18 June 2012

Hell no! to Transpacific Trade Partnership that would benefit only Multinational Corporations, at the expense of public interest!

Tradewatch.org has published leaked details of the improperly secret terms of a proposed “Transpacific Trade Partnership” which is apparently supported by Corporatist politicians of both parties. This proposed agreement is directly contrary to Obama’s promises in the 2008 campaign and is totally unacceptable to the American people. It would amount to a forfeiture of public sovereignty in favor of Multinational Corporate interests. Please see tradewatch.org and get ready for a big fight to defeat this monstrosity. 

13 June 2012

Some comments on the prevalence of habitable planets in the universe

The SETI institute (seti.org) has a series of fascinating talks, some of which focus on planet formation, and the likelihood and likely form of habitable planets in our Galaxy. I highly recommend them. (Many are on YouTube). This is a serious and very rapidly developing area of scientific investigation, and if you’re one of those people whose eyes glaze over when it comes to anything involving the wider universe and life beyond Earth, well, too bad for you, and I suggest you read something else. Bye. For the rest of you: it's really very interesting.

A quick summary of what I’ve gleaned lately, mostly from this source: planetary disks last about 1 million years on average; not much more, after the formation of a star, which generally takes place in starforming regions, which is a whole topic unto itself that I won't go into here. The disks of gas and dust from which planets form are ubiquitous (i.e., planets are very common), BUT, the region where the so-called habitable zone will later be located (i.e., for a sun-like Star the region of the disc centered around 150 million km from the star; or for any star the concentric region where at reasonable atmospheric pressures water can remain liquid) — is, during this planet forming phase, VERY HOT (~500K) throughout the planetary formation process, which effectively precludes the solidification of either rock or water. Since both of these are obviously necessary for the formation of terrestrial planets, what that means is that rocky planets with water on their surfaces do not form in situ. Instead, terrestrial planets (like Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars) invariably form from accretion through collisions of rocky and/or icy bodies that have migrated from further out in the protostar system. It also means that planetary systems just like the Sun’s, with only rocky planets in the inner region and only gas planets in the outer region, contrary to what was once believed, are probably relatively rare. It's just luck of the draw, since many of the processes involved are essentially random. What sometimes happens, as we now know, is that large gas giants migrate inwards, but when they don't, something somewhat like what happened here, i.e., the migration of rocky and/or watery bodies further inward, is likely. In fact, the mathematics of turbulence and other physical effects mean that proto-planets always move around in the disk during the formation stage; and, on average, on the order of one planetary-mass object per star is actually ejected from the system entirely, (which, tangentially, means that there are approximately as many so-called "rogue planets" in any given galaxy as there are stars).

Probably equally likely as the suite of terrestrial planets in the inner system that we have here in the Solar System, is a Neptune-sized planet in that area. Such a Neptune-sized planet could easily have a large moon, which, all things being favorable, could be habitable. Another possibility in the inner systems of typical stars would be the presence of a so-called Super-Earth. This is a class of planet which does not exist in the Solar System, but which is believed to be quite common in the universe at large. The definition usually given is a planet between approximately 1 and 10 Earth masses. (Not large enough to retain hydrogen, which would make them Neptunes, or, if you prefer, Neptunoids). These planets, especially in the upper range of this class are likely to be uninhabitable, often with very thick CO2 atmospheres that would result in serious greenhouse heating. However, planets like this could exist in the habitable zone, and could have companion planets (or large moons) somewhat after the fashion of the Earth and the Moon, where the smaller planet in a binary planet pair could be habitable (with or without other, smaller, moons en suite). One reason that these binary planets, or large planets with slightly less-large moons, are especially interesting, is that they could conceivably exist in orbit around red dwarfs, which, as we know, are by far the most common type of star, consisting of roughly 90% of all stars in the universe. Although a single planet in close orbit around red dwarf, i.e. close enough to have liquid water, would probably be rotationally stopped with respect to the star, which would cause all kinds of problems, a planet sized moon of a super Earth or Neptunoid planet in close orbit around red dwarf, could have a day night cycle, and could conceivably sustain complex life. Given the prevalence of red dwarf stars, it may turn out that life-bearing worlds are actually typically this type of object, and single planets in orbit around larger stars like the sun, i.e., like Earth, may be less common.

This is not to suggest that actual gas giants are not also common in the habitable zones of protostar systems. Such gas giants (that is, comparable to Jupiter or Saturn, although some of them are actually much larger than Jupiter), in the habitable zone, are perhaps even more likely to have habitable moons. Thus, this kind of planetary body (i.e. an approximately Earth-sized moon orbiting a gas giant), could be even more common, especially in low-mass star systems (Class M and K; red and orange dwarfs), where the habitable zone is rather narrow and close to the star. (Just as red dwarfs (Class M) are the most common stars, the next larger class, K dwarfs, are more common than larger stars, and so on). Imagine a Saturn in orbit around Epsilon Indi or other orange dwarf, with a moon just enough bigger than Titan to retain an earthlike atmosphere and oceans. Such a world could easily resemble Earth. And even in orbit around a M dwarf, such a large gas planet's moon could have liquid water and a day/night cycle making the whole planet habitable, if rather different from our world, since red light is, after all, red light, and will give rise to a significantly different biosphere than ours, almost by definition.

So we may someday learn that more living worlds are actually moons of larger planets than are major planets of their stars in their own right (like Earth), across the board.   

12 June 2012

Progressive Message to Obama Campaign: Get with a strong pro-1% Narrative or We Will Lose This

I agree with Les Leopold, who has an interesting interview with Ian Masters on ianmasters.com for June 7. He outlines what I think of as an essential progressive message to the Obama campaign. Forget about "progressive disappointment" that we didn't get perfect health care, etc. The issue is, what do we have to do now to win this damn election and move forward. Because that's far from a sure thing. Let me try to state it succinctly.

You are going to lose this if you don’t come up with a stronger narrative right away.

The Republicans’ narrative is strong. The fact that it is entirely false doesn’t matter — it will work if we don’t come up with our own strong messaging.

The propagandists for the Plutocrat party say the deficit was caused by Obama’s spending (false), that it’s what caused the Depression (false), & that lower taxes for the wealthy and lax enforcement of financial, labor, and environmental laws and regulation will help ease unemployment (false). But all of this seems to make sense to a lot of people, and they are buying it. Romney is winning the message war, and if this isn’t reversed, not only will he likely win in November. But even if Obama manages to win, there will be virtually no coattail effect and we will have gridlock and default de facto austerity, regardless, which will be a total disaster for the vast majority of Americans.

The narrative must be simple, and it must involve a drastic change of focus, and the abandonment of any attempt to be, as Jamie Galbraith puts it, the party of both the predators and the prey. The Democratic party must abandon the 1%; forget about wooing them for financial support. The president should carefully study the speeches of Franklin Roosevelt, especially from 1936. He must come out forcefully for the 99% and against the financial and corporate elites.

These should be the points:

  • Wall Street Caused this Great Recession, and it must pay for getting us out of it.
(Elimination of carried interest, significant increase in taxes on wealthiest, modest transaction tax; regulations to end derivatives fraud and rein in excesses).
  • The richest must pay their fair share.  
  • We must invest in America now, in order to restore prosperity.
(Austerity does not work and will not end the Depression.... see Paul Krugman on this issue).
  • We must reform Financial Regulation and Taxes on finance and the biggest corporations to create jobs and ensure basic security, medical care, and education for our people.
(Tax and anti-fraud enforcement and regulation means more revenue and greater financial stability, Republicans want to make fraud in the financial sector business as usual, which means bigger deficits and more instability = bubbles and crashes). 
  • The Republicans are lying to the American people: what they propose will mean more for the richest, less for everyone else. What we want is honest, clean government that enforces the law and makes everyone play by the rules.
  • We are asking for your outrage: take to the streets to show you demand change, and vote for the president and for Democrats at all levels, who will enact it.
It doesn’t need to be more complicated than that, but it needs to be hammered home again and again, consistently, without muddling, without equivocation, and without retreat.

Otherwise, I fear the situation is dire, and we will see things get a whole lot worse in this country long before they get any better.

11 June 2012

Obama Campaing shouldn't say "myth," they should call deliberate lies just that: DELIBERATE LIES.

Take this as an example. When the Obama campaign says "the President's supposed "spending binge" is nothing but a myth, repeatedly debunked by independent fact checkers," I think they're pulling the punch.

What they should say is "the claim by the nominee of the Republican party that President Obama has engaged in a spending binge is a deliberate lie, pure and simple, repeatedly debunked by objective and independent fact checkers... in fact, the truth is the exact opposite of Mr. Romney's false statement. Don't be fooled by these lies, which Mitt Romney has repeatedly shown a willingness to engage in."

My version is not only more accurate, it calls out the absolute immorality of the Republicans. This should be Obama's theme: clean, good government, old fashioned American values, enforcement of the law, government for the people, not for the benefit of elite fraudsters. And portray the Republicans, and Romney in particular, as in league with the fraudsters who wrecked our economy and are trying to go right back to the same old practices, and as willing, even eager, to lie to the American people at every turn in order to keep hold on power. Portray them as representing unethical and harmful practices at the expense of ethical business and the peoples' interests. It's an especially easy argument to make right now, because it's entirely true.