just came out to a podium set up in the Rose Garden and spoke into a television camera. There were a couple dozen reporters standing and watching. But we were not the audience. Viewers at home probably thought the president was speaking before an important group of legislators or citizens who had been assembled at the White House. But no, he was talking to those viewers themselves, trying to gin up support for the bill.

What was noticeable was the number of times he used the phrase "climate change": none. Or the number of times he referred to the bill as cap and trade legislation: none. He depicted the legislation as a jobs bill--using "jobs" nine times in the short statement. He was explicit:

Now, make no mistake -- this is a jobs bill.  We're already seeing why this is true in the clean energy investments we're making through the Recovery Act.  In California, 3,000 people will be employed to build a new solar plant that will create 1,000 jobs.  In Michigan, investments in wind turbines and wind technology is expected to create over, 2,600 jobs.  In Florida, three new solar projects are expected to employ 1,400 people.

The list goes on and on, but the point is this:  This legislation will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy.  That will lead to the creation of new businesses and entire new industries.  And that will lead to American jobs that pay well and can't be outsourced.

Everyone knows, I suppose, this is also a climate change bill, and that reducing greenhouse gas emissions is necessary. But in the face of opposition from GOPers and others who claim this "cap and tax" measure will wreck the economy, Obama stayed away from an overly enviro-ish argument for the legislation. It's not about saving the planet; it's about getting you or someone you know a job.

Perhaps this is a politically savvy tactic. It is worrisome a bit, since scientists say that greater reductions than prompted by this bill will be needed to redress climate change. Obama is hardly teeing up the ball for that sort of debate.

When the president was done, he quickly trotted off, without taking questions from the correspondents. ABC News' Jake Tapper did shout at him: Are you satisfied with a bill that auctions off only 15 percent of the carbon credits, not 100 percent? (On the campaign trail, Obama supported the 100 percent mark.) The president didn't acknowledge the question. He kept on walking back to the Oval Office.

******

Meanwhile, it was not all serious policy and political stuff at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue today. Tonight is the annual congressional picnic, which has been turned into a luau on the South Lawn. One feature at this party will be a dunk tank--with Rahm Emanuel as the to-be-dunked prize. Good marketing. Plenty of House members probably want to try to hit that target. But at the afternoon press briefing, Robert Gibbs managed to talk his way into being dunked by the press corps. presuming any of the reporters could throw a good pitch.

So at 5:30, before the official festivities were to begin, reporters were escorted to the backyard of the White House for the potential dunking. As we walked through the rear of the Rose Garden, I spotted Obama at the other end of the garden, sticking his head out a door to the West Wing. "Come on," I shouted at him. "Join us. Take a throw." He smiled, shook his head. "Just one pitch!" I said. "Show us your arm." He waved and said, "They won't let me take a shot at him."

We proceeded to the South Lawn, and there was Gibbs perched in the tank. Four reporters got the opportunity to dunk him. Bill Plante of CBS scored. So did an AP reporter. Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times threw hard but missed, as did a Fox News correspondent. Gibbs laughed his way through the ordeal, as TV camera people and photographers recorded the event. It was a great PR move for him: what a good sport.

Then our minders quickly rushed us away, as preparations for the luau continued--and White House aides, no doubt, went back to worrying about the pending vote on the cap and trade bill.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

 

I can't believe TMZ was right. Michael Jackson, King of Pop, is actually dead at age 50, reports the Los Angeles Times. From reports looks like he was in a "deep coma" when LA Fire Department picked him up, and then died. Sad news.

My personal MJ memory: carrying around a battered cassette tape of Thriller for years, to be played mostly on my sky-blue boombox. Yes, I was a child of the 80s. My mother wouldn't let me watch the Thriller video (too scary, and un-Christian), so I secretly danced to it at my friend's house who (blessedly) had both MTV and a VCR player. As someone who took years and years of ballet and other forms of dance, I will say the man was an amazing dancer. If any of you are interested in seeing some of the art he collected (some is legit, some schmaltzy), check out the auction of property he held last month at an LA auction house here.

Last November, in our "Top 20 Econudrums," we asked whether it was more environmentally friendly to read the paper in print or online. It's a question with a surprising answer: As it turns out, it's often greener to read dead trees. This is true largely because of the giant environmental impact of servers. But thanks to some techies in Zurich, that could change soon.

Here's a little background: Server farms—also known as data centers—are the enormous housing facilities that make the internet possible. A single Google data center, in Oregon consumes as much energy as a city of 200,000. That's because servers not only have to be on 24/7, they need to be kept cool 24/7.  Up to 50 percent of the power they use is just to keep them from melting down.  Overall, the internet is responsible for 2% of global carbon emissions, about the same as the aviation industry.  And as the internet becomes increasingly prevalent in China and India, well, that means a whole lot more Xiaonei pages and Orkut accounts that will need hosting.

So it is good news, nay, great news, that the IBM lab in Zurich has developed a new cooling technology by attaching teeny-weeny water pipes to the surface of each computer chip in a server. Water is piped within microns of the chip to cool it down, then the waste water is piped out hot enough to make a cup of Ramen, heat a building, or keep a swimming pool warm. The new cooling system will reduce the carbon footprint of servers by 85 percent and the energy use by 40 percent. If this technology were in MoJo's office we could ditch the electric tea kettle and just go to the server closet to steep our chai. Check out a video of the technology after the break.

Obama vs. CAP on DADT

Shortly after writing a post on a new Center for American Progress report that proposes a five-step plan for ending the Don't Ask/Don't Tell policy banning out-in-the-open gays and lesbians from the military (Step No. 1: the president signs an executive order imposing a temporary suspension), I strolled over to the White House to see President Obama deliver a Rose Garden statement in support of the cap and trade legislation due for a vote in the House tomorrow (more on that in a coming post) and to attend press secretary Robert Gibbs' daily briefing.

At the briefing, when it was my turn to pose a query, I cited the CAP report--quoting that first step--and asked Gibbs why the White House disagreed with the group's proposal. Gibbs replied that Obama has held assorted meetings with staff, legislators, and Pentagon officials on ending DADT. "This requires," he said, a "durable legislative" remedy.

It was the usual line: we need a law to overturn DADT for good. But there's an obvious follow-up, and I asked it: Why not issue an executive order that suspends DADT while this legislation is being pursued?

Gibbs said that "there could be differences in strategies." I wasn't sure what he meant by this. That it's best not to arouse (anti-gay) passions with a stop-gap measure, because this could interfere with a permament solution? He continued: the "best way to do it is through a durable and comprehensive legislative process." Perhaps that's the best way. But in the past months, hundreds of US military members have been kicked out of the service because of DADT. For these people--and others scared of a similar fate--a temporary suspension would certainly be much better than a long wait for congressional action. Whatever happened to the fierce urgency of now?

You can see my Twitter feed from the Gibbs briefing here.

Just days after Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) told the world (or at least whoever reads The Washington Times) that she would not be completing her 2010 Census questionnaire in its entirety, she has decided to cite as rationale incidents from World War II, when the Census Bureau released confidential information to the Roosevelt administration to aid the government's effort to round up Japanese-Americans into internment camps.

Yes, the Census Bureau committed a major error during the 1940s. One assumes that such egregious offenses and violations of personal privacy wouldn't occur today. Right?

A better argument for Bachmann to make would have been to cite the Census Bureau's disclosure of Arab-Americans' demographic data to the Department of Homeland Security in the post-9/11 era (Wouldn't that be a great coalition: The Arab American Institute Foundation, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and Rep. Michele Bachmann?)

As if the 2010 Census didn't already have enough problems of its own, the continued politicization of this process will only be a greater detriment to the American people.

Bachmann, for your viewing pleasure:

Sharks are lovely. They're 400-million-year-old, perfectly designed superpredators, and they're the only creatures tough enough to take down Samuel L. Jackson. But unfortunately, according to yet another new study, they should be afraid of us.

The new report issued today is the first global study of open-ocean sharks and rays, and it says that more than a third of them are threatened with extinction due to humans. The main ways they are killed is having their top fin sliced off for shark fin soup (after which they drown, being unable to swim properly), or they get caught in long-line fishing nets along with prey they're pursuing, often tuna.

Four of the species in the study were classified as endangered, the highest extinction-risk category: the ornate eagle ray, giant devilray, scalloped hammerhead, and great hammerhead. Many others were "vulnerable," including two kinds of makos and the Great White (above), one of the ocean's most formidable carnivores and star of Jaws. To learn more, you can read the PDF of the full 92-page report here.