Street art in Lieira, Sao Paulo, Brazil,
by Brazilian artist Alex Senna.
Photo by Alex Senna.
Street art in Lieira, Sao Paulo, Brazil,
by Brazilian artist Alex Senna.
Photo by Alex Senna.
It is clear that the rig-the-vote wing of the Democratic Party, from Deborah Wasserman Schultz to the “liberal” commentators and regular pundits on MSNBC, PBS, and the most of the other mainstream media, is seriously weakening the party’s chances in November. Wasserman Schultz’s effort to brownout Bernie from the media through extremely limited debate exposure and her attempt, ultimately backfiring, to prevent his access to party voting data, together with the party establishment’s corrupt “super-delegates” system, are all part of a concerted attempt to kill his candidacy and the opportunity to bring about the most significant change in American politics since FDR. In doing so and in light of the party’s ownership by big capital, they have rendered the party name “Democrat” all but meaningless, as they stand against the tide of progressive domestic reforms that Bernie, and before him FDR and LBJ, represents.
Wall Street’s and the Democratic Party’s old guard preference, Hillary Clinton has high negative ratings both nationally as well as within the party itself. She rates 51% “unfavorable” nationally as of February 7, 2016, worse than the 32% negative opinion registered in September 2011 and the 45% registered a year ago. CBS News found last October that 14% of Democratic voters declared they wouldn’t vote for her, with another 27% expressing strong “reservations” about her, and those numbers are likely to increase with her nasty attacks on Sanders. In other words, her bid to seek the highest office in the land has only increased the public’s dislike for her over time. She registers particularly strong distaste among voters in key swing states, such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Colorado, Florida, Virginia, and Iowa, that the Democratic Party has to win secure a presidential victory. The key attribute attached to her that attracts so much negative attention is her lack of “honesty” and “trustworthiness.”
If she were to be the Democratic nominee, through the stealing of the nomination by loyalist super-delegates or by other means, the Republicans would launch a fury of attack ads reminding the public of her past lies and questionable official behavior. They will retell her fabrication about having to flee sniper fire at a Bosnian airport in 1996 as first lady, her shady Whitewater business deals while first lady in the Arkansas governor’s mansion, the remarkable claim that she and Bill were “dead broke” when they left the White House (their now net worth is $111 million), her use of a private email account for highly classified documents while secretary of state, presumably to discard those deemed embarrassing, her mishandling of the Benghazi assault on the US embassy, killing the ambassador, her Wall St. connections and huge speaker fees from financial houses, lies she told about her family tree and her own first name honoring the first man, together with his Sherpa guide, to scale Mt. Everest, unfortunately having been born 6 years before the feat, and other fibs, misdeeds, and issue flip-flops while in public office– enough to boost the Republican nominee and discourage Democrats from voting.
It is obvious that Bernie’s powerful popular showing in Iowa and New Hampshire, with record turnouts, is the result of a groundswell of new voters that he has brought into the party, similar to what Jeremy Corbyn has done for the Labour Party in Britain, a leader also suffering under intrigues within the ranks. The more that the Hillary campaign, with Bill and Chelsea in tow, attacks Bernie, the more she alienates his supporters, especially the younger new voters, the slimmer the chances of a Democratic presidential win. This in turn will likely result in a stronger grip over the congressional seats by the Republicans, as weak turnout for the Democrats will spell Republican victories in the House and Senate. Bernie’s win, on the other hand, is dependent on very strong turnouts by Democratic voters. There’s good reason to think his strong showing so far will continue into the upcoming primaries and caucuses – and into the November election. A big turnout will likely sweep many Democrats into office, including the swing states noted above, and rebalance both houses in the Democrats’ favor.
The conclusion is that if Hillary and the party establishment wish to win the Fall election, it is incumbent on them to honor the one person-one vote basis of selecting the party leadership. This is in the interest of the Democrats, but most of all in the interest of the American people, who clearly are clamoring for radical change. The only question is whether this hoped for change will be seized by a right wing or a left wing leader. Hillary’s candidacy tips the power balance to the right. Bernie is here to restore the New Deal/Great Society, save the party, and protect the legitimacy of the political system, as FDR did, from the rapacious aspirations of the right wing and the hawkish foreign policy orientation of Mrs. Clinton and her White House boss that enormously contributed to the creation of ISIS. It is time for the Democratic establishment to step aside, open the forum, stop the winning-by-any-means shenanigans, and let the people decide.
Street art in Brazil
by artists Anderson Augusto aka SÃO and Leonardo Delafuente aka Delafuente.
Photo by Casa Latina.
Photo Credit: stocklight/Shutterstock
Hillary Clinton loves black people. And black people love Hillary—or so it seems. Black politicians have lined up in droves to endorse her, eager to prove their loyalty to the Clintons in the hopes that their faithfulness will be remembered and rewarded. Black pastors are opening their church doors, and the Clintons are making themselves comfortably at home once again, engaging effortlessly in all the usual rituals associated with “courting the black vote,” a pursuit that typically begins and ends with Democratic politicians making black people feel liked and taken seriously. Doing something concrete to improve the conditions under which most black people live is generally not required.
Hillary is looking to gain momentum on the campaign trail as the primaries move out of Iowa and New Hampshire and into states like South Carolina, where large pockets of black voters can be found. According to some polls, she leads Bernie Sanders by as much as 60 percent among African Americans. It seems that we—black people—are her winning card, one that Hillary is eager to play.
And it seems we’re eager to get played. Again.
The love affair between black folks and the Clintons has been going on for a long time. It began back in 1992, when Bill Clinton was running for president. He threw on some shades and played the saxophone on The Arsenio Hall Show. It seems silly in retrospect, but many of us fell for that. At a time when a popular slogan was “It’s a black thing, you wouldn’t understand,” Bill Clinton seemed to get us. When Toni Morrison dubbed him our first black president, we nodded our heads. We had our boy in the White House. Or at least we thought we did.
Black voters have been remarkably loyal to the Clintons for more than 25 years. It’s true that we eventually lined up behind Barack Obama in 2008, but it’s a measure of the Clinton allure that Hillary led Obama among black voters until he started winning caucuses and primaries. Now Hillary is running again. This time she’s facing a democratic socialist who promises a political revolution that will bring universal healthcare, a living wage, an end to rampant Wall Street greed, and the dismantling of the vast prison state—many of the same goals that Martin Luther King Jr. championed at the end of his life. Even so, black folks are sticking with the Clinton brand.
What have the Clintons done to earn such devotion? Did they take extreme political risks to defend the rights of African Americans? Did they courageously stand up to right-wing demagoguery about black communities? Did they help usher in a new era of hope and prosperity for neighborhoods devastated by deindustrialization, globalization, and the disappearance of work?
No. Quite the opposite.
When Bill Clinton ran for president in 1992, urban black communities across America were suffering from economic collapse. Hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs had vanished as factories moved overseas in search of cheaper labor, a new plantation. Globalization and deindustrialization affected workers of all colors but hit African Americans particularly hard. Unemployment rates among young black men had quadrupled as the rate of industrial employment plummeted. Crime rates spiked in inner-city communities that had been dependent on factory jobs, while hopelessness, despair, and crack addiction swept neighborhoods that had once been solidly working-class. Millions of black folks—many of whom had fled Jim Crow segregation in the South with the hope of obtaining decent work in Northern factories—were suddenly trapped in racially segregated, jobless ghettos.
On the campaign trail, Bill Clinton made the economy his top priority and argued persuasively that conservatives were using race to divide the nation and divert attention from the failed economy. In practice, however, he capitulated entirely to the right-wing backlash against the civil-rights movement and embraced former president Ronald Reagan’s agenda on race, crime, welfare, and taxes—ultimately doing more harm to black communities than Reagan ever did.
We should have seen it coming. Back then, Clinton was the standard-bearer for the New Democrats, a group that firmly believed the only way to win back the millions of white voters in the South who had defected to the Republican Party was to adopt the right-wing narrative that black communities ought to be disciplined with harsh punishment rather than coddled with welfare. Reagan had won the presidency by dog-whistling to poor and working-class whites with coded racial appeals: railing against “welfare queens” and criminal “predators” and condemning “big government.” Clinton aimed to win them back, vowing that he would never permit any Republican to be perceived as tougher on crime than he.
Just weeks before the critical New Hampshire primary, Clinton proved his toughness by flying back to Arkansas to oversee the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, a mentally impaired black man who had so little conception of what was about to happen to him that he asked for the dessert from his last meal to be saved for him for later. After the execution, Clinton remarked, “I can be nicked a lot, but no one can say I’m soft on crime.”
Clinton mastered the art of sending mixed cultural messages, appealing to African Americans by belting out “Lift Every Voice and Sing” in black churches, while at the same time signaling to poor and working-class whites that he was willing to be tougher on black communities than Republicans had been.
Clinton was praised for his no-nonsense, pragmatic approach to racial politics. He won the election and appointed a racially diverse cabinet that “looked like America.” He won re-election four years later, and the American economy rebounded. Democrats cheered. The Democratic Party had been saved. The Clintons won. Guess who lost?
Bill Clinton presided over the largest increase in federal and state prison inmates of any president in American history. Clinton did not declare the War on Crime or the War on Drugs—those wars were declared before Reagan was elected and long before crack hit the streets—but he escalated it beyond what many conservatives had imagined possible. He supported the 100-to-1 sentencing disparity for crack versus powder cocaine, which produced staggering racial injustice in sentencing and boosted funding for drug-law enforcement.
Clinton championed the idea of a federal “three strikes” law in his 1994 State of the Union address and, months later, signed a $30 billion crime bill that created dozens of new federal capital crimes, mandated life sentences for some three-time offenders, and authorized more than $16 billion for state prison grants and the expansion of police forces. The legislation was hailed by mainstream-media outlets as a victory for the Democrats, who “were able to wrest the crime issue from the Republicans and make it their own.”
When Clinton left office in 2001, the United States had the highest rate of incarceration in the world. Human Rights Watch reported that in seven states, African Americans constituted 80 to 90 percent of all drug offenders sent to prison, even though they were no more likely than whites to use or sell illegal drugs. Prison admissions for drug offenses reached a level in 2000 for African Americans more than 26 times the level in 1983. All of the presidents since 1980 have contributed to mass incarceration, but as Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan Stevenson recently observed, “President Clinton’s tenure was the worst.”
Some might argue that it’s unfair to judge Hillary Clinton for the policies her husband championed years ago. But Hillary wasn’t picking out china while she was first lady. She bravely broke the mold and redefined that job in ways no woman ever had before. She not only campaigned for Bill; she also wielded power and significant influence once he was elected, lobbying for legislation and other measures. That record, and her statements from that era, should be scrutinized. In her support for the 1994 crime bill, for example, she used racially coded rhetoric to cast black children as animals. “They are not just gangs of kids anymore,” she said. “They are often the kinds of kids that are called ‘super-predators.’ No conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.”
Both Clintons now express regret over the crime bill, and Hillary says she supports criminal-justice reforms to undo some of the damage that was done by her husband’s administration. But on the campaign trail, she continues to invoke the economy and country that Bill Clinton left behind as a legacy she would continue. So what exactly did the Clinton economy look like for black Americans? Taking a hard look at this recent past is about more than just a choice between two candidates. It’s about whether the Democratic Party can finally reckon with what its policies have done to African-American communities, and whether it can redeem itself and rightly earn the loyalty of black voters.
An oft-repeated myth about the Clinton administration is that although it was overly tough on crime back in the 1990s, at least its policies were good for the economy and for black unemployment rates. The truth is more troubling. As unemployment rates sank to historically low levels for white Americans in the 1990s, the jobless rate among black men in their 20s who didn’t have a college degree rose to its highest level ever. This increase in joblessness was propelled by the skyrocketing incarceration rate.
Why is this not common knowledge? Because government statistics like poverty and unemployment rates do not include incarcerated people. As Harvard sociologist Bruce Western explains: “Much of the optimism about declines in racial inequality and the power of the US model of economic growth is misplaced once we account for the invisible poor, behind the walls of America’s prisons and jails.” When Clinton left office in 2001, the true jobless rate for young, non-college-educated black men (including those behind bars) was 42 percent. This figure was never reported. Instead, the media claimed that unemployment rates for African Americans had fallen to record lows, neglecting to mention that this miracle was possible only because incarceration rates were now at record highs. Young black men weren’t looking for work at high rates during the Clinton era because they were now behind bars—out of sight, out of mind, and no longer counted in poverty and unemployment statistics.
To make matters worse, the federal safety net for poor families was torn to shreds by the Clinton administration in its effort to “end welfare as we know it.” In his 1996 State of the Union address, given during his re-election campaign, Clinton declared that “the era of big government is over” and immediately sought to prove it by dismantling the federal welfare system known as Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC). The welfare-reform legislation that he signed—which Hillary Clinton ardently supported then and characterized as a success as recently as 2008—replaced the federal safety net with a block grant to the states, imposed a five-year lifetime limit on welfare assistance, added work requirements, barred undocumented immigrants from licensed professions, and slashed overall public welfare funding by $54 billion (some was later restored).
Experts and pundits disagree about the true impact of welfare reform, but one thing seems clear: Extreme poverty doubled to 1.5 million in the decade and a half after the law was passed. What is extreme poverty? US households are considered to be in extreme poverty if they are surviving on cash incomes of no more than $2 per person per day in any given month. We tend to think of extreme poverty existing in Third World countries, but here in the United States, shocking numbers of people are struggling to survive on less money per month than many families spend in one evening dining out. Currently, the United States, the richest nation on the planet, has one of the highest child-poverty rates in the developed world.
Despite claims that radical changes in crime and welfare policy were driven by a desire to end big government and save taxpayer dollars, the reality is that the Clinton administration didn’t reduce the amount of money devoted to the management of the urban poor; it changed what the funds would be used for. Billions of dollars were slashed from public-housing and child-welfare budgets and transferred to the mass-incarceration machine. By 1996, the penal budget was twice the amount that had been allocated to food stamps. During Clinton’s tenure, funding for public housing was slashed by $17 billion (a reduction of 61 percent), while funding for corrections was boosted by $19 billion (an increase of 171 percent), according to sociologist Loïc Wacquant “effectively making the construction of prisons the nation’s main housing program for the urban poor.”
Bill Clinton championed discriminatory laws against formerly incarcerated people that have kept millions of Americans locked in a cycle of poverty and desperation. The Clinton administration eliminated Pell grants for prisoners seeking higher education to prepare for their release, supported laws denying federal financial aid to students with drug convictions, and signed legislation imposing a lifetime ban on welfare and food stamps for anyone convicted of a felony drug offense—an exceptionally harsh provision given the racially biased drug war that was raging in inner cities.
Perhaps most alarming, Clinton also made it easier for public-housing agencies to deny shelter to anyone with any sort of criminal history (even an arrest without conviction) and championed the “one strike and you’re out” initiative, which meant that families could be evicted from public housing because one member (or a guest) had committed even a minor offense. People released from prison with no money, no job, and nowhere to go could no longer return home to their loved ones living in federally assisted housing without placing the entire family at risk of eviction. Purging “the criminal element” from public housing played well on the evening news, but no provisions were made for people and families as they were forced out on the street. By the end of Clinton’s presidency, more than half of working-age African-American men in many large urban areas were saddled with criminal records and subject to legalized discrimination in employment, housing, access to education, and basic public benefits—relegated to a permanent second-class status eerily reminiscent of Jim Crow.
It is difficult to overstate the damage that’s been done. Generations have been lost to the prison system; countless families have been torn apart or rendered homeless; and a school-to-prison pipeline has been born that shuttles young people from their decrepit, underfunded schools to brand-new high-tech prisons.
It didn’t have to be like this. As a nation, we had a choice. Rather than spending billions of dollars constructing a vast new penal system, those billions could have been spent putting young people to work in inner-city communities and investing in their schools so they might have some hope of making the transition from an industrial to a service-based economy. Constructive interventions would have been good not only for African Americans trapped in ghettos, but for blue-collar workers of all colors. At the very least, Democrats could have fought to prevent the further destruction of black communities rather than ratcheting up the wars declared on them.
Of course, it can be said that it’s unfair to criticize the Clintons for punishing black people so harshly, given that many black people were on board with the “get tough” movement too. It is absolutely true that black communities back then were in a state of crisis, and that many black activists and politicians were desperate to get violent offenders off the streets. What is often missed, however, is that most of those black activists and politicians weren’t asking only for toughness. They were also demanding investment in their schools, better housing, jobs programs for young people, economic-stimulus packages, drug treatment on demand, and better access to healthcare. In the end, they wound up with police and prisons. To say that this was what black people wanted is misleading at best.
To be fair, the Clintons now feel bad about how their politics and policies have worked out for black people. Bill says that he “overshot the mark” with his crime policies; and Hillary has put forth a plan to ban racial profiling, eliminate the sentencing disparities between crack and cocaine, and abolish private prisons, among other measures.
But what about a larger agenda that would not just reverse some of the policies adopted during the Clinton era, but would rebuild the communities decimated by them? If you listen closely here, you’ll notice that Hillary Clinton is still singing the same old tune in a slightly different key. She is arguing that we ought not be seduced by Bernie’s rhetoric because we must be “pragmatic,” “face political realities,” and not get tempted to believe that we can fight for economic justice and win. When politicians start telling you that it is “unrealistic” to support candidates who want to build a movement for greater equality, fair wages, universal healthcare, and an end to corporate control of our political system, it’s probably best to leave the room.
This is not an endorsement for Bernie Sanders, who after all voted for the 1994 crime bill. I also tend to agree with Ta-Nehisi Coates that the way the Sanders campaign handled the question of reparations is one of many signs that Bernie doesn’t quite get what’s at stake in serious dialogues about racial justice. He was wrong to dismiss reparations as “divisive,” as though centuries of slavery, segregation, discrimination, ghettoization, and stigmatization aren’t worthy of any specific acknowledgement or remedy.
But recognizing that Bernie, like Hillary, has blurred vision when it comes to race is not the same thing as saying their views are equally problematic. Sanders opposed the 1996 welfare-reform law. He also opposed bank deregulation and the Iraq War, both of which Hillary supported, and both of which have proved disastrous. In short, there is such a thing as a lesser evil, and Hillary is not it.
The biggest problem with Bernie, in the end, is that he’s running as a Democrat—as a member of a political party that not only capitulated to right-wing demagoguery but is now owned and controlled by a relatively small number of millionaires and billionaires. Yes, Sanders has raised millions from small donors, but should he become president, he would also become part of what he has otherwise derided as “the establishment.” Even if Bernie’s racial-justice views evolve, I hold little hope that a political revolution will occur within the Democratic Party without a sustained outside movement forcing truly transformational change. I am inclined to believe that it would be easier to build a new party than to save the Democratic Party from itself.
Of course, the idea of building a new political party terrifies most progressives, who understandably fear that it would open the door for a right-wing extremist to get elected. So we play the game of lesser evils. This game has gone on for decades. W.E.B. Du Bois, the eminent scholar and co-founder of the NAACP, shocked many when he refused to play along with this game in the 1956 election, defending his refusal to vote on the grounds that “there is but one evil party with two names, and it will be elected despite all I do or say.” While the true losers and winners of this game are highly predictable, the game of lesser evils makes for great entertainment and can now be viewed 24 hours a day on cable-news networks. Hillary believes that she can win this game in 2016 because this time she’s got us, the black vote, in her back pocket—her lucky card.
She may be surprised to discover that the younger generation no longer wants to play her game. Or maybe not. Maybe we’ll all continue to play along and pretend that we don’t know how it will turn out in the end. Hopefully, one day, we’ll muster the courage to join together in a revolutionary movement with people of all colors who believe that basic human rights and economic, racial, and gender justice are not unreasonable, pie-in-the-sky goals. After decades of getting played, the sleeping giant just might wake up, stretch its limbs, and tell both parties: Game over. Move aside. It’s time to reshuffle this deck.
Astronomers from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) Collaboration have published the first detection of gravitational waves, ripples in the fabric of space and time. The announcement comes almost exactly a century after Albert Einstein, in mid-1916, predicted the existence of the waves on the basis of his Theory of General Relativity.
The findings were announced at a press conference at the National Science Foundation in Washington, D.C. on Thursday morning. They open up a new era in humanity’s efforts to investigate the universal laws of the motion of matter. Until now, there has been no way to directly detect the subtle gravitational vibrations which pass continuously through Earth as they do throughout the Universe. Now, however, a new spectrum of gravitational wave astronomy has begun, allowing scientists to examine regions of the cosmos previously excluded from study.
The detected wave was generated by the merger of two black holes more than one billion light years from Earth. Today’s announcement, therefore, contains two separate discoveries: the detection of gravitational waves and the first-ever observation of a black-hole binary merger, an event which had been theoretically predicted, but never seen. Black holes are so gravitationally strong that even light cannot escape their pull, which has prevented us from directly observing them until now.
The paper published today in the journal Physical Review Letters is titled, “Observation of Gravitational Waves from a Binary Black Hole Merger.” It is jointly authored by the LIGO Scientific Collaboration and another gravitational wave detector team, the VIRGO Collaboration. A second paper has also been published outlining the astrophysical implications of the discovery. In total, twelve publications have resulted from this discovery with many more to come.
According to the first paper, the wave passed through Earth on September 14, 2015, at 09:50:45 UTC. This was just two days into the first three-month run by the LIGO detectors after they had received a major upgrade over the previous five years. The two detectors are located in Livingston, Louisiana and Hanford, Washington, both in the United States. The wave was observed at both detectors, with a seven millisecond delay between the two.
The most intense part of the wave passed in a fleeting quarter of a second. In this time, the wave frequency increased from 35 to 150 Hz, as the relative velocity of the black holes sped up to half the speed of light. Just before merging, they were orbiting each other seventy five times per second and separated by just 350 kilometres. Nothing other than black holes would be compact enough to reach such speeds at this proximity.
The two black holes weighed approximately 29 and 36 times the mass of our Sun before the merger. But the final black hole weighs just 62 solar masses—three less than the sum of its constituents. The missing three solar masses were radiated away as energy in gravitational waves, distorting and bending the surrounding spacetime.
Put another way, in the last moments of the collision, the power radiated away by gravitational waves peaked at more than fifty times greater than the combined visible radiation of every star and gas cloud in the Universe. It is the most energetic event ever detected.
When speaking about gravitational waves, the obvious question is: what is “waving?”
The existence of these waves flowed from the new equations of gravity which Einstein developed in 1915. The classical theory of gravity, which had been established by Isaac Newton, described it as a force acting instantaneously at a distance between any two objects with mass. Moreover, gravitational interactions were seen to take place against a completely fixed backdrop of space and time, itself completely independent from the motion of matter.
With Einstein’s theory, space and time were seen as a unified, dynamic entity. Gravity is the result of the warping of spacetime by the local presence of mass and energy. Moreover, while mass/energy warps spacetime, the curvature of spacetime itself tells matter how to move. (A more comprehensive review of the development and theory of General Relativity can be read here.)
A classic analogy is to consider the four-dimensional spacetime as a two-dimensional flat elastic sheet. Placing a mass on the sheet causes it to bend, and alters the motion of other nearby bodies. Gravitational waves can also be understood with this analogy. Wiggling a very heavy mass very quickly on the sheet will generate ripples, as the membrane seeks to overcome the local build-up of stress by releasing tension outwards. In the case of gravitational waves, what is “wiggling” is the lengths of spacetime.
Before yesterday’s announcement, there had already been strong indirect evidence for gravity waves. Two orbiting neutron stars, discovered in 1974 by Russell Hulse and Joseph Taylor, were seen to slowly approach one another at the rate predicted by their expected gravitational wave emission.
Direct detection of gravitational waves is far more challenging. Gravity is by far the weakest force, and only enormous masses changing their orientation rapidly can make appreciable waves in spacetime. Why gravity is much weaker than the other fundamental forces in nature remains a central question in physics.
To detect these waves, LIGO uses two lasers shooting down two four-kilometre tracks that are at right angles to each other. As a gravitational wave passes across the tracks, one track lengthens and one track contracts. This is revealed in the interference of the two lasers when they meet at the base of the tracks. But the change is exceedingly small: the detected gravitational wave made each four-kilometre track change in length by less than one thousandth of the width of a proton.
This means the apparatus effectively had to measure the distance between Earth and the nearest star, Proxima Centauri, to the accuracy of the width of a human hair. The experiment is the most precise humans have ever conducted.
To reach the sensitivity required, the scientists had to develop novel means of suppressing “noise” caused by vibrations of the mirrors from other sources. The detector is sensitive to the crashing of waves on the shore hundreds of kilometres away, wind outside the facility, and thermal vibrations due to heating of the mirrors by the laser itself. As well as using a complicated system of pulleys and magnetic vibrational suppressors, and placing the detectors in a vacuum, the LIGO team also requires that any signal on one detector is seen on the other, to rule out the possibility of a local event being falsely reported as a gravitational wave originating in deep space.
The success of this experiment is the product of more than two decades of scientific collaboration involving researchers from all over the world. The LIGO Scientific Collaboration includes more than 1,000 scientists, including contributors from Japan, Germany, India, Italy, Russia, China and Australia, as well as the United States.
The recently upgraded “Advanced” LIGO detector is the most sophisticated of a new generation of gravity interferometers. The original LIGO was first proposed in 1989 and gained funding in 1992, with the aim of demonstrating the feasibility of the experiment. New upgrades, based on technologies that would be developed later, were planned from the outset.
Over the same period, increased computational power and techniques have opened up the field of numerical relativity, which was not previously possible due to the enormous computational complexity of Einstein’s equations. These simulations allowed the LIGO team to compare their detection with the theoretically predicted signal from a black hole binary merger.
Other detectors already exist, and are being upgraded or built. These include the VIRGO detector in Italy and the KAGRA detector in Japan. There are also plans for another LIGO detector in India. Earlier this year, the LISA Pathfinder mission was launched into space, with the aim of testing the technologies for a space-based gravitational wave detector. Having an array of detectors will allow astronomers to triangulate the wave signal and pinpoint the source location, meaning astronomers using conventional electromagnetic telescopes can be notified of where to point their detectors.
The opening up of gravitational wave astronomy has vast implications. It will provide for tests of the validity of Einstein’s theory of General Relativity in the domain of very strong fields and high speeds, such as around black holes. It also allows us to look into the interior of neutron stars, whose incredible densities offer a physical laboratory that could not be replicated on Earth. Moreover, while dust and other matter obscure our observation of the distant universe using light, gravitational waves—because they interact so weakly with matter—reach us relatively unimpeded.
But as well as providing some answers, the introduction of an entirely new, gravitational spectrum will undoubtedly raise new, and entirely unexpected, questions. As Kip Thorne, a LIGO co-founder and a world expert in relativity theory, commented to Physics World: “LIGO has opened a new window on the universe—a gravitational-wave window. Each time a new window has opened up there have been big surprises—LIGO is just the beginning. Until now, we as scientists have only seen warped space-time, when it’s very calm. It’s as though we’d only seen the surface of the ocean on a very calm day when it’s quite glassy. We had never seen the ocean in a storm, with crashing waves. All of that changed on 14 September 2015. The colliding black holes that produced these gravitational waves created a violent storm in the fabric of space and time. A storm in which time speeded up and slowed down, speeded up again.”
Global stock markets formally entered a bear market Wednesday, as the MSCI All-Country World Index fell by 1.3 percent, with the index down 20 percent from its high last May. Yesterday, after further losses in Asia, European markets closed down, with the German DAX falling by nearly 5 percent, the Spanish IBEX down by nearly 5 percent, and the US DOW off by 250 points.
The selloff accelerated in early trading Friday, with the Japanese Nikkei falling by more than 5 percent at the opening bell.
The stock sell-off both reflected and helped catalyze a broader crisis of confidence in financial markets, amid a rapid deceleration of the global economy, a sell-off in emerging market debt, a downward spiral in commodities prices, and the seeming perplexity of central banks as to how to deal with a renewed outbreak of panic eight years after the 2008 financial crisis.
The global selloff continued in the US after congressional testimony by Federal Reserve chairwoman Janet Yellen, who made no explicit statement that the Federal Reserve would change its plans to continue raising the benchmark federal funds rate over the next year.
Yellen did, however, say that the Federal Reserve would not rule out cutting interest rates below zero if economic conditions continued to deteriorate. If this were to happen, the Fed would follow the Bank of Japan, which late last month announced a surprise interest rate cut, and Sweden, which Thursday cut its benchmark interest rate further into negative territory.
These moves, coupled with a generalized flight to safety, have led to a massive jump in the proportion of bonds with a negative yield. According to figures from JPMorgan, the share of government bonds with a negative yield, once only considered a theoretical possibility, have reached 25 percent. All told, negatively-yielding assets have hit $5.5 trillion worldwide.
The deepening sell-off, and the seeming inability of central banks to formulate any coherent response to the panic, have triggered a general crisis of confidence, not only in the health of the financial system, but in the ability of central banks and governments to offset the crisis through radically expansionary monetary policy: their panacea for every economic ill since 2008.
A Citigroup executive summed up the sentiment in a comment to Reuters: “One of the new themes in markets is that (quantitative easing) has damaged the banks and that therefore it exacerbates the risk-off environment.”
In other words, the panicked sell-off expresses growing fears in financial markets that the vast quantities of cash pumped into the financial system since 2008 have done nothing to improve its underlying health, and may have sown the seeds for a crash on an even greater scale.
This time, however, with central banks having expended so much of their “ammunition” on seeking to keep financial assets afloat for years, there are increasing fears that they will be powerless to respond to a new financial panic.
In particular, the explosive growth in negative-yielding financial assets means that banks, whose core business involves borrowing long-term and lending short-term, will be put under even further financial stress if central banks continue to lower interest rates.
These fears have hammered the banking sector. The S&P 500 financials index has dropped by 18 percent since the start of the year, making banking by far the worst-affected sector, facing an even more rapid selloff rate than that of the beleaguered energy and transport industries.
And that is saying something. The energy and materials sectors have seen share value declines of over 31 percent over the past year, with “companies going Chapter 11 or trading at 50 cents on the dollar,” one portfolio manager told Bloomberg.
Meanwhile the global shipping and transport sector is facing business conditions that, in the words of Nils Andersen, the CEO of Maersk, the largest transportation company in the world, are “worse than in 2008.” The company’s share value, which was down by more than 50 percent in the past year, fell a further 8 percent Wednesday.
Meanwhile the prospects that US economic growth would somehow offset the slump in global output receded further this week, as US corporations posted sharply reduced earnings and outlooks. Earnings for S&P 500 companies fell 4.5 percent in the fourth quarter, and are expected to fall 6.3 percent this quarter. “The general feeling is that the U.S. economy is nearing a peak and there is not much left as far as trends to be talked about,” one hedge fund manager told Reuters.
The fall-off in real economic activity can be expected to further dampen oil prices, which have hit 13-year lows of $27 per barrel, and has triggered a further round of sell-offs in commodity related stocks, with “investors … liquidating because they need the cash,” as one chief investment officer told Reuters.
Eight years since the 2008 financial crash, it is clear that the capitalist governments and central banks have been unable to address any of its underlying causes. Instead, they have poured cash into financial markets, triggering a feedback loop of speculation and parasitism in the form of mergers and consolidations, which have sharply cut back production and led to mass layoffs.
The end result has been only a further acceleration of the growth of social inequality, with the fantastic enrichment of the parasitic financial oligarchy financed by the wholesale destruction of productive activity and the vast impoverishment of the working class.
In other words, the conditions that gave rise to the 2008 financial crisis have been reproduced once again in even sharper form, and risk a similar outcome.
Street art in Mexico City (Av. Canal de San Juan), Mexico,
by artist Juan Fuerte.
Photo by Juan Fuerte.