“Religious” folk ain’t the majority in the GOUSA anymore …


No waiting in line

The secularization of U.S. society — the waning of religious faith, practice and affiliation — is continuing at a dramatic and historically unprecedented pace. While many may consider such a development as cause for concern, such a worry is not warranted. This increasing godlessness in America is actually a good thing, to be welcomed and embraced.

Democratic societies that have experienced the greatest degrees of secularization are among the healthiest, wealthiest and safest in the world, enjoying relatively low rates of violent crime and high degrees of well-being and happiness. Clearly, a rapid loss of religion does not result in societal ruin …

Organic secularization can occur for many reasons. It happens when members of a society become better educated, more prosperous, and live safer, more secure and more peaceful lives; when societies experience increases in social isolation; when people have better healthcare; when more women hold paying jobs; when more people wait longer to get married and have kids. All of these, especially in combination, can decrease religiosity.

Another major factor is the ubiquity of the internet, which provides open windows to alternative worldviews and different cultures that can corrode religious conviction — and allows budding skeptics and nascent freethinkers to find, support and encourage one another.

Overdue! I had read sufficient science to be an atheist by the time I was 13. Added studies in philosophy to properly associate my understanding with philosophical materialism … by 18.

Never had to look back and change that comprehension, understanding.

Coal-fired electricity now crashing faster under Trump


Click to enlargeplanetenergynews.com

❝ More coal plants are now projected to retire more quickly than experts thought a year ago, according to energy-industry analysts who gathered in Chicago…

Three alternative energy sources — wind, solar and natural gas — are expected to divide up the spoils, they said at the American Wind Energy Association’s Windpower 2018 conference…

❝ The projection changed in part because of more announced retirements, Bruce Hamilton said, “but more importantly, the fundamentals of the economics of coal have gotten worse, with costs going up, while the competition for coal—that is, gas, wind and solar—has all gotten cheaper. So it’s getting to the point where huge swings are forecast. You can see it will be throughout the decade.”

NatGas is replacing dewatted coal powerplants faster than any source, so far. That’s also a good symptom for renewables. NatGas plants can swing online faster than any coal or nuclear plant could. That aids fill-in for downtime from renewables like solar and wind power.

America’s economy rocks — if you live in a blue county


Click into the article for largerLazaro Gamio/Axios

❝ Economic prosperity is concentrated in America’s elite zip codes, but economic stability outside of those communities is rapidly deteriorating.

❝ U.S. geographical economic inequality is growing, meaning your economic opportunity is more tied to your location than ever before. A large portion of the country is being left behind by today’s economy, according to a county-by-county report released this morning by the Economic Innovation Group, a non-profit research and advocacy organization. This was a major election theme that helped thrust Donald Trump to the White House…

Not that he has a clue or inclination about repairing any of this.

❝ The fastest growing western cities (such as Gilbert, Ariz., and Plano, Texas) and “tech hubs” (Seattle, San Francisco, Austin) dominate the list of the most prosperous cities in the country. Cities that were once industrial powerhouses in the Midwest and Northeast are now more likely to be on the distressed end of the spectrum, like Cleveland and Newark.

“Today’s jobs are going almost exclusively to people with education beyond high school, and those jobs are going to thriving communities,” said John Lettieri, co-founder of EIG. “It’s a self-reinforcing cycle.”

RTFA. Click through to the article – use the link under the map. Conclusions are wishy-washy. The sort of political analysis that illustrates American dedication to sophistry. But, hey, that’s how the Establishment got to limit the whole political process to two Tweedledee and Tweedledumb parties.

Sad milestone: the first bumblebee declared an endangered species


Click to enlargeAlamy

❝ For the first time in the United States, a species of bumblebee is endangered.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Tuesday on its website that the rusty patched bumblebee (Bombus affinis), once a common sight, is “now balancing precariously on the brink of extinction.” Over the past two decades, the bumblebee’s population has declined 87 percent…

❝ The news comes just a few months after the first ever bees were declared endangered in the U.S. In September, seven species of Hawaiian bees, including the yellow-faced bee (Hylaeus anthracinus), received protection under the Endangered Species Act…

The threats facing those seven species are similar to the ones that have depleted rusty patched bumblebee populations: loss of habitat, diseases and parasites, pesticides, and climate change. This is a big deal not only for bees but for humans, too—after all, bees pollinate a lot of our food.

❝ “Bumblebees are among the most important pollinators of crops such as blueberries, cranberries, and clover and almost the only insect pollinators of tomatoes,” according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s rusty patched bumblebee profile. “The economic value of pollination services provided by native insects (mostly bees) is estimated at $3 billion per year in the United States.”…

Once spread across half the U.S., rusty patched bumblebees are now found in only 13 states.

You might hope that even an mostly urban realtor like Donald Trump had learned something of the critical role bees and other pollinators play in our food chain. Hope being the operative word. I see little or no display of any such understanding or comprehension.

Our middle class dwindles to less than the sum of the rich + the poor

In the age of rising income inequality, the task of preserving America’s middle class has been taken on by politicians across the ideological spectrum. A new report from Pew Research Center shows just how much the economic fortunes of this group have changed since the 1970s.

In every decade since then, the percentage of adults living in middle-income households has fallen, according to Pew, which is based in Washington. The share now stands at 50 percent, compared with 61 percent in 1971…

Our politicians have accomplished nothing other than gifting the nation to the rich.

Being a member of the middle-class has long been treated as an American badge of honor. However middle-income households have lost their majority status in the U.S, with the size of their counterparts on opposite ends of the income spectrum overtaking them in number.

Some 120.8 million adult Americans lived in middle-class households this year, according to Pew. That’s slightly less than the combined number of upper-income adults – 51 million – and those at the lower tier – 70.3 million…

Blacks are less likely to be part of the middle class than any other racial or ethnic group, the Pew report finds. Some 45 percent of black adults were in the middle-income tier, down 1 percentage point from 1971.

One positive note is that blacks are the only major racial group to see a decline over that time frame in their share of adults who are low-income, which is down to 43 percent from 48 percent. Still, that percentage is the highest of the ethnic groups, alongside Hispanics.

White Americans are the only racial group where a majority is in the middle class, though their share fell to 52 percent this year from 63 percent in 1971.

Almost half of aggregate earnings in the U.S. is now commanded by the wealthiest families, who are “are on the verge of holding more in total income than all other households combined,” Kochhar and Fry wrote.

The Republicans barely give lip service to this question. Unwilling to risk offending the class of owners they obey on every issue.

Many Democrats are merely cowards. Those willing to fight for us know the fight starts with their peers.

Yes, I know the characterizations are too much shorthand. But, when push comes to shove on any truly critical issue – whether it be war and peace, guns and butter, education and tax breaks for the rich – the fine gradations that give job security to TV talking heads and Wall Street analysts alike break down. Almost no one is willing to commit to the class of the many Americans who create and build the wealth of the few.

Smoking rates in America the lowest in more than 50 years — but…

But smoking is increasingly a problem of the poor.

That’s according to newly released data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing that the percentage of adults who smoke cigarettes has continued to decline…21 percent of Americans smoked regularly in 2005 (about 45 million people), and in 2014 that number was down to 17 percent (about 40 million people):

It’s a remarkable shift. In 1964, when the surgeon general first began a public health campaign on cigarettes, nearly half of the adult population smoked.

But thanks to tobacco taxes, smoking bans, and public awareness campaigns, cigarette use has been on a downward trajectory for decades.

This major public health success story hasn’t been a total victory, either. Cigarette smoking remains the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the US, contributing to some 480,000 early deaths and more than $300 billion in health care expenditures and productivity losses every year. The push to eradicate smoking has been especially slow going among poorer Americans.

Generally speaking, poorer Americans smoke at higher rates than wealthier Americans. The CDC shows this by looking at the relationship between insurance coverage and cigarette use.

People insured by Medicaid or those who are uninsured tend to be poorer, on average. In 2014, 29.1 percent of Medicaid recipients and 27.9 percent of the uninsured smoked. By contrast, only 12.9 percent of those with private insurance smoked.

Relatedly, education also makes a difference: Of adults with a graduate degree, only about 5 percent smoke. Meanwhile, about 25 percent of those who haven’t graduated high school smoke.

Of course, there are no smoking bans at Tea Party cell meetings.

Young Americans moving US to be less religious, more rational


Plenty of seating, eh?

Declining levels of religious belief and practice among the generation of Americans born in the last two decades of the 20th century is shifting the US towards becoming a less devout nation, a major new survey has found.

The growing proportion of “millennials” – young adults now in their 20s and 30s – who do not belong to any organised faith is changing America’s religious landscape, says a report by the respected Pew Research Center, based on a survey of 35,000 people.

The religiously unaffiliated or “nones”, who include atheists and those who describe their religion as “nothing in particular”, have grown to 23% of the US population, compared to 16% at the time of the last comparable survey in 2007.

But three out of four Americans still have some religious faith, mainly Protestant denominations, Catholics, Jews, Mormons, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus. And 89% of US adults say they believe in God – including a significant proportion of “nones” – making America more religiously inclined than other advanced industrial nations.

“Advanced” referring to industrial economy and GDP. Not necessarily education, quality of life.

Youth largely equates with a lack of religious activity, says the report. One in four millennials attend religious services on a weekly basis, compared with more than half of those adults born before or during the second world war. Only 38% of adults born after 1990 say religion is very important in their lives, compared with 67% of those born before 1945…

In general…“as older cohorts of adults (comprised mainly of self-identified Christians) pass away, they are being replaced by a new cohort of young adults who display far lower levels of attachment to organised religion than their parents’ and grandparents’ generations did when they were the same age”…

The changes are reflected in support for the two main political parties, with “nones” now forming the largest single religious group among Democrats, while evangelical Protestants make up the largest religious bloc among Republicans.

Nearly all major religious groups have become significantly more accepting of homosexuality, the report says. A majority of all Christians now say homosexuality should be accepted by society, up from 44% in 2007 to 54% in 2014, with the proportion of Catholics up from 58% in 2007 to 70% in 2014.

There has been little change in attitudes to abortion, with 53% of all adults saying it should be legal in all or most cases…

11% of all US Christians say they speak or pray in tongues at least once a week…Slightly lower than the generally accepted percentage of Americans who think the Earth is flat.

How wealthy are the rest of us?

We seem to really enjoy contemplating the money and lifestyles of the top 0.01 percent. The wealthiest Americans garner immense mind-share in the imaginations of the rest of the populace. We incessantly track the incomes of hedge-fund managers and other finance stars, the heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune and other $100 billion families. Don’t forget the Bloomberg Billionaires Index and the Forbes 400 and the wealthiest New Yorkers.

We are in short fascinated with other people’s wealth.

What about the rest of the income strata? As it turns out, there is a fascinating story there as well. It may not be as glitzy and luxe as the Billionaires Index, but it is a tale of gradual improvement. So says a recent data analysis on the global middle class by the Pew Research Center.

The good news is that during the first decade of the 21st century, about 700 million people were lifted out of poverty. That is a 14 percent reduction in poverty. The bad news is that moving into, and staying within, the global middle class is a significant challenge.

The study found that 71 percent of the global population is either poor (15 percent) or low-income (56 percent). The middle class is only 13 percent of the total population. To put some hard numbers on those percentages, with a world population of 7.2 billion humans, about 936 million are middle-class. A little more than a billion (1.08) are impoverished, and more than half the world’s population, a giant 4.03 billion people, are low-income.

PG-2015-07-08_globalClass-03

The Pew report contains some astonishing data points: 84 percent of the world’s population, including those defined as middle-class, live on less than $20 a day. Surviving on the maximum in the U.S. or Europe would be difficult for an individual — about $7,300 a year…

Think of it another way. More than fourth-fifths of world’s population live on less than $20 a day. In other words, how well this vast swath of humanity is doing will have important implications for industry, from health care and finance to agriculture and energy.

Income growth in these groups in both the developing and developed world will alter the economic and political landscape.

Not to be too optimistic, but the economic state of world is getting better. As more people move into the global middle class, they are able to buy more consumer goods, save and invest. That creates a long-term self-interest in political stability and, one can hope, democratic institutions.

Barry Ritholtz is justified in his positive outlook for the global population – even if the “we” in the industrial western civilization aren’t doing as well. The United States, Canada and Western Europe – with conservative governments very often – have a declining middle class. So, we feel the squeeze of Republican-style economics.

It’s your choice, folks. In my view as someone who’s a citizen of the planet Earth, I’m pleased the struggles of so many people around this globe are moving forward towards better opportunities for themselves, their children. The ennui of ignorant North Americans, of Europeans who have stepped into the bipolar trap of two-party politics continues to drag down what always has been the most dynamic and creative segment of our economy.

You can keep on with the obvious foolishness of believing you alone can make it – while the fat cats at the top stack the deck – or you can fight for independent thought and action and try for change that starts with education, healthcare, social security – and, did I say, education.