Monday, August 30, 2010

Recovery Act Funds Electric Car Batteries, Renewable Energy, Genome Scans ANS

Some more good news: this is one of the things that Obama's administration is doing that will help all of us.  It just takes time. 
This article is about three of the areas that they are helping speed scientific research in by funding innovation. 
We will be applying for one of these grants shortly.  Do any of you have experience in applying for grants that you could help us with?
Find it here:   

Recovery Act Funds Electric Car Batteries, Renewable Energy, Genome Scans
WASHINGTON, DC, August 24, 2010 (ENS) - The United States is now on track to slash the cost of electric vehicle batteries, halve the cost of solar power, double renewable energy manufacturing, and produce inexpensive personal genome maps, according to a new report on the results of the Obama administration's economic stimulus released today by Vice President Joe Biden.

Introducing the report from the Congressional Budget Office on the employment and economic impact of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in Washington, Biden said today the $100 billion investment in innovation funded by the Act and the goals set by the administration have changed the American economy by inspiring new technologies and launching new industries.

President Barack Obama views the zinc bromide battery making process at the ZBB Manufacturing Facility, Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, August 16, 2010. (Photo byChuck Kennedy courtesy The White House)
"From the beginning, we have been a nation of discovery and innovation," Biden said, "and today we continue in that tradition as Recovery Act investments pave the way for game-changing breakthroughs in transportation, energy, and medical research."

"We're planting the seeds of innovation, but private companies and the nation's top researchers are helping them grow, launching entire new industries, transforming our economy, and creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs in the process," he said.

Recovery Act investments have now put the United States on track to cut the cost of batteries for autos by 70 percent between 2009 and 2015, by taking advantage of the latest technologies and ramping up manufacturing to much higher levels, the report shows.

This means that the cost of batteries for the typical all-electric vehicle will fall from $33,000 to $10,000, and the cost of typical plug-in hybrid batteries will drop from $13,000 to $4,000.

President Barack Obama, with assembly manager Teri Quigley, drives a new Chevy Volt electric car at the General Motors Auto Plant in Hamtramck, Michigan, July 30, 2010. (Photo by Pete Souza courtesy The White House)
Those lower prices will mean that electric cars are affordable and less expensive over the life of the car than similar non-electric vehicles.

Already, electric vehicles are becoming more affordable and accessible. In 2009, the only available electric-drive vehicle cost more than $100,000. Soon, the Nissan Leaf, starting at $25,000, and the Chevy Volt, starting at $33,000, will be available.

By 2015, the new batteries will be lighter by 33 percent, so less energy will be needed to power the car. By 2015, a typical battery is expected to last 14 years, more than three times as long as the current four-year battery lifetime.

"Thanks to investments made possible by the Recovery Act, we are unleashing the American innovation machine to change the way we use and produce energy in this country," said Energy Secretary Steven Chu at the launch of the new report.

"Just as importantly," he said, "these breakthroughs are helping create tens of thousands of new jobs, allowing the U.S. to continue as a leader in the global economy and helping to provide a better future for generations to come."

We are on track to cut the cost of solar power in half by 2015, which will bring the cost of generating solar power down to the cost of electricity from the grid, the report shows.

The cost of power from rooftop solar panels will drop from $0.21 per kWh in 2009 to $0.10 per kWh in 2015, which is equivalent to typical household electricity rates.

Allison Gray measures the optical efficiency of a solar trough collector at the National Renewable Energy Lab, January 2010. (Photo courtesy NREL)
The cost of power from utility-scale solar projects would drop from $0.13 per kWh today to $0.06 in 2015, which is equivalent to the cost of wholesale utility power.

The report predicts that the cost of rooftop solar power could drop to as low as $0.06 per kWh by 2030. At that cost, solar power will be cheaper than household electricity rates, and an average household could save more than $400 per year in electricity bills.

Biden said today, "President Obama, Secretary Chu, and I set a goal of doubling U.S. renewable energy generation capacity from wind, solar, and geothermal by 2012. We wanted to install as much renewable capacity in three years as the U.S. had in the previous thirty. But we're ahead of pace to meet it."

"In Pensacola, Florida, we've funded the largest photovoltaic power plant in North America, with over 90,000 solar panels - enough to provide energy for 3,000 homes," Biden said.

"And the Department of Energy is in the process of supporting what will be the world's largest solar thermal facility in the Mojave Desert. It will have 349,000 mirrors," he said.

Finally, the Obama administration's goal of bringing the cost of a personal human genome map to under $1,000 in five years is within reach, the report shows. This cost level will allow researchers to sequence 50 human genomes for the same cost as sequencing just one today.

With a more affordable price tag, DNA information could become a routine part of medical care. Just like a blood test, an inexpensive whole-genome DNA scan could help health care providers in the future choose effective, personalized treatments.

Seven projects funded by the Recovery Act are attempting to drive down the cost of human genome sequencing, each with a different technological strategy.

Director of the National Institutes of Health Francis Collins, M.D., said today, "The Recovery Act funding is not only producing thousands of jobs in the biomedical research community, it is also helping speed important medical discoveries that will benefit the health of Americans nationwide."

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Defining Prosperity Down: Paul Krugman on the Indifference of the Elite to the Plight of America’s Workers ANS

Here is what Krugman is saying about our economics now.  Unemployment is the new normal, and our government and The Fed doesn't care about working people not being able to work. 
Americans need to get focused, and grab the bull by the horns and DO something!
Find it here: 

« How Obama Undid Himself in His Handling of the Financial Crisis: John B. Judis in The New Republic
* The Sacred Space of Lovers: The Bogus Counsel Problem »

Defining Prosperity Down: Paul Krugman on the Indifference of the Elite to the Plight of America's Workers

Defining Prosperity Down

New York Times, August 1, 2010

I'm starting to have a sick feeling about prospects for American workers ­ but not, or not entirely, for the reasons you might think.

Yes, growth is slowing, and the odds are that unemployment will rise, not fall, in the months ahead. That's bad. But what's worse is the growing evidence that our governing elite just doesn't care ­ that a once-unthinkable level of economic distress is in the process of becoming the new normal.

And I worry that those in power, rather than taking responsibility for job creation, will soon declare that high unemployment is "structural," a permanent part of the economic landscape ­ and that by condemning large numbers of Americans to long-term joblessness, they'll turn that excuse into dismal reality.

Not long ago, anyone predicting that one in six American workers would soon be unemployed or underemployed, and that the average unemployed worker would have been jobless for 35 weeks, would have been dismissed as outlandishly pessimistic ­ in part because if anything like that happened, policy makers would surely be pulling out all the stops on behalf of job creation.

But now it has happened, and what do we see?

First, we see Congress sitting on its hands, with Republicans and conservative Democrats refusing to spend anything to create jobs, and unwilling even to mitigate the suffering of the jobless.

We're told that we can't afford to help the unemployed ­ that we must get budget deficits down immediately or the "bond vigilantes" will send U.S. borrowing costs sky-high. Some of us have tried to point out that those bond vigilantes are, as far as anyone can tell, figments of the deficit hawks' imagination ­ far from fleeing U.S. debt, investors have been buying it eagerly, driving interest rates to historic lows. But the fearmongers are unmoved: fighting deficits, they insist, must take priority over everything else ­ everything else, that is, except tax cuts for the rich, which must be extended, no matter how much red ink they create.

The point is that a large part of Congress ­ large enough to block any action on jobs ­ cares a lot about taxes on the richest 1 percent of the population, but very little about the plight of Americans who can't find work.

Well, if Congress won't act, what about the Federal Reserve? The Fed, after all, is supposed to pursue two goals: full employment and price stability, usually defined in practice as an inflation rate of about 2 percent. Since unemployment is very high and inflation well below target, you might expect the Fed to be taking aggressive action to boost the economy. But it isn't.

It's true that the Fed has already pushed one pedal to the metal: short-term interest rates, its usual policy tool, are near zero. Still, Ben Bernanke, the Fed chairman, has assured us that he has other options, like holding more mortgage-backed securities and promising to keep short-term rates low. And a large body of research suggests that the Fed could boost the economy by committing to an inflation target higher than 2 percent.

But the Fed hasn't done any of these things. Instead, some officials are defining success down.

For example, last week Richard Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, argued that the Fed bears no responsibility for the economy's weakness, which he attributed to business uncertainty about future regulations ­ a view that's popular in conservative circles, but completely at odds with all the actual evidence. In effect, he responded to the Fed's failure to achieve one of its two main goals by taking down the goalpost.

He then moved the other goalpost, defining the Fed's aim not as roughly 2 percent inflation, but rather as that of "keeping inflation extremely low and stable."

In short, it's all good. And I predict ­ having seen this movie before, in Japan ­ that if and when prices start falling, when below-target inflation becomes deflation, some Fed officials will explain that that's O.K., too.

What lies down this path? Here's what I consider all too likely: Two years from now unemployment will still be extremely high, quite possibly higher than it is now. But instead of taking responsibility for fixing the situation, politicians and Fed officials alike will declare that high unemployment is structural, beyond their control. And as I said, over time these excuses may turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the long-term unemployed lose their skills and their connections with the work force, and become unemployable.

I'd like to imagine that public outrage will prevent this outcome. But while Americans are indeed angry, their anger is unfocused. And so I worry that our governing elite, which just isn't all that into the unemployed, will allow the jobs slump to go on and on and on.

This entry was posted on Friday, August 20th, 2010 at 12:56 pmand is filed under Articles. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site

Friday, August 27, 2010

Questions About the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ ANS

If you would like to cut through all the rhetoric, hype, and outright
lies and distortions about what they really want to build in
Manhattan and where, go to and read this:

It includes a good map, and a lot of facts and sources of those facts.
In my opinion, the whole thing is a tempest in a tea pot....

Cross-Posted from the Richistan WSJ Blog Comments ANS

Well, Brad Hicks has finally written something again.  It's good.  It's brutal.  It's true.  It's short. The comments are good too, so I've included them. 
Find it here:  

From: [info] kimchalister

Cross-Posted from the Richistan WSJ Blog Comments

  • Aug. 27th, 2010 at 7:40 PM
Brad @ Burning Man
Robert Frank, the author of Richistan, writes a blog for the Wall Street Journal about Richistanis and their issues, and today posted a discussion of "bipartisan" economic analyst Mark Zandi's recent presentation in which he argued that the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 5% of households desperately need to be extended for at least one more year, because, "Normally, I would firmly agree that raising taxes on people who make over $250,000 a year would not make a meaningful difference in the way they spend money. But I worry that these aren't normal times and even this income group may be sensitive." Why is their sensitivity a problem? Because (also according to Mr. Zandi) the top 5% of Americans by income account for 37% of all consumer outlays, nearly equal to the outlays of the bottom 80% of Americans. (See Robert Frank, " Rich are More Sensitive to Tax Increases Today, Zandi Says," The Wealth Report,, 8/27/10.)

Here's what I said, in the comments (with a few minor corrections):

Maybe the fact that 5% of Americans make 37% of Americans' consumer purchases is part of the problem. Maybe it's not an inevitable fact of life, but evidence that 95% of Americans are too broke to buy anything. Maybe that's the problem we should be addressing.

Look, the wealthy (and the candidates they supported) have taken off the table the idea of doing something drastic to lower the unemployment rate, like the Reagan's Workfare proposal or another WPA. And they've just as firmly ruled out raising wages sharply across the board for working and middle class Americans, to increase purchasing power and thus give businesses a reason to hire people to make things again. With both of those ideas considered too radical to even discuss seriously, there are only three choices. Pay 22% of us not to work, and raise taxes on the other 78% to cover those payments. Pay 22% of us not to work, borrowing more and more money to do so until the dollar collapses. Or don't pay the 22% of us who are officially unemployed, listed as discouraged workers, counted out of the job pool because they haven't found work since the bubble burst in November of '07, or disabled but willing and able to work if employers were willing to hire the handicapped, that is to say, leave those 22% of us to starve … for exactly as long as it takes for those 22% of us, who outnumber the cops and the military by about 4 or 5 to 1, to kill and eat all the rich people.

You can pay higher taxes. Or you can "enjoy" runaway inflation that eats away at your living standard even faster than the taxes would. Or you can watch the whole country go up in flames. There is no fourth option. Are you still "too sensitive" to pay those taxes? Because if you are, then those first two options that you ruled out, either Workfare or the Living Wage, need to be re-opened for discussion.
  • Mood: good good


( 12 comments ­ Leave a comment )
[info] darksumomo wrote:
Aug. 28th, 2010 01:12 am (UTC)
"Reagan's Workfare proposal"

A proposal by "St. Ronnie" is too radical for these people? Good Lord!
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[info] tacky_tramp wrote:
Aug. 28th, 2010 01:29 am (UTC)
Yeah, there's basically no way Reagan could get the Republican party's Presidential nomination nowadays.
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[info] dnwq wrote:
Aug. 28th, 2010 01:32 am (UTC)
Even with Zandi's higher figures, the impact of tax cuts on upper-income groups still has a low multiplier impact.

Here, have a textbook New Keynesian fiscal policy: increase taxes on upper-income groups and distribute the money to low-income groups via, say, food stamps. The multiplier is smaller on the former and larger on the latter, so the net short-run impact on national income is positive: we have stimulus. Nonetheless it is budget-neutral. We can employ a variety of similar methods on other things with low and high multipliers.

But we are very far from even fairly conservative textbook policy nowadays, for a variety of reasons...
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[info] alobar wrote:
Aug. 28th, 2010 04:09 am (UTC)
Are you planning to re-post this into [info] the_recession?
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Brad @ Burning Man
[info] bradhicks wrote:
Aug. 28th, 2010 01:43 am (UTC)
That's how far we've moved to the right, that's how far corporate and investor funded politics have taken us: Ronald Reagan would now be considered a liberal Republican.

Workfare sounded draconian when he suggested it, but it now sounds good to me. The logic went like this: there's nothing unreasonable about it taking up to 26 weeks to find a job when your company goes under, or any of a half dozen other good reasons why you might need to find work. So as little as he liked it, he was willing to go along with unemployment insurance as it was originally written: everybody pays premiums, and when you're between jobs, you draw up to 26 weeks of reduced pay, paid for out of everybody's actuarily derived premiums.

But thus far and no farther. His reasoning was that after that, you should just plain be working, for Calvinist reasons. I'd be more inclined to go along with FDR advisor Harry Hopkins' reasoning: after that, no employer wants you, because your skills are no longer current. Either way, here was his proposal: after 26 weeks, the government will hire you for a job, if it has to make up one for you. It will pay the same reduced salary that your unemployment benefits were paying. The government reserves the right to retrain you for other work and assign you that job instead of your old one. But you will show up, you will work, or you will not get paid.

Once he got elected, united opposition from unions afraid of low-paid competition and country club Republicans to whom it too closely resembled the WPA derailed the proposal, and he adopted trickle-down economic theory in its place. And we now know the outcome of that: corporate welfare and tax cuts to the rich weren't invested in American jobs, they were invested in Chinese and Philippine and Indonesian and Mexican jobs.

I don't care whether we call it the WPA, or Workfare, I think both Harry Hopkins and Ronald Reagan were right: after 26 weeks of unemployment, a worker doesn't need support, he or she needs a damned job. I think that "emergency unemployment benefits extension" should be flatly outlawed. I'm even inclined to radically tighten the standards on disability: there are an awful lot of people who can work, they just can't be made pleasant to work with; if the private sector isn't hungry enough for workers to hire those people, it's better for them, better for the country, and better for the economy to pay them (myself included) to work than to pay them to stay home.

Edited at 2010-08-28 01:45 am (UTC)
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[info] nebris wrote:
Aug. 28th, 2010 02:22 am (UTC)
I'm a firm believer in the basic income guarantee concept. Of course, I also believe in the Easter Bunny, who'll likely show up long before BIG ever does.


Edited at 2010-08-28 02:23 am (UTC)
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[info] nebris wrote:
Aug. 28th, 2010 02:17 am (UTC)
I can only wonder if one of the reasons Hunter Thompson killed himself was seeing that even Richard Nixon had become too 'leftist' for the GOP...and despaired.


Edited at 2010-08-28 04:05 am (UTC)
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[info] anfalicious wrote:
Aug. 28th, 2010 01:23 am (UTC)
I'm a full supporter of option 3: Eat The Rich.
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[info] nebris wrote:
Aug. 28th, 2010 02:18 am (UTC)
Why do you hate America, etc etc?

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[info] chipuni wrote:
Aug. 28th, 2010 02:48 am (UTC)
You forget a fourth option.

The rich, having used up the United States, just flee.

And I suspect that many will do that.
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[info] drewkitty wrote:
Aug. 28th, 2010 03:41 am (UTC)
They are already enclaving up.
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[info] harmfulguy wrote:
Aug. 28th, 2010 04:40 am (UTC)
Ever since the days of St. Ronnie, there is nothing more important to the Right than keeping labor cheap.
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( 12 comments ­ Leave a comment )


Brad @ Burning Man
[info] bradhicks
J. Brad Hicks
about the author


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Senate Panel Holds Hearing on Worker-Owned Businesses ANS

This is a small bit of positive news, in Vermont, but also a proposal for a committee nationally.  It promotes employee-owned businesses. 
Find it here:


Release: Senate Panel Holds Hearing on Worker-Owned Businesses

August 26, 2010

MONTPELIER, Vt., August 26 – U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) chaired a Senate committee hearing today at the Vermont Statehouse on ways employee-owned businesses could help pull the country out of the recession.

"Vermont is a leader in this area," Sanders told reporters afterward.  "Especially in the midst of a recession when unemployment is so high and people are really worried about outsourcing, employee ownership means that those companies are not going to be running to China and morale in those companies is higher because people are participating in the democratic decision-making process."

 Representatives of Vermont worker-owned businesses explained the economic benefits including greater productivity and higher morale. Their companies also are more likely to keep jobs in the United States, they said during the 90-minute hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

"Employee-owned companies tend to perform better, pay higher wages, and provide better retirement and other benefits than non-employee-owned firms," said John Crystal, executive director of the Vermont Employee Ownership Center.

Steven Voigt, the CEO of Norwich-based King Arthur Flour Company, said his company stresses consistent quality, "so building better quality management systems, not just 'taking costs out,' fits our definition of productivity.  When this is working we have near zero turnover."

Jeff Clark, director of operations for Chroma Technology, worked for big corporations before coming to the worker-owned maker of precision optical filters in Rockingham. "They were very efficient at manufacturing products, cutting costs and keeping an eye on the bottom line which was good for their stockholders," Clark said. "Chroma has these same concerns, but we also consider the impact of our decisions on our employee owners and local communities."

Bruce Seifer, Burlington's assistant director for economic development, told the committee that the city's long-term economic development framework focuses on local ownership and prefers employee ownership. "The focus is on fusing local business opportunity with employee development. It is a smart approach to root businesses and their workforce in your community and have them become part of your economy for generations to come."

Sanders has introduced legislation to [form] an Office of Employee Ownership and Participation within the U.S. Department of Labor. It would provide training, grants, and technical support for programs promoting employee ownership and participation. Another Sanders' bill would provide loans and loan guarantees to employees to purchase a business through an employee stock ownership plan or a worker-owned cooperative. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is a co-sponsor on both bills.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Which Calif. governor has had the best job growth? ANS

This is an article about a scientific study on job growth under various California Governors.  Note that though Meg Whitman claims that 400,000 jobs were lost during Jerry Brown's tenure, the actual figures say 2 million jobs were gained.  Is lying a family value?
Find it here:

Which Calif. governor has had the best job growth?

One hint: He's never been known as Der Gubernator

By Dean Calbreath, UNION-TRIBUNE

Wednesday, August 25, 2010 at 6:41 p.m.
FILE - In this Friday, Oct. 25, 1974 picture, Jerry Brown, Jr.,  

/ AP

FILE - In this Friday, Oct. 25, 1974 picture, Jerry Brown , Jr., the Democratic candidate for governor, shakes hands during a luncheon sponsored by the Watts Labor Community Action Committee where he spoke. Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown want the same job, but that's where the similarities end for the two candidates running for California governor. (AP Photo, File)

Which of California's five recent governors had the best job growth during his tenure in office? And which had the worst?

Michael Bernick, an employment specialist affiliated with Santa Monica's Milken Institute, has come up with one method of figuring that out - and the answer has already generated a little dustup on the campaign trail.

Bernick added up the number of jobs that were added during each tenure and then compared California's growth rate to the nation's growth rate. Since California represents around 11 percent of the nation's population, any number above 11 percent means we're outpacing the rest of the country.

It's probably no great surprise that the state's worst growth came under the current governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger , which arguably had much less to do with his policies than with the state's close ties to the real estate bubble and burst.

Since Schwarzenegger was elected through a recall election in October 2003, the state has lost 561,000 jobs, even though the nation added 153,000. Even though all four of his predecessors dealt with recessions, Schwarzenegger was the only governor to come to the end of his term with fewer jobs than in the beginning (unless there's some dramatic burst in employment between now and the inauguration of the next governor).

But which governor oversaw the best comparative job growth? According to Bernick, that honor goes to Jerry Brown. The state added nearly 2 million jobs during Brown's tenure from 1975-82, representing 17.3 percent of the nation's employment growth. That's despite a devastating national downturn during his final year in office that saw unemployment spike to 11 percent nationwide and 10.8 percent in California.

The performance under the other recent governors includes:
  • George Deukmejian, 1983-90, 2.7 million jobs, 13.8 percent of U.S. growth. Deukmejian benefited from the boom of the late 1980s, but ended with the beginning of the post-Cold War recession.
  • Pete Wilson, 1991-98, 1.3 million jobs, 7.2 percent. Wilson got hit with the brunt of the Cold War recession and the "jobless recovery" that followed.
  • Gray Davis, 1999-2003,5.6 million jobs, 11.3 percent. Gray Davis was recalled from office partly because of a series of problems that impacted the state's economy, including the California energy crisis, the workers' compensation crisis, the bursting of the dot-com bubble and the jobless recovery that followed. Nevertheless, job creation in California kept pace with the state's size in the U.S. economy.

Meg Whitman's gubernatorial campaign, which has been trying to portray Jerry Brown as a "job-killer," has criticized his study as being partisan. Bernick, after all, was a college intern in Sacramento during the Brown administration and he says he has "known and personally supported" Brown ever since. He also headed the California Employment Development Department under Gray Davis. But he insists that his study - which grew out of a research for a book he's writing on the California economy, is based on easily verifiable data.

"If the Whitman campaign can show that these numbers are inaccurate or misleading, such should be done," he said.

Whitman's spokeswoman Sarah Pompei called it "a desperate attempt to cover up the fact thatJerry left office with 400,000 more unempoyed Californians than when he began." Nationally, under President Ronald Reagan, there were 10.7 million unemployed that year.

CLICK HERE for a link to Bernick's study

Monday, August 23, 2010

Disaster at the Top of the World ANS

This article is about what to do about global warming now that doing anything real about it has been stopped by the obstructionist Republicans.  It's suggestions are good, but seem minimal to me.  I'd like to see more concrete ideas.  What do you think?
It's from the New York Times.
Find it here:  

August 22, 2010

Disaster at the Top of the World

Aboard the Louis S. St-Laurent

STANDING on the deck of this floating laboratory for Arctic science, which is part of Canada's Coast Guard fleet and one of the world's most powerful icebreakers, I can see vivid evidence of climate change. Channels through the Canadian Arctic archipelago that were choked with ice at this time of year two decades ago are now expanses of open water or vast patchworks of tiny islands of melting ice.

In 1994, the "Louie," as the crew calls the ship, and a United States Coast Guard icebreaker, the Polar Sea, smashed their way to the North Pole through thousands of miles of pack ice six- to nine-feet thick. "The sea conditions in the Arctic Ocean were rarely an issue for us in those days, because the thick continuous ice kept waves from forming," Marc Rothwell, the Louie's captain, told me. "Now, there's so much open water that we have to account for heavy swells that undulate through the sea ice. It's almost like a dream: the swells move in slow motion, like nothing I've seen elsewhere."

The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, and this summer its sea ice is melting at a near-record pace. The sun is heating the newly open water, so it will take longer to refreeze this winter, and the resulting thinner ice will melt more easily next summer.

At the same time, warm Pacific Ocean water is pulsing through the Bering Strait into the Arctic basin, helping melt a large area of sea ice between Alaska and eastern Siberia. Scientists are just beginning to learn how this exposed water has changed the movement of heat energy and major air currents across the Arctic basin, in turn producing winds that push remaining sea ice down the coasts of Greenland into the Atlantic.

Globally, 2010 is on track to be the warmest year on record. In regions around the world, indications abound that earth's climate is quickly changing, like the devastating mudslides in China and weeks of searing heat in Russia. But in the world's capitals, movement on climate policy has nearly stopped.

Democrats in the Senate decided last month that they wouldn't push for approval of a climate bill. In Canada, Australia, Japan and countries across Europe, the global economic crisis and other near-term concerns have pushed climate issues to the back burner. For China and India, economic growth and energy security are more vital priorities.

Climate policy is gridlocked, and there's virtually no chance of a breakthrough. Many factors have conspired to produce this situation. Human beings are notoriously poor at responding to problems that develop incrementally. And most of us aren't eager to change our lifestyles by sharply reducing our energy consumption.

But social scientists have identified another major reason: Climate change has become an ideologically polarizing issue. It taps into deep personal identities and causes what Dan Kahan of Yale calls "protective cognition" ­ we judge things in part on whether we see ourselves as rugged individualists mastering nature or as members of interconnected societies who live in harmony with the environment. Powerful special interests like the coal and oil industries have learned how to halt movement on climate policy by exploiting the fear people feel when their identities are threatened.

Given this reality, we'll almost certainly need some kind of devastating climate shock to get effective climate policy. That's the key lesson of the recent financial crisis: when powerful special interests have convinced much of the public that what they're doing isn't dangerous, only a disaster that discredits those interests will provide an opportunity for comprehensive policy change like the Dodd-Frank financial regulations.

It is possible that the changes I'm seeing from the ship deck are the beginning of the climate shock that will awaken us to the danger we face. Scientists aren't sure what will happen when a significant portion of the Arctic Ocean changes from white, sunlight-reflecting ice to dark, sunlight-absorbing open water. But most aren't sanguine.

These experts are especially concerned that new patterns of air movement in the Arctic could disrupt the Northern Hemisphere's jet streams ­ which are apparently weakening and moving northward. This could alter storm tracks, rainfall patterns and food production far to the south.

The limited slack in the world's food system, particularly its grain production, can amplify the effects of disruptions. Remember that two years ago, when higher oil prices encouraged farmers to shift enormous tracts of cropland from grain to biofuel production, grain prices quickly doubled or tripled. Violence erupted in dozens of countries. Should climate change cause crop failures in major food-producing regions of Europe, North America and East Asia, the consequences would likely be far more severe.

Policy makers need to accept that societies won't make drastic changes to address climate change until such a crisis hits. But that doesn't mean there's nothing for them to do in the meantime. When a crisis does occur, the societies with response plans on the shelf will be far better off than those that are blindsided. The task for national and regional leaders, then, is to develop a set of contingency plans for possible climate shocks ­ what we might call, collectively, Plan Z.

Some work of this kind is under way at intelligence agencies and research institutions in the United States and Europe. Harvard's Kennedy School of Government has produced one of the best studies, "Responding to Threat of Climate Change Mega-Catastrophes." But for the most part these initiatives are preliminary and uncoordinated.

We need a much more deliberate Plan Z, with detailed scenarios of plausible climate shocks; close analyses of options for emergency response by governments, corporations and nongovernmental groups; and clear specifics about what resources ­ financial, technological and organizational ­ we will need to cope with different types of crises.

In the most likely scenarios, climate change would cause some kind of regional or continental disruption, like a major crop failure; this disruption would cascade through the world's tightly connected economic and political systems to produce a global effect. Severe floods dislocating millions of people in a key poor country ­ as we're seeing right now in Pakistan ­ could allow radicals to seize power and tip a geopolitically vital region into war. Or drought could cause an economically critical region like the North China plain to exhaust its water reserves, forcing people to leave en masse and precipitating a crisis that reverberates through the world economy.

A climate shock in North America is easy to imagine. Say a prolonged drought causes major cities in the American Southeast or Southwest to run out of water; both regions have large urban populations pushing against upper limits of water supply. The news clips of cars streaming out of Atlanta or Phoenix might finally push our leaders to do something serious about climate change.

If so, a Plan Z for this particular scenario would help us make the most of the opportunity. It would provide guidelines for regional and local leaders on how to respond to the crisis. We would decide in advance where supplies of water would be found and who would get priority allocations; local law enforcement and emergency responders would already have worked out lines of authority with federal agencies and the military.

Then there are the broader steps to mitigate climate change in general. Here, Plan Z would address many critical questions: How fast could carbon emissions from automobiles and energy production be ramped down, and what would be the economic, political and social consequences of different rates of reduction? Where would we find the vast amounts of money needed to overhaul existing energy systems? How quickly could different economic sectors and social groups adapt to different kinds of climate impacts? And if geoengineering to alter earth's climate ­ for example, injecting sulfates into the high atmosphere ­ is to be an option, who would make the decision and undertake the operation?

Looking over the endless, empty horizon of the Arctic, I find it hard to imagine this spot being of any importance to global affairs. But it is just one of many places now considered marginal that could be the starting point for a climate shock that plays a central role in the evolution of human civilization. We need to be ready.

Thomas Homer-Dixon is a professor of global systems at the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo, Canada.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Swearing as a Pain-Killer: Research Report from Science News ANS

this article is from Andy Schmookler's site, None So Blind.  The comment at the end of the article is from him.  I have then also included the three comments on the article, the last from me.  Apparently, swearing actually reduces pain.
Find it here:  

Swearing as a Pain-Killer: Research Report from Science News

A brief remark from me follows this article.


"%&#$!" makes you feel better
Swearing like a sailor may alleviate pain

by Laura Sanders
Science News, August 1, 2009

Although the news probably won't stop parents from washing kids' mouths out with soap, it turns out that cussing a blue streak may be a good thing. A study appearing in the August 5 NeuroReport suggests that four-letter words may help alleviate pain.

"Swear words are unique," says Timothy Jay, a psychologist at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, who has studied the role of naughty words in linguistics. "They're really the link between the language system and the emotional system."

Inspiration for the new study came to psychologist Richard Stephens as he listened to his wife let loose with some unsavory language during the throes of labor. So he and his colleagues at Keele University in England conducted an experiment to test whether uttering emotion-laden choice words can actually change the amount of pain people feel. Undergraduate students (38 males and 29 females) each immersed a hand in cold water (about 5º Celsius) for as long as they could stand it, while repeating either a swear word or an innocuous word.

Before the study, participants were asked to write down five words they might say after hitting their thumb with a hammer?­?to control for varying foulness thresholds. One of these choices served as a swear word, and control words were five words the participants might use to describe a table. "A word someone might find shocking and scandalous is a word someone else might use every day," Stephens says.

When people had a swear word for their mantra (popular choices: the s-word, the f-word, two b-words and a c-word), they were able to keep a hand in the chilly water longer. What's more, after the ordeal, people who swore reported less pain.

Stephens and his colleagues turned up some interesting differences between men and women. Although swearing helped both sexes keep their hands in cold water longer, women reported a greater decrease in perceived pain after the experiment.

Swearing increased heart rate in both men and women, but had a greater effect on women. Researchers thought the heart rate increase might signal the beginning of a fight-or-flight response. Such a response may allow the body to tolerate or ignore pain, they say.

Many more studies of different kinds of pain and different measures of effects are needed before researchers fully understand the impact of swear words, Stephens says.

Jay says the study gets past the question of whether swearing should be frowned upon in polite society and instead addresses a scientific question. "When you try to describe swearing in moral terms?­?is it good or bad?­ it keeps you from getting at the deeper evolutionary links," he says. "Where did this come from? Why do we do it?"


ABS remark: The article closes with a reference to "getting at the deeper evolutionary links." I'm wondering: what kind of links might there be? Swearing involves language. Deep evolutionary links implies dynamics going way back before language. So what could there have been, prior to language, that swearing would tap into? Do emotional grunts and angry shouts affect –with no words involved– affect pain similarly?

This entry was posted on Thursday, August 12th, 2010 at 1:06 pm and is filed under Articles. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

3 Responses to "Swearing as a Pain-Killer: Research Report from Science News"

  1. James Says:
  2. August 12th, 2010 at 2:39 pm
  3. Animals cy out when painfully aroused and, while they might experience pain differently than humans, the pain is there and so is the growel, roar, trumpet, shriek, squeal; sounds equated with the pain and possibly alieviating same.
  4. James Says:
  5. August 12th, 2010 at 5:45 pm
  6. There seems to be verbal cues for pain in certain areas of the brain and remembering the cues can increase the feeling: while not an alleviation, the cues increase pain.
  7. Whit Says:
  8. August 14th, 2010 at 8:41 am
  9. It does seem to help to call some names at the hammer you just hit your finger with!
  10. Whit
  11. kim Says: Your comment is awaiting moderation.
  12. August 22nd, 2010 at 5:56 pm
  13. I have always felt that moaning actually reduced pain too, so that sort of thing might be the deeper link they are thinking of. Why do cats purr?
  14. The paradox inherent in this whole concept is that if admitting that swear words help, made swear words into ordinary acceptable words, would they cease to work? If the words have to be "forbidden" to work, then we should keep some words "forbidden".

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Spirituality and the Humanist ANS

Here is a definition of spirituality that is much much better than the dictionary definitions.  And it suits theists and atheists alike. 
It's from Doug Muder. 
Find it here:

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Spirituality and the Humanist

This is the text of a sermon I gave at my home church, First Parish in Bedford, Massachusetts, on August 15.

This talk comes out of a lunch I had with one of our congregation's more outspoken Humanists back in June. He said something I had heard from a number of Humanists over the years: He didn't care for all this talk about spirituality in our UU churches, because he didn't know what the word meant and he sometimes suspected that it didn't mean anything.

Does "spirituality" mean anything?  He's in good company there, because the pioneer Unitarian Humanist, John Dietrich, preached a sermon in 1929 called " What Does It Mean to Be Spiritual?"
just as your money may degenerate into a most deceitful piece of paper, scandalously suggesting a hoard of gold or goods that does not exist, so the word may become a delusive phantasy of the idea for which it once stood; and the feebler or the more dissipated the intelligence of a person or a generation, the greater the chance that mere words will pass as coin. Such a word preeminently is "spirituality." While no one is able to define it or has a concrete idea of what it means, yet it suggests at once an unction, an exaltation of emotion, a superiority which are associated with hardly any other words in the English language.

Now, I've also been involved in the polar opposite conversation, with people who complain that UU churches are not spiritual enough, but instead are head-centered, wordy, lifeless. They claim to be looking for a kind of depth that they don't find in Unitarian Universalism.

With apologies to John Dietrich, in general I don't find these spiritual seekers to be of "feeble or dissipated intelligence." What's more, they seem to me to be expressing a sincere desire, and to believe that they are talking about something when they say spirituality.

Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean that they are talking about something. Deep feelings often get attached to words, but that doesn't prove that the words mean anything. Christians, for example, feel deeply about the doctrine of the Trinity. But Thomas Jefferson was not impressed:
the ... paradox that one is three, and three but one, is so incomprehensible to the human mind, that no candid man can say he has any idea of it, and how can he believe what presents no idea? He who thinks he does, only deceives himself.

In other words, if you can't even hold an idea in your head, how can you have any opinion about whether that idea is true or false? You may feel quite sincere while you say, "I believe in the Jabberwock." But if you have no notion at all as to what a Jabberwock might be, then Jefferson would say that you are deceiving yourself. You have trained yourself to feel sincere about a collection of words, but you aren't actually talking about anything.

Ruining the conversation. Avoiding that talking-about-nothing problem is what definitions are for. So the first thing a Humanist might request in a discussion of spirituality is a definition.

I've seen that happen. At a church I used to belong to, the weekly discussion group devoted a session to spirituality. The first person to talk was a retired engineer. He opened a dictionary, read the approved definitions of spirituality, and wondered which of these meanings we would be discussing.

The conversation never recovered. Nothing throws cold water on a spiritual discussion like opening a dictionary. A dictionary is to spirituality as cold iron is to fairies or kryptonite is to Superman.

Now, why would that be? Two obvious explanations present themselves, the first being the one Dietrich was pointing to: Insisting on definitions kills a discussion about spirituality because the word doesn't really mean anything.

But there is a second possibility: Sometimes a topic gets framed so badly that the discussion just can't continue. I would guess that this has happened to most of us at one time or another. You're in a room with a group of people, and so many poisonous assumptions have already been baked into the conversation that there's just no point trying to sort it out. All you can do is back slowly away until you get to the door, and then run.

I'd guess that most of you know what I'm talking about, but you still may not see how pulling out a dictionary could create such a hostile environment. Why are spirituality and dictionaries so irreconcilable?

Taking the plunge. I don't know how to answer that question without going ahead and doing exactly what that engineer wanted. I'm going to hazard my own definition of spirituality – not with the idea that this settles the topic once and for all, but just so that I can explain why looking for a definition can be so problematic.

So here's my best shot: Spirituality is an awareness of the gap between what you can experience and what you can describe.

Now, that's probably not what you were expecting, so let me take a little time to point out the features of this definition. First, it is compatible with Humanism. There are no supernatural assumptions. You can seek this kind of spirituality with or without any gods or souls or spirits or afterlives.

Second, by defining spirituality as an awareness I've places it on the subjective side of things. Nothing is spiritual in and of itself. It can only be spiritual to somebody.

So spirituality is not a place like Shangri-La or Brigadoon, where other people can go, but for some reason they can't tell you where it is. And it's also not an activity like meditation or prayer or chanting or drumming. Any of those practices might raise a person's awareness of the gap between experience and description -- we'll get into how they might do that in a minute -- and so they might be spiritual activities for that person. But for someone else they might not be.

Another reason spirituality varies from person to person is that everyone is different in both the capacity to experience life and the capacity to describe it. And both capacities change as you learn and grow.

Sometimes as you learn and grow, experiences that used to be indescribable become describable; they used to fall into that gap and now they don't. For example, a stone-age tribe and a meteorologist experience a thunderstorm very differently. For the tribe it might be a deeply spiritual experience that evokes awe and wonder, while for the meteorologist the storm may be a simple application of a well-understood theory.

In Life on the Mississippi, Mark Twain relates how sunset over the river had once been an enrapturing experience for him -- until he was trained as a riverboat captain.
But as I have said, a day came when I began to cease from noting the glories and the charms which the moon and the sun and the twilight wrought upon the river's face ...

Then, if that sunset scene had been repeated, I should have looked upon it without rapture, and should have commented upon it, inwardly, after this fashion: This sun means that we are going to have wind tomorrow; that floating log means that the river is rising, small thanks to it; that slanting mark on the water refers to a bluff reef which is going to kill somebody's steamboat one of these nights

He goes on like that for some while, interpreting every little detail, and then wistfully concludes:
No, the romance and the beauty were all gone from the river. All the value any feature of it had for me now was the amount of usefulness it could furnish toward compassing the safe piloting of a steamboat.

In other words, a once-indescribable scene became instead pregnant with information that was very describable and quite useful – but not at all spiritual. Sunsets had not changed, but Twain had.

Sophistication can also work the other way, causing you to appreciate indescribable depths that the ordinary person takes for granted. Consider this curious little quote from the mathematician R. W. Hamming:
I have tried, with little success, to get some of my friends to understand my amazement that the abstraction of ... counting is both possible and useful. Is it not remarkable that 6 sheep plus 7 sheep make 13 sheep; that 6 stones plus 7 stones make 13 stones? Is it not a miracle that the universe is so constructed that such a simple abstraction as a number is possible?

Rather than making mysterious things seem ordinary, Hamming's mathematical sophistication had done the reverse: allowed him to experience counting as something strange and wonderful.

Testing against common usage. Now that I've explained the definition a little, let's think about whether I've gotten it right. The best test of a definition is to see how much of the common usage it makes sense out of. Bad definitions make everybody sound either stupid or crazy. Good definitions are like getting a radio station tuned in right: the horrible static goes away, and you can hear people talking.

I've been comparing this definition to common usage for a while now, and it seems to work pretty well. Think about the everyday experiences that people call spiritual: music and art, for example. Both have a lot to do with the indescribable. As Aldous Huxley said, "After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music." Another experience people describe as spiritual is being out in Nature. And again, it has an indescribable quality: Anything you say afterwards – even the pictures you take – don't really capture it.

Because this definition implies no doctrine or dogma, it makes sense out of the people who say that they're "spiritual but not religious". Spiritual seeking isn't a theology or even a search for a theology necessarily, it's a search for a certain kind of awareness.

Religion, in fact, can be anti-spiritual if it's too simple-minded. If a religion claims to describe everything that needs describing, if it wraps God up in a neat little box and leaves no room for mystery, it's not spiritual.

Ruining the conversation, part II. So now I think we're in a position to understand how a bad or careless or premature definition might wreck the whole spirituality conversation. If people are trying to raise their awareness of the things they don't know how to put words around, then demanding that they use words very precisely and stop using words if they can't explain what they mean – that pulls in exactly the wrong direction. The spiritual seeker doesn't want to talk about words and definitions; he wants to talk about the experience of having no words. And more than that: he wants to stop talking and invoke a situation that he will have no words to describe.

Spiritual practice. And that's what I think is going on in the so-called spiritual practices – the things people do to seek a spiritual experience.

Consider, for example, what happens (or doesn't happen) in a sitting meditation. Sitting meditations are designed to flatten out all the things you usually describe in a situation, so that they're not worth describing any more. When I'm in a sitting meditation, I'm

·         not accomplishing anything; I'm just sitting there

·         not talking or listening to anybody

·         not moving; meditation positions are designed so that (once you master them) you can stay in them for a long time

·         either not watching anything or watching something that doesn't move

·         breathing in a regular pattern; the same way each time

·         not intentionally thinking about anything or fantasizing anything

Anything I usually put into words about a situation – even just words in my own head – have been dialed down to zero. My internal narrator can't find anything to say other than, "Nothing is happening. Nothing is happening. Nothing is happening."

So whatever I do experience during meditation – and there is always something to experience – falls right into that gap between experience and description.

The Value of Spirituality. Now, if I'm right about what spirituality is, what is the value of it? Why meditate or chant or perform a Japanese tea ceremony, even if it does raise your awareness of the indescribable aspects of your experience? You're not feeding the hungry or promoting justice or even making money. So what's the value in it?

For me, the main reason to seek out spiritual experiences is because that gap between experience and description is where all my creativity comes from. My creative process – and I won't go so far as to say that creativity works this way for everybody, but I'll bet it does for a lot of people – is to stare into that Gap of the Undescribed until something crystallizes out of it and becomes describable for the first time.

If you've ever worked in mathematics or the sciences, you may recognize this experience: You work on a problem for a long time, and then you suddenly have a eureka moment, like Archimedes in his bath. Now, if you watch those moments carefully, you might notice this: There's actually a period of time, usually just a few seconds, after the eureka, where you still don't know what it is you've discovered. You know you've solved it, but you have to wait a few seconds before you know what your solution is.

It's like the ship coming across from the Undescribed has docked, but you haven't unloaded it yet.

The unspiritual life. Another way to appreciate the value of spirituality is to imagine the unspiritual life. It's not what you might think. The unspiritual life is not the the skeptical life or the scientific life or a life where you appreciate the value of facts and logic and evidence. None of that is unspiritual.

No, the unspiritual life is best summed up in a rhyme the students of Oxford's Balliol College made up about their college master, the 19th-century scholar Benjamin Jowett.

I am the master of this college
And what I know not, is not knowledge

The unspiritual life, which (like most people) I fall into from time to time, happens when I forget that there is any more to life than the things I can describe. Nothing seems to exist other than the things I have names for, those things don't have any relationships other than the ones I can put a word to, and those relationships don't evoke any emotions other than the ones I can list. Because what I know not is not knowledge.

That's the unspiritual life, and the fear of it is what drives people into spiritual practice or maybe even sends them to a church like this one looking for spirituality.

Bad spirituality. I wouldn't really have done justice to this topic if I didn't say a few words about bad spirituality and where it goes wrong. Bad spirituality tries to defend the gap between description and experience by shutting down the progress of description: Don't learn to pilot a riverboat, because you'll lose the sunsets. Don't let Galileo look through his telescope, because he'll screw up the mystery of the Heavens.

The mistake here is believing that mysteries are a finite resource that might get used up. A lot of Humanists hate to use the word faith, but I think it's appropriate here: I have faith that the mysteries we can experience are infinite and our powers of description are finite. We'll never run out of mysteries.

Bittersweet. I want to close on a more upbeat note, by giving you a very concrete example of spirituality.

Every now and then, something new comes over from the Undescribed. Something gets named that never had a name before, and now we can talk about it.

Those can be some of the most significant events in human history. Most of them are lost, but we do know one very important one: The Greek poet Sappho, sometime in the early 6th century BC, was writing about a lover who was far away. And she coined a brand new word to describe her feelings: glukupicon – literally, sweet-bitter, or as we say in English today, bittersweet.

No Greek – and possibly no human – had ever named an emotion quite that complicated before.

The image I want to close with is of Sappho just before she coins bittersweet. She is thinking of someone she loves, but can't talk to or touch. And she realizes that she can't describe the conflicted way she feels. It's bad, but it's good. It hurts, but she doesn't want it to stop hurting. In the whole Greek language, there is no word for that. So she just sits there for a moment and feels what she feels, without any words.

And then she has a eureka moment, when she realizes that she has thought of a new word to capture that strange new feeling. But there's a gap – a second, maybe two seconds, when she still doesn't know what word it is.

Those couple of seconds, I imagine, were a deeply spiritual experience.
Posted by Doug Muder at 6:07 PM 2 comments [] []

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Power Couple ANS

This is a really interesting comparison of Eisenhower and Kennedy.  Relevant for today too.  Brad Hicks linked to it.  It's from, the online Boston Globe. 
Find it here:

Power Couple

Two presidents, two speeches ­ and a profound question about the American military that has yet to be answered

[]  (AP file photos)
By Peter S. Canellos
August 15, 2010

The two most famous presidential speeches of the last 50 years occurred within three days of each other, yet exist in different spheres of memory. Dwight D. Eisenhower's farewell address flickers in the foggy black and white of early TV, a strange benediction from an old warrior; John F. Kennedy's inaugural address pierces the crystal blue of a Washington January, a burst of color and energy.

"We will pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty," Kennedy intoned.

Three days earlier, in a very different scene, his predecessor struck a note of aged wisdom, warning his countrymen to "guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex."

Now, 50 years later, the Kennedy and Eisenhower libraries are preparing to mark the anniversary of the two famous speeches, but not highlighting any link between them. In fact, they represented the final shots in a year-long duel between the two men. Their dispute ­ whether boundless military spending should be seen as a symbol of national resolve, or a drain on national resources ­ is even more relevant today, without the Soviet Union as a rival. The arguments Eisenhower and Kennedy put forth ­ and the world views they presented ­ frame a debate that's been revived in Washington as recently as last week, when Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced sweeping cuts to the service budgets, calling for "separating appetites from real requirements."

Throughout his time in office, Eisenhower believed that as long as the United States had the power to destroy any foe, peace could be maintained. This required a large military budget, but not a limitless one. Kennedy, however, believed the United States should always be dominant in the world, and that Eisenhower, in holding the line on military spending, had allowed a "missile gap" to develop between the USSR and the USA. The gap didn't exist. (It's unclear when Kennedy, who was eventually briefed by the CIA, found out.) But so many military leaders, journalists, and defense contractors insisted it did exist that Kennedy gained significant political advantage, to Eisenhower's undying frustration.

Eisenhower's fear of a confluence of political and corporate forces pushing for military spending was palpable. But so too was Kennedy's belief that visible military superiority was essential to the nation's destiny. The two speeches sketched out different visions of the source of American strength. Eisenhower found it in the small towns of his own boyhood, in the solitary pursuit of virtue and innovation; Kennedy found it in the nation's willingness to mobilize behind a set of ideals.

By January 1961, when both men delivered their speeches, the dispute between Eisenhower and Kennedy was ending. Their driving points, however, would continue to be discussed. How much defense spending is too much? Is there ever a limit? In politics, will the more hawkish, fear-provoking stance always prevail?

Despite the end of the Cold War, the equation of military hardware with American strength endures, as indelible as Kennedy's fierce expression on that January afternoon. But so too does the skepticism represented by Eisenhower, the idea that while some defense spending is crucial, a lot of it is simply a tool of special interests ­ big corporations, opportunistic politicians, ideologues with hidden agendas ­ hiding under a cloak of patriotism. Eisenhower, in his waning days in office, could only wonder how he, a five-star general who was instrumental in winning World War II, could lose the trust of the people on national security, especially over a missile gap that did not, in fact, exist.

"Eisenhower's vision played out through the Cold War, but in some respects it's more remarkable that it persisted 20 years beyond the Cold War," declares Christopher A. Preble, author of "John F. Kennedy and the Missile Gap," adding, "Eisenhower was a man going into retirement who really worried about what it would take to stand up to this. He perceived that a person of his stature wasn't going to come along again. It was a warning, and a lament."

In retrospect, the saga of the "missile gap" is the true precursor to that of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. Both followed events ­ the test of a Soviet intercontinental missile and the 9/11 attacks ­ that caused many people to think in terms of worst-case scenarios. Both were fanned by selective use of intelligence, much of it brandished by ideologues.

In the case of the missile gap, however, the president was the one urging moderation. Eisenhower was the product of a prairie boyhood in Abilene, Kan. Though his Army career paralleled the unprecedented growth of the military, he never lost the sense that true American values were found near the hearths of small-town America, and that concentrating too much power in big institutions could quell that spirit.

As president, he set his own defense policy. A professional strategist, he understood the importance of having a good plan and sticking to it. With a defense based on massive nuclear deterrence, Eisenhower determined that some of the conventional forces beloved of the Joint Chiefs ­ increased Army troops, new Air Force jets, more Navy carriers ­ were unnecessary. And, with his unique credibility, he felt freer than most presidents to reject the recommendations of the uniformed commanders.

Besides, even with a strategy based on creating a standoff between the two nuclear-fueled adversaries, the United States enjoyed major advantages: Its network of bases in Europe gave it numerous launch points for an attack on the Soviet Union, while the Soviets had no similar access to the United States. Then, in 1957, the Soviets tested an intercontinental missile, and soon after launched a satellite into space. The Soviet achievements caught the American public off guard; there was sudden concern about Soviet superiority.

Almost immediately, experts with axes to grind, either ideological (Paul Nitze, whose Truman-era call for a defense buildup was sidelined by Eisenhower), or financial (Werner Von Braun, seeking cash for his rocket program), or bureaucratic (former Army commanders Matthew Ridgway and Maxwell Taylor, who deplored Eisenhower's neglect of conventional forces), or political (Kennedy and Stuart Symington, both presidential contenders), began to argue that the Soviet missile arsenal either dwarfed, or would soon dwarf, the American one.

Their evidence was a series of cryptic statements by those on the fringes of the intelligence establishment, amplified by journalists (including Joseph Alsop, a Kennedy supporter) who took the most speculative, worst-case scenarios and declared them to be true.

The administration's denials sounded mealy-mouthed in comparison. When Eisenhower's defense secretary, Thomas Gates, posited that even if a missile gap were to exist, there would be no "deterrence gap," because of American air superiority, many in the country took it as confirmation that a missile gap did, in fact, exist.

Most distressing to Eisenhower was the fact that some military commanders, hoping to beef up budgets, seemed to be among those leaking dire estimates. And then there were Kennedy's own needling comments.

"They cannot hide the basic facts that American strength...has been slipping, and communism has been steadily advancing," Kennedy told the American Legion.

Eisenhower's farewell was one of few presidential addresses to emphasize moderation; it stressed the need for "balance in and among national programs" and between "the private and public economy." The last was clearly a reference to the sudden prominence of defense contractors among leading American corporations ­ firms with a live-or-die stake in government spending. Most distressing to him was that Kennedy had gone into factory towns and proclaimed that Eisenhower's stinginess on defense had cost American jobs.

Aerospace contractors, for instance, were pushing the B-70 Valkyrie bomber to replace the B-52, at a cost of untold billions. Eisenhower felt it was a costly waste in the missile age; Kennedy suggested that it was necessary both for defense and to keep the defense industry churning. Eisenhower rejected the idea that defense spending was good for the economy; unlike other types of public investment (such as his interstate highway system), unneeded defense hardware moldered in hangars and warehouses, with little usefulness.

Kennedy saw the issue through a completely different prism, believing that limiting defense spending to preserve the private economy was tantamount to declaring that America was too poor to defeat communism; throughout the campaign, he stressed the need to "bear any burden" against communism. "Only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger," Kennedy declared in his inaugural address. "I do not shrink from this responsibility ­ I welcome it."

The cause of "defending freedom" was close to Kennedy's heart ­ and a key to overcoming one of his major political liabilities, his father's support of the British appeasement of Nazi Germany. From his years at Harvard, Kennedy tried to separate his reputation from that of his father, writing a thesis that analyzed the failure of appeasement. And by the '50s, any softness on defense, by any national figure, was perceived as an echo of Munich. Harry Truman "lost" China; Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic presidential nominee in 1952 and 1956, was too professorial to be an effective defender of freedom. Rather than kindle memories of his father's folly, Kennedy was determined to outflank the Eisenhower administration on defense.

All these factors were noticed by Eisenhower, who foresaw an endless defense mobilization at an unnecessary cost to what he, in his farewell address, called "our toil, resources, and livelihood."

Fifty years later, such phrases are remembered, but their context is lost. Eisenhower and Kennedy's views on military spending don't fit the dominant historical narratives of either man. Eisenhower endures as the hero who won the war in Europe. The '50s, the decade of his presidency, is recalled as a honeyed interlude, a national vacation after the trauma of the '40s; it's a serious misreading of an era of shell-shock and paranoia. As president, Kennedy retreated somewhat from the hawkishness of his campaign. (The Valkyrie was quietly scuttled.) In the Cuban Missile Crisis, he was a voice of moderation against some of the same hawks whom Eisenhower sought to contain. And after Kennedy's death, his brothers chose to emphasize his liberalism; the Camelot myth takes no notice of his conservative stances.

Therefore, Kennedy's inaugural address endures as an expression of energy and optimism ("Ask not what your country can do for you..."), its sterling phrases viewed largely through the lens of domestic progress. The military-industrial complex, meanwhile, is treated like a mystery, as if Eisenhower handed down a riddle for posterity. The phrase has been adopted by the antimilitarist left, invoked whenever opposition arises to an American military action. But there is little evidence that Eisenhower worried about militarism leading to war; his concerns were for the shattering impact of fear-mongering and budgetary waste on the domestic well-being of the country. Subsequent events have proven the acuity of his vision.

Members of Congress, seeking federal largesse for their districts, routinely broker deals for weapons systems that even Defense Department planners find unnecessary. Commanders routinely follow the revolving door from the Pentagon to industry, where they help maintain funding through a fusillade of lobbying ­ more than $130 million worth per year ­ and volleys of campaign contributions ­ $24 million for the 2008 cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Presidential candidates see far more political upside in supporting defense spending than in opposing it. And even with a budget of about $700 billion ­ six times more than any other nation, by most estimates, and more than the next 18 combined ­ the perception of softness on national security can doom a president who seeks to trim the defense budget.

Former President George W. Bush's advisers deprecated some costly weapons systems, but Bush's own spare-no-cost rhetoric made any cuts impossible. President Obama has promised a serious effort to weed out waste, and even cited Eisenhower's desire for a balance among national programs. Gates, too, has lauded Eisenhower as a prudent critic of the Pentagon. But the Obama administration's level of commitment remains unclear; its fiscal review team has largely exempted defense spending from its deficit-reduction planning.

Kennedy's zeal in promoting military hardware as an expression of strength suggests there is more behind political backing for a wasteful Pentagon bureaucracy than fear and manipulation. For the United States, a massive, spare-no-expense military functions like the ornate castles built by European monarchs: Its very wastefulness projects an image of wealth and power.

But when confronted with some of the arguments that feed the need to project power, it is vital to understand that worst-case estimates, magnified in the media and political glare, can surpass all bounds of rationality. The image sought by Kennedy was grounded in a real desire to boost American power, but constructed on a foundation of untruths. Eisenhower spoke to a reality that America, five decades hence, still can't fully accept.

Peter S. Canellos is the editorial page editor of the Globe. []
© Copyright 2010 Globe Newspaper Company.

Re: Fwd: Not good...........

AMEN!   Yes, your friend has it right!

At 12:37 PM 8/18/2010, you wrote:
A comment from a buddy, I do think makes sense:

Well let's step back a bit. He inherited two wars, a prisoner torture scandal, an economy on the brink of financial collapse etc. etc. I believe he's got a handle on the wars, has exposed and shut down the torture, and saved the country from financial collapse - not to mention passing healthcare reform - all in the past year and a half. Plus he's accomplished this despite a constant, concerted barrage of outright lies about his plans/work. Short of waving a magic wand, what do people expect? Yes, the economy is still in trouble, but not near the big trouble it was in after the GOP had eight years to grab their own and let the rest of us fall. He's not perfect, but thank God he's not W.
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Wednesday, August 18, 2010 11:11 AM
Subject: Not good...........

AP Poll: Obama at new low for handling economy


In this Aug. 17, 2010, photo, President Barack Obama speaks in Seattle. Obama earned his l...

Wed Aug 18, 11:09 AM EDT

President Barack Obama earned his lowest marks ever on his handling of the economy in a new Associated Press-GfK poll, which also found that an overwhelming majority of Americans now describe the nation's financial outlook as poor.

A frustrated electorate could take it out on the party in power â€" Obama's Democrats — in the November elections.

Eleven weeks before the Nov. 2 balloting, just 41 percent of those surveyed approve of the president's performance on the economy, down from 44 percent in April, while 56 percent disapprove. And 61 percent say the economy has gotten worse or stayed the same on Obama's watch.

Still, three-quarters also say it's unrealistic to expect noticeable economic improvements in the first 18 months of the president's term. And Obama's overall approval rating was unaffected; it remained at 49 percent, in part because most Americans still like him personally.

Americans' dim view of the economy grew even more pessimistic this summer as the nation's unemployment rate stubbornly hovered near 10 percent. That's been a drag on both Obama and Democrats, who control Congress.

"The economy is on life support," says Scott Bradley, 38, general manager of a carpet store in Columbia, Mo. Bradley says he voted for Obama in 2008 but he wouldn't again. He blames Congress for the unemployment woes but says, "Obama's policies are making the economy worse."

Even staunch Obama backers like college student Julius Taylor of Flint, Mich., struggle to stay optimistic about the economy, particularly when they see the recession's toll in their backyard. "I'd like to say it's improving, but there are a lot of indicators it's not," says Taylor, 25.

Viewpoints like those have Democrats on edge as they try to hang onto comfortable majorities in the House and Senate in a political environment made ever more challenging by economic woes.

Republicans are trying to convince Americans that the GOP can create the jobs that Obama hasn't delivered. Obama and his Democrats are pleading for the frustrated public to give them more time to prove that their economic fixes will work.

"The truth is, it's going to take a few years to fully dig ourselves out of this recession. It's going to take time to bring back 8 million jobs," the president said Tuesday while campaigning for Democratic candidates in Seattle. "Anybody who tells you otherwise is just looking for your vote."

Democrats are keenly aware that they face strong headwinds; 60 percent of people say the country's headed in the wrong direction. And it's hard to overstate the importance of the economy to voters; 91 percent of Americans say it's a top problem, with unemployment close behind.

A whopping 81 percent of people now call the economy poor or very poor, up from 72 percent in June, and just 12 percent say it has improved in the past month, compared with 19 percent in June. Both are record measurements since AP-GfK started asking those questions.

"Everyone is scared — everyone," says Gerda Chapman, 63, a retirred schoolteacher in Harrison, Idaho, who backed Obama and isn't ready to ditch him. "The man has not had a long enough time and he's doing a good job." She, like him, urges patience: "We're not out of the recession and we've got a ways to go. It's going to take time, but it is on an upward trend."

Stacey Pederson, 36, a massage therapist and independent voter in Asheville, N.C., agrees that it's improving. But, she says, more progress would be made "if we would have cooperation within the two parties. It's getting to be really difficult watching them fight."

Neither party is faultless, adds Jeff Vick, 49, a self-employed consultant from Fort Worth, Texas.


"Republicans have just been incredibly greedy," he says, and Democrats are instituting "un-American" policies that inhibit citizens' abilities to earn a living.


People have little trust in Democrats or Republicans on handling the economy; less than half trust either. But voters older than 64 and whites lean heavily toward the GOP.


While Congress' overall performance rating is at a miserable 24 percent, Democrats in Congress are slightly more popular than Republicans; 37 percent approve of Democrats while 30 percent approve of Republicans in Congress.

But in a shift from earlier this summer, when Democrats had an advantage, Republicans now are about even with Democrats on the question of which party should win control of Congress. Among registered voters, 49 percent say they would vote for the Republican candidate in their congressional district — half say to exprress their opposition to Obama — while 45 percent say they'd cast thheir ballot for the Democrat.


Obama is suffering in other areas, too.


Just 34 percent now call him an above average or outstanding president, down from 42 percent in January. And 28 percent call him average, while 38 percent say he's even worse. Marks on how people view him personally have fallen: 89 percent liked him personally in January, but now 82 percent do.


Also, more people disapprove of his performance on the following issues than approve: the federal budget deficit, unemployment, health care, taxes and immigration. Conversely, he's viewed more favorably than not on his handling of terrorism, the environment, relationships with other countries and education. About equal percentages of people view him positively and negatively on Iraq, Afghanistan, energy and gas prices.

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Aug. 11-16 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cell phone interviews with 1,007 adults nationwide and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.


Associated Press Polling Director Trevor Tompson, AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius and AP writers Alan Fram, Lauren Sausser and Natasha T. Metzler contributed to this report.



AP-GfK Poll:

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