We just lost a critical climate satellite — to Congress

One of climate change’s most important biographers — a 2,700-pound satellite orbiting 450 miles above the surface of the Earth — just recorded its last data point.

Earlier this month, the National Snow and Ice Data Center announced that, after nine years and five months in orbit, the satellite known as F17 had stopped transmitting sea ice measurements. That’s not unusual — satellites in F17’s series, all named sequentially, are normally expected to last about five years, though some make it much longer. But F17’s failure could preempt the end of the series entirely…

Since 1978, the satellites, each equipped with a set of passive microwave sensors, have been recording conditions on Earth, day in and day out. By measuring the amount of radiation given off by the atomic composition and structure of different substances, like ice or seawater, microwave sensing is a useful tool for pilots and military officers tracking weather conditions. Over time, these measurements can also track cumulative changes in sea ice. As early as 1999, scientists saw that sea ice cover was decreasing more quickly than it had in previous decades — and they’ve been observing similar trends ever since.

Until now, there have always been three or four satellites in the series orbiting at a time, as part of one of the country’s oldest satellite programs, the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP). Over time, as new satellites were launched and older models went dark, overlapping data have kept the 40-year sea-ice dataset consistent…

❝ “The real problem is that there’s nothing on the horizon,” said Walter Meier, NASA researcher.There’s nothing funded, or planned right now.”

There is one other option — but it’s sitting in a storage room somewhere on Earth. This satellite, F20, was the last of its series to be built, and was tentatively planned to launch in 2018. That plan fell through last June, when the Senate Appropriations Committee revoked funding for the DMSP, even rescinding $50 million that had been specifically designated for launching F20. Without Congressional approval, F20 is grounded.

❝ “It’s sitting there, ready to be launched,” said Meier. He pointed out that the data from the satellite series is also used to study snow cover on land, ocean currents, temperature change, drought detection, and many other natural cycles. “The benefit is beyond my own work on sea ice.”

Even the few conservatives in Congress willing to admit to scientific evidence about climate change gets their knickers bunched over questions of responsibility and reaction. So, they respond to scientific questions the same way they have for recent decades to questions of social need, education, trade, peace – you name it. Their response is Do Nothing. They’re like petulant, ignorant children who shut their eyes and try to shout down the obvious. Hoping it will go away before they’re forced to open their eyes, again.

Help out the rest of the nation with confidence enough in science and human responsibility to fight for action. Start by kicking the deadwood out of elected office. Let them try to get honest jobs for a change.

Jean-Michel Jarre and Edward Snowden combine in a music video

…Jean-Michel Jarre and Edward Snowden recently released a track they worked on together called “Exit.” It’s a freaky and aggressive little piece of electronic music that calls for an equally strange visual. Well today, The Verge has the premiere of the song’s new video, and it’s definitely strange.

Writers and editors at the Verge must live in a small bubble universe tied to days of yore when the Cleveland Browns were dominant in American football. Or Pat Boone was fashionable outside of Bill O’Reilly’s musings.

The video itself is… quite literal. In case you somehow missed the fact that the song was about surveillance and our uneasy relationship with technology, the video should make that clear. As the song plays, the clip hits you with jittery flashes of news headlines, satellites in space, security cameras, and other paranoid imagery; like hands rapidly typing on keyboards, phones, and men in sunglasses. There’s also an old interview with Snowden in there, now adorned with Matrix-style falling code.

“Exit” comes off Jarre’s upcoming album, Electronica 2: The Heart Of Noise, out May 6th

Lizzie – you really should get out more. 🙂

As a really old cranky old geek I’m always astounded when someone I first heard a long, long time ago [not in a galaxy far, far away, though] is still around. I recall premiers of “Oxygen” by Jarre in the 1970’s. While comparisons to Edgar Varese were inevitable, classical music lovers knowledgeable of experiments like this back to the 1930’s were accepting, interested in his work.

The merger of these two, Jarre and Snowden, is a success. Obama and the NSA would try to have it banned if this were 1948. The year Jarre was born.

Here’s what offshore tax havens add to your tax burden

World leaders, celebrities, and even soccer players, a leak from the law firm Mossack Fonseca recently revealed, are fond of using shell companies to avoid paying taxes. While as of yet, few high-profile American names have been linked to the Panama Papers, this sort of tax avoidance is a common practice among a number of well-known U.S. companies, according to a report released Thursday by Oxfam America. The country’s 50 largest corporations have stored more than a trillion dollars in offshore shell companies in recent years to lower their tax rate…

Large corporations such as Pfizer, Walmart, IBM, and Apple have stashed billions of dollars via more than 1,500 subsidiaries in tax havens like the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands, according to the report, which analyzed the companies’ Securities and Exchange Commission filings. Though this practice isn’t illegal, keeping profits offshore lowers the taxes owed in the United States, and this ends up costing the U.S. government about $111 billion each year in lost revenue, by Oxfam’s calculations.

The 50 largest American companies made about $4 trillion in profit from 2008 to 2014, according to SEC filings, and kept about a quarter of that amount outside the country. Oxfam analysts calculated that these corporations paid an average effective tax rate of 26.5 percent. That’s below the statutory corporate tax rate of 35 percent and lower than what the average American worker pays, which is 31.5 percent…

…Smaller businesses that don’t have the resources necessary to construct complex tax-avoidance schemes end up paying closer to the full tax rate. This means that they end up paying a larger share of the bill for services such as roads, health care, and education, says Deborah Field, a former corporate tax accountant…

Over the past several decades, corporations have been paying a smaller and smaller share of taxes, according to a Pew Research Center analysis. In 1952, corporate income taxes funded about 32 percent of the federal government. That shrank to 10.6 percent by 2015. While tax havens aren’t the sole cause of this shift, it’s worth noting that the share of corporate profits reported in tax havens has increased tenfold since the 1980s.

The companies that in their SEC filings reported holding the most money offshore include Apple, with $181 billion stored in abroad, as well as Pfizer and PepsiCo, which reported owning the largest number of subsidiaries in tax havens — more than 100 each.

RTFA for the details.

It’s not like this is a sudden discovery. Mainstream media used to serve us better, often leading the fight against a corrupt government. And don’t kid yourself. Tax avoidance requires corrupt officials and, most important, corrupt elected officials to shape, tailor, cut and snip the tax code to suit the criminal syndicates made of tax lawyers and corporate beancounters.

World Tapir Day

Mother and child

Celebrated yet? On the 27th April every year, we celebrate the majestic animal, the tapir.

The cute, friendly animals with wiggly noses look a bit like fairytale pigs, but they are actually related to horses.

Scientists believe that these animals have changed little over tens of millions of years.

They should also be your favourite animal. Here’s why.

Click the link through to an article I especially recommend showing your kids. Anyone’s kids.