Six maps that show America’s vast infrastructure — much of which is past its sell-by date


Click to enlargeRAILROADS

Probably 99% of these rails and roadbeds aren’t suitable for any traffic more demanding than 1950. Most industrial or wannabe-modern nations work at keeping the capability of their national rail system up-to-date. Or better.

We don’t.

Lots more in the article. Trump and the TeaPublican Party assign themselves the mantle of modern with their proposal for advancing, rebuilding infrastructure. It’s about 10% of the commitment the Chinese government has assigned for that nation.

Don’t worry, we’ll show ’em. Guaranteed we can spend more for less than anyone in the world.

Billion$ + 10 years = No air traffic control modernization, No final price tag, No end date

The Federal Aviation Administration has little to show for a decade of work on modernizing air traffic control, and faces barriers and billions more in spending to realize its full benefits, says a report released last Tuesday by a government watchdog.

The FAA estimates it will spend a total $5.7 billion to finish its current work on six “transformational” technology programs at the heart of its NextGen modernization effort, said the report by the Department of Transportation’s inspector general. But the agency’s current efforts don’t fully implement the programs, and there are no timetables or cost estimates for completion…

Moreover, there has been “significant ambiguity both within FAA and the aviation community about expectations for NextGen,” including the ability of core programs to deliver important new capabilities, the report said.

Most of the airline industry has made privatizing air traffic control their top legislative goal — with Congressman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., as their champion. They have the support of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the union that represents controllers. Paul Rinaldi, the union’s president, said controllers have lost faith in FAA’s modernization effort and want the new air traffic tools they see in use in other countries like Canada, which has privatized air traffic operations.

Most Democrats, other FAA unions and segments of the aviation industry, like business aircraft operators, are opposed to privatization.

“The inspector general’s report at most faults the FAA for describing NextGen programs as ‘transformational’ when they really just improve how the FAA manages air traffic,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, the senior Democrat on the transportation committee.

It is far from clear that privatizing the air traffic control system would expedite NextGen and address the issues raised in the inspector general’s report, he said…

Air traffic control never recovered from the Reagan lockout in 1981. The United States muddled through with crap performance made acceptable by the Reagan White House and obedient flunkies in Congress. Trouble is that style of work remained in place over the decades since. Little attention paid to how computer systems have been modernized in both installation and use, common software and updates – and a helluva lot more traffic.

And then there are the lobbyists fiddling how anything is sold to the federal government and where that has gotten to following Reagan models – and Clinton copies of Reagan models.

Trump talks walls – China builds bridges


Presidents and First Ladies of China and Ecuador, this week

❝ An expected U.S. economic retreat from Latin America under Donald Trump is causing the region’s leaders to look halfway around the world, to China, for help weathering the possible financial headwinds.

They’ll have the perfect opportunity to make their appeal this week when Chinese President Xi Jinping attends a Pacific Rim summit as part of a visit to Ecuador, Peru and Chile…

❝ Over the past decade China has displaced the U.S. as the main trading partner in country after country in Latin America as demand for the region’s soybeans, oil and iron ore fueled the fastest growth in decades. But more recently, as China’s demand for raw materials has been slowing, the region’s economies have taken a hit, dampening the once-torrid love affair with the world’s second-biggest economy.

❝ Margaret Myers, a China expert at the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue, said that most South American countries have awoken to the pitfalls of dependence on commodity exports and would prefer closer ties to the U.S., which buys the sort of manufacturing goods that generate more jobs.

“But the question is whether the U.S. will reciprocate,” she says. “Nobody in the region is expecting much from Trump in terms of really productive policy. That leaves room for China to play a much more important role.”…

❝ To be sure, a U.S.-China trade war would have ripple effects across Chinese industry that would also depress demand for Latin America’s raw materials.

But for now Chinese businessmen attending the APEC summit see nothing but potential.

As far as I can see – in the view from Lot 4 – China’s foreign policy is more likely to result in mutual growth. Certainly, a predictable difference between investing nations whose “long-term” view means the next election, if not the next quarter – on one hand – and investing nations and parties concerned with a five to ten-year window of change. Usually, progressive in being focused on stable growth.

We’re number 28! We’re number 28!

❝ Every study ranking nations by health or living standards invariably offers Scandinavian social democracies a chance to show their quiet dominance. A new analysis published this week — perhaps the most comprehensive ever — is no different. But what it does reveal are the broad shortcomings of sustainable development efforts, the new shorthand for not killing ourselves or the planet, as well as the specific afflictions of a certain North American country.

❝ Iceland and Sweden share the top slot with Singapore as world leaders when it comes to health goals set by the United Nations…

The massive study emerged from a decade-long collaboration focused on the worldwide distribution of disease. About a year and a half ago, the researchers involved decided their data might help measure progress on what may be the single most ambitious undertaking humans have ever committed themselves to: survival. In doing so, they came up with some disturbing findings, including that the country with the biggest economy…ranks No. 28 overall, between Japan and Estonia…

❝ The U.S. scores its highest marks in water, sanitation, and child development. That’s the upside. Unsurprisingly, interpersonal violence (think gun crime) takes a heavy toll on America’s overall ranking. Response to natural disasters, HIV, suicide, obesity, and alcohol abuse all require attention in the U.S.

Also noteworthy are basic public health metrics that America. doesn’t perform as well on as other developed countries. The U.S. is No. 64 in the rate of mothers dying for every 100,000 births, and No. 40 when it comes to the rate children under age five die…

It may come as a surprise to Americans; but, most of the world considers healthcare a necessity and a right. I had to feel the pain viewing a discussion on economics when a leading Danish economist had to laugh when asked a question about American insurance companies and their control over Congress.

He replied, “the United States is the only industrial nation in the world where healthcare is still considered a privilege.” He was right of course.

Just in case you were worried taxpayers weren’t providing Israel with enough weapons…?

The White House on Friday told members of Congress that it had offered to substantially sweeten a decade-long military aid package for Israel

Under the proposed terms, the United States would insist that the Israelis use the tens of billions of dollars they receive under the deal to buy United States-made goods and services, rather than spend a sizable portion in their own country as they are permitted to do now.

The administration laid out details of the package in a lengthy letter to senators who had written to the White House in April urging the completion of a new aid deal…

In the letter…Susan Rice…national security adviser, and Shaun Donovan…director of the OMB, said that the administration was prepared to increase the existing military aid package for Israel, worth nearly $30 billion, and sign a new one “that would constitute the largest pledge of military assistance to any country in U.S. history.”…

Such an aid agreement “would build on the unparalleled support that the United States has provided to Israel under President Obama,” Ms. Rice and Mr. Donovan said. “Through word and deed, this administration has blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…

…Political dynamics have complicated the talks.

Some analysts in the United States and Israel say that Mr. Netanyahu is calculating that he may reach a more advantageous deal with a future president, a charge that the Israelis strenuously deny. Others have suggested that Mr. Obama is pressing to finish the agreement in part to insulate himself against accusations that he has been too tough on Israel, especially if he decides later this year to pressure the country to accept a peace deal with the Palestinians that embraces a two-state solution.

What that means in plain English is that the Trumpkin is ready to promise Netanyahu absolutely anything to move not only conservative Jewish voters to support him; but, maybe more. He will give away the Pentagon farm and offer nary a peep if Israel decides to roll up the rest of Palestinian land that they haven’t yet stolen. Scares the crap out of some Democrats.

The negotiations have unfolded in secret, with neither side willing to detail its position on an agreement that people close to the talks have said could top $40 billion. For months, United States and Israeli officials have haggled over the price tag, as Israel has insisted on a higher figure than the United States was willing to support…

Under the existing agreement, Israel is permitted to spend about a quarter of the military aid it receives outside the United States, and 13 percent of it on fuel — allowances that no other recipient of United States funding receives…

The provision originated in the 1980s as a way to spur the development of Israel’s defense industry, which is now booming. Israel has become one of the top 10 arms exporters in the world, competing with the United States.

Uh-huh. We’re all buddies in the Imperial Club. Death and destruction is still one of the most profitable businesses in our world.

CIA does usual quality job of oversight — weapons for Syrian rebels end up on black market

Weapons shipped into Jordan for Syrian rebels by the Central Intelligence Agency and Saudi Arabia were stolen by Jordanian intelligence operatives and sold to arms merchants on the black market, the New York Times reported…

Some of the stolen weapons were used in a shooting in November that killed two Americans and three others at a police training facility in Amman, according to a joint investigation by the New York Times and Al Jazeera.

A Jordanian officer shot dead two U.S. government security contractors, a South African trainer and two Jordanians at a U.S.-funded police training facility near Amman before being killed in a shootout…

The training facility was set up on the outskirts of the capital, Amman, after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq to help rebuild the shattered country’s postwar security forces and to train Palestinian Authority police officers.

The weapons used in the shooting had originally arrived in Jordan for the Syrian rebel training program…

Theft of the weapons…has led to a flood of new weapons available on the arms black market…

Jordanian officers who were part of the plan “reaped a windfall” from sale of weapons, using the money to buy iPhones, SUVs and other luxury items, according to the NYT…

The CIA could not be immediately reached for comment.

Maybe the Republican Permanent Committee on Benghazi, Benghazi could investigate. Our Confederate Congress-critters could be counted on to spend several million dollar$ if there’s any chance at all of putting the blame on Democrats instead of the scumbag torture-fans infesting our intelligence services.

How and why China built the world’s fastest computer — without US chips


Click to enlargeJack Dongarra/Top500

China has built the world’s fastest supercomputer, capable of making 93 quadrillion calculations a second. And for the first time, it’s entirely powered by Chinese-made processors, following a US ban on exporting chips for devices suspected to be used for nuclear research.

Imperial nations have a hard time coming up with new excuses for policing the world. Nuclear “safety” is as hypocritical as “counter-terrorism” or “the white man’s burden” when it comes to attempting limits on knowledge, especially science.

The Sunway TaihuLight supercomputer, which is located at the state-funded Chinese Supercomputing Center in Wuxi, a city near Shanghai in eastern China, is more than twice as powerful as previous record-holder Tianhe-2, according to TOP500, a research organization that ranks the powerful computers twice a year.

The milestone comes a year after the United States barred exports of computer chips to China for use in its supercomputers, citing concerns that the machines had been used in “nuclear explosive activities.” In turn, by ramping up development of its own chips, China has come to surpass the US’ own achievements in supercomputing: the top-placing American creation, the Department of Energy’s Titan, secured third place ranking on TOP500’s list, below China’s two-record breaking supercomputers.

❝ “It’s not based on an existing architecture. They built it themselves,” Jack Dongarra, a professor at the University of Tennessee, who created the measurement method used by TOP500, told Bloomberg of the top-placed Chinese computer. “This is a system that has Chinese processors.”…

…China’s TaihuLight…has some 41,000 chips that each contain 260 processor cores, also uses a relatively small amount of memory – 1.3 petabytes – which helps improve its energy efficiency…It draws only 15.3 megawatts of power, less than the the 17.8 megawatts used by China’s Tianhe-2, the previous record holder, which could make 33 quadrillion calculations (also known as petaflops) a second.

The US’ fastest supercomputer, by contrast, has a top speed of about 17,590 petaflops, making China’s machine roughly five times as fast. Its Titan supercomputer, located at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, is being used for a variety of scientific research, including climate modeling, the lab says…

No one at Oak Ridge expects the Titan to be used for nuclear research. Really?

Details of exactly how the supercomputers are used are sometimes vague. But researchers in the US appear to be using a supercomputing system that uses deep learning – the human-brain inspired machine learning technology that Google uses to power its Go champion computer and other systems – for nuclear research.

That system, located at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, is being used for “control of US nuclear weapons, and – in theory – management of agreements to reduce the number of nuclear missiles in the world,” ZDNet reported in March.

The chip ban doesn’t appear to have deterred China from continuing its rapid progress in developing supercomputers. While it had no entries in TOP500’s list in 2001, it now has 167 entries compared to the US’ 165, Dr. Dongarra told Bloomberg.

“This is the first time that the Chinese have more systems than the U.S., so that, I think, is a striking accomplishment,” he said.

I expect this will generate press releases from Tea Party types and other fear-mongers – trying to justify even further limits on communications, shared research. The more the United States tries to continue its imperial model as cop of the world, the more likely that our isolation from mainstream commerce and discourse will become a negative factor for economic and social growth.

Same as it ever was.

Thousands protest US bases on Okinawa — murder provokes increased anger over subservience to US military


Click to enlargeAssociated Press

Tens of thousands of people on the Japanese island of Okinawa have taken part in one of the biggest protests against US military bases in recent years, weeks after the arrest of an American base worker in connection with the murder of a 20-year-old local woman.

The protesters, many of whom wore black, braved scorching heat to call for an end to the island’s role as host to more than half the 47,000 US troops in Japan…

The protesters also urged the Japanese and US governments to abandon the controversial relocation of a marine airbase from a crowded city on Okinawa to a more remote coastal location on the island, about 1,000 miles south of Tokyo.

They just want the American military gone!

Okinawa’s anti-base governor, Takeshi Onaga, told the crowd he regretted being powerless to prevent crimes by US military personnel, two decades after the abduction and rape of a 12-year-old girl by three US servicemen.

That crime prompted mass protests and forced Tokyo and Washington to discuss reductions in the US military footprint on Okinawa, including the relocation of Futenma to a district in the coastal town of Nago, and the transfer of 8,000 marines and their dependents to the US Pacific territory of Guam and other locations.

…Onaga said…“The government … must understand that Okinawa residents should not suffer any more from the burden of the bases.”…

Okinawa was the scene of one of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific war, and remained under American occupation until 1972. About a fifth of the island is still under US military control.

Previous Japanese governments with more independence than Shinzo Abe’s actually tried to have the bases removed from Okinawa. They received messages from both George W Bush and Obama reminding them of officially secret treaties signed with the United States as part of Japan’s surrender at the end of World War 2 – giving the US control over Japanese territory essentially forever.

The United States is falling behind in infant mortality


Kristencook.com.au

Many more babies die in the United States than you might think. In 2014, more than 23,000 infants died in their first year of life, or about six for every 1,000 born. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 25 other industrialized nations do better than the United States at keeping babies alive.

This fact is hard for some to comprehend. Some try to argue that the disparity isn’t real. They assert that the United States counts very premature births as infants because we have better technology and work harder to save young lives. Therefore, our increased rate of infant death isn’t due to deficiencies, but differences in classification. These differences are not as common, nor as great, as many people think. Even when you exclude very premature births from analyses, the United States ranks pretty poorly.

Even among those people who accept the statistic, most assume that high infant mortality is because of poor prenatal care. But new evidence is coming to light that contradicts that conclusion. The problem appears to be focused on what happens after birth, not before. This new evidence could change our thinking about how to fix the problem…

The new evidence IMHO doesn’t provide much clarity, only more questions. Which is OK. In real scientific study that happens. Then, you address the new questions with new studies. RTFA and keep your eyes and mind open for further study.

Many nations resolved one portion of discussions like this decades ago when they decided decent prenatal care was a right not a privilege. They ended means testing noting the simple logic that the money and time spent on means testing was – wasted. Letting a few women into the system who actually could afford care wasn’t going to diminish the care for all – or perceptibly increase costs especially versus the expense of snooping.

Not that Congressional beancounters and other fiscal conservatives care a rat’s ass about infant mortality versus saving a penny here and there.

Former central bank adviser says China needs to invest in, expand, the nation’s infrastructure


Click to enlargeAssociated Press
Taking a road trip this summer?

Increasing infrastructure investment is the best way to boost economic growth in China and doing so doesn’t undermine efforts to overhaul the economy, according to former central bank adviser Yu Yongding.

“If China does not increase infrastructure investment now, it may miss a historical opportunity,” Yu said Saturday at an economics conference in Beijing….

The time is right because of the global economic downturn, falling commodity prices, the low interest rates in Western countries and overcapacity in China, said Yu, now a senior research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Regional debt surged in China after the 2008 global financial crisis, when the government urged provinces that were then banned from selling bonds to boost infrastructure spending with a $611 billion stimulus package.

The stimulus was right to do because without it “China would have experienced a hard landing,” Yu said. “At the time it was hard to avoid the increase in debt and leverage.”

There are small bits here and there unique to China’s context. Inevitable. What struck me when I listened to Asia-centric economists discussing the Beijing conference – and Yu Yongding’s comments – was similarities to the economic situation in the United States.

If anything, the need to direct dollar$ and boots onto the path of rebuilding infrastructure – rather than China’s need for expansion – is more imperative. You can’t redirect an economy into healthier modern avenues if the streets and bridges are crumbling. You can’t retrain workers into new relevant skills, building new crafts and companies if the heart of government enterprise is gutted by Congress.