Republicans pass a bill banning scientists from advising on their own research

Congressional climate wars were dominated last week by the U.S. Senate, which spent the day debating, and ultimately failing to pass, a bill approving the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. While all that was happening, and largely unnoticed, the House was busy doing what it does best: attacking science.

H.R. 1422, which passed 229-191, would shake up the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board, placing restrictions on those pesky scientists and creating room for experts with overt financial ties to the industries affected by EPA regulations.

Here’s the lie:

The bill is being framed as a play for transparency: Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, argued that the board’s current structure is problematic because it “excludes industry experts, but not officials for environmental advocacy groups.” The inclusion of industry experts, he said, would right this injustice…

In what might be the most ridiculous aspect of the whole thing, the bill forbids scientific experts from participating in “advisory activities” that either directly or indirectly involve their own work. In case that wasn’t clear: experts would be forbidden from sharing their expertise in their own research — the bizarre assumption, apparently, being that having conducted peer-reviewed studies on a topic would constitute a conflict of interest. “In other words,” wrote Union of Concerned Scientists director Andrew A. Rosenberg in an editorial for RollCall, “academic scientists who know the most about a subject can’t weigh in, but experts paid by corporations who want to block regulations can.”

Just in case you wondered what the next couple of years will be like with the looniest members of Bedlam in charge of the branch of government charged with advancing our economy, our freedoms and liberty via legislation.

“Hello, is there anybody in there?
“Just nod if you can hear me,
“is there anyone at home?”

Thanks, Mike

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Top of the charts for funerals in the UK

A British survey has named Monty Python song “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” as the country’s most-requested funeral tune…For the first time ever, the song, from Life of Brian, topped a regular poll conducted by Britain’s Co-operative Funeral Care.

The goofy diddy took over the spot held by Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” for more than a decade. In fact, “My Way” was bumped down to the No. 5 spot.

The results of the poll came from information from 30,000 funerals held in Britain.

Har. Banned for blasphemy when the film, “The Life of Brian” first came out in the UK – it’s nice to see that ordinary folks’ sensibilities and whimsy have surpassed every negative classification assigned the movie and the music by officially conservative clods.

Ground Zero — Ferguson

Ferguson Ground Zero
Click photo for the original articleBuzzfeed/Joel Anderson

In the wake of the news that Ferguson, Missouri, police Darren Wilson will not be indicted for killing Michael Brown, you’ve probably seen lots of reports of destruction and anger, and far fewer about the despair of black men as they contemplate the message the grand jury’s decision sends about the value of their lives.

Here’s a great corrective. BuzzFeed’s Joel Anderson captured this image, and Twitter user @HeyMyNameIsWill contrasted it with the images of the protests offered by cable TV.

Rest assured white Republican America. If you live in a state where it’s perfectly legal for coppers to shoot an unarmed suspect fleeing the scene of a crime [or suspected of fleeing a crime – or suspected of anything] – you already know you or your kids aren’t likely to be the victims of murder-by-cop. if you’re Black or Brown or some other non-white tint of human being, that’s different. But, you also know that doesn’t matter.

The city of Albuquerque, down the road from here, has a police force that is just coming out from under a Department of Justice investigation, new rules, new oversight – because of the number of civilians killed by coppers. Watching the local news on any day, we call it “watching the local murders”. And like most Americans, we don’t mind a whole lot if it’s one drug gang killing members of another drug gang – or cops killing crooks with a lifetime record of violence and theft.

Albuquerque got in trouble because their cops killed too many white guys, too many veterans.

Ferguson, St. Louis, Middle America ain’t going to change anything if cops stick to killing Black men or Hispanics. The despair in this photo is only a reflection of that fact. And the politicians charged with aiding oversight, peace and prosperity couldn’t care less. Which is a much better reason to throw them out of office than Keynesian fiscal policy or not strictly adhering to orders received directly from your God and your bible.

America’s neglected infrastructure, ready to fall apart

image
Busiest train bridge in Western Hemisphere = 104 years old, carries up to 500 trains/day!

There are a lot of people in the United States right now who think the country is falling apart, and at least in one respect they’re correct. Our roads and bridges are crumbling, our airports are out of date and the vast majority of our seaports are in danger of becoming obsolete. All the result of decades of neglect. None of this is really in dispute. Business leaders, labor unions, governors, mayors, congressmen and presidents have complained about a lack of funding for years, but aside from a one time cash infusion from the stimulus program, nothing much has changed. There is still no consensus on how to solve the problem or where to get the massive amounts of money needed to fix it, just another example of political paralysis in Washington.

Tens of millions of American cross over bridges every day without giving it much thought, unless they hit a pothole. But the infrastructure problem goes much deeper than pavement. It goes to crumbling concrete and corroded steel and the fact that nearly 70,000 bridges in America — one out of every nine — is now considered to be structurally deficient…

Pennsylvania is one of the worst states in country when it comes to the condition of its infrastructure, and Philadelphia isn’t any better off than Pittsburgh. Nine million people a day travel over 900 bridges classified as structurally deficient, some of them on a heavily traveled section of I-95…

Ed Rendell, former Democratic governor of Pennsylvania…says it’s a nation’s number one highway. Twenty-two miles of it goes through the city of Philadelphia. There are 15 structurally deficient bridges in that 22-mile stretch. And to fix them would cost seven billion dollars — to fix all the roads and the structurally deficient bridges in that 22-mile stretch…

It’s less a case of wanting to get something done, than coming up with the hundreds of billions of dollars needed to do it. There is no shortage of ideas from Democrats or Republicans who’ve suggested everything from raising the gas tax to funding infrastructure through corporate tax reform. But there is no consensus and not much political support for any of the alternatives as Andy Herrmann, past president of the American Society of Civil Engineers, told us last summer…

He said, you’re sitting there at these committee meetings; they seem to agree with you. Yes, we have to make investments in infrastructure. Yes, we have to do these things. But then they come around and say, “Well, where are we going to get the money?” And you sort of sit to yourself and say to yourself, “Well, we elected you to figure that out.”

RTFA for enough examples of crumbling infrastructure to scare a sensible human being into action. Now, we just need to figure out how to get our elected officials to exhibit as much sense. Sitting around worrying about how to raise the funds for repairs without offending any of their big money contributors ain’t going to get it done.

Thanks, Mike

Solar and wind energy start to win on price


Click to enlarge — US Army base solar farm in White Sands, New Mexico

For the solar and wind industries in the United States, it has been a long-held dream: to produce energy at a cost equal to conventional sources like coal and natural gas.

That day appears to be dawning.

The cost of providing electricity from wind and solar power plants has plummeted over the last five years, so much so that in some markets renewable generation is now cheaper than coal or natural gas.

Utility executives say the trend has accelerated this year, with several companies signing contracts, known as power purchase agreements, for solar or wind at prices below that of natural gas, especially in the Great Plains and Southwest, where wind and sunlight are abundant.

Those prices were made possible by generous subsidies that could soon diminish or expire, but recent analyses show that even without those subsidies, alternative energies can often compete with traditional sources…

And there have never been conventional power plant build-outs that got off the ground without state or federal assistance of some kind.

…In Oklahoma, American Electric Power ended up tripling the amount of wind power it had originally sought after seeing how low the bids came in last year.

“Wind was on sale — it was a Blue Light Special,” said Jay Godfrey, managing director of renewable energy for the company. He noted that Oklahoma, unlike many states, did not require utilities to buy power from renewable sources.

“We were doing it because it made sense for our ratepayers,” he said.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the main trade group, the price of electricity sold to utilities under long-term contracts from large-scale solar projects has fallen by more than 70 percent since 2008, especially in the Southwest.,,

The price drop extends to homeowners and small businesses as well; last year, the prices for residential and commercial projects fell by roughly 12 to 15 percent from the year before.

The wind industry largely tells the same story, with prices dropping by more than half in recent years. Emily Williams, manager of industry data and analytics at the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group, said that in 2013 utilities signed “a record number of power purchase agreements and what ended up being historically low prices…”

“We’re finding that in certain regions with certain wind projects that these are competing or coming in below the cost of even existing generation sources,” she said.

…Solar executives are looking to extend a 30 percent federal tax credit that is set to fall to 10 percent at the end of 2016. Wind professionals are seeking renewal of a production tax credit that Congress has allowed to lapse and then reinstated several times over the last few decades…

Where that effort will go now is anybody’s guess, though, with Republicans in control of both houses starting in January.

Mail me a penny postcard when you find some Congressional Republicans interested in saving money, aiding the environment, contributing to sound ecological principles that make a better life for workingclass folks.

RTFA for details. There are answers for a few of the non-political questions.

U.S. foreign policy ≠ China foreign policy

The biggest economic news of the year came almost without notice: China has overtaken the United States as the world’s largest economy, according to the scorekeepers at the International Monetary Fund. And, while China’s geopolitical status is rising rapidly, alongside its economic might, the US continues to squander its global leadership, owing to the unchecked greed of its political and economic elites and the self-made trap of perpetual war in the Middle East…

With rising economic power has come growing geopolitical clout. Chinese leaders are feted around the world. Many European countries are looking to China as the key to stronger domestic growth. African leaders view China as their countries’ new indispensable growth partner, particularly in infrastructure and business development.

Similarly, economic strategists and business leaders in Latin America now look to China at least as much as they look to the US. China and Japan seem to be taking steps toward better relations, after a period of high tensions. Even Russia has recently “tilted” toward China, establishing stronger connections on many fronts, including energy and transport.

Like the US after World War II, China is putting real money on the table – a lot of it – to build strong economic and infrastructure links with countries around the world. This will enable other countries to boost their own growth, while cementing China’s global economic and geopolitical leadership.

Like the US after WW2, China has suffered no injury to productive capacity, as well.

Continue reading

Pic of the week


Click to enlargeREUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis

Flowers are placed on a monument inside the Athens’ Polytechnic school, on the eve of the 41st anniversary of a 1973 student uprising against the then military ruling junta in Athens. Yes, the junta was supported by the United States government.

Microsoft campus defended by autonomous robot guards


look, mom – a new kind of Dalek

With proprietary secrets and employees to protect, Microsoft turns to special robot guards to keep its Silicon Valley campus safe…

While it sounds high-tech and interesting, these drones are not reminiscent of RoboCop. They are five feet tall and weigh 300 pounds. Equipment includes cameras, sensors, alarms, and rudimentary artificial intelligence, but no weapons. Their primary function is to patrol large areas like parking lots and alert human security guards to any danger or intrusion.

The system was built and designed by Knightscope, a company located in Mountain View, California. Knightscope markets the robots as data machines that demand to be noticed and yet offer a non-intimidating presence. The company kept the robots in development for several years as engineers perfected a discerning camera.

The resulting high-definition cameras read license plates and distinguish between a harmless employee gathering and something sinister, like an attempted break-in. Other specific equipment includes microphones, weather sensors, loud alarms, and Wi-Fi connectivity to alert human security enforcement. In addition to scanning for intruders, the robots can detect explosives, possible natural disasters, and other emergencies…

As of now, Microsoft has five drones monitoring the campus. Once aware of a possible disturbance, the K5 will either sound its alarm or contact a human. If people attempt to mess with it, it will first sound a warning and then work up to a piercing alarm if the behavior continues…

Purchasing the robots is a cost-savings venture allowing Microsoft to hire fewer security guards. Competitively priced, Knightscope indicates that any company can deploy several robots and make crime prevention much easier.

Still sounds like this is a project designed to evolve into Robocop. Or Daleks.

Thanks, Mike

Jay Leno cancels appearance at gun show

gunviolence
Thanks, Ursarodinia

Comedian Jay Leno cancelled his participation in hosting a gun event next year, less than 24 hours after three reform groups created a petition asking the former “Tonight Show” host to think twice about associating himself with the organization.

Leno was scheduled to moderate the 2015 Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show in Las Vegas, an annual event backed by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF). The trade association is a pro-gun lobbying group based in Newtown, Connecticut, where 26 people, including 20 first-graders, were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012.

“When it came to his attention that this was actually a pro-gun lobby show, he immediately cancelled his appearance,” Bruce Bobbins, spokesman for Leno, told msnbc. The gig was presented to the comedian as a sportsman show, which he assumed focused on hunting, Bobbins added…

Members of the Newtown Action Alliance said Leno called the chairman of their group Wednesday night to inform her of his decision and to reveal that he wasn’t aware NSSF is based about three miles from the site of the shooting rampage.

NSSF publicly opposes gun-reform legislation, including bills that would close the loophole in the federal background checks system. Under the law, buyers can purchase firearms at gun shows and on the Internet without passing background checks.

Leno doesn’t consider himself a conservative. I do. I consider him an old-fashioned American conservative which means he still cares for people and human rights – and doesn’t let his political life be governed by the elitist ideology of today’s Republican Party. He certainly doesn’t care to be seen as a flunky for one of the most reactionary segments of our nation’s corporate hierarchy.

Bravo!