Astronomers detect gravitational waves predicted by Einstein

By Will Morrow
12 February 2016

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 three stages of the collision of two black holes – inspiral, merger and ringdown – illustrated above. The signal detected by the two LIGO instruments is superimposed across the bottom. Credit: LIGO, NSF, Aurore Simonnet (Sonoma State U.)

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.

A computer simulation of the collision of two black holes. Time has been slowed down one hundred times to more clearly observe the inspiral, merger and ringdown. Credit: SXS Project

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.

Albert Einstein in 1921

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.

The gravitational waves of the inspiraling black holes converted to sound. The lower pitched ‘chirps’ exactly match the frequencies of the gravitational waves. The higher pitched chirps have been generated to better fit human hearing. Credit: LIGO Collaboration

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.

The binary black hole merger that created GW150914 happened in Earth’s southern hemisphere approximately 1.3 billion light years away. The colored lines are regions where the signal likely originated. The exact location cannot be determined with the data of only two detectors. A third will enter service later this year. Credit: LIGO Collaboration

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.”

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/02/12/ligo-f12.html

War and the destruction of social infrastructure in America

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28 January 2016

As the water crisis in Flint, Michigan continues to occupy national headlines in the United States, scientists and environmental officials have revealed a dirty secret of American life: the poisoning of drinking water with toxic chemicals is not unique to Flint, Michigan, but takes place all over the country.

Counties in Louisiana and Texas, as well as the cities of Baltimore, Maryland; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Washington D.C. and Boston, Massachusetts all reported that substantial numbers of children have been exposed to elevated lead levels, largely through municipal drinking water.

This week, the head environmental regulator in the state of Ohio called national water regulations “broken,” saying that they dramatically understate the true scale of lead poisoning in American cities. As Virginia Tech researcher Marc Edwards put it, “Because of the smoke-and-mirrors testing, Flint is meeting the standard even as national guardsmen walk the street.”

Many water pipes in the United States are over 100 years old, and a large number of cities still have 100 percent lead plumbing.

The reasons are not hard to find. According to the Congressional Budget Office, public capital investment in transportation and water infrastructure, already underfunded for decades, has been slashed by 23 percent since its peak in 2003.

The year 2003 is significant as it coincides with the beginning of the illegal invasion of Iraq by the Bush administration. The “war on terror” has entailed a vast expansion of the military at the same time that spending on anything not directly related to the accumulation of wealth by the financial aristocracy has suffered from continual cutbacks.

The response of the political establishment to the poisoning of tens of thousands of people in Flint and potentially millions more throughout the United States has been characterized by indifference. The politicians responsible, from Michigan Governor Rick Snyder to local Democratic Party officials and the Obama administration, pull long faces, pretend to take responsibility or seek to shift blame, while doing nothing to address the issue.

Nowhere is there a single politician who has responded to the disaster by demanding what is clearly required: the immediate allocation of a relatively modest sum, $273 billion according to the Environmental Protection Agency, to replace all of the municipal lead pipes in the US. This is equivalent to the annual spending on the US Army, just one of the four branches of the US military. There is simply “no money” for such a proposal to be considered, much less approved.

While politicians pore over any allocation of resources for social spending with a fine tooth comb, almost unimaginable sums are made available to the military without a second thought. How many know that the US military is shelling out over a trillion dollars to defense contractor Lockheed Martin to fund its beleaguered F-35 program? Or that it is spending another trillion dollars to “modernize” its nuclear arsenal by making atomic bombs smaller and more maneuverable?

The US spends more on its military, as Obama boasted in his most recent State of the Union address, than the next eight countries combined. Yet more is continuously demanded.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) recently evaluated the Defense Department’s so-called pivot to Asia, in which military hardware has been either procured or restationed in the Western Pacific to counter the economic and military rise of China. Strikingly, the CSIS report gave the US military a failing grade. It called for the expansion and development of every aspect of US military capacity in the Pacific if it was to maintain superiority in the event of a shooting war with China.

Since the early 1990s, the US military has operated on the basis of a strategic doctrine that it will allow the existence of no other power that can challenge its military authority on even a regional level. That means that the US must be able to field such overwhelming military force that it would be able to defeat another major power, such as China, in a conventional war far away from the borders of the US.

This is a recipe for the bleeding white of American society in an insane attempt to maintain its military dominance, which can only end in catastrophe for the population of the US and the entire world.

Of course, it would be simplistic to say that war is the only cause of America’s social problems. The most conspicuous element of life in the US continues to be the vast chasm between the rich and the poor. However, the rise of war and militarism are interrelated and have a common root.

In response to the the longterm decline in the global position of American capitalism, the American ruling class responded on the one hand by promoting a wave of financial speculation, mergers and acquisitions, wage cuts, and the transfer of social wealth from the great majority of the population to its own pockets. On the other hand, it has sought to use its predominant military power to counteract the consequences of its economic decline by force.

In the insane and socially destructive priorities of the American ruling class, one sees in concentrated form the inextricable connection between war and capitalism, and at the same time the inextricable connection between the fight for all the social rights of the working class and the struggle against imperialism.

Andre Damon

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/01/28/pers-j28.html

The Flint water crisis and the criminality of American capitalism

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20 January 2015

In the midst of growing anger over the poisoning of residents of Flint, Michigan and the exposure of criminal actions by state and local authorities, Governor Rick Snyder gave a State of the State address Tuesday night in which he insisted that neither he nor any other top official should be held accountable.

The governor’s tone betrayed something of a siege mentality, as more than a thousand protesters marched outside the state capitol building in Lansing, many calling for his resignation and indictment.

After hailing record profits for the Michigan-based Big Three auto companies and touting the supposed “turnaround” of Detroit in a year the city emerged from bankruptcy, Snyder came to the subject of the Flint water crisis. The millionaire former corporate executive gave an empty apology to the people of Flint and asserted that it was “now time to tell the truth about what we have done,” promising to release his emails concerning Flint the next day.

After the obligatory “the buck stops here” declaration, he evaded any responsibility for decisions that have permanently disabled thousands of Flint residents, including infants and children, and will likely result in an unknown number of early deaths.

His effort at cover-up and damage control involved striking a pose of contrition (“The government has failed you”) and acknowledging that various officials had made “mistakes”—meaningless statements that were meant to evade any real accountability.

Snyder pled ignorance concerning the 17 months between April 2014, when his handpicked Flint emergency manager switched the city’s water supply to the highly polluted Flint River to cut costs, and September 2015, when he claims he first learned of the crisis. In the future, he admonished, such things “had to come to his desk immediately, with no excuses.”

He omitted the fact that immediately after the water was switched, Flint residents complained of its foul smell, color and taste and the spread of rashes and sickness. Even after a “boil only” warning had been issued by city officials, tests by the state’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) showed lead levels to be acceptable under the federal Environmental Protection Agency guidelines, Snyder maintained.

In May 2015, the governor continued, Dr. Mona Hannah-Attisha of Hurley Medical Center found alarming levels of lead in blood samples of city children, but “DEQ failed to reach the same conclusions.”

Again, Snyder neglected to note that his office targeted Dr. Hannah-Attisha with a slander campaign, saying she was “splicing and dicing” data and needlessly causing hysteria. With consummate cynicism, the governor asked the doctor to rise to the applause of state legislators.

While Snyder claimed that he was first briefed in September 2015, his chief of staff wrote a July 2015 email to the Department of Health and Human Services expressing concern over the stonewalling of Flint residents. “I really don’t think people are getting the benefit of the doubt,” he wrote. “Now they are concerned and rightfully so about the lead level studies they are receiving from the (DEQ) samples… These folks are scared and worried about the health impacts and they are basically getting blown off by us…”

In a transparent effort to protect himself from future prosecution, the Republican governor warned Democrats that they too were complicit. He noted that President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency had also ignored resident complaints and remained silent even after tests showed dangerous levels of lead, and the Democratic-controlled Flint City Council had approved the change in the city’s water source.

There is certainly a case for putting local, state and federal Democrats in the dock along with Snyder. This includes former Flint Emergency Manager Darnell Earley, currently the emergency manager of the Detroit Public Schools.

The poisoning of Flint is linked to the 2013-14 Detroit bankruptcy, which was carried out with the backing of the Obama administration. The pensions and health benefits of city workers were slashed and public assets were sold off or privatized, including the treasures of the Detroit Institute of Arts and the city’s century-old public water system. This led to sharp increases in water prices in Detroit, Flint and other cities, and mass water shutoffs of working-class customers.

The modus operandi of the conspiracy of politicians and corporate holders of city bonds to plunder the incomes of city workers and seize public assets in Detroit has become a model for similar attacks across Michigan, in other US states and now in Puerto Rico. Municipalities and school districts have been starved of resources by federal, state and local authorities, forced to take on immense levels of debt, and then put under financial dictators who do the bidding of the banks.

Working-class youth are jailed for minor offenses, but those responsible for decisions that deprive families of water and electrical power and lead to fatal house fires and other tragedies essentially get away with murder.

Flint is a symbol of the criminal character of American capitalism. In 1960, the “Vehicle City” had one of the highest per capita incomes in America, the result of the sit-down strikes and mass struggles of autoworkers that forced the then-largest corporation in the world, General Motors, to recognize the United Auto Workers union. Over the last 35 years, the corporation, facing increasing international competition, has waged a relentless war against the workers, with the indispensable and unstinting assistance of the UAW.

GM has reduced employment in the city from 80,000 to 5,500. It has shut down and flattened the sit-down plants “Chevy in the Hole” and Buick City, which alone once employed 28,000 workers. Exacting huge tax cuts and polluting the Flint River with impunity, GM has left its birthplace in ruins.

During the 2009 restructuring of GM, the Obama administration worked with the UAW to shut more plants and halve the wages of all new-hires, while granting legal immunity to GM in any future lawsuits over pollution or defective vehicles. The company has taken in billions in profits and spent them, not on the people of Flint, but on stock buybacks and dividend payments to its biggest shareholders, which includes the UAW.

President Obama is coming to Detroit today, where he will speak at a UAW-GM facility and hail the “return” of the auto industry and the “rebirth” of Detroit. Meanwhile, young autoworkers cannot afford to buy the cars they build and Detroit teachers have organized sick-outs, independently of the unions, to protest rat-infested schools with no heat, overcrowded classrooms, and cuts in wages and benefits.

As for Flint, the president who has allocated trillions to bail out the Wall Street criminals and fund illegal wars has approved a derisory $5 million in federal aid for the city’s people. The government of “the most powerful country in the world” is no less indifferent to working people in Flint than its predecessor was to Hurricane Katrina-ravaged New Orleans.

These disasters arise from the failure and bankruptcy of the capitalist system, an outmoded and reactionary economic order that subordinates the most elemental needs of society to the enrichment of the corporate and financial aristocracy.

In the 21st Century, no one should go without water, or, for that matter, a well-paying job, health care, education and affordable housing. The fight for these elemental rights places the working class on a collision course with American capitalism and all of its political representatives.

Jerry White

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/01/20/pers-j20.html

How David Bowie Helped Save Dolphins

ENVIRONMENT

The late rock star is a hero to activists fighting the dolphin slaughter in Japan.

Photo Credit: 360b/Shutterstock

David Bowie is being remembered as a musical genius, a gifted artist, and a fashion icon. But to whale and dolphin activists, he was nothing short of a hero.

Bowie’s hauntingly moving song “Heroes,” the title track of his 1977 album, has become a rallying cry for people around the world working to end the killing and capture of whales and dolphins at the cove in Taiji, Japan.

The song, which includes the lyrics “I, I wish you could swim / Like the dolphins, like dolphins can swim,” accompanies the closing credits of the 2009 documentary The Cove, which brought global attention to the annual slaughter in Taiji.

Most people don’t know that Bowie, a quiet but generous supporter of animal welfare causes who died on Sunday at 69, personally intervened to make sure the song could be licensed for a minimal fee.

Cove director Louie Psihoyos said the movie’s producer, Fisher Stevens, knew Bowie’s wife, Iman. “That’s how we got through to him,” he said. “If we’d had to go through record-company channels, it never would’ve happened.”

According to Psihoyos, the cost of licensing a rock song for commercial films starts at about $25,000 and can reach six figures. After hearing about the film, Bowie insisted that RCA Records make “Heroes” available for $3,000.

“They had to charge something so they weren’t giving it away,” Psihoyos said. “It was hardly worth the time for the record label to write up the contract.”

A licensing employee for Sony Music Entertainment, which owns RCA Records, confirmed that the fee was reduced but said the amount paid “is confidential.”

The song, reportedly about an East German and West German couple who meet at the Berlin Wall—“I, I can remember (I remember) / Standing, by the wall (by the wall) / And the guns, shot above our heads (over our heads)”—became a powerful anthem for the anti-whaling movement.

“I didn’t know at the time about his support for animal rights,” Psihoyos said of Bowie. “But it turns out he had a huge heart.”

Ric O’Barry, star of The Cove and founder of Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project, said that during the film’s closing credits, “people jump out of their seats and want to do something. That song reenergizes people and helps keep the issue alive. Sometimes I meet people, and when they recognize me, they start singing ‘Heroes.’ ”

“There is nothing to galvanize a community around a movement like a movie, and with every social movement, you always needed songs,” Psihoyos said. “This was a song for that moment.”

The moment lives on. This Saturday in London, thousands of people are expected to march to the Japanese Embassy to protest the dolphin drives, which run every September to March.

Bowie and his hit single will be featured prominently during the day.

“We’re going to make it a massive tribute to Bowie,” said protest organizer Nicole Venter, founder of MEOKO, a platform for electronic music.

Venter said some protesters will be wearing Bowie masks and brandishing banners bearing his image. Meanwhile, a vintage car will lead the march, blasting sounds of dolphins being killed at the cove—and, of course, “Heroes.”

“We will probably play it several times, and people will sing along,” Venter said. “Still, this won’t become a circus. We’re there for the dolphins, but we also want to pay tribute to Bowie.”

The singer, who later sported a dolphin tattoo, was working to save dolphins and whales as early as 1972, when Bowie and the Spiders From Mars headlined the Friends of the Earth Save the Whale Benefit Concert in London.

O’Barry will not be at the protest. He leaves Sunday for Taiji, where police briefly detained him last August. On Tuesday, his Dolphin Project said 35 to 40 striped dolphins were killed at the cove.

“I think London is one of the keys of stopping the slaughter,” O’Barry said.

“ ‘Heroes’ is our theme song, and they’re going to play it loud,” he added. “The Japanese government will have a very difficult time dealing with that PR nightmare. Thank you, David Bowie.”

 

 

This article originally appeared on TakePart.com. Reprinted with permission.

 

http://www.alternet.org/environment/how-david-bowie-helped-save-dolphins?akid=13886.265072.QDzFVg&rd=1&src=newsletter1048995&t=14

Obama’s final State of the Union: Lies, evasions and threats

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By Patrick Martin
13 January 2016

The final State of the Union speech delivered Tuesday night by President Barack Obama was a demonstration of the incapacity of the American political system to deal honestly or seriously with a single social question.

Obama evaded the real issues that affect tens of millions of working people in America every day of their lives. He painted a ludicrous picture of economic recovery and social progress that insulted the intelligence of his television audience—and went unchallenged by the millionaire politicians assembled in the chamber of the House of Representatives.

Summing up what he called “the progress of these past seven years,” Obama gave first place to “how we recovered from the worst economic crisis in generations.” The so-called “recovery” has been a bonanza for corporate profits, stock prices, and the wealth and income of the super-rich. For the working people who are the vast majority of the population, it has been a disaster.

By most social indices, the American people are worse off in January 2016 than when Obama took office seven years ago. The real wages of working people have fallen, social services have deteriorated, pension benefits have been gutted, and cities such as Detroit and San Bernardino have been forced into bankruptcy.

According to a report by the National Association of Counties issued on the eve of the State of the Union address, of the 3,069 counties in the United States, 93 percent are worse off than before the 2008 financial crash according to at least one of four economic indicators: total employment, the unemployment rate, the size of the economy and home values.

In 27 states, not a single county has recovered fully from the 2008 crash and the deep economic slump that followed. These include such major states as Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.

Obama, however, painted a picture of nearly unblemished economic advance, declaring, “The United States of America, right now, has the strongest, most durable economy in the world.” He boasted, “We’re in the middle of the longest streak of private-sector job creation in history. More than 14 million new jobs; the strongest two years of job growth since the ‘90s; an unemployment rate cut in half.”

The president did not acknowledge that the post-2008 “recovery” is the weakest on record, that the vast majority of the new jobs created have been low-wage and many of them part-time, or that the drop in the unemployment rate is primarily due to the withdrawal of millions of people from the work force because they lost all hope of getting a decent-paying job.

He went on, tellingly, to cite the auto industry as a symbol of success, declaring that it “just had its best year ever.” This perfectly expresses the utter blindness, not just of Obama, but of the entire political establishment. The “best year ever” was for General Motors, Ford and Fiat-Chrysler, which enjoyed record profits, not for the auto workers who produced those profits.

Real wages for auto workers have dropped sharply since the Obama White House forced through a 50 percent cut in wages for all new hires as part of the bankruptcy reorganization of the industry in 2009. Mass discontent among auto workers was expressed at the end of 2015 in the rejection of contracts at Fiat-Chrysler and Nexteer, a major supplier, and in widespread demands for strike action, smothered by Obama’s stooges in the United Auto Workers union.

“Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction,” Obama concluded. The social position of the American working class has, in fact, suffered a dramatic decline, through the combined efforts of the corporate bosses, the unions and the two capitalist parties, the Democrats and Republicans.

The president conceded that economic inequality has grown in the United States, but he described it as the outcome of long-term trends such as globalization and automation, as though the policies of his administration—bailouts for Wall Street, budget cuts and wage cuts for workers—had nothing to do with it.

In the seven years since the financial crash, brought on, as he admitted, by “recklessness on Wall Street,” not a single banker or speculator has been prosecuted or jailed. On the contrary, the billionaires have greatly increased their wealth, gobbling up 95 percent of all new income since Obama entered the White House.

Obama listed a few other policy “successes,” claiming that “we reformed our health care system, and reinvented our energy sector… we delivered more care and benefits to our troops and veterans.” He was referring, however, to a series of social disasters: the reactionary attack on health benefits for workers and their families known as Obamacare; the devastation of Appalachia and other energy-producing regions; and the abuse of ex-soldiers, wounded in body and mind, by the Veterans Administration.

Obama sought to defend the foreign policy record of his administration from criticism, mainly from the Republican right, where demands are being raised for military escalation in the Middle East and stepped-up attacks on democratic rights at home in the name of fighting “terrorism.”

While he claimed to reject an American role as the world’s policeman, he nonetheless boasted, “The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth. Period. It’s not even close. We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined.”

He continued, “Our troops are the finest fighting force in the history of the world,” winning the bipartisan standing ovation that always accompanies any mention of American soldiers engaged in combat overseas.

Obama indulged in the glorification of killing that has become an essential part of the degraded spectacle that passes for political discourse in America. Describing the US war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, he claimed, “With nearly 10,000 air strikes, we are taking out their leadership, their oil, their training camps, and their weapons.”

He called on Congress to pass an Authorization for the Use of Military Force against ISIS, but vowed to wage war with or without legislative approval. The leaders of ISIS, he proclaimed, “will learn the same lessons as terrorists before them. If you doubt America’s commitment—or mine—to see that justice is done, ask Osama bin Laden. Ask the leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, who was taken out last year…”

Then he declared, in language that will be noted by nations all over the world, that when it comes to waging war against potential adversaries, “our reach has no limit.”

Obama concluded his speech with an appeal to his Republican opponents to work with his administration and pull back from the extreme anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric that has characterized the contest for the Republican presidential nomination.

In a clear reference to Donald Trump, he argued that “we need to reject any politics that targets people because of race or religion. This is not a matter of political correctness, but understanding what makes us strong.”

Obama was making an argument, not so much that racism and bigotry are intrinsically wrong, but that they make it more difficult for American imperialism to maintain its dominant world role. “When a politician insults Muslims,” he said, “it makes it harder to achieve our goals.”

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/01/13/sotu-j13.html

America and China may not have a planet left to rule

Twilight of the imperial age: 

Mankind still controls its destiny. But if we want to escape catastrophe, climate talks can only be the beginning

Twilight of the imperial age: America and China may not have a planet left to rule
This piece originally appeared on TomDispatch.

For six centuries or more, history was, above all, the story of the great game of empires. From the time the first wooden ships mounted with cannons left Europe’s shores, they began to compete for global power and control. Three, four, even five empires, rising and falling, on an increasingly commandeered and colonized planet. The story, as usually told, is a tale of concentration and of destruction until, in the wake of the second great bloodletting of the twentieth century, there were just two imperial powers left standing: the United States and the Soviet Union. Where the other empires, European and Japanese, had been, little remained but the dead, rubble, refugees, and scenes that today would be associated only with a place like Syria.

The result was the ultimate imperial stand-off that we called the Cold War. The two great empires still in existence duked it out for supremacy on “the peripheries” of the planet and “in the shadows.” Because the conflicts being fought were distant indeed, at least from Washington, and because (despite threats) both powers refrained from using nuclear weapons, these were termed “limited wars.” They did not, however, seem limited to the Koreans or Vietnamese whose homes and lives were swept up in them, resulting as they did in more rubble, more refugees, and the deaths of millions.

Those two rivals, one a giant, land-based, contiguous imperial entity and the other a distinctly non-traditional empire of military bases, were so enormous and so unlike previous “great powers” — they were, after all, capable of what had once been left to the gods, quite literally destroying every habitable spot on the planet — that they were given a new moniker. They were “superpowers.”

And then, of course, that six-century process of rivalry and consolidation was over and there was only one: the “sole superpower.” That was 1991 when the Soviet Union suddenly imploded. At age 71, it disappeared from the face of the Earth, and history, at least as some then imagined it, was briefly said to be over.

The Shatter Effect

There was another story lurking beneath the tale of imperial concentration, and it was a tale of imperial fragmentation. It began, perhaps, with the American Revolution and the armed establishment of a new country free of its British king and colonial overlord. In the twentieth century, the movement to “decolonize” the planet gained remarkable strength. From the Dutch East Indies to French Indochina, the British Raj to European colonies across Africa and the Middle East, “independence” was in the air. Liberation movements were launched or strengthened, guerrillas took up arms, and insurgencies spread across what came to be called the Third World. Imperial power collapsed or ceded control, often after bloody struggles and, for a while, the results looked glorious indeed: the coming of freedom and national independence to nation after nation (even if many of those newly liberated peoples found themselves under the thumbs of autocrats, dictators, or repressive communist regimes).

That this was a tale of global fragmentation was not, at first, particularly apparent. It should be by now. After all, those insurgent armies, the tactics of guerrilla warfare, and the urge for “liberation” are today the property not of left-wing national liberation movements but of Islamic terror outfits. Think of them as the armed grandchildren of decolonization and who wouldn’t agree that theirs is a story of the fragmentation of whole regions. It seems, in fact, that they can only thrive in places that have, in some fashion, already been shattered and are failed states, or are on the verge of becoming so. (All of this, naturally, comes with a distinct helping hand from the planet’s last empire).

That their global brand is fragmentation should be evident enough now that, in Paris, Libya, Yemen, and other places yet to be named, they’re exporting that product in a big way. In a long-distance fashion, they may, for instance, be helping to turn Europe into a set of splinterlands, aborting the last great attempt at an epic tale of concentration, the turning of the European Union into a United States of Europe.

When it comes to fragmentation, the last empire and the first terror caliphate have much in common and may in some sense even be in league with each other. In the twenty-first century, both have proven to be machines for the fracturing of the Greater Middle East and increasingly Africa. And let’s never forget that, without the last empire, the first caliphate of terror would never have been born.

Both have extended their power to shake whole societies by wielding advanced technology in forward-looking ways. Two American administrations have employed remote-controlled drones to target terror leaders and their followers across the Greater Middle East and Africa, causing much “collateral damage” and creating a sense of constant fear and terror among those in the backlands of the planet whom drone pilots refer to as potential “bugsplat.” In its robotic manhunting efforts Washington continues to engage in a war on terror that functionally promotes both terror and terror outfits.

The Islamic State has similarly used remote-controlled technology — in their case, social media in its various forms — to promote terror and stoke fear in distant lands. And of course they have their own low-tech version of Washington’s drones: their suicide bombers and suicidal killers who can be directed at distant individual targets and are engines for collateral damage. In other words, while the U.S. is focused on remote-controlled counterinsurgency, the Islamic State has been promoting a remarkably effective version of remote-controlled insurgency. In tandem, the effect of the two has been devastating.

Planet of the Imperial Apocalypse

Between those epic tales of concentration and fragmentation lies history as we’ve known it in these last centuries. But it turns out that, unsuspected until relatively recently, a third tale lurked behind the other two, one not yet fully written that could prove to be the actual end of history. Everything else — the rise and fall of empires, the power to suppress and the urge to revolt, dictatorship and democracy — remains the normal stuff of history. Prospectively, this is the deal-breaker.

It promises a concentration of power of a sort never before imagined and fragmentation of a similarly inconceivable kind. At this moment when the leaders of just about all the nations on Earth have been in Paris working out a deal to rein in greenhouse gas emissions and slow the heating of the planet, what else could I be speaking of than Emperor Weather? Think of his future realm, should it ever come to be, as the planet of the imperial apocalypse.

In the last imperial age, the two superpowers made “end times” a human possession for the first time in history. The U.S. and then the USSR took the super power of the atom and built nuclear arsenals capable of destroying the planet several times over. (These days, even a relatively modest exchange of such weapons between India and Pakistan might plunge the world into a version of nuclear winter in which a billion people might die of hunger.) And yet while an instant apocalypse loomed, a slow-motion version of the same, also human-made, was approaching, unrecognized by anyone. That is, of course, what the Paris Summit is all about: what the exploitation of fossil fuels has been doing to this planet.

Keep in mind that since the industrial revolution we’ve already warmed the Earth by about 1 degree Celsius. Climate scientists have generally suggested that, if temperatures rise above 2 degrees Celsius, a potentially devastating set of changes could occur in our environment. Some climate scientists, however, believe that even a 2-degree rise would prove devastating to human life. In either case, even if the Paris pledges from 183 nations to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions are agreed upon and carried out, they would only limit the rise in global temperatures to between an estimated 2.7 and 3.7 degrees Celsius. If no agreement is reached or little of it is actually carried out, the rise could be in the 5-degree range, which would be devastating. Over the coming decades, this could indeed give Emperor Weather his global realm.

Of course, his air power — his bombers, jets, and drones — would be superstorms; his invading armies would be mega-droughts and mega-floods; and his navy, with the total or partial melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, would be the rising seas of the planet, which would rob humanity of its coastlines and many of its great cities. His forces would occupy not just one or two countries in the Greater Middle East or elsewhere, but the entire planet, lock, stock, and barrel.

Emperor Weather’s imperial realms would be global on an awe-inspiring scale and the assaults of his forces would fragment the present planet in ways that could make much of it, in human terms, look like Syria. Moreover, given how long it takes greenhouse gases to leave the atmosphere, his global rule would be guaranteed to last an inhumanly long period of time unchallenged.

Heat (think burning Australia today, only far worse) would be the coin of the realm. While humanity will undoubtedly survive in some fashion, whether human civilization as we now know it can similarly survive on a planet that is no longer the welcoming home that it has been these last thousands of years we have no way of knowing.

Keep in mind, though, that like history itself, this is a story we are still writing — even though Emperor Weather couldn’t care less about writing, history, or us. If he truly comes to power, history will certainly end in some sense. There will be no hope of democracy under his rule because he won’t care a whit about what we think or do or say, nor of revolt — that staple of our history — because (to adapt something Bill McKibben has long pointed out) you can’t revolt against physics.

This story is not yet engraved in… well, if not stone, then melting ice. Sooner or later, it may indeed be a tale unfolding in environmental feedback loops that can no longer be stopped or altered. But for the moment, it seems, humanity still has the chance to write its own history in a fashion that would allow for a perhaps less welcoming but still reasonably palatable world for our children and grandchildren to live in. And be glad of that.

For that to happen, however, successful negotiations in Paris can only be the start of something far more sweeping when it comes to the forms of energy we use and how we live on this planet. Fortunately, experiments are underway in the world of alternative energy, funding is beginning to appear, and a global environmental movement is expanding and could someday, on a planet growing ever less comfortable, put the heat on governments globally before Emperor Weather can turn up the heat on history.

Why Life Goes Faster as You Grow Older

Three scientific theories shine a little light on this mysterious experience.

Do you have the sense that life is speeding up the older you get? If so, you’re not alone. Can there be a reason for this perception? I’ve discovered three scientific theories that shine a little light on this mysterious experience.

The first is a phenomenon called “telescopy.” Telescopy is simply the underestimation of time. It’s as though you’re looking through a telescope where the details of what you see give you the impression that an object in the distance is much closer than it actually is. Because of telescopy, our brains recall distant events as if they occurred only yesterday.

For example, at 67, I can’t believe 43 years have passed since the Beatles broke up. Every time I see Sir Paul McCartney on TV performing old Beatles tunes like “Hey Jude,” I’m amazed. Why? To me it seems as if 1970 was not that long ago.

Similarly, a 50-year-old woman I know said after the recent Boston Marathon bombing that it was hard to believe 9/11 happened almost 12 years ago. “Wow! Time really flies,” she said.

We are inclined, it seems, to perceive events more recently than they actually occurred. Hence we say wistfully, “Why, it seems like only yesterday.”

The second reason time seems to be going faster as you get older is called the reminiscence effect. You can think of it as a series of memory bumps in your life. Emotionally charged events—your first kiss, going to college, getting married, having your children, having a grandchild or losing someone dear—are recorded in more vivid detail than what we might call regular events, which just pass by in a blur.

As time marches on, life may become more routine, more mundane. Hence, you create fewer memory bumps, which give you the feeling that time is moving very quickly.

Neither telescopy nor the reminiscence effect provide all the answers to understanding why life goes faster as you get older, and perhaps more importantly, how you can slow time down. That falls to the third theory, which I believe is the most astute explanation of why time flies. Interestingly, this third theory is also the best-kept secret in anti-aging medicine.

The third theory is the aging of your brain’s biological clock. Named the SCN (for suprachiasmatic nucleus), it’s found in a special gland called the hypothalamus located behind the middle of your forehead. The hypothalamus is also known as your brain’s brain and controls the release of a number of important, youth-maintaining hormones.

Moreover, this little spot (about the size of a pencil point) sends signals to each and every one of your 30 trillion cells, telling them either  that all is well, or conversely, that you’re stressed. Stress has an aging effect throughout your body, including your genes.

These signals influence the length of your telomeres at the end of your chromosomes. Telomeres are the caps of your DNA and are exquisitely sensitive to stress. Think of them as like the tips of a shoelace. As the lace ages, it becomes frayed, damaged and shortened. For you, stress equals shorter telomeres and accelerated aging. Conversely, less stress equals increased telomere size and a longer life.

As we have seen, as your inner time meter slows down, the outside world seems to speed up. This feeling can make you age too fast. But I’m happy to report that there is good news. There are three ways you can change time perception, affect your biological aging clock and lengthen your telomeres.

  • Slow down: In our over-caffeinated, hyper-connected and intense world, I believe we can use some time simply to relax. Stop and breathe deeply a few times throughout the busy hours of your day.
  • Meditate more: Our studies at the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation reveal that you can impact your telomeres positively, as well as claim many other health benefits, in only 12 minutes a day. Our simple yoga meditation technique is called Kirtan Kriya (KK) and doesn’t require a huge time commitment or expense. Published research on KK reveals the largest increase in telomeres ever, a groundbreaking 44 percent.
  • Pay attention: Go for a nice nature walk and take a look at what is all around you. Notice the animals, the sky, the trees, and the clouds. Really taste your food and be wholly alive. Be grateful. This will help you enjoy a more meaningful life, complete with the creation of new and exciting memory bumps. You will gain peace of mind, a rare and beautiful commodity in today’s hectic world.

Dharma Singh Khalsa is the president and medical director of the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation in Tucson, AZ and the author of “Brain Longevity and Meditation as Medicine.”

 

 

http://www.alternet.org/personal-health/why-life-goes-faster-you-grow-older?akid=13840.265072.kHbee3&rd=1&src=newsletter1048244&t=24