New Mexico’s methane hot spot

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) released a new study…examining what caused a methane “hot spot” to form in New Mexico. This new study of methane emissions generated by the oil and gas industry in the state’s San Juan Basin is a major step forward in understanding the causes of New Mexico’s methane “hot spot.” It follows up on a 2014 satellite-based study that initially found the “hot spot” and sought to identify its specific causes.

The NASA study found that roughly 50 percent of basin-wide methane emissions come from more than 250 very large polluters that were detected by intensive NASA aerial surveys and ground crews. According to the authors, this finding confirms researchers’ earlier speculation that most of the basin’s methane emissions are related to natural gas extraction and coal mining.

But this is only half of the story as the study did not determine the source of the remaining 50 percent of emissions. Given the more than 20,000 (mainly older) gas wells, myriad storage tanks, thousands of miles of pipelines and several gas processing plants in the area, NASA’s finding that the oil and gas industry is primarily responsible for the “hot spot” is not surprising. In fact, the researchers found only one large source of methane not related to oil and gas operations: venting from the San Juan coal mine. This discovery renders attempts to point the finger at other potential emissions sources, like coal outcrops and landfills, definitively refuted.

Today’s Republicans do nothing by definition. Most of the state’s leading Democrats worry about meeting budget requirements defined almost solely by reliance on fossil fuel extraction. There is nothing approaching a Green Party and hasn’t been for 22 years.

The few activist enviro organizations fight the good fight — like the Wild Earth Guardians. There are more. Just not enough.

Better off than your kids will ever be? A new look at income inequality

Poorer-than-parents

The real incomes of about two-thirds of households in 25 advanced economies were flat or fell between 2005 and 2014. Without action, this phenomenon could have corrosive economic and social consequences.

Most people growing up in advanced economies since World War II have been able to assume they will be better off than their parents. For much of the time, that assumption has proved correct: except for a brief hiatus in the 1970s, buoyant global economic and employment growth over the past 70 years saw all households experience rising incomes, both before and after taxes and transfers. As recently as between 1993 and 2005, all but 2 percent of households in 25 advanced economies saw real incomes rise.

Yet this overwhelmingly positive income trend has ended. A new McKinsey Global Institute report, Poorer than their parents? Flat or falling incomes in advanced economies, finds that between 2005 and 2014, real incomes in those same advanced economies were flat or fell for 65 to 70 percent of households, or more than 540 million people. And while government transfers and lower tax rates mitigated some of the impact, up to a quarter of all households still saw disposable income stall or fall in that decade.

These findings provide a new perspective on the growing debate in advanced economies about income inequality, which until now has largely focused on income and wealth gains going disproportionately to top earners. Our analysis details the sharp increase in the proportion of households in income groups that are simply not advancing — a phenomenon affecting people across the income distribution. And the hardest hit are young, less-educated workers, raising the spectre of a generation growing up poorer than their parents.

The important part of the analysis is that, of course, this can be changed. The disturbing part is that in many educated, industrialized Western nations we must rely upon politicians in one or another form of republican society who pay little attention to those who put them into office. They refuse to lead, they cower before the economic power of those who pay for election – and re-election – campaigns and, cowards that most are, refuse to bend to democratic reformation that might end their position as the real welfare kings and queens of society.

Limited for decades by the 2-party farce that passes for choice in many lands – not just the United States – we are brainwashed by 99% of media mouthpieces that this is the best of all possible worlds. Just look at us! We are all better off than we ever were in the history of nations. But, the groundwork is solidly in place. Choice and liberty had better be allowed to become opportunity or the next couple of decades will move populism beyond fear, racism and bigotry.

UPDATE: Here’s an interview with Richard Dobbs, this morning. Not as dynamic as the report, itself; but, you get the flavor in a careful, scholarly way.

Bernie Sanders made Hillary Clinton a greener candidate

Hillary Clinton is her party’s presumptive nominee. Whether Sanders drops out tomorrow or the day he loses the roll-call vote at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia, his campaign is over.

But if ever there were a losing campaign that achieved some major wins, it’s Sanders’. Not only did he force Clinton to talk more about economic inequality, he pushed her to promise stronger action to fight climate change and rein in fossil fuel companies. If Hillary Clinton becomes president and keeps some of her more recent promises to restrict oil drilling and fracking, Sanders will deserve a share of the credit.

When Sanders first got into the race, it didn’t look like he would adopt climate change as a major issue…Then, gradually, Sanders started to focus on the issue and develop a strong climate agenda….By January, the Sanders campaign was using the climate issue to attack Clinton, going after her for the vague and incomplete nature of her climate plan. The two campaigns battled on Twitter over whose climate and clean energy platform was stronger. Clinton clearly felt the need to start competing with Sanders for the votes of climate hawks.

The one-two punch of pressure from the green grassroots and pressure from Sanders pushed Clinton leftward on a number of energy issues.

First, last fall, Clinton finally came out against the Keystone XL pipeline, shortly before Obama rejected it. She also declared that she was opposed to offshore drilling in the Arctic Ocean. And she shifted her position on fossil fuel extraction on public land, from saying it was necessary to saying she wanted to move toward an eventual ban.

As Sanders picked up steam, she gave still more ground to climate activists. In February, she voiced her opposition to offshore drilling in the Atlantic. She also moved to assuage concerns that she is pro-fracking, saying in a March debate that she wants more regulation of fracking, and that she opposes the practice in instances when the local community is against it, it causes air or water contamination, or it involves the use of secret chemicals…

Last month, in recognition of Sanders’ strong showing in the primaries, the Democratic National Committee allowed him to appoint five members to the party’s Platform Drafting Committee, while Clinton got to appoint six. Among Sanders’ choices was Bill McKibben, the climate activist who founded 350.org, led the charge to block Keystone XL, and calls for dramatically reduced fossil fuel extraction…

As Sanders said at a Monday night rally in San Francisco, “When we began our campaign, our ideas were considered a fringe campaign and fringe ideas. That is not the case today.” Sanders lost the primary race, but he has changed the Democratic Party and the politics of climate change.

The next part is the hardest. The part ofter the election.

Yes, I’m worried about American voters and how gullible they may be. After all, our country elected and re-elected both Reagan and George W. Bush. Still, my cynicism is countered by a reasonable quantity of optimism. There really is enough of an army of both smart citizens and smartass politicos to hope that reason prevails.

The hard part is going to be resisting the impulse to press the Democrat Establishment into honoring progressive promises made before and during the campaign. Uh-uh. Their reaction will be immediate and regressive. The Left will be shut out like someone with OCCUPY WALL STREET tattooed on their forehead – at an ExxonMobil shareholders’ meeting.

Not that I’m confident about staying within the Democrat Party long-range, anyway. Just saying, give ’em that first hundred days that impresses the mainstream media before pressing the integrity button to see what happens. There are smart folks in Bernie’s campaign right now who are calculating the when and how to initiate a grassroots 3rd Party campaign. They have beaucoup programmatic tasks and they can be revised to include an independent party if needed. There are lots of variables in those calculations and no need to hurry the process.

Federal consumer watchdog tries to regulate our nation’s legal loan sharks

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The government’s consumer watchdog on Thursday proposed a set of new rules designed to rein in the practices of American payday lenders, taking aim at a profit-making model that involves staggeringly high fees and often leaves serial borrowers with spiraling debt.

The proposal from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau marks the first attempt by the federal government to regulate shorter-term loans, which also include auto title and installment lending.

The rules still face months of review — and potential court challenges — but if they take hold they could dramatically transform and shrink an industry that provides cash to borrowers in a pinch. Some lenders say that under the new rules fewer loans will get made; they’ll have no choice but to close up shop. Yet consumer advocates see this as an opportunity for borrowers to turn to safer options — without having to pay triple-digit annualized interest rates…

Yes, Congress and your friendly neighborhood state legislators could have sorted this out long ago. Protecting citizens against loan sharks used to be a priority. We had laws against usury. They were dropped at the request of credit card companies.

Small differences count with politicians. Along with timely campaign donations.

The CFPB was created in the aftermath of the Great Recession, in part to address potential areas of financial abuse. But the agency is controversial [among political hacks], and some lawmakers have recently introduced bills that could weaken or undercut the payday rules. Currently 14 states, as well as the District of Columbia, place tight caps on interest rates; in practice, that amounts to an unofficial ban on payday lending. But the CFPB is not allowed to limit interest rates and has looked at other ways to take aim at the industry.

While it’s red meat to socially indict Republicans as responsible for the attacks on the CFPB, Democrats are as likely to take million$ in campaign contributions and magically find themselves in opposition to the premise of defending consumers in a principled fashion.

Starting with Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee.

Obama and Congress back off on mandatory encryption bill


Burr and Feinstein continue to turn their backs on liberty and privacy

Draft legislation that could’ve forced U.S. corporations like Apple to decrypt data on-demand following a court order won’t be formally introduced this year, and has lost the support needed to advance anyway…

The bill — backed by Senators Richard Burr and Dianne Feinstein — didn’t have the support of the Obama administation, the sources told Reuters. Former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden in fact claimed that the White House has “dropped anchor and taken down the sail.”

Well, NO LONGER had the support of Obama.

Although Burr and Feinstein are the Republican and Democratic heads of the Senate Intelligence Committee, respectively, Committee members from both political aisles have reportedly backed away from the legislation, particularly Democrats. No one in the House ever offered support…

The Burr-Feinstein bill emerged in the wake of Apple’s fight with the Department of Justice and the FBI over unlocking the iPhone of San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook. Although the DoJ ultimately withdrew a court order asking Apple to build a workaround for iOS’ passcode retry limits, encryption issues had gained more prominence, and indeed many in U.S. law enforcement — such as FBI director James Comey — are still asking for backdoors, worried that encryption is putting some communications beyond their reach.

Most folks are aware of how and why such legislation illustrates the corruption of both political parties. Add in the sheer stupidity of introducing bills which can only affect communications inside the US – sort of – and the whole world gets an object lesson in how much of American politics is play-acting. Little morality plays designed to keep Talking Heads employed and useless politicians in office.

The Death of Abenomics and your friendly neighborhood central bank

Carl Weinberg snowbound
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Too bad Carl Weinberg was snowbound in Rhinebeck. I would have loved to see and hear him on SURVEILLANCE. When he’s on as guest host for an hour I learn a lot. He may not sound like it in this telephone segment; but, he’s one of my favorite optimists. The topics simply don’t invite optimism.

One of the most sound economists in American finance, he cuts through the bullshit and papier mache puppetry we get from the two old political parties and most of the tame TV talking heads.

Are we seeing the dying days of party politics? — [I certainly hope so]

zippy politics
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As the nation begins the process of electing a new president, the roles of the Republican and Democratic parties are undergoing fundamental shifts that are threatening their impact on both elections and policy.

Built in the 19th century, grown dominant in the 20th, they are largely out of date in this new age.

Folks ignorant of American political history need to know that up through the end of World War 2 alternative parties, third parties, even radical parties were often successful forces in local, state and national politics. Part of the purpose of McCarthyism and the domestic portion of the Cold war was the suppression of independent electoral politics. Americans have been thoroughly brainwashed into believing 2-party politics is God’s Will, the core of constitutional freedom.

They – the 2 old parties – still control the ballot and machinery such as the primaries. But they do not hold the loyalty of the people. The largest party in America now is no party – with the ranks of people calling themselves independents at the highest level in more than 75 years of polling. The parties do not control the message. People learn about politics from social media instead of traditional means such as mailings or campaign rallies. And the parties are no longer the sole banker of politics. Big-money interests now effectively create shadow parties with extensive networks of donors of their own.

The result: People are tuning out and turning away.

In 2012, average voter turnout for statewide primaries for president, governor and U.S. Senate plunged to its lowest level since the modern primary system became popular in 1972…

Just 29 percent called themselves Democrats last year, it found, “making it safe to conclude that the current (number) is also the low point in Gallup polling history.” Republican loyalty was only 1 percentage point above its recent low of 25 percent three years ago.

The bloc of independents reached 40 percent in 2011, and it has stayed at or above that level ever since…

Most indifferent to parties: young Americans. Nearly half the millennials identified as independents in 2014, Pew found, more than the combined total of those willing to be called either Democrats or Republicans…

Historically, children adopted their parents’ political views, including identification with the two major parties. Not anymore.

Millennials get information from sources other than from family dinners, neighbors or campaign brochures. If something piques their interest, they turn to Twitter, text messaging, The Skimm and other modern forms of instant communication…

Political parties are seen as too narrowly focused, too interested in keeping incumbents in office.

They gerrymander congressional districts to maximize their chances so that election after election only a handful of House of Representatives races are true contests. Of the House’s 435 seats, 402 incumbents are considered safe bets for re-election this year, said the nonpartisan Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report.

Those safely partisan seats help keep Washington gridlocked – and turn off more Americans…

The parties now thrive by firing up the fringes. Republicans once had a strong bloc of abortion-rights supporters, for example, but in 1976 the party formally included in its platform support for a constitutional amendment “to restore protection of the right to life for unborn children.”

It’s now unmistakably the anti-abortion party, the comfortable home for conservatives and therefore the party that dominates the South and the Rocky Mountain West. Democrats are the party of the Northeast and the West Coast…That generally includes lots more folks with better than a 6th grade reading level.

While independents are gaining clout, so are the big-money groups that now operate as virtual political parties…Take Freedom Partners, an organization sponsored by brothers Charles and David Koch of Wichita, Kansas. Last year, the group committed to spend $889 million on politics and policy in 2015 and 2016…

And the Koch network does more than just spend money. Twice each year it hosts about 400 executives, who pay dues of $100,000 each, for meetings on politics and policies. And its spending goes beyond the planned $250 million to help candidates, to include grants to organizations to help promote small-government policies as well as college scholarships and fellowships.

As Peter White, a cabin manager in Nottingham, N.H., put it, “You feel the two parties both work for Wall Street and don’t care who wins.”

The chunk of the article I left out is mostly ideological pimping for the wonders of middle-of-the-road folks who feel left out nowadays. They still are the group the two old parties try to rope into obedience. True independence of thought and progress – which includes fiscal conservatism as often as progressive social and structural reforms – scares the crap out of party loyalists of either Republican or Democrat flavor.

Segments of the discussion about new media, the facile communications available with amazing speed, nowadays, are something everyone now understands as part of the matrix of coming change. Personally, I think the biggest significant conflict still lies between top-down leadership and grassroots activism. Conflicts as critical to the Left as the Right – though I think the Leftish flavor of populism, equal rights and personal liberty will succeed in grassroots building. Rightwing ideologues ranging from Ayn Rand out-of-date to Ted Cruz/Donald Trump out-of-date should fail and will.

Look at gerrymandering on a map – then take it out of the hands of Congress


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President Barack Obama spent the last chunk of his 2016 State of the Union Address talking about how to “fix our politics.” His first solution? Stop gerrymandering, the shaping of congressional districts to guarantee electoral outcomes. “We have to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around,” he said.

At least one geographer has heeded Obama’s call to action. Using data from the US Census Bureau, Alasdair Rae, a geographer and urban planner at Sheffield University, built maps of every congressional district—all 435 of them—to show just how screwed up they really are. When Rae maps them individually, removed from the context of their surrounding districts, you can really see the extent of the problem. “There are some shapes that are quite egregious,” Rae says.

The worst offender? “North Carolina was and is often used as the archetype,” Rae says. His map shows the state’s 12th district undulating northwest to southeast like an eight-bit snake. Now, technically gerrymandering is against the law—unless topography gets in the way, districts are supposed to be contiguous regions. But the 12th…well, look at it. Its irregular blocks of land all connect, but only at their corners. Legislators call this “point contiguity,” and when you see it on a map, you can bet something dicey is going on…

Rae’s maps alone won’t end gerrymandering. But the ease with which he made them might hint at some weapons in the fight. In Florida, for example, when the Supreme Court ordered the congressional map redrawn, the trial court ignored legislator ideas in favor of a proposal from Common Cause and the League of Women Voters. In Virginia, after the state supreme court found a district unconstitutional, the court’s special master received proposals from anyone who was interested — crowdmapping! — in coming up with a new version. Today, at least five more states have ballot initiatives calling for independent commissions to take over redistricting from political parties. “If you want to get equal and fair representation in Congress or in any legislative body,” Rae says, “then sometimes you’re going to have to draw some weird shapes on maps,” The fight against gerrymandering is the purplest of purple issues. It’s not Republicans versus Democrats, but voters—and mapmakers — versus both.

Canadian courts, Canadian politicians, are more courageous than American – on this issue. As people became more outraged over politicians playing the gerrymandering game, a movement started in Manitoba grew into a federal change. Change over to an independent body.

Given the usual American states rights crap, it will probably take us another few decades to achieve that level of reason. But, we must if we are to achieve anything approaching democratic representation.

30% of Republicans polled are ready to bomb a country existing only in Disney movies

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According to Public Policy Polling, a recent poll of 532 Republican primary voters found that 30 percent supported bombing Agrabah. The only problem is that Agrabah is the fictional country from the Disney movie Aladdin…

…Of the Democratic primary voters who were asked the same question…19 percent…supported the action.

Once again, Republicans win the ignoranus arms race.

In this same poll, 26 percent of Republican voters thought that Islam should be illegal in the United States, and 46 percent supported a Muslim national database, an idea proposed by Republican front-runner Donald Trump.

But, then, who supported the concept of a Bill of Rights in the first place? It certainly wasn’t Tories and other conservatives too busy kissing Royal British butt.