The discovery of a system with seven “Earth-like” exoplanets

24 February 2017

The detection of a nearby solar system of potentially Earth-like exoplanets orbiting the star Trappist-1 has evoked widespread public interest and enthusiasm. Millions of people have read reports, watched videos and posted on social media about the seven worlds that might have liquid water on their surfaces.

The Trappist-1 system is comprised of seven planets that orbit a nearby ultracool dwarf star (so-called for its comparatively low temperature). Six of the planets have been confirmed to have an Earth-like size, mass and density. None of them have any hydrogen in their atmospheres, further confirmation that these are all terrestrial, rocky worlds like Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. Moreover, due to the gravitational interactions between all seven planets and Trappist-1 itself, every world in the system may have liquid water.

Of particular interest is the fact that the planets are very close. They are Earth’s next-door neighbors, relative to the vastness of the universe. Trappist-1 is only 39 light years away—that is, it takes light, traveling at about 300,000 kilometers per second, 39 years to travel the distance. In comparison, the Milky Way galaxy of which our sun is a part has a diameter of 100,000 light years, and it is about 2.5 million light years to its larger companion, the Andromeda galaxy, one of trillions of galaxies in the Universe.

An artist’s rendering of the seven worlds of the Trappist-1 system, shown to scale in both size and distance, as might be seen from Earth with a future telescope. Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, Spitzer Space Telescope, Robert Hurt (Spitzer, Caltech)

The planets are so close that, in the not-too-distant future, it should be possible to make far more detailed analyses and even direct observations of exoplanets.

The discovery of these worlds is the most remarkable of a wave of new scientific findings since the first “exoplanet”—a planet outside of our solar system—was discovered around a Sun-like star in the mid-1990s. At the time, while exoplanets had been predicted for nearly four centuries, none had been conclusively detected, let alone directly observed.

Advances in measuring techniques and the use of instruments placed in the orbit around Earth, free of the distortions of the atmosphere, made it possible to detect very slight dips in the brightness of stars. When those dips were observed with regularity, they could be attributed to the motion of planets across the line of sight between the star and the observers.

When the first detection occurred, it opened a whole new realm of astronomy. The gravitational effects of these unseen planets could also be studied, providing evidence of their mass, density and other physical characteristics. Today, not only have scientists detected more than 3,400 exoplanets, the knowledge built up over the past 20 years makes it possible to visualize what these worlds might look like, either from space or from the surface. And with the launching of the James Webb Space Telescope next year, it should be possible to make far more detailed analysis and even direct observation of exoplanets.

Like most significant astronomical advances, the planets’ discovery was an international endeavor. The detection of exoplanets around Trappist-1 began in May 2016, when a team of astronomers used the Chile-based Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST), remotely operated from Belgium and Switzerland, to first observe the star. They discovered three Earth-sized planets orbiting it, with the outermost one likely within the star’s habitable zone.

This encouraged further observations, which were conducted by a series of ground-based telescopes located in Chile, Hawaii, Morocco, Spain and South Africa. The Spitzer Space Telescope was also commissioned to use its higher precision and greater ability to see in the infrared to study the system. When it was discovered that the system had not three, but seven planets, the Hubble Space Telescope was employed to do an initial survey of the planetary atmospheres for hydrogen. Astronomers across Africa, Europe, the Middle East, North America, South America and Southeast Asia coordinated their efforts to make sense of the data.

The discovery of a planetary system around Trappist-1 is not merely a piece of luck. It is the confirmation of a scientific hypothesis, first advanced in 1997, that, due to the physics of stellar formation, stars with about a tenth of the mass of the Sun are more likely to have terrestrial-sized planets. Trappist-1 is one of many candidates to be studied using this hypothesis, and the first for which the idea has been borne out.

This scientific breakthrough is the culmination of several centuries of advances in astronomy and physics: the understanding of how solar systems are formed; the analysis of visible light and other forms of electromagnetic radiation; and mathematical methods of analysis used to discover the subtle signals in the data from stellar observations.

Trappist-1 is a demonstration of the power of human cognition, science and reason. It is a powerful rebuke to the incessant contemporary glorification of irrationalism, whether through the cultivation of backwardness and religious prejudice or the promotion of postmodernism and its rejection of objective truth, and a mighty vindication of the materialist understanding of the world, that there are objective laws of nature and that humans can comprehend them.

Among millions of people inspired by such discoveries, there is an instinctive understanding that the methods employed to find the Trappist-1 planets and make other scientific and technical advances should be used to solve social and economic problems, to provide sufficient health care, education, shelter and food for all humanity. How can our society discover seven potentially Earth-like worlds more than 350 trillion kilometers away, yet proceed, through environmental recklessness and nuclear-armed militarism, to destroy the planet on which we live?

The exoplanet discovery was based on collaboration towards a common goal whose driving force was the pursuit of knowledge, not the amassing of insane amounts of personal wealth. This sort of thinking is totally alien to the world’s ruling elite, which flaunts its backwardness, vulgarity, ignorance and parasitism, personified in the figure of Donald Trump.

This discovery highlights another contradiction of modern society. The organization and planning required to produce these results is a testament to humanity’s ability to rationally and scientifically coordinate resources on an international scale. The scientists on the project also had to reject the constant mantra of national chauvinism, espoused by the ruling elites throughout the world. While science probes the seemingly infinite distances of galactic space, humanity remains trapped at home within the prison house of the nation-state system, with barbed-wire fences, wars, invasions, bombings and mass flights of refugees.

The squandering of trillions of dollars, yuan, yen, roubles and euros to enrich a parasitic capitalist elite and to wage war around the globe is one reason why scientific announcements of this order are so rare. Immense resources, material and human, are wasted, which should be devoted to the improvement of the human condition and the conquest of knowledge of the material world.

The creation of a society in which the development of knowledge can be freed from the constraints of capitalism requires the application of science and reason to the evolution of society and to politics. In opposition to postmodernism and its many variants, which insist that there is no objective truth, Marxism is rooted in an analysis of the laws of socioeconomic development.

Driven inexorably by its internal contradictions, capitalism is leading mankind toward the abyss of world war and dictatorship. These same contradictions, however, also produce the basis for the overthrow of capitalism: the international working class. The objective process must be made conscious, and the growing opposition of millions of workers and youth around the world must be transformed into a political movement that has as its aim the establishment of an internationally coordinated, rationally directed system of economic planning based on equality and the satisfaction of human need: socialism.

Bryan Dyne

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/02/24/pers-f24.html

Scientists have just detected a major change to the Earth’s oceans linked to a warming climate

February 15 at 1:00 PM

A large research synthesis, published in one of the world’s most influential scientific journals, has detected a decline in the amount of dissolved oxygen in oceans around the world — a long-predicted result of climate change that could have severe consequences for marine organisms if it continues.

The paper, published Wednesday in the journal Nature by oceanographer Sunke Schmidtko and two colleagues from the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany, found a decline of more than 2 percent in ocean oxygen content worldwide between 1960 and 2010. The loss, however, showed up in some ocean basins more than others. The largest overall volume of oxygen was lost in the largest ocean — the Pacific — but as a percentage, the decline was sharpest in the Arctic Ocean, a region facing Earth’s most stark climate change.

The loss of ocean oxygen “has been assumed from models, and there have been lots of regional analysis that have shown local decline, but it has never been shown on the global scale, and never for the deep ocean,” said Schmidtko, who conducted the research with Lothar Stramma and Martin Visbeck, also of GEOMAR.

Ocean oxygen is vital to marine organisms, but also very delicate — unlike in the atmosphere, where gases mix together thoroughly, in the ocean that is far harder to accomplish, Schmidtko explained. Moreover, he added, just 1 percent of all the Earth’s available oxygen mixes into the ocean; the vast majority remains in the air.

Climate change models predict the oceans will lose oxygen because of several factors. Most obvious is simply that warmer water holds less dissolved gases, including oxygen. “It’s the same reason we keep our sparkling drinks pretty cold,” Schmidtko said.

But another factor is the growing stratification of ocean waters. Oxygen enters the ocean at its surface, from the atmosphere and from the photosynthetic activity of marine microorganisms. But as that upper layer warms up, the oxygen-rich waters are less likely to mix down into cooler layers of the ocean because the warm waters are less dense and do not sink as readily.

“When the upper ocean warms, less water gets down deep, and so therefore, the oxygen supply to the deep ocean is shut down or significantly reduced,” Schmidtko said.

The new study represents a synthesis of literally “millions” of separate ocean measurements over time, according to GEOMAR. The authors then used interpolation techniques for areas of the ocean where they lacked measurements.

The resulting study attributes less than 15 percent of the total oxygen loss to sheer warmer temperatures, which create less solubility. The rest was attributed to other factors, such as a lack of mixing.

Matthew Long, an oceanographer from the National Center for Atmospheric Research who has published on ocean oxygen loss, said he considers the new results “robust” and a “major advance in synthesizing observations to examine oxygen trends on a global scale.”

Long was not involved in the current work, but his research had previously demonstrated that ocean oxygen loss was expected to occur and that it should soon be possible to demonstrate that in the real world through measurements, despite the complexities involved in studying the global ocean and deducing trends about it.

That’s just what the new study has done.

“Natural variations have obscured our ability to definitively detect this signal in observations,” Long said in an email. “In this study, however, Schmidtko et al. synthesize all available observations to show a global-scale decline in oxygen that conforms to the patterns we expect from human-driven climate warming. They do not make a definitive attribution statement, but the data are consistent with and strongly suggestive of human-driven warming as a root cause of the oxygen decline.

“It is alarming to see this signal begin to emerge clearly in the observational data,” he added.

“Schmidtko and colleagues’ findings should ring yet more alarm bells about the consequences of global warming,” added Denis Gilbert, a researcher with the Maurice Lamontagne Institute at Fisheries and Oceans Canada in Quebec, in an accompanying commentary on the study also published in Nature.

Because oxygen in the global ocean is not evenly distributed, the 2 percent overall decline means there is a much larger decline in some areas of the ocean than others.

Moreover, the ocean already contains so-called oxygen minimum zones, generally found in the middle depths. The great fear is that their expansion upward, into habitats where fish and other organism thrive, will reduce the available habitat for marine organisms.

In shallower waters, meanwhile, the development of ocean “hypoxic” areas, or so-called “dead zones,” may also be influenced in part by declining oxygen content overall.

On top of all of that, declining ocean oxygen can also worsen global warming in a feedback loop. In or near low oxygen areas of the oceans, microorganisms tend to produce nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas, Gilbert writes. Thus the new study “implies that production rates and efflux to the atmosphere of nitrous oxide … will probably have increased.”

The new study underscores once again that some of the most profound consequences of climate change are occurring in the oceans, rather than on land. In recent years, incursions of warm ocean water have caused large die-offs of coral reefs, and in some cases, kelp forests as well. Meanwhile, warmer oceans have also begun to destabilize glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica, and as they melt, these glaciers freshen the ocean waters and potentially change the nature of their circulation.

When it comes to ocean deoxygenation, as climate change continues, this trend should also increase — studies suggest a loss of up to 7 percent of the ocean’s oxygen by 2100. At the end of the current paper, the researchers are blunt about the consequences of a continuing loss of oceanic oxygen.

“Far-reaching implications for marine ecosystems and fisheries can be expected,” they write.

If carbon emissions continue unabated, expanding oceans and massive ice melt would threaten global coastal communities, according to new projections.
(Daron Taylor/The Washington Post)

Intolerant Liberals

“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” ― Isaac Asimov

So Nicholas Christof, whom I am fond of, recently wrote an article that argues that Liberals are intolerant because there aren’t many Christians or conservatives teaching in universities. There is so much to be exhausted about right now, but this article connects too much with several thoughts that have been swirling around in my soul.

They mostly have to do with false equivalency. And relativism. And gas lighting.

Growing up as a conservative Christian, I was warned about secular, liberal relativism. Nothing’s really bad, who knows, it’s all relative. We had to be careful about such slippery slopes. After the gays got us to buy into such poor logic, then would come the goats, then the children, then the Satan worship would follow. But it turns out that this sort of relativism is entirely a myth of the right. The only people who ever try to implore relative logic (at this sort of crass level) are conservatives. Trying to play “gotcha” with liberals. And it’s exhausting.

I have some difficult news for everyone: Progressives aren’t interested in diversity. We aren’t interested in inclusion. We aren’t interested in tolerance. The progressives I know give exactly zero shits about those things.

We have no interest in everyone getting treated the same. We have no interest in giving all ideas equal airtime. We have no interest in “tolerating” all beliefs. I don’t know where this fairy tale comes from, but it’s completely disconnected from every experience I’ve had with progressive liberal folks in my lifetime.

When conservatives cross their arms and glare and shout “It’s not fair! You’re supposed to welcome everyone but you aren’t being nice to me!” it stings about as much as if they shouted, “It’s not fair, you’re supposed to be wearing tutus and juggling flaming donuts!”

The progressive liberal agenda isn’t about being nice. It’s about confronting evil, violence, trauma, and death. It’s about acknowledging the ways systemic power, systemic oppression, systemic evil, work in our world around us. I’m not fighting for diversity. I’m not fighting for tolerance. I’m fighting to overturn horrific systems of dehumanizing oppression.

Here’s a great example of a liberal relationship to diversity: when Ruth Bader Ginsburg was asked how many women on the Supreme Court would be enough, she answered “When there are nine.” In response to the collective gasp of every conservative on earth, she elaborated. “For most of the country’s history, there were nine and they were all men. Nobody thought that was strange.”

Personally I’m not interested in a female president for the sake of “diversity.” Putting a woman in the white house in 2020 won’t mean that gender equality has arrived. We’ve had 43 presidents. It’s going to take 43 women serving as president before we even have a chance to reach parity.

Do you get it now?

If you want to pretend that the racial and gender horror in the world has already been righted, was righted in the 1960’s, is almost righted now, or can hope to come close to being righted in your lifetime (43 female presidents), you’re not getting the picture. We have a collective buildup of hundreds (thousands) of years of injustice to metabolize.

What We’re Actually Confronting

Take a few facts on race. White America is exhausted of Blacks invoking 200-year-old history as an excuse for their problems. They’ve had it just like whites since the Emancipation Proclamation. Or since MLK. Or since Obama made it into office.

Let’s pause on this. I live in Seattle, Washington. A liberal city if there ever was one. Full of cheery whites with “Black Lives Matter” signs in their windows. But in Seattle, Washington, black residents make less money than white ones. 5% less, 10% less? No. The average black Seattlite’s income is less than half of the average white Seattleite’s income.

Less than half.

So, either there are unspoken forces at play that make it twice as hard for black people in Seattle to earn money, or black people are exactly half as intelligent and hard-working as white folks. Take your pick. But be honest about which one you’re choosing.

How’s the country as a whole? Well, on average, white families have more wealth than black families. How much more? Is it 200%, like Seattle’s income disparity? 500%. No. White families in the US, on average have 1700% the wealth of black families.

How much progress have we made on racial equality in America? Well, apparently we’re 1/17 of the way there. Only 16/17 more to go.

I have a four-year-old white son. A black boy his age, in the same income bracket, same level of education, will live, on-average, 5 years less than him. Half a decade. Mysteriously.

That same black boy has a higher chance of spending time in prison than my son. How much higher? 110% the rate? 150% the rate? Nope, 500% as likely to be imprisoned.

Empowering the Oppressed

So am I worried that not enough Christian professors are getting hired at universities?

No.

Every single president of this country has been a Christian. Every. Single. President. Barack Obama’s presidency now means that it’s about 20 times easier to become president if you’re white than black. But it’s still infinitely easier to be president of the United States if you’re a Christian. 92% of the House and Senate are Christians. Try throwing a rock in either building and not hitting a Christian.

When your religion is represented by every President in history, and 92% of the governing body that rules your land, I’d say you’re doing okay in the whole representation thing. When conservative politicians have control of the White House, Senate, House, of the country with the most economic and military power in the history of our planet, I think crying ‘persecution’ of conservatives might be suspect.

But crying ‘persecution’ is what conservatives do with every single step towards gender equality, racial equality, any movement that seeks to treat all humans with the same dignity currently conferred on white men. The conservatives’ definition of a war on their rights is that gay people are allowed to get married and Latinx people are allowed to live in the same zip code. The false equivalency of straight white Christen men’s feelings with everyone else’s lives is absurd.

Poor Nazi soldiers, getting rounded up into prisoner of war camps while those Jewish people are getting let out of prisons by the same Allied soldiers! Jewish people get all the preferential treatment…

Furthermore, conservative Christians have allied themselves with racism, misogyny, homophobia, Islamophobia, mass incarceration, war crimes, death sentences, and gun culture. These Christians work actively to undermine scientific thinking. Anti-evolution, anti-global warming, anti-intellectual, and anti-factual. None of these line up with the values most universities share.

Yes, it’s important to intellectual growth to have variety. It’s important that unpopular ideas get a hearing. It’s important for there to be debate, and changes of heart, and to allow sincere disagreements to continue to wrestle with one another for clarification. I have no interest in our universities being populated by people who think like me. But I do have an interest in them being populated with people who think.

All world views are not inherently equal. Conservative thinking is, by definition, bent on conserving the status quo. It is often regressive. A shrinking, a backward movement, a return to previous points in cultural, political, and intellectual development.

Universities aren’t bereft of conservatives and Evangelicals because of a vast left-wing conspiracy. They’re bereft of those people because people committed to those world views so rarely have anything to offer to an open-minded, inquiring, growing community. Universities are lacking in conservatives and fundamentalist Christians because the amount of education that it takes to become a professor is likely to expose Evangelicals and conservatives to enough good ideas that they’re no longer fundamentalist or conservative.

The fact that humanities departments are exceptionally lacking in conservatives and dogmatically religious people highlights this reality. Psychology, poetry, sociology, political science. People who have wrestled with the human condition, the human soul, literature and art, are the least likely to give credence to backwards ideas that are diminishing to human value and human dignity.

The Left’s Double Standard

When liberals storm the cities’ streets to protest, rally, and yes, riot, in response to a Trump election, conservatives cry foul. They cry double-standard. Liberals expect conservatives to accept election results they don’t like; why won’t the liberals accept election results that didn’t go in their favor? Why won’t the liberals be relativists, like we want them to be, and treat all outcomes as equally valid?

Because all political decisions aren’t equally right. Aren’t equally moral. Aren’t equally recognizing of human dignity and justice and freedom. Because liberals recognize that there are wrong and right decisions, because they parse good and evil, contrary to what my church taught me about them.

Because democracy isn’t the only value we hold. We don’t accept the 51% enslaving the 49% by popular vote. We believe in human rights. We believe in the Bill of Rights. Because we balance the will of the people with the sanctity of each individual life. And no, your right to not sell flowers doesn’t outweigh someone else’s right to get married. Because not all rights are equal.

Because Hitler was brought to power by a democratically elected government. Because American slavery was legal.

The Right is also willing to confront the government with action more direct than voting, holing themselves up with assault rifles to maintain unpaid access to grazing on public lands, or just because the government might seize those assault rifles. If the government takes our guns, we’ll have no way of stopping the government from taking our guns!

The Left meanwhile is roaring in the streets about the countless deaths of unarmed black Americans by the people charged with keeping them safe. Roaring in the streets about environmental devastation that the smartest humans among us agree poses a threat to all human life. Roaring in the streets about an admitted sexual predator being appointed as administer over our nation’s federal law enforcement.

Conservatives not having taken to the streets to riot when Obama was elected doesn’t prevent us from taking to the streets to direct as much resistance to Trump as humanly possible. Because Trump and Obama aren’t equal. Conservatives being deeply outraged and fearful when Obama was elected doesn’t negate or somehow counterbalance the outrage and fear on the Left right now. Because the Right was afraid of ridiculous, imagined fantasies of end times persecution and wildly inaccurate information. When the primary source of terror in living under an Obama administration is that he’s a Muslim, you don’t have one ounce of sympathy from me.

Meanwhile the Left is dealing with Donald Trump’s actually announced plans. To commit war crimes. To imprison his political opponents. Compel a religious minority to register themselves. To gut the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Eighth Amendments. Donald Trump is actually appointing white nationalists to top positions. Actually sexually assaulting women. He’s a man who openly admires the most despotic regimes in the world. His vice president has actually worked to jail homosexuals for applying for a marriage license. Actually worked to redirect HIV treatment funding to Pray-The-Gay-Away™ conversion therapy.

But I have a right to my opinion!

Trump calls Mexicans rapists, liberals call Trump racist. The Right jumps in to defend poor Trump from liberal slanderers. Conservatives want to cry Free speech! Free speech! Forgetting that your right to swing your fist ends at your neighbor’s nose. Forgetting that shouting ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater is both illegal and immoral.

Hillary Clinton thought Trump’s supporters were “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic.” Trump can’t believe Clinton would “attack, slander, smear, demean” those people with those comments. Well, I guess it’s a deadlock. There’s a 50/50 chance that either’s comments are actually harmful. Or Trump may be bad, but Hillary is bad too, don’t forget. She called racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and Islamophobia “deplorable.” Trump supporters might be racist, but at least they aren’t calling anyone racist.

Trump says we’re in the middle of a crime wave! I say crime’s the lowest it’s been in decades. Well darn. Back to that 50/50 chance either of us is right. We may never know.

Trump says undocumented immigrants are dangerous! I say they’re more law-abiding than citizens. Trump says they’re destroying our economy! I say they’re a benefit to our economy.

We’ll just have to agree to disagree. Because there’s no way to establish concrete facts or objective reality. Shucks.

This exactly the shoddy relativistic thinking my church warned me about growing up Ω


Postscript: I’m a straight white, male. I have a Master of Divinity from an Evangelical Christian seminary. I voted for W both times. I’m speaking from experience. And of course I have dear friends who are exceptions to my critique of Evangelical Christianity. And yes I am deeply, painfully aware of the Left’s failures. Of Hillary’s disappointing limitations. But the overall movement for dismantling kyriarchy, for human dignity, for restorative justice, is so stifled by so much bullshit misdirection and gaslighting.

View story at Medium.com

Trump executive order vows elimination of government regulations

inauguralspeechtrump

By Nick Barrickman
31 January 2017

On Monday, President Trump signed an executive order mandating that “for every one new regulation issued, at least two prior regulations be identified for elimination.” Trump declared the measure to be “the largest ever cut by far in terms of regulations,” adding, “If you have a regulation you want, number one we’re not going to approve it because it’s already been approved probably in 17 different forms.”

“Government regulation has actually been horrible for big business, but it’s been worse for small business,” Trump said, posturing as a friend to workers and small business owners. In addition to excoriating supposedly unnecessary regulations, the president stated that the order “goes way beyond that,” adding that the slate of minor regulations passed in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, most notably the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, were a “disaster.” Trump declared that his administration would do “a big number” on that legislation, without specifying what.

The “one in, two out” regulatory rule would mandate that for every new federal regulation introduced, two others must be singled out for elimination. In addition, the text of the order declares that for fiscal year 2017, “the total incremental cost of all new regulations, including repealed regulations … shall be no greater than zero.”

Business lobbyists lauded the action, with Jaunita Duggan, president of the National Federation of Independent Business, stating “[The] president’s order is a good first step on the long road toward eliminating ball-and-chain regulations so small businesses can create jobs and expand the economy.” Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan responded to the executive order by declaring, “President Trump’s executive order helps bring the nation’s regulatory regime into the 21st century by putting regulators on a budget, and addressing the costs agencies can impose each year.”

Trump sought to present the executive order as the fulfillment of campaign promises to do away with regulations which were supposedly “killing” American businesses. However, rather than supporting the interests of small businesses, Trump’s new rule would continue the consolidation of big business’s domination over American society, including the bankrupting of small businesses, while facilitating the exploitation of workers and the environment.

Elaborating on the administration’s intentions at a White House press briefing Monday, Press Secretary Sean Spicer noted that the goal of the administration would be to “unleash the American economy,” adding that Trump was focusing on “the energy sector, how to unleash America’s natural resources.”

The executive order comes on the heels of Trump’s meeting last week with manufacturing industry executives, where the president promised to eliminate “75 percent” of industrial regulations. In particular, Trump has been focused on environmental regulations which have placed higher fuel efficiency requirements on vehicles produced in the US.

Members of the scientific community expressed horror at the arbitrary measure. Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, told the Washington Post the executive order was “absurd, imposing a Sophie’s Choice on federal agencies.”

“If, for example, the Environmental Protection Agency wants to issue a new rule to protect kids from mercury exposure, will it need to get rid of two other science-based rules, such as limiting lead in drinking water and cutting pollution from school buses?” Kimmell asked. The scientist asserted that Trump’s order was “likely illegal,” declaring, “Congress has not called upon EPA to choose between clean air and clean water, and the president cannot do this by executive fiat.”

Trump’s executive order would concentrate power in the hands of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), whose agency is charged with overseeing federal regulations. Trump’s nomination for OMB director, Republican Congressman Mick Mulvaney, is an adamant opponent of federal spending.

According to the New York Times, “Within the Trump team, the views of Representative Mick Mulvaney… rank as among the most reactionary.” Mulvaney, who according to the Times possesses “an almost perfect conservative voting record,” has spent his six-year congressional career opposing disaster relief for victims of Hurricane Sandy as well as backing the 2013 government shutdown, which was instigated by right-wing Republicans in an effort to force the adoption of austerity measures.

Mulvaney is a proponent of ending government-provided health care, having declared that “[we] have to end Medicare as we know it” in 2011 while being interviewed on the Fox Business Network.

The onslaught against federal regulation comes as Trump’s nominees for cabinet secretaries continue to be placed at the head of departments of which they have a record of opposition. Scott Pruitt, Trump’s nominee for the Environmental Protection Agency, has a long career of leading lawsuits against the agency on behalf of the energy industry.

Myron Ebell, who led Trump’s EPA transition team, declared in a recent interview with the Washington Post that his prescription for the EPA would see the elimination of 5,000 employees and the halving of the agency’s $8.1 billion budget. “My own personal view is that the EPA would be better served if it were a much leaner organization that had substantial cuts,” stated Ebell in an interview to the Post .

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is scheduled to vote on Pruitt’s nomination on Wednesday. In addition, Rex Tillerson, former CEO of Exxon and Trump’s pick for Secretary of State and Treasury Secretary nominee Steve Mnuchin are set to receive committee votes this week. All three nominations would then proceed to the Senate floor for confirmation by the full Senate, where Republicans hold a narrow 52-48 edge.

Mnuchin’s vote was originally scheduled for Monday, but was postponed as Senate Democrats delayed the hearing in order to attend a candlelight vigil opposing Trump’s executive order which bans visitors from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/01/31/regu-j31.html

Bill Moyers: Donald Trump Is Turning American Democracy into Demolition Derby

NEWS & POLITICS
Affordable health care? Smash it. Fair pay for working people? Crush it. And on and on.

Photo Credit: Moyers & Company

We’re a week into the Trump administration and it’s pretty obvious what he’s up to. First, Donald Trump is running a demolition derby: He wants to demolish everything he doesn’t like, and he doesn’t like a lot, especially when it comes to government.

Like one of those demolition drivers on a speedway, he keeps ramming his vehicle against all the others, especially government policies and programs and agencies that protect people who don’t have his wealth, power or privilege. Affordable health care for working people? Smash it. Consumer protection against predatory banks and lenders? Run over it. Rules and regulations that rein in rapacious actors in the market? Knock ‘em down. Fair pay for working people? Crush it. And on and on.

Trump came to Washington to tear the government down for parts, and as far as we can tell, he doesn’t seem to have anything at all in mind to replace it except turning back the clock to when business took what it wanted and left behind desperate workers, dirty water and polluted air.

In this demolition derby, Trump seems to have the wholehearted support of the Republican Party, which loathes government as much as it worships the market as god. Remember Thomas Frank’s book, The Wrecking Crew? Published in 2008, it remains one of the best political books of the past quarter-century. Frank took the measure of an unholy alliance: the century-old business crusade against government, the conservative ideology that looks on government as evil (except when it’s enriching its allies), and the Republican Party of George W. Bush and Karl Rove — the one that had just produced eight years of crony capitalism and private plunder.

The Wrecking Crew — and what an apt title it was — showed how federal agencies were doomed to failure by the incompetence and hostility of the Bush gang appointed to run them, the same model Trump is using now. Frank tracked how wholesale deregulation — on a scale Trump already is trying to reproduce — led to devastating results for everyday people, including the mortgage meltdown and the financial crash. Reading the book is like reading today’s news, as kleptomaniacs spread across Washington to funnel billions of dollars into the pockets of lobbyists and corporations.

That may include the pockets of Donald Trump’s own family. As Jonathan Chait wrote after the election in New York magazine, “[Trump’s] children have taken roles on the transition team. Ivanka attended official discussions with heads of state of Japan and Argentina. [As president-elect, Trump himself] met with Indian business partners to discuss business and lobbied a British politician to oppose offshore wind farms because one will block the view at one of his Scottish golf courses.” Only a couple of days ago it was reported that the Trump organization would more than triple the number of Trump hotels in America. And why not? Its chief marketer works out of the Oval Office.

Jonathan Chait went on to say: “Trump’s brazen use of his office for personal enrichment signals something even more worrisome than four or more years of kleptocratic government. It reveals how willing the new administration is to obliterate governing norms and how little stands in his way.”

And oh yes, something else: David Sirota at International Business Times has just published a new report showing that the Trump administration appears to be quietly killing the federal government’s major ethics rule designed to prevent White House officials from enriching their former clients. Experts say a review of government documents shows that regulators appear to have abruptly stopped enforcing the rule, even though it remains the law of the land.

We were warned. Donald Trump himself told The New York Times, “The law is totally on my side, meaning, the president can’t have a conflict of interest.” Shades of Richard Nixon, who said, “When the President does it, that means that it is not illegal.” And who also announced, “I am not a crook.”

I know plutocracy is not a commonly used word in America. But it’s a word that increasingly fits what’s happening here. Plutocracy means government by the wealthy, a ruling class of the rich and their retainers. If you don’t see plutocracy spreading across America, you haven’t been paying attention. Both parties have nurtured, tolerated and bowed to it. Now we’re reaching the pinnacle, as Trump’s own Cabinet is rich (no pun intended) in millionaires and billionaires. He is stacking the agencies and boards of government with the wealthy and friends of wealth so that the whole of the federal enterprise can be directed to rewarding those with deep pockets, the ones who provide the bags and bags of money that are dumped into our political process today.Which leads us to the second design now apparent in Trump’s strategy of deliberate chaos. He may have run a populist campaign, but now it appears he aims to substitute plutocracy for democracy.

Yes, both Democrats and Republicans have been guilty of groveling to the wealthy who fund them; it’s a staggering bipartisan scandal that threatens the country and was no small part of Trump’s success last November, even as ordinary people opened their windows and shouted, “We’re as mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.” So now we have in power a man who represents the very worst of the plutocrats — one who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing. I shudder to think where this nightmare will end. Even if you voted for Donald Trump for a reason that truly is from your heart, I cannot believe you voted for this.

Tell me if I’m wrong. Tell me whose side are you really on? The people of America or the cynics and predators at the very top who would climb atop the ruins of the republic for a better view of the sunset?

Mikhail Gorbachev: Appears ‘The World Is Preparing for War’

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‘Wars must be outlawed, because none of the global problems we are facing can be resolved by war,’ writes former Soviet leader

Mikhail Gorbachev, seen here in 2011, writes at TIME magazine Thursday: “It all looks as if the world is preparing for war.” (Photo: kris krüg/flickr/cc)

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has warned that it appears “as if the world is preparing for war.”

Writing in an op-ed published Thursday at TIME magazine, Gorbachev, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 for his role in ending the Cold War, writes that the most pressing problem facing the world is “the militarization of politics and the new arms race.”

State budgets, he continues, claim austerity to sacrifice social spending, but easily back funding for weapons of war. At the same time, he writes of the buildup on Russia’s borders: “NATO and Russian forces and weapons” are now in close proximity “as if to shoot point-blank.” He continues:

Politicians and military leaders sound increasingly belligerent and defense doctrines more dangerous. Commentators and TV personalities are joining the bellicose chorus. It all looks as if the world is preparing for war.

While he and President Ronald Reagan agreed in 1985 “that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” now, “the nuclear threat once again seems real,” with “advocates for arms build-up and the military-industrial complex […] rubbing their hands.” And that, he declares, is absolutely the wrong direction to solve the world’s ills. Instead, war of any kind must be abolished, he writes:

In modern world, wars must be outlawed, because none of the global problems we are facing can be resolved by war—not poverty, nor the environment, migration, population growth, or shortages of resources.

He called on the United Nations Security Council to adopt a resolution—which should be put forth by U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin—that restates that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. ”

In 2014 Gorbachev warned that the world was “on the brink of a new Cold War”—a situation fueled in part by the U.S. being “tortured by triumphalism.”

More recently, in 2016, he said, “The window to a nuclear weapon-free world…is being shut and sealed right before our eyes.”

“As long as nuclear weapons exist, there is a danger that someday they will be used as a result either of accident or technical failure or of evil intent of man, an insane person or terrorist,” Gorbachev said.

Trump, however, out of step with most of the world, used Twitter to call for an expanded U.S. nuclear arsenal—a fact that contributed to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists this week moving its symbolic Doomsday Clock closer to midnight.

CD

State of Resistance: California in the Age of Trump

ELECTION 2016

The battle begins now.

Photo Credit: ilozavr / Shutterstock

For the past two decades, California has been on the cutting edge of social and economic change in America. Now, with Donald Trump about to enter the Oval Office, the Golden State is poised to take on a new role: leader of the anti-Trump resistance.

California’s frontline position in opposing Trump is not merely a reflection of its deep-blue politics. On many of the flashpoint issues expected to define Trump’s presidency, California has a tremendous amount at stake. As the new administration tries to reverse the significant gains made on immigrant rights, climate change, criminal justice and workers’ rights, to name a few subjects, many of the fiercest battles in the country will be fought up and down the state.

Can California lead the resistance to Trump’s right-wing agenda and continue to be in the vanguard of advancing progressive change? Yes – and in fact, the two are inextricably linked, both tactically and symbolically. In the months and years to come, California must become like the best sports teams, capable of playing defense and offense at the highest level.

Why California Must Lead

No state rivals California either in the dimensions of its population or economy. At just under 40 million people, California has more residents than the nation’s 20 least densely populated states put together. Its economy is the sixth-largest in the world, trailing only the U.S., China, Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom.

California is also home to several of the nation’s most powerful and influential industries, including high tech and entertainment. Both Silicon Valley and Hollywood wield enormous economic clout, and are key shapers of consumer habits and cultural norms.

Why is this significant? Because California has the ability to exert enormous pressure on everything from markets and mores to politics and policy, a position it has ably demonstrated in its leadership role in addressing climate change, despite federal inaction.

Size and economic strength by themselves are not enough. But over the past 20 years, California has acquired another key comparative advantage: It has developed some of the most innovative social movements in the country – and exported them to cities across the U.S. These movements have secured rights for immigrants, boosted worker pay, protected LGBTQ Californians and pushed the state forward on addressing climate change. They will be called upon to use their organizing prowess to hold the line against Trump even as they continue to push the envelope of social and economic justice in California and beyond.

California advocates have succeeded in large part by mobilizing an incredibly diverse set of stakeholders. This will pay big dividends now, as very disparate groups of people – immigrants, Muslims, African-Americans, the poor, women, communities already suffering the effects of climate change – see their interests threatened by the Trump administration. The experience of working together across racial, ethnic, geographic and class lines will lend itself to the creation of even broader alliances – so broad that California could be a key base for the biggest and most diverse progressive coalition the nation has ever seen.

Flashpoint Issues

While California’s anti-Trump coalition will need to develop the capacity to fight many battles at once, one initial front will surely be immigration. If Trump makes good on his campaign promises, hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants will be faced with deportation, many of them DREAMers protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

The economic, social and human costs of disrupting the lives of so many Californian families are staggering. Recognizing this, state and local leaders have vowed to resist efforts targeting immigrants, setting the stage for high-stakes confrontations with the new administration.

No less dramatic will be the battles over climate change. Governor Jerry Brown has vowed to oppose any efforts to roll back the state’s pioneering environmental policies (including a promise to have California launch its own satellites to gather information on global warming!), and he will be joined by a broad-based group of business leaders and activists.

Another flashpoint will be workers’ rights. Fast-food CEO Andrew Puzder is likely to be the new labor secretary: He is on the record as opposing increases in the minimum wage and expansion of overtime pay and is clearly no ally of those who seek to rein in the abuse of independent contractors and gig-economy workers. In California, the nation’s strongest labor movement, together with community and business allies, has enacted some of the most far-reaching worker protections in the country; we will need to stand firm on what we’ve won and stand strong against an assault on labor rights.

More broadly, unions face an existential crisis under a President Trump. Just last year, the Supreme Court heard a key case initiated out of the Golden State, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, in which anti-labor advocates sued to eliminate the ability of unions to collect dues for collective bargaining. Down one justice, the Court deadlocked – but since a tie sets no national precedent, another version of the same sort of case is widely expected to come up once Trump fills the open seat. Californians will have to be among those opposing any Court nominee likely to ignore worker, minority or women’s rights.

Another bone of likely contention: Trump can also be expected to push hard on a law-and-order agenda that will fly in the face of efforts to reform the criminal justice system. After recognizing its own disastrous infatuation with over-incarceration, California has embraced recent initiatives to reduce the sentences of nonviolent offenders and to ban labor market discrimination against former felons. This will be another policy battleground and will provide the opportunity to showcase a national counter-example to Trump’s fear-driven attempt to strengthen law enforcement at the expense of civil rights.

The Challenges Ahead

While California is well positioned to lead the charge against Trump, the success of these efforts is not inevitable. The challenges ahead include the risks of factionalism, the rise of extremism and the need to craft a new relationship with business forces.

When Richard Nixon was elected president in 1968, left-of-center political forces fragmented badly, expediting the rise of conservatism, which in turn has dominated national politics ever since. California’s progressive movement does not appear to be headed in this direction, but Trump has proven himself a master at dividing and conquering, and he will no doubt pursue the same strategy as president. He will also attack on many fronts, creating a strain on resources and the possibility of destructive in-fighting.

And although California may currently vote progressive, it is also no stranger to extremism. The descendants of the John Birch Society are alive and well, the Tea Party has its Golden State adherents and it’s worth recalling that Rush Limbaugh got his talk-radio start in Sacramento. With Trump in the White House, the right in general and the politics of hate in particular may well get a boost. The inland and rural regions of California have been the traditional breeding grounds for white nationalism, but the alt right is also operating in the state’s urban population centers.

Finally, some business leaders, lured by tax cuts, deregulation and union-busting, will be supportive of the Trump agenda even if they are repulsed by the anti-immigrant and anti-trade rhetoric. Other business leaders have a more balanced perspective, recognizing that a strong and sustainable economy requires that wages rise, racial inclusion occurs and the planet is protected. Progressives will have to figure out where alliances are possible and effective. This is particularly important in California, where some “business Democrats” often side with corporate lobbies on critical environmental and labor legislation. While several such elected officials found themselves unelected in 2016, others may be emboldened by Trump and his brand of scorched-earth capitalism. This could pose a serious risk to progressive priorities, even with the Democratic super-majority in the state legislature.

Looking Forward

As Trump and his allies wage war on all fronts, a weariness may set in – and along with it a tendency to take refuge in California’s different political reality. That would be a very costly mistake. Not only must California help the country fight back, it must not take its own prolific advances for granted.

After all, it was only two decades ago that we were convulsed by our own anti-immigrant hysteria in the form of Proposition 187, a law that sought to strip all services, including education, from undocumented immigrants. It passed with an overwhelming majority, and the state soon followed with an electoral attack on affirmative action and aggressive efforts to criminalize black and Latino youth. And even as the nation voted for Obama in 2008, California voted for Proposition 8, stripping the rights of same-sex couples to marry.

We’ve come out of our political morass, not just because time has passed and demographics have shifted, but also because of a new hard-fought and hard-forged politics and social compact. With the nation now experiencing its own “Prop 187 moment,” we have a responsibility to help others avoid our own mistakes and accelerate the country’s path to a more inclusive future.

We will also need to lead by example. For all of California’s political progress, we still have one of the highest levels of inequality in the country, some of the most polluted communities, huge shortages of affordable housing, a massive homeless population, ongoing police brutality and one of the nation’s highest number of people caught up in the criminal justice system.

Even in the Trump era, California can tackle these problems – but it will require old relationships and new allies, solid institutions and innovative strategies, long-standing-values and a fresh and compelling vision of our future. All this will require a clarity of purpose, a level of passion and strength of resolve that few of us have been called on to summon.

So get ready. The battle begins now.

 

 

 

Dr. Manuel Pastor is Professor of Sociology and American Studies & Ethnicity at the University of Southern California where he also directs the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity and co-directs USC’s Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration. His most recent books include Just Growth: Inclusion and Prosperity in America’s Metropolitan Regions (Routledge 2012; co-authored with Chris Benner) Uncommon Common Ground: Race and America’s Future (W.W. Norton 2010; co-authored with Angela Glover Blackwell and Stewart Kwoh), and This Could Be the Start of Something Big: How Social Movements for Regional Equity are Transforming Metropolitan America (Cornell 2009; co-authored with Chris Benner and Martha Matsuoka).