Comet close-ups from the Rosetta spacecraft

Following a decade-long meandering multi-loop de loop through the solar system, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta spacecraft has finally reached its primary target: Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. What the comet lacks in a stylish name, it makes up for in historical prominence as it is the very first comet to get up close and personal with a manmade spacecraft…

Over the next few months, Rosetta will attempt to close in on a near-circular orbit of 30 km…before attempting to send a lander (dubbed” Philae”) onto the comet where it will take direct scientific measurements.

The Rosetta team has identified five possible landing sites on the comet and plans to settle on one by the middle of October, after which the agency will attempt to land the Philae lander in mid-November…

While the Rosetta mission will surely unlock a new understanding of our solar system, it has—more immediately—given us the privilege of being the very generation to see what a comet really looks like. Click through our slideshow of some of these spectacular images courtesy of the ESA.

As close as any of us are likely to get, folks. Take advantage of the photos.

Thanks, Mike

Stodgiest outfit on Wall Street agrees inequality is causing slower growth

Income-inequality

Is income inequality holding back the United States economy? A new report argues that it is, that an unequal distribution in incomes is making it harder for the nation to recover from the recession and achieve the kind of growth that was commonplace in decades past.

The report is interesting not because it offers some novel analytical approach or crunches previously unknown data. Rather, it has to do with who produced it, which says a lot about how the discussion over inequality is evolving.

Economists at Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services are the authors of the straightforwardly titled “How Increasing Inequality is Dampening U.S. Economic Growth, and Possible Ways to Change the Tide.” The fact that S.&P., an apolitical organization that aims to produce reliable research for bond investors and others, is raising alarms about the risks that emerge from income inequality is a small but important sign of how a debate that has been largely confined to the academic world and left-of-center political circles is becoming more mainstream…

Because the affluent tend to save more of what they earn rather than spend it, as more and more of the nation’s income goes to people at the top income brackets, there isn’t enough demand for goods and services to maintain strong growth, and attempts to bridge that gap with debt feed a boom-bust cycle of crises, the report argues. High inequality can feed on itself, as the wealthy use their resources to influence the political system toward policies that help maintain that advantage, like low tax rates on high incomes and low estate taxes, and underinvestment in education and infrastructure…

The report itself does not break any major new analytical or empirical ground. It spends many pages summarizing the findings of various academic and government economists who have studied inequality and its discontents, and stops short of recommending any radical policy changes favored by the likes of Thomas Piketty (who is among those cited).

And the S.&P. researchers are relatively limited in their policy prescriptions, avoiding much discussion of politically explosive debates over marginal tax rates and the scale of the social welfare system. They instead emphasize the usefulness of investing more heavily in education…

Anyone who wants to explain why the United States economy is evolving the way it is needs to at least wrestle with the implications of a more unequal society for the economy as a whole.

Overdue. Response to the problem from the talking heads in the White House has been limited to slogans and talking points. Response from our Do-Nothing-Congress has been to do nothing.

Thanks, Mike

Congress authorized Vietnam War under bullshit pretense – 50 years ago, today


President Johnson signs “Gulf of Tonkin” resolutionCecil Stoughton/White House Photograph Office

After just nine hours of deliberation, both houses of Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution today in 1964. The bill authorizing the United States to officially go to war with Vietnam was signed by President Lyndon Johnson three days later. Of course, the United States had been increasingly involved in Vietnam at least since 1955, when then-President Eisenhower deployed the Military Assistance Advisory group to help train the South Vietnamese Army…

The supposed August 4th attack on the USS Maddox was used to legitimize the growing U.S. presence in Vietnam and to give the President authority to use the military in the effort to combat Communist North Vietnam. Even Johnson questioned the legitimacy of the Gulf of Tonkin. A year after the incident, Johnson said to then Press Secretary Bill Moyers, “For all I know, our Navy was shooting at whales out there.”

A good, traditional liberal Democrat administration following the unified party line of American foreign policy. Hasn’t changed a jot since.

Tornado strength, frequency, linked to climate change

New research by a Florida State University geography professor shows that climate change may be playing a key role in the strength and frequency of tornadoes hitting the United States.

…Professor James Elsner writes that though tornadoes are forming fewer days per year, they are forming at a greater density and strength than ever before. So, for example, instead of one or two forming on a given day in an area, there might be three or four occurring…

Elsner, an expert in climate and weather trends, said in the past, many researchers dismissed the impact of climate change on tornadoes because there was no distinct pattern in the number of tornado days per year. In 1971, there were 187 tornado days, but in 2013 there were only 79 days with tornadoes.

But a deeper dive into the data showed more severity in the types of storms and that more were happening on a given day than in previous years…

The United States experiences more tornadoes than any other country, and despite advances in technology and warning systems, they still remain a hazard to residents in storm-prone areas. The 2011 tornado season, for example, had nearly 1,700 storms and killed more than 550 people…

One bright spot of news in the research, Elsner added, was that the geographic areas impacted most regularly by tornadoes do not appear to be growing.

Interesting work and especially relevant in this period of climate change. Too bad politicians and other scatterbrains find it easier to focus on ideology and elections than actually developing a response to the changes we’re still analyzing and understanding.

Kudos to people like Professor Elsner for maintaining dedication to research even when there are know-nothings in the Florida legislature who would rather defund work like this than confront change.

Thanks, Mike