Astrophysics 102 Lessons: 16-23 July 2014

Note: These articles were written by Brian Koberlein who retains all rights to them.

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Cosmic Latte


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On the Rocks


Astrophysics Lessons: 10 – 15 July 2014

Note: These articles were written by Brian Koberlein who retains all rights to them. 

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Step by Step


Jeffrey’s got it right !


Calvin continues to have difficulties…


5 Traits Uber Shares With Exploitative Old School Capitalist Companies

It’s time to take a more skeptical look at what the NY Times calls the hottest start-up on earth.

by Allegra Kirkland – Alternet – 22 June 2014

Now that Uber has received an $18.2 billion valuation from investors, making it worth more than rental car giants Hertz and Avis combined, it would seem the ride-sharing company’s days as a scrappy young tech startup are done. But in the days since the valuation was made public, the Uber hype machine—which insists that the company is revolutionizing the monopolistic, overly bureaucratic taxi industry—has gone into overdrive.

In one of the eight articles on Uber that the New York Times has published in the last two weeks alone, Farhad Manjoo refers to the company as “the hottest, most valuable technology start-up on the planet.” In the opinion of Mitchell Moss, director of the Rudin Center for Transportation at New York University, “Uber is transforming mobility in big cities and has been one of the great innovations in transportation in the last decade.”

With its revolutionary “disruptive” potential, app-based technology and clever marketing—one campaign involved a kitten delivery service in honor of National Cat Day—the service is almost a parody of the quintessential millennial company. But make no mistake: despite the populist, user-focused language of Uber promoters and company reps, the ride-sharing service is a prime example of the neoliberal economic model at work. Uber’s brand of tech sector neoliberalism relies on deregulation, an absence of government oversight and a healthy amount of political spending to sway the rules in their favor. By adhering to the narrative of innovation, efficiency and market disruption, for the good of the people, powerful tech companies can avoid discussing other topics: how their services compromise existing industries, fair labor practices, the security of passengers and drivers. Here are five ways that Uber is just like any other exploitative capitalist enterprise,

Continue reading 5 Traits Uber Shares With Exploitative Old School Capitalist Companies

Iraq’s Destruction Is a Reminder of the Ugly Face of American Empire

Why are the cheerleaders of slaughter, who have been wrong about Iraq since before the invasion, still urging us toward ruin?

(by Chris Hedges – Truthdig: 23 June 2014)

The black-clad fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, sweeping a collapsing army and terrified Iraqis before them as they advance toward Baghdad, reflect back to us the ghoulish face of American empire. They are the specters of the hundreds of thousands of people we murdered in our deluded quest to remake the Middle East. They are ghosts from the innumerable roadsides and villages where U.S. soldiers and Marines, jolted by explosions of improvised explosive devices, responded with indiscriminate fire. They are the risen remains of the dismembered Iraqis left behind by blasts of Hellfire and cruise missiles, howitzers, grenade launchers and drone strikes. They are the avengers of the gruesome torture and the sexual debasement that often came with being detained by American troops. They are the final answer to the collective humiliation of an occupied country, the logical outcome of Shock and Awe, the Frankenstein monster stitched together from the body parts we left scattered on the ground. They are what we get for the $4 trillion we wasted on the Iraq War.
Continue reading Iraq’s Destruction Is a Reminder of the Ugly Face of American Empire

Don’t buy the ‘sharing economy’ hype: Airbnb and Uber are facilitating rip-offs

Dodging taxes and regulation isn’t just disruptive – it’s bad for the economy

Share artists or scam artists? Photograph: Ole Spata / dpa / Corbis

The “sharing economy” – typified by companies like Airbnb or Uber, both of which now have market capitalizations in the billions – is the latest fashion craze among business writers. But in their exuberance over the next big thing, many boosters have overlooked the reality that this new business model is largely based on evading regulations and breaking the law.

For the uninitiated, Airbnb is an internet-based service that allows people to rent out spare rooms to strangers for short stays. Uber is an internet taxi service that allows tens of thousands of people to answer ride requests with their own cars. There are hundreds of other such services that involve the renting or selling of everything from power tools to used suits and wedding dresses.

The good thing about the sharing economy is that it facilitates the use of underutilized resources. There are millions of people with houses or apartments that have rooms sitting empty, and Airbnb allows them to profit from these empty rooms while allowing guests a place to stay at prices that are often far less than those charged by hotels. Uber offers prices that are competitive with standard taxi prices and their drivers are often much quicker and more reliable – and its drivers can drive as much or as little as they like, without making a commitment to standard shifts. Other services allow for items to be used productively that would otherwise be gathering dust.

But the downside of the sharing economy has gotten much less attention. Most cities and states both tax and regulate hotels, and the tourists who stay in hotels are usually an important source of tax revenue (since governments have long recognized that a modest hotel tax is not likely to discourage most visitors nor provoke the ire of constituents). But many of Airbnb’s customers are not paying the taxes required under the law.

Airbnb can also raise issues of safety for its customers and nuisance for hosts’ neighbors. Hotels are regularly inspected to ensure that they are not fire traps and that they don’t pose other risks for visitors. Airbnb hosts face no such inspections – and their neighbors in condo, co-ops or apartment buildings may think they have the right not to be living next door to a hotel (which is one reason that cities have zoning restrictions).

Insofar as Airbnb is allowing people to evade taxes and regulations, the company is not a net plus to the economy and society – it is simply facilitating a bunch of rip-offs. Others in the economy will lose by bearing an additional tax burden or being forced to live next to an apartment unit with a never-ending parade of noisy visitors, just to cite two examples.
Continue reading Don’t buy the ‘sharing economy’ hype: Airbnb and Uber are facilitating rip-offs

Kansas – the enduring power of bad ideas

Charlatans, Cranks and Kansas
by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times

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Two years ago Kansas embarked on a remarkable fiscal experiment: It sharply slashed income taxes without any clear idea of what would replace the lost revenue. Sam Brownback, the governor, proposed the legislation — in percentage terms, the largest tax cut in one year any state has ever enacted — in close consultation with the economist Arthur Laffer. And Mr. Brownback predicted that the cuts would jump-start an economic boom…

But Kansas isn’t booming — in fact, its economy is lagging both neighboring states and America as a whole. Meanwhile, the state’s budget has plunged deep into deficit, provoking a Moody’s downgrade of its debt.

There’s an important lesson here — but it’s not what you think. Yes, the Kansas debacle shows that tax cuts don’t have magical powers, but we already knew that. The real lesson from Kansas is the enduring power of bad ideas, as long as those ideas serve the interests of the right people. …

For the Brownback tax cuts didn’t emerge out of thin air. They closely followed a blueprint laid out by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, which has also supported a series of economic studies purporting to show that tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy will promote rapid economic growth. The studies are embarrassingly bad, and the council’s Board of Scholars — which includes both Mr. Laffer and Stephen Moore of the Heritage Foundation — doesn’t exactly shout credibility. …

And what is ALEC? It’s a secretive group, financed by major corporations, that drafts model legislation for conservative state-level politicians…. And most of ALEC’s efforts are directed, not surprisingly, at privatization, deregulation, and tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.

And I do mean for the wealthy. …ALEC supports … cutting taxes at the top while actually increasing taxes at the bottom, as well as cutting social services.

But how can you justify enriching the already wealthy while making life harder for those struggling to get by? The answer is, you need an economic theory claiming that such a policy is the key to prosperity for all. So supply-side economics fills a need backed by lots of money, and the fact that it keeps failing doesn’t matter.

And the Kansas debacle won’t matter either. Oh, it will briefly give states considering similar policies pause. But the effect won’t last long, because faith in tax-cut magic isn’t about evidence; it’s about finding reasons to give powerful interests what they want.

Astrophysics Lessons: 1-9 July 2014

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The Planet That Never Was

Outstanding YouTube Videos









 Your suggestions solicited…

Sister’s got it right…


Let’s hold those opposed responsible!

Contraceptive Use in the United States


• There are 62 million U.S. women in their childbearing years (15–44). [1] About 43 million of them (70%) are at risk of unintended pregnancy—that is, they are sexually active and do not want to become pregnant, but could become pregnant if they and their partners fail to use a contraceptive method correctly and consistently.[2]

• Couples who do not use any method of contraception have an approximately 85% chance of experiencing a pregnancy over the course of a year.[3]

• The typical U.S. woman wants only two children. To achieve this goal, she must use contraceptives for roughly three decades.[4]


• More than 99% of women aged 15–44 who have ever had sexual intercourse have used at least one contraceptive method.[5]

• Some 62% of all women of reproductive age are currently using a contraceptive method.[2]

• Eleven percent of women at risk of unintended pregnancy are not currently using any contraceptive method.[2]

• The proportion of women at risk who are not using a method is highest among 15–19-year-olds (18%) and lowest among women aged 40–44 (9%).[2]

• Eighty-three percent of black women who are at risk of unintended pregnancy currently use a contraceptive method, compared with 91% of their Hispanic and white peers, and 90% of Asian women.[2]

•Ninety-two percent of at-risk women with incomes of 300% or more of the federal poverty level are currently using contraceptives, compared with 89% among those living at 0–149% of the poverty line.[2]

• A much higher proportion of married than of never-married women use a contraceptive method (77% vs. 42%). This is largely because married women are more likely to be sexually active. But even among those at risk of unintended pregnancy, contraceptive use is higher among currently married women than among never-married women (93% vs. 83%).[2]

• Cohabitors fall between married women and unmarried noncohabitors; 10% of at-risk cohabitors are not using a method.[2]

• Contraceptive use is common among women of all religious denominations. Eighty-nine percent of at-risk Catholics and 90% of at-risk Protestants currently use a contraceptive method. Among sexually experienced religious women, 99% of Catholics and Protestants have ever used some form of contraception. [6]

• Knowledge about contraceptive methods is a strong predictor of use among young adults: Among unmarried women aged 18–29, for each correct response on a contraceptive knowledge scale, the odds of currently using a hormonal or long-acting reversible method increased by 17%, and of using no method decreased by 17%.[7]

Continue reading Let’s hold those opposed responsible!

The Supreme Court sided against birth control again…

and three Justices are not happy about it

Supreme Court Justice Sonia SotomayorAlex Wong/Getty Images News
The Hobby Lobby decision wasn’t the Supreme Court’s last word on birth control.

Late Thursday, six justices signed onto an injunction that allows Wheaton College, a religious university, more flexibility to not comply with Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate. It led to a scathing dissent from the court’s three female members.

“Those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote, in a dissent joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan. “Not today.”

Sotomayor went on to argue that the injunction would risk stripping “hundreds of Wheaton’s employees and students of their legal entitlement to contraceptive coverage.”

The Wheaton College case centers on a Christian liberal arts college in Illinois. It is part of another wave of lawsuits against Obamacare’s contraceptives mandate that the recent Hobby Lobby decision did not resolve.

These lawsuits challenge the flexibilities that the Obama administration has already offered religious non-profits, arguing that the existing accommodations don’t do enough to protect religious liberty.

What is the Wheaton College case about?

Back in February 2012, some religiously-affiliated non-profits (particularly universities and hospitals) successfully pushed the Obama administration to offer an “accommodation” that would allow them to opt-out of the contraceptives mandate. The idea behind the compromise: non-profits wouldn’t pay for contraceptives themselves but instead have their health insurance plan foot the bill for birth control.

In order to apply for this compromise, non-profits are supposed to use a very specific form to certify their opposition to providing their employees with contraception. The form, for the especially curious, is Employee Benefits Security Administration form 700 (EBSA 700).

After that form is filed, insurers are supposed to pay for the contraception themselves without passing the cost on to the religious organizations. Insurers recoup their losses through reduced fees paid to the government.

Continue reading The Supreme Court sided against birth control again…

Mayday !

Dear MoveOn member,

This is Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig.

Since the early 1920s, aviators and mariners have used the word MAYDAY to signal distress.

On the sea, when another captain hears that call, there is an obligation to lend aid.

At MayDay PAC, we are calling a MAYDAY on this democracy. Americans from across the political spectrum believe our government is broken. More than 90% of us link that failure to the role of money in politics.

And yet our politicians do nothing to break that link. Instead they spend endless time raising campaign funds from the tiniest fraction of the 1%.

Our democracy is held hostage by these funders of campaigns. We have announced a plan to get it back.

Learn more in this video, and please let me know if you’re interested in being part of this.

Several years ago, I decided to give up my work on copyright and Internet policy and take up the fight against corruption.

I started collaborating with others on the best way to build a grassroots movement around campaign finance reform. Washington won’t fix itself—the people need to take action.

That’s why we created MayDay PAC, an ambitious “Super PAC to end all Super PACs” that will make reform a 2014 campaign issue. We’ve raised millions so far, shocking the political world.

Can you watch this video explaining MayDay PAC, and let us know if you’d be interested in supporting this effort?

With hope,

Lawrence Lessig

Note: Larry Lessig didn’t pay us to send this email—we never rent or sell our list. We’re helping build support for the MayDay SuperPAC because of MoveOn members’ long involvement in fighting big money in our politics. After you watch Larry’s video, you’ll have a chance to support MoveOn as well as pledge to help launch MayDay.

Want to support our work? We’re entirely funded by our 8 million members—no corporate contributions, no big checks from CEOs. And our tiny staff ensures that small contributions go a long way. Start a monthly contribution here.

PAID FOR BY MOVEON.ORG POLITICAL ACTION, Not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee. This email was sent to Richard on July 4, 2014. To change your email address or update your contact info, click here. To remove yourself from this list, click here.

Astrophysics Lessons: 22-29 June 2014

Note: These articles were written by Brian Koberlein who retains all rights to them.

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Dance Magic Dance

It really is and always was about the oil !!

shutterstock_2999090.jpgThe New Oil Wars in Iraq
Posted by Michael Schwartz on TomDispatch at 8:13am, June 24, 2014.

It was a moment of remarkable contradictions. Obama managed, for example, to warn against “mission creep” even as he was laying out what could only be described as mission creep. Earlier that week, he had notified Congress that 275 troops would be sent to Iraq, largely to defend the vast U.S. embassy in Baghdad, once an almost three-quarters-of-a-billion-dollar symbol of imperial hubris, now a white elephant of the first order. A hundred more military personnel were to be moved into the region for backup.

Then on Thursday, the president added 300 “military advisers” drawn from Special Operations forces and evidently meant to staff new “joint operation centers in Baghdad and northern Iraq to share intelligence and coordinate planning to confront the terrorist threat.” (If you are of a certain age, that word “adviser” will ring an eerie Vietnam-ish bell. You should, in fact, already be hearing a giant sucking sound somewhere in the distance.) He also spoke vaguely of positioning “additional U.S. military assets in the region” into which the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush, accompanied by a guided-missile cruiser and destroyer, had already sailed. And mind you, this was only the reasonably public part of whatever build-up is underway. While the president spoke of being “prepared to take targeted and precise military action” in Iraq, at least one unnamed “senior administration official” was already at work opening up the possibility of air strikes in Syria. “We don’t restrict potential U.S. action to a specific geographic space,” was the ominous way that official put it.

In other words, short of combat troops on the ground in significant numbers, that table on which “all options” are always kept open was visibly moved into Washington’s War Room of the Levant. It’s quite a development for a president who took special pride in getting us out of Iraq (even though that departure was engineered by the Bush administration, while Obama’s officials tried to negotiate leaving a force behind, only to be thwarted by the Iraqi government). In tandem with the military moves, the president and his national security team, perhaps reflecting through a glass darkly the “democracy agenda” of the Bush era, also seemed to have dipped their fingers in purple ink.They were reportedly pressuring Iraqi politicians to dump Prime Minister Maliki and appoint a “unity” government to fight the war they want. (Adding to the farcical nature of the moment, one name raised for Maliki’s position was Ahmed Chalabi, once the darling of Bush-era officials and their choice for that same post.)

There is, however, no way that an American intervention won’t be viewed as a move to back the Shia side in an incipient set of civil wars, as even retired general and former CIA director David Petraeus warned last week. In fact, in opinion polls Americans overwhelmingly reject military intervention of any sort, just as every experience in the post-9/11 era should signal one simple lesson: Don’t do it! But Obama and his top officials evidently can’t help themselves. The rising tide of criticism-to-come is undoubtedly already pre-echoing in their heads — previewed by the endless media appearances of Senator John McCain and a stream of op-eds from former vice president Dick Cheney, former occupation proconsul L. Paul Bremer III, and others from the crowd of “experts” who created the Iraq disaster and for whom being wrong about that country is a badge of honor.

We are clearly in the early stages of the intervention sweepstakes. The initial moves may even be greeted as auspicious, but watch out for the long-run destabilizing effects in an already chaotic region. Washington only imagines it can control such combustible situations. In reality, it hasn’t in the past and it won’t be able to this time either, which means unexpected ugliness will ensue. (And just wait until, in one of those joint operation centers or elsewhere, the first Iraqi soldier, like his Afghan counterparts, turns his gun on one of those special ops advisers.)

All that’s missing at the moment is the final touch on the Obama version of mission creep. I’m talking about the signature gesture for this administration in its conflicts across the Greater Middle East (and increasingly Africa). If you listen carefully, you can already hear the theme music for the era rising in the background and — with apologies to Stephen Sondheim for mangling his beautiful elegy to a lost relationship — it’s clearly “Send in the Drones.”

In the meantime, whatever the president is saying, he never mentioned oil. No one does. Nor, generally, did the Bush administration when it invaded and occupied Iraq. If you paid attention to our media, you would never know that it sits on one of the great, easily accessible fossil-fuel reserves on the planet, though that should never be far from anyone’s mind. Fortunately, sociologist Michael Schwartz, an old-time TomDispatch regular, is back after a long absence to remind us of The One Fact in Iraq, the one we should never forget. Tom


It’s the Oil, Stupid!
Insurgency and War on a Sea of Oil
By Michael Schwartz

Events in Iraq are headline news everywhere, and once again, there is no mention of the issue that underlies much of the violence: control of Iraqi oil. Instead, the media is flooded with debate about, horror over, and extensive analysis of a not-exactly-brand-new terrorist threat, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). There are, in addition, elaborate discussions about the possibility of a civil war that threatens both a new round of ethnic cleansing and the collapse of the embattled government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Underway are, in fact, “a series of urban revolts against the government,” as Middle Eastern expert Juan Cole has called them. They are currently restricted to Sunni areas of the country and have a distinctly sectarian character, which is why groups like ISIS can thrive and even take a leadership role in various locales. These revolts have, however, neither been created nor are they controlled by ISIS and its several thousand fighters. They also involve former Baathists and Saddam Hussein loyalists, tribal militias, and many others. And at least in incipient form they may not, in the end, be restricted to Sunni areas. As the New York Times reported last week, the oil industry is “worried that the unrest could spread” to the southern Shia-dominated city of Basra, where “Iraq’s main oil fields and export facilities are clustered.”

Under the seething ocean of Sunni discontent lies a factor that is being ignored. The insurgents are not only in a struggle against what they see as oppression by a largely Shiite government in Baghdad and its security forces, but also over who will control and benefit from what Maliki — speaking for most of his constituents — told the Wall Street Journal is Iraq’s “national patrimony.”

Continue reading It really is and always was about the oil !!

The Zombie arguments

Veterans and Zombies
NY Times Commentary by Paul Krugman

You’ve surely heard about the scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs. A number of veterans found themselves waiting a long time for care, some of them died before they were seen, and some of the agency’s employees falsified records to cover up the extent of the problem. It’s a real scandal…But the goings-on at Veterans Affairs shouldn’t cause us to lose sight of a much bigger scandal:… the Veterans Affairs scandal, while real, is being hyped out of proportion by people whose real goal is to block reform of the larger system.

The essential, undeniable fact about American health care is how incredibly expensive it is — twice as costly per capita as the French system, two-and-a-half times as expensive as the British system. You might expect all that money to buy results, but the United States actually ranks low on basic measures of performance…

As you might guess, conservatives don’t like the observation that American health care performs worse than other countries’ systems because it relies too much on the private sector and the profit motive. So whenever someone points out the obvious, there is a chorus of denial… It turns out, however, that such claims invariably end up relying on zombie arguments — that is, arguments that have been proved wrong, should be dead, but keep shambling along because they serve a political purpose.

Which brings us to veterans’ care. … It’s still true that Veterans Affairs provides excellent care, at low cost. Those waiting lists arise partly because so many veterans want care, but Congress has provided neither clear guidelines on who is entitled to coverage, nor sufficient resources to cover all applicants. …

Yet, on average, veterans don’t appear to wait longer for care than other Americans. And does anyone doubt that many Americans have died while waiting for approval from private insurers? A scandal is a scandal… But beware of people trying to use the veterans’ care scandal to derail health reform.

And here’s the thing: Health reform is working. Too many Americans still lack good insurance, and hence lack access to health care and protection from high medical costs — but not as many as last year, and next year should be better still. Health costs are still far too high, but their growth has slowed dramatically. We’re moving in the right direction, and we shouldn’t let the zombies get in our way.

Are Republicans willing to settle for second best solutions to climate change?

The Big Green Test
Commentary: NY Times by Paul Krugman – Jun. 22, 2014

On Sunday Henry Paulson, the former Treasury secretary and a lifelong Republican, had an Op-Ed article about climate policy… In the article, he declared that man-made climate change is “the challenge of our time,” and called for a national tax on carbon emissions… Considering the prevalence of climate denial within today’s G.O.P., and the absolute opposition to any kind of tax increase, this was a brave stand to take. But not nearly brave enough. Emissions taxes are the Economics 101 solution to pollution problems… But that isn’t going to happen in the foreseeable future. … Yet there are a number of second-best things … that we’re either doing already or might do soon. … Let me give some examples of what I’m talking about.

First, consider rules like fuel efficiency standards, or “net metering” mandates requiring that utilities buy back the electricity generated by homeowners’ solar panels. Any economics student can tell you that such rules are inefficient compared with the clean incentives provided by an emissions tax. But we don’t have an emissions tax, and fuel efficiency rules and net metering reduce greenhouse gas emissions. So a question for conservative environmentalists: Do you support the continuation of such mandates, or are you with the business groups (spearheaded by the Koch brothers) campaigning to eliminate them and impose fees on home solar installations?
Second, consider government support for clean energy via subsidies and loan guarantees. … Are you O.K. with things like loan guarantees for solar plants, even though we know that some loans will go bad, Solyndra-style?

Finally, what about the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal that it use its regulatory authority to impose large reductions in emissions from power plants? … Are you willing to support this partial approach? …

In policy terms, climate action — if it happens at all — will probably look like health reform. That is, it will be an awkward compromise dictated in part by the need to appease special interests… It will be the subject of intense partisanship, relying overwhelmingly on support from just one party, and will be the subject of constant, hysterical attacks. And it will, if we’re lucky, nonetheless do the job.

Did I mention that health reform is clearly working, despite its flaws?

The question for Mr. Paulson and those of similar views is whether they’re willing to go along with that kind of imperfection. If they are, welcome aboard.

{We} Don’t walk away from War

It’s Not the American Way 

By Tom Engelhardt – AEP – 10 Jun. 2014


The United States has been at war — major boots-on-the-ground conflicts and minor interventions, firefights, air strikes, drone assassination campaigns, occupations, special ops raids, proxy conflicts, and covert actions — nearly nonstop since the Vietnam War began. That’s more than half a century of experience with war, American-style, and yet few in our world bother to draw the obvious conclusions.

Given the historical record, those conclusions should be staring us in the face. They are, however, the words that can’t be said in a country committed to a military-first approach to the world, a continual build-up of its forces, an emphasis on pioneering work in the development and deployment of the latest destructive technology, and a repetitious cycling through styles of war from full-scale invasions and occupations to counterinsurgency, proxy wars, and back again.

So here are five straightforward lessons — none acceptable in what passes for discussion and debate in this country — that could be drawn from that last half century of every kind of American warfare:

1. No matter how you define American-style war or its goals, it doesn’t work. Ever.

2. No matter how you pose the problems of our world, it doesn’t solve them. Never.

3. No matter how often you cite the use of military force to “stabilize” or “protect” or “liberate” countries or regions, it is a destabilizing force.

4. No matter how regularly you praise the American way of war and its “warriors,” the U.S. military is incapable of winning its wars.

5. No matter how often American presidents claim that the U.S. military is “the finest fighting force in history,” the evidence is in: it isn’t.

And here’s a bonus lesson: if as a polity we were to take these five no-brainers to heart and stop fighting endless wars, which drain us of national treasure, we would also have a long-term solution to the Veterans Administration health-care crisis. It’s not the sort of thing said in our world, but the VA is in a crisis of financing and caregiving that, in the present context, cannot be solved, no matter whom you hire or fire. The only long-term solution would be to stop fighting losing wars that the American people will pay for decades into the future, as the cost in broken bodies and broken lives is translated into medical care and then dumped on the VA.
Continue reading {We} Don’t walk away from War

Who won Iraq?

Lost Dreams, Lost Armies, Jihadi States, and the Arc of Instability
By Tom Engelhardt – AEP, 19th Jun. 2014

As Iraq was unraveling last week and the possible outlines of the first jihadist state in modern history were coming into view, I remembered this nugget from the summer of 2002. At the time, journalist Ron Suskind had a meeting with “a senior advisor” to President George W. Bush (later identified as Karl Rove). Here’s how he described part of their conversation:

“The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors… and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.’”

As events unfold increasingly chaotically across the region that officials of the Bush years liked to call the Greater Middle East, consider the eerie accuracy of that statement. The president, his vice president Dick Cheney, his defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and his national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, among others, were indeed “history’s actors.” They did create “new realities” and, just as Rove suggested, the rest of us are now left to “study” what they did.

And oh, what they did! Their geopolitical dreams couldn’t have been grander or more global. (Let’s avoid the word “megalomaniacal.”) They expected to pacify the Greater Middle East, garrison Iraq for generations, make Syria and Iran bow down before American power, “drain” the global “swamp” of terrorists, and create a global Pax Americana based on a military so dominant that no other country or bloc of countries would ever challenge it.

It was quite a dream and none of it, not one smidgen, came true. Just as Rove suggested they would — just as in the summer of 2002, he already knew they would — they acted to create a world in their image, a world they imagined controlling like no imperial power in history. Using that unchallengeable military, they launched an invasion that blew a hole through the oil heartlands of the Middle East. They took a major capital, Baghdad, while “decapitating” (as the phrase then went) the regime that was running Iraq and had, in a particularly brutal fashion, kept the lid on internecine tensions.

They lacked nothing when it came to confidence. Among the first moves of L. Paul Bremer III, the proconsul they appointed to run their occupation, was an order demobilizing Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein’s 350,000-man army and the rest of his military as well. Their plan: to replace it with a lightly armed border protection force — initially of 12,000 troops and in the end perhaps 40,000 — armed and trained by Washington. Given their vision of the world, it made total sense. Why would Iraq need more than that with the U.S. military hanging around for, well, ever, on a series of permanent bases the Pentagon’s contractors were building? What dangers could there be in the neighborhood with that kind of force on hand? Soon enough, it became clear that what they had really done was turn the Iraqi officer corps and most of the country’s troops out onto unemployment lines, creating the basis for a militarily skilled Sunni insurgency. A brilliant start!

Note that these days the news is filled with commentary on the lack of a functional Iraqi air force. That’s why, in recent months, Prime Minister Maliki has been calling on the Obama administration to send American air power back into the breach. Saddam Hussein did have an air force. Once it had been one of the biggest in the Middle East. The Bush administration, however, came to the conclusion that the new Iraqi military would have no need for fighter planes, helicopters, or much of anything else, not when the U.S. Air Force would be in the neighborhood on bases like Balad in Central Iraq. Who needed two air forces?

Be Careful What You Wish For

It was all to be a kind of war-fighting miracle. The American invaders would be greeted as liberators, the mission quickly accomplished, and “major combat operations” ended in a flash — as George Bush so infamously announced on May 1, 2003, after his Top Gun landing on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln. No less miraculous was the fact that it would essentially be a freebie. After all, as undersecretary Paul Wolfowitz pointed out at the time, Iraq “floats on a sea of oil,” which meant that a “liberated” country could cover all “reconstruction” costs without blinking.

The Busheviks entered Iraq with a powerful sense that they were building an American protectorate. So why wouldn’t it be a snap to carry out their ambitious plans to privatize the Iraqi economy, dismantle the country’s vast public sector (throwing another army of employees out of work), and bring in crony corporations to help run the country and giant oil companies to rev up the energy economy, lagging from years of sanctions and ill-repair? In the end, Washington’s Iraq would — so they believed — pump enough crude out of one of the greatest fossil fuel reserves on the planet to sink OPEC, leaving American power free to float to ever greater heights on that sea of oil. As the occupying authority, with a hubris stunning to behold, they issued “orders” that read as if they had been written by officials from some nineteenth-century imperial power.

In short, this was one for the history books. And not a thing — nothing — worked out as planned. You could almost say that whatever it was they dreamed, the opposite invariably occurred. For those of us in the reality-based community, for instance, it’s long been apparent that their war and occupation would cost the U.S., literally and figuratively, an arm and a leg (and that the costs to Iraqis would prove beyond calculating). More than two trillion dollars later — without figuring in astronomical post-war costs still to come — Iraq is a catastrophe.

And $25 billion later, the last vestige of American Iraq, the security forces that, in the end, Washington built up to massive proportions, seem to be in a state of dissolution. Just over a week ago, faced with the advance of a reported 800-1,300 militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the opposition of tribal militias and local populations, close to 50,000 army officers and troops abandoned their American weaponry to Sunni insurgents and foreign jihadis, shed their uniforms by various roadsides, and fled. As a result, significant parts of Iraq, including Mosul, its second largest city, fell into the hands of Sunni insurgents, some of a Saddamist coloration, and a small army of jihadis evidently funded by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, both U.S. allies.

The arrogance of those occupation years should still take anyone’s breath away. Bush and his top officials remade reality on an almost unimaginable scale and, as we study the region today, the results bear no relation to the world they imagined creating. None whatsoever. On the other hand, there were two dreams they had that, after a fashion, did come into existence. Continue reading Who won Iraq?

Government’s achievements

Government’s Greatest Achievements of the Past Half Century

The proof is in the federal statutes. All totaled, Congress passed more than 500 major laws between 1944 and 1999 to improve the quality of life in the nation and world. Judged not as individual programs but as part of larger endeavors, these statutes speak to the enormous range of federal engagement since World War II. Having emerged victorious from both the war and the Great Depression, Congress called upon the federal government to tackle a bold agenda worthy of the world’s greatest democracy, and provided the statutory authority to act. Convinced that government could do great things, the nation asked the federal government to do just that.

Government’s Greatest Endeavors

This report—based on survey responses from 450 history and political science professors—suggests that the federal government did more than aim high, however. It also suggests that the federal government often succeeded in changing the nation and the world. Although many Americans still believe that the federal government creates more problems than it solves, this report suggests that government deserves more credit than it receives.

This Reform Watch does not address whether Congress should have asked government to undertake the endeavors discussed below, nor whether the federal government should have given greater energy to fewer priorities. It is first and foremost a report about what the federal government actually sought to accomplish between 1944 and 1999, and therefore about what government did, not what it should or should not have done. Simply asked, what did the federal government try to do, and what did it achieve?

Continue reading Government’s achievements

Abrupt climate change

via DumbScientist blog –  693 Comments
Posted July 19th, 2009 in Physics. Tags: ,.

One part of a recent survey caught my attention:

The strongest correlate of opinion on climate change is partisan affiliation. Two-thirds of Republicans (67%) say either that the Earth is getting warmer mostly because of natural changes in the atmosphere (43%) or that there is no solid evidence the Earth is getting warmer (24%). By contrast, most Democrats (64%) say the Earth is getting warmer mostly because of human activity. … The divide is even larger when party and ideology are both taken into consideration. Just 21% of conservative Republicans say the Earth is warming due to human activity, compared with nearly three-quarters (74%) of liberal Democrats. [Pew Research Center] (Skip to videosdataindex.)

In other words, most of the general public appears to believe that the existence of abrupt climate change (formerly known as anthropogenicglobal warming) is a question of politics rather than scienceThey’re not looking at evidence published in peer-reviewed science journals before adopting a position. Instead, they seem to decide that their political party’s position on climate change is “X,” so they believe “X.” Finally, this explains why some people who watch a documentary that exaggerates the science end up imitating that smug politician’s alarmism. I run into hordes of them on campus, and I always rebuff their attempts to guilt me out of driving by saying “Why worry about the Earth when we’ve got 7 planets to spare?!

Keep in mind that I’m only saying the existence of abrupt climate change is a purely scientific question. I realize that our response to climate change is a legitimate political question. But let’s set that question aside to contemplate the existence of abrupt climate change. Instead of lining up behind politicians, let’s take the road less traveled by examining some evidence given to us by modern science.

To begin with, it’s indisputable that the Earth’s climate has varied wildly in the past. Vostok ice core data confirm that for nearly half a million years, the climate has changed cyclically. In all that time, the maximum CO2concentration never went above 300 ppm. It’s hit higher levels millions of years ago, but usually in gradual ways. Plus, the Earth was essentially adifferent planet back then, with a different biosphere basking under the light of a very slightly dimmer Sun so comparisons across that much time are tricky at best.

Vostok ice core data

Natural variations are evident in the data, of course. The most prominent cycles over geological time are governed by (among other effects)Milankovitch cycles which are caused by periodic variations in the Earth’s orbit.

Bizarrely, the CO2 concentration is at 380 ppm today. That’s ~26% higher than it’s been in the last half million years. Notice that the current CO2 concentration is off the scale of the Vostok data graph. If this is due to natural variability alone, it’s quite a coincidence that it’s happening right after we started burning enough oil to fuel ~800 million cars, and burning coal by the gigaton to supply ~50% of our electricity.

Furthermore, it seems like the CO2 at Vostok typically increased centuries after the temperature started to increase. (Ice core data aredifficult to analyze in this manner, though.) At least, that’s the way it used to work. Right now, the CO2 concentration is at an unprecedented level but the temperature is barely above normal. Again, this implies that we’re not experiencing natural climate variability because what’s happening today doesn’t match the behavior of the ancient climate.

According to physics that was firmly established decades before I was born, CO2 warms the planet by absorbing infrared radiation from the ground better than it absorbs visible radiation from the Sun. So this rapidly increasing CO2 should cause a rapid temperature increase:

Multiple independent temperature reconstructions over the past 1000 years

The above graphs are quite busy, so here’s an overview of each one:

  1. The top graph shows temperatures over the last 300 years, as recorded by instruments. Notice that several independentinstruments are telling us that the temperature has increased dramatically in recent decades.
  2. The middle graph shows temperatures over the last 1000 years as reconstructed from various proxies such as ice cores, tree rings, boreholes, glacier retreat, etc. The different curves are based on different data and algorithms, and were derived by scientists from all over the world. Note that all of them show an abrupt temperature increase in the last few decades. See Table 6.1 for more details.
  3. The bottom graph shows a “most likely” temperature reconstruction over the last 1000 years. This estimate uses all the previous curves, weighted according to their statistical uncertainties. The shading represents the combined uncertainty; darker areas are more confidently known.

Perhaps this is a coincidence? All the evidence I’ve described so far just shows that CO2 and temperatures have both risen in an apparently artificial manner in the last few decades. But Meehl 2004 tested whether or not recent temperature observations could be explained by natural variations alone:

Meehl 2004 shows recent temperatures are caused by CO2

The black curve represents observations. The blue curve represents the result of a computer simulation that accounts for natural variations like volcanic eruptions and changes in the brightness of the Sun. The shaded blue area represents the uncertainty of that simulation. The red curve includes all the natural variations in the blue curve, but adds human emissions like CO2 and sulfate aerosols. Notice that after ~1970 the observed temperatures aren’t consistent with natural variations, but theyare within the error bars of the prediction made by accounting for human emissions.
Continue reading Abrupt climate change

Compare how 820 different jobs pay

Compare How 820 Different Jobs Pay on One Massive Chart

Using BLS data, Reddit user Dan Ling compiled the chart you’ve been waiting for.

Medical professionals, denoted in hot pink, dominate the upper reaches of the chart, with the top-earning anesthesiologists raking in average annual wages of $235,100.

Continue reading Compare how 820 different jobs pay

Astrophysics Lessons: 16-22 June 2014

Note: These articles were all written by Brian Koberlein who retains all rights to them.

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Wave the Titanic

Credit: JPL, ESA, NASA

Credit: JPL, ESA, NASA

Jet fuel from seawater discussion – (continued)

Note: A continuing collection of comments and articles about the process

  • “Located at NRL’s Center for Corrosion Science & Engineering facility, Key West, Fla., (NRLKW) the carbon capture skid has been tested using seawater from the Gulf of Mexico to simulate conditions that will be encountered in an actual open ocean process for capturing CO2 from seawater and producing H2 gas. Currently NRL is working on process optimization and scale-up. Once these are completed, initial studies predict that jet fuel from seawater would cost in the range of $3 to $6 per gallon to produce…

Continue reading Jet fuel from seawater discussion – (continued)

U.S. Navy says it can convert seawater into synthetic gasoline

The original article from the U.S. Navy Research Center

The U.S. Navy Just Announced The End Of Big Oil And No One Noticed

AUTHOR APRIL 12, 2014 10:59 AM


Surf’s up! The Navy appears to have achieved the Holy Grail of energy independence – turning seawater into fuel:

After decades of experiments, U.S. Navy scientists believe they may have solved one of the world’s great challenges: how to turn seawater into fuel.

The new fuel is initially expected to cost around $3 to $6 per gallon, according to the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, which has already flown a model aircraft on it.

Curiously, this doesn’t seem to be making much of a splash (no pun intended) on the evening news. Let’s repeat this: The United States Navy has figured out how to turn seawater into fuel and it will cost about the same as gasoline.

This technology is in its infancy and it’s already this cheap? What happens when it’s refined and perfected? Oil is only getting more expensive as the easy-to-reach deposits are tapped so this truly is, as it’s being called, a “game changer.”

There are two other aspects to this story that have not been brought up yet:

1. The process pulls carbon dioxide (the greenhouse gas driving Climate Change) out of the ocean. One of the less well-publicized aspects of Climate Change is that the ocean acts like a sponge for CO2 and it’s just about reached its safe limit. The ocean is steadily becoming more acidic from all of the increased carbon dioxide. This in turn poisons delicate ecosystems like coral reefs that keep the ocean healthy.

If we pull out massive amounts of CO2, even if we burn it again, not all of it will make it back into the water. Hell, we could even pull some of it and not use it in order to return the ocean to a sustainable level. That, in turn will help pull more of the excess CO2 out of the air even as we put it back. It would be the ultimate in recycling.

2. This will devastate oil rich countries but it will get us the hell out of the Middle East (another reason Republicans will oppose this). Let’s be honest, we’re not in the Middle East for humanitarian reasons. We’re there for oil. Period. We spend trillions to secure our access to it and fight a “war” on terrorism. Take away our need to be there and, suddenly, justifying our overseas adventures gets a lot harder to sell.

And if we “leak” the technology? Every dictator propped up by oil will tumble almost overnight. Yes, it will be a bloody mess but we won’t be pissing away the lives of our military to keep scumbags in power. Let those countries figure out who they want to be without billionaire thugs and their mercenary armies running the show.

Why this is not a huge major story mystifies me. I’m curious to see how it all plays out so stay tuned.


People have been asking for more details about the process. This is from the Naval Research Laboratory’s official press release:

Using an innovative and proprietary NRL electrolytic cation exchange module (E-CEM), both dissolved and bound CO2 are removed from seawater at 92 percent efficiency by re-equilibrating carbonate and bicarbonate to CO2 and simultaneously producing H2. The gases are then converted to liquid hydrocarbons by a metal catalyst in a reactor system.

In plain English, fuel is made from hydrocarbons (hydrogen and carbon). This process pulls both hydrogen and carbon from seawater and recombines them to make fuel. The process can be used on air as well but seawater holds about 140 times more carbon dioxide in it so it’s better suited for carbon collection.

Another detail people seem to be confused about: This is essentially a carbon neutral process. The ocean is like a sponge for carbon dioxide in the air and currently has an excess amount dissolved in it. The process pulls carbon dioxide out of the ocean. It’s converted and burned as fuel. This releases the carbon dioxide back into the air which is then reabsorbed by the ocean. Rinse. Repeat.

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Also noted on other sites:


Astrophysics Lessons: 12 June – 15 June, 2014

Note: These articles were written by Brian Koberlein who retains all rights to them.

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Father and Son

Credit: Jean Leon Huens

Credit: Jean Leon Huens

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Pres. Obama delivers the 2014 UC Irvine commencement address

Read Obama’s full speech ripping into climate deniers

To President Napolitano — which is a nice step up from Secretary; to Fred Ruiz, Vice Chair of the University of California Regents; Chancellor Drake; Representatives Loretta Sanchez and Alan Lowenthal; to the trustees and faculty — thank you for this honor. And congratulations to the Class of 2014! (Applause.)Now, let me begin my saying all of you had the inside track in getting me here — because my personal assistant, Ferial, is a proud Anteater. (Applause.) Until today, I did not understand why she greets me every morning by shouting “Zot, Zot, Zot!” (Laughter.) It’s been a little weird. But she explained it to me on the way here this morning, because she’s very proud to see her brother, Sina, graduate today as well. (Applause.) So, graduates, obviously we’re proud of you, but let’s give it up for your proud family and friends and professors, because this is their day, too. (Applause.)

And even though he’s on the road this weekend, I also want to thank Angels centerfielder Mike Trout for letting me cover his turf for a while. (Applause.) He actually signed a bat for me, which is part of my retirement plan. (Laughter.) I will be keeping that. And this is a very cool place to hold a commencement. I know that UC Irvine’s baseball team opens College World Series play in Omaha right about now — (applause) — so let’s get this speech underway. If the hot dog guy comes by, get me one. (Laughter.)

Now, in additional to Ferial, graduates, I’m here for a simple reason: You asked. For those who don’t know, the UC Irvine community sent 10,000 postcards to the White House asking me to come speak today. (Applause.) Some tried to guilt me into coming. I got one that said, “I went to your first inauguration, can you please come to my graduation?” (Applause.) Some tried bribery: “I’ll support the Chicago Bulls.” Another said today would be your birthday — so happy birthday, whoever you are.

My personal favorite — somebody wrote and said, “We are super underrated!” (Laughter.) I’m sure she was talking about this school. But keep in mind, you’re not only the number-one university in America younger than 50 years old, you also hold the Guinness World Record for biggest water pistol fight. (Applause.) You’re pretty excited about that. (Laughter.)

“We are super underrated.” This young lady could have just as well been talking, though, about this generation. I think this generation of young people is super underrated.

In your young lives, you’ve seen dizzying change, from terror attacks to economic turmoil; from Twitter to Tumblr. Some of your families have known tough times during the course of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. You’re graduating into a still-healing job market, and some of you are carrying student loan debt that you’re concerned about. And yet, your generation — the most educated, the most diverse, the most tolerant, the most politically independent and the most digitally fluent in our history — is also on record as being the most optimistic about our future.

And I’m here to tell you that you are right to be optimistic. (Applause.) You are right to be optimistic. Consider this: Since the time most of you graduated from high school, fewer Americans are at war. More have health insurance. More are graduating from college. Our businesses have added more than 9 million new jobs. The number of states where you’re free to marry who you love has more than doubled. (Applause.) And that’s just some of the progress that you’ve seen while you’ve been studying here at UC Irvine.

But we do face real challenges: Rebuilding the middle class and reversing inequality’s rise. Reining in college costs. Protecting voting rights. Welcoming the immigrants and young dreamers who keep this country vibrant. Stemming the tide of violence that guns inflict on our schools. We’ve got some big challenges. And if you’re fed a steady diet of cynicism that says nobody is trustworthy and nothing works, and there’s no way we can actually address these problems, then the temptation is too just go it alone, to look after yourself and not participate in the larger project of achieving our best vision of America.

And I’m here to tell you, don’t believe the cynicism. Guard against it. Don’t buy into it. Today, I want to use one case study to show you that progress is possible and perseverance is critical. I want to show you how badly we need you — both your individual voices and your collective efforts — to give you the chance you seek to change the world, and maybe even save it.

I’m going to talk about one of the most significant long-term challenges that our country and our planet faces: the growing threat of a rapidly changing climate.

Now, this isn’t a policy speech. I understand it’s a commencement, and I already delivered a long climate address last summer. I remember because it was 95 degrees and my staff had me do it outside, and I was pouring with sweat — as a visual aid. (Laughter.) And since this is a very educated group, you already know the science. Burning fossil fuels release carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide traps heat. Levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere are higher than they’ve been in 800,000 years.

We know the trends. The 18 warmest years on record have all happened since you graduates were born. We know what we see with our own eyes. Out West, firefighters brave longer, harsher wildfire seasons; states have to budget for that. Mountain towns worry about what smaller snowpacks mean for tourism. Farmers and families at the bottom worry about what it will mean for their water. In cities like Norfolk and Miami, streets now flood frequently at high tide. Shrinking icecaps have National Geographic making the biggest change in its atlas since the Soviet Union broke apart.

So the question is not whether we need to act. The overwhelming judgment of science, accumulated and measured and reviewed over decades, has put that question to rest. The question is whether we have the will to act before it’s too late. For if we fail to protect the world we leave not just to my children, but to your children and your children’s children, we will fail one of our primary reasons for being on this world in the first place. And that is to leave the world a little bit better for the next generation.
Continue reading Pres. Obama delivers the 2014 UC Irvine commencement address

Qatar World Cup 2022 will be remembered for the horrendous number of workers who died building the site

Staggering number of workers said to die as Qatar prepares for World Cup

 April 15, 2014
There’s a place, tucked in the shadows of ethereal skyscrapers that represent Qatar’s immense wealth, where the smell of excrement is strong and men crouch around fetid latrines and drink salt water.When it’s time to sleep, the men squeeze into 13-by-13 rooms, each separated from the next with a one-inch wood panel. When it’s time to rise, they trudge into 105-degree heat so strong it can kill even healthy 25-year-olds. When it’s time to cook, they use stoves clogged with grease and grime. And when it’s time to relieve themselves? There’s a hole.

The men have traveled far to get to this point — from Nepal, from India, from Bangladesh. Many of them paid thousands of dollars to a recruitment agency that promised a better life. Others have spent years away from their family. All came for the same purpose: To build facilities for the 2022 World Cup that will be hosted by Qatar, the richest country in the world by per capita income.

Migrant laborers at a construction site in Doha, Qatar, in 2013. The 2022 World Cup host is under fire over claims of poor working conditions. (Karim Jaafar/AFP/Getty Images)

The men die, say critics. They’ve died by the hundreds — and soon, they many die by the thousands.  That was the conclusion of a  report released last month by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) Since the World Cup was awarded to Qatar in 2010, it said, more than 1,200 men have died in preparations.  It projected that if things don’t improve dramatically by 2022, more than 4,000 could die. Continue reading Qatar World Cup 2022 will be remembered for the horrendous number of workers who died building the site

Pew Research: Political Polarization in the American Public: June – 2014

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Key Shareable Findings

Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines – and partisan acrimony is deeper and more extensive – than at any point in recent history. And these trends manifest themselves in myriad ways, both in politics and everyday life.

Growing Ideological Consistency

As ideological consistency has become more common it is also increasingly aligned with partisanship. 

Growing Partisan Antipathy

The level of antipathy that Republicans and Democrats feel toward the opposing party has surged over the past two decades. 

Political Polarization and Personal Life

Those on the opposite ends of the ideological spectrum disagree about everything from the type of community in which they prefer to live to the type of people they would welcome into their families.

Political Compromise and Divisive Policy Debates

The nation’s increasing ideological polarization makes political compromise more difficult, in part because those at opposite ends of the ideological spectrum see less benefit in meeting the other side halfway.

Political Engagement and Activism

Those who hold consistently liberal or conservative views, and who hold strongly negative views of the other political party, are far more likely to participate in the political process than the rest of the nation.