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New Zealand and snooping

Author: Glenn Greenwald
Monday, September 15, 2014 12:33 AM
Like many nations around the world, New Zealand over the last year has engaged in a serious and intense debate about government surveillance. The nation’s prime minister, John Key of the National Party, has denied that New Zealand’s spy agency GCSB engages in mass surveillance, mostly as a means of convincing the country to enact a new law vesting the agency with greater powers. This week, as a national election approaches, Key repeated those denials in anticipation of a report in The Intercept today exposing the Key government’s actions in implementing a system to record citizens’ metadata.

Let me be clear: any statement that mass surveillance is not performed in New Zealand, or that the internet communications are not comprehensively intercepted and monitored, or that this is not intentionally and actively abetted by the GCSB, is categorically false. If you live in New Zealand, you are being watched. At the NSA I routinely came across the communications of New Zealanders in my work with a mass surveillance tool we share with GCSB, called “XKEYSCORE.” It allows total, granular access to the database of communications collected in the course of mass surveillance. It is not limited to or even used largely for the purposes of cybersecurity, as has been claimed, but is instead used primarily for reading individuals’ private email, text messages, and internet traffic. I know this because it was my full-time job in Hawaii, where I worked every day in an NSA facility with a top secret clearance.

The prime minister’s claim to the public, that “there is no and there never has been any mass surveillance” is false. The GCSB, whose operations he is responsible for, is directly involved in the untargeted, bulk interception and algorithmic analysis of private communications sent via internet, satellite, radio, and phone networks.

If you have doubts, which would be quite reasonable, given what the last year showed us about the dangers of taking government officials at their word, I invite you to confirm this for yourself. Actual pictures and classified documentation of XKEYSCORE are available online now, and their authenticity is not contested by any government. Within them you’ll find that the XKEYSCORE system offers, but does not require for use, something called a “Five Eyes Defeat,” the Five Eyes being the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, and yes, New Zealand.

This might seem like a small detail, but it’s very important. The Five Eyes Defeat is an optional filter, a single checkbox. It allows me, the analyst, to prevent search results from being returned on those countries from a particular search. Ask yourself: why do analysts have a checkbox on a top secret system that hides the results of mass surveillance in New Zealand if there is no mass surveillance in New Zealand?

The answer, one that the government of New Zealand has not been honest about, is that despite claims to the contrary, mass surveillance is real and happening as we speak. The GCSB provides mass surveillance data into XKEYSCORE. They also provide access to the communications of millions of New Zealanders to the NSA at facilities such as the GCSB station at Waihopai, and the Prime Minister is personally aware of this fact. Importantly, they do not merely use XKEYSCORE, but also actively and directly develop mass surveillance algorithms for it. GCSB’s involvement with XKEYSCORE is not a theory, and it is not a future plan. The claim that it never went ahead, and that New Zealand merely “looked at” but never participated in the Five Eyes’ system of mass surveillance is false, and the GCSB’s past and continuing involvement with XKEYSCORE is irrefutable.

But what does it mean?

It means they have the ability see every website you visit, every text message you send, every call you make, every ticket you purchase, every donation you make, and every book you order online. From “I’m headed to church” to “I hate my boss” to “She’s in the hospital,” the GCSB is there. Your words are intercepted, stored, and analyzed by algorithms long before they’re ever read by your intended recipient.

Faced with reasonable doubts, ask yourself just what it is that stands between these most deeply personal communications and the governments of not just in New Zealand, but also the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and Australia?
Continue reading New Zealand and snooping

Robert Reich Calls Out Harvard Business School for Its Role in Widening Inequality

The top educator of American CEOs needs to rethink what it is teaching.

by Robert Reich, Sep. 15th, 2014

No institution is more responsible for educating the CEOs of American corporations than Harvard Business School – inculcating in them a set of ideas and principles that have resulted in a pay gap between CEOs and ordinary workers that’s gone from 20-to-1 fifty years ago to almost 300-to-1 today.

A survey, released on September 6, of 1,947 Harvard Business School alumni showed them far more hopeful about the future competitiveness of American firms than about the future of American workers.

As the authors of the survey conclude, such a divergence is unsustainable. Without a large and growing middle class, Americans won’t have the purchasing power to keep U.S. corporations profitable, and global demand won’t fill the gap. Moreover, the widening gap eventually will lead to political and social instability. As the authors put it, “any leader with a long view understands that business has a profound stake in the prosperity of the average American.”

Unfortunately, the authors neglected to include a discussion about how Harvard Business School should change what it teaches future CEOs with regard to this “profound stake.” HBS has made some changes over the years in response to earlier crises, but has not gone nearly far enough with courses that critically examine the goals of the modern corporation and the role that top executives play in achieving them.

A half-century ago, CEOs typically managed companies for the benefit of all their stakeholders – not just shareholders, but also their employees, communities, and the nation as a whole.

“The job of management,” proclaimed Frank Abrams, chairman of Standard Oil of New Jersey, in a 1951 address, “is to maintain an equitable and working balance among the claims of the various directly affected interest groups … stockholders, employees, customers, and the public at large. Business managers are gaining professional status partly because they see in their work the basic responsibilities [to the public] that other professional men have long recognized as theirs.”

This view was a common view among chief executives of the time. Fortune magazine urged CEOs to become “industrial statesmen.” And to a large extent, that’s what they became.

For thirty years after World War II, as American corporations prospered, so did the American middle class. Wages rose and benefits increased. American companies and American citizens achieved a virtuous cycle of higher profits accompanied by more and better jobs.

But starting in the late 1970s, a new vision of the corporation and the role of CEOs emerged – prodded by corporate “raiders,” hostile takeovers, junk bonds, and leveraged buyouts. Shareholders began to predominate over other stakeholders. And CEOs began to view their primary role as driving up share prices. To do this, they had to cut costs – especially payrolls, which constituted their largest expense.

Corporate statesmen were replaced by something more like corporate butchers, with their nearly exclusive focus being to “cut out the fat” and “cut to the bone.”

In consequence, the compensation packages of CEOs and other top executives soared, as did share prices. But ordinary workers lost jobs and wages, and many communities were abandoned. Almost all the gains from growth went to the top. The results were touted as being “efficient,” because resources were theoretically shifted to “higher and better uses,” to use the dry language of economics.

But the human costs of this transformation have been substantial, and the efficiency benefits have not been widely shared. Most workers today are no better off than they were thirty years ago, adjusted for inflation. Most are less economically secure.

So it would seem worthwhile for the faculty and students of Harvard Business School, as well as those at every other major business school in America, to assess this transformation, and ask whether maximizing shareholder value – a convenient goal now that so many CEOs are paid with stock options – continues to be the proper goal for the modern corporation.
Continue reading Robert Reich Calls Out Harvard Business School for Its Role in Widening Inequality

Comcast v Tor

(Note: The following was a reply from Comcast related to a blog post stating that Comcast considered any use of Tor to be a violation of their EULA.)

* * * *

Comcast: Report Claiming We Punish Tor Users ‘Wildly Inaccurate’
by Karl Bode 10:30AM Monday Sep 15 2014

A report over at DeepDotWeb claims that Comcast has contacted some users telling them that they risk disconnection if they continue using the privacy-minded Tor browser. Tor (as our recent report explores) is an entirely legal browser used by 1.2 million people, only some of whom use the browser to buy narcotics and other black market goods.

According to the report, Comcast support employees informed a number of unidentified users that Tor “wasn’t legal,” and even demanded to know what sites users were accessing with the browser. The report fails to prove that this is a widespread Comcast behavior as opposed to a few, marginally incompetent first-level support reps. The site goes on to quote a Comcast support representative named “Kelly” who allegedly called a user and stated:


“Users who try to use anonymity, or cover themselves up on the internet, are usually doing things that aren’t so-to-speak legal. We have the right to terminate, fine, or suspend your account at anytime due to you violating the rules. Do you have any other questions? Thank you for contacting Comcast, have a great day.”

As the report goes on to note it’s likely not Tor specifically Comcast is targeting, but the fact that users were running relay or exit nodes, therefore technically violating Comcast’s no server restriction in their residential acceptable use policies (something most ISPs have, including the well-loved Google Fiber). Not that this is all that much better, but it is an important distinction from believing Comcast is threatening users simply based on their software preferences.

I reached out to Comcast and was told by spokesman Charlie Douglas that the report is “wildly inaccurate.”

“The anecdotal chat room evidence provided is not consistent with our agents’ messages and is not accurate,” said Douglas. “Per our own internal review, we have found no evidence that these conversations took place, nor do we employ a Security Assurance team member named Kelly.” Douglas proceeded to state that “Comcast doesn’t monitor users’ browser software or web surfing, and has no program addressing the Tor browser. Customers are free to use their Xfinity Internet service to visit any website or use it however they wish.”

Update: Comcast engineering VP (and regular) Jason Livingood also penned this blog post that’s worth a read. The short version:


Our customers can use Tor at any time, as I have myself. I’m sure many of them are using it right now.

* * * *and then came the comments* * * *

(please don your tin foil hat before reading further)

Continue reading Comcast v Tor

Hypothetically speaking…


Oligarchs are not the friend of social democracies

Democracy for sale is no democracy at all.

Author: Steve Fraser, Tom Dispatch
Thursday, September 11, 2014 10:20 AM

* * * *

George Baer was a railroad and coal mining magnate at the turn of the twentieth century. Amid a violent and protracted strike that shut down much of the country’s anthracite coal industry, Baer defied President Teddy Roosevelt’s appeal to arbitrate the issues at stake, saying, “The rights and interests of the laboring man will be protected and cared for… not by the labor agitators, but by the Christian men of property to whom God has given control of the property rights of the country.” To the Anthracite Coal Commission investigating the uproar, Baer insisted, “These men don’t suffer. Why hell, half of them don’t even speak English.”

We might call that adopting the imperial position. Titans of industry and finance back then often assumed that they had the right to supersede the law and tutor the rest of America on how best to order its affairs. They liked to play God. It’s a habit that’s returned with a vengeance in our own time.

The Koch brothers are only the most conspicuous among a whole tribe of “self-made” billionaires who imagine themselves architects or master builders of a revamped, rehabilitated America. The resurgence of what might be called dynastic or family capitalism, as opposed to the more impersonal managerial capitalism many of us grew up with, is changing the nation’s political chemistry.

Our own masters of the universe, like the “robber barons” of old, are inordinately impressed with their ascendancy to the summit of economic power. Add their personal triumphs to American culture’s perennial love affair with business — President Calvin Coolidge, for instance, is remembered today only for proclaiming that “the business of America is business” — and you have a formula for megalomania.

Take Jeff Greene, otherwise known as the “Meltdown Mogul.” Back in 2010, he had the chutzpah to campaign in the Democratic primary for a Florida senate seat in a Miami neighborhood ravaged by the subprime mortgage debacle — precisely the arena in which he had grown fabulously rich. In the process, he rallied locals against Washington insiders and regaled them with stories of his life as a busboy at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach. Protected from the Florida sun by his Prada shades, he alluded to his wealth as evidence that, as a maestro of collateralized debt obligations, no one knew better than he how to run the economy he had helped to pulverize. He put an exclamation point on his campaign by flying off in his private jet only after securely strapping himself in with his gold-plated seat buckles.

Olympian entrepreneurs like Greene regularly end up seeing themselves as tycoons-cum-savants. When they run for office, they do so as if they were trying to get elected to the board of directors of America, Inc. Some will brook no interference with their will. Property, lots of it, in a society given over to its worship, becomes a blank check: everything is permitted to those who have it.
Continue reading Oligarchs are not the friend of social democracies

And now for something you will NOT read in the MSM

Why American policy abroad strengthens groups like ISIS.

Editor’s note: On Wednesday night President Barack Obama gave a nationally televised address in which he vowed that the United States would “degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group known as ISIL.”

Thirteen years ago, a draft dodger from Texas stood on a pile of rubble in New York City and promised, “The people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.” Of course, the people who flew the planes into the World Trade Center could not hear anybody, as their remains were buried in the rubble beneath Bush’s feet. And our government’s extraordinary relationship with one of the world’s last and most brutal absolute monarchies ensured that any accomplices still in the U.S. were quickly flown home to Saudi Arabia before the crime could be investigated. In 2003, Bush meekly complied with Al-Qaeda’s most concrete demand, that he withdraw U.S. forces from military bases in Saudi Arabia.

A month after September 11, Donald Rumsfeld stood at a podium in front of a $2 billion B-2 bomber at Whiteman AFB in Missouri and addressed the aircrews of the 509th Bomber Wing, before they took off across the world to wreak misdirected vengeance on the people of Afghanistan. Rumsfeld told them, “We have two choices. Either we change the way we live, or we must change the way they live. We choose the latter. And you are the ones who will help achieve that goal.”

Since then, the United States has launched more than 94,000 air strikes, mostly on Afghanistan and Iraq, but also on Libya, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Rumsfeld’s plan has undoubtedly achieved his goal of changing the way people live in those countries, killing a million of them and reducing tens of millions more to lives of disability, disfigurement, dislocation, grief and poverty.

A sophisticated propaganda campaign has politically justified 13 years of systematic U.S. war crimes, exploiting the only too human failing that George Orwell examined in his 1945 essay, “Notes on Nationalism.” As Orwell wrote, “The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.” Orwell listed “torture, the use of hostages, forced labor, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians.” The U.S. has committed all these atrocities in the past 13 years, and Americans have responded exactly as the “nationalists” Orwell described.

But some of the horrors of the U.S. invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan found their way into the conscience of millions of newly war-wise Americans, and President Obama was elected on a “peace” platform and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. To the deep disappointment of his former supporters, Obama has overseen the largest military budget since WWII; an eight-fold increase in drone strikes; special forces operations in at least 134 countries, twice as many as under Bush; and a massive increase in the special forces night raids or “manhunts” originally launched by Rumsfeld in Iraq in 2003, which increased from 20 in Afghanistan in May 2009 to 1,000 per month by April 2011, killing the wrong people most of the time according to senior officers.

Like Eisenhower after Korea and other Presidents after Vietnam, Obama turned to methods of regime change and power projection that would avoid the political liabilities of sending young Americans to invade other countries. But the innovations of Obama’s doctrine of covert and proxy war have only spread America’s post-9/11 empire of chaos farther and wider, from Ukraine to Libya to the seas around China. Covert wars are no secret to their victims, and the consequences can be just as dire. The U.S. dropped more tonnage of bombs in its secret war on Cambodia than it dropped on Japan in WWII. As Cambodia imploded in an orgy of genocide, the CIA’s director of operations explained that Khmer Rouge recruiting “has been most effective among refugees subjected to B-52 strikes.”

As Western politicians and media breathlessly follow the escalation of U.S. bombing in Iraq, they neglect to mention, or maybe haven’t even heard as Orwell suggested, that Obama has already launched more than 24,000 air strikes, mostly in Afghanistan, with the same results as in Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia and Iraq, killing thousands of people and making implacable enemies of millions more. These air strikes are an integral component of Obama’s covert war doctrine, but they are only covert in the sense that they are unreported.

In Libya, the U.S. and its NATO allies launched 7,700 air strikes in a war that killed at least 25,000 people and plunged the country into endless chaos. NATO’s illusory and short-lived success in Libya led to airlifts of weapons and fighters to Turkey, where British special forces provided training and the CIA infiltrated fighters into Syria to try and duplicate the overthrow and butchering of Gaddafi.

The sobering experience of watching a CIA operation in Afghanistan in the 1980s lead to the crime of the new century in New York on September 11 should have led U.S. officials to reject new alliances with Islamist jihadis. But the Obama doctrine embraced the use of Islamist militias to destabilize Libya, providing them with weapons, equipment, training and air support. Leadership on the ground came from Qatar’s mercenary “special forces,” many of whom are veterans of the Pakistani military and its ISI intelligence agency, which works with the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan. These Qatari special forces are part of the Libyan template that was transposed onto Syria, where they embedded with the al-Nusra Front. They and/or their Turkish allies probably trained al-Nusra in the use of chemical weapons for the “false flag” attack that almost triggered another U.S. bombing campaign in 2013.

With U.S. support, Qatar spent $3 billion and flew 70 planeloads of weapons to Turkey to support its proxies in Syria, while its regional rival Saudi Arabia sent volunteers and convicts, and paid for weapons shipments from Croatia to Jordan. Wealthy Gulf Arabs paid up to $2,000 per day to hardened mercenaries from the Balkans and elsewhere. As first al-Nusra and then ISIS established themselves as the dominant rebel group, they absorbed the bulk of the fighters and weapons that the U.S. and its allies poured into the country.

The chaos that Obama’s doctrine of covert and proxy war has wreaked in Libya, Syria and Iraq should be a reminder of one of the obvious but unlearned lessons of September 11, that creating and arming groups of religious fanatics as proxies to fight secular enemies has huge potential for blowback and unintended consequences as they gain power and escape external control. Once these forces were unleashed in Syria, where they had limited local support but powerful external backers, the stage was set for a long and bloody conflict. But the U.S. and its allies, the U.K., France, Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, were so committed that they schemed to undermine Kofi Annan’s 2012 peace plan and pledged ever more support, funding and weapons to the rebels as the conflict escalated into a full-blown civil war.
Continue reading And now for something you will NOT read in the MSM

News organizations finally realize Obama’s War Plan is a hot mess

(via The Intercept by Dan Froomkin, Sep. 11th, 2014)

* * * *
President Obama’s plan to “degrade and destroy” the Islamic State counts on pretty much everything going right in a region of the world where pretty much anything the U.S. does always goes wrong.

Our newspapers of record today finally remembered it’s their job to point stuff like that out.

The New York Times, in particular, calls bullshit this morning — albeit without breaking from the classic detached Timesian tonelessness.

Mark Mazzetti, Eric Schmitt and Mark Landler (with contributions from Matt Apuzzo and James Risen) start by pointing out the essential but often overlooked fact that “American intelligence agencies have concluded that [the Islamic State] poses no immediate threat to the United States.”
Continue reading News organizations finally realize Obama’s War Plan is a hot mess

Proposed Texas textbooks are inaccurate, biased and politicized, new report finds

When it comes to controversies about curriculum, textbook content and academic standards, Texas is the state that keeps on giving.


 (via Washington Post by Valerie Strauss – Sept. 10th, 2014)

Back in 2010, we had an uproar over proposed changes to social studies standards by religious conservatives on the State Board of Education, which included a bid to calling the United States’ hideous slave trade history as the “Atlantic triangular trade.” There were other doozies, too, such as one proposal to remove Thomas Jefferson from the Enlightenment curriculum and replace him with John Calvin. Some were changed but the board’s approved standards were roundly criticized as distorted history.

There’s a new fuss about proposed social studies textbooks for Texas public schools that are based on what are called the Texas Essential  Knowledge  and  Skills.  Scholarly reviews of 43 proposed history, geography and government textbooks for Grades 6-12 — undertaken by the Education Fund of the Texas Freedom Network, a watchdog and activist group that monitors far-right issues and organizations — found extensive problems in American Government textbooksU.S. and World History textbooks,Religion in World History textbooks, and Religion in World Geography textbooks.  The state board will vote on which books to approve in November.

Ideas promoted in various proposed textbooks include the notion that Moses and Solomon inspired American democracy, that in the era of segregation only “sometimes” were schools for black children “lower in quality” and that Jews view Jesus Christ as an important prophet.

Here are the broad findings of 10 scholars, who wrote four separate reports, taken from an executive summary, followed by the names of the scholars and a list of publishers who submitted textbooks.

The findings:

  • A number of government and world history textbooks exaggerate Judeo-Christian influence on the nation’s founding and Western political tradition.
  • Two government textbooks include misleading information that undermines the Constitutional concept of the separation of church and state.
  • Several world history and world geography textbooks include biased statements that inappropriately portray Islam and Muslims negatively.
  • All of the world geography textbooks inaccurately downplay the role that conquest played in the spread of Christianity.
  • Several world geography and history textbooks suffer from an incomplete – and often inaccurate – account of religions other than Christianity.
  • Coverage of key Christian concepts and historical events are lacking in a few textbooks, often due to the assumption that all students are Christians and already familiar with Christian events and doctrine.
  • A few government and U.S. history textbooks suffer from an uncritical celebration of the free enterprise system, both by ignoring legitimate problems that exist in capitalism and failing to include coverage of government’s role in the U.S. economic system.
  • One government textbook flirts with contemporary Tea Party ideology, particularly regarding the inclusion of anti-taxation and anti-regulation arguments.
  • One world history textbook includes outdated – and possibly offensive – anthropological categories and racial terminology in describing African civilization.
  • A number of U.S. history textbooks evidence a general lack of attention to Native American peoples and culture and occasionally include biased or misleading information.
  • One government textbook … includes a biased – verging on offensive – treatment of affirmative action.
  • Most U.S. history textbooks do a poor job of covering the history of LGBT citizens in discussions of efforts to achieve civil rights in this country.
  • Elements of the Texas curriculum standards give undue legitimacy to neo-Confederate arguments about “states’ rights” and the legacy of slavery in the South. While most publishers avoid problems with these issues, passages in a few U.S. history and government textbooks give a nod to these misleading arguments.


In July, the Texas Freedom Network released a review of the various panels of people who had been selected by the Texas Board of Education to review the proposed textbooks. It said in part:

Out of more than 140 individuals appointed to the panels, only three are current faculty members at Texas colleges and universities. TFN has identified more than a dozen other Texas academics — including the chair of the History Department at Southern Methodist University as well as faculty at the University of Texas at Austin — who applied to serve but did not get appointments to the panels.

But the TFN analysis found that political activists and individuals without social studies degrees or teaching experience got places on the panels. One reviewer, Mark Keough, a Republican nominee for the Texas House District 15 seat, got an appointment to a U.S. History panel after being nominated by SBOE chair Barbara Cargill. Keough, a pastor with degrees in theology, has no teaching experience listed on his application form. Keough recently retired from a career in car sales to run a ministry in Cargill’s hometown of The Woodlands and to run for office.

In an interview conducted prior to this year’s primary elections, Keough told the Montgomery County Tea Party that he does not “believe that there is a separation of church and state in the Constitution.”

Continue reading Proposed Texas textbooks are inaccurate, biased and politicized, new report finds

We’re not all numb and dumb; but clearly quite a few are

Polls indicate a plurality of American voters don’t understand the issues at all

via Rasmussen Reports Polls

  • A June 2014 Poll of likely voters finds that 56% think thougthful spending cuts should be considered in every Federal program, while 31% disagree, and 13% are not sure.
  • A March 2014 Poll of likely voters finds that just 26% think the U.S. spends too much on the military and national security, while 34% think the U.S. doesn’t spend enough, and 32% think current spending is about right.
  • A March 2014 Poll of likely voters finds that 47% think “tax cuts” help the economy
  • A February 2014 Poll of likely voters finds 61% favor smaller government with fewer services and lower taxes.
  • An August 2014 Poll of likely voters shows 52% recognize that the U.S. spends more on defense than any other nation, while 31% believe it does not spend enough.
  • A Sept. 2014 Poll found that 37% of likely voters did not know which political party controls the House and Senate.
  • A June 2014 finds that only 8% of likely voters believe Congress is doing a good job, while 64% rate its performance as poor. Furthermore, only 20% think their own representative in Congress is the best person for the job.
  • From the same June 2014 Poll, only 25% think their Representative deserves re-election, and only 14% think most members of Congress care what their constituents think, with 69% believing most members of Congress don’t care what their constituents think.

via Pew Research Center

  • A September 2014 report shows that 56% believe their family’s income is falling behind the cost of living. Families with incomes over $100k say their income is five times more likely to be rising in the future than those earning less.
  • In a March 2014 Poll, 69% of the public, including majorities of both whites (75%) and blacks (64%), say blacks and whites in this country get along “very well” or “pretty well.” Since 2009, the share of blacks with a positive view of relations between the races has fallen 12 points (from 76% to 64%) while remaining largely unchanged among whites (80% in 2009).
  • The two leading concerns of registered voters is sharply different between the Partys, with Republicans most concerned with “Federal Buget Deficit” (81%), and “Foreign Policy”, (77%); while Democrats are most concerned with “The Environment” (69%), and “Economic Inequaltiy”, 70%.
  • Regarding social hostility involving religion – whether resulting from government policies or from social hostilities – the study finds that restrictions on religion are high or very high in 43% of Countries, also a six-year high. Because some of these countries (like China) are very populous, more than 5.3 billion people (76% of the world’s population) live in countries with a high or very high level of restrictions on religion, up from 74% in 2011 and 68% as of mid-2007.
  • Global levels of social hostility involving religion has increased from 20% in 2007, to 74% in 2012
  • In a March 2014 Poll the overall share of Americans who express consistently conservative or consistently liberal opinions has doubled over the past two decades from 10% to 21%. And ideological thinking is now much more closely aligned with partisanship than in the past. As a result, ideological overlap between the two parties has diminished: Today, 92% of Republicans are to the right of the median Democrat, and 94% of Democrats are to the left of the median Republican.

Republicans say no – again

“On Thursday afternoon, Sep. 11th, 2014, a proposal to amend the US Constitution to allow tougher campaign finance and election spending restrictions was blocked in the Senate, in a party-line vote. 54 Democrats voted to advance the measure — another, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), would have done so but wasn’t present. However, every single Republican voted against it, and it fell to a filibuster.”

Note: Which follows the voting on the ACA, where not a single Republican in either the House or Senate voted for the ACA. Which follows the House Republicans who voted to shut down the Government in 2013…and threatened to put the U.S. in default – an action which caused at least $3 billion in direct damage, and up to $14 billion in collateral damage.

And yet, Republicans believe they will be re-elected and take over control of both the House and Senate in the mid-term.

Something is terribly wrong with this picture!

* * * * Addendum****

I noted in comments that this record stands in sharp contrast to the Congressional voting record on authorization for the use of Military Force

Richard Pressl Sure, you remember: The Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), Pub. L. 107-40, codified at 115 Stat. 224 and passed as S.J.Res. 23 by the United States Congress on September 14, 2001, authorizes the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the attacks on September 11, 2001. The authorization granted the President the authority to use all “necessary and appropriate force” against those whom he determined “planned, authorized, committed or aided” the September 11th attacks, or who harbored said persons or groups. The AUMF was signed by President George W. Bush on September 18, 2001. On September 14, 2001 the House passed House Joint Resolution 64. The totals in the House of Representatives were: 420 Ayes, 1 Nay and 10 Not Voting. On September 14, 2001 Senate Joint Resolution 23 passed in the Senate by roll call vote. The totals in the Senate were: 98 Ayes, 0 Nays, 2 Present/Not Voting (Senators Larry Craig – R and Jesse Helms – R).  Source: – 

Are we really still stupid enough to allow any President to have such powers to use at will – especially anywhere in the Middle East – that has not even directly attacked America at home?

A better way

On September 2, 2014, Robert Reich writes on AlterNet:

This week, millions of young people head to college and universities, aiming for a four-year liberal arts degree. They assume that degree is the only gateway to the American middle class.

It shouldn’t be.

For one thing, a four-year liberal arts degree is hugely expensive. Too many young people graduate laden with debts that take years if not decades to pay off.  And too many of them can’t find good jobs when they graduate, in any event. So they have to settle for jobs that don’t require four years of college. They end up overqualified for the work they do, and underwhelmed by it.

Others drop out of college because they’re either unprepared or unsuited for a four-year liberal arts curriculum. When they leave, they feel like failures.

We need to open other gateways to the middle class.

Consider, for example, technician jobs. They don’t require a four-year degree. But they do require mastery over a domain of technical knowledge, which can usually be obtained in two years. Technician jobs are growing in importance. As digital equipment replaces the jobs of routine workers and lower-level professionals, technicians are needed to install, monitor, repair, test, and upgrade all the equipment.

Hospital technicians are needed to monitor ever more complex equipment that now fills medical centers; office technicians, to fix the hardware and software responsible for much of the work that used to be done by secretaries and clerks. Automobile technicians are in demand to repair the software that now powers our cars; manufacturing technicians, to upgrade the numerically controlled machines and 3-D printers that have replaced assembly lines; laboratory technicians, to install and test complex equipment for measuring results; telecommunications technicians, to install, upgrade and repair the digital systems linking us to one another.

Technology is changing so fast that knowledge about specifics can quickly become obsolete. That’s why so much of what technicians learn is on the job. But to be an effective on-the-job learner, technicians need basic knowledge of software and engineering, along the domain where the technology is applied – hospitals, offices, automobiles, manufacturing, laboratories, telecommunications, and so forth.

Yet America isn’t educating the technicians we need. As our aspirations increasingly focus on four-year college degrees, we’ve allowed vocational and technical education to be downgraded and denigrated.

Still, we have a foundation to build on. Community colleges offering two-year degree programs today enroll more than half of all college and university undergraduates. Many students are in full-time jobs, taking courses at night and on weekends. Many are adults. Community colleges are great bargains. They avoid the fancy amenities four-year liberal arts colleges need in order to lure the children of the middle class.

Even so, community colleges are being systematically starved of funds. On a per-student basis, state legislatures direct most higher-education funding to four-year colleges and universities because that’s what their middle-class constituents want for their kids. American businesses, for their part, aren’t sufficiently involved in designing community college curricula and hiring their graduates, because their executives are usually the products of four-year liberal arts institutions and don’t know the value of community colleges.

By contrast, Germany provides its students the alternative of a world-class technical education that’s kept the German economy at the forefront of precision manufacturing and applied technology. The skills taught are based on industry standards, and courses are designed by businesses that need the graduates. So when young Germans get their degrees, jobs are waiting for them.

We shouldn’t replicate the German system in full. It usually requires students and their families to choose a technical track by age 14. “Late bloomers” can’t get back on an academic track. But we can do far better than we’re doing now. One option: Combine the last year of high school with the first year of community college into a curriculum to train technicians for the new economy.

Affected industries would help design the courses and promise jobs to students who finish successfully. Late bloomers can go on to get their associate degrees and even transfer to four-year liberal arts universities. This way we’d provide many young people who cannot or don’t want to pursue a four-year degree with the fundamentals they need to succeed, creating another gateway to the middle class.

Too often in modern America, we equate “equal opportunity” with an opportunity to get a four-year liberal arts degree. It should mean an opportunity to learn what’s necessary to get a good job. Robert Reich is ever persistent in his advocacy for job creation and education to learn what’s necessary to get a good job. It’s all about the JOB and not the EDUCATION for personal development and fulfilment.

* * * *

(by Gary Reber)

This report by Robert Reich is out-of-sync with reality.

A recent study from researchers at Georgetown University projects that there will be 55 million new jobs by 2020 for which there will be a growing call for more educated workers with the necessary education and training to meet the demand.

Given the current invisible structure of the economy, except for a relative few, the majority of the population, no matter how well educated, will not be able to find a job that pays sufficient wages or salaries to support a family or prevent a lifestyle, which is gradually being crippled by near poverty or poverty earnings. Thus, education is not the panacea, though it is critical for our future societal development. And younger, as well as older people, will increasingly find it harder and harder to secure a well-paying  job––for most, their ONLY source of income––and will find themselves dependent on taxpayer-supported government welfare, open and disguised or concealed.

For decades employment opportunity in the United States was such that the majority of people could obtain a job that could support their livelihood, though, in most cases related to a family, it eventually required the father and mother to both work, if they aspired to live a “middle-class” lifestyle. With “Free Trade” those opportunities began to disintegrate as corporations sought to seek lower-cost production taking advantage of global cheap labor rates and non-regulation, as well as lower tax rates abroad. This resulted in a chain reaction forcing more and more companies to outsource in order to stay competitive (thus the rise of China, India, Mexico, and other third-world nation economies).

At the same time, tectonic shifts in the technologies of production were exponentially occurring (and continue to do so), which resulted (and continues to result) in less job opportunities as production was shifted from people making things to “machines” (the non-human factor) of technology making things. The combination of cheap global labor costs and lower, long-term-invested “machine” costs has forced the worth of labor downward, and this will continue to be the reality. Our only way to far greater prosperity, opportunity, and economic justice is to embrace technological innovation and invention and the resulting human-intelligent machines, super-automation, robotics, digital computerized operations, etc. as the primary economic engine of growth.

But significantly, unless we reform our system to empower EVERY American to acquire, via pure, interest-free insured capital credit loans, viable full-ownership holdings (and thus entitlement to full-dividend earnings) in the companies growing the economy, with the future earnings of the investments paying for the initial loan debt to acquire ownership, the concentration of ownership of ALL future productive capital will continue to be amassed by a wealthy minority ownership class. Companies will continue to globalize in search of “customers with money” or simply fail, as exponentially there will be fewer and fewer customers to support their businesses worldwide. Why, because the majority will be disconnected from the dividend income derived from the non-human means of production that is replacing the need for labor workers who earn wages and salaries, which are then used to purchase products and services.

Soon, industrial monopoly capitalism will reach its twin goals: concentration of productive capital ownership among the elite ownership class and work performed with as few labor workers and the lowest possible wages and salaries. The question to be answered is “What then?”
Continue reading A better way

America & The Fourth Estate are at it again…

Washington’s elite media, as usual, is doing its job exactly wrong.

by Dan Froomkin in The Intercept – Sep. 2014

* * * *

They are baying for war.

Pundits and reporters are seemingly competing for who can be more scornful of President Obama for his insufficiently militaristic response to the brutal Sunni militants who call themselves the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

They are gleefully parsing Obama’s language for weakness, and essentially demanding a major military assault — while failing to ask the tough questions about what if any good it could actually accomplish.

It’s not just that the lessons of the abject failure of the press corps in the run-up to war in Iraq seem to have been forgotten. Watching post-invasion reality in the region should have made it clear to anyone paying any attention at all that America is not omnipotent, and that military action kills not just enemies but innocent civilians, creates refugee crises, can spawn more enemies than it destroys, further destabilizes entire regions, and alters the future in unanticipated and sometimes disastrous ways.

(Indeed, as noted author Robert W. Merry wrote in the National Interest recently, the “ominous turn of events in the Middle East flows directly from the regional destabilization wrought by President George W. Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq.”)

In a nation that considers itself peaceful and civilized, the case for military action should be overwhelmingly stronger than the case against. It must face, and survive, aggressive questioning.

There is no reason to expect that kind of pushback from within Congress — leading figures from far right to far left are falling into line with the hawkish consensus for some sort of action, virtually begging Obama to ask for their authorization so they can give it to him. And Vice President Joe Biden, the one guy inside the White House who’s been a consistent voice of military restraint, said Wednesday that the U.S. will follow ISIS “to the gates of hell“.

In the absence of a coherent opposition party or movement, it’s the Fourth Estate’s duty to ask those questions, and demand not just answers, but evidence to back up those answers.

The press corps shouldn’t be asking: Why isn’t Obama sounding tougher? It should be asking: What is he considering, and why the hell does he think it has any chance of working?
Continue reading America & The Fourth Estate are at it again…

Dems do it better…

The US economy performs better under Democratic presidents.
by Alan S. Blinder, Mark Watson – Sep. 2014
* * * *

Economists and political scientists – not to mention the political commentariat – have devoted a huge amount of attention to the well-established fact that faster economic growth helps re-elect the incumbent party (see, for example, Fair 2011 for the US). But what about causation in the opposite direction – from election outcomes to economic performance? It turns out that the US economy grows faster – indeed, performs better by almost every metric – when a Democratic president occupies the White House.

This partisan gap has barely been noticed by researchers, but it is wide.1 Since the end of World War II, there have been 16 complete four-year presidential terms – seven Democratic and nine Republican. Growth of real GDP averaged 4.35% per annum under the Democratic presidents but only 2.54% under the Republicans. That partisan growth gap of 1.8 percentage points is large by any standard – it implies that real GDP grew by 18.6% during a typical Democratic four-year term, but only by 10.6% during a typical Republican term – and it is statistically significant despite the relative paucity of data.2 In fact, as Figure 1 shows, growth has always slowed down when a Republican president replaced a Democrat and always sped up when a Democrat replaced a Republican. There are no exceptions.3

Similar partisan gaps favouring Democrats – some larger, some smaller, and not always significant – appear in almost any macroeconomic indicator you can think of: the incidence of NBER recessions, employment growth, business investment growth, stock market returns, the profit share of GDP, and so on.

Continue reading Dems do it better…

Scotland ! Be careful, very, very careful

Scots, What the Heck?, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times - Sep. 2014
* * * *
Next week Scotland will hold a referendum on whether to leave the United Kingdom. And polling suggests that support for independence has surged…, largely because pro-independence campaigners have managed to reduce the “fear factor” — that is, concern about the economic risks of going it alone. At this point the outcome looks like a tossup.Well, I have a message for the Scots: Be afraid, be very afraid. The risks of going it alone are huge. You may think that Scotland can become another Canada, but it’s all too likely that it would end up becoming Spain without the sunshine.

Comparing Scotland with Canada seems, at first, pretty reasonable. After all, Canada, like Scotland, is a relatively small economy that does most of its trade with a much larger neighbor. … And what the Canadian example shows is that this can work. …

But Canada has its own currency… An independent Scotland wouldn’t. ..: The Scottish independence movement has been very clear that it intends to keep the pound as the national currency. And the combination of political independence with a shared currency is a recipe for disaster. Which is where the cautionary tale of Spain comes in.

If Spain and the other countries that gave up their own currencies to adopt the euro were part of a true federal system…, the recent economic history of Spain would have looked a lot like that of Florida. Both economies experienced a huge housing boom between 2000 and 2007. Both saw that boom turn into a spectacular bust. Both suffered a sharp downturn…

Then, however, the paths diverged. In Florida’s case, most of the fiscal burden of the slump fell not on the local government but on Washington… In effect, Florida received large-scale aid in its time of distress.
Spain, by contrast, bore all the costs of the housing bust on its own. The result … was a horrific depression… And it wasn’t just Spain, it was all of southern Europe and more. …

In short, everything that has happened in Europe since 2009 or so has demonstrated that sharing a currency without sharing a government is very dangerous…

I find it mind-boggling that Scotland would consider going down this path after all that has happened in the last few years. If Scottish voters really believe that it’s safe to become a country without a currency, they have been badly misled.

And the economic damage continues

The Great Recession Casts a Long Shadow on Family Finances,
by Ray Boshara, William Emmons, and Bryan Noeth – St. Louis Fed’s Center for Household Financial Stability

6 Sep. 2014
* * * *
The income and wealth of the typical American family declined between 2010 and 2013, according to the Federal Reserve’s latest Survey of Consumer Finances.1 … These declines reduced the median real (inflation-adjusted) family income and net worth in the U.S. in 2013 to $46,668 (from $49,022 in 2010) and to $81,400 (from $82,521 in 2010), respectively.

Combined with significant declines between 2007 and 2010 on both measures, the cumulative decline in median real family income between 2007 and 2013 was 12.1 percent, while median real net worth declined 40.1 percent. The financial impact of the Great Recession was so severe that all the gains achieved during the 1990s and 2000s were wiped out. Median real family income was 1.0 percent lower in 2013 than in 1989, while median real net worth in 2013 was 4.3 percent below its 1989 level.

>As discouraging as these declines are, several economically vulnerable groups have fared even worse…, the median real income among families headed by someone under 40 has fallen from 96 percent of the overall median income in 1989 to only 87 percent in 2013. The median income of families headed by an African-American or someone of Hispanic origin (of any race) reached only 67 percent of the overall median in 2013, down from 70 percent in 2007. Among families headed by someone without a high-school degree, the median real income in 2013 was only 48 percent of the overall median, down from 51 percent three years earlier.

Those groups typically classified as economically vulnerable have experienced severe balance-sheet stress, too…, the median real net worth of a family headed by someone under 40 declined from 23 percent of the overall median in 1989 to only 18 percent in 2013. The progress made by African-American and Hispanic families in closing the wealth gap with the overall population through 2010 was largely reversed by 2013, leaving the median wealth of these groups at only 16 percent of the overall median. And the median wealth of families headed by someone with less than a high-school education plunged from 51 percent of the overall median wealth in 1989 to just 21 percent in 2013. Reflecting recent research conducted by the St. Louis Fed’s Center for Household Financial Stability, age, race and education continue to be among the strongest predictors of who gained and lost wealth during and after the Great Recession.

Even in the sixth year of economic recovery, the Great Recession’s impact on American families’ income and wealth continues to be felt widely.The most economically vulnerable groups of families generally have suffered even larger setbacks than the typical family in the overall population.The data now affirm what most Americans have been feeling since the recession ended—that their own recovery is not yet complete. And as many families continue to accumulate new debt at a slower pace or actually “delever” their balance sheets, shedding the debts accumulated in the run-up to the financial crisis, we believe less than robust economic growth will continue.

You saw the letter; but did you think about the arms merchants interests?

Meet the anti-Net Neutrality arms dealers who love network discrimination

Astrophysics Lessons 202: 1-10 Sept. 2014

(Note: All these articles were written by Brian Koberlein who retains all rights to them.)

* * * *

Radio Jupiter

Radio Image of Jupiter. Credit: ATNF

Radio Image of Jupiter. Credit: ATNF

And now – over to the lighter side of the ‘news’


By Tracy Beckerman


“Mom, why do you have 36 rolls of toilet paper, 12 bars of soap, eight tubes of toothpaste and six jars of hair gel?” asked my son, surveying the contents of my bathroom linen closet. I followed his gaze to the interior of my closet. Admittedly, it looked less like a suburban linen closet and more like an aisle at Costco.

“I just want to make sure I don’t run out,” I explained. “In case of what?” he wondered. “A zombie apocalypse? Do you think the zombies will take over the drugstore and you won’t have access to any hair gel? I’m pretty sure they won’t care what your hair looks like when they try to eat you.”

I shrugged helplessly. My son had discovered my secret: I am a toiletry hoarder. I have more moisturizer than you could shake a Q-Tip at. More conditioner than a Kardashian. Enough shaving cream to shear a Yeti. I had no idea why I felt the need to have an abundance of personal care supplies on hand. I suspected I might have suffered a traumatic toilet paper shortage as a child or possibly found myself at one time in my formative years critically deprived of hair mousse. Regardless of the cause, I was not happy unless I had enough products on hand to floss, brush and wipe a small, unkempt army.

My stockpiling was a relatively new thing. Back when we lived in the city, we didn’t have room to indulge my obsession. But out in the burbs, I could warehouse as much mouthwash as I wanted. I didn’t care if that meant I had less room for things like food and water. At least I knew my breath would always be minty fresh. Still, I didn’t want my son to think I was a total weirdo. It’s one thing to have a mom who is meticulous about her personal hygiene. It’s quite another to have a mother who is so neurotic she could have her own show on TLC.

“They were having a special on soap,” I assured him. “And it was Toothpaste Triple Coupon day … and Buy-Twelve-Razors-Get-One-Free day.”

He looked at me dubiously.

“Plus, I was the 500th customer so I won enough mouthwash for a year.” He raised an eyebrow. “Also I had signed up to be part of the Great Toilet Paper Challenge. Anyone who knew how to change a roll of toilet paper got fifty percent off ten rolls.” I could see a trace of uncertainty start to appear on his face. He looked at the products in my linen closet and then back at me. I knew I had one last chance to convince him that I was just thrifty, not crazy.

“And did I mention that I guessed the correct number of cotton swabs in a jar and won a lifetime supply of Q-Tips?” I proclaimed.

“Really?” He wondered. “And what about the hair gel?”

I nodded.

“That’s for the zombies.”


Join in the battle

Cable companies want to slow down (and break!) your favorite sites, for profit. To fight back, let’s cover the web with symbolic “loading” icons, to remind everyone what an Internet without net neutrality would look like, and drive record numbers of emails and calls to lawmakers. Are you in?  BATTLEFORTHENET.COM|BY FIGHT FOR THE FUTURE


Say it plainly

A New Psychiatric Disorder
by Gary Kinder – via – Sep. 2014

* * * *
Psychiatrists don’t have a diagnosis for this in the DSM of Mental Disorders, but somebody ought to be studying why so many of us take so long to get to the point. Even in a sentence. We seem incapable of just saying it. We have to fool around first, holding off our reader. “Paranoid Personality Disorder” made it into the DSM to label those who are suspicious, grudge-bearing, combative, and pre-occupied with unsubstantiated “conspiratorial” explanations. Yet “Paranoid Personality Disorder” affect only one percent of our population; this new disorder affects about ninety-five times that many.

I propose we call it “Around About Disorder”, because we get around to our point about three to ten words into the sentence. Borrowing from the DSM, here are the seven criteria; to be diagnosed with “Around About Disorder”

  • We cannot keep from stating the obvious
  • We harbor unwarranted feelings of self-importance and superiority
  • We can’t say it, only we want to say it
  • We try to disguise hostile feelings with officious phrases
  • We hesitate to express a thought for fear that someone will turn against us
  • We are overly concerned with the presentation tone of our writings
  • We exert considerable effort attempting to disguise what we consider to be unpleasant or unwelcome information

Economics “where we are” – and a reply to ‘matforce’

Matforce: thanks for the superb commentary. I see you have been working on an article about “where we are economically” for some time, so I’d like to request you consider adding some of the following elements to your article.

* * * *

For the middle portion of the 20th Century the majority of American’s net worth was earned and spent internally. Beginning in the late 60′s we started spending a greater portion of our wealth to buy finished products and expendables, not raw material, first from Japan, then the rest of the developing World.

Currently about 70% of America’s economy depends on people buying stuff, not primarily from each other; but rather from a host of foreign sources, with a large portion of our funds going to international entities – which essentially removes it from the local environment. This has been called the ‘Walmart effect’.

With our reliance on these entities to “reinvest” these funds back into our country to support, for example, our Wars of Choice, we have mortgaged a large portion of our economy to external actors.

Approximately one half of our $17.5 Trillion national debt is “owned” by foreign entities, who obtain interest payments, which by some reckoning amounts to 6+% of our Federal budget.

Thus we are using borrowed money, paying interest on it, using the funds provided for non-productive uses, and acquiescing to international financing schemes that always favor the lender.

In short, instead of creating national wealth to be used internally, we pass all the technology, skill, market protections, and industrial bases to external entities, many of whom despise us, or manipulate us to serve their own needs.

Capitalists understand the value of being a lender, of using funds judiciously to enhance their financial position, and of leveraging OPM.

As Gary Reber writes on:… - serious citizens for whom a middle class is vital, need to be focusing on creating wealth among the middle class, broadly encompassed by what he calls “The Middle Way” – collective ownership of assets.

The financial sector has done almost everything in their power to prevent this from happening, from the meaningless 1% interest banks pay on savings plans and CDs, to the linkage the monopolies attach to their customer’s monthly payment accounts, to the cancellation of the United States Postal Savings Plan which ran from 1911 to 1967.

The middle class must accumulate solid assets, somewhat equitably distributed among the 90+% with annual incomes in the $30-250k range. The extremes must participate with scaled progressive tax and support mechanisms.

Sorry for being so long-winded. I also copied several of your comments from Bill Moyers to put on my blog:

If you don’t want me to do that, or prefer to submit an edited version please let me know.

Thanks again,

Math problem

Splitting the bill equitably – math problem
* * * *
Four brothers go to a restaurant and agree to share the bill equitably.

Tradition says that when one has a birthday, the others will treat, which works ok, except two of the brothers have the same birthday.

How do they share the bill equitably on that date?

Splitting the bill equitably - math problem<br />
* * * *<br />
Four brothers go to a restaurant and agree to share the bill equitably. Tradition says that when one has a birthday, the others will treat, which works ok, except two of the brothers have the same birthday. </p>
<p>How do they share the bill equitably on that date?

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Another one bites the dust

Creative Recycling Systems enters bankruptcy

By Bobby Elliott, E-Scrap News

Sept. 4, 2014

* * * *

With a multimillion dollar lawsuit on its plate, Creative Recycling Systems has entered into bankruptcy and decided to close or sell all of its e-scrap locations.

After an extensive review of Creative’s holdings, the company’s receiver, Robert Swett, determined that the only potentially profitable — and sellable — operations were in Florida and North Carolina. The company has operated an e-scrap processing facilities in each of those states.  A separate office building in Florida has also been identified as an asset to package with the others in a potential sale, Jay Verona, Swett’s legal counsel, told E-Scrap News.

The company’s remaining processing facility, located in Palmetto, Georgia, and numerous other storage and office sites have already been or will be closed, Verona confirmed. “As for the rest of the leases, we’ve filed motions to reject those leases,” Verona said. The company’s filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy was approved by a Florida bankruptcy court judge Sept. 3, court documents show.

Verona could not provide an estimate of how many jobs will be lost as a result of the anticipated closings. A loan of $1 million has also been requested from the plaintiff in the case, Regions Bank, to “operate the company in the short term along with the other revenues that the company generates,” Verona explained. Regions Bank is suing Creative and related affiliates for $18.7 million. Swett was appointed a receiver for the company in July.

Swett has not been available to discuss what each inventory revealed or how much material the company has amassed — and will need to process. One former Creative employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the company has more than 5,000 tons of CRT glass it will need to manage. Rumors of uncertainty surrounding Creative’s future have swirled ever since the Regions Bank lawsuit emerged and plans to layoff 74 employees in Florida followed. In recent weeks E-Scrap News has reached out to officials in every state where Creative has had a location, with numerous sources noting interruptions in service but few having a clear sense of whether or not the company would continue operating.

In North Carolina, a state where Swett thinks Creative might still have attractive assets, service disruptions have been going on for more than a year, Rob Taylor, who heads the Local Government Assistance Team at the North Carolina Department of the Environment and Natural Resources, told E-Scrap News. After abruptly opting out of most municipal collection programs last year, Creative held on to contracts in Mecklenburg County, Wake County and Moore County as well as with the city of Durham. But this summer, service to those clients was also cut off, Taylor said, leaving a backlog of material to be cleaned up and a handful of important municipalities scrambling to identify new partners.

As for the reason, Taylor ventured an educated guess that Creative was outbidding its competitors in North Carolina — namely Electronic Recyclers International, Synergy and E-Cycle Secure — by putting in the lowest bids to OEMs required to fund recycling efforts in the state and then even offering municipalities money for their CRT-dominated e-scrap stream. “Their offer was always an orange in a basket of apples,” Taylor said. “Maybe they were hoping there’d be a better quality stream with less CRTs.”

Meanwhile state officials up and down the East Coast, Creative’s primary swath of business, have had a hard time reaching the company, especially in states where service has appeared to stop altogether. “I am concerned since the state’s primary contact has not responded to my requests for information to-date,” one official wrote just days before the company filed for bankruptcy.

Dining out and corkage

Bring Your Own Wine to the Restaurant

Restaurant’s typically charge a 350-500% markup, (over typical retail), on wine, so take your own bottle and demand free BYO wine service, or a reasonable corkage fee.

If they say they don’t allow BYO wine service just insist on drinking your own…there is no law in most jurisdictions saying you cannot consume your own wine brought into a restaurant as long as the restaurant has a active beer & wine license for on-premises consumption. If the restaurant charges more than you consider reasonable for corkage fee, have them separate the bill into food and wine, pay for them separately on credit cards, demand a copy of the wine portion bill, and then contest the overage with your cc provider.

A 200-250% markup over the typical retail price  is reasonable, while a 350-500% rate is simple theft from a captive audience!


Astrophysics Lessons 202: 22-31 Aug. 2014

(Note: All these articles were written by Brian Koberlein who retains all rights to them.)

* * * *

Catalytic Converter

Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / T. Pyle.

Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / T. Pyle.

Modern temper


Loss aversion & climate change

Climate Change is a psychological problem

by Paul P. Mealing – 25th Aug. 2014

In last week’s issue of New Scientist (16 August 2014, pp. 24-25), George Marshall wrote a mostly pessimistic opinion piece about the acceptance of human-initiated climate change by the general public. Marshall is founder of the ‘Climate Outreach and Information Network in Oxford, UK,’ and author of a book, Don’t Even Think About It; Why our brains are wired to ignore climate change, which is about to be published. This alone will stop many climate change sceptics from reading his article let alone his book.

Basically, he argues that it’s human nature to place more importance on short term pain over long term gain. In other words, we are reluctant to make sacrifices or accept short term costs in favour of long term goals that won’t be seen in our own lifetime and which no one can definitively quantify. Politicians don’t have the political will to overcome the collective inertia or risk election over an issue that many can’t perceive as current or relevant to their own lives. In Australia, and, I suspect elsewhere, this has become an emotionally charged issue with people sending threatening emails to scientists, and claiming that there is some global academic conspiracy to maintain funding and jobs for climate scientists who would otherwise be out of a job if climate change didn’t exist. Such irrationality merely demonstrates how reason is the first casualty when public opinion attempts to overturn peer-reviewed science.

In last week’s episode of ABC’s weekly programme, Q&A, the issue came up and Heather Ridout, a highly respected Australian business woman, currently head of AustralianSuper and a Board member for the Reserve Bank of Australia, seems an unlikely advocate for action on Climate Change, given those credentials, yet argued that the scientific argument is well and truly over and it’s time we accepted the scientific status quo instead of challenging it with spurious and contrary viewpoints that are given the same weight as globally accepted scientific opinion.

Marshall opens his article with a quote from Daniel Kahneman, who won the 2002 Nobel Prize for economics: “…I am deeply pessimistic, I really see no path to success on climate change.” To quote Marshall, Kahneman won the prize ‘for his research on the psychological biases that distort rational decision making.’ In particular, he coined the term “loss aversion”, which is effectively the point I made in the opening of the second paragraph: reluctance to accept short term pain for a long term gain of uncertain magnitude.

Kahneman also talks about “assimilation bias”, which is our ability to make information fit our personal prejudices, and is why people on opposing sides of the political spectrum can have such contradictory views over the same issue, like climate change. The problem with all this, as Marshall expounds, is that, politically, it is much easier to postpone the problem than deal with it now. The easy way out for politicians, is to give it lip service whilst pursuing policies that actually do nothing to address it. This is exactly what our current political leadership is doing in Australia, and I believe it’s happening elsewhere as well.
Continue reading Loss aversion & climate change

Study: Couples who smoke marijuana are less likely to engage in domestic violence

 August 26 at 3:35 PM

Marital marijuana?

new study by researchers at the University of Buffalo finds a significantly lower incidence of domestic violence among married couples who smoke pot. “Couples in which both spouses used marijuana frequently reported the least frequent IPV [intimate partner violence] perpetration,” the study concludes.

These findings were robust even after controlling for things like demographic variables, behavioral problems, and alcohol use. The authors studied data from 634 couples over nine years of marriage, starting in 1996. Couples were administered regular questionnaires on a variety of issues, including recent drug and alcohol use and instances of physical aggression toward their spouses.

Previous research on the relationship between marijuana use and domestic violence has largely been based on cross-sectional data (that is, data from one point in time), and those findings have been mixed: some studies found links between marijuana use and/or abuse and domestic violence, while others did not. The Buffalo study is one of the few to use data collected over the course of decades to examine the question, putting it on solid methodological ground compared to previous work.
Continue reading Study: Couples who smoke marijuana are less likely to engage in domestic violence

What is: ‘Burning Man’ ?

Why Silicon Valley billionaires are obsessed with Burning Man

Burning Man is located in a temporary 5-square-mile city erected in the bare flatland of the Nevada desert. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google’s Larry Page, and Tesla’s Elon Musk have all joined their fellow burners in years past, weathering blistering heat and unpredictable sandstorms to enjoy a week of dancing and interactive art.

Burning Man has since become a totem for the Internet industry’s unique culture. Indeed, when Tesla’s Elon Musk was asked about Silicon Valley, HBO’s satirical series on tech culture, he reportedly said, “I really feel like [Director] Mike Judge has never been to Burning Man, which is Silicon Valley … If you haven’t been, you just don’t get it.”

Silicon Valley billionaires could vacation anywhere in the world. Yet they volunteer to be part of a crazy social experiment with thousands of strangers in the blistering desert.

When I asked Burning Man founder Larry Harvey why the tech elite would vacation in the desert, he rephrased the question. “Why Silicon Valley would be smitten with the idea of an unlimited blank slate to do things that have never been done?”, he laughed, “It doesn’t seem like much of a mystery.”

What does Burning Man’s culture have in common with Silicon Valley?

Black rock city

(Flickr user DCMatt)

Burning Man is an experiment in what a city would look like if it were architected for wild creativity and innovation. The goal is to be expressive and experimental — scientifically, artistically, sexually, or spiritually. For techies, it’s a chance to try out untested gadgets and go nuts with the oddest social experiences imaginable.
Continue reading What is: ‘Burning Man’ ?

Many of us know this already; but …

Author: Robert Reich,
Wednesday, August 20, 2014 9:55 AM
New study shows Americans have never felt more powerless.

Americans are sick of politics. Only 13 percent approve of the job Congress is doing, a near record low. {Actually according to recent polls the 13% recorded in Jan/Feb 2014 has declined to 6% in Aug}.  The President’s approval ratings are also in the basement.

A large portion of the public doesn’t even bother voting. Only 57.5 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots in the 2012 presidential election.

Put simply, most Americans feel powerless, and assume the political game is fixed. So why bother?

A new study scheduled to be published in this fall by Princeton’s Martin Gilens and Northwestern University’s Benjamin Page confirms our worst suspicions.

Gilens and Page analyzed 1,799 policy issues in detail, determining the relative influence on them of economic elites, business groups, mass-based interest groups, and average citizens.

Their conclusion: “The preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” Instead, lawmakers respond to the policy demands of wealthy individuals and monied business interests – those with the most lobbying prowess and deepest pockets to bankroll campaigns.

Before you’re tempted to say “duh,” wait a moment. Gilens’ and Page’s data come from the period 1981 to 2002. This was before the Supreme Court opened the floodgates to big money in “Citizens United,” prior to SuperPACs, and before the Wall Street bailout. So it’s likely to be even worse now.

But did the average citizen ever have much power? The eminent journalist and commentator Walter Lippman argued in his 1922 book “Public Opinion” that the broad public didn’t know or care about public policy. Its consent was “manufactured” by an elite that manipulated it. “It is no longer possible … to believe in the original dogma of democracy,” Lippman concluded.

Yet American democracy seemed robust compared to other nations that in the first half of the twentieth century succumbed to communism or totalitarianism.

Political scientists after World War II hypothesized that even though the voices of individual Americans counted for little, most people belonged to a variety of interest groups and membership organizations – clubs, associations, political parties, unions – to which politicians were responsive. “Interest-group pluralism,” as it was called, thereby channeled the views of individual citizens, and made American democracy function.

What’s more, the political power of big corporations and Wall Street was offset by the power of labor unions, farm cooperatives, retailers, and smaller banks.

Economist John Kenneth Galbraith approvingly dubbed it “countervailing power.” These alternative power centers ensured that America’s vast middle and working classes received a significant share of the gains from economic growth. Starting in 1980, something profoundly changed. It wasn’t just that big corporations and wealthy individuals became more politically potent, as Gilens and Page document. It was also that other interest groups began to wither. Grass-roots membership organizations shrank because Americans had less time for them. As wages stagnated, most people had to devote more time to work in order to makes ends meet. That included the time of wives and mothers who began streaming into the paid workforce to prop up family incomes.

At the same time, union membership plunged because corporations began sending jobs abroad and fighting attempts to unionize. (Ronald Reagan helped legitimize these moves when he fired striking air traffic controllers.) Other centers of countervailing power – retailers, farm cooperatives, and local and regional banks – also lost ground to national discount chains, big agribusiness, and Wall Street. Deregulation sealed their fates. Meanwhile, political parties stopped representing the views of most constituents. As the costs of campaigns escalated, parties morphing from state and local membership organizations into national fund-raising machines.

We entered a vicious cycle in which political power became more concentrated in monied interests that used the power to their advantage – getting tax cuts, expanding tax loopholes, benefiting from corporate welfare and free-trade agreements, slicing safety nets, enacting anti-union legislation, and reducing public investments. These moves further concentrated economic gains at the top, while leaving out most of the rest of America.

No wonder Americans feel powerless. No surprise we’re sick of politics, and many of us aren’t even voting. But if we give up on politics, we’re done for. Powerlessness is a self-fulfilling prophesy. The only way back toward a democracy and economy that work for the majority is for most of us to get politically active once again, becoming organized and mobilized. We have to establish a new countervailing power.

The monied interests are doing what they do best – making money. The rest of us need to do what we can do best – use our voices, our vigor, our votes, {and our wallets…ed}.