Primary Sources

The White House's environmental "science"; how to make Iraq more like Kosovo; the dubious constituency of anti-globalization protesters; Kansas versus a pancake (Kansas wins)
Mission Impossible?

When funds set aside for Iraq's reconstruction proved insufficient, President Bush pressed Congress for $71 billion for security and rebuilding operations. (The President also requested $16 billion for Afghanistan and other "war on terror" activities.) Yet despite mounting calls for more troops on the ground in Iraq, the Administration has remained steadfastly opposed to sending any. This could prove to be a serious mistake. During the war itself, the U.S. prevailed on the strength of technological and tactical superiority. But according to a new study by researchers at the RAND Corporation, who reviewed the seven previous U.S.-led nation-building exercises since World War II, one of the keys to successful nation building is large numbers of ground troops. For instance, consider the contrast between the relative success of such efforts in the Balkans and the slow, unsteady pace of reconstruction in post-conflict Afghanistan; the difference, the researchers found, is largely due to the fact that fifty times more soldiers per capita were deployed to Kosovo after the 1999 war than to Afghanistan after the 2001 conflict. For the United States to achieve a Kosovo-level per capita force presence in Iraq, it would have to deploy about 376,000 additional soldiers there. According to a recent Congressional Budget Office report, however, it's doubtful that the United States will even be able to sustain present force levels (about 150,000 soldiers) past 2004. In the best-case scenario, according to the CBO, only about 106,000 additional U.S. soldiers could be made available over the long term to rebuild Iraq—and a deployment of that size would further strain the already strained National Guard and reserve units.

"America's Role in Nation-Building: From Germany to Iraq," RAND Corporation; "An Analysis of the U.S. Military's Ability to Sustain an Occupation of Iraq," Congressional Budget Office

Politics (and Profits) on TV

In the nation's top fifty media markets during the seven weeks immediately preceding the November 2002 midterm election, more than half of all local television broadcasts gave no coverage whatsoever to political campaigns. As a result, according to researchers at the University of Southern California and the University of Wisconsin at Madison who examined more than 10,000 half-hour local television news broadcasts, most of the political information gleaned by local-news viewers came from paid advertisements: 80 percent of the broadcasts the researchers reviewed included at least one political advertisement; about half contained three or more ads. Another study, by the Alliance for Better Campaigns, suggests that although broadcasters ignore political campaigns in their news coverage, they are happy to exploit them for their revenue-generating potential: the price political candidates had to pay for television air time increased by 53 percent in the two months leading up to the November 2002 elections.

"Local TV News Coverage of the 2002 General Election," Martin Kaplan (USC) and Ken Goldstein (UW Madison); "Profiteering on Democracy," Alliance for Better Campaigns

Premature Explanation

Seeking to assuage fears about the health threat posed by contaminated air at Ground Zero, the Environmental Protection Agency in the days immediately following the September 11 terrorist attacks issued a series of press releases that played down the risks of bad air in Lower Manhattan. One release, dated September 18, stated simply, "The air is safe to breathe." But a recent report from the EPA's inspector general suggests that the agency didn't have enough information in September of 2001 to make such a blanket statement about health risks. Moreover, the report reveals, 25 percent of the dust samples taken between September 11 and September 18 in fact exhibited asbestos levels high enough to warrant serious health concerns. What accounts for the agency's haste in reassuring the American public before the facts were known? White House meddling: according to the report, White House staff pressured the EPA into replacing cautionary language from drafts of early press releases with reassuring statements about air quality. If a report by Democrats on the House Committee on Government Reform is to be believed, the Bush Administration has not been shy about distorting scientific studies. The report documents numerous instances of the White House's "manipulating scientific advisory committees," "distorting and suppressing scientific information," and "interfering with scientific research and analysis."

—"EPA's Response to the World Trade Center Collapse," EPA, Office of the Inspector General; "Politics and Science in the Bush Administration," House Committee on Government Reform

The Flapjack State

For truck drivers accustomed to the long, lonely trek across the Great Plains, it has for years been a truism that Kansas is flatter than a pancake. Recently geographers from Texas State and Arizona State Universities proved that this truism is, in fact, scientifically true. According to a study published in the Annals of Improbable Research (the successor to the now-defunct Journal of Irreproducible Results), researchers removed a two-centimeter-wide sample strip from a warm restaurant pancake. Viewing the sample through a high-powered microscope, they were surprised to find its surface quite rugged. But the proof of Kansas's superior flatness was in the numbers. Perfect, platonic flatness has a mathematical value of 1.000. Whereas the pancake sample scored a very flat 0.957, Kansas was clearly flatter, scoring 0.9997. Producing this finding, though, proved difficult for the researchers, because Kansas is so flat that the software they were using first reported its flatness to be a perfect 1.000—unlikely even for Kansas. Several hours' worth of further computer programming was required before the researchers could make a proper measurement and then agree on a technical description of Kansas's essential characteristic: "damn flat."

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