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


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.

Canada will stroll past the United States to become cannabis capital

…Chief executive of Denver’s largest marijuana dispensary…Andy Williams struggles with a lot of financial hurdles.

The First Bank of Colorado closed the accounts of everyone in the family business, Medicine Man Technologies, including children who have no part in the industry. Williams can’t take on any investment and needs to fund expansion through personal loans from friends and family.

Customers can only pay in cash; banks refuse to hold his money and everyone from employees to contractors need to accept cash payments. Employees, who can’t prove their income as a result, often struggle to get loans and mortgages.

Furthermore, section 280E of the US tax code prohibits the deduction of expenses related to controlled substances for tax purposes, and Williams predicts that he gives the internal revenue service an additional $600,000 each year as a result of business expenses that can’t be written off.

While recreational marijuana legalisation is well on its way in states like Colorado, it remains illegal at the federal level, stifling the growth and innovation of the industry’s first movers.

Our elected officials waver from know-nothing moralists to anti-science hypocrites to old-fashioned cowards. Most know better. Damned few have the courage to act.

Meanwhile, north of the border, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau has vowed to legalise recreational marijuana consumption on a federal level, opening the door to investment, less restrictive tax policies and banks that can treat the marijuana industry like any other. While legalisation hasn’t yet taken place in Canada, when it inevitably does American marijuana businesses may suddenly find themselves at a disadvantage.

“They’ll be first to market,” says Williams. “There’s going to be a lot of development and innovation in Canada that’s going to spur economic growth and attract investment. First to market is going to get a lot of attention, so it’s a lost opportunity for the United States if and when that happens.”…

“The real setback will be longer term in their jump in developing that intellectual property, whether that’s in producing marijuana or developing brands or discovering new uses for cannabis in the medical field,” he said. “It’s the long-term effect of being behind the eight ball that I’m concerned about.”

Recreational marijuana is still illegal in Canada but many look to its medicinal marijuana system, which is considered among the best in the world, as a sign of things to come. Health Canada, the country’s federal health authority, already regulates over one million square feet of approved marijuana production space spread across 30 industrial-sized facilities…

Recreational legalization in Canada, however, could force policymakers in the US to modernize their federal policies in order to level the playing field.

Between populist hypocrite dope-smokers and spineless liberal hypocrite dope-smokers, our elected officials are doomed to a reaction policy roughly akin to snails racing to escape roadrunners. Trudeau in Canada will be replacing lost revenue from previous conservative government’s allegiance to fossil fuel producers. Obama – and whoever next sits in the Oval Office confronting a Congress populated with close-minded Republicans and centrist-dominated Democrats – will continue to dither and panic over popularity polls that show American consumers ready and willing to move ahead on legalizing cannabis as readily as they have every other so-called controversy petrifying the brains of our spoon-fed politicians.

Other nations in the educated world will continue to remind Americans there ain’t any greatness associated with being backwards, governed by fear.

The Republican myth about white voters

…In politics, for many Republicans the most unassailable truth is that winning the presidency is easy if only…and here everyone finishes the sentence with their pet theory of electoral politics.

That there is so much conviction that it might be easy for Republicans to win a national election is an odd one given history. Over the last six presidential elections, Democrats have won 16 states every time for a total of 242 electoral votes out of the 270 needed to win. In those same six elections, Republican presidential candidates carried 13 states for 103 electoral votes…

But still the myth survives that there are these masses of untapped white voters just waiting for the right candidate…The simple truth is that there simply aren’t enough white voters in the America of 2016 to win a national election without also getting a substantial share of the non-white vote. Romney won 17 percent of the non-white vote. Depending on white voter turnout, a Republican needs between 25 percent and 35 percent of the non-white vote to win…

The Trump campaign talks about being able to reach out to Hispanics and African Americans but it’s not an overstatement to say he would be the most unpopular candidate with either group to ever lead a national ticket. Only 12 percent of Hispanics have a favorable view of Trump with 77 percent unfavorable. Even among Hispanic Republicans, he has a 60 percent unfavorable ranking. Among African Americans, 86 percent have an unfavorable view of Trump…

We can go on. But of course none of this will dissuade the Trump believers who will point to his dismantling of the Republican field as proof that he is a new force in politics and to use that popular phrase I loathe, “There are no rules.” It’s a legitimate point and one impossible to argue as there is no alternative universe in which there was an alternative election in which the Republican candidates ran better campaigns against Trump.

It’s true that voter registration and turnout is up in the Republican primaries and I don’t see any reason not to credit Trump with those increases. We’ve seen this before with little impact on the general election but more voters and more voter enthusiasm are positive…

But let’s not kid ourselves. Even if John Kasich or Ted Cruz, the remaining two candidates, were to emerge, the advantage is still very much with the Democrats. And until the party grows its appeal with non-white voters, it’s going to take an inside straight to win the White House.

Stuart Stevens is an American travel writer and political consultant…In 2013, he became a founding partner in Strategic Partners & Media, the consulting firm with the best record in statewide races. He served as a top strategist for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign.

He helped elect more governors and US Senators than any other current Republican media consultant.

Not exactly a left-wing advocate.