25 October 2016

Get Scientific American for November

 I don't often urge people to dash out and buy a magazine, but just looking over the November issue of
Scientific American's
Table of Contents, I'd like to suggest if you have any interest in a scientific perspective, that you get a hold of a copy or take a look in the library. A really stellar collection of articles this month.

1. Fascinating article on how quantum entanglement may play a role on a large scale as well as a micro scale (hence the pic on the cover of entangled black holes). See also interesting new book by Musser on the same topic, taking a snark of Einstein's as a title, "
Spooky Action at a Distance

The Fusion Underground,
about physicists working on new ideas for fusion energy, which someday somehow will be the energy of our civilization (it's what powers stars, after all).

Things We Know to be True (but keep forgetting).

Get Clean or Die Trying
about medically controversial use of illegal and potentially dangerous anti-addiction drug ibogaine.

Language in a New Key,
critiquing Noam Chomsky's innate language facility theory.

Our home Supercluster

Everyone knows their street address, the name of their town, their state or province (or County, or whatever), the nation they live in; that they live on Earth, a planet. Most people understand that the Earth, where they live, is in a star system (system of planets orbiting a star, a common entity in the universe), called the Solar System. That the sun and its planets are in something (maybe they're not too clear on what that something IS), called the Milky Way (or sometimes just the Galaxy, which is derived from a Greek word that means the same thing). (It's a larger-than-average barred spiral galaxy (lower-case 'g'), with something on the order of 300 billion stars, most of them a good deal smaller than the Sun, in case you are one of those not too clear).

The more astronomically oriented may know that the Milky Way is the second largest member of a smallish group of galaxies (the largest is M31, the Andromeda Galaxy), called the "Local Group" (how poetic). And maybe even that it's at the tail end of a medium size cluster of galaxies called the Virgo Cluster, which is centered on the Giant Elliptical Galaxy known as M87.

But few know we live in a particular Supercluster of Galaxies, which is one of the type of the largest gravitationally bound unit of matter defined, Superclusters. It's called (drumroll please), Laniakea. ("Immense Heaven" in Hawaiaan). This is a grouping of approximately 100,000 galaxies, and it really is a thing. Has been for billions of years. Probably other beings living in it have all kinds of other names for it, but we humans of Earth have named it Laniakea. Please remember that.

Here's what's in it: 

  • Virgo Cluster (formerly called Virgo Supercluster), the part in which the Milky Way resides (in the wispy tail end still called the Local Group).
  • Hydra-Centaurus (formerly called) Supercluster
    ​ ​
  • the Great Attractor, the Laniakea central gravitational point near Norma
    Antlia Wall, still referred to as the Hydra Supercluster (OK the terms are a little indefinite)
  • Centaurus Cluster (formerly Supercluster)
  • Pavo-Indus Cluser (formerly Supercluster)
  • Southern Cluster (Supercluster), including Fornax Cluster (S373), Dorado and Eridanus clouds

(Does not include the Coma Supercluster, which is beyond Virgo in a direction away from the Great Attractor).

​ Laniakea Supercluster 

​ ​

15 October 2016

Attending a lecture by Richard Tarnas

The following is a slight revision of some comments I wrote to a friend about attending a lecture by Richard Tarnas at the local C.G. Jung society. Tarnas is the author of Cosmos and Psyche. If you're not familiar with him, he is a Jungian, but more particularly, he has a whole theory of history based on his own particular interpretations of astrology. The lecture was interesting, but not impressive, at least not to me, as a basis for any reasonable basis to adopt his "world view."

Tarnas subtitles his book "Intimation of a New World View," which is an example of a Jungian "synchronicity," (coincidence), because I just read Sean Carroll's rather less flamboyant book, The Big Picture, with the same aim, albeit from an entirely different perspective. I'm pretty sure Tarnas would say that Carroll's is really just the "old world view," but I don't actually think so. Just one example. Tarnas played a clip during his lecture in which John Cleese satirized a white coated scientist and he pointed to a model and said something like "we have just discovered the gene... just here (pointing)... which causes people like me to believe that the world is completely susceptible to measurement and mechanistic explanations, even though Quantum Physics proved in the 1920s that that is impossible." It was funny; typical Fawlty Towers Cleese mode. 

But, in all seriousness, as you'd know from reading Carroll, that's not really accurate. There is nothing in quantum physics that affects an empirical analysis of the world. Quantum physics is entirely consistent with a scientific worldview, that treats truth claims as testable propositions which must undergo and survive rigorous attempts at falsification before they can be accepted as working versions of "truth." It is, in fact, precisely the refusal to accept predetermined thinking that led scientists to accept that, however counterintuitive and strange the world appears to be on the micro level, experiments and the rigorous logic of the theory than predicts their results compel the conclusion that it really is that strange (although some of the details, especially of the sort of "meta theory," as opposed to the math and experimental demonstrations, remain controversial, even among those very few in the world who are capable of understanding the issues in depth). 

What fundamentally bothers me about Tarnas's world view is its lack of consistent derivation from nature. There's no fascination, or even mention, of the scientific discoveries of the last half century of what Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune (he hardly mentioned Neptune, wonder why?), Uranus and, just recently, Pluto, actually are, which to me is far more interesting than the seemingly arbitrary "archetypal" associations, which come from human history and culture, that are attached to these planets and their supposed natures. Uranus is a gaseous planetary body that formed naturally about 4.5 billion years ago. 60 years ago we knew hardly anything about it other than its celestial mechanics (orbital data) and that. Now, it is a world. We have images. We know a good deal about its actual nature. Why is this not even relevant to this "new" world view? What about this actual place, that really exists, is a "trickster" (as claimed), and why? These questions aren't even asked; the correlations are claimed but not explained, and the data for them is, well, let's just say, hardly universally accepted. 

Just saying (as he did during the lecture, at least twice), that "there are more things in heaven and earth, [] than are dreamt of in your philosophy" (from Hamlet; Hamlet was chiding the unimaginative Horatio), seems to me just an acknowledgment that science is incomplete (hey, we knew that), rather than a valid or insightful critique of its methods. Nor does it really address or distinguish the things that have found their way into the category of "so well and consistently demonstrated that they can be accepted as elements of truth," which include things like the photoelectric effect, General Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, and the Standard Model, at least as it pertains the the particular array of politics that make up the ordinary matter and energy that we are made of. The rather nebulous descriptions of synchronicity, archetypal "energies" (a loose use of a word that in science has a very precise, and quantifiable meaning), etc. do not, it seems to me, amount to knowledge of anything; they are, rather, poetry, or metaphor; soundings of the mind into the unknown. We should not draw conclusions from dreams, even though, as limited beings and not gods, we have no choice but to continue to dream them, since there clearly is so much we do not know. Which just brings us back to the "more things in heaven and earth." Sure, that's right. But imagining a system based on creating patterns in the mind and then looking for ways to match those patterns to events is not a methodology that results in valid conclusions. This is, in fact, why traditional civilizations like China and the Central Asian/Arab Islamic civilization of the Middle Ages, while they flourished and produced great accomplishments, failed to develop a true scientific method. Science IS rigorous submission to falsification. That's the essential element that leads to progress in separating the wheat of actual correspondence to what's real from the chaff of spinning stories without being able to ensure that they are grounded in reality. It was not Chinese astrologers who discovered the Cosmic Background Radiation. It was Western science. The fact that traditional views (astrological correlations, traditional cosmologies, traditional explanations for the origin of the Earth), while having interesting cross-cultural consistencies, are not, in fact consistent or independently verifiable, is an indication that their primary value is as culture, and literature, not as a basis for drawing conclusions about nature. 

(For a critique of Tarnas from someone who actually agrees with him about the importance of a new-agey "holistic" relationship between humans and the "cosmos," see this.)

13 October 2016

Probability of Clinton win by states

I would like to point out that all three west coast states come out in Nate Silver's poll projection as over 97% probability that Clinton will carry the state. We on the "left coast" consider ourselves to be almost in a different country than the rest of the nation. Here, sure there are some rednecks and lunatics, but by and large someone like Trump garners almost no support. We just can't conceive of electing someone like that to any office. 

But California stands out.  

Only three other states in the nation rank in at ≥ 99.7% chance of Clinton win: 
New York

(Illinois is 99.2% and Washington is 98%). 

But California, America's largest state by far, is in a special category: 99.9% probability.  

12 October 2016


For those who are trying to tune out the election, please scroll on. 

I can't help but note that Nate Silver is, as of today, giving better than 50/50 odds of a Clinton victory in Arizona (!)  

And Ohio, which was a Trump state 10 days ago, has a 66% chance of going Dem; and Florida, which was also a Trump state less than two weeks ago, is at 73%. These are algorithm results, not poll results (obviously), but Silver's methodology has a quite good track record. Formerly Trump leaning Iowa and Nevada are also now at 58 and 75% respectively (chance of Clinton win).   

This thing really is all but over. There is NO WAY Trump could win without Florida.   

Notable Demographic picture of this strange, transformational political era

Probably the most interesting map on Nate Silver's fivethirtyeight.com is the one that shows the states proportional to their population. (Scroll down to see it). Not only does it show that more populous recently "red" or "lean red" states, AZ, IA, FL, and OH are now light blue, it's interesting to note that, with the exception of Mississippi, where the large black population skews the trend, it is the more populous Trump states that are weaker for him and closer to tipping. Very low population Southern and Mountain West states are the red meat Trumpsylvania. 

This plays out within states, too. California, by county, is true blue along the coast (even San Diego and Orange Counties now vote Democratic much of the time (Romney did carry Orange Co. in 2012). But the Central Valley and remote Northeast is as red as Alabama. 

Here in Oregon, it's much the same. The Willamette Valley, which includes Salem, Portland, and Eugene, has a disproportionate share of the state's population, and is reliably not only Democratic, but Progressive Democratic. But much of the rest of the state is Trump territory. 

This divide was not always so apparent, and I'm not really sure where it will lead us. If a mostly urban, Center/Progressive majority obtains a demographic lock on the presidency, and ultimately the Congress as well, as would seem likely given this trend, will the states that no longer ever elect a Democratic senator or governor, and the regions of "blue states" that always vote counter to the majority in their states, become permanently disenchanted with the workings of our small-r republican system? 

Or, will there be some tectonic shift? The implosion of the Republican party and emergence of a split on issues that leads to a new division, one which may not be so geographically polarized? I submit no one really knows the answers to these questions, but one thing is for sure: we are living through times that will transform politics in America. 

Hopefully just in time so that our politics can start addressing the policy issues that are suffering from unsustainable neglect as a result of our current polarization and paralysis. 

11 October 2016

Trump and narcissistic alexithymia

David Brooks wrote an article for the Times today, in which he goes beyond the commonplace observation that Trump displays narcissistic personality disorder to say, specifically, that he displays narcissistic alexithymia (a condition where the person is incapable of recognizing, identifying, or describing emotions in himself, and often has physical responses in place of emotional reactions). I'd never heard the term. 

In Buddhism, even its most secular form, it is a fundamental practice to meditate on lovingkindness (metta or maitri) and compassion (karuna) towards not only people (or other beings) we like or feel love for but also towards "difficult" people or even enemies. This is a very important and liberating practice, which need not be in any way supernatural. I point this out only by way of saying, well and good to feel sympathy towards Trump, as a fellow human being who apparently is indeed mentally ill. But we have to recognize another element of wisdom, which is equanimity. (Upekkha). This is recognition that we cannot generally control the actions of others, but must act in ways that reduce harm. Here we have a mentally ill man who has aggressively put himself forward as a candidate for a job where he could do almost immeasurable harm to our nation and the world. We, as conscientious citizens, whatever our philosophy or religion, owe it to our compatriots and fellow citizens of the world to stop this menace cold. 

Which, fortunately, appears to be what is happening. 

07 October 2016

Musing on epistemology

I was watching the 2 hour Nova episode about how humanity spread "out of Africa" throughout the globe, starting about 100,000 years ago, and I got to thinking about something. We behold a vast panoply of cultural wealth and sound reasons to marvel at the diversity and ingenuity of the human race in all of its various manifestations. We accept the beliefs of others as reflecting their perspective, and if we're smart, we recognize that our own cultural biases, and vested interests, sometimes blind us to realities that others have perceived better.

But having said that, I think it's important to recognize, even to celebrate the fact that there actually is a long arc of increased knowledge about the World ("universe"), and increased understanding of how to make human life, and even the life of other beings with whom we share our planet, easier, more fruitful, less violent, more productive.

So when people make truth claims based on ancient books or the cultural traditions of other cultures that simply contradict the results of long, and difficult examination of reality through the proven empirical methods of scientific investigation, I say, they should be politely, but firmly, told that they are full of shit. The world was not created in six days 6000 years ago. It's just not true. Aliens did not build the pyramids. The Great Spirit did not create the world. Native Americans have not "always been here" in America. These things are just not true, and the overwhelming weight of evidence shows that.

Respect for others, celebration of the richness and beauty of our cultural heritage, yes. But reliance on stories as a basis for our understanding of the way the world really is… no. 


04 October 2016

Trump's Taxes

This contrast should say all you need to know about Trump's taxes. He's a real estate mogul, so he can write of tens of millions of dollars he lost in scammy business schemes, money mostly owed to other people which through various shenanigans he didn't have to pay back but didn't have to report as income later either (like everyone else). Who, because of special provisions just for real estate moguls, can write off the damage and depreciation to millions and millions of dollars of property while ordinary middle class property owners trying to make a few bucks off a rental property, say, are strictly limited in what they can deduct. While ordinary middle class people struggling to pay back massive student loan debt can write off no more than a measly $2500 a year in interest payments; they have to just cough up the rest. The tax system is extractive and efficient against ordinary people but is RIGGED in favor of people like Trump.

But what is his "fix?" To LOWER taxes for himself and his ilk and cut government services for everyone else. Everyone who pays for it, in other words.

There's a word for people who fall for cons like this (and it's pretty much the same con as all Republicans are working on us):


15 September 2016

This is just mind boggling, if your mind is boggled by such things.

From Wikipedia, on a subject dear to me, namely the question What is the size of the observable universe in proportion to the size of the entire universe that emerged in the Big Bang? 

[Per]"Alan Guth, if it is assumed that [cosmic] inflation began about 10−37 seconds after the Big Bang, then with the plausible assumption that the size of the Universe before the inflation occurred was approximately equal to the speed of light times its age, that would suggest that at present the entire universe's size is at least 3x1023 times larger than the size of the observable universe.[18] There are also lower estimates claiming that the entire universe is in excess of 250 times larger than the observable universe[19] and also higher estimates implying that the universe is at least 101010122 times larger than the observable universe[20]


14 September 2016

Some musings on the philosophy of science

I got into a lively discussion ​not long ago with one of my interlocutors about whether future scientists will laugh at the current state of scientific understanding about the basic nature of how the world works. You know, stuff like "on a basic level, matter is composed primarily of atoms, which are in turn composed primarily of neutrons, protons and electrons, with more subtle internal structure responsible for quantum effects on a micro level." And "the electromagnetic force is what prevents your hand from flowing into the mostly empty space of the table when you pound on it." These kinds of well-established assertions are not hubris, and they are not going to be in any meaningful sense proven "wrong" in the future. Science does progress, and there are new discoveries being made all the time, but they do not affect the "truth" of correctly adduced past propositions. Here is where there is a difference. Some past propositions, such as Ptolemy's Earth-centered cosmology, or the phlogiston theory, or the luminiferous aether, were not "correctly adduced." They were just wrong. But mechanics, fluid dynamics, thermodynamics, the general outlines of General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, etc. are shown correct by so many Bayesian "credence corrections" that there is no reasonable doubt that any of them will ever be shown to be basically incorrect. And this is not hubris. Here are some interesting observations from Sean Carroll in his lovely new book, The Big Picture:


"[There] is a fundamental difference between the kind of knowledge given to us by mathematics/logic/pure reason and the kind we get from science. The truths of math and logic would be true in any possible world; the things science teaches us are true about our world, but could have been false in another one. Most of the interesting things it is possible to know are not things we could ever hope to 'prove,' in the strong sense. ¶ Even when we do believe a theory beyond a reasonable doubt, we will understand that it's an approximation, likely (or certain) to break down somewhere. There could very well be some new hidden field that we haven't yet detected that acts to slightly alter the true behavior of gravity from what Einstein predicted [for example]. And there is certainly something going on when we get down to the quantum scales; nobody believes that general relativity is really the final word on gravity. But none of these changes the essential truth that GR is 'right' in a certain well-defined regime. When we do hit upon an even better understanding, the current one will be understood as a limiting case of the more comprehensive picture."


I had tried to make this point, and even that the same is true of Newton's gravity theory vis-a-vis Einstein's. Newton is a limiting case of Einstein. Any future quantum theory of gravity will have Einstein's as a limiting case. (Indeed, it's already established that any quantum corrections to Einstein will be unobservably small on a macro level).

But there's another point that ties into this that is perhaps even more important. Many people seem to think that because science is adductive, empirical, and subject to falsification at any time (based as it is on Bayesian reasoning, which Carroll explains beautifully and that alone is worth the price of the book)... that it is somehow just another form of faith, based on unprovable belief. Religious people will often say that belief in evolution is just a form of faith in a secular religion. But it isn't, and that kind of reasoning is completely fallacious. Again, Carroll:


"You will sometimes hear the claim that even science is based on a kind of 'faith,' for example, in the reliability of our experimental data or in the existence of unbreakable physical laws. That is wrong. As a part of the practice of science, we certainly make assumptions-- our sense data is giving us roughly reliable information of the world, simple explanations are preferable to complex ones, we are not brains in vats, and so forth. But we don't have 'faith' in those assumptions; they are the components of our 'planets of belief,' [a term he coined and explains elsewhere], but they are always subject to revision and improvement, and even, if necessary, outright rejection. By its nature, science needs to be completely open to the actual operation of the world, and that means that we stand ready to discard any idea that is no longer useful, no matter how cherished and central it may once have seemed." (Some emphasis added).


Few religionists will acknowledge the same rules of reason and evidence for their beliefs. But the main point is that science is not committed to any particular view of the world; other than the view that any proposition must withstand challenges from actual evidence, at any time. Of course many scientists, being human beings, are subject to various biases and "pet theories." But science itself is, by its nature, self-correcting.

03 August 2016

Bernardo Pasquini

I posted on Facebook today that I'm working on playing three sets of keyboard variations by the not-exactly-well-known 17th/18th c. Italian composer principally known for his keyboard music, Bernardo Pasquini (1637-1710).

Very little information is available about Pasquini; even the Wikipedia article is rather spare. Here's from a review of one of the few disks available of his keyboard music (on Stradivarius, an Italian early music label):

Bernardo Pasquini was one of the most celebrated keyboard virtuosos of his time. He can be considered the successor of Girolamo Frescobaldi who - like Pasquini - worked in Rome for most of his career. Pasquini is an important link between the music of the renaissance and early baroque periods and that of the first half of the 18th century.
He was born in Massa Valdinievole in Pistoia and moved to Rome at the age of 13. Here he worked as organist in various churches. He played a crucial role in musical life in Rome, and often collaborated with Arcangelo Corelli in performances of his own vocal works. Today he is best known for his keyboard music, but he also composed operas, oratorios, cantatas and motets. It is interesting to note that not only was he influenced by Frescobaldi but also studied the oeuvre of Palestrina extensively.
Although he mostly worked in Rome, he twice travelled abroad: once to the imperial court in Vienna, and in 1664 he played to Louis XIV in Paris. His high status is reflected by his title of 'organist of the Senate and Roman people' and his inclusion in the Arcadian Academy, alongside such masters as Corelli and Alessandro Scarlatti.
Very few of his keyboard works were printed during his lifetime. The largest part has come down to us in two manuscripts which are preserved in Berlin and London respectively. They show a great variety in forms, and Luca Guglielmi has recorded a programme which includes specimens of the different genres.
It is especially in the toccatas that the influence of Frescobaldi comes to the fore. These are pieces in improvisatory style, often beginning in a slow tempo and then speeding up, following the instructions Frescobaldi added to his compositions in this genre. One of the toccatas is based on the imitation of the cuckoo, which was very popular in the 17th century. The same goes for pieces on a basso ostinato; Guglielmi plays two passagagli. A third genre which we also find in Frescobaldi's oeuvre is that of the variation. Guglielmi plays Variazioni in C and Partite diverse di follia. The latter is on a pattern which frequently returns in the baroque period, for instance in the last of Corelli's violin sonatas op. 5 and in Vivaldi's trio sonatas op. 1. There is also a 'modern' element in Pasquini's oeuvre: the suite. Pasquini introduced this French form to Italy, although he didn't strictly follow the texture as had become common in France and Germany. The two suites in the present programme have no sarabanda. They begin with an alemanda, which is followed by a corrente and a giga. The suites close with a bizzarria. These suites are pretty short; the last two movements take less than a minute each.
Guglielmi plays a Pastorale as a bonus track. It is the only piece which is played on the organ. This reflects Pasquini's activities as an organist. The Pastorale is a genre which was also popular in Italy, often associated with Christmastide and imitating the flutes of the shepherds.
This is a nice disc whose programme is largely different from that which was recorded by Roberto Loreggian for Chandos and reviewed here (review ~review). Luca Guglielmi is a busy man who has produced several discs lately. This programme was largely recorded in 2003 and as far as I know has not been released before. That is rather odd, as Pasquini's music is not that well represented in the catalogue. His oeuvre is versatile and compelling, and so is Guglielmi's interpretation. He uses a copy of a beautiful late 17th-century Italian harpsichord, whereas the organ dates from 1752. I only regret that this disc is so short; I would have liked to have heard more.

Johan van Veen

29 July 2016

Hillary Clinton for President

I remain a devoted Progressive and Sanders Wing Democrat. But Clinton's speech was far and away the best she ever gave, and gives me some sense of reassurance that she will indeed be able to pull this off. And we, as Progressives, will have our work cut out for us pressuring her administration to follow through on her words.

I've argued with
​Jill ​
Stein voters till I'm blue in the face. But the stark choice is this: Centrist Democrat who's had to make some concessions to her Left Wing, or an Actual Fascist, the first to be a nominee of a major party in the US ever. At least since 1964, when there was real fear that Goldwater might use nuclear weapons, there has not been such peril in a presidential election.
​ The election of Hillary Clinton is imperative. 

26 July 2016

What the back of my car looks like as of this week

The bumper stickers, and the license plate, are both to note. 
Got driver's license, too. Officially Oregonian. 
And I couldn't find the "OK, Hillary then" bumpersticker featured in a recent New Yorker cartoon. 

25 July 2016

Re: Reality

"Trade deals will happen," but it's our job as progressive, and even not-so progressive, Democrats to make sure they aren't structured as corporatist giveaways that make environmental and product safety regulation almost impossible and cede judicial sovereignty to corporate friendly arbitration processes that actually take sovereignty away from states and local governments trying to enact sensible sustainable energy and materials legal structures. TPP is not a "trade deal;" it's an anti-competitive pact designed to circumvent the regulatory ability of governments in favor of multinational big business.

Again, it's not about free trade. It's about keeping the ability to regulate the marketplace to ensure sustainability, labor standards, and sovereignty. And it is the job of the US to lead in this arena as well, and ensure that any international pacts are designed to improve trade, not make it more difficult to regulate in sweetheart deals actually written by lawyers from Big Oil, Big Pharma, etc., by and for their own interests. Which is the fact of the matter. As I've noted before, we already have free trade with almost all of the potential signatories to TPP. What we don't have is anticompetitive extralegal regimes designed to disadvantage ordinary citizens in favor of large corporate interests. And THAT we do NOT need. See citizen.org's global trade watch page. 

On Mon, Jul 25, 2016 at 4:55 AM, Jim *+*+  wrote:

It's nice to trash TTP, which may be a job killer, but
globalization including trade deals is hard to stop.
American weakness in education and training for
21st Century jobs is exposed for all to see: 
High school drop outs, phony Dean's Lists in
Universities where most students get A and B
grades.    And where science, math and technology
have minimal attraction to students creates issues
in the present scene of global competition.   

Look at the high-tech companies and their hiring
practices.   They cannot find nearly enough US
citizens to fill the jobs so they lobby Congress to
expand the number of visas for foreigners so they
can fill those empty positions.

Trade deals will happen.  The US in the period from
1945 to 2000 could pretty much dictate to the rest
of the world who was or who was not eligible to belong
to the World Trade Organization.   Those days are long

The World moves on and the US must move with it
or lose.


24 July 2016

Selection of Kaine a huge mistake because.... TPP

I already commented on this issue, but here's another aspect. Clinton's choice of Kaine, if she were truly serious about trying to reconcile the divisions in the party, was a huge mistake. And the reason can be summed up in three words: TPP. This is not a minor issue. The TPP is far worse than NAFTA, and is a deal killer for a lot of working people. And Kaine is a big supporter. Clinton claims to have decided not to support it "in its current form," but this VP choice is going to be seen by a lot of Progressives as a signal that she only said that to get votes, and that in fact she intends to allow this huge corporate giveaway to go through. You should realize that the TPP actually has next to NOTHING to do with free trade (we already have virtually tariff free trade with nearly all the signatories); and EVERYTHING to do with corporate control and deregulation of international standards (especially environmental standards) for the benefit of large business. (See http://www.citizen.org/tradewatch for more information). 

I see TPP as the single worst policy position taken by Obama in 8 years, and this just confirms that Clinton intends no change in this area. And here's the thing: these are "mainstream" REPUBLICAN positions. No daylight between them. But while he's probably lying about it, TRUMP says he's against it, and a lot of people will believe him. If Clinton's at all worried about people on the left of her party just not voting in this election (most will not vote for Trump, of course), she could hardly have made a worse choice. 

(I am not one of them; I will of course vote for her, because the stakes are so high. But some will NOT.)

23 July 2016

Tim Kaine... meh

First, I am supporting Clinton. So please don't read this as Bernie or Bust.

But I have to say that, while he is OK on human rights issues and generally a reliable Centrist Democrat, I'm less than thrilled with Clinton's choice of Tim Kaine. First, I think it's not a good idea to keep picking presidential and vice presidential candidates from the ranks of senators and former senators. Historically, former governors of big states make the best executives. And a veep is a president in waiting, pretty much no more no less.

But mainly, come on. The primary was a relatively tight race between the first real Roosevelt progressive in years and the first woman
​major ​
candidate, who garnered quite a number of progressives herself for just that reason. The Democratic party has been trending left ever since Kerry's loss to Bush in 2004. Clinton should have picked someone who symbolized her embrace of that fact, and its policy consequences. AND SHE DID NOT. This bodes ill for party unity, and will make it harder for her to win, and with the spate of terror attacks and red meat for right wingers we've been seeing this summer, we Democrats cannot afford to cede ANY advantage.

10 July 2016

Bernie will endorse HRC soon

In furtherance of my prediction that Bernie will endorse HRC next week, I saw this quote posted by Joshua Holland on FB just now. 

"We now have the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party" 

--Bernie Sanders

♦ David Studhalter

26 June 2016

Sanders supporters rallying around HRC

I call to the attention of all my nervous HRC-supporting farflung correspondents the piece in the Washington Post today which finds that Sanders supporters are rallying around Clinton faster and more completely this year than Clinton supporters did around Obama in `08 as of the approximately same point in the campaign that year. 

Takeaway: Don't panic. We will defeat Donald Trump, and the party will adopt a good deal of the Sanders agenda going forward. And that is a good thing. 

Thank you and over and out. 

♦ David Studhalter

13 June 2016

I got an offer for free 12 week trial NY Times digital edition subscriptions.

I got an offer from the NY Times for 2 free 12 week gift subscriptions to the Digital Edition of the Times. If any of my farflung correspondents would like one, please let me know. First come first served. I imagine you'll have to cancel when the free period is up, so if that's a hassle you'd rather not deal with, keep it in mind. 

♦ David Studhalter

06 June 2016

Ryan Grim: Obama's SEA CHANGE on Social Security

Farflung correspondents,

Normally I do my own diatribes, but this one's worth passing on unchanged. /Ryan Grim.

♦ David Studhalter

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Ryan Grim <ryan@huffingtonpost.com>
Date: Mon, Jun 6, 2016 at 1:53 PM
Subject: Obama went from cutting Social Security to boosting it. Here's how that happened...
To: studhalter@gyromantic.com

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Barack Obama Once Proposed Cutting Social Security. Here's What Changed His Mind.

By Daniel Marans, Arthur Delaney and Ryan Grim

WASHINGTON — When President Barack Obama announced his support this week for expanding Social Security benefits, it was nothing less than a sea change. Progressive activists claimed credit for the move as both a clear nod to their power in the age of Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and the fruits of ambitious activism that slowly but surely moved the bounds of the mainstream political discussion.

Whether Obama's remarks mark a shift in his policy views, a politically expedient concession to an ascendant progressive wing or something in between, it is an unmistakable indicator of the Democratic Party's return to its New Deal roots.

But getting there required a slog through the political aftermath of the worst economic calamity since the Great Depression.

Fighting Popular Wisdom

Obama entered the White House at a time of economic crisis and rapidly increasing national debt. Virtually from the start of his presidency, Washington was seized with hysteria over the latter phenomenon.

Although a diverse array of economists believe Obama's $800-billion stimulus package played a key role in helping the economy recover, it elicited howls from the right for contributing to the already rising debt. Much of the growth in annual budget deficits for which Obama was blamed, however, was due to the Great Recession and the Bush tax cuts — things he had no control over.

Stopping "out-of-control spending," in the form of the president's stimulus package and other policies, became one of the nascent tea party's rallying cries.

Even as the country struggled to beat back double-digit unemployment, addressing the debt became among the most pressing issues in Washington. Think tanks and pundits on all sides of the spectrum lined up to warn of the dire consequences of avoiding an "adult" conversation about the unsustainable costs of Social Security and Medicare.

And the Obama administration — rather than fight the narrative of out-of-control debt tooth and nail — chose to accommodate it.

Just a year into Obama's presidency, the White House began to pivot away from fiscal stimulus and toward austerity. The president convened a bipartisan debt reduction commission in February 2010, co-chaired by Morgan Stanley director Erskine Bowles, a Democrat, and former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wy.), and charged it with forging a fiscal "grand bargain." That became the catchphrase of choice on the Bowles-Simpson commission — and in budget talks in subsequent years — for a compromise agreement to reduce the long-term debt, through a combination of Social Security and Medicare cuts historically anathema to Democrats and revenue increases and defense cuts hard for Republicans to swallow.

It was very lonely to be on the side that said: 'Absolutely no cuts, under any circumstances.'Alex Lawson, Social Security Works

A small group of organizations on the progressive end of the Democratic Party arose to mobilize against the commission's efforts with a focus on protecting Social Security.

Activists say they were emboldened by the knowledge that the Beltway elite was out of touch with how Americans felt about Social Security.

Perhaps thanks to its universal nature, even Republicans support it by wide margins. Opposition to Social Security cuts was the only policy position that supporters of all the presidential candidates agreed with in a March 31 Pew poll.

Social Security experts Nancy Altman and Eric Kingson, both veterans of the 1982 commission that orchestrated the last round of major reforms to the program, secured foundation funding for the creation of the advocacy organization Social Security Works.

Social Security Works led the Strengthen Social Security coalition, an alliance of progressive organizations, labor unions and think tanks in what was then a fight to stop cuts expected to be recommended by Obama's fiscal commission.

The coalition members, which ranged from the National Organization for Women to MoveOn.org, rejected the policy arguments for the cuts on several grounds.

Social Security is a self-funded program that faces a modest financial shortfall andshould not be cut to reduce a deficit it did not cause, they argued. And besides, the activists maintained, Social Security has only become more important as other traditional sources of retirement income declined and newer ones have failed to close the gap.

But in a political environment where austerity was all the rage, advocates like Alex Lawson, Social Security Works' executive director, were initially at pains to find members of Congress willing to pledge not to cut the program, let alone expand its benefits.

"It was very lonely to be on the side that said: 'Absolutely no cuts, under any circumstances,'" Lawson recalled. "There weren't many allies."

The tea party was more useful than Democratic leadership when it came to killing a grand bargain that would have cut Social Security benefits.Adam Green, Progressive Change Campaign Committee

Deprived of access to the closed-door commission, Lawson began live-streaming the closed door on days when the commission met.

The gimmick resulted in a bombshell conversation with commission co-chair Alan Simpson in June 2010. Simpson went on a profanity-laden rant, tearing into progressives who questioned the commission's concern for "the lesser people" and repeating alarmist myths about Social Security's finances.

A couple months later, Simpson wrote to the head of the Older Women's League mocking Social Security as a "cow with 310 million tits." The comments prompted a high-profile — albeit unsuccessful — campaign for his ouster.

"Alan Simpson was the gift that kept on giving," Lawson said.

Thanks in no small part to Simpson, a letter started by Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) asking the commission to hold Social Security harmless gathered signatures rapidly, with 137 House Democrats eventually putting their names on it.  

Their efforts did not shape the substance of the commission's proposals, but they laid the political groundwork for a broader movement that would ultimately succeed.

Gene Sperling, who served as a White House economist during negotiations over the grand bargain that would have led to Social Security cuts, said that organized labor and Altman deserve significant credit for reshaping the conversation.

"You can argue over details and payfors, but the change in conversation from how to reduce Social Security for solvency to how to strengthen Social Security and overall retirement security for tens of millions of seniors is a very positive one," Sperling told HuffPost. (He is now an adviser to the Hillary Clinton campaign.) "And beyond the politicians, you have to give some credit to the AFL-CIO, Nancy Altman and the Strengthen Social Security coalition for helping to change the terms of the debate."


Obama Makes An Offer

The Bowles-Simpson commission's final report in December of that year proposedmajor cuts to Social Security, including an increase in the retirement age, a lower benefit formula for above-median earners and a stingier cost-of-living adjustment. Although it maintained the pretense of bipartisan balance, 69 percent of the commission's proposed budget savings came from spending cuts.

The proposal itself went nowhere. It became the blueprint, however, of subsequent plans to cut Social Security — especially after Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in 2011.

With Republicans hell-bent on holding hostage every debt ceiling increase and extension of government funding to extract major policy concessions, Obama decided to put one of the commission's proposals — the chained Consumer Price Index — on the table.

The chained CPI would change the formula used to adjust Social Security and other benefits for inflation. Although scholars debate whether it represents a more accurate price index than the one currently used, one way or another, it lowers the value of benefits over time relative to what they would be otherwise.

Obama appears to have come closest to striking a deal with the benefit cut during last-minute budget negotiations with Republicans at the end of 2012, in the lame-duck session of Congress after he won re-election. The country faced what was dubbed a "fiscal cliff" at the start of the new year as a slew of Bush-era income tax cuts were due to expire and automatic spending cuts were set to take effect.

Obama offered Republicans chained CPI in exchange for providing more tax increases. But under pressure from hardline anti-tax legislators, Republican leaders in Congress refused to compromise more.

Thank you, tea party!Adam Green, Progressive Change Campaign Committee

At one point, the White House reportedly suggested putting chained CPI back on the table after Republicans had not presented a counteroffer on taxes with the budget deadline less than 36 hours away.

Then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was apparently so peeved at the idea that he threw a note with the proposal into a blazing fire in his office fireplace.

Reid ruled out reconsidering chained CPI because it seemed to him that Republicans weren't serious about giving ground on the Bush tax cuts, according to Jim Manley, a longtime spokesman for Reid who by then had stopped working for the senator. And that was the last time Reid ever entertained the idea of messing with Social Security.

"Since then it's been, 'Hell no,'" Manley said.

Progressives recognize that they benefitted from hard-line conservatives' delusion that by holding out, they could win even larger cuts.

"One of the ironies is that the tea party was more useful than Democratic leadership when it came to killing a grand bargain that would have cut Social Security benefits," said Adam Green, co-chair of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, an online activism group at the forefront of the fight against cuts. "They were so crazy and unwilling to take 'yes' for an answer. That allowed us to live to fight another day."

"Thank you, tea party!" Green added.

According to a former Obama administration official who was involved in the grand bargain negotiations, Obama and his team at the White House concluded that, in order to get tax hikes out of Republicans, they'd have to give ground on a major Democratic priority. One camp was pushing for a bump up in the Medicare eligibility age, reasoning that as long as the Affordable Care Act was in place, people between 65 and 67 would be in fine shape. In fact, they thought, low-income elderly, would do better under Obamacare than under Medicare.

But the faction pushing to put chained CPI on the table won out. Once that decision had been made, the official said, Obama rationalized his way toward believing that it was merely a modest statistical adjustment.

In his second term, Obama even appeared to embrace chained CPI as his own, including it in his annual budget proposal in April 2013, which came after a fierce internal debate, according to one participant.

The budget encountered stiff resistance from congressional Democrats and progressive activists, spurring a petition delivery and protest outside the White House where Bernie Sanders spoke.

The following year, the provision disappeared from the president's budget.


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