Another White House science appointment…

Princeton emeritus professor Will Happer, more here.

I’ll simply note his views on climate are at variance with the global scientific consensus. His question about whether increases in CO2 result in the carbon sink of plant life on the planet is interesting. ┬áSince the Carbon Cycle is coupled in various complex ways to plant growth (e.g. through the Nitrogen Cycle), I’d say the answer is not obvious.

Latest on the White House BRAIN initiative…

From ScienceInsider here. Money quote paraphrasing Janelia Farm Director Gerald Rubin:

That something-for-everyone approach, however, means that the $40 million that NIH has pledged to the project will run out long before it meets its goals

There are two central issues here I think: first, without a real “new money” appropriation of some sort, the program is always going to have just a hint of vaporware. Second, in the current sequestration environment, BRAIN funding will be part of a zero-sum game with other life sciences federal R&D investments. The two issues are related of course.

Phase Shift on Fiscal Cliff

Maybe it’s something that’s been added to the drinking water, but the signals coming out of the GOP over the last 48 hrs, make me still more optimistic that the fiscal cliff can be avoided. The key driver is the element of last year’s Budget Control Act that automates disaster (i.e. the cliff) without positive action on the part of Congress and the President. Specifically, the Bush tax cuts will go away (all of them) on January 1, 2013 without agreement. So the President can effectively do nothing and the House GOP automatically loses what they care about most. That’s a powerful driver.

The outlines of an agreement prior to January 1 look like this: the GOP agrees to a Bush tax sunset for the very rich, the President agrees to continue the Bush tax cuts for the middle class. Sequestration goes away in favor of targeted cuts to discretionary spending. Debt ceiling increase agreed to. And a commitment to do major tax reform in the new Congress with an effective enforcement mechanism.

It’s really that simple.

The long term challenge will be to get tax reform right, and to figure out real ways to bend the health care curve down, even with Obamacare.

That’s not simple.

Stay tuned….

Zeke goes to the White House

Zeke Emanuel and I went to Amherst College together. His brother Rahm is already pretty famous, but for those of us who spent the undergraduate years with Zeke–he was one scarily bright guy.

Enjoy this Chicago Tribune profile of the other Emanuel–probably the Nation’s premier bioethicist and possible future Nobel Laureate.
Hat tip to Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution.