From the macro to the micro

Looking at debt with contrarian eyes…

“Don’t Owe. Won’t Pay.” Everything You’ve Been Told About Debt Is Wrong

Sunday, 23 August 2015  -by Charles Eisenstein via  YES! Magazine | Op-Ed

 Debt Sisyphus
With the nation’s household debt burden at $11.85 trillion, even the most modest challenges to its legitimacy have revolutionary implications.
(Image: Debt Sisyphus via Shutterstock)

The legitimacy of a given social order rests on the legitimacy of its debts. Even in ancient times this was so. In traditional cultures, debt in a broad sense – gifts to be reciprocated, memories of help rendered, obligations not yet fulfilled – was a glue that held society together. Everybody at one time or another owed something to someone else. Repayment of debt was inseparable from the meeting of social obligations; it resonated with the principles of fairness and gratitude.

The moral associations of making good on one’s debts are still with us today, informing the logic of austerity as well as the legal code. A good country, or a good person, is supposed to make every effort to repay debts. Accordingly, if a country like Jamaica or Greece, or a municipality like Baltimore or Detroit, has insufficient revenue to make its debt payments, it is morally compelled to privatize public assets, slash pensions and salaries, liquidate natural resources, and cut public services so it can use the savings to pay creditors. Such a prescription takes for granted the legitimacy of its debts.

Today a burgeoning debt resistance movement draws from the realization that many of these debts are not fair. Most obviously unfair are loans involving illegal or deceptive practices – the kind that were rampant in the lead-up to the 2008 financial crisis. From sneaky balloon interest hikes on mortgages, to loans deliberately made to unqualified borrowers, to incomprehensible financial products peddled to local governments that were kept ignorant about their risks, these practices resulted in billions of dollars of extra costs for citizens and public institutions alike.

A movement is arising to challenge these debts. In Europe, the International Citizen debt Audit Network (ICAN) promotes “citizen debt audits,” in which activists examine the books of municipalities and other public institutions to determine which debts were incurred through fraudulent, unjust, or illegal means. They then try to persuade the government or institution to contest or renegotiate those debts. In 2012, towns in France declared they would refuse to pay part of their debt obligations to the bailed-out bank Dexia, claiming its deceptive practices resulted in interest rate jumps to as high as 13 percent. Meanwhile, in the United States, the city of Baltimore filed a class-action lawsuit to recover losses incurred through the Libor rate-fixing scandal, losses that could amount to billions of dollars.
Continue reading Looking at debt with contrarian eyes…

Food Babe Selling Erucic Acid (Gasp!)

Bad Science Debunked 

by Mark Aaron Alsip – Aug. 27th, 2015

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Hot damn, it’s Friday!  That means payday here at Monsanto my nondescript, innocent-looking company.  You guys know what that means…

Shopping spree at FoodBabe.com!

Followers of this blog know I’m a big fan of Vani Hari (the “Food Babe”).  Hari’s important services to humanity include forcing Subway to remove the additive azodicarbonamide from their bread, exposing the Jared Fogle sex scandal (she just hasn’t taken credit yet), and petitioning for the removal of the hazardous dye Yellow #5 from Donald Trump’s hair.  To support these efforts, I like to throw a few dollars her way now and then.

As always, the golden rule is this: we use guidelines set forth by Hari herself to determine if our purchases are safe or not.  Wearing our Food Babe Investigator Hats,TM we’re guaranteed to make sound, healthy choices when it comes to the food we buy.

hilary's sold by food babeFor example, I’ve been looking for a good salad dressing but I’m worried about those that contain canola oil.  This Food Babe post set me on edge:2

Before it [canola oil] was bred this way, it was called Rapeseed Oil and used for industrial purposes because the erucic acid in it caused heart damage in animal studies. It got the fancy new name “canola”, but it still contains trace amounts of erucic acid (up to 2%, which they consider “safe”)”  (emphasis mine)

Egad.  Erucic acid sounds like some pretty nasty stuff!

Let’s look at some alternatives sold by Food Babe, conveniently presented in the same article that scares us away from salad dressings not sold by her:2

Food Babe recommended salad dressings with affiliate links

The Wilderness Family and Hilary’s Eat Well brands look especially good because they’re sold via Amazon’s affiliate program.  Every time I buy via these links, Vani Hari receives a sales commission.  I’m pretty sure she donates a portion of every sale to rain forest preservation in Antarctica (or something like that).

Vani’s a great scientist and we should all trust her implicitly, but before we click that “buy” button, there’s something that’s been bothering me…
Continue reading Food Babe Selling Erucic Acid (Gasp!)

Fuzzy article followed by mostly fuzzy replies

“The Real Universe” –‘Is 250 Times Bigger than the Visible Hubble Volume’

 

                                 6a00d8341bf7f753ef014e8818e71d970d

 

Is our universe infinite or closed? Because the visible Universe is expanding, the most distant visible things are much further away than its estimated 14-billion year age. In fact, the photons in the cosmic microwave background have traveled a cool 45 billion light years to get here. That makes the visible universe some 90 billion light years across.

 

The real universe, however, is much bigger. We now know this thanks to statistical analysis by Mihran Vardanyan at the University of Oxford and colleagues.The key to measuring the actual size of the universe is to measure its curvature. Astronomers have come up with various methods to measure this curvature. One method according to MIT‘s Technology Review is to search for a distant object of known size and measure how big it looks: “If it’s bigger than it ought to be, the Universe is closed; if it’s the right size, the universe is flat and if it’s smaller, the Universe is open.”

 

Astronomers know that waves in the early universe became frozen in the cosmic microwave background. They can measure the size of these waves, called baryonic acoustic oscillations, using space observatories such as WMAP. Another metric is the luminosity of type 1A supernovas in distant galaxies.

The problem is that when scientists examine the various data from  the different models they get different answers to the question of its curvature and size. So, which is the most accurate?

The breakthrough that Vardanyan and team used is called Bayesian model averaging and it is much more sophisticated than the usual curve fitting that scientists often use to explain their data. The Bayesian model asks: given the data, how likely is the model to be correct. This approach, reported MIT’s Technology Review, is automatically biased against complex models–“it’s a kind of statistical Occam’s razor.”.

The  Vardanyan model says that the curvature of the Universe is tightly constrained around 0. In other words, the most likely model is that the Universe is flat. A flat Universe would also be infinite and their calculations are consistent with this too. These show that the Universe is at least 250 times bigger than the Hubble volume. (The Hubble volume is similar to the size of the observable universe.)

Dow tries to claw way back from 1,000-point stock-market plunge

Dow tries to claw way back from 1,000-point stock-market plunge

Published: Aug 24, 2015 12:06 p.m. ET

S&P 500, Nasdaq fall into correction territory

 bear

The Dow has rebounded somewhat from its steepest losses of Monday’s session after the blue-chip index opened the trading day with a stomach-churning, 1,000-point drop. But investors remain frightful following a plunge in U.S. stocks last week and in China earlier Monday.

Chinese equities surrendered all of their gains for 2015, and a rout in the U.S. on Friday that capped the worst week for the market in four years. Investors are worried about the global implications of a slowdown in China’s economy.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -2.34%  dropped more than 1,000 points in a harrowing start to the day, but was trading off its lows, down 289 points, or 1.8, at 16,170.

The S&P 500 SPX, -2.67%  was down 36 points, or 1.9%, to 1,934, well off its lows of the session. Amid Monday’s mayhem, the benchmark index briefly fell into correction territory, falling more than 10% from its peak reached on May 21.

The Nasdaq Composite COMP, -2.28%  skidded 350 points in early trade, but was off 64 points, or 1.4% to 4,642.

Sal Arnuk, co-head of equity trading at Themis Trading, described Monday’s open as painful. “There’s definitely blood on the street. You can check the level of the VIX,” Arnuk said.

Implied volatility on the S&P 500, as measured by the CBOE Volatility Index VIX, +18.23%  jumped to 48 in early trade, the highest level since September 2011. Investors piled into Treasurys, briefly pushing the yield on a 10-year note below 2%. Bond yields move inversely to prices.

“Trading volumes are driven by ETFs today, but we are not seeing a lot of panic, where people dump large amounts of stocks in one go. There are still buyers out there, who are picking up stocks that have seen large correction. However, volatility is back, so seeing large intraday and day-to-day swings is not surprising,” said Brian Fenske, head of sales trading at ITG.

Many investors expected the People’s Bank of China to take some action over the weekend to support the financial system. In the absence of any move, a brutal bout of selling overtook markets. The Shanghai Composite Index SHCOMP, -8.49%  closed down 8.5%.

Whether the heavy losses for stocks will tempt investors back hinges on their view of emerging markets, said Wouter Sturkenboom, a London-based investment strategist at Russell Investment.

“If you think the emerging-markets slowdown is going to have a massive negative impact on global growth, you’re going to be very cautious on calling this a buying opportunity,” said Sturkenboom. “If you think it has less of an impact in the U.S., you probably need it to go a little lower for it to be a proper buying opportunity.”

Read: Investors haven’t been this terrified since 2009
Continue reading Dow tries to claw way back from 1,000-point stock-market plunge

Breaking: Israeli Supreme Court Releases Hunger-Striking Prisoner

mohammed allan hunger striker

Allan is now in the 65th day of his hunger strike

The Israeli Supreme Court has ruled that hunger striking Palestinian prisoner,  31 year-old Mohammed Allan, will be released from administrative detention…but only if medical tests show that he’s suffered “irreversible” damage as a result of his 65-day hunger strike.  Apparently, a healthy Allan was a grave national security threat.  While a near-dead Allan poses no such threat.  While the Court has done the decent, humane thing, it erased any good will it might’ve generated by compelling Allan had to prove that his ordeal had caused damage to his body and mind so severe that it supported freeing him.

If he recovers and shows no sign of permanent damage, he could be rearrested and forced to serve the remainder of his term under administrative detention.  Further, he could be rearrested at any time by authorities under a new order.  Such is the caprice of the Israeli legal system regarding security offenses.  Under administrative detention, a victim need not be charged with a crime.  And such detentions may be extended for six month periods indefinitely.  That is why prisoners have begun to resort to hunger strikes.  Killing themselves seems to be the only message that moves the hardened Pharaonic hearts of Israel’s security services.

Israel was placed in this “awkward” position by a ruling from the national medical association refusing to participate in force-feeding him, which had been the prison service’s plan.  After no doctor would agree, it had to let the hunger strike run its course.  It is a pleasant surprise that the Israeli security police couldn’t mange to find a professional willing to perform such a ghoulish procedure.  Keep in mind, that a number of countries including the U.S. do permit force-feeding of hunger strikers.

This is a cold, brutal judicial decision in line with a string of such judgments offered by this Court since a hardline majority took over in the past several years.  Lest any apologists continue prattling about the liberal views and support for human rights offered by the highest judicial body as a counter to the racism of the legislative branch, the days of Aharon Barak are long past.  Nor are we likely to see such a person on the court in the future.

That doesn’t mean the extreme right in Israel is any less angry at this Court.  In fact, one minister said last week the Court should be “bulldozed.”  Apparently, having a court that is obedient to the right-wing policies of the government as this one is, isn’t enough.  They want a Court that opens its sessions with the Likud anthem and swears allegiance to Rabbis Ginsburgh and Lior.

NOTE: I recently published a long piece for Mint Press News on the fate of Gaza civil engineer, Dirar Abu Sisi, railroaded by the Israeli justice system into a 21-year prison sentence.  I will now be publishing weekly for Mint Press.  My author page is here, where you may find all my articles.  A new piece of mine, calling for holding Israel financially culpable for acts of terror by its citizens, will be published there either today or tomorrow.

New post on Bad Science Debunked

Dr. Mark Hyman Selling “Dangerous” Toothpaste

by Mark Aaron Alsip – Aug. 2015

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CaptureIt’s not uncommon to find quack doctors contradicting themselves on the internet these days, giving medical advice that directly contradicts facts about products that they’re selling for a profit.  Case in point: Dr. Mark Hyman and his guidance on toothpaste.

First, we get a Facebook post warning us that toothpaste can be toxic.  But never fear, the good doctor links us to an article written by a dentist friend, with instructions on making our own paste, and, significantly, warning us of ingredients to avoid:1

Capture

The Hyman Facebook post leads us to “The Complete Guide to DIY Toothpaste2 written by Dr. Mark Burhenne, DDS. I’ve linked the full article here so I won’t be accused of quote mining, but one of the ingredients Dr. Burhenne warns us we must avoid in a toothpaste is:

“Glycerin, which isn’t toxic, but has no place in the mouth as it’s a soap that strips your body’s natural oral mucosa and leaves a film. This film could coat the teeth, messing with the structure of the biofilm which could alter the microbiome in the mouth and impact the natural remineralization process — your body’s natural cavity-fighting mechanism.” 2

It just so happens that rather than make his own toothpaste as he’s just recommended, Dr. Mark Hyman sells a commercial brand in his online store.  It’s known as PerioBiotic, and he highly recommends it.  Let’s take a look at the ingredients in this toothpaste:3
Continue reading New post on Bad Science Debunked

How to Travel Faster Than Light Without Really Trying

How to Travel Faster Than Light Without Really Trying

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The speed of light, c, is an absolute physical constant. No matter where you are in the Universe, or how fast you’re moving relative to something else, the speed of light in a vacuum is always the same. That’s often taken to imply that nothing can travel faster than light, but things aren’t quite so simple. It turns out there are several ways things can travel faster than light, depending on what you mean by a “thing,” “faster-than-light,” and “travel”.

One way is to note that the immutable speed of light only applies to light in a vacuum. When light travels through a material, its effective speed is reduced. This is often given by an index of refraction, n, where the effective speed of light is c/n. (And n is pretty much always greater than 1.) For example, when light travels through water, its speed is about 0.75c. Because of this, it is possible for particles to “break the light barrier” in a material while still traveling less than c.

The blue glow of Cherenkov radiation. Credit: Matt Howard

For example, in nuclear reactors electrons are emitted with so much energy that they are traveling at nearly the speed of light c. When those electrons travel through the coolant (water) surrounding the reactor they travel faster than light can travel through the water, thus breaking the light barrier. You’re probably familiar with a sonic boom that occurs when a plane travels faster than sound, which is caused by a shock wave of air. A similar effect occurs when an electron breaks the light barrier. The electron causes an optical “shock wave” known as Cherenkov radiation, which gives nuclear reactors their blue glow.

A random path of a photon through the Sun. Credit: ATNF

Another phenomenon that can travel faster than light through a medium is sound waves in a star. In the Sun (as with any star) light is produced in its core through nuclear fusion. Traveling at the speed of light, it should be just a two-to-three second journey to the surface of the Sun. But the Sun’s interior is packed so densely with charged particles that light can’t simply travel in a straight line. On average, a photon in the Sun’s core will travel less than a centimeter before colliding with an ion. It is then scattered in an almost random direction. Imagine a photon trying to leave the Sun, but getting bounced in a random direction every centimeter. This random walk of a photon through the Sun means that it actually takes about 20,000 to 150,000 years for light to travel from the Sun’s core to its surface.
Continue reading How to Travel Faster Than Light Without Really Trying

Is Financial Success a Product of Inherited Genes?

Is Financial Success a Product of Inherited Genes?

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Comparing outcomes for biological and adopted children sheds light on the intergenerational transmission of wealth.

How much does a family’s wealth determine a child’s financial prospects? Is Ivanka Trump a success because she inherited smarts and drive from her father, Donald Trump, or did her father’s success give her a leg up?

Of course, no one completely denies the impact of affluent upbringing on a child’s educational and financial prospects. But the far more important question is: by how much does an affluent upbringing influence a child financial and educational prospects?

In his infamous essay, Defending the One Percent, Gregory Mankiw links the correlation between people’s earnings with those of their parents to genetic factors. “parents and children share genes” Mankiw noticed ” a fact that would lead to intergenerational persistence in income even in a world of equal opportunities. Smart parents are more likely to have smart children, and their greater intelligence will be reflected, on average, in higher incomes”

Figure 1b shows the relationship between parents’ and children’s ranking within the wealth distribution, prior to any inheritance. The data indicate that, even before inheritance, the higher the ranking of parents in the wealth distribution, the higher the ranking of their biological children. The strength of this positive relationship, measured by the coefficient, is .35.

Is Mankiw right to link this strong relationship to genetic factors? Well, to distinguish the role of nature versus nature in the intergenerational transmission of wealth, four economists, in an NBER working paper, compared the wealth of adoptive children to the wealth of their adoptive and biological parents.

The relationship between the wealth ranking of adoptive children and with those of their adoptive parents is strikingly positive and almost as strong as the relationship between parents and their biological children with a coefficient of .27.

More conclusively, the relationship between the wealth ranking of adopted children and with the ranking of their biological parents is much weaker with a coefficient of .11. In other words, a child’s wealth is more strongly correlated with the wealth of their adoptive parents than to the wealth of their biological parents. Nurture, when it comes to wealth, is far more important than nature.

But overall, who had a higher net wealth at the age of 44 prior to any inheritance? Biological children or adopted ones? If Mankiw is right to assume that inherited genes determines earnings, then biological children must have accumulated relatively more money than adopted ones.

It turns out that the biological children had in fact accumulated more net worth; but by a very small, and almost irrelevant, margin. On average, biological children held 5% more in net wealth than adopted ones.

Equally interesting, the researchers study the variation in attainment of education levels between adopted children and biological ones. If genetic factors matter more than access to opportunity, then biological children of affluent parents must attain higher levels of education than their adopted counterparts. Is this true?

Well, The data suggest otherwise. Biological children completed 0.4 of a year more education on average than the adopted children.

Mankiw seems to get it wrong when it comes to intergenerational transmission of wealth, and he is not alone. Wealth, like most things in life, has more to do with environmental factors than genetic ones. There are lots of reasons why Ivanka Trump is rich like her father; an inherited gene is certainly not one of them.

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References

Mankiw, N. Gregory. “Defending the One Percent.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 27 (2013): 21-34. Accessed August 6, 2015.

Sandra Black, Paul Devereux, Petter Lundborg, and Kaveh Majlesi. ” Poor Little Rich Kids? The Determinants of the Intergenerational Transmission of Wealth.” No. 21409 (2015). National Bureau of Economic Research. Web. 6 Aug. 2015.

Joseph Stiglitz: Deep downturns

Stiglitz: Towards a General Theory of Deep Downturns

via Mark Thoma – Aug. 17th, 2015 – reporting on a paper by Joseph Stiglitz

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This is the abstract, introduction, and final section of a recent paper by Joe Stiglitz on theoretical models of deep depressions (as he notes, it’s “an extension of the Presidential Address to the International Economic Association”):

Towards a General Theory of Deep Downturns, by Joseph E. Stiglitz, NBER Working Paper No. 21444, August 2015: Abstract This paper, an extension of the Presidential Address to the International Economic Association, evaluates alternative strands of macro-economics in terms of the three basic questions posed by deep downturns: What is the source of large perturbations? How can we explain the magnitude of volatility? How do we explain persistence? The paper argues that while real business cycles and New Keynesian theories with nominal rigidities may help explain certain historical episodes, alternative strands of New Keynesian economics focusing on financial market imperfections, credit, and real rigidities provides a more convincing interpretation of deep downturns, such as the Great Depression and the Great Recession, giving a more plausible explanation of the origins of downturns, their depth and duration. Since excessive credit expansions have preceded many deep downturns, particularly important is an understanding of finance, the credit creation process and banking, which in a modern economy are markedly different from the way envisioned in more traditional models.

Introduction The world has been plagued by episodic deep downturns. The crisis that began in 2008 in the United States was the most recent, the deepest and longest in three quarters of a century. It came in spite of alleged “better” knowledge of how our economic system works, and belief among many that we had put economic fluctuations behind us. Our economic leaders touted the achievement of the Great Moderation.[2] As it turned out, belief in those models actually contributed to the crisis. It was the assumption that markets were efficient and self-regulating and that economic actors had the ability and incentives to manage their own risks that had led to the belief that self-regulation was all that was required to ensure that the financial system worked well , an d that there was no need to worry about a bubble .

The idea that the economy could, through diversification, effectively eliminate risk contributed to complacency — even after it was evident that there had been a bubble. Indeed, even after the bubble broke, Bernanke could boast that the risks were contained.[3] These beliefs were supported by (pre-crisis) DSGE models — models which may have done well in more normal times, but had little to say about crises. Of course, almost any “decent” model would do reasonably well in normal times. And it mattered little if, in normal times , one model did a slightly better job in predicting next quarter’s growth. What matters is predicting — and preventing — crises, episodes in which there is an enormous loss in well-being. These models did not see the crisis coming, and they had given confidence to our policy makers that, so long as inflation was contained — and monetary authorities boasted that they had done this — the economy would perform well. At best, they can be thought of as (borrowing the term from Guzman (2014) “models of the Great Moderation,” predicting “well” so long as nothing unusual happens. More generally, the DSGE models have done a poor job explaining the actual frequency of crises.[4]

Of course, deep downturns have marked capitalist economies since the beginning. It took enormous hubris to believe that the economic forces which had given rise to crises in the past were either not present, or had been tamed, through sound monetary and fiscal policy.[5] It took even greater hubris given that in many countries conservatives had succeeded in dismantling the regulatory regimes and automatic stabilizers that had helped prevent crises since the Great Depression. It is noteworthy that my teacher, Charles Kindleberger, in his great study of the booms and panics that afflicted market economies over the past several hundred years had noted similar hubris exhibited in earlier crises. (Kindleberger, 1978)

Those who attempted to defend the failed economic models and the policies which were derived from them suggested that no model could (or should) predict well a “once in a hundred year flood.” But it was not just a hundred year flood — crises have become common . It was not just something that had happened to the economy. The crisis was man-made — created by the economic system. Clearly, something is wrong with the models.

Continue reading Joseph Stiglitz: Deep downturns

Red States lead the Nation in torturing the poor for being poor

Republican-controlled states are sharpening their fight against the poor, and then paralyzing their attempts to fight back.

In the 1960s, the Lyndon Johnson administration launched an official War on Poverty. Needless to say, poverty has emerged victorious. The noble and necessary aim of poverty reduction might have helped millions of people create lives of decency and dignity, and it might have helped America assimilate into the developed world as a fiscally responsible and morally honorable nation. But since they fail to narrow the profit margin of the corporate class running America’s political system, poverty reduction programs are basically doomed.

As poverty worsens and spreads, with 25 million Americans constituting the working poor, poverty relief programs face elimination from austerity policymakers on the state and federal levels. In the absence of any war on poverty, America has demonstrated dedication and determination in its war on the poor. In a cruel combination of exploitative profiteering from poverty, and unapologetic hatred for the poor, state governments continue to pick the pockets of the impoverished, relegating low-income earners to a vicious cycle of punishment and recompense; life without parole in the poverty prison.

The war on the poor exposes the tyrannical turn of political administration in the United States – a country committed to mutating its criminal justice system, already more criminal than just, into an apparatus of assault against its most defenseless citizens.

The following laws and policies give painful illustration to America’s attack on the poor in which the impoverished receive perpetual punishment for their poverty. This compilation does not include the mile-long list of policies that harm the poor such as, differential prosecution, infrastructure maintenance bypasses, means testing for access to government services, difficulty acquiring health care and child care, regressive taxation, or the cost of college. The following are policies in which state governments are actively levying the legal system against the poor.
Continue reading Red States lead the Nation in torturing the poor for being poor

Stock buybacks – yet another tool for the oligarchs

SEC Admits It’s Not Monitoring Stock Buybacks to Prevent Market Manipulation

via The Intercept by Dan Froomkin – Aug. 13, 2015

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The Securities and Exchange Commission has admitted that it has no ability to enforce the main rule intended to prevent market manipulation when companies buy back their own stock, and has no intention to do so.

SEC Chair Mary Jo White made the acknowledgement in a response to Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., who queried the agency about stock buybacks. Baldwin is one of a growing number of politicians — including presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders — who are citing buybacks as an example of deliberate financial engineering that bolsters concentration of wealth and keeps working-class wages stagnant.

Stock buybacks are an increasingly common practice in which corporations take profits, and instead of investing in facilities, research and development, or boosting worker wages, buy shares of their own stock on the open market, thereby boosting demand and driving up its price. Companies bought back over half a trillion dollars’ worth of their own shares last year.

The practice creates short-term rewards for executives who are paid in stock and stock options, and benefit from an increased price. They also make corporate earnings look better by reducing outstanding shares and increasing the commonly reported ratio of earnings-per-share.

Prior to the Reagan era, executives avoided buybacks due to fears that they would be prosecuted for market manipulation. But under SEC Rule 10b-18, adopted in 1982, companies receive a “safe harbor” from market manipulation liability on stock buybacks if they adhere to four limitations: not engaging in buybacks at the beginning or end of the trading day, using a single broker for the trades, purchasing shares at the prevailing market price, and limiting the volume of buybacks to 25 percent of the average daily trading volume over the previous four weeks.

In White’s letter to Baldwin, dated July 13, she admits that the SEC doesn’t collect data that would let it know whether companies breach even these generous limits. “Performing data analyses for issuer stock repurchases presents significant challenges,” White writes, “because detailed trading data regarding repurchases is not currently available.” Continue reading Stock buybacks – yet another tool for the oligarchs

Greenspan Imagines Better, Alternate Universe in Which Greenspan Was Not Fed Chair

Greenspan Imagines Better, Alternate Universe in Which Greenspan Was Not Fed Chair

via the Intercept by David Dayen – Aug. 2015

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Alan Greenspan, the policy failure whose tenure at the Federal Reserve helped create the conditions for the largest financial crisis in nearly a century, was inexplicably given a major newspaper platform on Monday to opine about regulation, which he ideologically abhors.

So it came as a surprise to read the second paragraph of his Financial Times op-ed, wishfully describing an alternative history of 2008, if only there had been robust regulation.

“What the 2008 crisis exposed was a fragile underpinning of a highly leveraged financial system,” Greenspan writes. “Had bank capital been adequate and fraud statutes been more vigorously enforced, the crisis would very likely have been a financial episode of only passing consequence.”

Greenspan must have temporarily forgotten that he had the power to accomplish both of these priorities as Fed chair.

Before the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Fed had primary responsibility over consumer protection, including rule-writing, supervision, and prohibition of unfair and deceptive practices. They even were charged with resolving consumer complaints.

Greenspan famously did none of this during the inflating of the housing bubble from 2002 to 2006, instead extolling the virtues of adjustable-rate loans and mortgage securitization, even as fellow Fed governors and the FBI publicly warned about looming fraud. The responsibility for vigorously enforcing fraud statutes, then, fell to Greenspan, and he ignored it.

Greenspan also laments that Wall Street firms carried too much debt before the crisis, and not enough capital. More capital – in the form of stock or cash reserves – would have made sure banks, rather than taxpayers, covered their own losses. But Greenspan could have enacted this at the time, being the head of the most powerful financial regulatory agency from 1987 to 2006.

The entire op-ed, in fact, stresses the need for higher capital requirements — to the extent that Greenspan wants to discard Dodd-Frank entirely once they are reached — while ignoring that, when he was in a position to enforce higher capital requirements for two decades, he took a pass.
Continue reading Greenspan Imagines Better, Alternate Universe in Which Greenspan Was Not Fed Chair

Divine assessments

by Richard @ Bizmarts – Aug. 17th, 2015

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justice

In the future, the bots, a.k.a. biological robots, will have created the capacity to record the value of every form on Earth, and will make decisions about what to issue a credit, or demand a debit from, in every periodic evaluation of that form. When a form extracts more from the System than they add to it, a decision will be made concerning the value of retaining that form.

Think of it as a rational ‘God’, that applies a value to everything; but not for superfluous base’s notions such as belief in a particular religious affiliation, adherence to a manufactured dogma, or mumbled death-bed affirmations, but rather on what did this form add to, or detract from planetary objectives.

As a modestly endowed person, I’d like nothing better than to hope for a future where some entity, regardless of what label we attach to it, can actually pass ultimate judgement on everything that occurs on this, our little blue dot adrift in a vast expanse of space, with the nearest possible off-world intelligence being beyond our ability to interconnect with in a standard lifetime.

Instead, we are subjected to an endless stream of grifters, thieves, confidence artists, sociopaths, parasites, and egotists who can only exist by preying on the larger community, while successfully avoiding being held accountable for their perfidy. These creatures function in a worldview that espoused the principle of “survival of the fittest”, and conduct all their affairs in a manner analogous to the Ferengi – wherein the whole purpose of life it to accumulate assets which can be used in exchange for other assets.

Eastern spiritual traditions, and some Native American tribal systems have historically favored the principle of connectedness, where every form is intertwined with every other form. Modern genetics amply demonstrate that over 60% of human DNA is indistinguishable from that of native plants and trees. The common fruit fly’s DNA is closer to a 90% match of a typical human. Our closest mammalian ‘cousins’, the bonobo’s and chimps, share 99%.

Yet we observe that a large percentage of Earth’s life forms extract much more from our planetary system than they put back into it. WingNuts love to assert that they are ‘makers’; yet wealth is traditionally attained by extracting value or assets from other sources, historically Earthly resources such as oil, iron, kaolin, wood, the labor or bodies of others, or other chemical and physical materials. As Pres. Obama recently pointed out in his “You didn’t build that” speech on July 13,2012:

There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me—because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t—look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own… If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that.{alone} Somebody else {helped} made that happen.

Unfortunately, the uber capitalists discounted this principle, arguing, against the available evidence, that some are superior in talents, abilities, foresight, or ‘hard work’ processes which by an almost divine right claim entitles them to an exalted position, and status in society. These same people will be quick to point to the contributions of people like Bill Gates, or Steve Jobs; but seem unaware of people like Richard Stallman, or Linus Torvalds. They praise Sam Walton or Thomas Edison; but know little about the contributions of Jonas Salk, or Nicholas Tesla.

So inasmuch as I’d like to ‘believe’ in the justice, responsibility, and accountability function asserted by religious entities, some 5,113 entities at last count, possessing such divine powers, I’m convinced that biobots are the only element on the distant horizon which actually could possess the capacity to perform this function.

Say it again, louder…

fascism

FBI to reclassify animal abuse as a Group A felony!

FBI to classify animal abusers in same category as murders beginning in 2016

via the Denver Examiner – Aug. 12th, 2015

2016 begin tracking of animal abusers

The Federal Bureau of Investigation announced this week that animal abuse will be prosecuted as a “crime against society.” The change in classification means animal abusers fall into a ‘Group A’ felony with arsonists and murderers. This change was announced by John Thompson at the National Sheriffs’ Association. FBI Investigation Director James Comey signed off on including animal cruelty offenses in the Uniform Crime Report. Local agencies will also track them to report to the FBI.

No longer will extremely violent crimes against animals be included in the “other offense” category simply because the victims were animals. Just as the FBI tracks hate crimes and other important categories, they will now have critical data on animal cruelty. The HSUS has been pushing for this change in policy for years, along with our affiliates, the Humane Society Legislative Fund and Doris Day Animal League.

According to the FBI, the official definition of animal cruelty will be:

“Intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly taking an action that mistreats or kills any animal without just cause, such as torturing, tormenting, mutilation, maiming, poisoning, or abandonment. Included are instances of duty to provide care, e.g., shelter, food, water, care if sick or injured; transporting or confining an animal in a manner likely to cause injury or death; causing an animal to fight with another; inflicting excessive or repeated unnecessary pain or suffering, e.g., uses objects to beat or injure an animal. This definition does not include proper maintenance of animals for show or sport; use of animals for food, lawful hunting, fishing or trapping.”

The FBI will begin collecting information about animal abuse in 2016. Animal cruelty is currently labeled as “other”, which has made it difficult to find, count and track incidents and perpetrators. Now that animal cruelty, including animal neglect, is included in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, there is a real incentive for law enforcement agencies to pay closer attention to such incidents. With accurate data, law enforcement agencies will also be better able to allocate officers and financial resources to handle these cases, track trends and deploy accordingly. The FBI’s new categorization will greatly improve the way such crimes are tracked nationwide and likely will help animal cruelty laws across the United States.

Many studies reveal that children who torture or kill animals are likely to show violence towards people when they grow up. Re-classifying animal abuse will aid law enforcement and the FBI in quantifying and reporting incidents of animal abuse.

Star Trek Marriage Manual

starfleetOfficial Starfleet Manual USOP-103-421

[b]Starfleet Marriage Regulations
Classified Files 1902-A through 1902-O[/b]

[b]1902-A
AGE: [/b]The legal age of marriage for all Human Starfleet personnel is 16 years from the date of birth. Legal age for all non-Human lifeforms under Starfleet command shall be determined by the customs of their individual culture.

[b]1902-B
APPLICATION: [/b] Applications for permission to be married are available to all Starfleet bases and from all Starship captains. The applications must be approved by the Commander of a Starfleet base as well as a Starfleet Medical Command Officer or Starship Captain. Said application must be filed with reports from the examinations outlined in paragraphs 1902-A thru 1902-D.

[b]1902-C
PHYSICAL EXAMINATION:[/b] A physical examination must be submitted by all applicants. This examination must be performed by a Starfleet Medical Officer. The requirements for the examination to be performed are laid out in Form 6683AM provided to all Starfleet Medical personnel.

[b]1902-D
BLOOD TESTS: [/b] All applicants must submit to blood tests. These blood tests must be performed by Starfleet medical personnel. Requirements for said blood tests are outlined in Form 6683PS provided to all Starfleet Medical Departments.

[b]1902-E
MENTAL PROFILE: [/b] A mental profile is required of all applicants. Examinations to determine mental profiles must be performed by a Starfleet Medical Officer or Counselor. The requirements for this examination can be found in Form 6683AT provided to all Starfleet Medical and Counseling departments.

[b]1902-F
HUMAN/NON-HUMAN EXAMINATIONS: [/b] Accompanying an application where a Human and a non-Human want to marry, special examination reports must be filed. Both applicants must submit to a special physical that includes blood, genetic, and psychological testing. All special testing requirements are outlined in Form 6686AM provided to all Starfleet Medical Departments.

[b]1902-G
FAILURE TO MEET STANDARDS:[/b] Failure to meet the normally accepted standards of the examinations mentioned in sections 1902-A through 1902-F shall result in the non-approval of the marriage application.

[b]1902-H
REAPPLICATION:[/b] In the event a marriage application fails to be approved by reason of physical or mental examinations, said applicants may reapply after corrective treatment (a statement from a Starfleet Medical Officer must accompany the application), or after six months, whichever comes first.

[b]1902-I
GENETIC DEFICIENCIES:[/b] When one or both applicants show genetic deficiencies in the examination, a childless marriage must be agreed to. A person with any genetic deficiencies must submit to treatment to eliminate the possibility of the birth of deformed children. Failure to submit to the above will result in the non-approval of an application.

[b]1902-J
MARRIAGE CONTRACT: [/b] When the application is approved, the marriage contract shall be presented to the official in charge, with the approved application, in order to make certain said contract complies with the application.

[b]1902-K
MARRIAGE TERM: [/b] The term of the marriage contract can be set for any period of time from one year to natural death. Starfleet suggests that for the first marriage, the two parties set the marriage for one year as a trial period. After the one year trial period is over, if the parties desire a longer term, a new contract can be established.

[b]1902-L
DELETED. [/b] See Starfleet memo 2410-M, #3.

[b]1902-M
MARRIAGE CEREMONIES:[/b] For all Human Starfleet personnel marrying another Human, the only acceptable ceremony is the standard Military Wedding. For all Human Starfleet personnel marrying a non-Human, two ceremonies can be performed: the standard Military Wedding plus the ceremony traditional to the non-Human partner’s culture. Said Military Wedding must be performed by a Starship Captain or an officer of higher rank, or by a Starfleet Chaplain.

[b]1902-N
MARRIAGEABLE ALIENS: [/b] Some aliens, for a variety of reasons, have been declared illegal for Starfleet personnel to marry. Current lists of ineligible aliens are available at any Starbase document center, or from Starfleet officers of the rank of Starship Captain or higher.

[b]1902-O
NEW ALIEN LIFE FORMS:[/b] When new alien life forms are encountered, it shall be illegal for Starfleet personnel to marry a person of that species until the Starfleet medical, sociological, and biological teams have declared that life form to be reasonably compatible with Humanoids.

*****

Would love to hear your thoughts on this[img]http://www.starbase118.net/forums//public/style_emoticons/default/tongue.png[/img]

Once and future sins

In 2115, when our descendants look back at our society, what will they condemn as our greatest moral failing?

Stephen Cave is an English philosopher and journalist. His latest book is Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How it Drives Civilisation(2012). He lives in Berlin.

Edited by Ed Lake @ejklake
* * * *
In 100 years it will not be acceptable to use genderised words such as ‘he’ or ‘she’, which are loaded with centuries of prejudice and reduce a spectrum of greys to black and white. We will use the pronoun ‘heesh’ to refer to all persons equally, regardless of their chosen gender. This will of course apply not only to humans, but to all animals.

It will be an offence to eat any life-form. Once the sophistication, not only of other animals, but also of plants has been recognised, we will be obliged to accept the validity of their striving for life. Most of our food will be synthetic, although the consumption of fruit – ie, those parts of plants that they willingly offer up to be eaten – will be permitted on special occasions: a birthday banana, a Christmas pear.

Privacy will have been abolished, and regarded as a cover for criminality and hypocrisy. It will be an offence to use a pseudonym online – why would anyone do this except to abuse or deceive others? – and all financial transactions of any kind, including earnings and tax payments – will automatically appear on the internet for all to see. With privacy, prudishness too will disappear; for example, wearing a bikini or trunks to go swimming will be seen as no less absurd than bathing in a bow-tie and top hat.

In 100 years, the idea that ordinary humans – prone to tiredness and drunkenness, watery eyes and sneezing fits – could be in sole charge of weapons, cars or other dangerous objects will cause the average citizen to shudder. All driving, fighting and arresting will be done by silicon-based intelligent systems that are prone neither to a tipple nor to hay fever.

Wasting water will be regarded with the same horror that we now regard the spilling of blood: as a squandering of the stuff of life. Those who flushed toilets with water of drinking quality (everyone in the industrialised world) will be put on a par with those who shot the last tigers.

Well, maybe. Perhaps some of these predictions will come true, perhaps not. In some cases, the opposite might happen: a resurgence of the right to privacy that will armour-plate our personal space, making it unthinkable, even indecent, that anyone would ever reveal their real name online; or a movement for human accountability that derides reliance on automated systems – whether in our cars, phones and elsewhere – as an abdication of responsibility. But one thing is certain: in 100 years, ordinary people will look back at us and shake their heads, wondering how we could have been so irresponsible, so venal, so morally short-sighted.

Continue reading Once and future sins

Panic in the kitchen…

The crippling problem restaurant-goers haven’t noticed but chefs are freaking out about

via WonkBlog – Aug. 13th, 2015

 * * * *
August 12

Behind the swinging doors of restaurant kitchens around the country, things are getting a bit more chaotic. It’s not the sort of thing diners would have noticed, because it’s happening behind the scenes, out of view. Orders are still coming in, and plates are still coming out. But there’s a growing problem that chefs and restaurateurs are talking about more these days.

Good cooks are getting harder to come by. Not the head kitchen honchos, depicted in Food Network reality shows, who fine-tune menus, and orchestrate the dinner rush, but the men and women who are fresh out of culinary school and eager to earn their chops.

The shortage of able kitchen hands is affecting chefs in Chicago, where restaurateurs say they are receiving far fewer applications than in past years. “It’s gotten to the point where if good cooks come along, we’ll hire them even if we don’t have a position. Because we will have a position,” Paul Kahan, a local chef, told the Chicago Tribune last week.

It’s an issue in New York as well, where skilled cooks are an increasingly rare commodity. “If I had a position open in the kitchen, I might have 12 resumes, call in 3 or 4 to [try out] in the kitchen, and make a decision [a few years ago],” Alfred Portale, the chef and owner of Michelin-starred Manhattan restaurant Gotham Bar and Grill, told Fortune recently. “Now it’s the other way around; there’s one cook and 12 restaurants.”

And it extends to restaurants out West, where a similar pinch is being felt. Seattle is coping with the same dilemmaSan Francisco, too.

The glitz and glamour of rising through the ranks in the restaurant industry simply isn’t what it used to be. Long hours, low pay, and a series of other cultural and economic factors have made lower tier restaurant work a much less desirable path than it once was, leaving many kitchens chronically understaffed.

One of the clearest obstacles to hiring a good cook, let alone someone willing to work the kitchen these days, is that living in this country’s biggest cities is increasingly unaffordable. In New York, for instance, where an average cook can expect to make somewhere between $10 and $12 per hour, and the median rent runs somewhere upward of $1,200, living in the city is a near impossibility. As a result, people end up living far from the restaurants where they work. Add on top of that how late dinner shifts can end, and people are arriving home well into the night.
Continue reading Panic in the kitchen…

Clean coal?

Is there really such a thing as cleaner coal? Carbon capture & sequestration (CCS) may be key to greener energy future

Dear EarthTalk: There’s a lot of talk about the potential for renewable energy sources like solar and wind. But cheap, abundant coal is still going to power the world for a long time. How can we harness the energy from coal without emitting our way into a much warmer future?
— Sally Ristau, Erie, PA
 dot_trans                      

Today coal still accounts for some 40 percent of worldwide electricity generation. The International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts that global demand will continue rising to record levels, topping nine billion metric tons annually by 2019. And despite efforts by China to moderate coal consumption, China still accounts for three-fifths of this short-term “demand growth.” Meanwhile, India and other countries in Asia are also ramping up their coal use, offsetting declines in Europe and the U.S.

“The world is not going to stop using coal … so we have to change how the world does use it,” says Eric Redman, an outspoken advocate for realistic clean energy solutions and co-chair of the Seattle-based Summit Power Group. He says that the key is in teaching the world how to utilize carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technologies, which take carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions out of smokestacks and reuses them or stores them in forms so they won’t enter the atmosphere and exacerbate climate change.

Boundary Dam

In October 2014, Canadian utilitySaskPower launched the world’s first full-scale “clean coal” plant in Saskatchewan. Named one of National Geographic’s “10 Energy Breakthroughs of 2014 that Could Change Your Life” and winner of the 2015 “POWER Plant of the Year” award, the Boundary Dam Power Station Unit 3 CCS project has now exceeded expectations, capturing 135,000 metric tons of CO2 in less than a year. The plant is on target to absorb as much as a million metric tons of CO2 annually.

And in June 2015, SaskPower opened its Capture Test Facility, a lab that lets researchers test equipment, chemical innovation and engineering designs in a highly controlled environment. Other companies are also using the facility to develop and test CCS technologies for potential use in their own power plants.

Other promising CCS technologies in the works include coal gasification, whereby energy from coal is converted into a gas that can be burned as CO2 is removed, and the Polaris Membrane System, which uses a specially-designed membrane to capture 90 percent of the CO2 emitted from a coal-burning power plant.

These technologies are indeed promising, but cost still remains the main obstacle to making CCS mainstream. “It is obviously cheaper to dump something in the atmosphere (for free) than to pay the capital and operating costs of capturing and sequestering it,” says Summit Power’s Redman. “There are very few mechanisms currently available to help pay those costs,” he says, adding: “Globally we’ve so far spent on carbon capture and sequestration less than one percent of what we’ve already spent on renewable energy, so naturally we are not yet very far down the CCS cost curve.”

And while many environmentalists shudder to think that we will continue to burn coal at all, we may not have a choice. “I think most climate experts would agree that the maximum realistic deployment of renewables, efficiency and nuclear power will not, by themselves, allow us to limit atmospheric concentrations of CO2 to 450 parts per million by mid-century,” says Redman, adding that CCS is both necessary and ultimately inevitable. “But we need to move more rapidly.”

Shills for hire

Trying to Edit Wikipedia—for Pay

by Joe Pinsker – Aug. 11th, 2015

Adapted from Wikimedia / Lauren Giordano / The Atlantic

On January 11, 2013, James Heilman, an emergency-room physician and one of Wikipedia’s most prolific medical editors, was standing watch over the online encyclopedia’s entry for a back procedure called a kyphoplasty. The page originally suggested that the procedure’s effectiveness was “controversial,” and an unidentified Wikipedia user had proposed changing the text to “well documented and studied”—a characterization that Heilman thought wasn’t supported by existing research. He rejected the change.

Kyphoplasty, along with vertebroplasty, the procedure it shares a Wikipedia page with, is a common treatment when someone’s spine breaks—a frequent occurrence in people with osteoporosis, which makes bones brittle—and then doesn’t heal naturally. The procedure is meant to reduce the pain of a fracture, even though it sounds unpleasant: It consists of inflating a tiny plastic balloon near the fracture, removing the balloon, and then injecting a toothpaste-like plastic cement into the resulting crevice and letting it harden.

The procedure grew popular in the ‘90s, despite the fact that its effectiveness wasn’t backed up by definitively convincing research. By the time two studies published in 2009 found that vertebroplasty—and, by extension, kyphoplasty, which is similar but has not been tested in controlled experiments—was no more effective than a placebo treatment, at least 100,000 of the two procedures were being performed every year. (It’s hard to say an exact number, as the procedures are not recorded in any national database.) In 2011, Medicare paid out around $1 billion for vertebroplasties and kyphoplasties, and the number of the procedures performed each year is not estimated to have decreased significantly since then.

Some are concerned about the money being spent on a procedure that’s controversial and sometimes risky. “To my mind, [kyphoplasty] is an unproven modality and based upon current evidence would have to say it works as well as vertebroplasty, which is to say likely to work as well as a placebo,” says Rachelle Buchbinder, a professor of epidemiology and preventive medicine at Australia’s Monash University, as well as a co-author of a recent vertebroplasty review published by the Cochrane Collaboration, a network of independent researchers. She notes that in Australia, where she lives, public funding for the procedures was withdrawn after the two 2009 studies were published. “From my perspective there is no longer any dispute,” she says.

There are experts who disagree. Sean Tutton is a professor of radiology at the Medical College of Wisconsin, and spoke to me on behalf of the Society of Interventional Radiology, which put out a position paper with other medical societies that called vertebroplasties safe and effective under the right circumstances. “If my mother had a vertebral-compression fracture and after several weeks of conservative management with bed rest, plus or minus bracing, and appropriate pain management, if she still was having ongoing pain and disability, I would treat her,” he says. “I wouldn’t even think twice.”

As James Heilman thought more about the attempted edit to the page for vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty, he grew curious about who might be trying to write over the controversy of the procedures, so he Googled the would-be editor’s Wikipedia username. Sifting through the results, he saw that a man named Kim Schelble had an email address that contained the same nickname. Schelble, Heilman found, was employed by Medtronic, a company that sells medical devices used for, among other things, kyphoplasties.

Continue reading Shills for hire

Why are they voting Republican?

Why Poor People Vote For Republicans

by Gary Reber – Aug. 8th, 2015

On July 19, 2014, Chad R. MacDonald writes on QuietMike:

Considering how Republicans constantly attack the poor, they shouldn’t have a chance with anyone who isn’t already rich. So why do they?

Republicans like to say they are all about personal responsibility. Then of course, they support the SCOTUS decision taking personal responsibility away from citizens and placing it in the hands of corporations. They lie about a war, have us believing in non-existent weapons of mass destruction, and then try to blame the situation in Iraq on the subsequent administration.

00-02g-12-10-11-political-cartoons-gopThe GOP advocates slashing food stamps, denying unemployment assistance, opposing affordable healthcare, and cutting taxes for the wealthy. They constantly demonize poor people, and think the economically disadvantaged deserve only scorn and insults. If you’re poor, you’re just lazy. End of reasons. Yet they get heavy votes from lower income Americans. How are they doing this?

“People don’t vote to say ‘thank you,’ do they? They vote to say ‘fuck you!’” ~ Bill Maher

There are many factors as to why this is so, including gerrymandering districts, such as what just made news in Florida, and voter suppression. But these particular elements have been covered extensively, and they aren’t the only reasons for this phenomenon. Republicans rely on a myriad of tactics to keep their poorer constituents voting against their own economic interests.

One tactic is misdirection. They paint Democrats as irresponsible whenever they can. They call our President, a man graduating magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, a community organizer. In short, they use smear tactics.

Meanwhile President Obama has proven eminently effective as leader of the nation. He has made healthcare accessible to millions of Americans, kept the USA out of a handful of wars, boosted the economy, and fixed some of the mess left behind by the Bush administration. Yes, he has a long way to go and he’s far from perfect, but Obama has faced an uphill battle of Republicans refusing to work with him even before he took office.

Yet many conservatives who know better say that the President hasn’t done anything to help the country. Or, hilariously, that he’s some kind of tyrant, right after saying he’s weak on foreign policy for not starting enough wars.

You also can’t ignore the infiltration of conservative talking points into the faith of Red Staters. Evangelists, televised or not, spearhead the Religious Right and are awful for “us against them” sermons and mentality. Don’t believe me? Look to Pat Robertson and his hateful rhetoric against LGBT Americans, Chic-Fil-A, or, again, the recent Hobby Lobby ruling for just a few examples:

These people believe that their God is conservative. The #ccot (Christian Conservative On Twitter) hashtag gets heavy use. There you will find Christians tweeting anti-Obama, anti-immigrant, anti-gay, and anti-Democrat statements. And all of them believe God is on their side. It is the very definition of zealotry.
Continue reading Why are they voting Republican?

Documenting violence

Documenting Police & Criminal Justice Violence

by AEP – Aug 11th, 2015

* * * *

Video Recordings and the Hidden Forms of Police Violence
by Gabriel Urza

In the wake of the ever-growing number of videos surfacing which document the physical abuses suffered by persons of color at the hands of police officers, the role of video in documenting this type of violence has been a subject of debate.

Several commentators have written artfully about the threat of violence and death at the hands of law enforcement felt by persons of color in even the most day-to-day activities, arguing that video footage may capture injustice, but should not be considered an effective tool in preventing it. They argue that in the deaths of Tamir Rice and Eric Garner and Sandra Bland, video footage documents the vulnerability that people of color experience at the hands of law enforcement, but can offer only an impotent rage.[1] As if to prove this point, the video of Samuel DuBose’s killing by a University of Cincinnati police officer fills my computer screen this afternoon.[2] But I feel compelled to address the efficacy of video footage in these circumstances, for two reasons.

First, the blanket suggestion that video evidence fails to keep people of color safe simply isn’t true. Video recordings can protect all people—and especially minorities—not only in the street but also in the courtroom.

People act differently when they know they are being observed, and police officers are no different. Studies have shown, for example, that police officers are less likely to resort to physical contact with suspects if they are wearing recorders. In one trial study, a police department in Rialto, California, reported that by outfitting only half their police officers with body cameras, the number of complaints filed against officers dropped by 88 percent. In addition, the incidence of use of force by police officers declined by nearly sixty percent.[3] Quite simply, when police officers know they are being recorded they are less likely to use physical force.

But video also protects the public in general—and minorities in particular—against abusive police behavior after the fact. Video recordings not only discourage the improper use of physical force, but also deter insidious, hard-to-prove abuses such as racial profiling, fabricated charges, and other civil rights violations.

I know this because I have seen first-hand what video evidence can do to protect black (and, in fact, all) people from injustice at the hands of law enforcement. Working as a public defender in Reno, Nevada, I have come to know all too well that injustice isn’t limited to what occurs in the headlights of a police cruiser in Texas, or in the back of a transport vehicle in Baltimore. And here’s where video recording is invaluable.

BuyallthatfollowedVideo evidence can bolster procedural defenses that are otherwise difficult to prove—such as a pretextual stop or an illegal search—and which would otherwise result in the dismissal of a case either by a prosecutor, or judge, or jury. A body camera, for example, would likely protect an innocent defendant from the easily-fabricated charges of Assaulting an Officer or Resisting Arrest (such as in the case of Sandra Bland). Absent video, charges like these come down to the officer’s word against the defendant’s—a situation that usually doesn’t bode well for the defendant.

Civil rights groups are already acknowledging the value of video evidence in curtailing police abuses in the field as well as in the courtroom. The ACLU, for example, has created an app that allows witnesses to record police encounters and to automatically send these videos to an ACLU representative.[4]

The protection offered by video evidence may seem less tangible than the type of immediate physical violence that we see in Sandra Bland’s unlawful arrest or Samuel DuBose’s death. However, unlawful prosecution and incarceration based on race bias is a very real form of violence on the bodies and lives of its victims. The violence of unjust prosecution for a fabricated claim of assaulting an officer, for example, can be a trip to jail, or a prison sentence, or the lifelong, crippling brand of “felon.” These acts of violence are equally important to protect against. They are the acts of violence that might have been carried out against Sandra Bland away from the public eye, had she lived.

In this sense, two growing political movements are slowly converging in recent months: the movement against the use of violence against minorities by law enforcement, and the call for criminal justice reform to curtail mass incarceration. The movements are converging, not in street protests or in legislative debates, but rather, on the video screen. While each movement seems to involve independent actors and decry disparate abuses, they share common solutions to promote an unbiased criminal justice system, including the mandated use of video cameras to record police activity.
Continue reading Documenting violence

The crux of the problem

nuts

Windows 10 – Our Experiences

Microsoft’s new O/S has received a lot of press lately, and since we are a PC repair facility, we wanted to pass along our experience with Windows 10.

* * * *

  • Win 10 Technical Preview: We installed this version without any apparent problems on several models of Dell Latitude laptops. In fact it worked great using a USB stick installer via an ISO download which came directly from Microsoft’s website. It even ‘automatically’ deleted a BitLocker hard drive lock which we could not remove using a variety of other software tools. It ‘automatically’ installed all necessary drivers for all the “D” and “E” series Latitudes. From beginning to end of install was about 30 minutes.

 

  • Asus 1000HE: The original O/S on the machine was Windows XP, so first we wiped the hard drive, then installed Windows 7 Pro on it. That worked fine, no issues. We then downloaded the Win 10 32bit ISO from Microsoft’s website, wrote it to a DVD, which required additional technical machinations to get a successful write, and attempted an installation. According to the information on the Web, this version was claimed to be hardware compatible, and covered by the ‘automatic’ free registration from the preceding Win 7 installation. After a span of at least four hours processing/installation, the system began a on/off cycle, and would not boot correctly; but rather kept attempting to boot, failed, and after more tech work brought us back to a screen that asked for a registration code. We input the Windows 7 Pro code; but that failed to authenticate. We wiped the drive, and attempted an installation of the Win 10 Technical Preview – which completed satisfactorily in about an hour, abet without the registration/authentication code.

(to be continued)

Democrats And Republicans Love Government Wage Subsidies. But They Might Have It All Backwards

On August 6, 2015, Jeff Spross writes on The Week:

On the question of what to do about low wages, there are two schools of thought in American politics.

Conservatives generally oppose the minimum wage, but favorgovernment spending to top off incomes. Expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) — a refundable tax break for low-income workers — is the preferred route. Liberals generally favor expanding the EITC andhiking the minimum wage, often arguing the two complement one another.

So you have potential bipartisan agreement on the EITC, and bitter divides over the minimum wage. Even Warren Buffet, a billionaire investor often admired by liberals and progressives, has thrown down for the EITC and against the minimum wage.

But Nick Hanauer, the venture capitalist and pugnacious critic of rising inequality, begs to differ. “I’m not saying we should eliminate the EITC,” Hanauer explained. But the EITC is at best an ameliorative surrender to inequality, and at worst risks perpetuating the spread of parasitic business models. “I am saying the preponderance of responsibility for living wages should and needs to fall on the shoulders of the companies that employ those workers.”

Every business is a “hub” in the economy through which money flows. Revenues come in, then expenses go out. Some of those expenses are operating costs, some are new investments in capital, some are profits paid out to shareholders, and some are wages paid to workers. Over the last three decades, those hubs have gone through a profound shift: less flowing to workers and investment, and more flowing to profits and shareholders.

Psychologists Urge People With Low Self-Esteem to Watch G.O.P. Debate

Psychologists Urge People With Low Self-Esteem to Watch G.O.P. Debate
by Andy Borowitz  – Aug 6th, 2015 – The Borowitz Report

* * * *

gop

Minnesota: Psychologists at the University of Minnesota have issued a research study recommending that people suffering from low self-esteem watch Thursday night’s nationally televised Republican debate.

The recommendation came after the psychologists spent weeks showing research subjects video clips of the debate’s potential participants and observed striking improvements in the subjects’ overall morale and sense of worth.

“We interviewed the volunteers before we exposed them to the Republican candidates and afterward,” said psychologist Davis Logsdon. “The spike in their self-esteem was off the charts.”

Of the candidates who most improved the research subjects’ sense of self, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush were found to be consistently helpful, but the most marked increase in self-esteem levels came after the subjects were exposed to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

According to the data, people who viewed Walker for approximately three minutes reported feeling better “right away” about their intelligence, knowledge, and prospects for obtaining high-status employment that they had previously considered well beyond their reach.

“After watching Governor Walker, a substantial number of the subjects literally could not remember why they had ever felt bad about themselves,” Logsdon said.

In addition to recommending that low self-esteem-sufferers watch the debate, Logsdon is advising them to D.V.R. the entire two hours. “You never know when you might need it again,” he said.

What happens when the singularity encounters religion?

Will we be able to convert robots to Christianity?

via Daily.dot By Dylan Love
* * * *
After conquering the kitchen, the game show, and outer space, are our machines heading for religion next?

The singularity is a hypothesized time in the future, approximately 2045, when the capabilities of non-living electronic machines will supersede human capabilities. Undismissable contemporary thinkers like Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, and Ray Kurzweil warn us that it will change everything. Hawking likens it to receiving a message from aliens announcing their arrival in “a few decades,” saying this is “more or less” what’s happening with artificial intelligence software.

The tension between technology and the human soul dates all the way back to the Old Testament. In the story of the Tower of Babel, God responds to humanity’s construction of a tower tall enough to reach heaven by confusing their languages to inhibit their progress.

“No gods will save us because there are no gods—unless we become gods.”

“The story is a pretty big warning against becoming too technologically capable,” said Jason Stellman and Christian Kingery, former pastors who host a philosophical comedy podcast called Drunk Ex-Pastors. “As far as Christianity is concerned, the singularity probably wouldn’t go over too well with God.”

We have low-grade artificial intelligence systems today; they control the robots exploring Mars, beat humans at Jeopardy, and generally force us to ask us complicated questions about the nature of knowledge and understanding. But that’s nothing compared to what we can expect in the future. Electronics of this caliber would be described as “superintelligent”; they would be conversational and aware, like C-3PO from Star Wars.

Talk of the singularity ripples with religious undertones: It’s obsessed with the unknown future and assumes the arrival of a superior entity down the road. It has its naysayers and true believers alike, each eager to tell you why (or why not) such an entity will actually show up.

We spoke to seven thinkers and scholars to learn about what might happen when superintelligence bumps into religion.

Are there any religious suggestions, Biblical or otherwise, that humanity will face something like the singularity?

John Messerly, affiliate scholar for the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies: There is no specific religious suggestion that we’ll face a technological singularity. In fact, ancient scriptures from various religions say virtually nothing about science and technology, and what they do say about them is usually wrong (the Earth doesn’t move, is at the center of the solar system, is 6,000 years old).

Still people interpret their religious scriptures, revelations, and beliefs in all sorts of ways. So a fundamentalist might say that the singularity is the end of the world as foretold by the Book of Revelations or something like that.

 Also there is a Christian Transhumanist Association and a Mormon Transhumanist Association, and some religious thinkers are scurrying to claim the singularity for their very own. But a prediction of a technological singularity—absolutely not. The simple fact is that the authors of ancient scriptures in all religious traditions obviously knew nothing of modern science. Thus they couldn’t predict anything like a technological singularity.

Lincoln Cannon, president of the Mormon Transhumanist Association: The Bible contains many ideas that religious transhumanists tend to associate with emerging and future technology risks and opportunities.

“The thing that makes us all nervous is that we are creating a thing with ambiguous ethics that will theoretically be infinitely more intelligent than us.”

On the negative side, some see the risk of unfriendly superintelligence in prophecies related to the Antichrist (2 Thessalonians 2: 1-4) and various related technological risks in the apocalyptic prophecies of destruction (Revelation 13).

On the positive side, some see the opportunity of friendly superintelligence in prophecies related to the return of Christ and theosis (1 John 3: 1-2 andmany others), and various related technological opportunities in the millennarian prophecies of transfiguration (1 Corinthians 15: 51-53).

Peter Moons, Ph.D. candidate at Salve Regina University: While I am not a Biblical scholar, what I find interesting is that the Bible’s book of prophecy, Revelations, and Martin Heidegger’s concept that technology reveals its complete effects on humanity only after its implementation, share the same root word: reveal.  Something is shielded from humanity and only after discovery—uncovering that which is hidden—can we see the reality before us.

Duncan Trussell, comedian and host of The Duncan Trussell Family Hour podcast: You could compare this moment to the development of complex eyes during the Cambrian explosion. Prior to this, all forms of biological life would have experienced a world of absolute darkness. Those creatures that first developed an eye would have experienced a kind of apocalypse—an infinite field of data formerly inaccessible opened up to them. Darkness peeled back to reveal light.

How realistic do you personally think the arrival of some sort of superintelligence is?

Neal VanDeRee, officiator at the Church of Perpetual Life: I believe that it is inevitable that the arrival of a superintelligence is bound to happen, and when looking at the current course of AI, this should be within our lifetime. I would imagine that it could very nearly replicate life as we know it now, but without pain, suffering, and death.

Naturally, time will tell.

Lincoln Cannon: For practical and moral reasons, I trust in our opportunity and capacity as a human civilization, to evolve intentionally into compassionate superintelligence. I don’t think it’s inevitable, and I do think there are serious risks. But I do trust it’s possible, particularly if we put aside passive, escapist, and nihilistic attitudes about our future and work to mitigate the risks while pursuing the opportunities.

Peter Moons: It’s worth pointing out that past paradigms in human existence also saw a steep rise in technology. For example, the Enlightenment; here, God was not excluded in the post-discovery realm, but the man-made artifices and processes surrounding believers’ faith in God changed.

Though I cannot speak to the other two Abrahamic faiths, Christianity has [developed past its primitive forms] and still exists even with space travel. Thus, we can expect that if and when humanity enters the singularity, unless specifically excluded, our belief in God will accompany us.

How “alive” would a superintelligence be?

Mike McHargue, host of the Ask Science Mike podcast: We think nothing of wiping out bacteria by the millions when we wash our hands, and most people don’t hesitate to slap the fly buzzing around their heads. But dogs? Dolphins? Apes? We see some reflection of awareness in their eyes, and mark them as greater peers among life. What’s fascinating about machine intelligence is we are presented with some level of consciousness that is not associated with biological life. We’ve already built robots with similar intelligence and conscious awareness as an earthworm, and we’ve modeled neural network as complex as insects and possibly reptiles.

As computer technology advances, there’s a real possibility of something that is highly intelligent but not “alive” in any traditional sense.

“I don’t fear an aggressive superintelligent AI. I fear one that is indifferent to us.”

John Messerly: I think you’re assuming we would be different from these SIs (superintelligences). Instead there is a good chance we’ll become them through neural implants, or by some uploading scenario. This raises the question of what it’s like to be superintelligent, or in your words, how alive you would feel as one. Of course I don’t know the answer since I’m not superintelligent! But I’d guess you would feel more alive if you were more intelligent.

I think dogs feel more alive than rocks, humans more alive than dogs, and I think SIs would feel more alive than us because they would have greater consciousness.

Mike McHargue: I think consciousness is more remarkable than simple life. Bacteria are important to my existence, but I think we’re right to value conscious animals more—and a superintelligent machine would likely be more conscious than we are, in that it would build a more elaborate model of reality and its consciousness would be composed of more feedback loops than we have in our own brains.

Assuming we can communicate with such a superintelligence in our own natural human language, what might be the thinking that goes into preaching to and “saving” it?

Christian Kingery and Jason Stellman: It’s an interesting question because if we did develop superintelligence, shouldn’t we be trusting it to tell us what religion is real? If a computer is 10,000 times smarter than a human, then won’t it already have deduced with certainty which, if any, religion is true?

Lincoln Cannon: So long as machine intelligence approximates human intelligence, and so long as there’s sufficient overlap and intelligibility in our respective cognitive spaces, I’m sure humans will attempt to persuade machines to just about all of our vying ideas, and machines will do the same in return.

The interactions could of course take traditional forms, like persuasion through presentation or discussion, but we should also anticipate new and unfamiliar forms of interaction enabled by whatever technological interfaces become available, such as brain-to-computer interfacing.

John Messerly: Thinkers disagree about this. [Founder of the Transhumanist political party] Zoltan Istvan thinks that we will inevitably try to control SIs and teach them our ways, which may include teaching them about our gods.Christopher J. Benek, co-founder and chair of the Christian Transhumanist Association, thinks that AI, by possibly eradicating poverty, war, and disease, might lead humans to becoming more holy. But other Christian thinkers believe AIs are machines without souls and cannot be saved.

Of course, like most philosophers, I don’t believe in souls, and the only way for there to be a good future is if we save ourselves. No gods will save us because there are no gods—unless we become gods.

Duncan Trussell: My hope is that we aren’t the ones doing the “saving,” but that this new intelligence will save us. The thing that makes us all nervous is that we are creating a thing with ambiguous ethics that will theoretically be infinitely more intelligent than us.

It’s as though we received a simple message from deep space: “We are coming in 30 years.”  If that actually happened, the entire planet would scramble to prepare for the arrival of whatever sent the message. But because the message is not coming from outer space, but from the inner space of the minds of some of the great thinkers of our time, it seems like most folks are ignoring it.

For most folks it’s just impossible to digest the very real fact that a super-advanced intelligence is growing through us and out of us and its initial sprouts look like technology.

Are you aware of any “laws” or understandings of computer science that would make it impossible for software to hold religious beliefs?

Lincoln Cannon: No. Of course there are some naive voices among the anti-religious that would like to imagine a technical incompatibility between machine intelligence and religious beliefs, but humans are already proof of concept. I do think we can identify some limits to the possibility space of intelligence in general, based on logic and physics, but religiosity remains clearly within the possibility space.

John Messerly: I assume you can program a SI to “believe” almost anything. And you can try to program humans to believe things too.

Neal VanDeRee: No, there are no laws or rules in computer science that would make it impossible for software to hold a religious belief.

Lincoln Cannon: It’s worth pointing out, perhaps, that some of us conceive of religion too narrowly to account for how it’s actually functioned from deep history to the present, and a strong case can be made that transhumanism often (but not always) manifests itself as a religion, even if misrecognized.

How might a religious superintelligence operate? Would it be benign?

Lincoln Cannon: Religious superintelligence may be either the best or the worst kind of superintelligence—sublimely compassionate or horribly oppressive. I like to think of religion as applied esthetics, the most powerful social technology for provoking strenuous action toward a common goal. As such, it’s not inherently good or evil. It’s just power, to be used for good or evil, as it clearly has been used for both historically.

While the particular forms of religion will continue to evolve, the general function of religion seems unlikely to go away. So, as we do with all powerful technologies, we should aim to mitigate the risks of religion while pursuing its opportunities.

Religion already isn’t benign, and any religion worthy of a superintelligence certainly would be even less so.

Mike McHargue: Imagine something that is more intelligent compared to us than we are when compared to ants. What do ants know of human aspirations and the way we go about life? Our existence doesn’t fit in their model of reality, and I think speculating on a superintelligent machine’s operation is equally impossible.

“Religion already isn’t benign, and any religion worthy of a superintelligence certainly would be even less so.”

I don’t fear an aggressive superintelligent AI. I fear one that is indifferent to us, and from that indifference produces actions that break the line of human life that extends back to the first life on Earth.

Neal VanDeRee: I do not believe that we will see one single superintelligence, but many that will be interacting—a race of AI beings. I believe that they will carry with them our best components of humanity into the future.  Yes, I would I expect them to be benign and potentially very helpful in carrying out the best wishes of humanity and achieve what transhumanists wish to see.

Peter Moons: The fear, [Swedish philosopher Nick] Bostrom notes, is that once the AI becomes cognizant of the depth of its knowledge, operating capacity, speed, and even potential physical manipulation, the AI will choose a path for its continued existence that may preclude the existence of man. Writer James Barrett’s recent book predicts that humanity’s “Final Invention”—part of the title of his work—will be AI, for a superintelligence will change how humans live.

Humanity may be in an existential fight at that point.

Christian Kingery and Jason Stellman: The thought terrifies us, to be honest. Superintelligence is scary enough. Adding religion to the mix? No thank you. Maybe if it was a Buddhist. They seem pretty chill.

Peter Moons: The question here is this: Will there be a place for God in the singularity?

One could say that the technological marvel of uploading minds and consciousness into a cyber environment and then connecting all the minds together may preclude humans from expressing humanity. This thought comes from the idea that the expected scientific environment of ones and zeros makes no room for humanity.

However, if consciousness can be exactly translated (or copied) into a binary environment, the concepts of God, spirituality, and religion will be copied along with everything else, unless those concepts are specifically not copied. I am unlikely to be the first thinker of this “spirituality-exclusion” in the future of the singularity.

Duncan Trussell: We have to hope that the mystics are correct when they claim that the essential nature of the universe is love. If this is the case, then my hippy dream is that this advanced intelligence will be a pure manifestation of love and compassion, and thus its tendency would be not to destroy but to heal.

If not, then at least we get to experience what it’s like to be annihilated by a superintelligence.

Either way I think our species has a lot to look forward to.

In praise of John Oliver

Four Ways John Oliver Is So Right About the Failed ‘War on Drugs

by Tony Newman – via AlterNet – Aug. 4th, 2015

The HBO host hits the drug war from all angles.

For some years now, Comedy Central and HBO have played a huge role in educating people about some of the most important issues of the day. Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher, Larry Willmore and John Oliver are all skillful at both educating and entertaining us. They are so impactful that presidential candidates and others running our country make it a priority to go on their shows.

Oliver, with his extensive 15-minute segments on his spinoff show on HBO, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, digs deeper into issues than most traditional news channels. One issue that Oliver has taken the lead on is ridiculing and slamming our country’s disastrous war on drugs. Oliver hits the drug war from all angles. Here are four excellent segments that show Oliver is becoming one of the most influential voices in our country to say loud and clear: No More Drug War.
Continue reading In praise of John Oliver

Talking about Planned Parenthood

Six Consideration on the Anti-Planned Parenthood Propaganda

by Amanda Marcotte – AlterNet – Aug. 4th, 2015

Some tips on how to respond to some of the most common arguments.

Last month, a group with the name Center for Medical Progress started releasing videos claiming that Planned Parenthood is illegally selling fetal tissue. Anti-choicers are always floating ridiculous conspiracy theories about Planned Parenthood, and unsurprisingly, these videos turned out to be a pile of lies. Despite this, Senate Republicans had a symbolic grandstanding “defund Planned Parenthood” bill and some are calling to shut the government down if Democrats don’t cave into demands to destroy the national chain of women’s health centers.

Because of this, many conservatives — some of them our own relatives — are now spouting a bunch of false talking points about the supposed evils of Planned Parenthood. Here are some talking points on how to respond to some of the most common arguments that are floating around.

Continue reading Talking about Planned Parenthood