30 September 2010

Gliese 581 ... «Goldilocks» planet?

Washington Post reports on a recent announcement by Paul Butler of UC Santa Cruz of the "discovery" (in their data from 11 years of observing) of a «Goldilocks» planet in the Gliese 581 red dwarf system that's similar enough to Earth in both mass and amount of stellar radiation received to be potentially habitable... the first such planetary discovery since the first exoplanets were discovered in 1995.

Of course, it's far from identical to Earth. Gliese 581 is a pretty tiny star, giving off only about 1% of the energy of the Sun. This planet is almost certainly tidally locked, like the Moon vis-a-vis the Earth, so it will have peculiar climatic conditions, at minimum. News reports fail to mention also the possiblity of frequent (and probably fatal to nearby planetary life) stellar flares, which are very common in small red dwarf stars.

Still, it's encouraging that a planet with the right mass and distance to primary to have liquid water and other factors necessary for life has finally been found.

Incidentally, Wikipedia quotes an age of 7-11 billion years, significantly older than the solar system. (Time for evolution to have worked even if conditions weren't quite as optimal as here?) On the other hand, the proportion of metals in the stellar atmosphere is rather low, which is thought to hamper the development of life, and see Simon Conway Morris on the rather intractable problems of photosynthesis when the peak radiation from the primary is in the infrared, which is what you have here.

Gliese 581 is 20.3 l.y. distant, in Libra, and is classed as M3V, a bit larger than the median red dwarf type. The Wiki article says it's "thought to be too massive" to be a flare star, so the stellar flare caveat above may not apply.

29 September 2010

Third World America -- Huffington

It's fashionable in some circles to dis Arianna Huffington, but her book Third World America is a telling and well-thought out manifesto for what progressive politics really needs to focus on in the next few years. Here are a couple of samples:

In other words, in the absence of manufacturing, the only way to compete with Third World nations is to become a Third World nation, which is exactly what will happen if we allow our middle class to disappear.
'The financial sector,' wrote Martin Wolf of the Financial Times, 'seems to be a machine to transfer income and wealth from outsiders to insiders, while increasing the fragility of the economy as a whole.' When a chief economics commentator at the Financial Times is sounding like the second coming of Karl Marx, you know things have gotten way out of hand.

27 September 2010

Emanuel out -- good news

Although the timing is curious, and probably inauspicious, I can't but welcome the news of the departure of Rahm Emanuel, whom I believe has ill-served this president since taking office. Dare we hope that this signals a clear shift to a new strategy, such as even former Pres. Clinton has been advocating of late; of articulating a clear alternative message? I am completely certain that this, rather than "triangulation" or whatever you call it, is the way to win back Independents, minimize midterm losses, and set the stage for a big Democratic comeback in 2012.

Both Boxer and Brown finally shown winning

In the most depressing political season since 2004 if not 2002, this is a ray of sunshine: 
The LA Times new poll numbers:
Boxer 51%, Fiorina 43%.
Brown 49%, Whitman 44%.

10 September 2010

Thumbs up on Goolsbee

Although I would prefer someone with more solid progressive chops (would Jamie Galbraith take the job?), I am reasonably pleased with the appointment of Austan Goolsbee to replace Romer as chief WH economist. At least he's firmly opposed to extending the Bush tax cuts for the very richest Americans and in favor of robust financial reform.

09 September 2010

Yet another comment to the White House on Social Security / Medicare

If the president listens to this so-called budget/deficit commission's recommendations to cut social security and/or medicare, he can kiss reelection goodbye. A winning strategy for Democrats is NOT embracing Republican lies and disinformation, and adopting their policies: it is clearly articulating to the American people the progressive alternative.

Only ONE fix is needed for Social Security. Remove the cap on taxes from $106,000; tax all income.

The same fix will also apply to Medicare, plus one other; as part of further needed reform to health care across the board, reimbursement rates need to be controlled, and any participation by private insurers must be strictly limited to NONPROFIT entities.

Cuts to benefits, or raising eligibility requirements are NOT the answer and would be a TOTAL BETRAYAL of everything this president campaigned on and was elected to do.

07 September 2010

TNR editor Peretz: Muslims unworthy of 1st Amendment

OK, racist blowhard (and, incredibly enough, New Republic editor) Marty Peretz is a pretty easy target, but this is incredible.

Another Bad Sign: More Republican Policy Ideas from the Obama Administration

Now this is discouraging. Not only is the Obama administration's idea of job creating stimulus at this point more tax cuts for business (which have been shown to have less than a third of the "ripple effect" in an economy than direct spending on jobs programs or even just sending people money as tax rebates); we see here that now former Budget Director Orszag has floated a trial balloon in the Atlantic, saying that a "compromise" of extending the Bush Tax Cuts for the Rich for TWO YEARS would help the economy, but that after that, those big bad Republicans will just have to let them expire, unless, well, maybe another two years, or, whatever they want. OK, I'm paraphrasing. But talk about spineless. Or, more probably, in their pocket all along.  

I'm sorry, but I just don't believe Orszag said this without the full vetting and approval of Rahm Emmanuel and the administration. This is the exact opposite of what they should be saying.

If Obama were even a tenth the progressive that FDR was, he'd say he will veto any extension of tax cuts for upper income Americans and veto any cuts to social security or medicare benefits for ordinary people. That's the absolute least he can do.

And they wonder why "the base," that they insult and ignore alternately, isn't enthusiastic going into the midterms. Give us something to hope for, some change we can believe in, damnit, not more Republican policies!

I keep hearing that Democrats shoot themselves in the foot when they criticize the administration, but it's just a fact that this administration has watered down every major progressive idea they talked about in the campaign. Obama has really painted himself into a corner. He's talked tough to Wall Street, then backed "reforms" that did very little; gaining no support from beleaguered and angry people hurt by the economy, AND gaining the enmity of Wall Street. Health Care Reform, while a good start, failed to really control the costs of health care, and it doesn't go into effect for years, so it scares people; and the public has turned against it; political negative. People are increasingly (and rightly) concerned about a failing war in Afghanistan, which is a sure-fire presidential popularity killer. It's a crying shame, but it's hard to avoid the conclusion that this presidency is failing.

03 September 2010

Robert Reich: income inequality prevents recovery

Robert Reich's piece in today's New York Times is spot on, although I would have liked if he had discussed some models for how the U.S. could change its policies to achieve a better balance between investment opportunity and a stable, well-compensated, well-educated, and healthy population. Such as the way the recovery has taken place in Germany, and just what it is that's different about Germany's socioeconomic model that's made that possible. 

We need to wake up in this country and realize that our political and economic systems, including our systems of compensating working people and providing social services to our population, are broken, and that there are models on the other side of the Atlantic that illustrate quite well the sorts of reforms we need to make. 

A reminder to us older folks

At times like these, when the world seems old and her problems insuperable, we should remember that this is how it seems to us, who have lived in her for however many decades, and seen the same problems go unsolved so many times: to the young, however it has devolved, the world is new, and full of wonder, and nothing is beyond imagination.