Commentary Magazine


Topic: radiation

How Bad Can It Get?

The Obama administration has embarked on an assault on our ally Israel that can no longer be chalked up to a minor gaffe or a misunderstanding. The Obami have been unrelenting and consistently hostile toward the Jewish state. The Obama administration started off by ignoring the Bush administration’s agreements on settlements and making a settlement freeze the cornerstone of its Israel policy. That managed to alienate both sides. Last month, the temper tantrum over a routine housing permit was followed by Hillary Clinton’s 43-minute lecture to the prime minister. This was followed by the abusive and inexcusable treatment of Israel’s prime minister at the White House. That, in turn, was followed by leaks of the potential for an imposed settlement plan. No administration has ever treated Israel in this fashion. None.

Now we get this report, as yet unconfirmed from the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv, that the Obama administration is denying visas to Israeli nuclear scientists at the Dimona nuclear-research facility. In addition, the paper reports that the U.S. is imposing a defacto embargo blocking the purchase of component parts. This all marks a dramatic change from past U.S. policy:

The Americans are toughening their behavior toward the Nuclear Research Center in Dimona. Workers at the center say that while the Americans are behaving in a conciliatory and non-aggressive way regarding the Iranian nuclear program, President Obama’s people have chosen to behave in a humiliating manner toward a country that is friendly toward them.

Officials of the Nuclear Research Center in Dimona said yesterday that Obama’s government has imposed restrictions and toughened its behavior toward them, as has never happened before in relations between the two countries. For decades, employees of the Nuclear Research Center have traveled to universities in the United States for advanced professional training in physics, chemistry and nuclear engineering. In order to study at those universities, the researchers from the Nuclear Research Center had to request entry visas for the United States, as any Israeli citizen must. Yet recently, several of them encountered humiliating treatment and been refused visas, while their only crime has been that they are employees of the Nuclear Research Center. According to security officials, the people in question are researchers with clean records who have never been in any trouble with the law either in Israel or in the United States, so the new manner in which they are being treated constitutes a severe offense against them and their families.

But the treatment of the employees themselves is not the only thing that has changed. According to officials who are familiar with the details, attempts to purchase certain components from the Americans have also encountered difficulties, with some of the items under a de facto embargo. To put it mildly, officials at the nuclear center are not pleased with the tougher treatment, which did not take place during President Bush’s term. The Americans have asked for a detailed report on the purpose of some of the items that they wish to buy from the United States…

Professor Zeev Alfasi, the director of the nuclear engineering department at Ben-Gurion University in the Negev, who is familiar with the circumstances, describes the toughening of the Americans’ relations with the Nuclear Research Center. “Some of the people did not receive visas to the United States because they are employees of the Nuclear Research Center,” he explained. “The United States is not selling anything nuclear to the Nuclear Research Center, and that includes everything. For example, radiation detectors for nuclear research are purchased in France because the Americans do not sell to people of the Nuclear Research Center.

Not too long ago, a report like this would have been greeted with great skepticism. Now? It seems pretty much par for the course. It would be nice to think the U.S. is Israel’s “only reliable friend.” But for now, it’s not. The U.S. is, by each and every action, communicating to Israel that it should fend for itself. And it will have to for now.

The Obama administration has embarked on an assault on our ally Israel that can no longer be chalked up to a minor gaffe or a misunderstanding. The Obami have been unrelenting and consistently hostile toward the Jewish state. The Obama administration started off by ignoring the Bush administration’s agreements on settlements and making a settlement freeze the cornerstone of its Israel policy. That managed to alienate both sides. Last month, the temper tantrum over a routine housing permit was followed by Hillary Clinton’s 43-minute lecture to the prime minister. This was followed by the abusive and inexcusable treatment of Israel’s prime minister at the White House. That, in turn, was followed by leaks of the potential for an imposed settlement plan. No administration has ever treated Israel in this fashion. None.

Now we get this report, as yet unconfirmed from the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv, that the Obama administration is denying visas to Israeli nuclear scientists at the Dimona nuclear-research facility. In addition, the paper reports that the U.S. is imposing a defacto embargo blocking the purchase of component parts. This all marks a dramatic change from past U.S. policy:

The Americans are toughening their behavior toward the Nuclear Research Center in Dimona. Workers at the center say that while the Americans are behaving in a conciliatory and non-aggressive way regarding the Iranian nuclear program, President Obama’s people have chosen to behave in a humiliating manner toward a country that is friendly toward them.

Officials of the Nuclear Research Center in Dimona said yesterday that Obama’s government has imposed restrictions and toughened its behavior toward them, as has never happened before in relations between the two countries. For decades, employees of the Nuclear Research Center have traveled to universities in the United States for advanced professional training in physics, chemistry and nuclear engineering. In order to study at those universities, the researchers from the Nuclear Research Center had to request entry visas for the United States, as any Israeli citizen must. Yet recently, several of them encountered humiliating treatment and been refused visas, while their only crime has been that they are employees of the Nuclear Research Center. According to security officials, the people in question are researchers with clean records who have never been in any trouble with the law either in Israel or in the United States, so the new manner in which they are being treated constitutes a severe offense against them and their families.

But the treatment of the employees themselves is not the only thing that has changed. According to officials who are familiar with the details, attempts to purchase certain components from the Americans have also encountered difficulties, with some of the items under a de facto embargo. To put it mildly, officials at the nuclear center are not pleased with the tougher treatment, which did not take place during President Bush’s term. The Americans have asked for a detailed report on the purpose of some of the items that they wish to buy from the United States…

Professor Zeev Alfasi, the director of the nuclear engineering department at Ben-Gurion University in the Negev, who is familiar with the circumstances, describes the toughening of the Americans’ relations with the Nuclear Research Center. “Some of the people did not receive visas to the United States because they are employees of the Nuclear Research Center,” he explained. “The United States is not selling anything nuclear to the Nuclear Research Center, and that includes everything. For example, radiation detectors for nuclear research are purchased in France because the Americans do not sell to people of the Nuclear Research Center.

Not too long ago, a report like this would have been greeted with great skepticism. Now? It seems pretty much par for the course. It would be nice to think the U.S. is Israel’s “only reliable friend.” But for now, it’s not. The U.S. is, by each and every action, communicating to Israel that it should fend for itself. And it will have to for now.

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A Cure for the China Syndrome

Do you remember The China Syndrome, the 1979 flick starring Jane Fonda, Michael Douglas, and Jack Lemmon, about a nuclear-power plant gone fahkahkt whose debut in theaters happened to precede by a matter of days the Three Mile Island nuclear-power-plant disaster, which released deadly radiation into the atmosphere for thousands of miles, killing off plants, animals, trees, bugs, vermin, and hundreds of thousands of unsuspecting Americans busily going about their lives unsuspectingly not suspecting a thing?

Well neither do I. But the synchronicity of those events, I believe, went a long way toward putting the kibosh on nuclear power in this country, opening the doors for decades of nice clean fossil-fuel emissions.

Well, now that the French have paved the way for President Obama to advocate the employment of domestic nuclear power, none other than China Syndrome star Michael Douglas has announced that he supports the president in this. (h/t Big Hollywood)

I wish these people would make up their minds. How am I supposed to know what to hate if these movie-star actor-types can’t stay the course for more than 30 years?

Personally I believe going nuclear is a mistake. Granted, all those alternative forms of energy – wind, solar, hydroelectric, geothermal, thermal, thermals with the feet in them – couldn’t produce enough energy to fuel a haiku. But that may be a blessing in disguise, because fostering the notion that there is a relatively cheap and abundant supply of energy only motivates people to do things, and doing things is the No. 1 cause of all the world’s problems in the first place. Why O why can’t people just stay in their assigned spaces and sit quietly, hands folded?

If only we could encourage people to stop doing things, then our energy-consumption dilemma would solve itself and we wouldn’t have to take our cues from movie-star actor-types to begin with.

Nothing. It’s our only hope.

Do you remember The China Syndrome, the 1979 flick starring Jane Fonda, Michael Douglas, and Jack Lemmon, about a nuclear-power plant gone fahkahkt whose debut in theaters happened to precede by a matter of days the Three Mile Island nuclear-power-plant disaster, which released deadly radiation into the atmosphere for thousands of miles, killing off plants, animals, trees, bugs, vermin, and hundreds of thousands of unsuspecting Americans busily going about their lives unsuspectingly not suspecting a thing?

Well neither do I. But the synchronicity of those events, I believe, went a long way toward putting the kibosh on nuclear power in this country, opening the doors for decades of nice clean fossil-fuel emissions.

Well, now that the French have paved the way for President Obama to advocate the employment of domestic nuclear power, none other than China Syndrome star Michael Douglas has announced that he supports the president in this. (h/t Big Hollywood)

I wish these people would make up their minds. How am I supposed to know what to hate if these movie-star actor-types can’t stay the course for more than 30 years?

Personally I believe going nuclear is a mistake. Granted, all those alternative forms of energy – wind, solar, hydroelectric, geothermal, thermal, thermals with the feet in them – couldn’t produce enough energy to fuel a haiku. But that may be a blessing in disguise, because fostering the notion that there is a relatively cheap and abundant supply of energy only motivates people to do things, and doing things is the No. 1 cause of all the world’s problems in the first place. Why O why can’t people just stay in their assigned spaces and sit quietly, hands folded?

If only we could encourage people to stop doing things, then our energy-consumption dilemma would solve itself and we wouldn’t have to take our cues from movie-star actor-types to begin with.

Nothing. It’s our only hope.

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Re: Gartenstein-Ross Defends Rashad Hussain

Hussain’s comment was not an isolated one. Josh Gerstein reports on the recording of the event that Hussain has tried to conceal from view:

Hussain refers to some provisions of the Patriot Act as “horrible” and called “dangerous” an aspect of that law that allows intelligence-related surveillance to be used in criminal cases. Most lawmakers, including many Democrats critical of the Patriot Act, have said the provision has proved valuable, because it removed a wall that made it difficult for those pursuing investigations of international terror or spying operations to share information with criminal investigators. Hussain did express support for other aspects of the law, including a provision permitting so-called roving wiretaps.

Hussain’s position seems to be in direct conflict with the current administration, but quite in tune with the grievance-mongering lobby of CAIR and other groups. But that is not all. In his speech, Hussain cited chapter and verse on the supposed persecution of Muslims:

— The court martial of Capt. James Yee, a Guantanamo chaplain initially suspected of treason and later charged with adultery. All charges were eventually dropped.

— The case of Jose Padilla, who was held without charge for more than three years as an enemy combatant on suspicions of trying to detonate a radiation-laced “dirty bomb” in the U.S. In 2006, more than a year after Hussain spoke, Padilla was charged in a terrorist plot unrelated to the dirty bomb allegations. He was convicted by a jury in 2007 and sentenced to 17 years in prison.

— The imprisonment of Yaser Hamdi, who was captured in Afghanistan, held as an enemy combatant and released to Saudi Arabia weeks after Hussain spoke.

— The prosecution of an imam and a pizzeria owner in Albany, N.Y., for conspiring with an informant in a fictitious plot to use a missile launcher to attack a Pakistani diplomat. The men were convicted in 2006 and sentenced to 15 years in prison, though their lawyers claimed the pair were entrapped.

— The prosecution of a Somali man, Nuradin Abdi, in 2004 for plotting to blow up a shopping mall in Columbus, Ohio. He pled guilty in 2007 to conspiring to support terrorism and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

— The imprisonment of an Oregon lawyer, Brandon Mayfield, who was jailed for more than two weeks in 2004 as a material witness on suspicion of involvement in the Madrid train bombings that year. He was never charged with a crime, received an apology from the FBI, which said it misidentified his fingerprints, and brought a lawsuit that led to a reported $2 million settlement from the government in 2006.

— The prosecution of four men as alleged members of a Detroit-based Al Qaeda “sleeper cell” plotting an attack. Two of the men were convicted on terror charges in 2003 but the convictions were thrown out at the government’s request after evidence emerged of prosecutorial misconduct and an unreliable informant. The prosecutor was charged criminally with concealing exculpatory evidence but later acquitted.

Hussain went on to tell the audience at the event, held roughly two months before the 2004 election, that electing Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) as president could stem the tide of such cases.

This kind of rhetoric may get cheers from the Left and from CAIR but is not, even for this administration, remotely acceptable. The Obami have pointedly refused to stick up for Hussain since Friday’s revelation. At this point, I suspect they would rather have someone else in that role – someone who does not see behind every legitimate effort to defend America from Islamic fascist the specter of anti-Muslim discrimination.

Hussain’s comment was not an isolated one. Josh Gerstein reports on the recording of the event that Hussain has tried to conceal from view:

Hussain refers to some provisions of the Patriot Act as “horrible” and called “dangerous” an aspect of that law that allows intelligence-related surveillance to be used in criminal cases. Most lawmakers, including many Democrats critical of the Patriot Act, have said the provision has proved valuable, because it removed a wall that made it difficult for those pursuing investigations of international terror or spying operations to share information with criminal investigators. Hussain did express support for other aspects of the law, including a provision permitting so-called roving wiretaps.

Hussain’s position seems to be in direct conflict with the current administration, but quite in tune with the grievance-mongering lobby of CAIR and other groups. But that is not all. In his speech, Hussain cited chapter and verse on the supposed persecution of Muslims:

— The court martial of Capt. James Yee, a Guantanamo chaplain initially suspected of treason and later charged with adultery. All charges were eventually dropped.

— The case of Jose Padilla, who was held without charge for more than three years as an enemy combatant on suspicions of trying to detonate a radiation-laced “dirty bomb” in the U.S. In 2006, more than a year after Hussain spoke, Padilla was charged in a terrorist plot unrelated to the dirty bomb allegations. He was convicted by a jury in 2007 and sentenced to 17 years in prison.

— The imprisonment of Yaser Hamdi, who was captured in Afghanistan, held as an enemy combatant and released to Saudi Arabia weeks after Hussain spoke.

— The prosecution of an imam and a pizzeria owner in Albany, N.Y., for conspiring with an informant in a fictitious plot to use a missile launcher to attack a Pakistani diplomat. The men were convicted in 2006 and sentenced to 15 years in prison, though their lawyers claimed the pair were entrapped.

— The prosecution of a Somali man, Nuradin Abdi, in 2004 for plotting to blow up a shopping mall in Columbus, Ohio. He pled guilty in 2007 to conspiring to support terrorism and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

— The imprisonment of an Oregon lawyer, Brandon Mayfield, who was jailed for more than two weeks in 2004 as a material witness on suspicion of involvement in the Madrid train bombings that year. He was never charged with a crime, received an apology from the FBI, which said it misidentified his fingerprints, and brought a lawsuit that led to a reported $2 million settlement from the government in 2006.

— The prosecution of four men as alleged members of a Detroit-based Al Qaeda “sleeper cell” plotting an attack. Two of the men were convicted on terror charges in 2003 but the convictions were thrown out at the government’s request after evidence emerged of prosecutorial misconduct and an unreliable informant. The prosecutor was charged criminally with concealing exculpatory evidence but later acquitted.

Hussain went on to tell the audience at the event, held roughly two months before the 2004 election, that electing Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) as president could stem the tide of such cases.

This kind of rhetoric may get cheers from the Left and from CAIR but is not, even for this administration, remotely acceptable. The Obami have pointedly refused to stick up for Hussain since Friday’s revelation. At this point, I suspect they would rather have someone else in that role – someone who does not see behind every legitimate effort to defend America from Islamic fascist the specter of anti-Muslim discrimination.

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A Billion-Dollar Blunder

James Q. Wilson (a COMMENTARY contributor) reminds us of what the New York trial of KSM entails:

To protect the courthouse, the New York Police Department will establish a rigid inner circle bounded by Worth, Madison, Pearl and Centre streets. Vehicles entering the perimeter will be thoroughly screened and searched.

This secure perimeter will encompass several city blocks. Inside it will be a federal courthouse, the city’s police headquarters, a New York State Supreme Court building, other governmental buildings and St. Andrews Roman Catholic Church. Also inside the cordon will be Chatham Towers, two 25-story residential buildings with hundreds of residents and a public parking garage.

This means that everyone who wants to get to the city’s police headquarters, a court building or their homes in Chatham Towers will face road blocks, car searches, radiation monitors and pedestrian checks.

The cost of added personnel deployed year after year as the trial plays out is daunting. We’re talking over $200M per year. Wilson adds: “If the five defendants are found guilty, there will probably be an appeal that will be heard in a courthouse inside the secure area, which would require more months of stepped up security. And these figures do not count what the U.S. marshals, the FBI and other agencies will spend on activities related to the trial.”

You can understand that New York taxpayers might not want to get stuck with the tab. But neither should any American taxpayer. The solution, as Wilson points out, is simple: send KSM and his cohorts back to the military tribunal, where they can plead guilty or not and be dealt with in the safe confines of a military facility.

Cost is not the primary reason to oppose a civilian KSM trial, but neither is it insignificant. We’re talking about a tab approaching a billion dollars if a multiyear trial and subsequent appeal unfolds. It is yet another instance in which liberal elites, with an ideological bent toward expanding constitutional protections beyond any historical or legal necessity, seek to impose burdens on ordinary Americans. In this case, the burdens involve both their safety and their wallets.

James Q. Wilson (a COMMENTARY contributor) reminds us of what the New York trial of KSM entails:

To protect the courthouse, the New York Police Department will establish a rigid inner circle bounded by Worth, Madison, Pearl and Centre streets. Vehicles entering the perimeter will be thoroughly screened and searched.

This secure perimeter will encompass several city blocks. Inside it will be a federal courthouse, the city’s police headquarters, a New York State Supreme Court building, other governmental buildings and St. Andrews Roman Catholic Church. Also inside the cordon will be Chatham Towers, two 25-story residential buildings with hundreds of residents and a public parking garage.

This means that everyone who wants to get to the city’s police headquarters, a court building or their homes in Chatham Towers will face road blocks, car searches, radiation monitors and pedestrian checks.

The cost of added personnel deployed year after year as the trial plays out is daunting. We’re talking over $200M per year. Wilson adds: “If the five defendants are found guilty, there will probably be an appeal that will be heard in a courthouse inside the secure area, which would require more months of stepped up security. And these figures do not count what the U.S. marshals, the FBI and other agencies will spend on activities related to the trial.”

You can understand that New York taxpayers might not want to get stuck with the tab. But neither should any American taxpayer. The solution, as Wilson points out, is simple: send KSM and his cohorts back to the military tribunal, where they can plead guilty or not and be dealt with in the safe confines of a military facility.

Cost is not the primary reason to oppose a civilian KSM trial, but neither is it insignificant. We’re talking about a tab approaching a billion dollars if a multiyear trial and subsequent appeal unfolds. It is yet another instance in which liberal elites, with an ideological bent toward expanding constitutional protections beyond any historical or legal necessity, seek to impose burdens on ordinary Americans. In this case, the burdens involve both their safety and their wallets.

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Deterring World War V

Should a nuclear exchange between Israel and Iran be called World War V or something else? That’s an irrelevant question. The real issue is who would come out ahead. The answer to such calculation might determine whether such a war erupts in the first place.

Let’s assume the worst about Iran — even if it is a bit of a stretch: that its leaders are in the grip of messianic ideas that might incline them to launch a nuclear fusillade to annihilate Israel even if it meant incurring significant Iranian casualties, including the incineration of major cities.

But would the ayatollahs launch such an attack if they would lose several cities and millions of Iranians — and not manage to destroy Israel? That is the question raised by a new study — based upon a war game — by the military analyst Anthony Cordesman of the Center for International Studies in Washington D.C.  The study does not appear to be on-line yet, but is summarized in Tuesday’s New York Post.

It seems that Israel’s anti-ballistic-missile systems might spare it the worst, not that the results wouldn’t be horrific. According to the Post’s Andy Soltis, among the main points of the study are:

An exchange of nukes would last about 21 days and immediately kill 16 million to 28 million Iranians and 200,000 to 800,000 Israelis.

Long-term deaths, from the effects of radiation and other causes, were not estimated.

The greater Iranian death toll is explained by several factors:

*Israeli bombs have a bigger bang. Israel has produced 1-megaton nukes, while Iran would be unable to produce anything more than 100 kilotons, a weapon with one-tenth the impact.

*Iran would have fewer than 50 nuclear weapons, while Israel would have more than 200.

*Israel also has a homebuilt Arrow-2 missile defense, buttressed by U. S. made anti-missile weaponry. Iran has a limited missile defense.

*Israel’s missiles would be more accurate, due to high-resolution satellite imagery.

If Syria joined its ally Iran in a wider war, it could attack Israel with mustard gas, nerve agents and anthrax in non-nuclear warheads.

That could kill another 800,000 Israelis, but in response, up to 18 million Syrians would die.

The implications of the Cordesman study would seem, at first glance, to cut against the necessity for a preemptive Israeli or American attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. The logical inference one might draw from the conclusions of the CSIS study is that Iran would be deterred and Israel could therefore live with a nuclear-armed Iran.

That would be great news but, unfortunately, Israel cannot afford to gamble its future on the outcome of a Washington war-game. The Iranian calculation might differ significantly from Cordesman’s. More to the point, an Iranian nuclear umbrella would significantly embolden an already emboldened Iran in its quest for regional influence and the destruction of Israel by indirect means.  

Norman Podhoretz argued back in June that an American attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities was a strategic neccesity, and he predicted that President Bush was likely to carry out such a strike sometime in the remainder of his term. That always seemed improbable to me given the acute American difficulties in neighboring Iraq. In the wake of the U.S. intelligence community’s estimate that Iran halted its nuclear program in 2003, the possibility of such action seems to have diminished to the vanishing point, even if the intelligence estimate is deeply flawed.

But U.S. action or no U.S. action under Bush, Norman’s case for a strike on Iran to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons remains as compelling as before.

Should a nuclear exchange between Israel and Iran be called World War V or something else? That’s an irrelevant question. The real issue is who would come out ahead. The answer to such calculation might determine whether such a war erupts in the first place.

Let’s assume the worst about Iran — even if it is a bit of a stretch: that its leaders are in the grip of messianic ideas that might incline them to launch a nuclear fusillade to annihilate Israel even if it meant incurring significant Iranian casualties, including the incineration of major cities.

But would the ayatollahs launch such an attack if they would lose several cities and millions of Iranians — and not manage to destroy Israel? That is the question raised by a new study — based upon a war game — by the military analyst Anthony Cordesman of the Center for International Studies in Washington D.C.  The study does not appear to be on-line yet, but is summarized in Tuesday’s New York Post.

It seems that Israel’s anti-ballistic-missile systems might spare it the worst, not that the results wouldn’t be horrific. According to the Post’s Andy Soltis, among the main points of the study are:

An exchange of nukes would last about 21 days and immediately kill 16 million to 28 million Iranians and 200,000 to 800,000 Israelis.

Long-term deaths, from the effects of radiation and other causes, were not estimated.

The greater Iranian death toll is explained by several factors:

*Israeli bombs have a bigger bang. Israel has produced 1-megaton nukes, while Iran would be unable to produce anything more than 100 kilotons, a weapon with one-tenth the impact.

*Iran would have fewer than 50 nuclear weapons, while Israel would have more than 200.

*Israel also has a homebuilt Arrow-2 missile defense, buttressed by U. S. made anti-missile weaponry. Iran has a limited missile defense.

*Israel’s missiles would be more accurate, due to high-resolution satellite imagery.

If Syria joined its ally Iran in a wider war, it could attack Israel with mustard gas, nerve agents and anthrax in non-nuclear warheads.

That could kill another 800,000 Israelis, but in response, up to 18 million Syrians would die.

The implications of the Cordesman study would seem, at first glance, to cut against the necessity for a preemptive Israeli or American attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. The logical inference one might draw from the conclusions of the CSIS study is that Iran would be deterred and Israel could therefore live with a nuclear-armed Iran.

That would be great news but, unfortunately, Israel cannot afford to gamble its future on the outcome of a Washington war-game. The Iranian calculation might differ significantly from Cordesman’s. More to the point, an Iranian nuclear umbrella would significantly embolden an already emboldened Iran in its quest for regional influence and the destruction of Israel by indirect means.  

Norman Podhoretz argued back in June that an American attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities was a strategic neccesity, and he predicted that President Bush was likely to carry out such a strike sometime in the remainder of his term. That always seemed improbable to me given the acute American difficulties in neighboring Iraq. In the wake of the U.S. intelligence community’s estimate that Iran halted its nuclear program in 2003, the possibility of such action seems to have diminished to the vanishing point, even if the intelligence estimate is deeply flawed.

But U.S. action or no U.S. action under Bush, Norman’s case for a strike on Iran to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons remains as compelling as before.

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The Coming Dirty-Bomb Attack

I had some x-rays taken by my dentist yesterday and I glanced nervously at the triangular radiation-caution marking on the device. For the Defense Science Board, a government-run panel composed of military and industry experts, has just issued a report that there are more than 1,000 irradiation machines used in hospitals and research laboratories across the United States that could be used by terrorists as a source of radioactive materials to construct a dirty bomb. “Any one of these 1,000-plus sources could shut down 25 square kilometers, anywhere in the United States, for 40-plus years,” the Washington Post quoted from the report yesterday. (Dental x-ray machines do not present a similar problem.)

The Defense Science Board is recommending that the hospital and laboratory radiation devices, typically left unguarded, either be secured or replaced with irradiators that use other less lethal materials. That is an excellent (if costly) idea and an urgent matter. But what about the thousands of such devices that are not in the United States? Is anyone worrying about them?

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I had some x-rays taken by my dentist yesterday and I glanced nervously at the triangular radiation-caution marking on the device. For the Defense Science Board, a government-run panel composed of military and industry experts, has just issued a report that there are more than 1,000 irradiation machines used in hospitals and research laboratories across the United States that could be used by terrorists as a source of radioactive materials to construct a dirty bomb. “Any one of these 1,000-plus sources could shut down 25 square kilometers, anywhere in the United States, for 40-plus years,” the Washington Post quoted from the report yesterday. (Dental x-ray machines do not present a similar problem.)

The Defense Science Board is recommending that the hospital and laboratory radiation devices, typically left unguarded, either be secured or replaced with irradiators that use other less lethal materials. That is an excellent (if costly) idea and an urgent matter. But what about the thousands of such devices that are not in the United States? Is anyone worrying about them?

One country—or set of countries—of particular concern is Russia and the rest of the former USSR. The intelligence community’s primary concern with Russia has been the possibility that some of its nuclear weapons will come loose and fall or be sold into terrorist hands. While that danger remains a theoretical possibility, another, more realistic menace has been with us already for a long time.

Way back in 1990, in “Rad Storm Rising,” an article I wrote for the Atlantic (which at my request has courteously posted it on the web for all to read for free), I took note of lax practices regarding nuclear materials and nuclear waste across the still extant USSR. In the Siberian city of Novosibirk alone, a radiation map prepared by the authorities indicated 84 separate “radiation anomalies.” Fourteen of these had been caused by radioactive ampules from scientific and industrial instrumentation that should have been interred at a radioactive-waste disposal site but, according to the Soviet press, “were mindlessly and recklessly thrown out into streets and yards.”

“Even allowing for the Russian penchant for hyperbole,” I observed, “the latest revelations in the ever more candid Soviet press make clear that Soviet problems in the area of nuclear pollution and safety continue to be extraordinarily severe.”

A decade and a half has elapsed since then. The public-health implications of such carelessness are no longer our primary worry. Terrorism is. Even if the United States can do little about radioactive ampules in faraway lands, the Russian authorities, at least as far as protecting their own territory is concerned, can and must.

Dirty bombs are the most likely approach to an al Qaeda follow-on attack to 9/11. And if terrorists are now actively plotting a dirty bomb attack, my bet is that Moscow, the capital of a land where radioactive materials have been treated with appalling recklessness, is a far more vulnerable target than Washington or New York.

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More Dissent on Global Warming

Though the fear of man-made global warming has come to dominate our cultural discourse, the science behind the scare is looking increasingly uncertain. David Evans is representative of scientists who have become disillusioned with the theory that industrial carbon dioxide emissions are the root cause of global warming: as he points out, the computer models don’t seem to fit the data, while at the same time evidence is mounting in favor of alternative hypotheses, like the idea that climate change may be caused in large part by fluctuations in solar radiation. A series of articles by Lawrence Solomon, who has profiled prominent climate-change dissenters, demonstrates that Evans is hardly alone—and calls into question the often-parroted assertion that there is some sort of scientific “consensus” on the issue (whatever that might mean).

One of Evans’s interesting asides is that “the integrity of the scientific community will win out in the end, following the evidence wherever it leads.” Although this is true in the long run, it’s a bit simplistic. Once a theory gains ascendancy, it may take years or even decades before its adherents are willing to abandon it, even in the face of contradictory data. (See Thomas Kuhn’s landmark book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions for a picture of this phenomenon.) At the most basic level, scientists have their jobs and reputations to think about; it’s only natural to resist the suggestion that one has spent one’s career trying to prove, or solve, a nonexistent problem. No doubt this would be true even in the absence of external pressure. But with the political stakes now so high, scientific integrity is at a decided disadvantage.

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Though the fear of man-made global warming has come to dominate our cultural discourse, the science behind the scare is looking increasingly uncertain. David Evans is representative of scientists who have become disillusioned with the theory that industrial carbon dioxide emissions are the root cause of global warming: as he points out, the computer models don’t seem to fit the data, while at the same time evidence is mounting in favor of alternative hypotheses, like the idea that climate change may be caused in large part by fluctuations in solar radiation. A series of articles by Lawrence Solomon, who has profiled prominent climate-change dissenters, demonstrates that Evans is hardly alone—and calls into question the often-parroted assertion that there is some sort of scientific “consensus” on the issue (whatever that might mean).

One of Evans’s interesting asides is that “the integrity of the scientific community will win out in the end, following the evidence wherever it leads.” Although this is true in the long run, it’s a bit simplistic. Once a theory gains ascendancy, it may take years or even decades before its adherents are willing to abandon it, even in the face of contradictory data. (See Thomas Kuhn’s landmark book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions for a picture of this phenomenon.) At the most basic level, scientists have their jobs and reputations to think about; it’s only natural to resist the suggestion that one has spent one’s career trying to prove, or solve, a nonexistent problem. No doubt this would be true even in the absence of external pressure. But with the political stakes now so high, scientific integrity is at a decided disadvantage.

In this case, the direct evidence doesn’t support the theory of anthropogenic climate change, so proponents have clouded the issue by seizing on unrelated phenomena in a more or less desperate and blatantly opportunistic way. “Global warming” has reflexively been invoked as the explanation for everything from the devastating 2005 hurricane season (but not the barely noticeable 2006 hurricane season) to the recent proliferation of stray cats. For about two years now, it’s been possible to predict that any report of a noticeable change in the environment or in plant or animal behavior will now be chalked up to global warming, with the implication that we must therefore take some sort of radical action to atone for the sin of carbon dioxide emission.

What’s important to bear in mind is that these observations have absolutely nothing to do with the claim that human activity is causing climate change. Consider, for example, the recent report in the Washington Post that conditions in Greenland are becoming more favorable for cod fishing and agriculture due to a slight increase in average temperature. Oddly, the Post article fails to mention that Greenland must have been just as balmy when it was first settled by the Vikings more than a thousand years ago. Proponents of global warming hysteria prefer to play down this historically inconvenient medieval warm period, explaining it as a local anomaly. Whether or not this is true (and it probably isn’t), how do we know that Greenland’s current good fortune isn’t also a local trend? And, more to the point, if a warmer Greenland is indeed a symptom of global warming, how do we know that human activity is the cause? It’s troubling that questions like these are no longer even asked, because the answers aren’t at all clear.

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