Lights explained

How Saving Energy Can Hurt Astronomy

By Brian Koberlein on Sep 17, 2017 10:44 am *********************

Artificial light has transformed human society. It frees us from the darkness, and allows us to light our homes and communities. It has also made the night sky increasingly less dark, which poses a challenge to astronomers.

And it’s gotten worse in recent years, thanks to an energy-saving light known as LEDs. The earliest light bulbs (of Edison fame) were extremely inefficient. They produce incandescent light by electrically heating a thin wire of metal to the point that it emits light. But only a small fraction of the light emitted is visible. Most of it is infrared, which we feel as heat. The bulbs make much better heaters than lights, and for a time there were even toy ovens that used a light bulb to bake little cookies or muffins. Their big advantage was that they were cheap and reliable.

As energy costs rose, the quest for greater efficiency led to new types of light bulbs. The most popular were variations known as fluorescent lights. These involve a tube of low-pressure mercury gas. An electric current is passed through the gas, causing it to emit ultraviolet light. The interior of the tube is coated with a phosphorus powder that converts ultraviolet light to visible light. The efficiency of these lights made them ubiquitous in large lighting environments such as office buildings, but their greenish hue and flickering nature were often found irritating. What we really needed was a light that is highly efficient and emits a more sun-like light.

The latest answer to that challenge is the Light Emitting Diode, or LED. These are based on semiconductors. The same type of semiconductors used in computers and other electronic devices, except that they are built to emit light. They are highly efficient, but only emit light in a narrow color range. However by combining LEDs of different colors you can approximate the wide spectrum of colors produced by sunlight. Continue reading Lights explained

Urge, splurge, purge – by George Monbiot

Urge, Splurge, Purge

Posted: 15 Sep 2017 02:32 AM PDT

The demand for perpetual economic growth, and the collective madness it provokes, leads inexorably to environmental collapse

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 13th September 2017

*******************************************************

There was “a flaw” in the theory: this is the famous admission by Alan Greenspan, former chair of the Federal Reserve, to a congressional inquiry into the 2008 financial crisis. His belief that the self-interest of the lending institutions would lead automatically to the correction of financial markets had proved wrong.

Now, in the midst of the environmental crisis, we await a similar admission. We may be waiting some time.

For, as in Greenspan’s theory of the financial system, there cannot be a problem. The market is meant to be self-correcting: that’s what the theory says. As Milton Friedman, one of the architects of neoliberal ideology, put it, “Ecological values can find their natural space in the market, like any other consumer demand”. As long as environmental goods are correctly priced, neither planning nor regulation are required. Any attempt by governments or citizens to change the likely course of events is unwarranted and misguided.

But there’s a flaw. Hurricanes do not respond to market signals. The plastic fibres in our oceans, food and drinking water do not respond to market signals. Nor does the collapse of insect populations, or coral reefs, or the extirpation of orangutans from Borneo. The unregulated market is as powerless in the face of these forces as the people in Florida who resolved to fight Hurricane Irma by shooting it. It is the wrong tool, the wrong approach, the wrong system.

There are two inherent problems with the pricing of the living world and its destruction. The first is that it depends on attaching a financial value to items – such as human life, species and ecosystems – that cannot be redeemed for money. The second is that it seeks to quantify events and processes that cannot be reliably predicted.
Continue reading Urge, splurge, purge – by George Monbiot

Today: Sanders and 15 Others Introduce a Bill in Congress to provide universal health care for all Americans

Health care activists protesting on Capitol Hill in July. CreditAaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

This is a pivotal moment in American history. Do we, as a nation, join the rest of the industrialized world and guarantee comprehensive health care to every person as a human right? Or do we maintain a system that is enormously expensive, wasteful and bureaucratic, and is designed to maximize profits for big insurance companies, the pharmaceutical industry, Wall Street and medical equipment suppliers?

We remain the only major country on earth that allows chief executives and stockholders in the health care industry to get incredibly rich, while tens of millions of people suffer because they can’t get the health care they need. This is not what the United States should be about.

All over this country, I have heard from Americans who have shared heartbreaking stories about our dysfunctional system. Doctors have told me about patients who died because they put off their medical visits until it was too late. These were people who had no insurance or could not afford out-of-pocket costs imposed by their insurance plans.

I have heard from older people who have been forced to split their pills in half because they couldn’t pay the outrageously high price of prescription drugs. Oncologists have told me about cancer patients who have been unable to acquire lifesaving treatments because they could not afford them. This should not be happening in the world’s wealthiest country.

Americans should not hesitate about going to the doctor because they do not have enough money. They should not worry that a hospital stay will bankrupt them or leave them deeply in debt. They should be able to go to the doctor they want, not just one in a particular network. They should not have to spend huge amounts of time filling out complicated forms and arguing with insurance companies as to whether or not they have the coverage they expected.

Even though 28 million Americans remain uninsured and even more are under-insured, we spend far more per capita on health care than any other industrialized nation. In 2015, the United States spent almost $10,000 per person for health care; the Canadians, Germans, French and British spent less than half of that, while guaranteeing health care to everyone. Further, these countries have higher life expectancy rates and lower infant mortality rates than we do.

The reason that our health care system is so outrageously expensive is that it is not designed to provide quality care to all in a cost-effective way, but to provide huge profits to the medical-industrial complex. Layers of bureaucracy associated with the administration of hundreds of individual and complicated insurance plans is stunningly wasteful, costing us hundreds of billions of dollars a year. As the only major country not to negotiate drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry, we spend tens of billions more than we should.

The solution to this crisis is not hard to understand. A half-century ago, the United States established Medicare. Guaranteeing comprehensive health benefits to Americans over 65 has proved to be enormously successful, cost-effective and popular. Now is the time to expand and improve Medicare to cover all Americans.

This is not a radical idea. I live 50 miles south of the Canadian border. For decades, every man, woman and child in Canada has been guaranteed health care through a single-payer, publicly funded health care program. This system has not only improved the lives of the Canadian people but has also saved families and businesses an immense amount of money.

On Wednesday I will introduce the Medicare for All Act in the Senate with 15 co-sponsors and support from dozens of grass-roots organizations. Under this legislation, every family in America would receive comprehensive coverage, and middle-class families would save thousands of dollars a year by eliminating their private insurance costs as we move to a publicly funded program.

The transition to the Medicare for All program would take place over four years. In the first year, benefits to older people would be expanded to include dental care, vision coverage and hearing aids, and the eligibility age for Medicare would be lowered to 55. All children under the age of 18 would also be covered. In the second year, the eligibility age would be lowered to 45 and in the third year to 35. By the fourth year, every man, woman and child in the country would be covered by Medicare for All.

Needless to say, there will be huge opposition to this legislation from the powerful special interests that profit from the current wasteful system. The insurance companies, the drug companies and Wall Street will undoubtedly devote a lot of money to lobbying, campaign contributions and television ads to defeat this proposal. But they are on the wrong side of history.

Guaranteeing health care as a right is important to the American people not just from a moral and financial perspective; it also happens to be what the majority of the American people want. According to an April poll by The Economist/YouGov, 60 percent of the American people want to “expand Medicare to provide health insurance to every American,” including 75 percent of Democrats, 58 percent of independents and 46 percent of Republicans.

Now is the time for Congress to stand with the American people and take on the special interests that dominate health care in the United States. Now is the time to extend Medicare to everyone.

re: Houston & Harvey & ProPublica article & trolls

ProPublica 

17 hrs

Relevant: Houston is sinking. Has been for decades. As much as 2 inches a year. Some areas as much as 4 feet since 1975.

First in a series Cracked foundations, uneven sidewalks and shifted floorboards are often telltale signs of subsidence, residents said. Over the years, Texas lawmakers enacted bills to create subsidence or water conservation districts in counties that…
HOUSTONCHRONICLE.COM
Richard Pressl Just looked at the typographic maps of the Houston area-
where the median height of the land above sea-level is 50 feet, and geologically much of the land area is paved swampland. ..https://www.pickatrail.com/topo-map/h/houston-texas.html
Mary Remar I think Propublica has been nothing but a problem today and needs to exercise some discernment.
Alicia D. Fagan Um, this is from the Houston Chronicle. If you’re real and you read.
Mary Remar This messaging is heavily politicized and not helpful.
Kathleen Lake Mary … hardly. ProPublica is one of our nation’s most respected and award winning news groups.
Mary Remar Then follow their lead.
Alicia D. Fagan Mary Remar I don’t know what that means or why it’s a legitimate criticism. People all over the country, and likely the world, are interested in knowing why Houston’s flooding problem is so bad.
Mary Remar Look I’ve infollowed them. So, as far as I’m concerned they can say whatever they want.
Becky Smith Good article.
Alex Wasniewski What an odd objection. There’s literally nothing political whatsoever in stating facts. If it feels political, perhaps it wasn’t a good idea for most of one political party to wrap themselves in anti-intellectual and anti-science positions for the last several decades.
Mary Remar Or the other party to over intellectualize every point even while it is playing out. Same behavior difference sides. Both sides playing to extreme paranoia.
Krista Behymer When did facts and science become political? Locally they have enacted water conservation areas to combat the problem, so it’s widely recognized. Knowledge is power. Stop being ridiculous.

Continue reading re: Houston & Harvey & ProPublica article & trolls

Welcome to the endgame

Pardon Me!
High Crimes and Demeanors in the Age of Trump
By Tom Engelhardt

Let me try to get this straight: from the moment the Soviet Union imploded in 1991 until recently just about every politician and mainstream pundit in America assured us that we were the planet’s indispensable nation, the only truly exceptional one on this small orb of ours.

We were the sole superpower, Earth’s hyperpower, its designated global sheriff, the architect of our planetary future.  After five centuries of great power rivalries, in the wake of a two-superpower world that, amid the threat of nuclear annihilation, seemed to last forever and a day (even if it didn’t quite make it 50 years), the United States was the ultimate survivor, the victor of victors, the last of the last.  It stood triumphantly at the end of history.  In a lottery that had lasted since Europe’s wooden ships first broke out of a periphery of Eurasia and began to colonize much of the planet, the United States was the chosen one, the country that would leave every imperial world-maker from the Romans to the British in its shadow.

Who could doubt that this was now our world in a coming American century beyond compare?
Continue reading Welcome to the endgame

On being a WHAM

Kissing the Specious Present Goodbye
Did History Begin Anew Last November 8th?
By Andrew J. Bacevich

Forgive me for complaining, but recent decades have not been easy ones for my peeps. I am from birth a member of the WHAM tribe, that once proud, but now embattled conglomeration of white, heterosexual American males. We have long been — there’s no denying it — a privileged group.  When the blessings of American freedom get parceled out, WHAMs are accustomed to standing at the head of the line. Those not enjoying the trifecta of being white, heterosexual, and male get what’s left.

Fair?  No, but from time immemorial those have been the rules.  Anyway, no real American would carp.  After all, the whole idea of America derives from the conviction that some people (us) deserve more than others (all those who are not us). It’s God’s will — so at least the great majority of Americans have believed since the Pilgrims set up shop just about 400 years ago.

Lately, however, the rules have been changing in ways that many WHAMs find disconcerting.  True, some of my brethren — let’s call them one percenters — have adapted to those changes and continue to do very well indeed.  Wherever corporate CEOs, hedge fund managers, investment bankers, tech gurus, university presidents, publishers, politicians, and generals congregate to pat each other on the back, you can count on WHAMs — reciting bromides about the importance of diversity! — being amply represented.

Yet beneath this upper crust, a different picture emerges.  Further down the socioeconomic ladder, being a WHAM carries with it disadvantages.  The good, steady jobs once implicitly reserved for us — lunch pail stuff, yes, but enough to keep food in the family larder — are increasingly hard to come by.  As those jobs have disappeared, so too have the ancillary benefits they conferred, self-respect not least among them.  Especially galling to some WHAMs is being exiled to the back of the cultural bus.  When it comes to art, music, literature, and fashion, the doings of blacks, Hispanics, Asians, gays, and women generate buzz.  By comparison, white heterosexual males seem bland, uncool, and passé, or worst of all simply boring.

The Mandate of Heaven, which members of my tribe once took as theirs by right, has been cruelly withdrawn.  History itself has betrayed us.

All of which is nonsense, of course, except perhaps as a reason to reflect on whether history can help explain why, today, WHAMs have worked themselves into such a funk in Donald Trump’s America.  Can history provide answers? Or has history itself become part of the problem?
Continue reading On being a WHAM

My district’s HR rep: Barry Loudermilk, is fundamentally anti-social

“A costly Department of Labor rule is wreaking havoc on small investors saving for their retirement. That’s why I’ve signed onto three letters and co-sponsored several bills to prevent these harmful regulations from continuing to hurt hardworking Americans.”

As the comment-letter deadline for the Labor Department’s fiduciary rule hits, industry organizations warn of orphaned accounts.
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The above statement by Rep. Loudermilk oozes with the standard misdirection phrasing used to disguise the real intent and content of such pronouncements. His actions do not help “hardworking Americans”…instead they help the FIRE money-changers by removing fiduciary responsibility to clients by brokers and other “money management” entities. The FIRE industry in general is opposed to any regulation that requires anyone who presents themselves as working for the best interests of a client actually is required by law to do so; instead they favor money management in the “casino style”, where some clients will make money, but the entire enterprise is oriented toward making sure the house will always win.
Richard Pressl Hint: the well-off, the privileged, the elites don’t NEED the Government to assist them…they have proven capable of self-obtaining. Making it EASIER for elites to extract MORE from common resources was considered sinful by Jesus….and Karl Marx….and me.

ReplyJust now

Manage

Richard Pressl Too many initiatives by Congress, and the President “sound” at first glance like useful proposals – but upon closer examination are simply efforts to assist their base at the expense of average Americans. It really doesn’t matter what pleasant sounding phrase they assign to proposed legislation – when the obvious affect is unctuous theft from the Commons.

Reply4 mins

Manage

Todd Wermers The article our congressman has linked to needs further explanation. Mr. Loudermilk is rolling back consumer protections here, which will benefit brokers in 401k and IRA funds. It will not benefit the majority of his constituency.

First of all, here is the rules that were in place prior to 2010. This is called the Fiduciary Standard and it was enacted in 1940 after the Great Depression to protect consumers.

“The anti-fraud provisions of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 and most state laws impose a duty on Investment Advisors to act as fiduciaries in dealings with their clients. This means the adviser must hold the client’s interest above its own in all matters. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has said that an adviser has a duty to:

1) Make reasonable investment recommendations independent of outside influences
2) Select broker-dealers based on their ability to provide the best execution of trades for accounts where the adviser has authority to select the broker-dealer.
3) Make recommendations based on a reasonable inquiry into a client’s investment objectives, financial situation, and other factors
4) Always place client interests ahead of its own.”

OK, now here is the rule Barry is referring to that was enacted in 2010 to expand these key protections above.

“In July 2010, The Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act mandated increased consumer protection measures, including enhanced disclosures and authorized the SEC to extend the fiduciary duty to include brokers rather than only advisers regulated by the 1940 Act.”

So in other words, those 4 items implemented in the 1940’s that apply to advisers? They now apply to brokers as well which is a good thing. There was a slight problem with this though and the rules were revised further. Read on below.

“In June 2016, as a way to address adviser conflicts of interest, the Department of Labor (DOL) ruled in a redefinition of what constitutes financial advice, and who is considered a fiduciary. Prior to 2016, fiduciary standards only applied to Registered Investment Advisers (RIAs), and did not impact brokers, who previously operated under a less strict “suitability” standard that provided leeway to provide education without “advice.” The new ruling requires all financial advisers who offer advice for compensation to act as fiduciaries and meet the fiduciary standard, but only when dealing with retirement accounts such as IRAs or 401(k)s.
The ruling includes one exemption for brokers, Best Interest Contract Exemption (BICE), which can be allowed if the broker enters into a contract with the plan participant and meets certain behavioral requirements. The new ruling does not impact the advice or investment product sales pertaining to non-retirement accounts.”

Barry is proposing rolling back those latest protections to consumers from Dodd Frank and it’s 2016 revision. The protections he would roll back currently apply only to brokers who deal with retirement accounts such as 401K’s and IRA’s. This will have the effect of investment brokers once again making poor choices in the best interests of themselves, rather than consumers.

I urge anyone reading this to contact your senators and the president and urge them to either vote NO or veto this bill.

Hey MSM ! Stop the stupidity !

Almost daily we are “treated” to another Presidential Approval Poll, which as of today shows #45 has a 34% approval rating – but this is at best only a partially valid number. The charts below from Gallup as of Aug 2017 demonstrates what the real take-away from the polls should be

……… 

The important numbers show his approval rating among Democrats now is at 7% – while among Republicans it is 79%; which provides all the evidence anyone needs regarding political blinders.

Stigmatizing hate…wisely

How to Win Friends and Stigmatize Nazis

Businesses are right to fire people with heinous views. But it’s important to do so under a well-defined framework.

Justin Ide / Reuters

Over the weekend, members of the Ku Klux Klan, one of the deadliest terrorist organizations in United States history, gathered for a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. They marched alongside Nazis, the self-proclaimed heirs of murderous racists who killed many millions, to express shared regard for Robert E. Lee, who led a traitorous army under the Confederate battle flag in defense of a slave state. In the days since, some of the men who participated openly have been outed by anti-racist activists.

What now?My colleague Gillian B. White gave a cogent overview of the issues surrounding a campaign to cost them their jobs in her piece “Is Being a White Supremacist Grounds for Firing?”As she summarized the stakes:

All of these cases indicate that there is real pushback against the trend that my colleague Matt Thompson described over the weekend: that white supremacists feel increasingly comfortable expressing their views in public fora. This is certainly true, but apparently they can’t do so with impunity: The hoods may be off, but the torchbearers may not have jobs to come back to on Monday. The efforts to push employers to fire the offending employees are an example of how the public—but, importantly, not the government—can strengthen the norms against these ideas, attach a stigma to them, and try to move society away from them.

Of course, the consequence of this dynamic is that taboo political ideas of all stripes can lead to workplace sanctions. While many on the political left are now lauding firings as a way to hold white supremacists accountable, it’s also worth remembering that pressuring employers to sever ties based on political activities, or social and racial beliefs, has historically been targeted in the other direction. McCarthyism involved reporting Communists and Communist sympathizers and pushing them out of the workforce, and Hollywood in particular. And as Walter Greason, a historian and professor at Monmouth University said in an interview, “Historically it’s more dangerous as an employee to be associated with racial justice and the NAACP, than it was to be affiliated with the KKK.”

Two desirable norms seem to be in tension: The vast majority of Americans sensibly want Nazis, the KKK, and other white-supremacist organizations to be condemned, denounced, and stigmatized, so that they remain powerless and ostracized at society’s fringes. And many of the very same people are wary of a society where factions vie to deprive one another’s members of their livelihoods over politics.
Continue reading Stigmatizing hate…wisely

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.”

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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

VoteVets

Hello,

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
VoteVets

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

via Washington Post – Aug. 8th, 2017

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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?
Continue reading

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.

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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.

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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 #45th 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.