Sunday, January 31, 2016

What is usurpation? Ask the lawyers behind the TPP

If there was any enthusiasm in Congress for the Trans Pacific Partnership last year, we're not seeing it this year. The Washington Post reported in December that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already made it clear that we're not likely to see a vote on it before the next president takes office. Apparently, many Senators are concerned about possible backlash from passage of one of the largest trade deals ever considered. It's interesting that not only do they seek to avoid voting on it just before the primaries. They want to push it back beyond the next election to next year.

From the same report we find that Obama has identified the TPP as central to his economic agenda. I find this ironic considering that most economists agree that there is little economic benefit to the deal. The consensus estimate is that the TPP, despite is enormous volume and breadth, will contribute about 0.13 percent of GDP per yer by 2025, once fully implemented. This is less than a rounding error. Such a small increase could easily be washed out by the noise in the economic data. I find it hard to believe that such a tiny bump could be central to any economic agenda, liberal, conservative or bipartisan.

In this article, Naked Capitalism seems to have identified the essence of the appeal of the TPP, despite rancorous and fierce opposition from conservatives and liberals alike. After reading the article at Naked Capitalism, I believe that best phrase to describe the appeal of the deal to the elites is "corporate usurpation". That is to say, the TPP will play a central role in putting corporations above the governments that serve the people in terms of hierarchy.

There is something else that they noticed over there at Naked Capitalism. The Investor State Dispute System (ISDS) provides an opportunity for businesses to challenge governments that enact laws or regulations that could threaten their future profits. We already have this in the North American Free Trade Agreement. It is a rather interesting miracle that the US has never had to pay any business anything under the ISDS provisions under NAFTA.

But as the folks at Naked Capitalism have noticed, corporations can challenge governments under the treaty, but governments cannot challenge corporations. Furthermore, the "just-us" system provided in the ISDS system under TPP has led some people to describe the TPP as NAFTA on steroids. ISDS complaints under TPP will be ruled by a panel of judges that are just lawyers. Public Citizen has shared the following observations on the ISDS provision of the TPP:
The tribunals are staffed by private lawyers who are not accountable to any electorate, system of legal precedent or meaningful conflict of interest rules. Their rulings cannot be appealed on the merits. Many ISDS lawyers rotate between roles – serving both as “judges” and suing governments for corporations, creating an inherent conflict of interest.
As if binding arbitration isn't enough in America, lawyers would like to create a cozy little bubble with boatloads of compensation and very little accountability in the TPP. Say, didn't I mention that the reason we got started with this ISDS stuff was because American industrialists wanted to exploit natural resources in other countries without fear of national appropriation? What kind of countries would they be? I thought ISDS was only for Banana Republics.

The TPP is just another Trojan horse for the usurpation of the power of the people. No one that I have read or followed has ever come up with a really good reason for the treaty (if you know of someone that has one, do tell). Even the White House is still harping on how many jobs it will create when the evidence is scant. They have said very little about the changes to intellectual property laws, how the internet will operate or the impact on labor laws around the world. So far the big deal for them is creating jobs.

But the people know that something is up, and it looks like corporate usurpation.

Friday, January 29, 2016

In defense of idealism

While I see people being critical of Bernie Sanders, I don't see them offering real alternatives. Worse, I don't see them offering improvements. For example, if you hear or read of people calling Sanders' Medicare for All plan, "pie in the sky" or "impossible", remember that those same people are quick to criticize rather than to offer helpful suggestions. No one ever said this would be easy. And Sanders is the first to say that he can't do it alone, that he will need help from all of us who support him and his vision for America.

On Vox, there is an article charging that Bernie's health care plan would cost twice as much as he claims it would. Kenneth Thorpe, the man who did the study, was happy to help Clinton and Obama in the past, but not so much with Sanders. Further reflection on the scene shows that while people are demanding details from Sanders, they're giving the other candidates a pass. Perhaps there is a very real concern that Sanders just might win.

If it's true that Sanders' health care plan would cost twice as much as claimed, it's important to ask why. There is at least one economist, Dean Baker, who is willing to point out why that is. Health care now takes 17% of GDP, a cost that is almost as big as the administration of the federal government alone. We pay twice as much as every other industrialized country and still have outcomes that are no better.

Only an industry almost completely bereft of any real domestic or international competition could accomplish that feat. Baker further points out that even if we don't get what we want, the kind of pressure Sanders would apply could force the health care industry to get real about insane drug and device prices, patent monopolies and their big money in politics. Sanders might even go so far as to point out that the American healthcare industry is very well protected from international competition. Just like Dean Baker has done.

So Sanders' plans are being dismissed as mamby-pamby pie in the sky dreams. He's an idealist. We get that. When John F. Kennedy proposed that America put a man on the moon by the end of the decade in a speech before Congress on May 25, 1961, was he considered an idealist? You bet. Did anyone dismiss him? Probably. Pie in the sky? Sure. But we got there and we put a flag on the moon.

When Franklin Roosevelt proposed The New Deal, did anyone think it was not possible? Sure. Did it get done? Yep. Idealist? To the hilt. How about the Women's Suffrage movement? Idealist, yet women still got the vote. The abolition of slavery? Goddamn right it was idealist. Our nation survived a brutal civil war to abolish slavery.

When the men and women of this country declared independence from the British Crown in 1776, was that idealist? Oh, yes. Few even thought it would be possible, but the men and women who believed in the ideal persevered and won out. And it wasn't just a political climate that people were worried about. They were worried about foreign boots on the ground. Yet somehow, they still prevailed.

A healthcare industry with no visible outside competition, that takes away 17% of GDP and uses a large portion of that money to influence Congress for laws that protect it is engaged in slavery of the American people. If we do not expose our health care industry to international competition, we can expect any health care plan for reform to be expensive. If we do not replace device and drug patents with upfront funding of medical research, we can expect to pay more for the drugs, devices and services we need. If we do not take big money out of politics, any change is going to be difficult and expensive.

Has anyone noticed that Bernie Sanders is the only candidate in the debates to make an explicit connection to the current political climate in Congress and the corrupting influence of big money in politics? That's something to consider while Clinton (just like every other Republican except Trump) goes to $1000 a plate fundraisers. Meanwhile, Sanders speaks at free events seeking only small donations while drawing tens of thousands of supporters to attend.

Considering their means of support, it would seem that Sanders is the only candidate who would prefer to run on the merits of the ideas he proposes rather than the money behind them. That's what idealism is all about.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

How the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation just loves GMOs

It is fascinating to read just how much Bill Gates is getting involved in the world food business. He's not doing it through personal investments, though. He's doing it through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, ostensibly, a non-profit. While it is probably true that his heart is in the right place to want to feed the world, numerous non-governmental agencies have already discredited the idea of feeding the world with GMO anything.

It is important to understand how Bill Gates operates. I watched how he operated as chairman and CEO of Microsoft. I watched through the 90s and the 2000s, how he worked to build up and extend the private monopoly that is Microsoft. I watch him and his partner, Steve Ballmer, as they did everything in their power to remove their personal enemy, Linux, from the market. It is fortunate that they failed to do that.

Through contracts, patents and copyrights, Bill Gates made it nearly impossible to buy a computer that didn't have Windows on it. He made sure that manufacturers like Dell and Hewlett-Packard paid a Windows tax on every computer sold, even if it didn't have Windows on it. Even now, it's very difficult for an ordinary consumer to walk into a brick and mortar store and buy a computer without anything on it. Shouldn't we be able to buy hardware without having to pay for Windows or Mac on it if we want it? Only the most discerning and well read consumers know where to go to get a clean box. Even then, we have to pay more for it.

Microsoft, at the behest of Gates, also attempted to use their patents to threaten Linux, a free operating system. They publicly asserted more than 200 patents against Linux, but failed to gain any credibility from the public with their wild claims. They even went on a "Be Very Afraid Tour" to cow developers into avoiding Linux development. It is fortunate then, that despite all of their efforts, Linux has bloomed into a dominant worldwide computing utility free for anyone to use, anywhere, for any purpose.

Let's turn now to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and their investments in Monsanto and Cargill. Both of those companies are all about monopoly power. Monsanto is more familiar to me. I know them for their seed patents and their Round-Up Ready soy and corn. I know them for their dominant market share in the seed market. I know them for their lawsuits when they sue farmers for using patented seeds without a license.

Our second president, Thomas Jefferson, would never stand for that. Jefferson was a farmer at heart and knew well the power of the seed. He also understood the freedom that comes with growing generation after generation of seeds. Monsanto and others like them, seek to end this freedom with their patents, for they want nothing but monopoly power.

So it seems fitting for Bill Gates to see something shiny and nice in Monsanto. But they will never really feed the world with their GM products. As long as there is money in their sights, their goals have more to do with extending monopoly power and growing the bottom line. This despite the fact that even the UN says that small scale organic farming is what will feed the world. This despite all the harm wrought on the environment due to Monsanto's flagship product, Round-Up with the active ingredient, glyphosphate. This despite the fact that people just want to see a label on their food to know if it is genetically modified. This despite the fact that one third of the food we already produce is wasted.

Mankind is not even remotely smart enough to anticipate all the problems associated with genetically modified crops. We've been growing organic food for thousands of years and there is no reason to stop now. We could just stick with and build upon what we already know about organic farming and teach that to the world. Then the world will feed itself. Without patented seeds.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The incredible bias of the DNC under Debbie Wasserman Schultz

One thing that I enjoy about using social media is that I almost always learn something new. During one discussion, the topic of a data breach at the DNC that concerns the Sanders' campaign came up. I happen to know something about it since I've done a bit of research on the topic, but didn't find enough evidence to dispute the national narrative, "that the Sanders campaign stole Clinton's voter information."

Naturally, when the topic came up again, I had to look and see what I could find. As it turns out, Snopes has done a very good job of researching the claims that the Sanders' campaign actually got any useful information while searching through the DNC database and accessing "Hilary Clinton's file". As the debacle unfolded, someone decided to leak a copy of the logs to show that the Sanders campaign had been searching for two hours, not the 45 minutes as claimed. This is supposed to be "damning" information.

The Politifact article rules that Sanders' statement, "'We didn't go out and take' information from the Hillary Clinton campaign.", is mostly false. But further reading of the Snopes article paints a very different picture of these data breaches. First, we learn that in 2008, the Obama campaign and the Clinton campaign both noticed that they could see campaign information of other candidates. From the Snopes article, quoting a self-identified Obama campaign worker:
As an '08 Obama staffer who used the VAN extensively, it went down like this, "Oh, that's weird. It looks like we can pull lists from Hillary again. Hey Erin, do a quick search..." Then everyone in the office room (there were 4 total accounts who did a search) tried the search too.
Any data they pulled would not have been that useful, especially considering both campaigns use the VAN. They couldn't just turn around and re-enter the Clinton supporters as 5's, etc. That's not how it works ... The breach is a non-issue, however how it is being handled by the DNC (in addition to the way the debates, etc) is the telling issue about how undemocratic the Democratic National Party has become.
Interestingly, that incident was never reported and didn't make the national news. The Sanders' campaign was denied access to their voter file once the DNC made the determination that there was a data breach. They sued the DNC to get access to their file again and in their suit, they make the following statement:
"Upon information and belief, a similar security incident arose with the NGP VAN software during the 2008 national presidential primaries, resulting in the unintentional transmission of Confidential Information to the campaign of Democratic primary candidate Hillary Clinton (the "Prior Incident"). Upon information and belief, no action was taken in response to the Prior Incident in 2008, nor was any candidate's access to Voter Data suspended as a result of that Incident. [The DNC] has failed to exercise reasonable care and diligence in ensuring that the security breaches that occurred during the Prior Incident, under Defendant’s supervision, would not recur."
So it would seem that this has been going on for a long, long time. The difference is that Sanders' campaign actually reported the problem whereas the Clinton campaign and the Obama campaign in 2008 did not. Clinton's campaign was caught, and Obama's Campaign was not. In Obama's case, an investigation was never launched. In Clinton's case, there was a investigation, but she was not denied access to her file and the DNC was supposed to prevent this sort of thing from recurring again, but did not. Funny how the Clinton campaign incident never made headlines.

Here's the kicker. The DNC, headed by Debbie Wasserman Schultz, was so hot to deny the Sanders campaign access to their file, that they were willing to breach their contract to do it. They knew that doing so would cripple the Sanders campaign. That's the other reason why the Sanders Campaign filed suit. According to their contract, the Sanders campaign had 10 days to fix it on their end before any disciplinary action could be taken.

This entire fracas raises serious questions about the neutrality of the DNC. People are starting to wonder why there are only only six sanctioned debates with a penalty for participating in unsanctioned debates. It is also worth noting that Debbie Wasserman Schultz co-chaired Clinton's 2008 campaign. Add in the heavy-handed handling of the data breach and we might wonder if she might still have a horse in this race.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Bernie Sanders probably isn't all that worried about being called a socialist

There is an old quote a friend of mine once shared with me that I'd like to share with you. It's from a famous writer, TS Eliot:
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.
When I see the naysayers, the doomsayers and the myriad of people who say that Bernie Sanders can't win, for whatever reason, I am reminded of that quote.

The reason I think of that quote often in the context of Bernie's campaign is simple. When people say he's pie in the sky and that whatever he is proposing can't be done in the current political climate, I say that it won't happen unless we try. We won't get what we want unless we ask. And there are many, many people who are asking and they're not getting what they want from the politicians in office now.

Long before Sanders started to take leads in a few important polls, most people I conversed with simply pooh-poohed the idea that he even had a chance. They told me that my best bet would be to support Hilary Clinton since she has the best chance of winning. She'd be better than any Republican and they'd be right. But as I've mentioned before, I don't support someone for public office simply because that person has the best chance of winning. I support that person because I agree with his or her policy objectives.

Yes, a Trump presidency would be a rather frightening prospect. But really, Trump has no clue about how Congress works other than to throw money at it. He doesn't really know how the legislative process works. Like many billionaires, he thinks that an idea is a good one if he can convince enough members of Congress to take money for their support of a bill that just happens to curry the favor of an assortment of billionaires.

Yes, it would be a shame to lose the presidency to any of the Republicans running for office right now (where is John Huntsman when we need him to bring some moderation back to the scene?). But the assumption all along has been that if Clinton gets the nomination, she'll have a better chance than Sanders to win. It's really just an assumption and nothing more. Poll after poll show very consistently that Sanders is preferred by a much wider margin to Trump than Clinton.

Sanders opponents will tell us that the GOP is playing nice now. There is even a SuperPAC running ads in support of Sanders, on the assumption that he will be easier to beat than Clinton, by any of the GOP candidates. Even the National Republican Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has said that he would prefer to go against Clinton than Sanders. Yet, he is also urging Republicans to give no more than $50 each to the Sanders campaign. And someone is openly questioning why Sanders will not denounce that SuperPAC. I say let them be fools with their money.

The more strident among Clinton supporters have told me in no uncertain terms that once Sanders is nominated, the gloves come off and the negative ads will come. And they will come hard. All they have to do is call Sanders a socialist. They will point to a recent poll comparing socialists to blacks, whites, women, Catholics, etc. Socialists came last. Shiver me timbers and roll my eyes.

Yet, few of them have been able to reconcile the fact that in 14 elections over Sanders' career, he has been called a socialist many, many times, and it never stuck enough to cost him an election. He won his last election for the Senate with 71% of the vote. D'ya think there might be some Republicans in that number?

There must be something else to him. Maybe some of those voters know the difference between a socialist and a democratic socialist. Sanders is a self-described socialist, democratic socialist, and progressive who admires the Nordic model of social democracy and is a proponent of workplace democracy. Maybe that's what they like about him.

So I guess I have to wonder why the Clinton campaign is already trying to paint Sanders as a communist sympathizer just a few weeks before the primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire start. Why not just wait until the GOP gets their hands on him?

Because they're worried about losing the primaries and the nomination. They see Sanders snagging a 27-point lead in New Hampshire and making it uncomfortably close in Iowa and now they're getting desperate enough to beat the GOP to the punch. This is after Clinton supporters said the GOP would do it first, but before the first primary vote is cast.

They have a phrase for this, they call it "going negative". Going negative means running ads that cast a negative light on the opponent. In 14 elections, this has never worked. Sanders himself may cast others in a negative light, but from what I can tell, he has never run a negative ad. He has stuck to one simple principle: talk about the positive vision he has for America and what he can do to make this country better. He has inspired many people with his message and that has been drawing huge crowds since the start of his campaign.

At least one columnist, Brent Budowsky, has noticed that going negative on Sanders is a bad move. He nails the problem succinctly in the following sentence:
"She [Clinton] is charging — among many things — that Sanders does not offer a realistic program, which is both condescending and wrong and an insult not only to Sanders, but to the large number of Democrats who are with Sanders."
Clinton suggests that we should be pragmatic about our policy objectives and has proposed incremental change. Perhaps she is concerned that the current Congress, partially and forcefully enumerated by a Tea Party minority, will not allow Bernie to get anything passed. She assumes that the Tea Party types have never cooperated with the Amendment King to get anything done as a Senator. Her position also assumes that Congress will stay much the same.

If there is a sea change of support for Bernie Sanders, and I suspect that there is, the odds of Congress staying the same as before are lower, perhaps much lower than we might expect. Yes, there are many safe seats and many of them represent what resembles a sprawling amoeba more than a reasonably drawn district. But people are getting wise to the problem of safe seats and they may mobilize to break that pattern of behavior. They are also learning from Bernie Sanders that big money in politics is the primary reason why we can't get anything done in Congress.

Even if Congress were to remain much the same, Sanders, with decades of experience in the legislative process, could still figure out ways to get his policy objectives passed. More than any other candidate I think, he would know how to reach across the aisle for bipartisan support. I also think he would know how to call out unreasonable behavior in Congress better than anyone since he knows the House and the Senate well. I think he would at least ask for what we want without adulteration and without compromise first. Then he'd let negotiations begin.

Perhaps the reason some people call Sanders a socialist or try to paint him as a communist sympathizer is that they would prefer that we did not notice the positive vision Sanders has for our country.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Public policy written by the 1% makes the water brown in Flint

As I read the stories of alarm and disgust over the contaminated water in Flint, Michigan, I note that there is a subtext that few in the mainstream media are willing to discuss. The lead poisoning and the brown water are allowed to happen because public policy is written by and for the top 1%. CNN has the gory details on how it got that way, but in sum the state was trying to save money.

What happened in Flint is just part of a larger story of how the wealthy think that what they have just isn't enough. Anything they can do to get more is fair game. Flint is poor town, having been one of the towns hit hardest by the Great Recession. The state was losing tax revenue and needed to find a way to save money, so they sought to save money by changing water sources from the lake, which they were paying for, to a river that is known to be polluted.

They went from the frying pan to the fire.

The lake, which was relatively clean, worked well and it worked well for years. The river was polluted by industrial waste. Who is making that waste? The top 1%. You can bet that the 1% have water softeners and industrial grade filters in their homes to keep the gunk out. They may not even live in Flint and didn't have to deal with brown water in the shower or the bath. And when it came to light that there was lead in the water, I have to wonder if the 1% are just looking to create a captive menial labor pool.

The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. But this is not just the United States. This is worldwide. The wealthy can use their influence to write laws that protect their wealth, their business models and their sources for raw materials. They can write laws that permit the pollution without accountability. They can write laws that affect everyone else, but not them. And the rate of concentration of wealth is accelerating.

I heard a few days ago that 62 people own as much wealth as the poorest half of the world. Wait a minute, I wrote an article less than two years ago where I cited that same number as 85 people. The source of this statistic is Oxfam. Now it turns out that in the last five years, that number went from 388 to 62. We also learn that the top 1% in the world own as much as the remaining 99%.

Note to the wealthy: You cannot accumulate wealth like there is no tomorrow, at the expense of everyone else and not expect there to be some anger and resentment over it. Especially when you use your money to influence public policy to favor you. You don't want to be regulated, but it's OK if your industries pollute the water, land and air where you don't happen to live. So you write laws that protect you and call it fair because it's the law.

Note to the wealthy, continued: You accumulate wealth in tax havens and then have the gall to tell us that if we'd just lower taxes, you'd bring all that money back. Then when we do lower taxes, even for a tax holiday, you layoff employees and distribute dividends to your shareholders. I could go on, but the ever accelerating concentration of wealth cannot. And keeping it all isn't going to make you or anyone else any happier.

What we're seeing is that the worldwide decision making process is run by people who are not accountable for their decisions. We saw that with the banking crisis in the United States in 2008. We saw that in the war in Iraq. We're seeing it again in Flint.

Did someone say that the pitchforks are coming?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

I don't believe the gloom and doom sported by the detractors of Bernie Sanders

There is a lot of gloom and doom finger painting by the detractors of Bernie Sanders. They say that they want what he's talking about but that it can't be done. That it's all pie in the sky and that it has zero chance with the current composition of Congress. I also see that posts of this kind are becoming more urgent with greater frequency now that they see him pulling ahead in the polling in the first primary state of New Hampshire, and the lead is significant if not overwhelming.

I see now that some Sanders detractors are starting to trot out the prospect of a government shutdown. Let them. They assume that the composition of Congress will be the same. If Sanders captures even some of the Republican vote again as he has done before, and I know that he will, then those same detractors need to also consider that the composition of Congress is also likely to change.

See, for decades the Republicans have been laying the groundwork for taking control of both houses by gerrymandering the districts and changing the rules to discourage voter turnout. They know that when people stay home Republican prospects improve, and that's a fact. We are witness to one presidential election where Obama took the popular vote yet Republicans still managed to maintain a hold on Congress. The hold is much tighter in the House than in the Senate. That's because you can't gerrymander Senate districts.

Voter turnout for the past 40 years has been in a long, slow decline where it reached a nadir (hopefully) in 2012. The Republican leadership must by now know that there is a strong correlation between voter turnout and inequality. They know that a disenfranchised voter doesn't believe that his vote will count and they are counting on that feeling to persist. They are hoping that we'd rather go shopping than voting.

Bernie could change all of that. The internet is hot with Bernie. Anywhere you look, from social media to the internet news, you're going to see Bernie. But if you watch the network evening news, it's nothing but Trump, Hilary and drug commercials. Bernie will draw supporters to the polls like Obama did in 2008, only better. Much better. Bernie could open the door for more authentic candidates who aren't groomed by experts to win. They just have a vision and they run for office. Isn't that what we want?

This is our time. You can argue all you want about whether or not there will be a shutdown, but there will still be a Democrat in the White House. Republicans are going to have to explain their support for their positions when there is a president far more willing to use the bully pulpit to expose them for what they're doing. He is willing to expose the Conservative Nanny State.

Bernie Sanders is not a man who will bring the government to a crawl or allow a government shutdown. He is known as the Amendment King in Congress and that says a lot. He knows how to attach amendments to bills and get them passed better than any other candidate out there. He has decades of legislative experience that can translate to wins in Congress.  Did I say there would still be a Democrat in Congress? I did. Bernie uses his status as an independent to get things done, but he caucuses with Democrats.

Sure, other candidates could hire the kind of experience that Bernie has, but if the consultant is wrong, that candidate as president would not know it until it's too late. Bernie has experience that no other presidential candidate has, and that includes Hilary who whipped out her "experience" every chance she got at the last debate.

I don't believe the gloom and doom that detractors are trying to sow in public discourse. Bernie is the real deal. He's not in it for the money, he's in it to lead a peaceful revolution to restore democracy back into the hands of the people. And that includes the right of nomination. Remember, he's won 14 elections without corporate or SuperPAC money. That is how he knows he has the support of the people. No other elected official at the national level can say that. Bernie is showing us that we can elect who we want without a money primary.

With a playing field so tilted in favor of the Republicans, and SuperPACs to support them, they can remain aloof from their constituency and become complacent. They may not even really know what is going on in their own districts simply because they believe that their seat is safe.

Detractors tell us that we're "BernieBots" and that we're just following Bernie because we agree with what he is saying without even considering whether it was even possible. I use the term "we" because I'm a supporter and I am most definitely not a "BernieBot". Like many other voters who use social media and the internet to do our research, I just happen to prefer Bernie over Hilary based on the evidence before me. If you call us "BernieBots" you are objectifying us to minimize and stigmatize our influence. Do we do that to Hilary supporters? No, we don't. Do your own thing, we don't care. We support Bernie and that's it.

No one who ever amounted to any success, not Steve Jobs, not Martin Luther King, Jr., not John F. Kennedy, and certainly not Bernie Sanders, ever stopped to consider whether or not their vision is possible in the practical sense of the term. They had a vision and they pursued it with all of the energy that they had. They were not deterred by detractors. Instead, they found motivation from them to prove them wrong.

I doubt that there will be a government shutdown as some detractors suggest. But I'm pretty sure there will be a very public debate on amendments to any budget bill in Congress with Bernie in the White House.

Do you really think that people who vote for Bernie Sanders are going to vote to keep the same people in Congress? I don't.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Bernie Sanders defied the money primaries and no one noticed

Has anyone even noticed that we have a leading presidential candidate that completely bypassed the money primary? His name is Bernie Sanders. But what about Trump? Trump is already a billionaire and billionaires finance money primaries. He is not really accountable to the people and has won his own money primary. Sanders, with no SuperPAC and no direct wealthy benefactors, is completely accountable to the people.

And now we see that Sanders dominated the Democratic debate on Sunday, January 17th, and took in more than $1 million during the debate alone. 39,000 donors said that they believe Bernie Sanders is the person they would most like to see in the White House.

I am also noticing that since Bernie Sanders dominated the debates in no uncertain terms, his detractors are coming out in full force. They are sincerely worried that Bernie doesn't stand a chance to win against the Republicans and believe that Hilary Clinton is the more competent, pragmatic candidate. They believe that once nominated, the Republicans only have to go negative and call Bernie a socialist and Republicans will win. They even believe that there is a quiet GOP conspiracy to get Bernie nominated because some Republicans believe that they can take him down easily by calling him a socialist.

But there is huge body of evidence to the contrary. Bernie Sanders has won 14 elections. He won his last election by 71%. He even took a good chunk of the Republican vote. From the beginning, the opposition has been calling him a socialist and yet he still wins. They have gone negative on him every time and lost, while Bernie has steadfastly resisted going negative on them. He maintains that the election should be about the issues, nothing else.

Some point out that his home state is mostly white and think it fair to say that he is out of touch with minorities. But prominent minority leaders have started to review his record and have come out firmly in favor of Bernie Sanders. Rapper Killer Mike and journalist Shaun King have both endorsed and continue to support Sanders. Neither of them have expressed any concern about his electability. It is all about the issues and character. That's what the election should be about.

I see Trump, doing his thing, but am not that much concerned about him. He may be an avowed capitalist, but one thing he is not is friend to the GOP establishment. He also defied the money primary with his own money from his own business empires and many consider him the presumptive nominee for the GOP. He maintains a commanding lead in the polls, but he doesn't fare too well on Politifact with his bombastic statements. He has been one continuing stream of embarrassments for the establishment GOP, and continues to test the limits of what he can do.

The stark difference between Bernie Sanders and Trump is that Trump is essentially accountable to no one except maybe his customers and business partners. Where Trump can rely upon his gambling and media empires to finance his campaign, Sanders has no such resources. Sanders has set himself up to rely upon the people alone. He has defied the money primary and has done so with aplomb. No other candidate in recent history has done what he has done. Only one other has actually tried. Larry Lessig.

Larry Lessig is founder of He is author of several books on the subject of campaign finance and has provided an indisputable body of evidence to show that a tiny minority of very wealthy individuals are controlling public policy with their enormous political contributions. They own the money primary. They own the right of nomination for nearly every candidate running for president, except Bernie Sanders. Larry Lessig actually tried a brief run for president on the Democratic ticket a few months ago, but was denied a podium in the debates by the DNC.

This confluence of events is indicative of a peaceful political revolution in the making. There are serious pundits who say that Sanders is going to win, and it's going be a landslide. This isn't to say that Trump has no appeal. It's just that he only appeals to a narrow white base constituency that is racist. Much of his appeal is based upon the myth that he is not a socialist. The reality is that his father made most of his money in government contracting. His father gave his son a huge advantage by loaning Donald $1 million to get his own business started. Trump owes his position in life in no small part to the Conservative Nanny State.

Detractors who prefer Clinton over Sanders are worried. They believe that once Sanders is nominated, all that the GOP nominee has to do is go negative and call him a socialist and that should be enough to scare off any possible victory for Sanders. They are ignoring more than 30 years of Republicans going negative and calling him "socialist" without a single victory to show for their efforts.

They are ignoring the fact that Sanders has shown us how to reclaim the right of nomination. Sanders is showing us how a candidate can win the presidency while dependent upon the people alone.

Friday, January 15, 2016

What is wrong with internet public policy and how to fix it in a public comment to a federal agency

I'm a big fan of administrative law. I know it might seem boring and pointless to some. But I became a fan because I've spent years learning how administrative law works by learning how to use the federal Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act to request documents about myself and the government that serves me. Along the way, I learned how Congress delegates authority, and how federal agencies act on that authority.

First, let me say kudos for some fantastic writing by Chris Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance on the policy problems that have made high speed affordable internet access so hard to come by, particularly in rural areas. Affordable high speed internet access looks like what they have in Chattanooga, Tennessee: 1 gigabit, up and down, for $70 a monthThis document is like a primer on what we can change to restore leadership to the United States in this realm. 

So let me tell you how I found it and along the way, a little bit more about how federal regulations come about. I started out reading the home page of Community Broadband Networks. They had a very interesting story about a municipal network in the state of Washington called NoaNet that has been operating a fiber network for 15 years. It was a point list of their successes along the way.

In that list, I found this, "the federal Broadband Technology Opportunities Program". Interesting. So I did a search for it just to see what would come up. The first link in the search results took me here, to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration website. There I found a map with a link to the Broadband Opportunities Council. And from there, I found a link to a request for comments with a long list of mostly unfamiliar names. The list links to comments submitted, click on a name and you see the comments they submitted in response.

Among the names on the list, I found Centurylink and another one from the state of Utah. But both of them were long, convoluted and full of legalese. I remembered to look for names I knew, like Christopher Mitchell and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (I follow them on Twitter, too). Didn't find Chris in the list, but I did find the ILSR. So I clicked on that link and found myself reading a PDF of their comments (written by Christopher Mitchell) for about 30 minutes. It was well worth the read. The PDF, was attached to an email and reads as follows:

From: [email info omitted]
Lisa Gonzalez
Christopher Mitchell
Broadband Opportunity Council
Wednesday, June 10, 2015 1:05:28 PM
ILSR Comments to the BOC - June 10 2015.pdf
Please accept the attached comments from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance for
the Broadband Opportunity Council Notice and Request for Comment [Docket No.
Feel free to call with any questions or concerns.
Lisa Gonzalez
Lisa Gonzalez
Community Broadband Networks Initiative
Institute for Local Self-Reliance and
[phone number omitted]

Federal agencies often request comments on regulations they're writing, and forms they are planning to offer to the public for use in communications with the agency (think Form 1040 for the IRS). In this case, it is a general request for comment, not for a particular regulation or form, but for direction in how to regulate federal funding for rural internet access. It's important to note that all federal agencies send out requests for comments, yet most people are unaware of this process. Note also that anyone can send in a public comment response to a request for public comment.

Here is a short overview of how federal regulations come into being (we call it "agency rulemaking"):

  1. Congress and the President create a new law.
  2. The law delegates authority to an agency, usually the head of the agency, often the cabinet level secretary. 
  3. The law authorizes the agency to write regulations to implement the law.
  4. The agency must publish notice of proposed regulations and forms in the Federal Register.
  5. The agency must seek public comment on the regulations and any forms used to implement the law and consider those comments when writing the regulations and designing the forms.
  6. When public comment closes, the agency reviews the comments, adjusts the forms and regulations and makes them final with publication in the Federal Register and the Code of Federal Regulations.

ILSR is what we call an NGO, a non-governmental organization, usually a non-profit organization. ILSR made themselves aware of this request for comment and took the time to research the issues they felt were most important and wrote a very professional document to describe what they see are the biggest problems with federal funding of rural internet access. Their comments are like a list of everything that is wrong with internet access deployment today, and what we could do to fix it.

Here are a few interesting takeaways to whet your interest should you be on the fence about reading it:

Remove barriers to local choice. ILSR identifies state level barriers to local internet choice as the single greatest impediments to improve internet access. These barriers prevent cities and small towns from dealing with the problem themselves, even though they are the most motivated to solve it. These state level barriers come in the form of bills written by incumbent ISPs, usually through a proxy like the American Legislative Exchange Council, aka, ALEC. Apparently, there is market for buying and selling laws.

Prioritize Locally Accountable Networks. When reviewing funding candidates, give priority to local networks that are accountable to the people they serve. For example, Centurylink is a national internet access provider. Their management doesn't see the people they serve and are engaged in absentee ownership of the network that serves my neighborhood. A local organization or utility, like a coop that owns a network in my neighborhood has a greater motivation to provide the best service because they are closer to the people they serve. We might actually see each other while shopping.

Anti-monopoly policy."Large and powerful providers have the ability to influence adoption of rules and find ways to circumvent them. Most recently, in Central Missouri, the Co-Mo Cooperative is
finishing deployment of a gigabit network in its territory with no public subsidies.
CenturyLink, recipient of over $10 million in Connect America Funds, intends to overbuild a competitive network in those same areas. This reaction comes after years of ignoring local requests to improve services in the area." In other words, lower the barriers to entry in the market for new entrants. This keeps the incumbents on their toes and willing to serve.

Improve reporting maps and include rate information. When people decide on where to live often they consider internet access. I know I did. Since I started using the internet, I began to check for access before I moved to ensure that I had something when I moved in. There have been some viral stories about people who, before buying a house, checked and checked again, only to find after moving in that service would not be available, or only available after paying a very high fee to get it installed.

These are just a few of the highlights of the document. The problems identified in the comments provided by ILSR are not just for rural internet access. They apply across the board, all over the United States. The ILSR has provided clear direction in how can we can improve internet access nationally and how to level the playing field so that when incumbents feel that they don't need to respond to demands in the market, someone else can, whether it be private, public or a private-public partnership to get the work done.

As more than 450 cities have found, if the incumbents fail to act, then you have to do it yourself. But those same cities were met with intense lobbying efforts on the part of the incumbents to prevent them from solving their own problems. The problems with internet access were created by public policy written for the few, not the many. It is up to the many (that's the rest of us), to get involved wherever we can to influence public policy the way we want to see it done.

If you just vote, you get to decide who writes the laws and cut the checks. If you just fight it in court, it's probably too late. But if you participate in the agency rulemaking process, you help agencies decide how the laws should be implemented.

You know the legislative and judicial branch of governments. You know how to vote and how to appear in court for a traffic ticket. Participating in the agency rulemaking process is your opportunity to decide how a law should be implemented and interpreted by an agency. You get to tell the executive branch how to execute the law.

What was the problem again? Oh, yeah. I remember now. How to deploy affordable high speed internet access nationwide - without interference from incumbent service providers. This is the problem we all must solve, together.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

450 internet access market failures and counting

What you see below is the community broadband map from Community Broadband Networks. On this map, more than 450 communities are identified as community broadband cities. Every one of these cities has taken the rash step of building their own networks because large incumbent ISPs refused to invest in modern technology in their cities. In each of these towns, the market has failed to provide the modern high speed access required to compete nationally and internationally until the government stepped in. Here is the map:

Each dot on this map represents an area where despite "the free market" or "private enterprise", the market did not respond to consumer demand. So the people turned to the government for help. And not only did they get the help they needed from the cities that heard the call, they got world class service and support from a government, public-private partnership or quasi-government entity providing internet access.

In the vast majority of these cities, community broadband outperforms the incumbent competition by nearly every metric of cost, speed and reliability. So I view it with a sense of irony when these incumbent ISPs then turn to the state government to seek protection and relief from government competition. Considering all the hyperbole from the cable and telcos, shouldn't we see something like this?

Yeah, I thought so, too. But that's not what we're seeing. When community broadband whups ass on the large incumbent ISPs, instead of offering better service, higher speeds at a lower cost, they run to the statehouse for more protection. Don't believe me? Read this:

Pssst ... Wanna Buy a Law?

Therein, you will see the sprawling network of ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, writing, shaping and driving national public policy, one state at a time. ALEC wrote the model bill that was first signed into law in the state of Utah and then more than 20 other states over the next 14 years. ALEC has a library of more than 800 model laws, all shaped and written for the express purpose of sidelining what the people want by inserting what a small minority of very powerful people want.

In this particular case, competition in the internet access market is a big no-no as a mater of public policy and that public policy is financed by the biggest ISPs: Comcast, Time-Warner Cable, Cox Communications, ATT, Verizon, Centurylink (Oh, god. Centurylink!), Charter Communications, etc.What do they spend their money on? Shindigs organized by ALEC, the finest hospitality money can buy for your statehouse legislator, and of course, an open tab at the bar downstairs.

With regard to ALEC it is simply astounding that they have had such a vast influence on public policy. 200 times a year, their model bills are introduced into government, often becoming law. They are building a huge body of jurisprudence, conservative leaning law that does not play well for everyone else. These laws go to court and the courts add additional layers of protection for conservative idealism, and yet most of the model bills a written in secret. I also find a certain sense of irony that the major media isn't talking more about them given their broad influence. Where is the liberal media bias?

Yet another bit of irony can be found in the fact that incumbent ISPs started out by signing franchise agreements with the very cities they purport to serve, carving out a de facto monopoly that has served them well for decades. Now that community broadband is on the rise, they appear to be upset that their government supported business model is being disrupted. Adding to that irony is the fact that most of the community broadband networks are in decidedly conservative jurisdictions.

Over the last few decades, we have sent billions in subsidies to the incumbent ISPs, hoping that someday, they will roll out fiber, but they never did. New York is starting to ask for action or their money back in a very big, very public way. They claim that despite lavish subsidies for Verizon, FIOS didn't get built like Verizon promised. And New York isn't the only state asking questions.

So if you're stuck in a neighborhood with only one access provider, and your best hope is a 5mbs connection, you're seeing a market failure, in the flesh. You're noticing that there is no competition because entrenched interests want it that way. You might even consider taking up the cause of community broadband.

While private enterprise can do many things right and better than government, they tend to fail when it comes to utility service like internet access, for few are immune to the corrupting call of monopoly power.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Spreading myths about your opponent is not a sign of confidence

While trolling Google+ last night, I found a fascinating article at the DailyKOS. it's a list of 25 myths about Bernie Sanders that are being propagated by conservatives and Hilary Clinton supporters. You can find that article, "25 Unfounded Myths Being Spread About Bernie by The Clinton Machine", here. It's rather long but it's well worth the read, even with a few grammatical and spelling errors. The meaning is in the message.

I bring this up because I've been having debates with people in social media who claim that Bernie is unelectable, that he's a second rate politician, or that he's too pie in the sky with his lofty ideas and plans and that he will have no way to pay for them. Whatever you think of him, he's been doing what he's doing for more than 30 years with very little deviation. What he says now is something you can find over and over again for the last 30 years. He doesn't change with the wind or the polls just to say what he thinks you want to hear.

He's attracting enthusiastic followers and supporters from the Democrat base and from third parties who can identify with his message. He's attracting the much sought after and growing class of independent voters who eschew party identification. As I read the social media, day after day, and as we close in on the first primary, I see that enthusiasm growing louder, more organized, more persistent.

That article at the DailyKOS also notes that Hilary has been running for president for 10 years whereas Bernie has only just started last year. Yet, as noted in the same article, Clinton supporters have been cultivating and spreading myths about Bernie Sanders as if there is a genuine concern, an urgency that sees Clinton's campaign in real peril. If they were confident, why would they need to spread myths about Sanders?

The same article also points out that Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, now Chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, used to be co-chair for Hilary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign. Now there's a statement we don't see too much in the news. It's almost as if we're not supposed to notice that a former Clinton campaign manager is chairing the DNC. It would be one thing if Clinton had already won her prize in the White House, for a former campaign manager to be sitting in the DNC chair. But personally, I find that association far too close for comfort and doubt Debbie's ability to provide an even playing field for the candidates while Hilary is running. Just how did Debbie get that seat, anyway?

Her tenure coincides nicely with the change in the rules for debates, the reduced number of debates and the late schedule. It also coincides with an attempt to deny the Sanders campaign access to voter information that they need to prosecute their campaign over an alleged data breach on DNC computers. The Sanders campaign sued and the DNC decided that it wasn't worth the fight or the negative publicity so they restored access. The declining fortunes of the Democrats in Congress and in statehouses in recent years seem to suggest that Debbie Wasserman-Schultz has been more focused on setting the stage for Clinton than on the health of the Democratic Party.

If Clinton were truly a first rate candidate, she would come to Bernie's defense just as Bernie did for her, on stage, during a debate, to help debunk the myths about Bernie. But that's not what is happening. Clinton is in it for herself. She is telling us what she will do when she is president, not what we can do together.

The meaning is in the message. If Clinton were truly comfortable with her candidacy, she'd tell her dogs to "cut it out" and focus on a positive campaign. So far, no one has heard her call off her negative campaign, but it won't surprise me to see that it's only going to get more negative as time goes on. Perhaps she is starting to Feel the Bern.

Monday, January 11, 2016

The logical fallacy of the wasted vote

In a past life, sometime in the 90's, I was a once a libertarian. I went to their meetings, I manned their booths on the pier and I shared what I had learned from the libertarians with my friends and family. I'd give them the political questionnaire and show them how they scored. I was able to show them that they were in agreement with the basics and asked them to consider registering as a libertarian.

Their interest would stop there. "I like the libertarians, but they'll never get elected, so I'd be wasting my vote." My reply in so many words was, "Well if you want a libertarian in office, but don't vote for them, your vote is wasted."

Fast forward a few decades and I'm seeing something similar happening. I'm no longer libertarian, in fact, I'm far from it. I'm a Bernie Sanders Democrat now. I feel the Bern. Yet, there is still talk and memes in the social media to say that Bernie Sanders is "unelectable" that he's a "second class candidate". There are still many people who agree with him, but feel that in order to secure the White House for the Democrats - to keep it out of the hands of the GOP, we must elect Hilary Clinton in the primaries.

This blog post is for those people who believe, in quiet resignation, that Hilary's nomination is inevitable even without a single primary vote cast. That belief would be true if you vote for her. If you vote for Bernie Sanders, you change the outcome. It's really that simple, but the major media are intent on ignoring Bernie to favor Hilary. They are intent on maintaining control of the narrative. They want you to believe that Hilary's nomination is already complete.

For Bernie Sanders believers who want to believe, but worry that their vote would be wasted, let's consider the worst case scenario in the Democratic primaries: you voted for Bernie but Hilary still wins, anyway. Well, your vote still matters. The records will show that there is a sizable fraction of Democrats who would be disaffected if Hilary did not listen to them. She will have to keep those voters in mind for the campaign going into the general election.

From a logical standpoint, if you voted for Hilary, believing in Bernie, wanting Bernie to win, your vote is wasted. Voting for someone you disagree with just to be on the winning side is insane. It's well documented how the early voting tallies tend to influence the people who vote later. We have three time zones in this country and those on the east coast tend to set the trend. People want to vote on the winning side so that they don't feel like their vote is wasted. But if you don't vote for the candidate you want, well, it's wasted.

The only way to get Bernie elected is to vote for him, plain and simple. The vote must be cast regardless of the outcome. We get to vote, that is true, but we don't get to decide the outcome.

A good friend of mine once told me, "For us, there is the only the trying. The rest is none of our business." It's a great quote from TS Eliot. I don't know who TS Eliot is or much of what he writes about, but that statement rings true to to me. It says, "Do what you believe in, regardless of what the outcome might be."

I do what I believe in not just because I believe in it. I do what I do because I want to be able to sleep at night, with a clear conscience. I just want to do the right thing.

If you believe in Bernie, if you feel the Bern, then vote for Bernie Sanders. You'll sleep better knowing you did the right thing by voting for him. Even if Hilary should somehow manage to win, you'll still sleep better. Even if Hilary wins, Bernie will still be there in the Senate, reminding that her obligation is to the people, not Wall Street.

To me, that is the biggest difference between Hilary and Bernie. I've seen the Clintons in action during the Clinton administration: NAFTA, mandatory minimum sentencing, and the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act. They have a family foundation that has raised $3 billion over the last few decades. Hilary made almost $3 million in speaking fees in 2013 alone at some of the same banks that were bailed out in 2008. That's real money and to me, she listens to the money more than the people. I sincerely doubt that she will do much of what she says once elected. She might do some of what she says as a token, but she's not going after the big banks. She will be a continuation of the dynasty politics as usual.

Bernie doesn't have a foundation that takes in money. He doesn't make much money in speaking fees and doesn't go to the big banks to speak for money. He's got more than 2.5 million small donations from people who want to see him in the White House. He flies coach when he flies. He doesn't carry even remotely as much baggage into this election as Hilary Clinton carries. In Vermont, plenty of Republicans have voted for Bernie, and plenty more around the country ready to vote for him, too. He's had the same message for more than 30 years: save the middle class.

Bernie will win if we vote for him. And if he wins, he won't need any reminding of who he works for. He already knows who he works for and he's ready to work for us. All of us.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Imagine that, a new state law that actually encourages municipal broadband financing

Here's something you don't see everyday, a state passes a law that actually encourages community broadband financing and investing. Community Broadband Networks has the news from the state of Vermont. After years of reading about ALEC and how they lobby on behalf of major telecoms and write bills for them in secret while lavishing statehouse members with gifts, it is refreshing to see such a change.

A new law in the state of Vermont allows cities to create union districts that in turn allow them to pool their resources and credit for financing their community networks. Apparently things have gotten so bad with legacy internet service providers like ATT and Comcast, that the legislature decided to give the cities more room to work in. The one caveat is that no taxes may be raised by the cities to pay back the union district bonds - all financing must be paid back by subscriber fees.

That's a reasonable way to go about it. Especially if you let the community broadband services sell direct to their customers rather than having to rely upon a third party who may not share more than a passing interest in your success. The city of Spanish Fork's community network proves that community broadband with a direct sales approach not only works, but it allows the network to pay for itself faster. According to the Vermont ECFiber website, anyone within their service area may apply directly for service, so they're on the right track.

ECFiber is a consortium of 21 cities in Vermont that have pooled their resources to create a fast, reliable and affordable network for their citizens. This is what it takes to beat and compete with deep pocket private ISPs with money to burn on members of the legislature. I've checked ECFiber price list and yes, they look expensive, but they're still beating the incumbent competition. Compared to the incumbents like ATT, they're more reliable and they're rolling out services where the incumbents refuse to go. That's telling.

The new Vermont law provides cities greater visibility to attract investors that are willing to finance their networks. With greater investor visibility, they will get better financing, build more capacity and that in turn will drive down costs. With lower costs come lower prices (the opposite of what incumbents do) and that will grow the subscriber base. The fact that a state, any state, is willing pass a law to encourage community broadband financing is noteworthy and a breath of fresh air.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

The revolution in energy production will not be televised, either

There is something interesting going on in the realm of science. It goes by the name of "the reputation bubble" and it has discouraged scientists from working on some very ambitious projects. One of those projects is cold fusion, the idea of achieving nuclear fusion at room temperature. You might recall the "scandal" of cold fusion back in the 80's where researchers in Utah were roundly discredited for their claims of demonstrating a cold fusion reaction.

That activity in Utah created a "bad reputation" for anyone daring to work on cold fusion. Yet several organizations persisted in the research. There must be something there or those two men from Utah would not have published such a bold claim as to have witnessed a fusion reaction in their labs at room temperature.

Huw Price documents the problem of the reputation bubble here. Therein, he describes his observations of two different trajectories of scientific inquiry. One went for faster than light neutrinos. The other, for cold fusion.

I read about the faster than light neutrinos as the story unfolded, scientists were calling them superluminal neutrinos, as if it was really possible Einstein was wrong. Einstein's Relativity theories have been consistently tested and verified for more than a century and so far, I haven't seen anyone prove him wrong. I bet he would be thrilled to see someone prove him wrong because that's how science works. Being proved wrong is just part of the business of science.

I followed the story of the superluminal neutrinos over days and weeks to finally learn that there were numerous errors with the methods used to calculate the speed of the neutrinos. As far as we know, Einstein is still right. Nothing can travel faster than light.

On the cold fusion side, I see that on August 25, 2015, a US patent has been awarded and with that patent, some secrets have been revealed in order to secure it. If someone has managed to get a patent on a machine that demonstrates cold fusion, that would be news, right? I mean, we're talking about a machine that uses a fuel with more than a million times the energy density of the carbon-oxygen bond. Yet, the mainstream news is silent on cold fusion and instead is blaring day and night about terrorism.

Not only are many scientists scared to talk about and research cold fusion, so is the press. Why would the press ignore such a startling possibility? Imagine having a 1 megawatt reactor powering up your factory, all of the office space and selling any excess power back to the grid. Imagine that the reactor fits in a shipping container. That's what we're talking about and it's call the Energy Catalyzer, or ECAT. You can see pictures of the ECAT here.

There is more. In Russia, a group of scientists have managed to replicate the E-CAT, showing that output is greater than input. You can read more details here from Wired Magazine. This time it's a clean room, open source design where all the details are shared. An open source approach could accelerate research. It's also worth noting that even NASA is checking this out.

In fact, a great deal has changed in the cold fusion story since the days of the first published paper on this subject. Here is a video that covers some fairly recent developments in cold fusion. Here is a corresponding website on the same topic.

The point here is not whether the technology works at least someone thinks it works and there's a patent to protect the invention. The point here is why discourage scientists with shame from doing the work? If a scientist is willing to put time and effort into proving that a clean, abundant and cheap energy source could work, why not just let him do it? If it works out, we create an energy source that could power our civilization for centuries until the next big thing. If it doesn't work out, well, there are other options to choose from.

I believe that the lack of coverage on this story and others like it is due to the fact that it doesn't fit the narrative of the mainstream press or even mainstream science. This is evidence of a significant funding problem in how news is generated and allocated. We put a quarter in the paper machine to get a newspaper. Does that quarter pay for the paper? No. The advertisers pay for the paper. The advertisers pay for the news and have enormous sway on the content of the paper. This is true for all major media. Just ask Rupert Murdoch.

Cold fusion is just one example. Anyone who has been following the news lately of our presidential election will surely notice the lopsided coverage of the candidates running for president. There appears to be a reputation bubble in political reporting, too. Analysts have reviewed the time allotted to each candidate by the national networks and found that one candidate is getting an overwhelming share of the news time, essentially free advertising, relative to the others.

We can infer from the following facts why the major media shows so much favor to Trump:

There is a huge amount of money at stake in this election, just as much or more as in the means to energy production. Major media controlled by the very wealthiest of Americans seem to have concluded that Trump is their man and that the revolution will not be televised. If the Sanders campaign is not getting much television coverage, you can bet that a revolution in energy production would not be televised. either.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

The 4% Initiative and climate change

In my review of the debate around global warming, I find that those who want to continue as we were, burning coal, oil and gas, also point out that we cannot cut carbon emissions without shrinking the economy. This is a false narrative perpetrated on behalf of those who earn money at the spigot where the carbon fuels flow.

But for the sake of discussion, lets assume that they're right. Let's reframe their claim as a question: Can we cut carbon emissions and grow the economy? I believe that the answer is yes. We've been proving it for years, but that is just with renewable energy, energy efficiency and nuclear power.

One more item that we can add to the mix, that often doesn't even get a mention in political discourse is land use. Humans are causing deforestation and desertification at an alarming rate. Our great forests are an obvious carbon sink, yet when they are cut, it doesn't make the news. When the land is depleted, it becomes a desert. Just ask China. Yet the mainstream media has been relatively silent on this issue since it doesn't fit their narrative. There is a way out of this.

In France, they call it The 4% Initiative, a new program from the French government. The idea is to plow 4% of the carbon from farming back into the ground. According to Food Tank, the 4% Initiative, if implemented globally, could sock away about 1.2 billion tons of CO2 every year:
"Fifteen hundred billion tons of carbon are stocked in soil organic matter, which is twice more carbon than atmospheric CO2 according to IPCC (2013). 1.2 billion tons of carbon could be stocked every year in agricultural soils with an annual rate of four percent increase of the soil organic matter on agricultural land. This would be about 20 percent of the total annually CO2-emission globally."
20% of annual CO2 seems a bit optimistic since human CO2 production from all sources, including land use is estimated to be around 30 billion tons a year. Let's see, 1.2 billion tons divided by 30 billion tons a year works out to about 4%. Yet, the benefits of carbon sequestration go well beyond just putting more CO2 into the ground and I wouldn't be surprised if they compounded with time. I'm almost certain that there would be multiplier effects that have not yet been anticipated.

Plowing more carbon back into the soil increases the stability of the soil for continued plant growth and renewal. It would reduce the need for fertilizers which in turn reduces CO2 production since fertilizer production requires energy, usually in the form of carbon fuels. It would make farming that much more efficient, further reducing the energy requirements of farming.

Here are some of the key figures and benefits listed by the French government concerning the intended benefits of The 4% Initiative:

  • 24 % of global soils are degraded at various levels, including 50 % of agricultural soils [source: Bai et al., 2013]
  • 1,500 billion tonnes of carbon are stocked in soil organic matter, which is twice more carbon than atmospheric CO2 [source : IPCC, 2013]
  • 1,2 billion tonnes of carbon could be stocked every year in agricultural soils which represents an annual rate of 4‰ compared to the surface soil horizon [source : IPCC, 2014]
  • Every years crop production in Africa, Asia and South America could increase by millions, by increasing 24/40 soil organic matter by 1 tonne/ha [Lal , 2006]
  • 1,2 billion USD is the economic loss in crop production due to soil degradation [FAO, 2006]
The 4% Initiative represents a way to cut CO2 emissions by implementing agriculture practices that stock more carbon into the soil without shrinking the economy. More to the point, the benefits of The 4% Initiative will grow the economy by improving the health of the land and the efficiency of farming. 

This is just the estimated impact from changing farming practices from one government. If all world governments turned their attention to the same problem, we might see a concerted effort worldwide to let the plants do most of the work when it comes to putting carbon back into the ground. If world governments gave as much attention to the health of the land as they do to terrorism, we might actually reduce terrorism. 

It is worth noting that even if The 4% Initiative works, there is still much work to do. The 4% Initiative is just one more tool available to all of us to reduce our carbon footprint. It is an addition to renewable energy, nuclear energy and of course improving the efficiency of our civilization. From cars to computers, there is room for improvement by just making our tools more efficient.

Call me an optimist if you want. But if we focus on the gloom and doom, we will resign ourselves to a quick extinction. Saving the earth for the posterity of mankind is a matter of political will, not technology. Happily, the most important tool we need to accomplish that goal is conveniently located between our ears. It is up to us to make the choice to use that tool wisely and to leave the world a better place for our kids and their kids. 

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Climate change: Man vs volcanoes - mankind wins and it isn't even close

A few years ago, I had a debate with someone about climate change on Facebook. He told me that humans are grandiose to think that they are so powerful as to change the climate. Considering the size and scale of the earth compared to us, I took him at his word. I also recalled an article I read in Car and Driver that said that a few volcanoes in the last 250 years has coughed up more CO2 than all of human history combined. I took them at their word, too.

After this meme was posted on Google+, there were comments to follow. To refute the claims in the meme, someone else posted the following links:

A review of the results and the conclusions found therein show that relative to volcanoes, humans are the undisputed champions of CO2 production. The meme offers no citations, no source for reference. The comment with the links show references from teams of scientists sorting out the question: which source is greater for CO2, humans or volcanoes?

Side note: An interesting fact missing from the meme is that the sulfate aerosols created by volcanoes has a very high albedo and actually reflects sunlight back into space. For example, after the Mount Pinatubo eruption, global surface temperatures dropped by about .5 C.

The numbers are fairly consistent across the board. Where CO2 production from volcanoes is measured in millions of tons, human production of CO2 from burning fossil fuels and changes in land use are measured in the billions. One source estimates annual volcanic CO2 production to be between 65 and 319 million tons, indicating variations year to year. By comparison, human activity produces 30 billion tons of CO2, up to 10 times what the volcanoes cough up in a year.

Worldwide, humans are very consistent at one thing: increasing the production of CO2. Scientific American covered this topic in 2009 and found that humans were producing about 24 billion tons of CO2. 6 years later, we're talking 30 billion tons of CO2 a year. Every year. And the numbers keep going up. Well, for most countries anyway.

Happily, trends can change. The US is now leading the world in reducing emissions. Renewable energy sources are in a boom and most analysts have consistently underestimated the growth of renewable energy. The US is showing the world that we can grow the economy and cut CO2 emissions at the same time. That's something you won't hear from Senator James Inhofe.

So the next time conservatives trot out their volcanoes, you can remind them that volcanoes tend to cause cooling by ejecting sulfur dioxide which combines in the atmosphere to create aerosols that reflects sunlight. You can also point out that volcanoes can't hold a candle to human CO2 production.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

The free speech angle on right to work is a ruse

On January 11th, the Supreme Court of the United States will hear Friedrichs vs California Teachers Association, a case concerning the constitutionality of agency fees paid by public employees for union representation. This is a case brought by Rebecca Friedrichs and other plaintiffs for relief from having to pay those agency fees and for protection of their First Amendment rights.

There are some who would claim that this is all about money, money, money. As if money is speech.

While it might be convenient to frame the case as a free speech case, in my view it is not. This is a contract case, nothing more. Not only is it a contract case, the Justices will have an opportunity to break decades of settled law if they rule in favor of the plaintiffs.

While some would like to emphasize the damages sustained by people who object to the agency fees and be forced to pay them to keep their job, it is important to remember that people have a right to collective bargaining.

Collecting bargaining means contracts and lawyers write contracts. Experts review the contracts to make sure they are sound. Even Justice Antonin Scalia agrees that professional services for union representation costs money. The Friedrichs case is not really about eliminating the need for public sector employees to pay for "political" activities and services performed by the union. That was already decided in 1977 in Abood v. Detroit Board of Educatio. Since the political use of the fees has already been settled, this isn't about free speech. This is about gutting the ability of unions to fund themselves.

As noted in the SCOTUS Blog, eliminating the fees for non-members would force a wave of renegotiation of thousands of contracts and allow free-riding. Free-riding in this context means that non-union members get the benefit of union scale compensation and other negotiated benefits without having to pay for them. This is a violation of the right to contract, a right protected by the Constitution. See article 1, section 10. The right to contract is one of the core protections provided by the Constitutions and The Founders found it necessary to put it in the first article.

Free-riding is a simple concept. Imagine that you're on a street corner and you hail a cab. You get in and give the destination, but just as you're ready to leave, someone else jumps in for the ride. Your unwelcome guest claims a right to ride along with you without paying the fare. That is what Friedrich and her cohorts are trying to do to a union.

Unions often seek exclusivity in their contracts and they need adequate compensation for their services. You're either a union shop or not. You're either a member or not. If you're not a member, should you be entitled to union scale compensation, negotiated by a profession team in a collective bargaining agreement? I say no.

The debate in public discourse over union fees has shifted lately to emphasize the free speech rights of the non-members, yet fails to address the contract rights of the union members. Unions are a free market response to an environment already hostile to workers. They are a requirement to maintaining a necessary balance between employers and workers. They help to ensure that when productivity gains are made, that employees have an opportunity to enjoy the fruits of their labors.

Wages have been stagnating for 40 years, and the people who own capital have been largely successful in decoupling productivity from wages. This attack on the right to contract by Friedrich and her associated plaintiffs is just one more attempt to chip away at, and eventually eliminate collective bargaining, everywhere. It is an attempt to assert minority power over a majority, clothed in individual rights.

While a ruling against the unions would not completely eviscerate the unions, it would set off a wave of negotiations of settled contracts. It would go against decades of settled law that many businesses and unions have come to rely upon. It would remind us once again how much capital hates labor.