Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Does FitBit Owe a Royalty to the Writers of This Song?

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by Gaius Publius

Something fun. Lately I've been inundated with ads for something called "FitBit" — a health toy that sits on your wrist and, apparently, talks to the Health app on your iPhone. Or something. The problem is the song. It's catchy, yes, very earwormy. But if you know your punk (or "parody punk") French popular music, it's also way too familiar.

Bear with me; this will be worth it. In 1977 Yvan Lacomblez composed the song "Ça plane pour moi" — slang that means "Everything's going great" or "It works for me." (It could be either, depending on whether Ça is used for things in general, as in Ça va, or something specific, as in Ça marche.) The song is a loose, feel-good, verbally kinetic piece of French fun that, in the hands of a classical music student and percussionist who called himself "Plastic Bertrand," became a big hit in Britain and elsewhere.

"Plastic Bertrand" went to lunch on that song the rest of his career, and he's still at it. If you say "ça plane ..." to a French adult of a certain age, they'll get the reference immediately.

"Ça plane pour moi"

Musically "Ça plane" is simple but deceptive. It has a straight 12-bar blues structure — I-I, IV-I, V-I — which you can hear immediately in the chorus. But in the verse there's a lot of "phrase syncopation." If you count the beats ("one, two, three, four") starting from the instrumental intro, and try to keep track of where the verbal phrases start and end, you'll see what I mean. The lyric of the first verse starts after the first downbeat, not on it or before it, so they're already not synced. Unlike the chorus ("Ça plane pour moi, ça plane pour moi..."), the verse is never in sync with the music, and its phrases aren't the same length. Simple but deceptive.

It's that phrase syncopation, by the way, that made the singer's percussion background valuable. He never loses the rhythm in live performances, like that at the end of this piece. (French, by the way, is a natural language for rap. Equal syllable length is built into it.)

The center of the song is a short, flying, non-verbal four-note phrase — you'll spot it as soon as you hear it. Overall the lyrics are a kind of French nonsense (click to see a version with translation). A great fun song and again, a major earworm.

Here's a live but lip-synced 1978 performance from Italian television that offers a good sense of the performer, the song, and why it was so successful. Click and listen — and if you feel like counting the beats, start from the instrumental intro:



There's a more relaxed physical performance in this 1978 lip-synced recording from British TV. The official released version, is here. But the best YouTube'd version is below — my favorite in fact. Scroll down to listen.

Me, I'm stuck; the song's been burned into my brain for the last few years.

Did FitBit Kinda-Sorta Steal this Song?

Now the FitBit jingle, the one that's everywhere this gifting season. Is this a version of "Ça plane pour moi" with subtle changes? Listen — it's not just the rhythm. The first four musical notes after the drumbeat intro are a huge tell:



The opening notes are damning, in my hearing, or at least reimbursement-inducing. Property rights freaks, does someone owe someone a payment? Seem so to me, unless FitBit has already paid up.

Once More With Dancers

Either way, both of these piece make great earworms, and you've now been infected. So, since I can't do any more damage than I've already done (you're welcome), here's a more modern version. "Bertrand" is obviously older, but he's fit, in full control of his chops, and still having fun. This is my favorite version.

From French TV:





Care to Help a Non-Corporate Bro?

FitBit corporate HQ is here:


FITBIT, INC. 
405 HOWARD STREET 
SAN FRANCISCO, CA 94105

The composer of "Ça plane pour moi" is Yvan Lacomblez, and I think he's still alive.

Anyone want to give him an early Season's gift? You can write to FitBit and suggest you're onto them (maybe they'll tell you they've already ponied up). Or write to the composer — if you get contact info, let me know  — wish him a merry, then send him a link to the FitBit jingle. Or both. The Plastic Bertrand official website is here (professional contact page here).

The composer may well need the money, or not, but at least he's a person. FitBit, on the other hand ... well, you may already know what I think of corporations and their billionaire venture investors. (Read the résumés, then scroll down to "Our Investors". Look for Qualcomm.)

Wishing you a merry as well,

GP

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Obama To Establish Diplomatic Relations With Cuba

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This is great news-- and unexpected. But just as the Senate adjourned and the senators went home to demagogue in their own states, the White House made a pretty dramatic announcement about the future of U.S.-Cuba relations. I'm sure Debbie Wasserman Schultz's hair is standing on end, but with the release of Alan Gross in a prisoner exchange swap, it looks like Obama is finally doing with every U.S. president since the first Bush wanted to, but was afraid to do. This is legacy-building. We'll have comments from the peanut gallery later, but here's the White House statement:
Today, the United States is taking historic steps to chart a new course in our relations with Cuba and to further engage and empower the Cuban people. We are separated by 90 miles of water, but brought together through the relationships between the two million Cubans and Americans of Cuban descent that live in the United States, and the 11 million Cubans who share similar hopes for a more positive future for Cuba.

It is clear that decades of U.S. isolation of Cuba have failed to accomplish our enduring objective of promoting the emergence of a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba. At times, longstanding U.S. policy towards Cuba has isolated the United States from regional and international partners, constrained our ability to influence outcomes throughout the Western Hemisphere, and impaired the use of the full range of tools available to the United States to promote positive change in Cuba. Though this policy has been rooted in the best of intentions, it has had little effect-- today, as in 1961, Cuba is governed by the Castros and the Communist party.

We cannot keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. It does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse. We know from hard-learned experience that it is better to encourage and support reform than to impose policies that will render a country a failed state. With our actions today, we are calling on Cuba to unleash the potential of 11 million Cubans by ending unnecessary restrictions on their political, social, and economic activities. In that spirit, we should not allow U.S. sanctions to add to the burden of Cuban citizens we seek to help.

Today, we are renewing our leadership in the Americas. We are choosing to cut loose the anchor of the past, because it is entirely necessary to reach a better future-- for our national interests, for the American people, and for the Cuban people.

Since taking office in 2009, President Obama has taken steps aimed at supporting the ability of the Cuban people to gain greater control over their own lives and determine their country’s future. Today, the President announced additional measures to end our outdated approach, and to promote more effectively change in Cuba that is consistent with U.S. support for the Cuban people and in line with U.S. national security interests. Major elements of the President’s new approach include:

Establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba-

The President has instructed the Secretary of State to immediately initiate discussions with Cuba on the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba, which were severed in January 1961.

In the coming months, we will re-establish an embassy in Havana and carry out high-level exchanges and visits between our two governments as part of the normalization process. As an initial step, the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs will lead the U.S. Delegation to the next round of U.S.-Cuba Migration Talks in January 2015, in Havana.

U.S. engagement will be critical when appropriate and will include continued strong support for improved human rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba and other measures aimed at fostering improved conditions for the Cuban people.

The United States will work with Cuba on matters of mutual concern and that advance U.S. national interests, such as migration, counternarcotics, environmental protection, and trafficking in persons, among other issues.

Adjusting regulations to more effectively empower the Cuban people-

The changes announced today will soon be implemented via amendments to regulations of the Departments of the Treasury and Commerce. Our new policy changes will further enhance our goal of empowering the Cuban population.

Our travel and remittance policies are helping Cubans by providing alternative sources of information and opportunities for self-employment and private property ownership, and by strengthening independent civil society.

These measures will further increase people-to-people contact; further support civil society in Cuba; and further enhance the free flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people. Persons must comply with all provisions of the revised regulations; violations of the terms and conditions are enforceable under U.S. law.

Facilitating an expansion of travel under general licenses for the 12 existing categories of travel to Cuba authorized by law-

General licenses will be made available for all authorized travelers in the following existing categories: (1) family visits; (2) official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; (3) journalistic activity; (4) professional research and professional meetings; (5) educational activities; (6) religious activities; (7) public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; (8) support for the Cuban people; (9) humanitarian projects; (10) activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; (11) exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and (12) certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines.

Travelers in the 12 categories of travel to Cuba authorized by law will be able to make arrangements through any service provider that complies with the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) regulations governing travel services to Cuba, and general licenses will authorize provision of such services.

The policy changes make it easier for Americans to provide business training for private Cuban businesses and small farmers and provide other support for the growth of Cuba’s nascent private sector. Additional options for promoting the growth of entrepreneurship and the private sector in Cuba will be explored.

Facilitating remittances to Cuba by U.S. persons-

Remittance levels will be raised from $500 to $2,000 per quarter for general donative remittances to Cuban nationals (except to certain officials of the government or the Communist party); and donative remittances for humanitarian projects, support for the Cuban people, and support for the development of private businesses in Cuba will no longer require a specific license.

Remittance forwarders will no longer require a specific license.

Authorizing expanded commercial sales/exports from the United States of certain goods and services-

The expansion will seek to empower the nascent Cuban private sector. Items that will be authorized for export include certain building materials for private residential construction, goods for use by private sector Cuban entrepreneurs, and agricultural equipment for small farmers. This change will make it easier for Cuban citizens to have access to certain lower-priced goods to improve their living standards and gain greater economic independence from the state.

Authorizing American citizens to import additional goods from Cuba-

Licensed U.S. travelers to Cuba will be authorized to import $400 worth of goods from Cuba, of which no more than $100 can consist of tobacco products and alcohol combined.

Facilitating authorized transactions between the United States and Cuba-

U.S. institutions will be permitted to open correspondent accounts at Cuban financial institutions to facilitate the processing of authorized transactions.

The regulatory definition of the statutory term “cash in advance” will be revised to specify that it means “cash before transfer of title”; this will provide more efficient financing of authorized trade with Cuba.

U.S. credit and debit cards will be permitted for use by travelers to Cuba.

These measures will improve the speed, efficiency, and oversight of authorized payments between the United States and Cuba.

Initiating new efforts to increase Cubans’ access to communications and their ability to communicate freely-

Cuba has an internet penetration of about five percent—one of the lowest rates in the world. The cost of telecommunications in Cuba is exorbitantly high, while the services offered are extremely limited.

The commercial export of certain items that will contribute to the ability of the Cuban people to communicate with people in the United States and the rest of the world will be authorized. This will include the commercial sale of certain consumer communications devices, related software, applications, hardware, and services, and items for the establishment and update of communications-related systems.

Telecommunications providers will be allowed to establish the necessary mechanisms, including infrastructure, in Cuba to provide commercial telecommunications and internet services, which will improve telecommunications between the United States and Cuba.

Updating the application of Cuba sanctions in third countries-

U.S.-owned or -controlled entities in third countries will be generally licensed to provide services to, and engage in financial transactions with, Cuban individuals in third countries. In addition, general licenses will unblock the accounts at U.S. banks of Cuban nationals who have relocated outside of Cuba; permit U.S. persons to participate in third-country professional meetings and conferences related to Cuba; and, allow foreign vessels to enter the United States after engaging in certain humanitarian trade with Cuba, among other measures.

Pursuing discussions with the Cuban and Mexican governments to discuss our unresolved maritime boundary in the Gulf of Mexico-

Previous agreements between the United States and Cuba delimit the maritime space between the two countries within 200 nautical miles from shore. The United States, Cuba, and Mexico have extended continental shelf in an area within the Gulf of Mexico where the three countries have not yet delimited any boundaries.

The United States is prepared to invite the governments of Cuba and Mexico to discuss shared maritime boundaries in the Gulf of Mexico.

Initiating a review of Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism-

The President has instructed the Secretary of State to immediately launch such a review, and provide a report to the President within six months regarding Cuba’s support for international terrorism. Cuba was placed on the list in 1982.

Addressing Cuba’s participation in the 2015 Summit of the Americas in Panama-

President Obama will participate in the Summit of the Americas in Panama. Human rights and democracy will be key Summit themes. Cuban civil society must be allowed to participate along with civil society from other countries participating in the Summit, consistent with the region’s commitments under the Inter-American Democratic Charter. The United States welcomes a constructive dialogue among Summit governments on the Summit’s principles.

Unwavering Commitment to Democracy, Human Rights, and Civil Society

A critical focus of our increased engagement will include continued strong support by the United States for improved human rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba. The promotion of democracy supports universal human rights by empowering civil society and a person’s right to speak freely, peacefully assemble, and associate, and by supporting the ability of people to freely determine their future. Our efforts are aimed at promoting the independence of the Cuban people so they do not need to rely on the Cuban state.

The U.S. Congress funds democracy programming in Cuba to provide humanitarian assistance, promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, and support the free flow of information in places where it is restricted and censored. The Administration will continue to implement U.S. programs aimed at promoting positive change in Cuba, and we will encourage reforms in our high level engagement with Cuban officials.

The United States encourages all nations and organizations engaged in diplomatic dialogue with the Cuban government to take every opportunity both publicly and privately to support increased respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cuba.

Ultimately, it will be the Cuban people who drive economic and political reforms. That is why President Obama took steps to increase the flow of resources and information to ordinary Cuban citizens in 2009, 2011, and today. The Cuban people deserve the support of the United States and of an entire region that has committed to promote and defend democracy through the Inter-American Democratic Charter.
Lindsey is having another hissy-fit


And... first out of the peanut gallery... Miami-Dade's newly elected Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) says exchanging Cuban spies for Gross was "is condemnable and unacceptable." It was a deal Pope Francis helped put together and it also included the release of 53 Cuba political prisoners rightists like Curbelo have been whining about. Gross was escorted back to Andrews Airforce Base by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ), but definitely not by Bob Menendez (R-NJ), as far right and out of his mind on anything to do with Cuba as any GOP fascist. Menendez on hearing the news: "President Obama's actions have vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government." What an asshole! Expect Marco Rubio to try to outdo him momentarily. Bernie Sanders, had a very different perspective: "I applaud the president for beginning discussions to establish full diplomatic relations with Cuba, just like most of the rest of the world. This is a major step forward in ending the 55-year Cold War with Cuba. Normal diplomatic relations would mean not only that Americans have the opportunity to visit Cuba, but businesses in Vermont and elsewhere can sell products there."

Marco Rubio, who keeps switching religions-- is he a Baptist or a Mormon or does he belong to some weird Catholic separatist cult?-- went on a nasty personal attack against Pope Francis' role in brokering a peace deal. "I think the people of Cuba deserve the same chances to have democracy as the people of Argentina have had, where he comes from; as the people of Italy have, where he now lives. Obviously the Vatican's its own state, but very nearby," the senator and rumored 2016 presidential hopeful continued. "My point is I hope that people with that sort of prestige on the world stage will take up the cause of freedom and democracy."

And this from PPP: Florida Republicans who support Jeb for President support lifting the embargo 51/28. Ones who support Rubio closely split-- 39/38 for keeping it

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This Time Joe Sestak Probably Will Beat Pat Toomey

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With the announcement Monday from Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane that she will run for reelection rather than seek the state's Senate seat currently held by Pat Toomey, the path to the Democratic nomination is wide open for Admiral Joe Sestak. As far as I can tell his only opponent is a thoroughly mediocre Montgomery County Commissioner, Josh Shapiro. Sestak served for two terms in Congress before beating Republican-turned-quasi-Democrat Arlen Specter in 2010. The entire Democratic Establishment, from Obama on down-- but especially conservatives and corporate shills like Ed Rendell-- campaigned vigorously for Specter. Though the underdog, Sestak beat Specter 568,563 (53.9%) to 487,217 (46.1%). In the general, with Toomey, a Wall Street favorite, outspending him $16,958,449 to $7,524,257, Sestak lost narrowly, 2,028,945 (51%) to 1,948,716 (49%). It's been clear for some time that he would seek a rematch.

Toomey's from the Greed and Selfishness wing of the Republican Party. He was one of the only Wall Street shills willing-- and eager-- to publicly defend the derivatives deregulation that was slipped into the CRomnibus last week. His tactic was a nasty, personal attack against Elizabeth Warren. It's very personal for Toomey, formerly a sleazy derivatives trader himself. He's also one of the loudest proponents of outsourcing American jobs of anyone in Congress. During the 2010 campaign Toomey attempted to hide his record on outsourcing, which wasn't easy given his book, The Road to Prosperity, in which he insisted Americans have an “unfortunate tendency” to use “buy American language” in legislation. According to a report in the Allentown Morning Call a month and a half before the election, Toomey said he favored a regulatory system more like Hong Kong. He's a big fan of China's authoritarian approach. "I was seeing pretty close up which economies were succeeding and which ones weren’t, and there is an unmistakable correlation," Toomey said. "Those that are heavily regulated and centrally controlled underperform. And those like Hong Kong, where there is regulation but it is sensible, they thrive." There was a lot of talk at the time that China was helping finance Toomey through large sums of money to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which spent $1,692,056 in Independent Expenditures on Toomey's behalf.

After Toomey's attack on Elizabeth Warren we asked Admiral Sestak how he felt about the Wall Street deregulation agenda Toomey, who has taken $4,865,798 from the Finance Sector for his efforts, has been pursing. He has a very different approach:
"I want to advance individual opportunity so everyone can contribute to the advancement of America. Sen. Toomey, on the other hand, simply believes you’re on your own and therefore doesn’t believe in helping the working class.

The most important issue for me is to re-gain the trust of the American people by willing to be accountable as a public servant for one's deeds. Sen. Toomey, on the other hand, will say one thing in Pennsylvania and vote another way in Washington, D.C., against the middle class. Take for example Toomey’s recent vote that puts taxpayers on the hook to bail out banks that gamble with derivatives. This is a change from what I had voted for and passed, which made sure that banks were no longer too big to fail."
Of course, deregulating Wall Street predators isn't the only instance of Toomey saying one thing to Pennsylvania voters and doing something entirely different in Washington. Recently an insipid Toomey newsletter blathered on about how on December 12, 1787, Pennsylvania became the second state to ratify the U.S. Constitution, five days after Delaware, by a vote of 46-23. Frederick Muhlenberg (who would become the first speaker of the House of Representatives) presided as president of the ratification convention, with PA Supreme Court Chief Justice (and future 2nd governor) and how on December 5, 1933, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Ohio approved the 21st amendment, fully ratifying the repeal of prohibition. Today, Pennsylvania is home to more than 100 breweries throughout the state."

Pennsylvanians who follow Toomey's activities in DC, however, might be tempted to consider a different perspective on history. From a Joe Sestak e-mail this week:
It was a Pennsylvanian, Gouverneur Morris, who coined the phrase, “We the People of the United States,” the words that begin our Constitution. The first three words are the greatest of our land-- they are our very soul-- and are the essence of the greatest invention of humankind: our U.S. Constitution.

In contrast, Sen. Toomey believes that, "The free market has been one of the greatest human inventions ever." For Toomey, it is not about "we the people," but rather an unfettered private market. It is why he votes repeatedly against "we the people"-- our nation-- providing health care for our veterans coming home injured from war-- a war that he voted to send them to. And why he votes against legislation our nation provides for our children’s safety and health. And why he did nothing as a congressman as 162 Pennsylvanians were losing their health care every day-- these Americans were "on their own." And why Toomey has sponsored legislation to dismantle the ACA 30 times: because of his belief that "we the people"-- our nation-- has no role in effecting a better health system.

Pennsylvanians deserve better than a U.S. senator like Sen. Toomey who believes that "we the market" or "we the bank" is his first priority.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Good News: Energy Policy And The Innate Flaws Of Conservatism

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Yesterday Gaius did a post about the rate of ice collapse in Antarctica. In light of that piece, I'd like to introduce you to an uncharacteristically good news post at Vice's Motherboard by Nafeez Ahmed, How Solar Power Could Slay The Fossil Fuel Empire By 2030. Please read it in the context of what Matt Cartwright (D-PA) is doing in Congress to combat the dangers of the fracking industry and what freshman Ted Lieu (D-CA) says his top priority is in Congress: "I am going to wake up every day thinking about how we can mitigate climate change, because if we don't solve the problem, it will eventually kill us."

Ahmed begins with a premise from Clean Disrution of Energy and Transportation, a new book by Tony Seba, a lecturer in business entrepreneurship, disruption and clean energy at Stanford University and a serial Silicon Valley entrepreneur: "In just 15 years, the world as we know it will have transformed forever. The  age of oil, gas, coal and nuclear will be over. A new age of clean power and smarter cars will fundamentally, totally, and permanently disrupt the existing fossil fuel-dependent industrial infrastructure in a way that even the most starry-eyed proponents of ‘green energy’ could never have imagined... By his forecast, between 2017 and 2018, a mass migration from gasoline or diesel cars will begin, rapidly picking up steam and culminating in a market entirely dominated by electric vehicles (EV) by 2030." I'll take it! 
Not only will our cars be electric, Seba predicts, but rapid developments in self-driving technologies will mean that future EVs will also be autonomous. The game-change is happening because of revolutionary cost-reductions in information technology, and because EVs are 90 percent cheaper to fuel and maintain than gasoline cars.

The main obstacle to the mass-market availability of EVs is the battery cost, which is around $500 per kilowatt hour (kWh). But this is pitched to fall dramatically in the next decade. By 2017, it could reach $350 kWh-- which is the battery price-point where an electric car becomes cost-competitive with its gasoline equivalent.

Seba estimates that by 2020, battery costs will fall to $200 kWh, and by 2024-25 to $100 kWh. At this point, the efficiency of a gasoline car would be irrelevant, as EVs would simply be far cheaper. By 2030, he predicts, “gasoline cars will be the 21st century equivalent of horse carriages.”

It took only 13 years for societies to transition from complete reliance on horse-drawn carriages to roads teeming with primitive automobiles, Seba told his audience.

Lest one imagine Seba is dreaming, in its new quarterly report, the leading global investment firm Baron Funds concurs: “We believe that BMW will likely phase out internal combustion engines within 10 years.” (Investors at rival bank Morgan Stanley are making a similar bet, and are financing Tesla.)

Two days after his JP Morgan lecture, Seba was addressing the 2014 Global Leaders’ Forum in south Korea, sponsored by Korean government ministries for science and technology, where he elaborated on the prospects of an energy revolution. Within just 15 years, he said, solar and wind power will provide 100 percent of energy in competitive markets, with no need for government subsidies.

Over the last year Seba has even been invited to share his vision with oil and gas executives in the US and Europe. “Essentially, I’m telling them you’re out of business in less than 15 years,” Seba said.

For Seba, there is a simple reason that the economics of solar and wind are superior to the extractive industries. Extraction economics is about decreasing returns. As reserves deplete and production shifts to more expensive unconventional sources, costs of extraction rise. Oil prices may have dropped dramatically due to the OPEC supply glut, but costs of production remain high. Since 2000, the oil industry's investments have risen threefold by 180 percent, translating into a global oil supply increase of just 14 percent.

In contrast, the clean disruption is about increasing returns and decreasing costs. Seba, who dismisses biomass, biofuels and hydro-electric as uneconomical, points out that with every doubling of solar infrastructure, the production costs of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels fall by 22 percent. “The higher the demand for solar PV, the lower the cost of solar for everyone, everywhere,” said Seba. “All this enables more growth in the solar marketplace, which, because of the solar learning curve, further pushes down costs.”

Globally installed capacity of solar PV has grown from 1.4 GW in the year 2000 to 141 GW at the end of 2013: a compound annual growth rate of 43 percent. In the United States, new solar capacity has grown from 435 megawatts (MW) in 2009 to 4,751 MW in just four years: an even higher rate of 82 percent.

Meanwhile, solar panel costs are now 154 times cheaper than they were in 1970, dropping from $100 per watt to 65 cents per watt.

What we are seeing are exponential improvements in the efficiency of solar, the cost of solar, and the installation of solar. “Put these numbers together and you find that solar has improved its cost basis by 5,355 times relative to oil since 1970,” Seba said. “Traditional sources of energy can’t compete with this.”

...[I]ncreasing efficiencies and plummeting costs of lithium ion (li-on) batteries are already making night-time residential storage of PV and wind power cost-effective. Every year, li-ion battery costs drop by 14-16 percent. By 2020, experts believe that li-on will cost around $200-250 per kilowatt per hour (kWh) in which case, according to Seba: “A user could, for about $15.30 per month, have eight hours of storage to shift solar generation from day to evening, not pay for peak prices, and participate in demand-response programs.”

At the current rate of growth, Seba’s projections show, globally installed solar capacity will reach 56.7 terrawatts (TW) in the next 15 years: equivalent to 18.9 TW of conventional baseload power. That would be enough to power the world, and then some—projected world energy demand at that time would be 16.9 TW.

Paul Gilding, who has spent the last 20 years advising global corporations like Ford, DuPont, BHP Billiton, among many others on sustainable business strategy, agrees that the trends Seba highlights imply “a disruptive transformational system change” that outpaces the “assumptions built on the old world view of centralised generation.” Author of The Great Disruption, Gilding said that “it’s the systemic interactions of software, new players, disruptive business models and technology that accelerates the shift,” and which “will be self reinforcing”-- not just cheap prices.

...While solar  has already reached ‘grid parity’, becoming as cheap or cheaper than utility rates in many markets, within five years Seba anticipates the arrival of what he calls ‘God Parity’: when onsite rooftop solar generation is cheaper than transmission costs. Then, even if fossil fuel plants generated at zero costs (an impossibility), they could never compete with onsite solar. So after 2020, the conventional energy industry will start going bankrupt.

The costs of wind, which complements solar at night and in winter, is also plummeting and will beat every other energy source, except solar, in the same time-frame, according to his analysis.

“We are on the cusp of the largest disruption of industry and society since the first industrial revolution. Large, centralized, top-down, supplier-centric energy is on its way out. It is being replaced by modular, distributed, bottom-up, open, knowledge-based, consumer-centric energy,” said Seba. “The transition has already started and the disruption will be swift. Conventional energy sources are already obsolete or soon to be obsolete.”
Conservatives will continue fighting against this scenario, as they have fought against every single step forward since the beginning of time. That's how they get their name "conservatives." And ultimately they always lose. Now it's just a matter of how much damage they will cause the rest of us-- and if they cause so much damage that they finally make the planet uninhabitable.

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Do we really and truly believe that in-the-trenches defenders of freedom can never bend the "rules"?

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by Ken

At Daily Kos, Shaun King yesterday put up a fine little post called "Midtown NYPD commanding officer posts, then immediately deletes, outrageous tweet," which is pretty startling in its own right but also raises interesting questions. Here's what Shaun posted:
NYPD commanding officer Edward Winski decided to post something inspirational on Twitter for Motivational Monday, but quickly deleted it. [Note: This link will take you to a age that says, appropriately enough, "Sorry, that page doesn't exist! -- Ed.] The quote is from Jack Nicholson, playing Col. Jessup in the movie A Few Good Men, a scene with Jessup testifying regarding two privates he ordered to kill another soldier. In the current climate of protests in New York City that the commanding officer chose to post this to the verified Twitter account of the precinct for motivation is just flat-out tone deaf and shocking, if not revealing.
Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinburg? I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago, and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That Santiago's death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way, Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you are entitled to.
Mind you, this quote is given by Col. Jessup just seconds before he admits that he did the unthinkable and ordered the "code red" to have a fellow soldier killed. What in the world was Edward Winski thinking?
This is a good question -- what was Inspector Winski thinking? -- but it's also a complicated question.


ON THE MOST OBVIOUS LEVEL, WE DO HAVE TO
WONDER WHAT THE INSPECTOR WAS THINKING . . .




. . . in posting such an inflammatory quote in a public place. I have no clue here, except that obviously he didn't think, and it didn't take long before either he did finally think or somebody in the NYPD thought for him, with the result that half an hour later the post was unposted.


ON THE LEVEL JUST BELOW THIS, THERE'S THE
QUESTION OF WHY THE INSPECTOR THOUGHT . . .


. . . this was suitable inspirational material for his troops. And here I have to guess that the inspector hasn't actually seen A Few Good Men, and in fact doesn't know anything about it except this quote, to which he relates because he feels that cops are in this same position of doing a dirty job that somebody's got to do, and they're the somebodies.

If in fact Inspector Winski is familiar with any of the context that Shaun provides (and I would say that the more you know about the situation, the more disturbing the context is), and nevertheless thinks the ruminations of Colonel Jessup provide fit inspiration for our men and women in blue, then some sort of commission of inquiry needs to be chartered to look into the command structure and promotion practices of the NYPD. Rising to the rank of inspector is a pretty arduous matter, and if the system is promoting people who believe such things, then it's even scarier than I for one thought.


WHICH STILL LEAVES THE QUESTION OF THE BASIC
PREMISE BEING ARGUED HERE BY COLONEL JESSUP


I mean the premise that what are thought by namby-pamby outsiders who "have the luxury of not knowing what i know" to be "rules" of conduct for front-line enforcers, "rules" by which an organization like a large metropolitan police department operates, aren't actually rules but are more like guidelines that are honored up to a point but of necessity give way whenever they clash with a reality known and understood only by those front-line defenders who "have a greater responsibility than [we] could possibly fathom."

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OBVIOUSLY THIS ISN'T A NEW ISSUE

Most topically, it underlies the torture discussion we're sort of having at the moment. There are a lot of people, including no doubt many of the people on the inside of our security agencies, who agree unhesitatingly. For them, we can talk all we like about genteel conduct but when it comes to the nitty-gritty of their job, they do what they have to do, and they have neither the time nor the inclination to explain themselves to people who rise and sleep under the blanket of the very freedom that they provide, and then question the manner in which they provide it. And yes, they would rather we just said thank you and went on our way.

The question clearly also applies to war generally, and the view undoubtedly held by a lot of military people and their cheerleaders that the very idea of "rules of war" (cf. the Geneva Conventions) is an absurdity, that when push comes to shove, warriors do what they have to do, and no further explanation should be required to people who really and truly don't, or at least shouldn't, want to know what is being done, has to be done, in our name.

Now I think that for a lot of Americans this is no problem at all. They cheer when they watch national-security porn like 24, to cite an example we were just talking about. They really have no problem with the idea that in-the-trenches freedom fighters do whatever they have to do. And, probably, with the idea that by and large we're better off not knowing the details, in much the same way that we're frequently advised not to look behind the scenes at the way our sausage is made, just eat and enjoy.

Which brings us back to one of the recent torture-related posts of Ian Welsh's I referred to last night, "The Ethics of Torture 101," in which Ian distinguishes between the ethical and pragmatic arguments against torture -- the ethical argument being that "torture is evil and should not be engaged in," the pragmatic argument being that "torture doesn’t work, or does more harm than good. Because if you really and truly believe that torture is wrong, period, it really doesn't matter how efffective it is.

This is a wild oversimplification of the discussion Ian gets into, and I find it hard to imagine anyone who wouldn't benefit from engaging in that discussion. But for our immediate purposes, I throw it out just to raise the question of how many of us really and truly believe that Colonel Jessup is just plain across-the-board flat-out wrong? And maybe we'd just rather not know about what people like the colonel and like "Big Dick" Cheney do.

Of course, I suppose a potent argument against this idea is that it leads to people like Colonel Jessup and Big Dick. And Big Dick isn't even fictional.
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Israel-Palestine As An Issue Inside Democratic Politics

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Israel's enforcer inside the Democratic Party

Most bloggers I know hate talking about the Israel-Palestine mess. It's been a problem since before the battle of Jericho and no problem anywhere on earth looks as intractable. And discussing it in blogs is a no-win situation. It's an existential problem for both camps-- and by "it," I mean even a square inch in the desert. One thing that does drove me crazy, however, and that I have been willing to write about, are American politicians who put Israel's interests before America's interests-- not just in specific matters that involve Israel, but even in tangential policy making-- like going to war against Iraq, which was viewed as "good for Israel." Back in 2002 the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution was opposed by most House Democrats-- 126-- but a large coalition of Israel-First Democrats (81) crossed the aisle to vote with the Republicans. It passed 296-133.

Progressives like Tammy Baldwin (WI), Xavier Becerra (CA), Sherrod Brown (OH), John Conyers (MI), Barney Frank (MA), Mike Honda (CA), Dennis Kucinich (OH), Barbara Lee (CA), John Lewis (GA), Jerry Nadler (NY), Bernie Sanders (VT), Jan Schakowsky (IL) Hilda Solis (CA), resisted the war fever in the air. Even Pelosi voted against it. The aisle crossers were led by Dick Gephardt, Steny Hoyer (MD), Steve Israel (NY) and a revolting coalition of Blue Dogs, New Dems and otherwise liberal California Jews under the sway of Israeli agent Haim Saban.

About a year ago, we looked at polling that showed that most Americans-- if not the congressional Israel-Firsters-- prefer a negotiated settlement with Iran. "Americans back a newly brokered nuclear deal with Iran by a 2-to-1 margin and are very wary of the United States resorting to military action against Tehran even if the historic diplomatic effort falls through... The survey's results suggest that a U.S. public weary of war could help bolster Obama's push to keep Congress from approving new sanctions that would complicate the next round of negotiations for a final agreement with Iran." Now, a year later, the Washington Post is reporting the fight within the Democratic Party over matters in the Middle East is heating up. The core constituents of the Democratic Party-- women, African Americans, Hispanics and younger Americans-- take positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that diverge not only from the positions of Republicans but also from the positions of their elected leaders.
One of the startling findings in American public opinion surveys on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the wide gap between Republicans on the one hand and Democrats and independents on the other. While there is often a sharp division among the public on many issues across party lines, it was once true that, on this specific issue, the gap was much more narrow. Moreover, while Republican political leaders are in harmony with their grass roots when it comes to their policy stances toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Democratic leaders are not. This begs the question: What is driving this gap, and how much is due to changing American demographics? Could Democratic leaders start to feel some of the heat from their publics on this issue? Findings among two segments of the public that are important for the future of the Democratic Party-- Hispanics and young people-- indicate that this gap may grow further.

Let’s start with the gap. About two-thirds of Americans tend to want the U.S. government to lean toward neither side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but among the remaining one-third, significantly more people want the United States to lean toward Israel than the Palestinians. When this is broken down along party lines, the results are substantially different. In our most recent probabilistic Internet poll of 1,008 American adults, fielded by GfK, the differences across party lines are wide: 51 percent of Republican respondents want the United States to lean toward Israel, compared to 17 percent of Democrats. While most Democratic and independent respondents want the United States to lean toward neither side (77 percent and 73 percent, respectively), less than half of Republicans want the United States to remain neutral. While there is less support for leaning toward Palestinians versus Israel across party lines, slightly more Democrats than Republicans would favor leaning toward Palestinians.

...Part of this division is explained by the attitudes of the evangelical right respondents within the Republican Party, who not only overwhelmingly want the United States to lean toward Israel, but also tend to rank the Arab-Israeli issue higher in their priorities in comparison with the rest of the population. Nearly two-thirds of evangelicals want the United States to lean toward Israel, compared with about one-fifth of non-evangelicals. When it comes to how the Israeli-Palestinian issue ranks among U.S. interests, significantly more evangelicals than non-evangelicals (36 percent vs. 18 percent, respectively) rank it as the single-most issue or among the top three issues. On more concrete issues, the attitudes of this group tend to be even stronger than those of Jewish Americans. Nearly half of evangelicals favor the “Jewishness” of Israel more than its democracy, compared to only about one-third of Jewish American respondents.

...Another part of the story is not entirely new: the attitudes of women and African Americans. These segments, which provide essential support for the Democratic Party, also have been far more inclined to want the United States to lean toward neither side of the conflict and have tended to show this when it comes to concrete issues. This remains the case in this newest poll. For example, female respondents who want the United States to lean toward neither side in the conflict outnumber their male counterparts by 10 percentage points. This relationship tends to hold across party lines, with the percentage of those supporting neutrality consistently higher among women than men. African American respondents also overwhelmingly favor neutrality, with 80 percent saying the United States should lean toward neither side. This number is slightly less among Republican African Americans, but over half still favor neutrality. Among various ethnicities, African Americans had the highest proportion (78 percent) of those who favor Israel’s democracy rather than its Jewishness.

...Hispanic Americans have become increasingly central to U.S. electoral politics, and their expanding population means that their role will only increase. They tend to identify themselves far more often as Democrats than Republicans or independents, and they have become a sizable segment of the Democratic Party. It would seem that the Israeli-Palestinian issue is not a central cause to them, but surprisingly, they tend to rank it much higher than the rest of population — though obviously not nearly as high as Jewish Americans and evangelical Christians do. Twelve percent of Hispanic respondents rank the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the single most important issue for U.S. interests, compared with 4 percent of non-Hispanics. This contrast is even more pronounced among Democrats, with 17 percent of Hispanic Democrats ranking it as the top issue versus only four percent of non-Hispanic Democrats.

In general, Hispanic Americans want the United States to remain neutral in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict more than the rest of the population. Even more telling: Among Hispanic respondents who want the United States to take a side, the ratio of those who want it to lean toward Israel versus the Palestinians is much closer than among the rest of the population. In fact, among Hispanic Democrats, the ratio is roughly 1:1, with those who want the United States to lean toward either Israel or the Palestinians each making up 13 percent of the Hispanic population.

...Generally, younger adults (ages 18 to 29) tend much more to want the United States to lean toward neither side. But among young Democratic respondents, the results are more striking: Among those who want the United States to lean toward one side or the other, more young people want the United States to lean toward the Palestinians than toward the Israelis (12 percent vs. 10 percent, respectively). This attitude is unique among this age group, as only 5 percent or less of Democrats in each older age group want the United States to lean toward the Palestinians. This contrasts sharply even with female and African-American respondents within the Democratic Party. Even among those who want the United States to lean toward Israel, young people seem to be much more pragmatic about their motivations. Almost half say they feel supporting Israel serves the interests of the United States, while the number who feel this way hovers around one-third among the other age groups, which are much more likely than young people to say that supporting Israel is their religious or ethnic duty.

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Republicans Look At Jeb Bush... And Shudder In Horror

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Cringe-worthy... even for Republicans

This Week, a right-wing webste, is more in tune with the ideas right-of-center writers like David Frum than with the crazy fascist and racist stuff you get from other GOP-oriented media. Yesterday, after Politico reported that GOP Establishment figures Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush are both planning to run for president in 2016, they were one of many Republican outlets wringing their hands over the prospect of-- let's face it-- another Bush. Jeb confirmed everyone's worst fears on his Facebook page this morning. Romney, according to Politico, is telling people he's willing to jump in because the Republican field is so pathetic.

He has said, among other things, that Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, would run into problems because of his business dealings, his work with the investment banks Lehman Brothers and Barclays, and his private equity investments.
“You saw what they did to me with Bain [Capital],” he has said, referring to the devastating attacks that his Republican rivals and President Barack Obama’s team launched against him for his time in private equity, according to three sources familiar with the line. “What do you think they’ll do to [Bush] over Barclays?”

... [A] top Republican operative who is supportive of a Jeb Bush candidacy said that he did not believe Bush would have as much trouble with his financial dealings in a campaign as Romney did.

“Jeb’s wealth and investments are nothing on the scale of Romney’s. He is not building car elevators,” this person said, offering a hint of the bitterness that could ensue if both Romney and Bush run.

Indeed, Bush, for his part, has begun conducting opposition research on himself to identify any potential issues that could arise, a standard move for potential candidates but nonetheless one that indicates his level of seriousness about the process, two people familiar with his plans said.

He has also had discussions about how he would get out of his business ventures. Indeed, one Bush supporter said the former Florida governor would be far more proactive than Romney was in responding to attacks about his business record, which Romney made central to his run.

There will be “no fetal position” from Bush, said the source, a reference to Romney’s decision to wait until he had been defined by Democrats to start hitting back and defining himself.
Neither Romney nor Bush polls particularly well against Hillary Clinton outside of the old slave-holding states. The idea, though, is that Bush will be able to save the GOP from the excesses of extremism and down-right fascism represented by the surging Ted Cruz/Hate Talk Radio wing of the party. Michael Brendan Dougherty wrote about why he thinks Jeb would not make matters any better for the Republicans in 2016.
By the time 2016 rolls around, it will have been eight years since the previous Bush presided over an economic disaster. The economy may have mostly recovered, but it is drastically more unequal. What is Bush's cheerleading going to do for that? Does anyone think the GOP needs another captain of private equity to be its leader? And as loathsome and un-American as it may seem to hold someone's family name against him, this point needs to be emphasized: the GOP and the country don't need another Bush.

Although recent years have made me appreciate the creative realism of George H.W. Bush's foreign policy, Jeb Bush seems to be taking after his moralizing and confrontational brother, rather than his more restrained, consensus-building father. A recent speech in Miami revealed that Bush accepts the "we're-rubber, you're-glue" moral calculus of the most hawkish voices. When America kills foreigners, the foreigners are to blame. But when Russia invades Ukraine, or Syria disintegrates into civil war, that's America's fault for not doing something. This is stupid and dangerous.

The George H. W. Bush style of domestic policy that both his sons inherited is one of giving liberal programs half the funding and authority liberals want, but dolloping on so much conservative-branded "accountability" that it can be sold to the right. Poppy pushed "standards-based reform." W. did No Child Left Behind. And Jeb is the leading GOP advocate for what's become of Common Core. Whatever the merits, being identified so closely with a Bill-Gates subsidized education scheme hated from the right wing to Louis C.K. will prove costly.

Nominating Jeb Bush is an implied admission that the GOP cannot put together a post-Reagan presidential coalition without this one family. It would mean advertising that the party that just put together an impressive, across-the-board electoral comeback in 2014, and that has performed unusually well in gubernatorial races several cycles running, is bereft of talent and must rely on an older brand-- one that people tired of twice. Republicans should reject these assumptions about their party, no matter how desperate eight years out of the White House has made them.

The last few years have been ones of experimentation for the party. There is the libertarian-inflected Rand Paul; there are Chris Christies and Scott Walkers who promise dramatic confrontations with public bureaucracy. There is the family-friendly wonkery of Sen. Mike Lee of Utah. If people want to try Bushism again, they should at least have the decency to demand that Marco Rubio's face be stretched over that political zombie's head.

Just by running, Jeb Bush will initiate a peculiarly intense argument about the propriety of political dynasties, which will distract from any kind of ordinary primary campaign about the direction of his party and nation. I've settled the issue in my own mind. The American republic abided two Adamses. But with the Bushes, it's time to say enough: third time's a harm.

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Obama Partners Up With Big Business And The Republicans To Screw Over American Workers With The TPP

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If there's one lesson Obama should learn from Bill Clinton's presidency, it's around NAFTA, which has been a catastrophe for the American middle and working class-- and pretty much everyone else it's impacted other than a handful of oligarchs and plutocrats. Instead, Obama is determined to deliver for Big Business the same way Clinton did. Like Clinton, he's partnering up with Republicans on horrendous trade policy, namely the TPP. Obama, apparently, thinks the TPP is an opportunity to make a legacy mark. I guess... but a really bad one, like Bill Clinton's on NAFTA.
Obama is facing increasing pressure from the other countries, particularly Japan, to win approval from Congress for fast-track authority, which would allow him to pursue a final deal that could not be changed by lawmakers before a vote on Capitol Hill. Current Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) blocked a nascent push from the White House last year over fears of blowback from labor unions and other liberal groups.

Administration officials think they have a better chance to win approval for fast-track authority from a Republican-controlled Congress, but in his remarks Obama acknowledged that skepticism remains significant in both parties.

“It is somewhat challenging because of... Americans feeling as if their wages and incomes have stagnated” because of increasing global competition, Obama said. “There’s a narrative there that makes for some tough politics.”

Obama said that in talking about the merits of TPP, along with a smaller U.S.-European trade pact, he has urged Democrats not to view it in the same frame as past deals, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement. The president said the TPP aims to boost workers’ rights and environmental standards for businesses in some Asian nations.

“Don’t fight the last war,” Obama said.

Labor officials took issue with the president’s remarks and vowed to fight the administration’s trade push.

“It’s a little bit insulting for him to say anybody who is not in agreement with a particularly flawed trade deal he put on the table wants to maintain the status quo,” said Thea Lee, deputy chief of staff for the AFL-CIO. “We promise not to fight the last war if he promises not to put the last version of the trade deal on the table.”

Even among Republicans, Obama’s task to win support for his trade pacts remains fraught. Some House conservatives said they are opposed to granting the president more unilateral authority in the wake of his executive action two weeks ago to defer the deportations of up to several million undocumented immigrants.

“They don’t want to give him power certainly with the [Environmental Protection Agency]. They don’t want to give him power on human rights. They don’t want to give him power on health care. Do they want to give him power on international trade?” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who has expressed concerns about the trade deals, said at the Council on Foreign Relations this week.

Brown said that Obama could face opposition from “an interesting coalition of sort of progressive Democrats and anti-Obama tea party Republicans.”


Sunday, chief negotiators from the 12 TPP countries-- Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam-- convened in DC to put the finishing touches on their agreement so that it's all wrapped up early in the New York and the Republican-controlled Congress can pass it for him. McConnell has already said he's on board. Grassroots protests against TPP are assiduously ignored by the corporate media. In this agreement, getting rid of Net Neutrality, for example, is a construct by Big Business and their political allies of getting rid of trade barriers. The secret agreement is chock full of sneaky provisions meant to do end-runs around American public opinion and sovereignty.

Although Sherrod Brown and other progressives have led this battle in the Senate, House Democrats have been stirring as well. This was the statement Progressive Caucus co-chairs Keith Ellison and Raul Grijlava issued on TPP:
Free trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership must be negotiated in the open with Congressional oversight and input from the working people most affected by the policies at stake. Secret negotiations are not the way to cut a deal that will cost American jobs and slash wages.

The APEC summit ended today without a final deal agreed upon, which is yet another self-imposed deadline negotiators missed. The reason is simple: the Trans-Pacific Partnership is far from the ‘21st-century trade agreement’ it’s been called—it amounts to a corporate handout at the expense of workers in all negotiating nations. We urge American negotiators to fight for the best interest of working families-- not the world’s richest corporations.

We stand with the hard working people fighting the Trans-Pacific Partnership and demand the public be told what’s happening behind closed doors.
Rosa DeLauro (D-CT): "The administration refuses to change its approach to secret negotiations and is pushing to send a final package to Congress with almost no ability for us to scrutinize it. Enough is enough: no more offshoring, no more NAFTA-style trade deals." Democrats in manufacturing states are especially incensed-- and ready to fight Obama. Tim Ryan (D-OH) said Obama can expect House Democrats to fight him "tooth and nail." And, speaking of nails, this morning Alan Grayson (D-FL) told me that the TPP is "the final nail in the coffin of the middle class in this country." 




UPDATE: Making It Clearer

The TPP represents a tradition of trade deals that are organized to wreck the bargaining power of ordinary Americans versus the bargaining power of Wall Street predators. Other deals like this include the Columbia free trade deal, which was paired with a commitment by the Columbia government to stop the killing of unionists (which has not stopped), and the deal with Panama, which was paired with a commitment by the Panamanian government to stop being a tax haven for anonymous flows of cash (which they have not).

The administration knows all of this. But for them, the TPP is not really about economics, but geopolitics. The administration wants to use the TPP as leverage against China. Though China is a real threat to the U.S., and it picks off our industrial base strategically, the TPP is a dumb counter to China's growing power in the Pacific (and in the U.S.). NAFTA-style deals that prioritize a low cost and risky supply chain at the expense of genuine stability of our industrial systems cannot work to make the world safer. They are designed to do the opposite. If the government wanted to stop China, it could start by stopping the Chinese from supplying electronic components to U.S. military subcontractors. But that's not happening. Instead you have the TPP. Ridiculous.

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Don't Ever Accuse Ted Cruz Of Being Worthless-- He Upended The Whole NRA Strategy To Prevent Vivek Murthy's Confirmation

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Roy Blunt voted against confirming Vivek Murthy today. There was never any chance whatsoever that he would vote for confirmation. Obama nominated Murthy to be surgeon general just over a year and a month ago. The NRA , who have made the nomination into a cause célèbre-- flipped out and the senators they control decided to obstruct the confirmation process-- although after he had made it through the Senate Health Committee hearings last February. The absence of a Surgeon General was felt most acutely in the context of the battle to protect the country from Ebola. Republicans , though, would rather fantasize on their Hate Talk Radio outlets that the disease, which originates in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, is being brought into America by Mexicans coming over the southern border. It fits the hateful Republican ideology, racism and xenophobia.

In dubbing the Republican Party insanity about Ebola "the lie of the year," PolitiFact rated 16 separate claims about Ebola as Mostly False, False or Pants on Fire on our Truth-O-Meter in 2014... Fox News analyst George Will claimed Ebola could be spread into the general population through a sneeze or a cough, saying the conventional wisdom that Ebola spreads only through direct contact with bodily fluids was wrong.
"The problem is the original assumption, said with great certitude if not certainty, was that you need to have direct contact, meaning with bodily fluids from someone, because it’s not airborne," Will said. "There are doctors who are saying that in a sneeze or some cough, some of the airborne particles can be infectious." False.

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., described Ebola as "incredibly contagious," "very transmissible" and "easy to catch." Mostly False.

Internet conspirators claimed President Obama intended to detain people who had signs of illness. Pants on Fire. Bloggers also said the outbreak was started in a bioweapons lab funded by George Soros and Bill Gates. Pants on Fire.

A Georgia congressman [who is also a crackpot and a and medical doctor] claimed there were reports of people carrying diseases including Ebola across the southern border. Pants on Fire.
After Ted Cruz stumbled badly over the weekend-- in his rush to make Mitch McConnell look bad and to make sure everyone knows he and his posse want to forcibly deport between 11 and 14 million Hispanic and Asian immigrants-- Harry Reid was able to get Murthy's confirmation onto the calendar just as the Senate was ready to adjourn for the session. Obviously, with the Republicans taking over in January, the Senate would have never otherwise given Murthy a vote-- or would have easily defeated the nomination. The cloture vote to shut down the Republican filibuster passed 51-43 with NRA shills Joe Manchin (D-WV), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN) crossing the aisle to vote along with every Republican except Mark Kirk (R-IL). A few minutes after shutting down the GOP/NRA filibuster, the Senate confirmed Murthy by the same margin, again Kirk voting with the Democrats and Donnelly, Heitkamp and Manchin voting with the NRA.


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To torture or . . . um, what was the other option again? Oh, right, NOT to torture (ha-ha-ha!)

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"I’d do it again in a minute."
-- "Big Dick" Cheney ("The Biggest Dick of Them All"),
Sunday on Meet the Press

by Ken

Let's table for a moment the question of what exactly the "it" in question is in this pithy quote. After all, I imagine it applies equally well to every dastardly deed done and every monstrous policy advocated and implemented in the entire squalid, life-denying and -destroying career and life of "Big Dick" Cheney, aka "The Biggest Dick of Them All." This is a creature who would leave no stone unturned, no decent person unscrewed in pursuit of his life's goal of turning everything he touched, or even looked at, into shit.

Before we proceed, we must remember that Big Dick doesn't consider waterboarding torture, or for that matter anything else done by the squads of torturers he energized during his years of quasi-executive authority. You always wonder how he would feel if any of the varieties of torture he champions were done to him -- not for show, mind you, where you know that it will end, but for real, where you don't know, and where, if the rest of us get lucky, Big Dick might have been turned into the Carcass Formerly Known as "Big Dick" Cheney.

That said, as Amy Davidson notes in a new newyorker.com post, "Torture in a Dick Cheney Minute,"
Cheney’s “do it again in a minute” line came, remarkably, in response to [Meet the Press host Chuck] Todd’s question about the finding, in a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report released last week, that twenty-six out of a hundred and nineteen known inmates in the C.I.A.’s secret prisons were wrongfully held. Todd mentioned a number of cases of outright mistaken identity—“They were released, no apologies, nothing”—and wondered what those people were owed. “Twenty-five per cent turned out to be innocent. … Is that too high? You’re O.K. with that margin of error?” Todd asked. Yes, Cheney was O.K. with that. “I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective,” he said. A couple of minutes later, as if the exchange about mistaken detentions had not taken place, Cheney said of the prisoners, sweepingly and unequivocally, “They are unlawful combatants. They are terrorists.” He spoke approvingly of the decision not to read them any Miranda rights.
How can you not love that "as if the exchange about mistaken detentions had not taken place"? Is that Big Dick in a nutshell or what? Once the man has settled on his preferred lies and delusions, fuck any facts that attempt to get in his way.

Amy notes Chuck Todd's vain attempt to get Big Dick to tell us just what he considers torture, and could only get the opposite: a category of activities he considers not torture: anything "specifically authorized and O.K.'d" and "blessed by the Justice Department." As best she can work it out from the Dickman's puzzling utterances:
Basically, in Cheney’s world, nothing Americans do can be called torture, because we are not Al Qaeda and we are not the Japanese in the Second World War (whom we prosecuted for waterboarding) and we are not ISIS. “The way we did it,” as he said of waterboarding, was not torture. In other words, it was not really the Justice Department that “blessed,” or rather transubstantiated, torture; it was our American-ness. Is there an argument that could degrade that American identity more?
Alas, though, there are cadres of stand-by torturers who don't fit the gargantuan-cartoon mold of Big Dick.
It would be comforting to dismiss Cheney as a historical oddity, to picture him sitting in the dimly lit room of a motel, changing the pitch of his voice to pretend he wasn’t alone. But he’s got company, and it’s dangerous. The way that many, including the present and former directors of the C.I.A., have responded to the Senate report has been shameless and sordid. (There have been exceptions, as Jane Mayer notes.) They have spent a lot of time complaining that the Agency hasn’t been sufficiently praised. The word “torture” upsets them.

Those intelligence officials talk, too, about what they think they learned from torturing people, scrounging for something to put in the moral balance. (It’s the wrong currency, and not exchangeable.) Brennan said that it was “unknowable” whether the same things could have been learned another way; what is knowable, based on the report, is that false information given to us by prisoners who were tortured was then used to justify the torture of other prisoners.

One rhetorical trick has been to say, as Brennan did last Thursday, that most of what was done was proper, apart from a few cases when interrogators went beyond what was authorized—“went outside of the bounds,” as Brennan put it. He argued that what everyone else did “should neither be criticized nor conflated with the actions of the few who did not follow the guidance issued.” A rational person, hearing stray, awful details in the press reports, might be reassured, assuming that “outside of the bounds” included shackling a person for extended periods in “stress positions” as he soils himself, slamming him against a wall, nearly drowning him, keeping him awake for days, or putting him in a cold cell, stripped of most of his clothes. (That last one happened to a prisoner who was wrongfully held; he died of hypothermia.) But those “techniques”—acts of torture—were part of the policy. Brennan is essentially just admonishing Americans not to “conflate” putting hummus in a person’s rectum with locking him in a box the size of a coffin. (“Confinement boxes” were an approved measure.) Thirteen years after 9/11, there’s surely more to think about. It’s not enough to call the rule-breaking abhorrent, when the rules were abhorrent, too.

John Brennan works for Barack Obama. As Jane Mayer writes in the magazine this week, the President, when it comes to torture, has preferred avoidance to accountability. Obama looks back in sorrow, and seems to think that everyone else does, too. But if this past week has proved anything, it’s that the legacy of torture is not quiet repentance but impunity. This President has told his agents not to torture, and Brennan says he can work with that, while the C.I.A. waits for instructions from the next one.

SPEAKING OF TORTURE --

Ian Welsh, who a few days ago offered a beautiful consideration of "The Ethics of Torture 101," distinguishing between the pragmatic (it doesn't work) and ethical (it's for God's sake wrong) cases against torture, follows up today with an anguished post called "America's Depraved Leadership Has Created a Depraved Population":
A majority of Americans thing torture is justified.  They are split on whether the Torture report should have been released.  And they think Torture prevented attacks."

According to the American people, torture is justified, and it works.

Every demographic has at least a plurality for torture: men and women, young and old, white and non-white.

The only good finding is that a plurality of Democrats believe torture was not justified, though, within the margin of error, they do believe it was helpful.

Before Bush, most Americans were against torture.  The endless drumbeat of propaganda and the need to justify what America does (America is good, therefore America does not do evil), has had its effect.

I will make an ethical judgment: people think torture is justified are bad people. Depraved people.  A society where a majority thinks it is justified is a depraved culture.  (And remember, 51% think it was justified, but 20% don’t have an opinion.  Only about a third of Americans are opposed.)
Sounds reasonable to me.


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