Real and metaphorical Wars

When All the World’s a War… 
And All the Men and Women Merely Soldiers
via Toms Dispatch – by Rebecca Gordon – Aug. 15th, 2017

Since September 11, 2001, the United States has been fighting a “war on terror.” Real soldiers have been deployed to distant lands; real cluster bombs and white phosphorus have been used; real cruise missiles have been launched; the first MOAB, the largest non-nuclear bomb in the U.S. arsenal, has been dropped; and real cities have been reduced to rubble. In revenge for the deaths of 2,977 civilians that day, real people — in the millions — have died and millions more have become refugees. But is the war on terror actually a war at all — or is it only a metaphor?

In a real war, nations or organized non-state actors square off against each other. A metaphorical war is like a real war — after all, that’s what a metaphor is, a way of saying that one thing is like something else — but the enemy isn’t a country or even a single group of Islamic jihadists. It’s some other kind of threat: a disease, a social problem, or in the case of the war on terror, an emotion.

In truth, it may not matter if the war on terror is a real one, since metaphorical wars have a striking way of killing real people in real numbers, too. Take the U.S war on drugs, for example. In Mexico, that war, fueled by U.S. weapons, using U.S. drones, and conducted with the assistance of the Pentagon and the CIA, has already led to the deaths of many thousands of people. A 2015 U.S. Congressional Research Service report estimates that organized crime caused 80,000 deaths in Mexico between 2007 and 2015. Most of the guns used in what has essentially been a mass murder spree came from this country, which is also the main market for the marijuana, cocaine, and heroin that are the identified enemy in this war of ours. As with our more literal wars of recent years, the war on drugs shows no sign of ending (nor does the U.S. hunger for drugs show any sign of abating). If anyone is winning this particular war, it’s the drugs — and, of course, the criminal cartels that move them across the continent.
Continue reading Real and metaphorical Wars

Willful ignorance

by Richard @ Flexible Reality – Aug. 14th, 2017

“It’s easy to avoid finding any negatives when you choose not to look.”


In the early morning hours of a restless night’s sleep you awaken to a dreamworld consideration of whether your mate, comfortably sleeping beside you, has been unfaithful to you. Or perhaps you will be going to a get-together with some near peers who you know have a wildly divergent ideology than you; or you are a political appointee coming into what you consider hostile territory for a situational  briefing.

As Michael Lewis wrote in “The Five Risks”, in the September 2017 issue of Vanity Fair: “If you want to preserve your personal immunity to hard problems, it’s better never to really understand the problem.” Social scientists attribute the potential issues which can arise as elements of cognitive dissonance.

As we have seen in the current political moment, Trumpism is the expression of the perverse desire to remain hostile to, and ignorant of scientific inquiry, or the data that flows from it. In social media there is a stubborn insistence on fealty to one’s own opinions and beliefs in spite of overwhelming evidence demonstrating inaccuracies, and falsehoods.

But this is not a novelty, as a quick reference to  “il processo a Galileo Galilei” which was a sequence of events, beginning around 1610, culminating with the trial and condemnation of Galileo Galilei by the Roman Catholic Inquisition in 1633 for his support of heliocentrism.  Or the vehement opposition by industrial and commercial interests prior to 1965 of removing lead from house paint and automobile fuels.

Neil deGrasse Tyson makes a frequent reference to the central tenet of informed inquiry:

“Science distinguishes itself from all other branches of human pursuit by its power to probe and understand the behavior of nature on a level that allows us to predict with accuracy, if not control, the outcomes of events in the natural world.”   – NDT

One other sentence from his article bears repeating: “Do whatever it takes to avoid fooling yourself into thinking something is true that is not, or that something is not true that is.” In fact, his whole article is more profound than what I was planning on writing, so I will simply turn the stage over to him:
Continue reading Willful ignorance

Natural language is un-natural

Natural Language   Posted: 11 Aug 2017 05:07 AM PDT

If we want people to engage with the living world, we should stop using such constipated terms to describe our relationship to it.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 9th August 2017

  • * * * * *

If Moses had promised the Israelites a land flowing with mammary secretions and insect vomit, would they have followed him into Canaan? Though this means milk and honey, I doubt it.

So why do we use such language to describe the natural wonders of the world? There are examples everywhere, but I’ll illustrate the problem with a few from the UK. On land, places in which nature is protected are called “sites of special scientific interest”. At sea, they are labelled “no take zones” or “reference areas”. Had you set out to estrange people from the living world, you could scarcely have done better.

Even the term “reserve” is cold and alienating – think of what we mean when we use that word about a person. “The environment” is just as bad: it’s an empty word, that creates no pictures in the mind. Animals and plants are described as “resources” or “stocks”, as if they belong to us and their role is to serve us – a notion disastrously extended by the term “ecosystem services”.

Our assaults on life and beauty are also sanitised and disguised by the words we use. When a species is obliterated through human action, we use the term “extinction”. This conveys no sense of agency, and mixes up eradication by people with the natural turnover of species. It’s like calling murder “expiration”. “Climate change” also confuses natural variation with the catastrophic disruption we cause: a confusion deliberately exploited by those who deny our role. (Even this neutral term has now been banned from use in the US Department of Agriculture). I still see ecologists referring to “improved” pasture, meaning land from which all life has been erased other than a couple of plant species favoured for grazing or silage. We need a new vocabulary.
Continue reading Natural language is un-natural

Is the World Slouching Toward a Grave Systemic Crisis?

Is the World Slouching Toward a Grave Systemic Crisis?

History is punctuated by catalytic episodes—events that can become guideposts toward a more open and civilized world.

via The Atlantic by:  PHILIP ZELIKOW  –  8/11/2017 – 

East German border policemen refusing to shake hands with a Berliner over the border fence in November, 1989
East German border policemen refusing to shake hands with a Berliner over the border fence in November, 1989Lutz Schmidt / Associated Press
 On August 5, Philip Zelikow delivered the following keynote address at the annual meeting of the Aspen Strategy Group, a discussion forum for experts and government practitioners. Zelikow, who is currently the White Burkett Miller Professor of History at the University of Virginia, has served at all levels of American government, and for administrations of both parties—including roles at the White House, State Department, and Pentagon. He was also the executive director of the 9/11 Commission. In this speech he reflects on the much-discussed concept of “world order,” interrogates the claim that a “more open” world is really better for Americans, and issues a warning about America’s world leadership. The full text is below.
Continue reading Is the World Slouching Toward a Grave Systemic Crisis?

Support request for VoteVets



I am sure you saw that yesterday President Trump threatened North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen before.” A message he thought appropriate to send from New Jersey … while on vacation … at his golf course.

Listen… here is the absolutely pure, unvarnished truth: it is abhorrent that Congress has allowed a man who is so clearly unfit and lacking the mental capacity and intellectual curiosity to handle this job to continue in the role for so long.

But on this issue — on matters of war — they have a Constitutional obligation to assert their authority. And if the United States is going to take military action against North Korea, it should only happen if the sole branch of government responsible for declaring war, does so first.

Add your name if you agree:

Sign VoteVets petition right now if you agree that if military action against North Korea is going to happen, it can only happen after Congress passes a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force.

Trump’s reckless and theatrical threats only bring us closer to a new Korean War. It is abundantly clear that the surrounding cast at the White House — including General Kelly — are just out to lunch, and America may soon pay a heavy price for that. In their absence, Congress must assert its role here.

All my best,

Will Fischer
Iraq War Veteran and Director of Government Relations




Mercenaries aren’t a solution to Afghanistan’s forever war

via Washington Post – Aug. 8th, 2017


The White House is still struggling to come up with an Afghanistan strategy. A long-expected review of the current American commitment to the war-blighted nation has stalled, with President Trump reportedly dissatisfied with the bulk of the solutions offered by his key lieutenants. In that vacuum, Erik Prince — the founder of private security firm Blackwater and brother of Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos — has set about pushing his own plan: Send in the mercenaries.

According to a number of reports, as well as Prince’s own television appearances this week, the proposal involves close to 5,000 private military contractors replacing the U.S. troops currently deployed in support of Afghanistan’s national security forces. Instead of the short-term deployments of U.S. troops, the mercenaries, drawn from a range of Western nations, would be embedded with some 91 Afghan battalions for “the long haul,” reported the Financial Times. Prince also proposed building a private air force with close to 100 aircraft, including fixed-wing jets, attack helicopters and drones, to help compensate for the woes of the fledgling Afghan air force.

Prince argues his plan is a cost-effective alternative to the current U.S. role in Afghanistan, and the privatization scheme has reportedly piqued the interest of White House advisers Stephen K. Bannon and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law. Prince may also have found an eager listener in Trump, who is not happy about the prospect of sending more troops to fight an “unwinnable” war against the Taliban. Why not outsource the job and sweep aside the meddling of Washington wonks, bureaucrats and those ornery rules of engagement that restrict the actions of American troops?
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Nancy MacLean Responds to Her Critics

Nancy MacLean Responds to Critics of her book: “Democracy in Chains”

‘Such rhetorical bullying would be laughable if it weren’t part of a pattern on the right.’

Duke Photography
Nancy MacLean, professor of history and public policy at Duke U.: “Both my research and my observations as a citizen lead me to believe American democracy is in peril.”

The Chronicle Review asked Nancy MacLean to comment on the uproar sparked by her new bookDemocracy in Chains (Viking). Through her publicist, MacLean, a professor of history and public policy at Duke University, agreed to respond to questions submitted via email. Our questions and her answers, below, have been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

Describe the experience of coming under attack for your book.

The personal attacks have been a shock. Knowing I’m not the first helps, though. As I say in the book, climate scientists and investigative reporters, among others, have received similar treatment from right-wing critics when they published their work.

What’s your general reaction to the controversy over your book, which started with critiques from libertarians but has now come to encompass attacks from a few critics on the left as well?

On the one hand, it’s been disheartening that people — in particular, some scholars — are willing to criticize the book without having read it. On the other hand, people have pointed out to me that sometimes a vehement reaction can be a backhanded compliment: This kind of strong reaction can suggest that a work is timely and important and lead more people to want to check it out.

Many on social media have been circulating a message said to be from you in which you call for help and attack your critics for trying to destroy your reputation. Can you confirm that you wrote this message?

Yes. In short order one afternoon, after a string of very positive reviews and interviews, a number of things happened. Misleading critiques from the right had shot up so far on Google that if you searched my name, you saw these critiques before any of my usual personal or professional information (department webpage and such). Very combative “reviews” were appearing on Amazon from people who appeared not to have read the book but to be recycling the talking points from these critiques in sometimes crude terms. Someone, unbeknownst to me, had set up a Wiki page on me that featured the attacks.

And some of the comments were vicious. On Mises Wire, one commenter wrote, “No doubt she’s a rabid feminazi, anti-Southerner, socialist and pathologically focused on race and gender. She’s a historical victimologist who produces nothing of value.” That same commenter actually supplied information on my home — he had gone so far as to look up where I lived.

Needless to say, the combined impact was unnerving. It made me feel vulnerable and exposed (which may have been their intent).

Do you have any evidence for your claim in that Facebook message that the attacks on your work are “coordinated”?

I’m not saying they called each other up and planned a series of critical responses to my book. What I’m saying is many of the critics come from similar backgrounds — they are libertarians who trained at or are employed by the very institutions I write about in my book.

And some of the rhetoric has been quite threatening. Jonah Goldberg, senior editor of National Review, said I should worry about the “the libertarian super-posse on my ass.”
Continue reading Nancy MacLean Responds to Her Critics

The ‘missing link’ by George Monbiot

Missing Link   –      How a secretive network built around a Nobel prizewinner set out to curtail our freedoms

Posted: 21 Jul 2017 07:59 AM PDT

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 19th July 2017


It’s the missing chapter: a key to understanding the politics of the past half century. To read Nancy MacLean’s new book Democracy in Chains: the deep history of the radical right’s stealth plan for America is to see what was previously invisible.

The history professor’s work on the subject began by accident. In 2013 she stumbled across a deserted clapboard house on the campus of George Mason University in Virginia. It was stuffed with the unsorted archives of a man who had died that year, whose name is probably unfamiliar to you: James McGill Buchanan. She writes that the first thing she picked up was a stack of confidential letters concerning millions of dollars transferred to the university by the billionaire Charles Koch.

Her discoveries in that house of horrors reveal how Buchanan, in collaboration with business tycoons and the institutes they founded, developed a hidden programme for suppressing democracy on behalf of the very rich. The programme is now reshaping politics, and not just in the US.

Buchanan was strongly influenced by both the neoliberalism of Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises and the property supremacism of John C Calhoun, who argued, in the first half of the 19th century, that freedom consists of the absolute right to use your property – including your slaves – however you may wish. Any institution that impinges on this right is an agent of oppression, exploiting men of property on behalf of the undeserving masses.

James Buchanan brought these influences together to create what he called “public choice theory”. He argued that a society could not be considered free unless every citizen has the right to veto its decisions. What he meant by this was that no one should be taxed against their will. But the rich were being exploited by people who use their votes to demand money that others have earned, through involuntary taxes to support public spending and welfare. Allowing workers to form trade unions and imposing graduated income taxes are forms of “differential or discriminatory legislation” against the owners of capital.

Any clash between what he called “freedom” (allowing the rich to do as they wished) and democracy should be resolved in favour of freedom. In his book The Limits of Liberty, he noted that “despotism may be the only organisational alternative to the political structure that we observe.” Despotism in defence of freedom.

His prescription was what he called a “constitutional revolution”: creating irrevocable restraints to limit democratic choice. Sponsored throughout his working life by wealthy foundations, billionaires and corporations, he develop both a theoretical account of what this constitutional revolution would look like and a strategy for implementing it.

He explained how attempts to desegregate schooling in the American South could be frustrated by setting up a network of state-sponsored private schools. It was he who first proposed the privatisation of universities and the imposition of full tuition fees on students: his original purpose was to crush student activism. He urged the privatisation of Social Security and of many other functions of the state. He sought to break the links between people and government and demolish trust in public institutions. He aimed, in short, to save capitalism from democracy.
Continue reading The ‘missing link’ by George Monbiot

Why so little R&D money?

In recent years, U.S. corporations have been paying out more cash to shareholders rather than investing. (Xaume Olleros/Bloomberg)

By Max Ehrenfreund

It’s is one of the most important yet least understood sources of ordinary Americans’ economic frustration: U.S. companies aren’t investing as much as they used to.

When corporations don’t invest or invest less, they put fewer people to work building factories, making equipment and conducting research. But investment has slumped in recent years, and researchers say there isn’t any obvious or consensus reason for the investment slowdown.

Now, two economists at New York University, Germán Gutiérrez and Thomas Philippon, think they might have at least a partial explanation. In a paper published this week by the National Bureau of Economic Research, they argue that increasing concentration of economic power in the hands of relatively few behemoth corporations — in some cases to the point where companies enjoy a near monopoly — could explain the pattern: The big firms, unconcerned about their competitors, simply have no need to invest in staying ahead.

“It explains a big chunk of why investment is low in the U.S. today,” Philippon said.

In separate research, the two economists found that market power has not become more concentrated in Europe. As a result, European markets are now more competitive than those in the United States — a remarkable shift in a country where free markets have long been not just a point of pride, but also a priority for national economic policy. “It’s a complete reversal,” Philippon said.

Read the rest on Wonkblog.

664 People Killed by Police in America thus far this year

Two recent examples: (full list with links to details on all 664 people KBP available at this website)

Australian Justine Damond shot dead by US police in Minneapolis

  • Officers’ body cameras were not turned on, state officials reveal

 Woman shot by police in Minneapolis: community and mayor respond

US police officers have shot dead an Australian woman who reportedly called 911 after hearing a noise near her home in Minneapolis. Minnesota’s public safety department said a woman was shot in Minneapolis after two officers responded to a call about a possible assault on Saturday at 11.30pm local time. The police officers did not have their body cameras turned on.


Seattle woman killed by police while children were home 

The death of Charleena Lyles, a pregnant mother in Seattle, has sparked outrage over excessive police force against black Americans

Charleena Lyles was killed shortly after two officers arrived to investigate a burglary at her home.
 Charleena Lyles was killed shortly after two officers arrived to investigate a burglary at her home. Photograph: Courtesy of family

Seattle police shot and killed a mother of four inside her apartment in the presence of her young children after she called law enforcement to report a burglary. Police called Lyles a “suspect” in an initial statement, though the Times reported that Lyles was the one who had made the call to report a burglary.


Here is the current Washington Post “Killed by Police” website which tracks all reported cases for 2017 and earlier.
Continue reading 664 People Killed by Police in America thus far this year

Progressives need to stop doing things that don’t work !

What works, what doesn’t

by Richard @ Flexible Reality – 15 July 2017

On center stage is our #43rd President, a man who came into office with the approval of 90% of Republicans, and 13% of Democrats. Six months later he has the approval of 83% of Republicans and 8% of Democrats. According to Pew Research:

The intensity of the public’s early views of Trump is striking: Fully 75% either approve or disapprove of Trump strongly, compared with just 17% who feel less strongly. Nearly half (46%) strongly disapprove of his job performance, while 29% strongly approve.

Essentially he has lost the support of 6+% from both parties in the past six months. Given the ample justifications for these losses, is seems incumbent upon Progressives to attempt to identify precisely what factors were instrumental in those losses, and what factors seem to have had little to no effect.

In a commentary in the July/Aug edition of The Atlantic, Michael Gerson makes the case for a principled centrism version of resistance:

“A substantive, centrist response to Trump has a chance of releasing his hold on the GOP and the country. A sneering, dismissive, dehumanizing, conspiratorial, hard-left-leaning response to Trump is his fondest hope.”

After the election Trevor Noah, the host of The Daily Show submitted an op-ed entitled: “Let’s Not Be Divided, Divided People Are Easier to Rule”, but prior to the election he berated the Republican candidate for tweeting with “those fat little tiny fingers of yours” and for trying to think with “that stupid head,” and when he advised the candidate that “maybe you should look in the mirror, asshole.”

Caitlin Flanagan’s article, from which some of the above originated, lambasted “The Politics of Late-Night Comedy”which alienated conservatives, made liberals smug, and fueled the rise of Trump. One of her more damaging insights was: “Though aimed at blue-state sophisticates, late-night comedy shows are an unintended but powerful form of propaganda for conservatives.”

Thus, one could seek an answer to the question what would it take for Trump supporters to stop supporting, or acquiescing to his behavior, actions, and regressive policies? One answer appears not to be “the Comey affair“. It does not appear to be his crass, rude, and nasty behavior toward women, including his wife. It does not appear to be the public disdain he provokes in other World leaders and their citizens. It might not even be his Administration’s “Russian problem”.

So what does it take? Why did 6% of the electorate that supported him in Jan 2017 cancel that support six months later? Was it the flip-flop on “The Wall”? Clumsiness on the “Muslim ban”? Cancellation of national support for the “Paris Accord”? Daily incriminating drip of Russian collusion news articles? Excessive use of government subsidies for his personal gain? His chaotic Administration which seems to lose the ball on many fronts? Or just a generalized sense that he “is different” than what they considered him to be at an early time?

Quartz Media maintains a continuing list of politicians who have publicly renounced support for him, and their public statements, such as they are, of the “why”, which cover the gauntlet of justifications:

  • demeaning comments and actions toward women
  • deplore his antics
  • sickened by what he said
  • has insulted us every day
  • has become an international pariah
  • what he has said and done reveal a character and temperament unfit for the leader of the free world
  • not the best choice for anybody
  • he’s been on so many sides of every issue no one knows where he stands on anything
  • will not support him because of what he isn’t
  • the hateful rhetoric
  • he has shown himself to be a sociopath, without a conscience or feelings of guilt, shame or remorse
  • could cause great damage to our country and the world at large
  • just very concerned about his mental stability and his moral background, or lack thereof, which he brags about
  • he has the ability to assemble a nontraditional bloc of supporters
  • he exemplifies the angry underbelly of American life and gives voice to that anger and hatred
  • I have no stomach for his personal style and his penchant for regularly demeaning others
  • he makes some of the most abhorrent and offensive comments that you can possibly imagine
  • a man who degrades women, insults minorities and has no clear path to keep our country safe.
  • The only way you can be comfortable about Trump’s foreign policy, is to think he doesn’t really mean anything he says.
  • He doesn’t appear to be a Republican, he doesn’t appear to want to learn about issues
  • I have become increasingly dismayed by his constant stream of cruel comments and his inability to admit error or apologize

Another element is the role that social media and the MSM has played in the support numbers. Notice that respondents almost never point to a media outlet or commentators presentation as being the driving force behind their decision. In the aftermath of the election the only cable news outlet to increase their viewership was Fox News with 2.9 million total viewers compared to CNN and MSNBC combined at 1.82 million.

Social media echoes, or perhaps exacerbates, the political divide in this country with a strong increase in the vitriolic comments, and “fake news” articles being posted online. Comments that in earlier times were relegated to the fringe are becoming mainstream. Trump’s attacks on the MSM have several affects, including moving “journalists” to the bottom of the most prestigious professions list lumped in with car salesmen and lawyers.

There is a significant gap in the respect given to different professions based on partisan identification. Some of this shows up in the 24-point gap between Republicans and Democrats over respect for police officers: 68% of Republicans, 44% of Democrats, over religious professionals at 63% vs 40% of Democrats; Military 78% for Republicans, 64% Democrats; Television journalists 15% (R), and 25% (D), and Newspaper reporters 18% (R) vs 27% (D).

At an increasing rate the front pages of major political websites have shown a marked increase in their willingness to criticize the current Administration. Heavyweight center-right outlets like “Real Clear Politics” and “Red State” now feature articles critical of Trump; while several formerly solid Republican commentators have issued public pronouncements saying they were leaving the Republican Party over Trump’s behavior and actions.

All three major political comedy sites regularly focus on the Administration’s ineptitude, bizarre actions, and questionable integrity. Samantha Bee, Trevor Noah, but especially John Oliver have been credited with changing the discussion on topics in Washington, as Oliver did with his shows on Net Neutrality, Civil Forfeiture, Police Militarization, and the FIFA expose. There is also no doubt the late-night comedy hosts have made their accusations and descriptions more precise, with less bombast, and bloviation. The nasty insults and flippant remarks have given way to direct quotes and videos of Trump behaving badly.

As the principles of cognitive dissonance demonstrate, this elision into letting the perps incriminate themselves works like a charm for Progressives, and reduces the ease which the affected can claim dishonest representation.

Perhaps the best explanation for the support decline is as simple as what John Kasich said: “it’s  an accumulation of his words and actions that many have been warning about”.

From these statements the way forward with resistance is to emphasize every demeaning episode he has with women, to point to every abusive statement he makes, to highlight his flip-flops on issues, to in essence use Trump’s direct words and actions as the ammunition.

Instead of explanations, appeals to history, logic, precedent, or morality the emphasis must be directly on his words, actions, and deeds – simply detailed.

Thus to make the viewers and participants come to their own conclusions about him, rather than stay ensconced in their party or tribal identifications and resort to what their clan believes to be true.


The Uninhabitable Earth

Fossils by Heartless Machine

In the jungles of Costa Rica, where humidity routinely tops 90 percent, simply moving around outside when it’s over 105 degrees Fahrenheit would be lethal. And the effect would be fast: Within a few hours, a human body would be cooked to death from both inside and out.

I. ‘Doomsday’

Peering beyond scientific reticence.

It is, I promise, worse than you think. If your anxiety about global warming is dominated by fears of sea-level rise, you are barely scratching the surface of what terrors are possible, even within the lifetime of a teenager today. And yet the swelling seas — and the cities they will drown — have so dominated the picture of global warming, and so overwhelmed our capacity for climate panic, that they have occluded our perception of other threats, many much closer at hand. Rising oceans are bad, in fact very bad; but fleeing the coastline will not be enough.

Indeed, absent a significant adjustment to how billions of humans conduct their lives, parts of the Earth will likely become close to uninhabitable, and other parts horrifically inhospitable, as soon as the end of this century.

Even when we train our eyes on climate change, we are unable to comprehend its scope. This past winter, a string of days 60 and 70 degrees warmer than normal baked the North Pole, melting the permafrost that encased Norway’s Svalbard seed vault — a global food bank nicknamed “Doomsday,” designed to ensure that our agriculture survives any catastrophe, and which appeared to have been flooded by climate change less than ten years after being built.

The Doomsday vault is fine, for now: The structure has been secured and the seeds are safe. But treating the episode as a parable of impending flooding missed the more important news. Until recently, permafrost was not a major concern of climate scientists, because, as the name suggests, it was soil that stayed permanently frozen. But Arctic permafrost contains 1.8 trillion tons of carbon, more than twice as much as is currently suspended in the Earth’s atmosphere. When it thaws and is released, that carbon may evaporate as methane, which is 34 times as powerful a greenhouse-gas warming blanket as carbon dioxide when judged on the timescale of a century; when judged on the timescale of two decades, it is 86 times as powerful. In other words, we have, trapped in Arctic permafrost, twice as much carbon as is currently wrecking the atmosphere of the planet, all of it scheduled to be released at a date that keeps getting moved up, partially in the form of a gas that multiplies its warming power 86 times over.

Maybe you know that already — there are alarming stories every day, like last month’s satellite data showing the globe warming, since 1998, more than twice as fast as scientists had thought. Or the news from Antarctica this past May, when a crack in an ice shelf grew 11 miles in six days, then kept going; the break now has just three miles to go — by the time you read this, it may already have met the open water, where it will drop into the sea one of the biggest icebergs ever, a process known poetically as “calving.”

But no matter how well-informed you are, you are surely not alarmed enough.

Continue reading The Uninhabitable Earth

not without permission…

How Rich Would Bill Gates Be Without His Copyright on Windows?

Monday, July 10, 2017 By Dean BakerTruthout 

Bill Gates, chairman and founder of Microsoft Corp., listens during the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) meeting on September 24, 2013 in New York City. (Photo: Ramin Talaie / Getty Images)

Bill Gates, chairman and founder of Microsoft Corporation, listens during the Clinton Global Initiative meeting on September 24, 2013, in New York City. 


Suppose we lived in a world where Bill Gates could not get copyright or patent protection for Windows and other Microsoft products. Anyone who wanted could duplicate these products without charge, sending Bill Gates a thank you note, if they were so inspired.

In that world, Bill Gates would certainly not be the world’s richest human with a fortune of more than $70 billion. Even without copyright protection Mr. Gates would probably still be doing fine — he seems reasonably bright, works hard and comes from a wealthy family — but he would not have amassed his huge fortune if he could not get government granted monopolies on his software.

This simple and obvious point matters because it is popular in many circles to claim that income inequality is just an inevitable, even if unfortunate, result of technology and globalization. In fact, there is nothing inevitable about patent and copyright protection; these monopolies exist as a result of government policy. The fact that Bill Gates and many others have gotten hugely rich as a result of these protections is a result of government policy, not an inevitable outcome of technological progress.

And, there is a huge amount of money at stake here. The fortunes going to Bill Gates and other beneficiaries of intellectual property protection come out of the pockets of the rest of us. The clearest case is prescription drugs where we will spend over $440 billion this year for drugs that would likely sell for less than $80 billion in a free market.

The difference of $360 billion a year is a bit less than 2 percent of GDP. If we carry this out over the course of a decade we’re likely talking about more than $4 trillion. By comparison, the battle on repealing Obamacare largely boils down to a fight over $600 billion in tax cuts for the rich, an amount that is less than one-sixth this size.

And this is just the money at stake with prescription drugs. Patent and copyright protection also hugely inflate the cost of medical equipment, software and computers, pesticides and fertilizers, video games, and recorded movies and music. Adding these all together, we can easily be talking about an amount that is more than twice as large.

While it is not really debatable that Bill Gates is immensely rich because of a government policy that has allowed him to become immensely rich, the relevant question is whether there are alternatives. We have copyrights and patents to give people an incentive to innovate and do creative work.

Even if we decide these government granted monopolies are necessary, we could still make them shorter and weaker. In the last four decades, policy has gone in the opposite direction. We have made patents and copyrights both longer and stronger.

This has not produced a noticeable payoff in productivity growth. Productivity growth has moved along at just over 1 percent annually in the last decade, roughly one-third of the pace in the long Golden Age from 1947 to 1973.

So we are clearly paying a big price for this increase in protection in the form of greater inequality, with no obvious benefit in more rapid economic growth. Of course even if we did see evidence of more rapid growth it would still be reasonable to ask whether it was worth the price in higher inequality. But we can’t have that discussion until we stop pretending that it is technology causing inequality rather than policy.

The other factor that needs to be brought into the discussion is that we do have alternative mechanisms for financing innovation and creative work. The federal government spends more than $32 billion annually on biomedical research through the National Institutes of Health. There is no reason in principle that we can’t double or triple this spending to replace the patent supported research done by the pharmaceutical industry. (We likely would want to change the government’s funding structure also.)

The great advantage of direct funding is that all research findings would be fully open to other researchers, physicians and the general public. And drugs would be cheap. The next life-saving cancer drug would sell for a few hundred dollars instead of a few hundred thousand dollars.

Much creative work is already supported now by the tax deduction for charitable contribution. When a wealthy person gives money to support an orchestra or art museum, the government picks up 40 percent of the tab by reducing the person’s tax liability. We could have a different structure under which everyone gets a modest credit to support whatever creative work they value. This work would then be in the public domain, free of any copyright restrictions.

There are many other ways to support innovation and creative work; we don’t have to decide on the best path here. The point is that we have a policy that involves one particular path, which has very questionable merits on efficiency grounds, and looks really bad in its impact on equality.

It is understandable that the people who have gotten rich from our policies on patent and copyrights would not want to see them at the center of public debate. But what is the excuse for everyone else who is not talking about them?

Quora Question & Answer: “Why anti-Trump”

Richard Burk
Richard Burk, B.S. Computer Science, George Mason University (1992)

Well, we have a population of roughly 325 million of which roughly 75 million are kids ineligible to vote. That would leave roughly 250 million to vote. Of that 250 million potential voters, roughly 130 million voted. Of that 130 million voters, roughly 63 million voted for Trump. So out of a population of 325 million, less than 20% actually voted for him. So effectively there is up to 80% of the population that may not actually want Trump.

That is not entirely accurate as many of his voters really voted against Clinton. There is the perspective that one votes for the lesser evil, hence Trump got those votes.

Trump then embraces polarizing rhetoric and attacks specific individuals and organizations as well as uses generalizations to attack categories of people.

Additionally, the Trump administration before and after the election has attacked news organizations and reporters, the very ones that report about what he does. So reporting will get clouded by such attacks, hence reporting is more likely to be anti-Trump.

There are multiple view points and interpretations to actions that a person takes. Trump campaigned on draining the swamp. However, people’s interpretation of the swamp varies. To Democrats the swamp is Republicans and to Republicans it is Democrats. Further, whether one is a Democrat or Republican, you cannot help but notice that Trump has nominated existing politicians and individuals from the banking industry and oil and gas industry and others with big money and placed them within his administration. So in effect, he has hired the swamp. He campaigned against the very industries that he ran against in the election campaign which makes him appear to be two-faced. People do not like to be duped and thus feel betrayed by Trump for his actions as people understand that actions speak more than words.

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An examination of the contributions made by Richard Rorty to progressives… and to America

The Book That Predicted Trump’s Rise Offers the Left a Roadmap for Defeating Him

via The Atlantic  by CONOR FRIEDERSDORF · JUL 6, 2017


Twenty years ago, in a series of lectures on the history of American civilization, the philosopher Richard Rorty offered a prediction. His words languished in relative obscurity until the unexpected rise of Donald Trump made them seem prescient.

Labor unions and unskilled workers will sooner or later realize that “their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported,” he posited. And they will further realize that “suburban white-collar workers, themselves desperately afraid of being downsized, are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else.” At that point, “something will crack,”  he warned. “The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking for a strongman to vote for––someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots.”

That passage, considered from the vantage of November 9, 2016, caused a spike of interest in Achieving Our Country, the compilation of Rorty’s lectures. The full book contains criticism for the political left as earnestly constructive and thoughtfully formulated as any I have encountered in my recent roundups––and I say that despite disagreeing with Rorty’s  uncharitable assessments of the American right, among other things.

 His book is worth revisiting as the Democratic Party smarts from losses in recent special elections and considers how it might win back the House in the 2018 midterms.

What is wrong with its current incarnation?

Continue reading An examination of the contributions made by Richard Rorty to progressives… and to America

The problems with evidence

Logic, evidence, and evidence-based approaches

By Gordon Rugg

So what is “evidence-based” anyway, and why do so many people make such a fuss about it?

In this article, I’ll look at the context of “evidence-based” and at some common misconceptions and mistakes about it. It’s a journey through the limitations of logic, through the legacy of theology on modern debate, and through the nature of evidence. It starts with a paradox that took over two thousand years to solve, involving pointy sticks and tortoises.

The arrow of logic and the chain of evidence, plus a tortoise and a charm bracelet0header2Images adapted from Wikipedia and Wikimedia; details at end of article

Zeno’s paradox, and the limits of logic

The Ancient Greeks were very keen on logic. They viewed it as a way of getting past messy surface details, and into the underlying principles of how the universe worked.

It’s a nice idea. However, reality has a habit of throwing up awkward surprises. One of them is a paradox that undermined the whole body of Ancient Greek assumptions about logic. It’s named Zeno’s paradox, after the Ancient Greek philosopher who invented it. It involves a chain of reasoning that is clearly completely wrong; however, it took well over two thousand years before anyone was able to explain why it was wrong. It’s still highly relevant today, because it points out the dangers in trusting plausible logical arguments that aren’t checked against reality at each step.
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Excerpts from the book: “The Measure of Man” by Joseph Wood Krutch

“There is, to be sure, one answer to the question: (“What has made man less fitting to survive now than he was in 5000 BC”) familiar in one form or another. Reduced to its simplest terms, that answer is this: man’s ingenuity has outrun his intelligence. He was good enough to survive in a simple, sparsely populated world, where he was neither powerful enough nor in sufficiently close contact with his neighbors to do them or himself fatal harm. He is not good enough to manage the more complicated and closely integrated world which he is, for the first time, powerful enough to destroy. …The complexities of an industrial society make men more dependent on one another than they used to be, and the whole machinery of government is harder to handle. Wisdom and good will have either not increased at all, or in any event, have not kept pace with the necessity for them”
Continue reading Excerpts from the book: “The Measure of Man” by Joseph Wood Krutch

An example of a discussion going nowhere

From a conversation on Facebook one can see how difficult it is to have a meaningful discussion online without strong moderators or ground rules

René Upshaw  Follow

July 1 at 12:18am

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the only way forward is going to have to be an abandonment of the Democratic Party by progressives and its replacement by a genuine progressive socialist party that is clearly of and for working people, and for those who cannot find work in this increasingly dystopic America. ”


The incredible group-think that has seen the CIA, the FBI, the NSA, President Obama, the Clinton campaign and most of the corporate media braying that…

On lying as a tactic

Trump’s barrage of lies is nothing new: Lying has been at the heart of politics for 50 years

Salon – by Andrew O’Hehir · Jun 30, 2017

It is no coincidence that President Donald Trump, a man who tells lies with a frequency and ease unprecedented in modern American history, has made attacking the journalists who cover him an essential component of his public relations strategy.

“Every president has shaded the truth or told occasional whoppers,” New York Times columnist David Leonhard wrote in his June 23 catalog of the president’s multitude of falsehoods. But “no other president — of either party — has behaved as Trump is behaving. He is trying to create an atmosphere in which reality is irrelevant.”

Trump’s love of deception has been in evidence throughout his many decades as a public figure, starting from his days as a low-rent New York real estate developer. He even admitted how much he loves lying in his ghostwritten autobiography (which he falsely claims is the best-selling business book of all time).

“I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration — and a very effective form of promotion,” reads one of the most salient passages in “The Art of the Deal.”

Thirty years after writing it, Trump’s ghostwriter, Tony Schwartz, disavowed and explained the passage to New Yorker writer Jane Mayer:  “He lied strategically. He had a complete lack of conscience about it,” Schwartz said. Trump’s constant reliance on untruths “gave him a strange advantage.” Schwartz continued: “Truthful hyperbole is a contradiction in terms. It’s a way of saying, ‘It’s a lie, but who cares?’”

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Which President lied the most?

Clint Potts
Clint Potts, I passed the constitution test in 8th grade. I read a lot of policy. I’m a wonk.

The PolitiFact scorecard for President Barack Obama

The PolitiFact scorecard for President Donald Trump

Do you notice anything different?

If you look at the statements for both men that are rated as Mostly False, False, or Pants on Fire (the categories that are less than half-true) you will notice that President Obama was rated in these categories in 26% of his challenged and rated statements. Compare this to President Trump, who spends 69% of his time in this territory.

Obama is scored at being at least half-true in 76% of his rated statements.

Trump? Only 32%.

So, maybe the question should be: Why does Trump lie all of the time? Lying seems to be Trump’s go-to move. Rather than present a semi-truthful answer, he wings it. Usually, these statements are telegraphed by his use of the phrase, “Believe me.”


As expected, I’m beginning to get the comments that Politifact is obviously biased. Here, I must disagree and alert you to the possibility that there are real news sites out there. Politifact has received the Pulitzer prize for its fair and unbiased coverage of the political landscape, and if one actually reads the reviews and research that they cite when debunking the various lies, you will find that they are just as hard on Obama when he lied as they are when Trump lies. It is simply a matter of fact that Trump is a much more facile liar than was his predecessor. Perhaps the difference is that his predecessor actually knew facts about the topic of the day and didn’t have to make them up on the spot to appear in control.

Search your feelings Luke. You know this to be true.