Archive for ‘Liveable Earth’

September 19, 2012

Zeit Guy Links – 9/19/12

Michael Hudson on How Finance Capital Leads to Debt Servitude  (Naked Capitalism)

The original hope of banking and finance capitalism in the 19th century was that banks would make productive loans to finance industry. The aim was for banks to do something new, that no economy had done in the past: make loans not merely to ship and market goods once they were produced, but to finance new capital investment by manufacturers and producers, as well as by the public sector to build infrastructure. The idea was for these investments to create profits out of which to pay the interest and the principal back to the lenders.

This was defined as productive lending. Nothing like it occurred in antiquity or in the post-feudal period. Investment always had been self-financed out of savings. Banks only entered the picture when it came to shipping and trading what had been produced.

As matters have turned out, banking has allied itself with real estate, mineral extraction, oil, gas and monopolies instead of with industry. So instead of getting a share of the profits, it has focused on lending against economic rent. This technical term is defined as unearned income. It is obtained by charging prices in excess of cost value.

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Majority of New Jobs Pay Low Wages, Study Finds  (Ny Times)

While a majority of jobs lost during the downturn were in the middle range of wages, a majority of those added during the recovery have been low paying, according to a new report from the National Employment Law Project.

The disappearance of midwage, midskill jobs is part of a longer-term trend that some refer to as a hollowing out of the work force, though it has probably been accelerated by government layoffs.

“The overarching message here is we don’t just have a jobs deficit; we have a ‘good jobs’ deficit,” said Annette Bernhardt, the report’s author and a policy co-director at the National Employment Law Project, a liberal research and advocacy group.

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You’re Only a Hero Until You Tell the Truth  (Gawker)

When news broke that Osama bin Laden had been killed by a team of Navy SEALS, the first thought of everyone in the media business, and of many curious Americans was: when can we get one of these heroes to tell his story? Well, now we have. And a lot of people want the government to crush him for it.

Former Navy SEAL Matt Bissonnette published his firsthand account of the killing under a pseudonym in his book No Easy Day, but his identity was quickly outed. The Pentagon was fairly pissed, due to various nondisclosure requirements it said Bissonnette violated. Now, the idea of making an example out of Bissonnette has become a cause among militaristic right wing types: “Secrets are secrets, and leaking them should get you hammered,” says Jim Hanson in a USA Today op-ed today.

It only took a little over a year for a Navy SEAL who helped kill America’s greatest enemy to go from glorified, untouchable hero to scumbag who should be jailed, in the eyes of those who, politically, like to think of themselves as a soldier’s greatest ally. What did Matt Bissonnette really do that was so bad it revoked what one would assume would be a lifetime pass to heroism? He told a different version of his story than the US government did.

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The Salton Sea: Death and Politics in the Great American Water Wars  (Wired)

This week, Los Angeles got a whiff of the future.

A heinous rotten-egg smell settled into the metropolis, a stench more familiar to residents lining the Salton Sea, some 150 miles to the east. It was this 376-square-mile body of water, created by accident in the middle of the desert over a century ago, that belched up the fetid cloud. And such episodes will continue to plague Southern California as the collapse of the Salton Sea ecosystem accelerates over the coming years.

Considered to be among the world’s most vital avian habitats and — until recently — one of its most productive fisheries, the Salton Sea is in a state of wild flux, the scene of fish and bird die-offs of unfathomable proportions. It was the resulting sea-bottom biomass that a storm churned earlier this week, releasing gases that drifted into Los Angeles.

This is just the latest episode in the Salton Sea’s long, painful history of sickness and health and booms and busts — a stinky side effect of a great American experiment to civilize the western deserts. By economic measurements, this experiment has been an astounding success. By environmental measurements, it’s shaping up to be pure disaster.

September 18, 2012

Zeit Guy Links – 9/18/12

Why wood pulp is world’s new wonder material

THE hottest new material in town is light, strong and conducts electricity. What’s more, it’s been around a long, long time.

Nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC), which is produced by processing wood pulp, is being hailed as the latest wonder material. Japan-based Pioneer Electronics is applying it to the next generation of flexible electronic displays. IBM is using it to create components for computers. Even the US army is getting in on the act, using it to make lightweight body armour and ballistic glass.

So why all the fuss? Well, not only is NCC transparent but it is made from a tightly packed array of needle-like crystals which have a strength-to-weight ratio that is eight times better than stainless steel. Even better, it’s incredibly cheap.

NCC will replace metal and plastic car parts and could make nonorganic plastics obsolete in the not-too-distant future, says Phil Jones, director of new ventures and disruptive technologies at the French mineral processing company IMERYS. “Anyone who makes a car or a plastic bag will want to get in on this,” he says.

In addition, the human body can deal with cellulose safely, says Jones, so NCC is less dangerous to process than inorganic composites. “The worst thing that could happen is a paper cut,” he says.

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Greed and Debt the True Story of Mitt Romney and Bain Capital  (Rolling Stone)

The great criticism of Mitt Romney, from both sides of the aisle, has always been that he doesn’t stand for anything. He’s a flip-flopper, they say, a lightweight, a cardboard opportunist who’ll say anything to get elected.

The critics couldn’t be more wrong. Mitt Romney is no tissue-paper man. He’s closer to being a revolutionary, a backward-world version of Che or Trotsky, with tweezed nostrils instead of a beard, a half-Windsor instead of a leather jerkin. His legendary flip-flops aren’t the lies of a bumbling opportunist – they’re the confident prevarications of a man untroubled by misleading the nonbeliever in pursuit of a single, all-consuming goal. Romney has a vision, and he’s trying for something big: We’ve just been too slow to sort out what it is, just as we’ve been slow to grasp the roots of the radical economic changes that have swept the country in the last generation.

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In Prosecutors, Debt Collectors Find a Partner  (NY Times)

The letters are sent by the thousands to people across the country who have written bad checks, threatening them with jail if they do not pay up.

They bear the seal and signature of the local district attorney’s office. But there is a catch: the letters are from debt-collection companies, which the prosecutors allow to use their letterhead. In return, the companies try to collect not only the unpaid check, but also high fees from debtors for a class on budgeting and financial responsibility, some of which goes back to the district attorneys’ offices.

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Environment: The end of the line  (Financial Times)

There is a photo from the 1930s, published in National Geographic magazine, that shows a scene almost unimaginable today.

A man stands in the sea, water up to his knees, surrounded by a frenzied shoal of huge, thrashing totoaba fish on a spawning run off the coast of Mexico.
“They were so thick in the water that you could wade in and pull them out with bare hands or a pitchfork,” says the prominent marine conservation biologist, Callum Roberts.

Not any more. Commercial fishers started netting the creatures, which could grow as long as 2m and weigh more than 330lbs. Dams such as the Hoover were built along the Colorado River, curbing vital freshwater flows to breeding grounds.

Today, the totoaba is one of 414 species rated critically endangered on the “Red List”, the compendium of threatened plants and animals kept by the venerable International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Another 486 fish are endangered; 1,141 are vulnerable and 60 are extinct, mostly thanks to the same species that killed off the totoaba: us.

The human impact on fish has been worrying scientists and environmental campaigners for decades.

But it has also become an increasingly disturbing economic issue for authorities overseeing the fate of the 90m tonnes of marine and freshwater fish the world’s 4.36m fishing boats catch each year, with their estimated value of $100bn.

September 17, 2012

Zeit Guy Links – 9/17/12

Studies Show Wind Power’s Massive Potential (Inside Science via 3 Quarks Daily

There is enough energy for people to reap from the wind to meet all of the world’s power demands without radically altering the planet’s climate, according to two independent teams of scientists.

Wind power is often touted as environmentally friendly, generating no pollutants. It is an increasingly popular source of renewable energy, with the United States aiming to produce 20 percent of its electricity by wind power by 2030. Still, there have been questions as to how much energy wind power can supply the world, and how green it actually is, given how it pulls energy from the atmosphere.

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This Is How Facebook Is Tracking Your Internet Activity (Business Insider)

Facebook really is watching your every move online.

In testing out a new diagnostic tool called Abine DNT+, we noticed that Facebook has more than 200 “trackers” watching our internet activity.

Abine defines trackers as “a request that a webpage tries to make your browser perform that will share information intended to record, profile, or share your online activity.” The trackers come in the shape of cookies, Javascript, 1-pixel beacons, and Iframes.

For example, cookies are tiny bits of software that web pages drop onto your device that identify you anonymously but nonetheless signal useful behavior about your background interests to advertisers who might want to target you. Facebook uses these types of cookies to activate the “like” buttons on other websites.

Critics call this spying. Advertisers call it targeting.

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‘Social voting’ really does rock the vote (KurzweilAI)

Brace yourself for a tidal wave of Facebook campaigning before November’s U.S. presidential election. A study of 61 million Facebook users finds that using online social networks to urge people to vote has a much stronger effect on their voting behavior than spamming them with information via television ads or phone calls, Science Now reports.

The study follows a Science paper that tracked how people influence each other’s online behavior through Facebook.

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Lit Motors will shake up the electric vehicle market with its two-wheeled, untippable C-1 (KurzweilAI)

Imagine a vehicle that’s smaller than a Smart Car, nearly a third of the price of a Nissan Leaf ($32,500), safer than a motorcycle with a range capacity that just lets you drive and won’t ever tip over.

What you get is Lit Motors‘ C-1, the world’s first gyroscopically stabilized, two-wheeled all-electric vehicle, which launched at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco today, writes Peter Ha on TechCrunch. Oh, and it will talk to your smartphone and the cloud.

September 8, 2012

Zeit Guy Links – 9/8/12

BMW Never-Too-Old Assembly Insures Against Lost Engineers Bloomberg

In 2007, the luxury automaker set up an experimental assembly line with older employees to see whether they could keep pace. The production line in Dingolfing, 50 miles northeast of BMW’s Munich base, features hoists to spare aging backs, adjustable-height work benches, and wooden floors instead of rubber to help hips swivel during repetitive tasks.

The verdict: Not only could they keep up, the older workers did a better job than younger staffers on another line at the same factory. Today, many of the changes are being implemented at plants across the company.

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NASA Explains how We Caused the Hottest Decade and are generally screwing ourselves over (Video) Juan Cole

NASA’s 5-minute video explains why the last decade has been the hottest ever (we did it) and what climate change means for our hot, thirsty future. It is entitled “Piecing together the Puzzle” and is narrated in a slow, calm voice. But it should be entitled “Run for the Hills!” and should have been narrated by Jennifer Granholm. Here’s the relevant NASA website.

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Drone Use Takes Off on the Home Front  WSJ

With little public attention, dozens of universities and law-enforcement agencies have been given approval by federal aviation regulators to use unmanned aircraft known as drones, according to documents obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests by an advocacy group.

The more than 50 institutions that received approvals to operate remotely piloted aircraft are more varied than many outsiders and privacy experts previously knew.

August 8, 2012

Climate Change: Every Social Movement Needs an Enemy

As near as I can tell, the leading speaker in articulating the narrative of climate change is Bill McKibben of www.350.org. In a recent piece in Rolling Stone magazine he lays out a compelling numbers driven account of global warming and its cause. He then puts on his social activist hat:

…the paths we have tried to tackle global warming have so far produced only gradual, halting shifts. A rapid, transformative change would require building a movement, and movements require enemies. As John F. Kennedy put it, “The civil rights movement should thank God for Bull Connor. He’s helped it as much as Abraham Lincoln.” And enemies are what climate change has lacked.

But what all these climate numbers make painfully, usefully clear is that the planet does indeed have an enemy – one far more committed to action than governments or individuals. Given this hard math, we need to view the fossil-fuel industry in a new light. It has become a rogue industry, reckless like no other force on Earth. It is Public Enemy Number One to the survival of our planetary civilization.

From naming the enemy McKibben goes on to address what can be done. The how of it is his work at www.350.org. I find few articles I would call “must reads;” this is one.

July 15, 2012

Cutting Through the Noise: Climate Change is Simple

The video below by David Roberts takes the mystery out of climate change. It may well dispell any indifference to it. What I find gripping about the video is not only the explanation (Yes, it is simple and straightforward.), but also the presenter’s mood which well conveys the urgency of the concern. The slides in the clip are available at Grist.orgFor David Robert’s bio, click here.