Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The most dangerous conspiracy theory of 2016

Trump and Clinton feed the rigged-election charge to their peril

By Darren Samuelsohn, Politico.com
09/28/16 05:08 AM EDT

In a presidential campaign consumed by conspiracy theories, the most dangerous one looming over these final six weeks isn’t about President Barack Obama’s birthplace or whether Hillary Clinton is sick with more than pneumonia.

It’s the suggestion that the election itself won't be on the up and up.

Donald Trump and his allies are directly fueling the fire. The Republican who launched his political career on the wings of the birther movement has been sounding the alarm since summer that the results in battleground states – from Ohio to Florida – will be fixed so he’ll lose.

“We know it’s a rigged system. All you have to do is ask Bernie Sanders and you’ll see,” Trump said last week during a rally in Kenansville, North Carolina.

Trump’s campaign website is recruiting poll watchers to “Help Me Stop Crooked Hillary From Rigging This Election!” and it’s also getting air cover from a political non-profit group named “Stop the Steal” — run by longtime confidante Roger Stone — that’s raising unlimited money from corporations and individuals to hire election experts and conduct exit polling that it says can go a long way to “prevent the THEFT of the 2016 Presidential election.”

(More here.)

Dutch probe: Missile brought from Russia downed Malaysia Airlines plane over Ukraine

A Malaysia Airlines plane carrying 298 people and traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, fell in a Ukrainian field.

What the Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash site looked like

By Andrew Roth
September 28 at 9:11 AM, WashPost

KIEV, Ukraine — A Dutch-led investigation team said Wednesday that the surface-to-air missile that downed a passenger jet over eastern Ukraine in 2014, killing all 298 people aboard, came from Russia and was fired from territory held by pro-Moscow separatists.

Investigators stopped short of directly accusing Russia of complicity in the attack on the Malaysia Airlines jet, and declined to name any suspects publicly. Both Russia and the rebels in Ukraine deny any role in the July 2014 attack on Flight 17, which was traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

The findings are intended to be used in a possible criminal trial. But even if the guilty are identified, it’s unclear how they would be apprehended, especially if they are located in Russia or in separatist-held Ukraine.

(More here.)

Monday, September 26, 2016

Mankato is doing just fine, thank you

By Leigh Pomeroy

About a month ago, Peter Nelson of the Center of the American Experiment, which bills itself as “Minnesota’s think tank”, contributed a piece to the Mankato Free Press op-ed pages entitled “Minnesota’s policies hold Mankato back”.

Mr. Nelson acknowledges that the city “boasts an unemployment rate well below the state rate and has experienced stronger growth in employment, labor force and population over the past 10 years.” This is great news!

However, he argues that “Mankato can do even better.” How? He says that Mankato is not growing fast enough.

To me as a former educator, this is like telling an “A-” student, “You aren’t doing well enough: Do better!” Not a good approach.

He blames Mankato’s ability to perform short of excellence (by his standards) on Minnesota’s tax policies: They’re not as business friendly as Iowa’s, for example. In addition, there is too much government regulation in Minnesota as compared to Iowa, listing oil pipelines as an example.

Yet looking into Mr. Nelson’s analysis reveals one of the great failings of the maximum growth fantasists: They insist on measuring everything in dollars and percentages.

What’s wrong with this? Quality of life does not depend on growth, personal or business income and the amount one has in savings and investments. It is far more encompassing than that.

Yes, money does matter for individuals and families who are struggling to feed their families, provide housing, have affordable and comprehensive health care, feel like they and their kids are receiving the benefits of at least the American middle-class lifestyle.

But other factors not easily quantified by analysts and number crunchers mean a lot more. For example: safe neighborhoods, effective and efficient local governments, easy-to-access local services, good schools, available parks and recreational opportunities, accepting and supporting churches, and much more.

Can these be translated into numbers? Do they constitute growth?

In Mankato, every housing or commercial development on the edge of town covers over our rich blue earth soils, displaces the natural flora and fauna within, and creates new drainage, city services and transportation issues, just to name a few challenges.

Further, growth often brings with it more crime, more traffic jams, more displaced persons, more violence and a host of other societal problems.

As a former resident of California and Colorado I have seen where growth and development have obliterated once prime fruit-growing regions and have taken away all the natural gifts that beckoned settlers to those areas in the first place. It’s the old lifeboat argument: The lifeboat provides safety, but if it’s too full it sinks.

In Mankato we need to look beyond the growth that the number crunchers claim we should achieve. We need to decide how big a greater community we wish to become. We need to decide on what we value most, then aim for those goals regardless of what outsiders advocate. We must grow smart, not fast. And we must remember that growth is a double-edged sword, and that when it stops, as inevitably it will, we must anticipate the challenges that no-growth brings.

These are the goals we need to set. In the meantime, we should thank Mr. Nelson and the Center of the American Experiment for their input. But we must ask them respectfully to either move to the Iowa that they revere or simply leave us alone.

This article was also published in the Mankato Free Press.

A Full List of Donald Trump's Rapidly Changing Policy Positions

by Jane C. Timm, WashPost

Trump Flips Immigration Stance, While Asserting Clinton is a 'Bigot'

After a year of campaigning, hundreds of interviews, stadium rallies, and press conferences, it is still difficult to glean a platform from the Republican nominee's powerfully incoherent rhetoric and constantly evolving views.

Donald Trump changes his mind so frequently and so dramatically that a compilation of his current policies would not tell the whole story, nor would it be up to date for very long — he once offered up three different views on abortion in eight hours. By mixing facts with exaggerations and outright falsehoods in hundreds of interviews while simultaneously refusing to offer specifics — insisting that unpredictability is an advantage he'll use to cut better deals — Trump and the Republican Party that's nominated him are putting forward the most elusive presidential platform in modern history.

To wit: This list features 117 distinct policy shifts on 20 major issues, tracking only his reversals since he announced his candidacy on June 16, 2015.

Highlights from Trump's RNC Speech

Consider the Muslim ban. Every time Trump and his team describes one of his most polarizing and defining policy positions, it is couched differently, making it impossible to determine how and to what degree Trump would implement such a thing if elected president. Initially, it was a full and complete ban on all Muslims; later, it was described as a ban that excluded citizens, members of the U.S. military, and Trump's good friends. These days, it's often described a ban on Muslims and people coming from countries with a history of terrorism — more than a third of the world, including major U.S. allies like France. On Monday, Trump said he hadn't actually limited his initial ban — he'd expanded it — but just didn't want to say it was about Muslims. Meanwhile, his campaign insists that the policy has not changed at all.

(More here.)

A Week of Whoppers From Donald Trump

By MAGGIE HABERMAN and ALEXANDER BURNS, SEPT. 24, 2016, NYT

All politicians bend the truth to fit their purposes, including Hillary Clinton. But Donald J. Trump has unleashed a blizzard of falsehoods, exaggerations and outright lies in the general election, peppering his speeches, interviews and Twitter posts with untruths so frequent that they can seem flighty or random — even compulsive.

However, a closer examination, over the course of a week, revealed an unmistakable pattern: Virtually all of Mr. Trump’s falsehoods directly bolstered a powerful and self-aggrandizing narrative depicting him as a heroic savior for a nation menaced from every direction. Mike Murphy, a Republican strategist, described the practice as creating “an unreality bubble that he surrounds himself with.”

The New York Times closely tracked Mr. Trump’s public statements from Sept. 15-21, and assembled a list of his 31 biggest whoppers, many of them uttered repeatedly. This total excludes dozens more: Untruths that appeared to be mere hyperbole or humor, or delivered purely for effect, or what could generously be called rounding errors. Mr. Trump’s campaign, which dismissed this compilation as “silly,” offered responses on every point, but in none of the following instances did the responses support his assertions.

(More here.)

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Study: Immigration Good for the Economy

First broad look at topic in nearly 20 years sheds light on subject at forefront of presidential race

JEFFREY SPARSHOTT, Wall Street Journal
Updated Sept. 22, 2016 5:20 p.m. ET

Waves of immigrants coming into the U.S. in recent decades have helped the economy over the long haul and had little lasting impact on the wages or employment levels of native-born Americans, according to one of the most comprehensive studies yet on the topic.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine report on immigration assesses the economic and fiscal impacts of immigration, offering a broad look at a phenomenon that has moved to the forefront of the presidential race, with both candidates debating the downsides and merits of immigration.

The conclusion runs counter to a popular narrative suggesting that immigrants take the jobs of U.S. citizens, though it does acknowledge some costs for segments of the population. It highlights research showing an influx of lower-skilled workers can lead to lower wages for earlier waves of immigrants and native-born high-school dropouts. And the study found that immigration can burden government finances, especially education budgets at the state and local levels.

The report, citing a lack of data, doesn’t distinguish between the impacts of documented and undocumented immigrants.

The distillation of research and previously unavailable data offer a big-picture view that highlights the overarching benefits of immigration without discounting the dislocation and the fiscal costs associated with illegal and legal arrivals into the U.S.

(Continued here.)

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A wake-up call on the junk science infesting our courtrooms

By Harry T. Edwards and Jennifer L. Mnookin September 20 at 8:58 AM

Harry T. Edwards is a senior judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Jennifer L. Mnookin is dean of the UCLA School of Law. They serve as co-chairs of the Senior Advisors to the PCAST Working Group.

On the popular television show “CSI,” forensic evidence was portrayed as glitzy, high-tech — and virtually infallible. Unfortunately, this depiction is often a far cry from reality. This week, a significant report issued by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) persuasively explains that expert evidence based on a number of forensic methods — such as bite mark analysis, firearms identification, footwear analysis and microscopic hair comparisons — lacks adequate scientific validation. Quite simply, these techniques have not yet been proved to be reliable forms of legal proof.

(More here.)

Monday, September 19, 2016

'More guns in fewer hands': US study charts rise of hardcore super owners

Exclusive: New survey shows just 3% of American adults own nearly half of guns in the US, as part of most definitive portrait of gun ownership in two decades

The Guardian

Americans own an estimated 265 million guns, more than one gun for every American adult, according to the most definitive portrait of US gun ownership in two decades. But the new survey estimates that 130m of these guns are concentrated in the hands of just 3% of American adults – a group of super-owners who have amassed an average of 17 guns each.

The unpublished Harvard/Northeastern survey result summary, obtained exclusively by the Guardian and the Trace, estimates that America’s gun stock has increased by 70m guns since 1994. At the same time, the percentage of Americans who own guns decreased slightly from 25% to 22%.

The new survey, conducted in 2015 by public health researchers from Harvard and Northeastern universities, also found that the proportion of female gun owners is increasing as fewer men own guns. These women were more likely to own a gun for self-defense than men, and more likely to own a handgun only.

Women’s focus on self-defense is part of a broader trend. Even as the US has grown dramatically safer and gun violence rates have plummeted, handguns have become a greater proportion of the country’s civilian gun stock, suggesting that self-defense is an increasingly important factor in gun ownership.

(More here.)

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Deniers club: Meet the people clouding the climate change debate

They've stalled action with a campaign of deliberate misinformation.

By Michael Mann and Tom Toles
September 16, WashPost

Michael Mann is a professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University. Tom Toles is a Washington Post editorial cartoonist. This feature is adapted from their book, “The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy.”

August tied July as the hottest month on record, according to NASA data released this past week. This year we’ve seen half a dozen thousand-year floods, along with epic droughts. Mother Nature is telling us there’s a problem. The long-term trend lines are clear. Yet we have a Republican presidential nominee who has repeatedly called climate change a “hoax.” “Perhaps there’s a minor effect,” Donald Trump told The Washington Post’s editorial board, “but I’m not a big believer in man-made climate change.” So it goes in the madhouse of the climate debate. Even as the evidence has become unmistakable, and even though the alarm has been sounded several times, public policy has been paralyzed — sometimes from ignorance, sometimes from uncertainty, but often from a campaign of deliberate misinformation. Here are some of the worst offenders.

S. Fred Singer

“Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. On the contrary, it makes crops and forests grow faster.”

Singer is the most prolific of the deniers-for-hire. Formerly a Cold War physicist and an environmental science professor at the University of Virginia, he left academia in 1990 to found a think tank, the Science and Environmental Policy Project, with a mission of debunking the science of ozone depletion, climate change, tobacco and other environmental and health threats. He has received considerable funding from corporate interests, including tobacco company Philip Morris, seed and pesticide company Monsanto and energy company Texaco. His many works include a 2009 report titled “Climate Change Reconsidered,” which concludes that “a warmer world will be a safer and healthier world for humans and wildlife alike.” The report has been dismissed as “fabricated nonsense.”

(More here.)

Republicans remain the 'stupid party'

By Tom Maertens
September 18, 2016

Governor Bobby Jindal famously said that his party, the Republican Party, had to stop being the stupid party.

They have a long way to go.

In late 2010, ninety-four of one hundred newly elected Republican members of Congress denied that global warming was happening.

Congressman John Shimkus (R-IL), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, is one. He waved a Bible during a congressional hearing on climate change and declared that “the earth will end only when God says it’s time to be over. Man will not destroy this Earth, this Earth will not end in a flood.”

Senator James Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, claims that global warming is one of the greatest hoaxes ever perpetrated.

Other Republican anti-science spokesmen include such bright lights as Congressman Paul Broun, a physician who served on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. He told a luncheon crowd that “All that stuff that I was taught about evolution and embryology, big bang theory, all that, is lies straight from the pit of hell.”

Shawn Otto (The War on Science) has written that, as far back as 2008, it had become doubtful whether a Republican candidate for president could get the party’s endorsement without taking a stridently anti-science position. Yet science is responsible for half of all US economic growth since WWII, writes Otto, and scientific advancements are the only way we can support the world’s growing population.

“Over the next forty years, science is poised to create more knowledge than humans have created in all of human history” -- but not if Republicans have their way.

A 2015 Public Policy Polling survey found that almost half of Republicans don't believe in evolution, the foundation of modern biological sciences. But there is no controversy among scientists about evolution.

In the Republican playbook, however, global warming and evolution are junk science, but “creationism” -- religion --should be taught in public schools. A Public Policy Polling (PPP) national survey conducted in 2015 found that 57 percent of Republicans want to dismantle the Constitution and establish Christianity as the official national religion despite a clear Constitutional prohibition that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

Another canon of today’s Republican Party is that the other side rigs elections. According to a recent Gallup poll, 52% of Republicans think vote fraud is a major problem; 71% of Trump voters said that if Clinton wins the election it will be because it was rigged. A PPP survey in Texas found that 40% of Trump supporters believe ACORN will steal the upcoming election. News flash: ACORN went out of business six years ago.

In fact, a person is more likely to get struck by lightning than encounter in-person vote fraud. For example, Texas prosecuted only three people for in-person vote fraud between 2002 and 2014 – three persons out of 54 million votes cast in that time period.

The real vote rigging has been carried out by Republican administrations in a dozen red states that passed voter suppression laws which – as a three-judge federal appeals panel ruled in striking down a North Carolina law -- targeted “African Americans with almost surgical precision.”

The court’s opinion said that “because of race, the legislature enacted one of the largest restrictions of the franchise in modern North Carolina history … that North Carolina GOP leaders launched a meticulous and coordinated effort to deter black voters, who overwhelmingly vote for Democrats.”

Federal courts have struck down similar voting restrictions in Texas, Wisconsin, Kansas and North Dakota.

Anti-black voting restrictions are not just a series of coincidences in a dozen red states controlled by Republicans; the Republican Party has employed dog-whistle racism for decades, starting with Nixon’s Southern Strategy. It’s not a coincidence either that nearly four in ten Trump supporters in South Carolina told The Hill they wish the South had won the Civil War.

According to Simon Jackman of the University of Sydney, “Whites who reported prejudicial beliefs about blacks skewed heavily Republican in 2008 and 2012 — and they will in 2016.” Similarly, research by the Washington Post found that Trump does best among Americans who express racial hostility.

According to a NBC News|SurveyMonkey poll conducted in late June and early July of more than 1,700 registered voters,"Seventy-two percent of registered Republican voters still doubt President Obama's citizenship.” And this skepticism even exists among Republicans high in political knowledge."

Those people have given us a bigoted, caterwauling egomaniac who wants to make America Great Again by expelling brown-skinned people, and turning the clock back to Top of Form some mythical “good old days” when there were no government prohibitions on discrimination against women and minorities.

Republicans obviously didn’t listen to Bobby Jindal.

This article also published in the Mankato Free Press.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates Sizes Up the Next Commander-in-Chief

At least on national security, I believe Mr. Trump is beyond repair. He is stubbornly uninformed about the world and how to lead our country and government, and temperamentally unsuited to lead our men and women in uniform. He is unqualified and unfit to be commander-in-chief.

By Robert M. Gates, WSJ
Sept. 16, 2016 6:23 p.m. ET

You wouldn’t know it from the presidential campaigns, but the first serious crisis to face our new president most likely will be international. The list of possibilities is long—longer than it was eight years ago.

Here is the world the new president will inherit at noon on January 20—a range of challenges for which neither candidate has offered new strategies or paths forward.

Every aspect of our relationship with China is becoming more challenging. In addition to Chinese cyberspying and theft of intellectual property, many American businesses in China are encountering an increasingly hostile environment. China’s nationalist determination unilaterally to assert sovereignty over disputed waters and islands in the East and South China Seas is steadily increasing the risk of military confrontation.

Most worrying, given their historic bad blood, escalation of a confrontation between China and Japan could be very dangerous. As a treaty partner of Japan, we would be obligated to help Tokyo. China intends to challenge the U.S. for regional dominance in East Asia over the long term, but the new president could quickly face a Chinese military challenge over disputed islands and freedom of navigation.

(More here or here.)

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Something stinks in Madison

Leaked court documents from ‘John Doe investigation’ in Wisconsin lay bare pervasive influence of corporate cash on modern US elections

By Ed Pilkington and the Guardian US interactive team

Scott Walker was under pressure. It was September 2011, and earlier that year the first-term governor had turned himself into the poster boy of hardline Republican politics by passing the notorious anti-union measure Act 10, stripping public sector unions of collective bargaining rights.

Now he was under attack himself, pursued by progressive groups who planned revenge by forcing him into a recall election. His job was on the line.

He asked his main fundraiser, Kate Doner, to write him a briefing note on how they could raise enough money to win the election. At 6.39am on a Wednesday, she fired off an email to Walker and his top advisers flagged “red”.

“Gentlemen,” she began. “Here are my quick thoughts on raising money for Walker’s possible recall efforts.”

Her advice was bold and to the point. “Corporations,” she said. “Go heavy after them to give.” She continued: “Take Koch’s money. Get on a plane to Vegas and sit down with Sheldon Adelson. Ask for $1m now.”

Her advice must have hit a sweet spot, because money was soon pouring in from big corporations and mega-wealthy individuals from across the nation. A few months after the memo, Adelson, a Las Vegas casino magnate who Forbes estimates has a personal fortune of $26bn, was to wire a donation of $200,000 for the cause.

(Continued here.)

Fifteen years after 9/11, American Muslims have seen both progress and peril

I’m the first Muslim in Congress. I believe America can beat Islamophobia.

By Keith Ellison September 10
Washington Post

Keith Ellison represents Minnesota's fifth congressional district and was the first Muslim elected to Congress. He is the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and serves on the Financial Services Committee.

Fifteen years ago, the United States was attacked by terrorists claiming to act in the name of Islam. America’s response? “United We Stand.” Yet now it feels like Muslims face more hatred in 2016 than on Sept. 11, 2001.

Back then, President George W. Bush, no liberal, visited a mosque in Washington, D.C., just days later to show solidarity with Muslims, saying, “The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don’t represent peace. They represent evil and war.” People came together in gratitude for those who risked everything rescuing others during the attacks, including Mohammed Salman Hamdani, a 23-year-old first responder who died saving lives in the World Trade Center. He was Muslim. So am I.

Before that day, America’s Muslim community wasn’t the focus of much political discussion. Now, Islam and Muslims are regular topics on talk shows and in headlines, often in a negative light. The political landscape has changed dramatically for America’s Muslim community — for better and worse. Increased Muslim visibility and engagement in the community are occurring at the same time as an increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes, and this is not a coincidence: A recent study by the Bridge Initiative found that anti-Muslim crimes have increased during this election season, with 2015 having the most anti-Muslim violence and vandalism of any year since 9/11. Looking at the data, there is a clear uptick in anti-Muslim crime associated with the rise of Donald Trump. In fact, two Somali Muslim men were recently shot in my own city of Minneapolis because of their faith. For American Muslims, the period since 9/11 has represented both progress and peril — and many fear what may lie ahead.

(Continued here.)

More stupidity in Congress: As long as the money flows it will never end

THE HOUSE SCIENCE COMMITTEE’S ANTI-SCIENCE RAMPAGE

By Lawrence M. Krauss
SEPTEMBER 14, 2016, The New Yorker

If you know the answers you want in advance, you can always find them by cherry-picking your data. That’s what climate-change deniers have tried to do in recent years in arguing that there’s been a “pause” in the global-warming trend over the past two decades—suggesting, thereby, that global warming is just a temporary anomaly unrelated to human industrial activity. Last year, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration put the “climate change hiatus” myth to bed. They published a paper in Science that showed, using new and more definitive data, that the claimed “pause” hadn’t taken place.

Not long after the paper was published, something odd happened. Kathryn Sullivan, the head of N.O.A.A., received a subpoena. It came from Lamar Smith, the Texas congressman who chairs the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, and it demanded that the N.O.A.A. scientists turn over records and internal communications. They had already turned over their data in response to previous requests but refused to turn over scientists’ correspondence. In a statement, Smith accused the N.O.A.A. scientists of falsifying their data:
It was inconvenient for this administration that climate data has clearly showed no warming for the past two decades. The American people have every right to be suspicious when NOAA alters data to get the politically correct results they want. . . . NOAA needs to come clean about why they altered the data to get the results they needed to advance this administration’s extreme climate change agenda.
(More here.)

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

When Donald Meets Hillary

Who will win the debates? Trump’s approach was an important part of his strength in the primaries. But will it work when he faces Clinton onstage?

James Fallows, The Atlantic
October 2016 Issue

The most famous story about modern presidential campaigning now has a quaint old-world tone. It’s about the showdown between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy in the first debate of their 1960 campaign, which was also the very first nationally televised general-election debate in the United States.

The story is that Kennedy looked great, which is true, and Nixon looked terrible, which is also true—and that this visual difference had an unexpected electoral effect. As Theodore H. White described it in his hugely influential book The Making of the President 1960, which has set the model for campaign coverage ever since, “sample surveys” after the debate found that people who had only heard Kennedy and Nixon talking, over the radio, thought that the debate had been a tie. But those who saw the two men on television were much more likely to think that Kennedy—handsome, tanned, non-sweaty, poised—had won.

Historians who have followed up on this story haven’t found data to back up White’s sight-versus-sound discovery. But from a modern perspective, the only surprising thing about his findings is that they came as a surprise. Today’s electorate has decades of televised politics behind it, from which one assumption is that of course images, and their emotional power, usually matter more than words and whatever logic they might try to convey.

(More here.)

Who cares if they don't vote?

New evidence that voter ID laws ‘skew democracy’ in favor of white Republicans

By Christopher Ingraham February 4, Washington Post

Voter fraud is, for all intents and purposes, practically nonexistent. The best available research on the topic, by Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt, found only 31 credible incidents of voter impersonation in an investigation of over 1 billion votes cast.

But that hasn't dampened Republican efforts to pass a spate of strict voter ID laws since 2008. And it hasn't hurt the public's overall enthusiasm for those laws, either.

But the results of a new working paper from political scientists at University of California, San Diego suggest folks may want to consider. The researchers analyzed turnout in recent elections -- between 2008 and 2012 -- in states that did and did not implement the strictest form of voter ID laws. They found that these laws consistently and significantly decreased turnout not just among traditionally Democratic-leaning groups, like blacks and Hispanics, but among Republican voters too.

The findings are notable because they're some of the first using data in elections that took place after some states implemented photo ID requirements to vote. Previous studies on the effects of these laws showed mixed results. A 2014 report by the Government Accountability Office examined 10 of these studies. Five showed no significant effect of voter ID laws on turnout, four found a significant decrease in turnout, and one found, paradoxically, that the laws increased turnout.

(More here.)

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Here's one reason why U.S. can't budget enough for its own infrastructure

Israel to get $38 billion in U.S. military aid over 10 years

By Associated Press
09/13/16 03:16 PM EDT

WASHINGTON — The United States will provide Israel's military with $38 billion during the next 10 years, officials said Tuesday, the largest batch of military assistance the U.S. has ever pledged to another country.

Following months of behind-the-scenes negotiations, the State Department said the two countries had reached a 10-year agreement, with a signing ceremony planned for Wednesday. The U.S. and Israel haven't disclosed the exact sum, but officials familiar with the deal said it totals $3.8 billion a year — up from the $3.1 billion the U.S. gave Israel annually under the previous 10-year deal.

Obama's national security adviser, Susan Rice, planned to attend the ceremony at the State Department, a senior Obama administration official said. Israel's acting national security adviser, Jacob Nagel, arrived in Washington ahead of the announcement and was also expected to attend.

Israel's government had no immediate comment on the deal.

Under the agreement, Israel's ability to spend part of the funds on Israeli military products will be gradually phased out, eventually requiring all of the funds to be spend on American military industries. Israel's preference for spending some of the funds internally had been a major sticking point in the deal.

(More here.)

Census Bureau reports largest income increase since it started measuring in 1967

U.S. Household Incomes Surged 5.2% in 2015, First Gain Since 2007

By Nick Timiraos and Janet Adamy, WSJ
Updated Sept. 13, 2016 11:29 a.m. ET

Incomes in the U.S. surged in 2015, delivering the first increase for family households in eight years.

The median annual household income—the level at which half are above and half are below—rose 5.2% from a year earlier, or $2,800, after adjusting for inflation, to $56,500, the Census Bureau said Tuesday.

The boost leaves household incomes around 1.6% below the 2007 level, before the last recession began. But the 5.2% annual gain is the largest such increase since the Census Bureau began releasing such data in 1967.

The official poverty rate in 2015 was 13.5%, down 1.2 percentage points from 14.8% in 2014, the report added.

The latest figures show how several years of robust growth in employment have finally helped a broad swath of the nation improve living standards—after several years of either flat incomes or sustained declines.

(More here.)

Latest presidential poll

Qualifications, Consistency Help Clinton While Turnout Keeps Trump in the Hunt

ABC NEWS/WASHINGTON POST POLL: 2016 Election Update

Advantages on qualifications and consistency and help from an increasingly popular incumbent are aiding Hillary Clinton in the presidential race – but with weaknesses sufficient to keep Donald Trump well in the hunt in the campaign’s closing months.

Clinton has 46 percent support among likely voters in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, with 41 percent for Trump, 9 percent for Libertarian Gary Johnson and 2 percent for Jill Stein of the Green Party. Clinton’s 5-point advantage is within this poll’s margin of error, but it bears up in the context of consistent results among likely voters all summer.

Clinton takes a slight hit from the presence of Johnson and Stein; it’s a 51-43 percent contest (Clinton +8) in a two-way matchup with Trump alone. That occurs mainly because of defections by Bernie Sanders supporters: Clinton wins 92 percent of them one-on-one vs. Trump, but just 77 percent of them with Johnson and Stein in the mix.

(More here.)

Ho-hum… Another record high temperature month

NASA Analysis Finds August 2016 Another Record Month

National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Goddard Institute for Space Studies
Posted Sep. 12, 2016

August 2016 was the warmest August in 136 years of modern record-keeping, according to a monthly analysis of global temperatures by scientists at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York.

Although the seasonal temperature cycle typically peaks in July, August 2016 wound up tied with July 2016 for the warmest month ever recorded. August 2016's temperature was 0.16 degrees Celsius warmer than the previous warmest August in 2014. Last month also was 0.98 degrees Celsius warmer than the mean August temperature from 1951-1980.

"Monthly rankings, which vary by only a few hundredths of a degree, are inherently fragile," said GISS Director Gavin Schmidt. "We stress that the long-term trends are the most important for understanding the ongoing changes that are affecting our planet."

The record warm August continued a streak of 11 consecutive months dating back to October 2015 that have set new monthly high-temperature records. The monthly analysis by the GISS team is assembled from publicly available data acquired by about 6,300 meteorological stations around the world, ship- and buoy-based instruments measuring sea surface temperature, and Antarctic research stations. The modern global temperature record begins around 1880 because previous observations didn't cover enough of the planet.

(Continued here.)

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Is James Comey a J. Edgar Hoover redux?

Not since Hoover has an FBI director shown such a lack of accountability

By Riley Roberts, Politico.com
September 11, 2016

With hard, hooded eyes and a pugilistic bearing, J. Edgar Hoover’s official portrait glowers—face fixed in a bulldog scowl—down the hallways of the FBI’s Washington headquarters. Even the building itself—a crumbling brutalist cathedral, windowless at street level and wreathed in security cameras—seems to evoke something of the man, its namesake, who bent the bureau to his will during the terms of eight presidents, from Coolidge to Nixon.

Hoover never so much as crossed the threshold of the office where his latest successor, James Comey, now works. Yet the edifice and the institution remain haunted by Hoover’s legacy of unchecked power, which rendered him judge, jury and executioner of anyone who came into his sights.

The FBI’s history is divided into two distinct epochs: Hoover and post-Hoover. After Hoover’s death in office in 1972, Congress enacted laws designed to curtail the abuses—from illegal wiretaps and “black bag” jobs to campaigns of intimidation and blackmail—that defined his 48-year reign. Of the six directors who have followed, all but one have projected far lower profiles, eschewing the dramatic assertions of power that made Hoover so dangerous. Only James Comey, the seventh and current FBI director, has strayed from this well-worn path.

(More here.)

Just another Labor Day weekend: Dozens of U.S. airstrikes in six countries

A reminder of the permanent wars

By Missy Ryan, WashPost, September 8

While Americans savored the last moments of summer this Labor Day weekend, the U.S. military was busy overseas as warplanes conducted strikes in six countries in a flurry of attacks. The bombing runs across Asia, Africa and the Middle East spotlighted the diffuse terrorist threats that have persisted into the final days of the Obama presidency — conflicts that the next president is now certain to inherit.

In Iraq and Syria, between Saturday and Monday, the United States conducted about 45 strikes against Islamic State targets. On the other side of the Mediterranean, in the Libyan city of Sirte, U.S. forces also hit fighters with the militant group. On Sunday in Yemen, a U.S. drone strike killed six suspected members of ­al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The following day, just across the Gulf of Aden in Somalia, the Pentagon targeted al-Shabab, another group aligned with ­al-Qaeda. The military also conducted several counterterrorism strikes over the weekend in Afghanistan, where the Taliban and the Islamic State are on the offensive.

(More here.)

What Happens After ISIS Falls?

Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate is shrinking, but its demise is likely to bring new problems: fresh regional clashes, a revived al Qaeda and more terrorism in the West

By Yaroslav Trofimov, WSJ
Sept. 9, 2016 11:30 a.m. ET

On July 4, 2014, a black-turbaned cleric named Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi took to the pulpit of the Grand Mosque in the Iraqi city of Mosul and proclaimed the founding of a new caliphate. Already in control of eastern Syria and western Iraq, this so-called Islamic State had global ambitions, Mr. Baghdadi declared. The self-appointed caliph vowed to restore “dignity, might, rights and leadership” to his fellow Sunni Muslims everywhere.

That audacious sermon from the heart of Iraq’s second-largest city was the culmination of a jihadist blitzkrieg that had seized most of the Sunni Arab parts of Iraq in previous weeks. It was also, it turned out, the high point of Islamic State’s bid to conquer the world.

Islamic State now seems likely to fall as swiftly as it rose. In the past two years, the group has gone to war with everyone from al Qaeda to Iran’s Shiite theocracy to the U.S. and Russia. It has launched attacks in the West and elsewhere—or, at any rate, claimed credit for them—with rising frequency, even as it has suffered a series of battlefield defeats and surrendered one city after another.

(More here.)

Oregon Armed Occupation Trial Set to Start

Ammon Bundy and seven others face federal charges for standoff at wildlife refuge that began in January

By Jim Carlton, WSJ
Sept. 10, 2016 5:30 a.m. ET

Nearly nine months after the armed occupation of a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon that captivated the nation for weeks, arguments in the first trial against some of the participants open in Portland, Ore., Tuesday.

Eight of the 26 protesters facing charges—including their leader, Ammon Bundy—are due to appear before a jury in Portland’s federal courthouse. Mr. Bundy, 41 years old, his brother Ryan, 43, and the six others all face charges of conspiracy to impede federal officers through intimidation, threats or force.

All eight have pleaded not guilty. A lawyer for Ammon Bundy didn’t respond to request for comment. Ryan Bundy is representing himself.

(More here.)

Morell and Vickers: An open letter to Donald Trump

By Michael Morell and Mike Vickers September 10 at 12:36 PM, WashPost

Michael Morell was acting director and deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2010 to 2013. Mike Vickers was the undersecretary of defense for intelligence from 2011 to 2015. Both writers have served in Democratic and Republican administrations and endorsed Hillary Clinton for president.

Mr. Trump, with all due respect to you as the presidential nominee of the Republican Party, you cannot credibly serve as commander in chief if you embrace Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Russian leader has repeatedly shown himself to be an adversary of the United States. Putin, during his long tenure, has repeatedly pursued policies that undermine U.S. interests and those of our allies and partners. He has steadily but systematically moved Russia from a fledgling democratic state to an authoritarian one. He is the last foreign leader you should be praising.

Abroad, Putin has interfered in the internal affairs of a host of nations on his periphery — through information operations, manipulation of elections and direct support, including providing weapons, to insurgent groups. Most significant, in the past decade, Putin has invaded two neighbors, Georgia and Ukraine — including annexing Crimea, the first major land grab in Europe since World War II. Putin’s goal in doing this is to keep the nations of the former Soviet Union from linking their futures to that of Europe and the West. Do you back these actions?

Putin’s support of insurgents in Eastern Ukraine resulted in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which killed 298 innocent civilians. Under Putin’s direction, Russian special forces provided the insurgents with the air-defense system that brought down the plane; Russian special forces trained them on how to use it. As intelligence officers who oversaw covert action, we can tell you that when a country provides overt or covert support to proxies, that nation is responsible for what those proxies do with that support. That makes Putin responsible for downing the airliner. Do you hold him responsible?

(More here.)

Friday, September 09, 2016

Inside the fight to reveal the CIA's torture secrets

The first part of the inside story of the Senate investigation into torture, the crisis with the CIA it spurred and the man whose life would never be the same.

by Spencer Ackerman in Washington, The Guardian
Friday 9 September 2016

Daniel Jones had always been friendly with the CIA personnel who stood outside his door.

When he needed to take something out of the secure room where he read mountains of their classified material, they typically obliged. An informal understanding had taken hold after years of working together, usually during off-peak hours, so closely that Jones had parking privileges at an agency satellite office not far from its McLean, Virginia, headquarters. They would ask Jones if anything he wanted to remove contained real names or cover names of any agency officials, assets or partners, or anything that could compromise an operation. He would say no. They would nod, he would wish them a good night, and they would go their separate ways.

After midnight in the summer of 2013, Jones deliberately violated that accord.

Jones, a counter-terrorism staffer, had become the chief investigator for the Senate intelligence committee, the CIA’s congressional overseer, on its biggest inquiry. For five years, he had been methodically sifting through internal CIA accounts of its infamous torture program, a process that had begun after the committee learned – thanks to a New York Times article, not the agency – that a senior official had destroyed videotapes that recorded infamously brutal interrogations. The subsequent committee inquiry had deeply strained a relationship with Langley that both sides badly wanted to maintain. The source of that strain was simple: having read millions of internal emails, cables and accounts of agency torture, Jones had come to believe everything the CIA had told Congress, the Bush and Obama White Houses and the public was a lie.

(More here.)

The Many Scandals of Donald Trump: A Cheat Sheet

The Republican nominee’s charitable foundation made a large gift to a Florida politician right before she dropped a damaging investigation. But what else has the foundation done?

David A. Graham, the Atlantic
Sep 7, 2016

As the old saying goes, those who give to glass foundations shouldn’t throw stones. Or something like that. In any case, after hitting Hillary Clinton hard over the Clinton Foundation, Donald Trump is under fresh scrutiny for his own foundation.

Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold has been reporting for months on the dearth of actual giving that Trump has done, despite repeated vows to donate to charity over the decades, but the story that’s broken through concerns a donation that Trump made to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, a Republican, in 2013. At the time, Bondi’s office was deciding whether or not to pursue a fraud case against Trump University and the Trump Institute. According to an aide, Bondi personally spoke with Trump, soliciting a donation to And Justice for All, a group backing her reelection. The Trump Foundation cut And Justice for All a $25,000 check, and four days Bondi dropped the investigation.

There are two questions at play here. One is the appearance of a quid-pro-quo. While Trump and Bondi say there was none, this is also precisely the mode Trump has described in the past. “As a businessman and a very substantial donor to very important people, when you give, they do whatever the hell you want them to do,” Trump told The Wall Street Journal in July 2015. “As a businessman, I need that.” He reprised those boasts early in the GOP primary, positioning himself as the only candidate honest enough to say how the game was played—and the only one rich enough to be exempt from it. Now, however, he’s singing a different tune.

Improper influence or not, the donation was illegal. The Trump Foundation, as a nonprofit, cannot give to political causes. Making things more complicated, the Trump Foundation recorded the incorrect recipient as the gift. Eventually, it had to pay a $2,500 penalty to the IRS. Even then, it has not recouped the money, as is required.

That’s not the end of the story. The liberal watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has filed a complaint with the IRS, accusing the Trump Foundation of violating another rule by using charity to benefit a group’s leader. Meanwhile, The Huffington Post reports that Trump’s help for Bondi didn’t stop with that $25,000 donation. His family gave more to her, and he also hosted a fundraiser at his tony Mar-A-Lago in Florida—charging less than market rate, and less than he charged his own campaign to host events there.

The 2016 presidential election could be the most scandal-plagued match-up since James Blaine’s allegedly corrupt business deals squared off against Grover Cleveland’s alleged illegitimate child in 1884. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton is poised to win the nomination, bringing with her a train-car’s worth of baggage. But the Republican front-runner is at least as saddled with controversy as Clinton is—and while many of the Clinton cases involve suspicion and shadowy links, many of Trump’s are fully documented in court cases and legal proceedings.

(More here.)

Fifteen Years After 9/11, Are We Any Safer?

Aug 9, 2016
Press Releases, The Atlantic

Washington, D.C. (August 9, 2016)—On September 11, 2001, 19 terrorists used four jetliners as guided missiles to kill 2,977 people, enveloping the nation in an aura of fear and vulnerability. Fifteen years later, and after $1 trillion has been spent, The Atlantic's latest cover story by Steven Brill tells the story of the September 12 era: how we have confronted—sometimes heroically and sometimes irrationally—the mechanics, politics, and psychic challenges of the threat of terrorism at home.

The Atlantic's September cover story, "Are We Any Safer?," is now on TheAtlantic.com. The multimedia package includes a video in which Brill unpacks the little-discussed impact of a dirty bomb in a U.S. city, and an email exchange between President Barack Obama and Brill, in which the president reflects on the lessons of September 11 and how that has informed his approach to evolving threats to the homeland.

In a year of intensive reporting, Brill scoured the 9/11 response: interviewing key national-security players—including Obama, Jeh Johnson, James Comey, Richard Clarke, Tom Ridge, Ray Kelly, and Janet Napolitano—and poring through thousands of pages of Government Accountability Office reports and congressional testimony. The article looks at the initial shock following the "failure to connect the dots," as well as the creation of an entirely new security apparatus. It is a the story of extraordinary progress and extravagant failures. From the rise of the Islamic State and lone wolves to the seeming inevitability of a dirty bomb, threats are evolving faster than efforts against them. All of this raises a much larger question: How do we come to terms with the fact that we'll never be completely safe?

Among the United States' many security successes, Brill's investigation reveals some wildly ineffective spending along the way:
  • FirstNet: The prize for the most wasteful post-9/11 initiative arguably should go to FirstNet—an agency set up to provide a telecommunications system exclusively for firefighters, police, and other first responders. Fifteen years after the problem it was supposed to solve was identified, it is still years from completion—and it may never get completed at all. According to the GAO, estimates of its cost range from $12 billion to $47 billion, even as advances in digital technology seem to have eliminated its very need.
(More here.)

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

The intersection of white nationalism, the alt-right and Ron Paul

Where did Donald Trump get his racialized rhetoric? From libertarians.

By Matthew Sheffield September 2, WashPost

Matthew Sheffield is the editor of Praxis, an online journal of politics, technology and media.

Hillary Clinton and her campaign have been going out of their way to make a surprising argument about Donald Trump: He’s not really a Republican.

At the Democratic convention, several speakers said Trump represented a complete break from the conservative traditions of the GOP. Last month, Clinton delivered a similar message in a speech linking Trump to the white-nationalist political movement known as the “alt-right.” “This is not conservatism as we have known it,” she asserted.

According to Clinton — and many conservative intellectuals who oppose Trump — the conspiratorial, winking-at-racists campaign he has been running represents a novel departure from Republican politics.

(More here.)

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

A new 50-state poll shows exactly why Clinton holds the advantage over Trump

By Dan Balz and Scott Clement
September 6 at 7:00 AM, WashPost

With nine weeks until Election Day, Donald Trump is within striking distance in the Upper Midwest, but Hillary Clinton’s strength in many battlegrounds and some traditional Republican strongholds gives her a big electoral college advantage, according to a 50-state Washington Post-SurveyMonkey poll.

The survey of all 50 states is the largest sample ever undertaken by The Post, which joined with SurveyMonkey and its online polling resources to produce the results. The state-by-state numbers are based on responses from more than 74,000 registered voters during the period of Aug. 9 to Sept. 1. The individual state samples vary in size from about 550 to more than 5,000, allowing greater opportunities than typical surveys to look at different groups within the population and compare them from state to state.

The massive survey highlights a critical weakness in Trump’s candidacy — an unprecedented deficit for a Republican among college-educated white voters, especially women. White college graduates have been loyal Republican voters in recent elections, but Trump is behind Clinton with this group across much of the country, including in some solidly red states.

The 50-state findings come at a time when the average national margin between Clinton and Trump has narrowed. What once was a Clinton lead nationally of eight to 10 points shortly after the party conventions ended a month ago is now about four points, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average. A number of battleground states also have tightened, according to surveys released from other organizations in recent days.

(More here.)

But will they find it in the head of Donald Trump?

Physicists Go Hunting for Consciousness

Posted by Ross Pomeroy
Newton Blog, RealClearScience

Renowned physicist Edward Witten recently suggested that consciousness might forever remain a mystery. But his words haven't discouraged other physicists from trying to unravel it.

Yes, physicists.

In the past, consciousness was almost entirely relegated to the musings of philosophers; it was too ethereal to be studied materially. But as science advanced, so too did our ability to examine the wispy intricacies of the waking mind. Biologists joined the pursuit, followed by neuroscientists with brain scanners in tow. It was only recently that select physicists shifted their attentions from concepts like the Big Bang, quantum information, and electrodynamics and instead began tendering their two cents on consciousness.

Sir Roger Penrose, a mathematical physicist at Oxford University, has openly wondered if the minute interactions taking place within the subatomic world of quantum mechanics might give rise to consciousness.

(More here.)

How TPP and trade agreements undermine the Paris climate agreement

The Climate Cost of Free Trade

By Ben Lilliston
Published September 6, 2016
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

On Earth Day 2016, the U.S. joined 175 countries in signing the United Nations Paris climate agreement setting a path forward to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. A few months earlier, the U.S., along with 11 other countries, signed the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade and investment deal. Remarkably, neither agreement acknowledged the other. The Paris agreement was silent on trade, and the TPP ignored the climate. As countries take action to protect the climate, conflicts between trade rules and climate goals will escalate. The intentional separation of these two global priorities is becoming increasingly untenable.

In this paper we’ll look at real world examples of how trade rules already conflict with climate goals, and dig into the TPP more deeply to project how the proposed deal creates barriers for countries trying to meet their Paris climate pledges. Along the way, we will review a variety of trade reform proposals designed to address our dysfunctional and climate-damaging trade regime.

At the heart of the Paris climate agreement are national-level plans, called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Though these INDCs are voluntary, they are considered a critical first step for an agreement designed to progressively ratchet up national commitments to collectively limit a global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial age levels. Within each INDC are goals, policies and strategies to reduce GHG emissions and adapt to climate change in various sectors.

(Continued here.)

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Hey, the Donald! Got your scuba gear ready?

Flooding of Coast, Caused by Global Warming, Has Already Begun

Scientists’ warnings that the rise of the sea would eventually imperil the United States’ coastline are no longer theoretical.

By JUSTIN GILLIS, NYT
SEPT. 3, 2016

NORFOLK, Va. — Huge vertical rulers are sprouting beside low spots in the streets here, so people can judge if the tidal floods that increasingly inundate their roads are too deep to drive through.

Five hundred miles down the Atlantic Coast, the only road to Tybee Island, Ga., is disappearing beneath the sea several times a year, cutting the town off from the mainland.

And another 500 miles on, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., increased tidal flooding is forcing the city to spend millions fixing battered roads and drains — and, at times, to send out giant vacuum trucks to suck saltwater off the streets.

For decades, as the global warming created by human emissions caused land ice to melt and ocean water to expand, scientists warned that the accelerating rise of the sea would eventually imperil the United States’ coastline.

Now, those warnings are no longer theoretical: The inundation of the coast has begun. The sea has crept up to the point that a high tide and a brisk wind are all it takes to send water pouring into streets and homes.

(More here.)

Friday, September 02, 2016

Where has all the money gone, long time passing?

Ignoring the Pentagon’s Multi-Trillion-Dollar Accounting Error

By Dave LindorffFAIR

In 2014, the New York Times (10/12/14) ran a major investigative piece by reporter James Risen about several billion dollars gone missing, part of a shipment of pallets of $12 billion–$14 billion in C-notes that had been flown from the Federal Reserve into Iraq over a period of a year and a half in an effort to kickstart the Iraqi economy following the 2003 US invasion. Risen reported that about $1.5 billion of the cash, somehow stolen, had been discovered in a bunker in Lebanon by a special inspector general appointed to investigate corruption in the US occupation of Iraq. The article got front-page play.

Earlier that same year, the Washington Post (4/7/14) ran a story reporting the US State Department inspector general’s finding that during Hillary Clinton’s years as secretary, the State Department had lost records for or misreported some $6 billion in government contracts. (State claimed the money was not lost, just not accounted for.)

These stories are basic Journalism 101, the kind of bread-and-butter reporting on government that one expects from a major news organization. So how to explain that neither of these prestigious and influential newspapers—or practically any of the corporate media in the US, for that matter—bothered to mention it when the Pentagon’s inspector general this year issued a report blasting the US Army for misreporting $6.5 trillion (that’s not a typo; it’s trillion with a T) as its spending total for the 2015 fiscal year.Dave LindorffDave Lindorff

(Continued here.)

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

In the midst of the US presidential campaign abyss, does anyone care about humankind's future?

NASA: Earth is warming at a pace 'unprecedented in 1,000 years'

Records of temperature that go back far further than 1800s suggest warming of recent decades is out of step with any period over the past millennium

Oliver Milman, the Guardian

The planet is warming at a pace not experienced within the past 1,000 years, at least, making it “very unlikely” that the world will stay within a crucial temperature limit agreed by nations just last year, according to NASA’s top climate scientist.

This year has already seen scorching heat around the world, with the average global temperature peaking at 1.38C above levels experienced in the 19th century, perilously close to the 1.5C limit agreed in the landmark Paris climate accord. July was the warmest month since modern record keeping began in 1880, with each month since October 2015 setting a new high mark for heat.

But NASA said that records of temperature that go back far further, taken via analysis of ice cores and sediments, suggest that the warming of recent decades is out of step with any period over the past millennium.

“In the last 30 years we’ve really moved into exceptional territory,” Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said. “It’s unprecedented in 1,000 years. There’s no period that has the trend seen in the 20th century in terms of the inclination (of temperatures).”

(Continued here.)

Another recommended book for 2016: E.O. Wilson's 'Half-Earth'

by Leigh Pomeroy

I have recommended books in Vox Verax twice already this year, in "Tired of all Trump, all the time? Enlighten yourself with these books" and "Read Shawn Otto's 'The War on Science'". I'm now adding another to the list of the four I've given already: Edward O. Wilson's Half-Earth.

As I grow older I am reading about subjects I spent little attention on in my academic and career years … and, of course, been wondering if I haven't spent most of my life pursuing the wrong interests. But this is a dangerous thought — a waste of time if it goes beyond fleeting moments — because, as I like to say, until time travel becomes a reality, you can't change the past.

Also, what I'm learning now is largely in the realm of recently discovered science, knowledge that wasn't extant when I was an undergraduate in college in the later 1960s. Indeed, much of what I'm reading is about is knowledge that has just gained clarity in the last decade or so.

Half-Earth is written by a man very different from me, an individual who fell in love with insects in his teens in the 1940s and stayed with this interest all his life. Today, at age 87, he still putting out about a book a year.

Half-Earth is his latest and reflects not only his rich understanding of earth's biodiversity but most importantly his absolute focus on saving it. I came to read it because I already believed in what he advocates, but I learned from it many more reasons why.

In short: Homo sapiens is overrunning the planet and in its expansionistic zeal is wiping out other species (some we can see, many we cannot) willy-nilly. The biome may not care whether this happens — mass extinctions have occurred many times throughout the four billion or so years of life on Earth — but this human-induced biocide will come back to haunt us unless we stop it.

I keep coming back to thinking about the idiocy of the current presidential campaign. What a difference between what the media is feeding us and what really is important!

What Wilson tells us in Half-Earth is, well, not only really important but absolutely necessary for human survival.