158 families own the 2016 presidential election — or so they think

They are overwhelmingly white, rich, older and male, in a nation that is being remade by the young, by women, and by black and brown voters. Across a sprawling country, they reside in an archipelago of wealth, exclusive neighborhoods dotting a handful of cities and towns. And in an economy that has minted billionaires in a dizzying array of industries, most made their fortunes in just two: finance and energy.

Now they are deploying their vast wealth in the political arena, providing almost half of all the seed money raised to support Democratic and Republican presidential candidates. Just 158 families, along with companies they own or control, contributed $176 million in the first phase of the campaign, a New York Times investigation found. Not since before Watergate have so few people and businesses provided so much early money in a campaign, most of it through channels legalized by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision five years ago.

The majority of it guided by ideology not economics. BTW.

These donors’ fortunes reflect the shifting composition of the country’s economic elite. Relatively few work in the traditional ranks of corporate America, or hail from dynasties of inherited wealth. Most built their own businesses, parlaying talent and an appetite for risk into huge wealth: They founded hedge funds in New York, bought up undervalued oil leases in Texas, made blockbusters in Hollywood. More than a dozen of the elite donors were born outside the United States, immigrating from countries like Cuba, the old Soviet Union, Pakistan, India and Israel.

But regardless of industry, the families investing the most in presidential politics overwhelmingly lean right, contributing tens of millions of dollars to support Republican candidates who have pledged to pare regulations; cut taxes on income, capital gains and inheritances; and shrink entitlement programs…

In marshaling their financial resources chiefly behind Republican candidates, the donors are also serving as a kind of financial check on demographic forces that have been nudging the electorate toward support for the Democratic Party and its economic policies. Two-thirds of Americans support higher taxes on those earning $1 million or more a year, according to a June New York Times/CBS News poll, while six in 10 favor more government intervention to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly seven in 10 favor preserving Social Security and Medicare benefits as they are.

RTFA. Please. A solid piece of research.

I doubt it will hold any surprises; but, it may also reinforce your resolve to continue the change that the majority of Americans endorse. Even if that bothers the nouveau riche.

US to finish cleaning up Spanish site we turned radioactive 49 years ago


Nearly 50 years after a US air force B-52 bomber carrying nuclear weapons crashed in Palomares in south-east Spain, Washington has finally agreed to clean up the radioactive contamination that resulted from the crash.

The US secretary of state, John Kerry, and the Spanish foreign minister, José Manuel García-Margallo, signed an agreement in Madrid on Monday to clean up the site and “store the contaminated earth at a suitable location in the United States”…

The Palomares crash was the worst nuclear accident of its time. On 17 January 1966, at the height of the cold war, the B-52 bomber collided with a KC-135 tanker plane during mid-air refuelling off the coast of Almería, Spain, killing seven of the 11 crew members.

The B-52 was carrying four hydrogen bombs more powerful than those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Two were recovered intact from the sea but the others leaked radiation into the surrounding countryside when their plutonium-filled detonators went off, strewing 3kg of highly radioactive plutonium 239 around Palomares.

Shortly after the accident, the US shipped 1,700 tonnes of contaminated earth to South Carolina, after which the incident was largely forgotten. Worries that it would destroy the budding Spanish tourist industry led the minister of tourism under the dictator Gen Franco, Manuel Fraga, to take a much-photographed swim in the sea with the American ambassador to prove that the waters were safe…

Concern over the site was reawakened in the 1990s when tests revealed high levels of americium, an isotope of plutonium, and further tests showed that 50,000 cubic metres of earth were still contaminated. The Spanish government appropriated the land in 2003 to prevent it being used.

Meanwhile, our government made it clear to the people of Spain how much of a priority we assign to cleaning up after the messes made by our military. Actually, we already have a pretty consistent record around the world.

DARPA hands MIT Lab $32 million to program living cells

Christopher Voigt talking about engineering biology

…The Broad Institute Foundry, a synthetic biology laboratory at MIT, has announced its new contract with DARPA. The lab will receive $32 million for engineering cells to find better treatments for disease, make new biofuels, or create fabrics woven with life.

Living cells are the ultimate engineering substrate. They are the most difficult thing out there to be able to control,” says Christopher Voigt, professor of biomedical engineering…

“Imagine being able to engineer a living cell that can navigate the human body, identify disease, and correct that disease. That requires that the cell be able to sense where they are in the body, be able to detect it, and deliver a therapeutic. And that’s something that biology, we know it can do. But we don’t know how to harness that as part of a medicine.”

The Foundry is one of many labs working to manipulate the DNA of bacteria and other types of cells to make certain molecules—researchers have created cells that can make wood or seashells, for example. The work has mostly been limited to simple organic molecules, and progress has been slow since it takes a while for DNA to be put into cells and for those cells to mature.

With the DARPA contract, the Foundry will be able to join forces with other academics working on synthetic biology and computer science, as well as companies in various industries “including chemicals, pharmaceuticals, food, energy, agriculture, and biotechnology,” according to the press release…

The POPSCI article tries to crystal ball what the lab will come up with to keep DARPA happy. Military end-users are DARPA’s assigned market; so, a narrow view is easy. But, DARPA also has a history of supporting bona fide basic research that ended up with broad results – for example – like the Internet.

Exciting stuff.

OTOH, I imagine the conjoined left-and-right Luddites who crap their knickers over anything involving DNA, genetic manipulation, pretty much anything that triggers superstition and anti-science fears – will spend the next few years cranking up their journalistic conspiracy machine – aiming it at MIT.

The dark Namibian eclipse in the Gegenschein

Petr Horálek, Namibian eclipse

On Monday Sept. 28th, 2015, in early Namibian morning the Moon went through the Earth’s shadow, producing spectacular total lunar eclipse. This one was the fourth of unusual tetrad of eclipses in 2014 and 2015.

Actually, there was much more about the uniqueness of this phenomenon. The Moon was closest to the Earth just an hour before the maximum of the totality so the „bloody“ Full moon was the largest of the year. Also the eclipse was unusually dark, most likely caused by ashes of Chilean volcano Calbuco, erupted on April 2015. That allowed me to capture this panorama from „heart of Namibia“, Sesriem site close to the world’s famous Namibian orange dunes.

By showing morning Milky way filled by numerous hydrogen nebulae in Orion, Vela, Monoceros and other beautiful constellations, you can notice perfectly dark skies there. But probably the most interesting is just across the red Moon, a faint belt of zodiacal bridge with brighter Gegenshein just where the Moon is situated. It’s because both are in the opposite direction to the Sun in the sky. A faint green airglow on south-west horizon, just under the Magellanic clouds, is partially covered by a stripe of orange sandy dust in the atmosphere, as the cold wind was blowing from the Atlantic ocean to the dunes.

Watching the eclipse in this dry and open wilderness was one of the top experiences in my life.

Petr Horálek

Thanks, Ursarodinia