AuthorTopic: Knarf's Knewz Channel  (Read 1506188 times)

Offline Eddie

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Re: Resort to open Friday after historic snowfall
« Reply #9210 on: November 22, 2017, 09:48:06 PM »

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort groomers carve a traverse under a heavy layer of new snow. The resort will open a few lifts Friday, and the gondolas and two more lifts are scheduled to open Saturday.

After historic early season snowfall, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is pushing up its opening day.

On Friday, skiers and snowboarders will be able to access the Teton, Apres Vous and Teewinot lifts a day earlier than scheduled. The Bridger and Sweetwater gondolas, and Casper and Marmot lifts, are scheduled to open the following day.

Resort spokeswoman Anna Cole said the early push came to fruition because of the work of the resort’s operations staff and cooperation from Mother Nature.

“The tools were all in place to open up,” she said. “It’s the conditions that allowed it to happen.”

Weather station data available via the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center reported 53 inches of snow in Rendezvous Bowl, 45 inches at the Raymer plot and 36 inches at midmountain. Over 100 inches of snow have fallen in the upper elevations, with a storm front moving in Monday night expected to drop up to 11 inches at the higher elevations.

Resort business development director Bill Lewkowitz said the amount of snow on the upper mountain is incredible.

“I did comparisons looking at other resorts, and no one has snow like us,” he said. “For the most part in the U.S., we’ve been very, very lucky.”

Cole said that in her tenure at the resort, which spans almost a decade, this is the second-largest amount of terrain that is planned to be skiable on opening weekend.

The early opening announcement also came with news of the resort being ranked the No. 1 ski resort in North America by Forbes Magazine for the seventh year in a row.

In addition to the skiing during opening weekend, other resort offerings are also available. The Aerial Tram will be spinning for scenic rides from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday and Saturday; Cafe 6,311 and the General Store will be open Friday; and Casper Restaurant and Off-Piste will open Saturday. Hoback Sports, Teton Village Sports and Jackson Hole Sports plan to have holiday gear specials and rentals.

There is no date set for the tram to open for skiing, but Cole said to expect more terrain to open by next week. And while there may be record-breaking early season snow, early season conditions do exist, she said.

I skied there once. Jackson is a great town at Christmas. Lots of fine art galleries full of cowboy art. And they don't have bars. They have saloons. There is another mountain that's skiable, right in town, called the Snow King. We skied it too. Must have been...1985, I think. The flight in was through a driving snowstorm in a 20 seat turboprop. It felt like we were flying sideways...and then we popped out of the storm and the mountain was. like, RIGHT THERE man...and then we touched down and everything was fine. But it was memorable.
« Last Edit: November 22, 2017, 09:52:39 PM by Eddie »
What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.

Offline knarf

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Darkest material on Earth will create a 'schism in space' for Winter Olympics
« Reply #9211 on: November 23, 2017, 05:07:56 AM »
 (CNN)Touted as the darkest man-made substance in the world, Vantablack is so uncomfortably black the human eye can't quite decipher what it is seeing.

It is thought to be the closest thing to a black hole we will ever experience.

That's because Vantablack is not a color, it's the almost complete absence of color.
Since this super black material was first developed by Surrey NanoSystems three years ago, the British firm has been flooded with inquiries from designers, architects and aerospace engineers -- and even people who want to wrap themselves in it or eat it.

Part of the appeal of Vantablack is that it absorbs 99.96% of the light that hits its surface.

"When you have no light reflected back to the viewer, you see nothing, so your brain paints it as black," Ben Jensen, co-founder of Surrey NanoSystems tells CNN.

When used as a coating, Vantablack appears to change the dimensions of an object, rendering 3D objects completely flat.

'Void of infinite depth'
It's this absence of color, light and depth that first drew architect Asif Khan to the material.

"To break the fundamental rules of perception, as this material does, turns 3D things into 2D things, it absorbs light instead of reflecting light, it's as powerful as switching off gravity. That's the possibility of it in architecture," Khan tells CNN.

The British architect is using Vantablack for a building he describes as a "schism in space," which will be unveiled at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. Visitors will encounter it when entering the Olympic Park.

This impossibly black building will have four curved walls, but from a distance, it will look like a slit of blackness. Each of the facades will be studded with thousands of tiny lights -- like stars against the night sky.
"It will be like you're looking into the depths of space itself," says Khan. "As you approach the building that star field will grow to fill your entire field of view, and then you'll enter as though you're being absorbed into a cloud of blackness."
Juxtaposed against the pristine whiteness of the Olympic Winter Games, Khan hopes his building will provoke a philosophical experience by presenting visitors with a "void of infinite depth and possibility."

Breaking down Vantablack -- can I eat it?
One square centimeter of Vantablack consists of about one billion carbon nanotubes spaced perfectly apart. When light comes in it is bounced around and ultimately trapped and converted to heat.
"Carbon nanotubes are like very, very long blades of grass," explains Jensen. "Now you imagine if you were a human walking around in grass 1,000 feet tall how little light would get down to you. It's like that but on a very tiny scale."

The nanotubes are "grown" under powerful lamps that bring the surface temperature to 430 degrees Celsius or higher.

Each carbon nanotube measures roughly one millionth of a millimeter.

There is also a spray-applied version called Vantablack S-VIS, which can be used to coat complex shapes and surfaces.

Vantablack was originally designed for engineering in space, but, since launching in 2014, Jensen has been inundated with requests to use the material.
"The inquiries built like an avalanche... everything from superstars wanting to coat their guitars in it to people wanting to coat their cars in it," he says.
The strangest request Jensen received was from someone wanting to film themselves eating it and then post the video on YouTube. "Obviously that's not a really good idea," Jensen says.
Nor is crafting a little (Vanta)black dress, as the material would irritate your skin, and you'd look like shapeless piece of cardboard.

But the material has been used in a $95,000 limited-edition watch by Swiss watchmaker MCT. Set against a Vantablack background, the elements of the watch seem to be floating in a bottomless void.

Blacking out light in space
A company in Sweden is using Vantablack to coat the inside of an optical telescope, which will be attached to a microsatellite. The coating will block stray light from the sun and city lights.
"We would like to make sure that the light that comes from the telescope comes from the atmosphere and not from any disturbing sources," says engineer Arvid Hammer of Omnisys Instruments.

By doing so, scientific researchers can get clearer pictures of the atmosphere and better data to improve current climate models, he explains. This can help make better weather and global warming predictions.

Despite this range of applications, Jensen is keen to stress Vantablack cannot simply be "painted" on just anything.

Vantablack coated baffle for tracking stars.

"There's this misconception out there that it's a black paint. It's not," says Jensen. "It's something that's grown through very complex means ... definitely not something you can paint out of a bucket."

Offline knarf

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Search for Argentine submarine enters 'critical phase'
« Reply #9212 on: November 23, 2017, 05:12:37 AM »
As a multinational search to find an Argentine submarine remains fruitless more than a week after it vanished, authorities fear crew members may be running out of time.
The ARA San Juan, which is carrying 44 crew members, including the country's first woman submarine officer, was last seen a week ago, on November 15, in the San Jorge Gulf, about 268 miles off the coast of Argentina.

The submarine has only enough air to last seven to 10 days if it has remained fully immersed since that time, experts say. That's the worst-case scenario. It's a different story if the submarine has surfaced or "snorkeled" -- that is, raised a tube to the surface to refresh the vessel's air.
"We are in the critical phase," Enrique Balbi, spokesman for the Argentine navy.
"There is no type of contact, not passive nor active," he said.

11 nations join in the search

Reports of contact with the sub have served only to stoke false hope. Rumors of a recent distress call are false, the spokesman said. Communication signals picked up Saturday and noises detected beneath the water Monday did not originate from the sub, and a dinghy with survival supplies found Tuesday is a different model than the ones with which the San Juan is outfitted, Balbi has said.
In a Wednesday news conference, Balbi said the Navy had just began analyzing a new noise that was detected on the day the sub went missing.
On Tuesday night, a British polar ship saw flares -- one orange and two white -- east of where it was conducting operations, prompting the dispatch of a search-and-rescue team consisting of three ships and two aircraft.
For many hours, they patrolled the area "and were not able to detect any magnetic anomaly," Balbi told CNN.
Plus, the spokesman has said previously, the flares aboard the San Juan are green and red.

Thus, the search will continue across a 1,000-kilometer-long (621-mile) swath of the South Atlantic, parts of which are roughly 900 kilometers (559 miles) from the Argentine coast. The search area covers 480 square kilometers (185 square miles), about the size of Albuquerque, New Mexico, or Helsinki, Finland, and more than twice the size of the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires.
Eleven countries have joined Argentina in the search, contributing personnel, planes and boats. Meanwhile, merchant ships, scientific vessels and fishing trawlers have joined in the effort.
According to state-run Telam, Balbi said the conditions Wednesday were perfect for the aerial and nautical search, and he urged family members of the crew "not to lose hope."

'She knows her father is missing'

Outside the Mar del Plata navy base, to which the submarine was returning when it vanished, Federico Ibañez is among the many family members and well-wishers awaiting a storybook ending to his family's frightening saga. His brother, Christian, is a radar technician on the San Juan.
He questions why the Argentine navy continues to say the boat could be on the ocean surface, and why rescuers took so long to begin canvassing the ocean floor.
"The other relatives really have more hope and think everything will be OK, while I think the navy is wrong in saying the submarine could be on surface. It's a lack of respect. If it was on the surface, they would have found it. They didn't, and they didn't look for them at the bottom," said the 34-year-old, who traveled hundreds of miles from Rosario to Mar del Plata. "If they did it earlier, it could have been different."
Christian Ibañez has a daughter, Elisa, 9. Her mother has told her little, hoping that her father will return and she won't have to explain what happened.
"She knows her father is missing, but she knows he's fine and will be home soon," his wife, Fernanda Valacco, told CNN. "I am sure all of the 44 will be fine and could come here any moment."

Federico Ibañez described a tense scene on base as family members huddle together praying for word of the sub's discovery.
"They all stay there in a big room with bunk beds and some desks. Everybody is silent. Everybody is waiting. Waiting for what? I cannot stay there," he said.
Aboard the sub with Christian Ibañez is Eliana Maria Krawczyk, Argentina's first female submarine officer.
In 2004, she joined the navy after seeing an ad about military ships. She has voiced hopes of one day commanding a sub herself.
"At the time, there weren't any female officers in the force. I took it as a challenge," she once told the Argentine Defense Ministry in a video interview. "You can do the same things than any men do, even if you are in traditionally male-dominated environment. ... Any women can do it."

A trying week

The Argentine navy lost contact with the ARA San Juan submarine on November 15, shortly after the vessel's captain reported a failure in the battery system while the sub was submerged off Argentina's South Atlantic coast, the military said.
The submarine was traveling from a base in far southern Tierra del Fuego archipelago to its home base in Mar del Plata on the northern side of the country.
Two days before it disappeared, the San Juan reported an electrical short circuit, said navy Cmdr. Gabriel Galeazzi. The sub's crew did not provide additional information on what caused the short circuit or what systems had been affected, he said, but the problem is considered routine, and the crew was reported safe.

The sub was last seen in the San Jorge Gulf, off southern Argentina's Patagonia region, nearly midway between the bases. The vessel, which is 65 meters (213 feet) long and is powered by one electric and four diesel engines, had been due to arrive at its destination Sunday.
Under normal circumstances, the vessel has sufficient fuel, water, oil and oxygen to operate for weeks without external help, said Balbi, the navy spokesman. The vessel could snorkel "to charge batteries and draw fresh air for the crew," or open its hatch for air, if it surfaced, he said.
If it wasn't able to get near the surface, Balbi said, its oxygen might last only seven days. Peter Layton, a visiting fellow at the Griffith Asia Institute in Australia, however, said the crew could have up to 10 days of oxygen.
If the hull is intact, it can withstand ocean depths up to about 600 meters (1,970 feet), Layton said. If the vessel is resting on Argentina's continental shelf, it is likely in waters shallower than 600 meters, but if it's farther out into the Atlantic Ocean, it could be below its crush depth, in which the hull buckles under pressure.

Offline knarf

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CBD oil declared illegal in Indiana by Attorney General Curtis Hill
« Reply #9213 on: November 23, 2017, 05:16:08 AM »

ndiana's Attorney General Curtis Hill has declared CBD oil illegal in the state of Indiana.

AG Hill made the declaration in an advisory opinion issued Tuesday.

Cannabidiol hemp oil, or CBD oil, is used by families of children with seizures and by others who deal with chronic pain and anxiety.

It was officially listed as a Schedule I drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration in December 2016, but there was confusion in the state of Indiana as to whether or not it was exempted by another law.

"Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," the DEA says on its website.

The Schedule I ruling put the oil in the same category as heroin, LSD, ecstasy, meth, peyote and marijuana. Hill cited on Tuesday that federal ruling as a primary reason for his opinion.

Despite the ruling, CBD oil remained on shelves of some stores that sell health supplements, such as Fresh Thyme, throughout 2017.

It also continued to be used by those who were named to a registry authorized by the Indiana legislature for certain physicians and caregivers to use hemp oil for children with intractable epilepsy. It was also to encourage the further study of its use in treating the epilepsy.

That registry can help people like Brian Bennett, whose 8-year-old son was diagnosed with epilepsy. At one point Bennett's son was having up to 200 seizures a day.

Bennett said his son had to wear a helmet, because he would fall and hit his head. He broke 24 of those helmets, until his parents discovered CBD oil.

Bennett would travel as far as Colorado to obtain the oil to help his son cope.

It is unclear how AG Hill's ruling will affect the registry. The law for those on the registry remains in place, Hill said in his ruling, but there is uncertainty of how those patients will get access to the drug if stores will be cited for selling it.

CBD oil is made from hemp, a plant that has little or no THC and cannot cause a high at all, unlike its cannabis cousin marijuana.

Indiana excise officers began cracking down on the sale of the oil in May, but reached a head in August when the murkiness over its legality came in the form of citations that were issued to stores selling the oil, and then later forgiven.

Some lawmakers and the Indiana State Police said the substance was already legal under a 2014 law that removed industrial hemp products from the state’s controlled substance statute.

AG Hill's ruling clarifies the product is illegal in the state of Indiana, and could potentially lead to criminal charges for anyone selling or using the product.

“The manufacture, possession, use and sale of cannabidiol – and substances, food products or edible oils containing cannabidiol – are unlawful under both Indiana and federal law," Attorney General Hill said in his opinion released Tuesday. "Any individual possessing a substance containing cannabidiol – or anything packaged as such – in plain view of a law enforcement officer is subject to having that property seized. Only upon showing that one meets the limited conditions under Indiana law could one expect to avoid being prosecuted under Indiana law. Further, no one in Indiana is authorized to sell cannabidiol or any substance containing cannabidiol under state or federal law.”

You can read AG Hill's full opinion below:

    “Over recent weeks, I’ve worked with my staff to develop an advisory opinion regarding the status under Indiana law of the chemical compound cannabidiol – better known as ‘CBD.’ Cannabidiol is one of the most prevalent chemical compounds in the cannabis plant, otherwise known as marijuana.

    “This issue has drawn public attention this year following law-enforcement actions against Indiana stores marketing and selling ‘CBD oil,’ a substance delivered to consumers in dropper bottles, sprays or mists – all generally to be taken orally.

    “My task at this juncture is not to express my personal view of what I believe the law ought to stipulate. My task, rather, is to help provide clarity regarding what the law already says as written.

    “There is no doubt, as a matter of legal interpretation, that products or substances marketed generally for human consumption or ingestion, and containing cannabidiol, remain unlawful in Indiana as well as under federal law.

    “Indiana law does allow for a limited and focused exception created by House Enrolled Act 1148, signed earlier this year, aimed at individuals battling treatment-resistant epilepsy. This legislation pertains specifically to individuals properly added to the newly created Indiana State Department of Health Cannabidiol Registry.

    “Cannabidiol is classified under state and federal law as a Schedule I controlled substance because marijuana (Cannabis sativa) is a Schedule I controlled substance. State and federal laws that place cannabidiol in the category of a Schedule I controlled substance do not hinge on the degree or prevalence of pharmacological effects of a substance on a person.

    “The manufacture, possession, use and sale of cannabidiol – and substances, food products or edible oils containing cannabidiol – are unlawful under both Indiana and federal law. Any individual possessing a substance containing cannabidiol – or anything packaged as such – in plain view of a law enforcement officer is subject to having that property seized. Only upon showing that one meets the limited conditions under Indiana law could one expect to avoid being prosecuted under Indiana law. Further, no one in Indiana is authorized to sell cannabidiol or any substance containing cannabidiol under state or federal law.”

Offline knarf

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Re: Knarf's Knewz Channel
« Reply #9214 on: November 23, 2017, 05:18:57 AM »
 An 86-year-old woman has been arrested after police say she robbed a bank at gunpoint in University City on Tuesday afternoon.

University of Pennsylvania police responded to a robbery call at the TD Bank at 3735 Walnut St. around 2 p.m. on Tuesday.

Authorities Still Searching For Suspect In Center City Mail Bomb Explosion 1 Year Later

The staff at the bank told officers the woman, identified as 86-year-old Emily Coakley, demanded $400 while displaying a gun.

Emily Coakley mugshot.

Police arrested Coakley without incident and recovered a revolver.

Coakley has been charged with aggravated assault, robbery and other related offenses.

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White nationalist Richard Spencer banned from 26 European nations
« Reply #9215 on: November 23, 2017, 05:22:47 AM »

Richard Spencer, a leader in the fringe movement that mixes racism, anti-Semitism and populism, speaks at the Texas A&M University campus in College Station in December 2016.

A leading figure in the U.S. white nationalist movement said Wednesday that he hasn't received government confirmation of his reported ban from entering more than two dozen European countries.

Poland's state-run news agency PAP says Polish authorities banned Richard Spencer from entering 26 countries in Europe's visa-free Schengen area for five years. The news agency cited unnamed sources close to Poland's Foreign Ministry.

A source close to the Polish Foreign Ministry confirmed to the Associated Press that the ban has taken effect. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak on the ministry's behalf.

Spencer previously was banned from the Schengen zone for three years after his 2014 arrest in Hungary, where he had planned to host a conference.

Spencer told the Associated Press he would try to contest a new ban.

"I'm being treated like a criminal by the Polish government. It's just insane," he said. "I haven't done anything. What are they accusing me of?"

Spencer popularized the term "alt-right" to describe a fringe movement that's a loose mix of racist, anti-Semitic and anti-immigration beliefs. In August, he was scheduled to speak at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a car plowed into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing a woman.

Spencer said he canceled plans to travel to Poland for a far-right conference in Warsaw earlier this month after seeing reports the government was threatening to keep him out of the country.

"It just didn't feel like it was worth it," he said.

Last month, Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski described Spencer as someone "who defames what happened during World War II, defames the Holocaust."

"He should not appear publicly, and especially not in Poland," Waszczykowski said.

Besides Poland, the 26 Schengen countries also include France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden.

Offline knarf

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The death of the Russian far right
« Reply #9216 on: November 23, 2017, 05:26:10 AM »
On November 4, a few hundred people gathered for the annual ultranationalist "Russian march" in Moscow. With chants like "Glory to Russia" and "Freedom for political prisoners", the demonstrators tried to march through the Lyublino neighbourhood of Moscow, before the police dispersed the crowd, arresting dozens.

But this year's march was a far cry from what it used to be in the late 2000s and early 2010s when thousands of people would join well-organised columns replete with banners, flags and drummers.

Today, most of the leaders of the ultranationalist groups that used to organise the march are either in jail or in self-imposed exile. Their supporters consider them to be politically persecuted and complain about increasing state repression.

Although the Kremlin has been accused of supporting conservative and far-right political groups in Europe, at home it seems to be becoming increasingly intolerant towards groups that propagate ideas similar to their Western counterparts.

In the past few years, and especially since the conflict in Ukraine erupted in 2014, the Russian authorities have cracked down on nationalist groups under the guise of criminal investigations or accusations of extremism under the infamous "anti-extremism" Law 282.
'Controlled nationalism'

In the early 2000s, Russian President Vladimir Putin was finishing his first presidential term when two colour revolutions struck nearby - the first in Georgia in 2013 and the second in Ukraine in 2014. Large crowds in Tbilisi and Kiev demanded democratic change and major political reforms. The possibility of a colour revolution erupting in Russia seemed too real.

It was then that the Kremlin looked to the right. Russian observers would later identify this strategy of employing nationalist forces as "controlled nationalism".

"Controlled nationalism is about using nationalists in some [political] games. In some cases, [the authorities] would support nationalists in order to keep the regime alive, to fight the threat of a colour revolution," says Anton Shekhovstov, visiting fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Austria.

"They thought that if they supported those ultranationalist movements, they would decrease the opportunity of nationalists becoming a force that would destabilise the regime," he explains.

In early 2005, in response to the colour revolutions, the International Eurasian movement, headed by Alexander Dugin, a right-wing political scientist and ideologue (whom Western journalists eventually nicknamed "Putin's Rasputin") createda youth wing, the Eurasian Youth Union (ESM). Its aim was to whip up nationalist sentiment and mobilise young people against anti-government attitudes.

That same year, the Russian authorities decided to finally do away with the November 7 official holiday celebrating the October Revolution. They moved the allocated day off to November 4 - the day Moscow was liberated from the Poles in 1612, an official holiday in tsarist Russia until 1917.

The authorities named the new holiday "National Unity Day", but there wasn't much public enthusiasm for it and most Russians didn't even know its history. So when the ESM requested to hold a right-wing march on that day, the local authorities readily obliged.

Other ultranationalist organisations and skinhead groups joined the ESM and the turnout that year surprised many: Some 3,000 people marched, chanting "Glory to Russia" and "Russians forward", as young men made Nazi salutes in front of TV cameras.

In the years that followed, the ESM was pushed out of the organising committee of the march for being too pro-Kremlin and two other groups took the lead: the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI) and the Slavic Union (SS). The DPNI was led by Alexander Potkin, who changed his name to Belov ("bely" in Russian means white) and the SS was headed by Dmitry Dyomushkin. Both men are now in jail.

"Belov was my assistant in the Duma. He became an opportunist and has ended up in jail," says Andrei Savelev, founder and leader of the "Great Russia" nationalist movement, who was elected to the Duma in 2003. At around the same time, Dyomushkin was an assistant to another member of the Duma during that period, Nikolay Kuryanovich from the pro-Kremlin ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia.

"Аll these years Dyomushkin was surprisingly untouchable. He was doing things for which others would go to jail. For four to five years, the justice system did not touch him," says Savelev.

According to him, Dyomushkin and Belov were coopted by the Russian authorities. He says this was why he withdrew his organisation from the Russian march.

Ivan Beletsky, a close associate of Dyomushkin who took over organising the march in 2016, rejects the idea of cooptation and claims that "Great Russia" is a pro-government group. He says that the authorities tried but failed to take control of the Russian march in the late 2000s and were compelled to permit it in order to "cool down popular agitation".

"The Russian march is a protest march: against the government, against corruption, and for a change of power," he says, speaking to Al Jazeera via Skype from a location outside of Russia that he refused to disclose.

In July 2011, Dyomushkin and Belov caused a stir within the ultranationalist movement for going to Chechnya and meeting with its president, Ramazan Kadyrov, a Kremlin loyalist, despite their anti-Chechen and anti-Muslim rhetoric. Dyomushkin subsequently went to Grozny a number of times.

In August 2011, DPNI was banned by the Russian government (the SS had been banned a year earlier). Nevertheless, the government allowed the Russian march to take place. On November 4, more than 10,000 nationalists, joined by opposition politicians like Alexei Navalny, marched in Lyublino with banners reading "Stop feeding Caucasus". Over the years, the central government has been perceived as being quite generous in its budget allocation to the Chechen Republic in the North Caucasus and has been criticised by both nationalists and liberals for it.

In 2012, ultranationalist organisations participating in the Russian march backed anti-government protests. The merger between regular opposition and nationalists worried the government and the Federal Security Service (FSB) considered it a potentially "revolutionary situation", says Beletsky.
Schism in the far right and crackdown

The events of 2014 in Ukraine caught the ultranationalist groups in Russia by surprise. On one hand, the Kremlin was employing strong nationalist rhetoric claiming Crimea was "rightfully" Russian and that ethnic Russians living in Ukraine had to be protected; on the other, fellow Ukrainian far-right groups were supporting the Maidan and opposing the annexation.

"In 2014, the Kremlin demanded full loyalty from all Russian nationalists," says Shekhovtsov. "Some of them declined to become loyal to the Kremlin."

The result was a "schism" in the nationalist movement with one camp supporting the annexation of Crimea and the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, and the other opposing both and supporting the Ukrainian central government.

"We right-wing nationalists - we consider [the breakaway regions in Eastern Ukraine] Putin's machinations. We stood up against this and we suffered fierce repressions," says Beletsky.

On November 4, 2014, there were two events in Moscow that claimed to be the Russian march - one supporting the annexation of Crimea and the other rejecting it. In the following months, one by one leaders of ultranationalist groups supporting the latter were arrested on various charges.

In 2015, Belov was arrested and a year later convicted on charges of money laundering related to a Kazakh bank and spreading extremism among Russian-speaking Kazakh citizens. He was sentenced to seven and a half years in jail.

In 2016, Dyomushkin was arrested for posting a photo of a previous Russian march in which a banner saying "Russian power in Russia" was visible. He was accused of spreading "extremism" and handed two and a half years in prison. A previous court case against him on similar charges dating from 2011 ended in early 2014 without a sentence due to an expiration of the statute of limitations.

According to his lawyer, Dmitry Baharev, who also used to be a member of the SS, the case against him is politically motivated.

"Usually for pictures, they give suspended sentences, but Dyomushkin got prison," he says. "In my opinion, this is connected with the events in Ukraine."

Another close associate of Dyomushkin and Belov and a frequent Russian march attendee, Georgy Borovikov, а leader of the banned National Patriotic Front "Memory" was arrested and sentenced to seven and a half years in prison in 2014 for robbery and torture.

Other far-right leaders managed to escape before being arrested. Beletsky says he fled the country fearing arrest as he was questioned multiple times and briefly detained this year after organising nationalists to join Navalny for an anti-government protest in March.

Yury Gorsky, also an organiser of the Russian march and former member of various ultranationalist groups, was charged with spreading extremism and is currently in Lithuania. Igor Artyomov, the former leader of the banned Russian All-National Union, which also used to participate in the march, received political asylum in the US.

Prominent ultranationalist vlogger Vyacheslav Maltsev, who at some point was associated with "Great Russia" and also attended Russian marches, fled from Russia after being briefly detained and is currently in hiding in a European country. Maltsev called for a "revolution" on November 5. Many of his supporters had previously been or were subsequently arrested.

Human rights groups have been divided over whether or not to consider the detention and imprisonment of ultranationalists to be political prosecution. Human rights organisation "Memorial" considers that in the case of Belov, there are "signs of political motivation".

"All of these big nationalist leaders are guilty, not necessarily of what they accuse them of, but there is a lot of other things they did. The authorities have not undertaken to sort out these things because it is too difficult or long, so they stuck on them whatever they could," says Natalya Yudina, a researcher at "Sova Centre" which focuses on extremism and violations of human rights in Russia. She says that the centre does not consider Belov a political prisoner and that members of the organisations which he and Dyomushkin led committed violent attacks in the past.
Promoting destabilisation abroad, preempting it at home

While the Kremlin was cracking down on the far right at home, in the West, it was seeking its support.

According to Shekhovtsov, the Kremlin launched efforts to establish relations with ultranationalist groups in Europe as early as 2008.

"[In 2008,] many in the Russian elite circles believed that Russia may have won the war with Georgia in military terms but it failed to win the information war and convince the West or the international community that Russia's actions were justified," he says.

Russian national and international media sought to feature Western commentators sympathetic to Russia's actions in Georgia, but could not find any in the mainstream; the ones that would openly express support were mostly on the far right, explains Shekhovtsov.

In the following years, the Kremlin invested a lot of effort into nourishing ties with far-right groups and parties in the West. The Russian authorities would organise ultranationalist conferences, back media initiatives, and establish formal agreements with far-right parties.

Currently, the ruling United Russia party has established cooperation agreements with the Northern League in Italy and the Freedom Party in Austria. In 2014, the National Front in France borrowed nearly $13m in Russian bank loans.

Various other ultranationalist groups in the EU are said to have ties to Russia: from the Alternative for Germany (AfD) to Ataka Party in Bulgaria.

Shekhovtsov, who wrote a book on the subject, points out that Russian efforts to court Europe's far right have not rendered major victories, such as the suspension of sanctions against Moscow in place since the annexation of Crimea. But the growing strength of far-right groups has had a destabilising effect across Europe.

In Germany, the AfD, which hardly managed to clear the five percent threshold in the 2013 elections, this year won 12.6 percent and is the third-largest party in the Bundestag after the September elections. Some commentators have attributed that success to Russian backing.

At home, the Kremlin preempted such a scenario.

"[Today] the anti-Putin far-right movement is extremely small. You cannot compare this to any other period of time in Russia [since 1991] where you would have such a weak [ultranationalist] movement," says Shekhovtsov.

According to him, some ultranationalist groups have already changed strategy to accommodate the regime. At the same time, since 2014, a number of "patriotic" and ultra-Orthodox organisations have emerged which have also been accused of attacks, but not on minorities or migrants; their victims have mostly been opposition activists, like Navalny, and liberals.

"The classical Russian nationalism, in its ethnic form, is a thing of the past. There are new movements that are appearing now, which are connected with the Kremlin ideologically," says Yudina. "The main thing for them is patriotism, the praise of our state, and adopting conservative, Orthodox values."

Yudina says that in recent years hate attacks on minorities and migrants have decreased tenfold - from a few hundred in the late 2000s to a few dozen in 2016. Yet attacks on the LGBT community have persisted, as the new "patriotic" and ultra-Orthodox groups consider them "freaks".

"All this scares me. This it seems to me will be the future. Aggressive Orthodox organisations will be getting stronger," she says.

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Thanksgiving: The annual genocide whitewash
« Reply #9217 on: November 23, 2017, 05:30:50 AM »

Kindergarten students, dressed as pilgrims and Native Americans, show their parents and grandparents how to do the "Mr Turkey Gobble" in Danville, PA on November 20, 2008

When I was a schoolchild in the US a couple of short decades ago, I spent my time acquiring important life skills, ranging from how to fake a wrist fracture in order to obtain a purple cast, to how to craft a teepee replica out of a paper bag.

The latter art was perfected in accordance with the holiday of Thanksgiving, which arrived each November to great fanfare, and which, in addition to teepee replication, required my classmates and I to mass-produce turkey drawings, paper Pilgrim hats, and modified, feathered headdresses.

These materials were then incorporated into our reenactments of the "original" Thanksgiving feast: that mythologised, gastronomic encounter of 1621 between Pilgrims and Native Americans that now serves as a cornerstone of the fairytale version of US history.

On the surface, it may seem that there's not much to criticise about a holiday based on gratitude and eating - especially when it's accompanied by absurd spectacles like the presidential turkey pardon.

But a glance at the historical context of Thanksgiving reveals a thoroughly nauseating affair.

Land grabs and massacres

For starters, as University of Texas journalism professor Robert Jensen reminds us in a dispatch on the AlterNet website, the very term "thanksgiving" is saturated with disgrace.

By 1637, Jensen writes, Massachusetts Bay Colony governor John Winthrop "was proclaiming a thanksgiving for the successful massacre of hundreds of Pequot Indian men, women and children" - a bloody pattern that would "repeat itself across the continent until between 95 and 99 percent of American Indians had been exterminated".

The work of historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author of An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States, serves up plenty of additional food for thought, on why Thanksgiving perhaps shouldn't inspire too many warm-and-fuzzy feelings.

Native Americans are depicted at the first Thanksgiving feast, in a scene from a 1960 educational film about the Pilgrims’ first year in America

In a 2015 paper on the indisputable genocide of Native Americans, Dunbar-Ortiz explained point blank that settler colonialism in general "requires a genocidal policy" and that "Euro-American colonialism, an aspect of the capitalist economic globalization, had from its beginnings a genocidal tendency."

Among the many, obvious financial perks of land theft, Dunbar-Ortiz noted that the seizure of Native American trade routes also prompted acute shortages of food and other necessities, thereby "weaken[ing] populations and forc[ing] them into dependency on the colonisers, with European manufactured goods replacing indigenous ones."

So much for bountiful harvests.

In his book, A People's History of the United States, late historian Howard Zinn outlined other mechanisms of capitalist dispossession. An 1814 "treaty" with the Creek nation, for example, functioned by "splitting Indian from Indian, breaking up communal landholding, bribing some with land, leaving others out - introducing the competition and conniving that marked the spirit of Western capitalism."

Furthermore, US "land grabs" of Native American territory "laid the basis for the cotton kingdom, the slave plantations."

In short, with such a sinister past on their plate, it's no wonder US mythmakers prefer to focus on pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce.
Predatory capitalism

In recent remarks headlined "I am tired of being invisible to you all," rural development economist and indigenous rights activist Winona LaDuke summed up the logic underpinning the United States' vigorous campaign to whitewash its criminal history vis-a-vis the Native Americans: "If you make the victim disappear, there is no crime."

But how, exactly, to go about making victims disappear when US crimes are far from said and done with, and the ramifications of genocidal policy are ongoing?

There are, it seems, several possible approaches. Consider the fact that, as late as the 1970s, the forced sterilisation of Native American women in the US was not uncommon.

A turkey float and a pilgrim woman float move down Broadway in New York City during the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade on November 26, 1981

In other, even more literal instances of physical elimination, as CNN reported earlier this month, data from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention shows that "Native Americans are killed in police encounters at a higher rate than any other racial or ethnic group."

Case in point: just a few days prior to the CNN report, a 14-year-old Native American boy was gunned down by a US law enforcement official on a reservation in the state of Wisconsin.

Last year, meanwhile, the Independent observed that, of 29 Native Americans killed by US police between 1 May 2014 and 31 October 2015, "27 of those deaths received no coverage" in the media.

Talk about disappearing acts.

As it turns out, many of those killed suffered from mental illness. And indeed, one can easily argue that the prevalence of mental health conditions among Native American groups isn't enormously surprising in light of continuous antagonism by US authorities and society, often in the form of socioeconomic ostracisation and environmental destruction - not to mention food insecurity.

It's pretty clear, then, that a lot of people in the United States won't have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. But at least there's Black Friday to look forward to: the ode to gross overconsumption that directly follows the supposed day of gratitude (and that has been known to result in news headlines like "Wal-Mart worker killed in Black Friday shopping stampede").

To be sure, the Black Friday phenomenon only befits a nation built on predatory capitalism - where material excess is rendered sacred, obscene inequality is the name of the game, and communal bonds are systematically obliterated along with any remaining potential for human symbiosis with the physical environment.

In the end, you don't need to gorge yourself on turkey and stuffing to see that the United States itself is positively sick.

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If the eternal ice melts, mighty summits will teeter
« Reply #9218 on: November 23, 2017, 05:34:12 AM »
The Alps are mighty and magnificent. Or are they mighty and terrifying because they are beginning to crumble and tumble down into the valleys below? This question has been raised by the dramatic events of summer 2017 in the Swiss mountains. This has highlighted the impact rising temperatures are having on the Alps.

There was no indication that anything out of the ordinary would happen in the Grisons mountains on 23 August 2017. It was a bright summer’s day. But then at 9.30 a.m., three million cubic metres of rock came loose on the 3,369-metre-high Piz Cengalo. The mass of rock crashed into the valley below and fragmented. The impact pulverised a 10 to 15-metre-thick glacial sheet lying in the rockfall’s path. The rubble combined with the loose rock saturated with melt water at the bottom of the mountain. Shortly afterwards a torrent of mud and debris rolled down the mountain, heavy and powerful enough to push huge lumps of rock down into the valley too. “Rolled down” is not really an accurate description. The mudslide travelled at up to 40 kilometres an hour towards the village of Bondo five kilometres away and collided with part of it.

The incident claimed the lives of eight hikers whose bodies have still not been found. As Piz Cengalo is under observation due to previous rockfalls and a warning system has been installed high above the village, nobody in Bondo itself was hurt. The warning system raised the alarm, giving them time to reach safety from the mudslides and falling debris.

Just a week later, another large section of rock came away from Piz Cengalo during a night-time storm. Another mudslide hurtled down into the valley. There was a third landslide on 15 September. Several hundred thousand cubic metres of rock crashed down the mountainside for over two hours. The “Bondarini”, as the residents of Bondo are known, are aware that another one and a half million cubic metres of rock are moving on Piz Cengalo.
First the mountain, then the glacier…

A change of location – the Trift glacier on the 4,000-metre-high Weissmies normally moves down the valley at a rate of around 15 centimetres a day. The Bondo landslide was still making the headlines when the movement of the Trift glacier’s permanently monitored ice sheets began gathering pace. The speed of movement increased to two and then four metres a day. That is a staggering rate for glaciers. Experts and authorities raised the alarm on 9 September and requested 220 residents of Saas Grund to leave their homes. The evacuation was completed by 6 p.m. and the hiking area was cordoned off. These steps did not come a moment too soon. In the early hours of the morning on the following day, the tip of the glacier under observation broke into pieces, slid over the steep rock face and fragmented into ice granulate upon impact. Nobody was hurt.
…and finally an entire mountainside

Another change of location – Moosfluh at an altitude of 2,234 metres, close to Bettmeralp, provides wonderful panoramic views of the Aletsch glacier. However, the mountain slope abutting the glacier is no longer a safe place for hiking. Warning signs prohibit access by mountain climbers because “people can disappear into the large holes, such as glacial crevasses, on the hiking route”, warns the safety officer responsible for the area. His warning does not appear exaggerated. Around 160 million cubic metres of rock are moving here. It is the largest movement of rock in Switzerland and is very rapid at times. Whereas the Moosfluh moved by a few millimetres a year on average in previous millennia, this suddenly increased to 30 metres in 2016. Such astonishing rates have not been recorded anywhere else in the Alps. Deep fissures and metre-wide crevices in the terrain in places suggest that a far larger mass could plunge into the valley here than in the Bondo landslide.

Cengalo, the Trift glacier and Moosfluh – these three locations raise the question as to whether significant climate change lies behind the extensive degeneration and whether, as a consequence, the Alps will no longer be seen as mighty and magnificent but instead as a mighty and terrifyingplace to visit.
“We are experiencing rising temperatures”

Geologist Hugo Raetzo from the Hazard Prevention Division of the Federal Office for the Environment points out the obvious first of all: “We are experiencing rising temperatures in the high mountain regions.” Temperatures in the Alps have risen at twice the rate of the global average since the late 19th century. The increase in temperature has also become more acute in the mountains in recent decades. This rise in temperature is obviously impacting on the glaciers and the permanently frozen and therefore stabilising substrate, known as permafrost, explains Raetzo. In addition to the general warming, which is causing the permafrost to thaw, the very hot summers of recent times are also a factor, indicates the natural scientist. Hot summers could become the “trigger point” for rockfalls. Rockfalls and landslides were more frequent in the summers of 2003 and 2015 when higher than average temperatures were recorded.

The Piz Cengalo is one of the mountains lying in the permafrost zone. Is it a typical example of a mountain that begins to disintegrate when it gets too hot in the mountains? Raetzo explains that it is not quite that simple. The correlations are often much more complex, and developments over millennia are a major factor. However, the Swiss Permafrost Monitoring Network reveals just how much the temperature has risen in the depths of the ground. The Corvatsch measurement station, for example, shows that the temperature at a depth of 10 metres is a degree higher today than it was 30 years ago. Temperatures are also rising at a depth of 20 metres, a level where seasonal fluctuations have had little effect in the past. Raetzo remarks: “It is certainly not the case that every mountain is disintegrating.” But the geological structure increases the risk of landslide. This is illustrated by a simple example. If the substrate defrosts, a certain gradient is required before rock slides.
Fissures and crevices full of water

The Piz Cengalo is certainly steep. However, no definitive causal analysis of this specific case has yet been produced. The “Bondarini” are therefore left to speculate on the factors behind the Piz Cengalo landslide. Siffredo Negrini, a mountain guide, has tried to fathom out what happened. He has long avoided the mountain. He explains why: “Ice and snow melt quickly there, and water fills the fissures and crevices. It then freezes, cracking the rock.” The recent incident aside, Raetzo points to a general lesson that must be learned on the Swiss mountains: “The permafrost is being warmed and the glaciers are receding – warm melt water, which is extremely prevalent in summer, is penetrating to great depths. This changes the situation and potentially also the stability of the terrain.”

The abundance of melt water has also impacted on the Trift glacier. Raetzo explains that some of the melt water reaches the bottom of the glacier in hot summers, heating the very spot where the glacier is embedded into the rock – or at least should be. Experts unanimously agree that the glacial ice falls of 9 September were the result of high summer temperatures. Martin Funk, a glaciologist at the Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, comments: “Such an incident can only take place in summer.” The climate is therefore having a direct impact on the glacier.

Most glaciers in the Alps are set to disappear by the end of the century, apart from a few at high altitude. Switzerland must therefore prepare itself for significant change. The first lesson for the lay person is that if the glaciers melt, their stabilising force is also lost. The entire tip of the Trift glacier broke off because there was nothing supporting it. The deeper sections of the glacier used to support the steep part of the Trift glacier, but they have now melted away.
The mountainside has no support

This process of change is accelerating as support structures disappear. Moosfluh provides a good example of this phenomenon. Here the Aletsch glacier is supported – or at least was – by the abutting mountainside. The Aletsch glacier has receded by around three kilometres in length since 1850 and 400 metres in height based on the tip today. Its dwindling dimensions mean the ice is no longer exerting pressure on the slopes. The original pressure of 35 bar “is no longer being applied”, according to Raetzo, which clearly explains the movement of the Moosfluh.

Despite the principle that “melting glaciers mean the mountains lose a support structure”, the consequences are not generally as dramatic as on the edge of the Aletsch glacier. Raetzo explains that the right “geological structure” also has to exist in the first place: Events far back in the Earth’s history have probably caused “weakspots and clasts in the bedrock” on the mountain. The underground processes of fragmentation – which mean we are now seeing extremely dynamic geomechanical interaction – were therefore set in motion much earlier. Put simply, if the “eternal ice” is supporting a mountain that is already fragile, the melting of the glacier proves fatal.

After the dramatic events of summer 2017 in the mountains, one thing is clear – neither the landslide on the Piz Cengalo nor the break-up of the Trift glacier came as a complete surprise nor did they find Switzerland unprepared. Bondo constructed a protective wall several years ago to act as a collection basin for impending mudslides, which probably prevented the village from being destroyed. The Trift glacier has been under observation for years, along with the Bis glacier in Mattertal. At Moosfluh too the tiniest shift does not escape the attention of the experts because the mountain is being monitored. Radar systems, GPS, optical evaluation procedures and other measuring systems are deployed. It appears Switzerland is extremely well equipped in terms of technology for monitoring danger. Raetzo backs this up: “We have much accurate information on the movements in the areas under observation and are working at a high standard technically.” National and cantonal environmental agencies and universities are collaborating on the trialling of GPS-based observation networks in pilot areas in Upper Valais. The GPS sensors deployed in unstable zones provide real-time data on movements. “The early warning systems we are working with are of a very high standard by international comparison,” says Raetzo. But he warns against bullishness: “We’ll never have control over nature despite all the technology at our disposal – not today nor in the future.”

Federal Councillor Doris Leuthard underlined the message even more clearly in comments captured by TV cameras in Bondo: “We will continue to experience such incidents. Melting permafrost, mudslides and climate change are a reality, even if some people still refuse to believe it.”

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Return of the oppressed
« Reply #9219 on: November 23, 2017, 05:39:07 AM »
From the Roman Empire to our own Gilded Age, inequality moves in cycles. The future looks like a rough ride

Today, the top one per cent of incomes in the United States accounts for one fifth of US earnings. The top one per cent of fortunes holds two-fifths of the total wealth. Just one rich family, the six heirs of the brothers Sam and James Walton, founders of Walmart, are worth more than the bottom 40 per cent of the American population combined ($115 billion in 2012).

After thousands of scholarly and popular articles on the topic, one might think we would have a pretty good idea why the richest people in the US are pulling away from the rest. But it seems we don’t. As the Congressional Budget Office concluded in 2011: ‘the precise reasons for the rapid growth in income at the top are not well understood’. Some commentators point to economic factors, some to politics, and others again to culture. Yet obviously enough, all these factors must interact in complex ways. What is slightly less obvious is how a very long historical perspective can help us to see the whole mechanism.

In his book Wealth and Democracy (2002), Kevin Phillips came up with a useful way of thinking about the changing patterns of wealth inequality in the US. He looked at the net wealth of the nation’s median household and compared it with the size of the largest fortune in the US. The ratio of the two figures provided a rough measure of wealth inequality, and that’s what he tracked, touching down every decade or so from the turn of the 19th century all the way to the present. In doing so, he found a striking pattern.

From 1800 to the 1920s, inequality increased more than a hundredfold. Then came the reversal: from the 1920s to 1980, it shrank back to levels not seen since the mid-19th century. Over that time, the top fortunes hardly grew (from one to two billion dollars; a decline in real terms). Yet the wealth of a typical family increased by a multiple of 40. From 1980 to the present, the wealth gap has been on another steep, if erratic, rise. Commentators have called the period from 1920s to 1970s the ‘great compression’. The past 30 years are known as the ‘great divergence’. Bring the 19th century into the picture, however, and one sees not isolated movements so much as a rhythm. In other words, when looked at over a long period, the development of wealth inequality in the US appears to be cyclical. And if it’s cyclical, we can predict what happens next.

An obvious objection presents itself at this point. Does observing just one and a half cycles really show that there is a regular pattern in the dynamics of inequality? No, by itself it doesn’t. But this is where looking at other historical societies becomes interesting. In our book Secular Cycles (2009), Sergey Nefedov and I applied the Phillips approach to England, France and Russia throughout both the medieval and early modern periods, and also to ancient Rome. All of these societies (and others for which information was patchier) went through recurring ‘secular’ cycles, which is to say, very long ones. Over periods of two to three centuries, we found repeated back-and-forth swings in demographic, economic, social, and political structures. And the cycles of inequality were an integral part of the overall motion.

Incidentally, when students of dynamical systems (or, more colourfully, ‘chaoticians’ such as Jeff Goldblum’s character in the film Jurassic Park) talk about ‘cycles’, we do not mean rigid, mechanical, clock-like movements. Cycles in the real world are chaotic, because complex systems such as human societies have many parts that are constantly moving and influencing each other. Despite this complexity, our historical research on Rome, England, France, Russia and now the US shows that these complex interactions add up to a general rhythm. Upward trends in variables (for example, economic inequality) alternate with downward trends. And most importantly, the ways in which other parts of the system move can tell us why certain trends periodically reverse themselves. Understanding (and perhaps even forecasting) such trend-reversals is at the core of the new discipline of cliodynamics, which looks at history through the lens of mathematical modelling.

So it looks like the pattern that we see in the US is real. Ours is, of course, a very different society from ancient Rome or medieval England. It is cut off from them by the Industrial Revolution and by innumerable advances in technology since then. Even so, a historically based model might shed light on what has been happening in the US over the past three decades.

First, we need to think about jobs. Unless other forces intervene, an overabundance of labour will tend to drive down its price, which naturally means that workers and their families have less to live on. One of the most important forces affecting the labour supply in the US has been immigration, and it turns out that immigration, as measured by the proportion of the population who were born abroad, has changed in a cyclical manner just like inequality. In fact, the periods of high immigration coincided with the periods of stagnating wages. The Great Compression, meanwhile, unfolded under a low-immigration regime. This tallies with work by the Harvard economist George Borjas, who argues that immigration plays an important role in depressing wages, especially for those unskilled workers who compete most directly with new arrivals.

Immigration is only one part of a complex story. Another reason why the labour supply in the US went up in the 19th century is, not to put too fine a point on it, sex. The native-born population was growing at what were, at the time, unprecedented rates: a 2.9 per cent growth per year in the 1800s, only gradually declining after that. By 1850 there was no available farmland in Eastern Seaboard states. Many from that ‘population surplus’ moved west, but others ended up in eastern cities where, of course, they competed for jobs with new immigrants.

This connection between the oversupply of labour and plummeting living standards for the poor is one of the more robust generalisations in history. Consider the case of medieval England. The population of England doubled between 1150 and 1300. There was little possibility of overseas emigration, so the ‘surplus’ peasants flocked to the cities, causing the population of London to balloon from 20,000 to 80,000. Too many hungry mouths and too many idle hands resulted in a fourfold increase in food prices and a halving of real wages. Then, when a series of horrible epidemics, starting with the Black Death of 1348, carried away more than half of the population, the same dynamic ran in reverse. The catastrophe, paradoxically, introduced a Golden Age for common people. Real wages tripled and living standards went up, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Common people relied less on bread, gorging themselves instead on meat, fish, and dairy products.

The tug of war between the top and typical incomes doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game, but in practice it often is

Much the same pattern can be seen during the secular cycle of the Roman Principate. The population of the Roman Empire grew rapidly during the first two centuries up to 165AD. Then came a series of deadly epidemics, known as the Antonine Plague. In Roman Egypt, for which we have contemporary data thanks to preserved papyri, real wages first fell (when the population increased) and then regained ground (when the population collapsed). We also know that many grain fields were converted to orchards and vineyards following the plagues. The implication is that the standard of life for common people improved — they ate less bread, more fruit, and drank wine. The gap between common people and the elites shrank.

Naturally, the conditions affecting the labour supply were different in the second half of the 20th century in the US. An important new element was globalisation, which allows corporations to move jobs to poorer countries (with that ‘giant sucking sound’, as Ross Perot put it during his 1992 presidential campaign). But none of this alters the fact that an oversupply of labour tends to depress wages for the poorer section of the population. And just as in Roman Egypt, the poor in the US today eat more energy-dense foods — bread, pasta, and potatoes — while the wealthy eat more fruit and drink wine.

Falling wages isn’t the only reason why labour oversupply leads to inequality. As the slice of the economic pie going to employees diminishes, the share going to employers goes up. Periods of rapid growth for top fortunes are commonly associated with stagnating incomes for the majority. Equally, when worker incomes grew in the Great Compression, top fortunes actually declined in real terms. The tug of war between the top and typical incomes doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game, but in practice it often is. And so in 13th-century England, as the overall population doubles, we find landowners charging peasants higher rents and paying less in wages: the immiseration of the general populace translates into a Golden Age for the aristocrats.

As the historian Christopher Dyer wrote, life was good for the upper-crust English around 1300. They drank more wine and spent their spare cash building or refurbishing castles, cathedrals, and monasteries. They didn’t just enjoy a better living standard; they also grew in number. For example, the number of knights and esquires tripled between 1200 and 1300. But disaster struck in 1348, when the Black Death removed the population surplus (and then some). By the 15th century, while the common people were enjoying their own Golden Age, the aristocracy had fallen on hard times. We can infer the severity of their financial straits from the amount of claret imported from France. Only the gentry drank wine, and around 1300, England imported 20,000 tuns or casks of it from France per year. By 1460, this declined to only 5,000. In the mid-15th century, there were simply fewer aristocrats and they were much poorer.

In the US between around 1870 and 1900, there was another Golden Age for the elites, appropriately called the Gilded Age. While living standards for the majority declined (seen vividly in dwindling average heights and life expectancies), the moneyed classes were enjoying ever more luxurious lifestyles. And just like in 13th-century England, the total number of the wealthy was shooting up. Between 1825 and 1900, the number of millionaires (in constant 1900 dollars) went from 2.5 per million of the population to 19 per million. In our current cycle, the proportion of decamillionaires (those whose net worth exceeds 10 million in 1995 dollars) grew tenfold between 1992 and 2007 — from 0.04 to 0.4 per cent of the US population.

This seems like a peculiar development. The reason for it — cheeringly enough, you might say — is that cheap labour allows many enterprising, hard-working or simply lucky members of the poorer classes to climb into the ranks of the wealthy. In the 19th century, a skilled artisan in the US could expand his workshop by hiring other workers, eventually becoming the owner of a large business; Sven Beckert’s The Monied Metropolis (2003) describes many instances of this story playing out. In America today, enterprising and hard-working individuals start dotcom companies or claw their way into jobs as the CEOs of large corporations.

On the face of it, this is a wonderful testament to merit-based upward mobility. But there are side effects. Don’t forget that most people are stuck with stagnant or falling real wages. Upward mobility for a few hollows out the middle class and causes the social pyramid to become top-heavy. Too many elites relative to the general population (a condition I call ‘elite overproduction’) leads to ever-stiffer rivalry in the upper echelons. And then you get trouble.

In the US, there is famously a close connection between wealth and power. Many well-off individuals — typically not the founders of great fortunes but their children and grandchildren — choose to enter politics (Mitt Romney is a convenient example, though the Kennedy clan also comes to mind). Yet the number of political offices is fixed: there are only so many senators and representatives at the federal and state levels, and only one US president. As the ranks of the wealthy swell, so too do the numbers of wealthy aspirants for the finite supply of political positions.

When watching political battles in today’s Senate, it is hard not to think about their parallels in Republican Rome. The population of Italy roughly doubled during the second century BC, while the number of aristocrats increased even more. Again, the supply of political offices was fixed — there were 300 places in the senate and membership was for life. By the end of the century, competition for influence had turned ugly. During the Gracchan period (139—110BC), political feuding led to the slaughter of the tribunes Tiberius and Gaius on the streets of Rome. During the next century, intra-elite conflict spilt out of Rome into Italy and then into the broader Mediterranean. The civil wars of the first century BC, fuelled by a surplus of politically ambitious aristocrats, ultimately caused the fall of the Republic and the establishment of the Empire.

Beside sheer numbers, there is a further, subtler factor that aggravates internal class rivalry. So far I have been talking about the elites as if they are all the same. But they aren’t: the differences within the wealthiest one per cent are almost as stark as the difference between the top one per cent and the remaining 99. The millionaires want to reach the level of decamillionaires, who strive to match the centimillionaires, who are trying to keep up with billionaires. The result is very intense status rivalry, expressed through conspicuous consumption. Towards the end of the Republic, Roman aristocrats competed by exhibiting works of art and massive silver decorations in their homes. They threw extravagant banquets with peacocks from Samos, oysters from Lake Lucrino and snails from Africa, all imported at great expense. Archaeology confirms a genuine and dramatic shift towards luxury.

The US political system is much more attuned to the wishes of the rich than to the aspirations of the poor

Intra-elite competition also seems to affect the social mood. Norms of competition and extreme individualism become prevalent and norms of co-operation and collective action recede. Social Darwinism took off during the original Gilded Age, and Ayn Rand (who argued that altruism is evil) has grown astonishingly popular during what we might call our Second Gilded Age. The glorification of competition and individual success in itself becomes a driver of economic inequality. As Christopher Hayes wrote in Twilight of the Elites (2012): ‘defenders of the status quo invoke a kind of neo-Calvinist logic by saying that those at the top, by virtue of their placement there, must be the most deserving’. By the same reasoning, those at the bottom are not deserving. As such social norms spread, it becomes increasingly easy for CEOs to justify giving themselves huge bonuses while cutting the wages of workers.

Such cultural attitudes work with economic forces to widen inequality. Economists know very well that few markets are ‘efficient’ in the sense that their prices are set entirely by the forces of supply and demand. Labour markets are especially sensitive to cultural norms about what is fair compensation, so prevailing theories about inequality have practical consequences. And labour markets are also strongly affected by government regulation, as the economist and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz has argued. So let’s consider how politics enters the equation here.

The US, as we saw, breeds strong links between wealth and politics. Some wealthy individuals run for office themselves. Others use their money to support their favoured politicians and policies. As a result, the US political system is much more attuned to the wishes of the rich than to the aspirations of the poor. Kevin Phillips has been one of the most influential voices raised in alarm at the dangers for democracy of growing wealth disparity.

Inverse relationship between well-being and inequality in American history. The peaks and valleys of inequality (in purple) represent the ratio of the largest fortunes to the median wealth of households (the Phillips curve). The blue-shaded curve combines four measures of well-being: economic (the fraction of economic growth that is paid to workers as wages), health (life expectancy and the average height of native-born population), and social optimism (the average age of first marriage, with early marriages indicating social optimism and delayed marriages indicating social pessimism).

Yet the US political system has been under the influence of wealthy elites ever since the American Revolution. In some historical periods it worked primarily for the benefit of the wealthy. In others, it pursued policies that benefited the society as a whole. Take the minimum wage, which grew during the Great Compression era and declined (in real terms) after 1980. The proportion of American workers who were unionised changed in a similarly cyclical fashion, as the legislative field tilted first one way then the other. The top marginal tax rate was 68 per cent or higher before 1980; by 1988 it declined to 28 per cent. In one era, government policy systematically favoured the majority, while in another it favoured the narrow interests of the wealthy elites. This inconsistency calls for explanation.

It is relatively easy to understand the periods when the wealthy bent the agenda to suit their interests (though of course, not all rich people care exclusively about their own wealth). How, though, can we account for the much more broadly inclusive policies of the Great Compression era? And what caused the reversal that ended the Gilded Age and ushered in the Great Compression? Or the second switch, which took place around 1980?

History provides another clue. Unequal societies generally turn a corner once they have passed through a long spell of political instability. Governing elites tire of incessant violence and disorder. They realise that they need to suppress their internal rivalries, and switch to a more co-operative way of governing, if they are to have any hope of preserving the social order. We see this shift in the social mood repeatedly throughout history — towards the end of the Roman civil wars (first century BC), following the English Wars of the Roses (1455-85), and after the Fronde (1648-53), the final great outbreak of violence that had been convulsing France since the Wars of Religion began in the late 16th century. Put simply, it is fear of revolution that restores equality. And my analysis of US history in a forthcoming book suggests that this is precisely what happened in the US around 1920.

Reforms that ensured an equitable distribution of the fruits of economic growth turned out to be a highly effective counter to the lure of Bolshevism

These were the years of extreme insecurity. There were race riots (the ‘Red Summer of 1919’), worker insurrections, and an Italian anarchist terrorist campaign aimed directly at the elites. The worst incident in US labour history was the West Virginia Mine War of 1920—21, culminating in the Battle of Blair Mountain. Although it started as a workers’ dispute, the Mine War eventually turned into the largest armed insurrection that the US has ever seen, the Civil War excepted. Between 10,000 and 15,000 miners armed with rifles battled against thousands of strikebreakers and sheriff deputies. The federal government eventually called in the US Army, the only time it has ever done so against its own people. Add to all this the rise of the Soviet Union and the wave of socialist revolutions that swept Europe after the First World War, triggering the Red Scare of 1921, and you get a sense of the atmosphere. Quantitative data indicate that this period was the most violent in US history, second only to the Civil War. It was much, much worse than the 1960s.

The US, in short, was in a revolutionary situation, and many among the political and business elites realised it. They began to push through a remarkable series of reforms. In 1921 and 1924, Congress passed legislation that effectively shut down immigration into the US. Although much of the motivation behind these laws was to exclude ‘dangerous aliens’ such as Italian anarchists and Eastern European socialists, the broader effect was to reduce the labour surplus. Worker wages grew rapidly. At around the same time, federal income tax came in and the rate at which top incomes were taxed began to increase. Somewhat later, provoked by the Great Depression, other laws legalised collective bargaining through unions, introduced a minimum wage, and established Social Security.

The US elites entered into an unwritten compact with the working classes. This implicit contract included the promise that the fruits of economic growth would be distributed more equitably among both workers and owners. In return, the fundamentals of the political-economic system would not be challenged (no revolution). The deal allowed the lower and upper classes to co-operate in solving the challenges facing the American Republic — overcoming the Great Depression, winning the Second World War, and countering the Soviet threat during the Cold War.

It almost goes without saying that there was a racist and xenophobic underside to all this. The co-operating group was mainly native-born white Protestants. African-Americans, Jews, Catholics and foreigners were excluded or heavily discriminated against. Nevertheless, while making such ‘categorical inequalities’ worse, the compact led to a dramatic reduction in overall economic inequality.

The ‘New Deal Coalition’ which ruled the US from 1932 to the late 1960s did so well that the business community, opposed to its policies at first, came to accept them in the post-war years. As the historian Kim Phillips-Fein wrote in Invisible Hands (2010):

    Many managers and stockholders [made] peace with the liberal order that had emerged. They began to bargain regularly with the labour unions at their companies. They advocated the use of fiscal policy and government action to help the nation to cope with economic downturns. They accepted the idea that the state might have some role to play in guiding economic life.

When Barry Goldwater campaigned on a pro-business, anti-union and anti-big government platform in the 1964 presidential elections, he couldn’t win any lasting support from the corporate community. The conservatives had to wait another 16 years for their triumph.

But by the late 1970s, a new generation of political and business leaders had come to power. To them the revolutionary situation of 1919-21 was just history. In this they were similar to the French aristocrats on the eve of the French Revolution, who did not see that their actions could bring down the Ancien Régime — the last great social breakdown, the Fronde, being so far in the past.

The US elites, similarly, took the smooth functioning of the political-economic system for granted. The only problem, as they saw it, was that they weren’t being adequately compensated for their efforts. Feelings of dissatisfaction ran high during the Bear Market of 1973—82, when capital returns took a particular beating. The high inflation of that decade ate into inherited wealth. A fortune of $2 billion in 1982 was a third smaller, when expressed in inflation-adjusted dollars, than $1 billion in 1962, and only a sixth of $1 billion in 1912. All these factors contributed to the reversal of the late 1970s.

It is no coincidence that the life of Communism (from the October Revolution in Russia in 1917 to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989) coincides almost perfectly with the Great Compression era. The Red Scares of, firstly, 1919—21 and then 1947—57 suggest that US elites took the Soviet threat quite seriously. More generally, the Soviet Union, especially in its early years, aggressively promoted an ideology that was highly threatening to the political-economic system favoured by the US elites. Reforms that ensured an equitable distribution of the fruits of economic growth turned out to be a highly effective counter to the lure of Bolshevism.

Nevertheless, when Communism collapsed, its significance was seriously misread. It’s true that the Soviet economy could not compete with a system based on free markets plus policies and norms that promoted equity. Yet the fall of the Soviet Union was interpreted as a vindication of free markets, period. The triumphalist, heady atmosphere of the 1990s was highly conducive to the spread of Ayn Randism and other individualist ideologies. The unwritten social contract that had emerged during the New Deal and braved the challenges of the Second World War had faded from memory.

What, then, explains the rapid growth of top fortunes in the US over the past 30 years? Why did the wages of unskilled workers stagnate or decline? What accounts for the bitterness of election rhetoric in the US, the growing legislative gridlock, the rampant political polarisation? My answer is that all of these trends are part of a complex and interlocking system. I don’t just mean that everything affects everything else; that would be vacuous. Rather, that cliodynamic theory can tell us specifically how demographic, economic and cultural variables relate to one another, and how their interactions generate social change. Cliodynamics also explains why historical reversals in such diverse areas as economics and culture happen at roughly similar times. The theory of secular cycles was developed using data from historical societies, but it looks like it can provide answers to questions about our own society.

Our society, like all previous complex societies, is on a rollercoaster. Impersonal social forces bring us to the top; then comes the inevitable plunge. But the descent is not inevitable. Ours is the first society that can perceive how those forces operate, even if dimly. This means that we can avoid the worst — perhaps by switching to a less harrowing track, perhaps by redesigning the rollercoaster altogether.

Three years ago I published a short article in the science journal Nature. I pointed out that several leading indicators of political instability look set to peak around 2020. In other words, we are rapidly approaching a historical cusp, at which the US will be particularly vulnerable to violent upheaval. This prediction is not a ‘prophecy’. I don’t believe that disaster is pre-ordained, no matter what we do. On the contrary, if we understand the causes, we have a chance to prevent it from happening. But the first thing we will have to do is reverse the trend of ever-growing inequality.

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The New Subnormal
« Reply #9220 on: November 23, 2017, 06:10:43 AM »

After a four-week period which I mostly spent heads-down on getting this book into print I looked up and noticed that the world has changed. The trick of looking away, then looking back is often a good one if you are interested in how situations evolve. And here I looked back at what has been happening in the US, specifically, over the past few weeks, and thought, Which interesting new stage of collapse is this?

And then I thought, I really ought to try to answer this question. After all, I’ve already described the five stages of collapse in a book-length treatment, and apparently people are still finding it useful. For example, the Japanese edition of the book found its readers because my treatment of financial and political collapse dovetailed so neatly with Japan’s headlong rush into infinite debt and its desperate, last-minute fling with militarism. And now that Paris is turning into a tent city bum squat infested with roving gangs of troglodyte migrant youths and the banks of the Seine are becoming encrusted with human feces—ah, that sweet smell of social and cultural collapse!—the French edition is flying off the shelves almost frighteningly quickly for such a specialty subject. (As I’ve warned my readers before, when you notice that my message has gone mainstream, it’s time to grab the duffel bag of spam, gold bullion and shotgun shells, gas up the pickup truck and head for the hills.)

It is heartening to find out that there are still people in the world—descendants of the autochthonous inhabitants of Roman Gaul among them—who possess the intellectual aptitude to understand that their country is heading in the direction of social and cultural collapse and venture to do a bit of research to see what that might look like. But as to what seems to be happening across the Pond in the US, or across la Manche in the UK, there the people seem to be in a stage of collapse all of their own. Now, what is it?

Let’s explore this question through an extended metaphor. In making a medical diagnosis, it is conventional to see how the patient responds to various stimuli, to see whether they fall in the normal range. Pupillary light reflex—produced by shining a light into one eye—assesses brain stem function (or lack thereof). Patellar reflex—produced by lightly tapping the kneecap with a hammer—assesses spinal cord function.

Now, suppose you have a patient who, no matter the stimulus, always responds the same way; for instance, by shouting “The Russians did it!” What if asking questions such as “Why makes you think that the Russians did it?” or “What is it that you think the Russians did?” produces loud but incoherent babbling? What if being accidentally jostled or startled by a loud noise or a flash of light causes her to start ranting about “patriarchy” or “white privilege” or “illegal immigrants” or “sound money and the Federal Reserve”?

Another diagnostic technique involves passively observing the patient’s behavior and drawing conclusions from it. Does the patient seem engaged with the outside world, or does she seem trapped in a world of her own, rocking back and forth, waving fingers at her eyeballs or sucking her thumb? Is she able to maintain normal, healthy sexual relationships or does she avoid personal involvement, masturbate compulsively or act out perverse fantasies? Are her fear responses rational or based on phobias and paranoid delusions?

Now, suppose you are confronted with a group of patients who refuse to make eye contact with those around them but continuously fondle small rectangular electronic devices, constantly taking photographs of themselves, their brain chemistry apparently controlled by the flow of “likes” from others who are similarly stricken, and exhibit extreme distress whenever network connectivity is lost or whenever the battery runs down?­

And suppose that among this group normal heterosexual relationships of the sort that have been known to spontaneously produce viable offspring are becoming something of a rarity while every type of perverse and abnormal sexual behavior is being celebrated, with everyone being coerced to acknowledge it as normal? Suppose that among this group normal sexuality is actually given a negative label (“cis-gender”) while behavior that, whenever it is found among other, nonhuman forms of livestock, results in the animal being culled from the herd, is instead prioritized and incentivized? What, do you suppose, does that do for the viability of the herd? Keep in mind that in the normal scheme of things bulls that self-identify as cows are sent straight to the freezer.

And suppose that this group feels compelled to disregard an entire swarm of problems—financial problems, substance abuse problems, environmental problems, crime, mass shootings, a steady worsening of international relations and an increasing risk of nuclear war, etc.—and instead choose to focus on just one phantom threat: that of sexual harassment. The increase in morbidity or mortality that can be attributed to the unethical procurement of sexual favors within the workplace is quite negligible, but this point is ignored. Instead, there is an orgy of celebrating victimhood and demonizing the perpetrators. In turn, groping a coworker comes to be regarded as a worse crime than having an actual war crime committed in one’s name.

This is definitely some sort of collapse, but what kind is it? Let us give it the provisional name of mental collapse. Unlike the other five stages, which incapacitate some specific set of social functions, this one results in a generalized incapacity to process and respond to reality. What were formerly focal points of social adequacy become breeding grounds for social inadequacy: sober and prudent financial risk assessment is replaced with an unstoppable diarrhea of unrepayable debt; the political process is replaced by blind, powerless rage in the face of brazen corruption; commerce is replaced by addictive consumption and compulsive gambling; society plunges into a self-destructive war of the sexes; culture is replaced by a succession of short-lived, juvenile fads. ­

There is one more diagnostic method: of observing the behavior of other, supposedly normal people and seeing how they react to the patient’s presence and behavior. Is the patient accepted as one of the group and treated with recognition or respect, or is the patient ignored, actively excluded or laughed at? So, how is the patient—in this case, the entirety of the United States—coming to be regarded around the world? (Here, it is helpful to be in a position to observe—by residing outside the US.)

To gauge the international response to America’s mental collapse, it is useful to run through the five stages of collapse.

• Financially, most of the largest trading partners in the world are working diligently to free themselves from their dependence on the US dollar and immunize themselves against American extraterritorial legal claims.

• Politically, many countries, including former allies such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia, have realized that the US is no longer a reliable partner who can act as a guarantor of their security and are striking out on their own.

• Commercially, the US no longer makes much of anything. The rest of the world is happy to let Walmart and Amazon suck the remaining financial blood out of the American consumer while American attempts to hold the world at ransom by making it pay for US “intellectual property” have largely failed.

• Socially, the US is no longer a melting pot; the American Dream is now commonly seen as a nightmare of degeneracy, dependency and decay. Few people who have a choice choose to integrate into what remains of American society, which is increasingly divided against itself along political, regional, racial, ethnic and religious lines.

• Culturally, the US still manages to export quite a lot of pop culture by relentlessly appealing to the lowest common denominator. But in many parts of the world the influence of international pop culture on actual local culture, observable in how people relate to each other, is increasingly insignificant. Adults are not particularly easy to corrupt by various American freak shows. Their effect on children, especially through cartoons and movies (and especially the violent ones), pop music and video games, is somewhat more worrisome, but is commonly viewed as more of a distraction than an actual danger.

Understanding the five stages of collapse and their interactions can be quite useful to those who are in a position to arrest the downward slide toward social and cultural collapse at some earlier stage. But doing so is impossible without some reasonable baseline level of mental competence. If what we are witnessing in the US is the early stages of mental collapse, then this robs such efforts of any impetus.

To effect positive change one must be able to become better informed and to alter one’s behavior accordingly. But if a person is fed a steady diet of propaganda pooped out by a semiautomated corporate confabulatron, and if that person’s behavior is determined by a combination of delusions, addictions, compulsions, blind rage and chance, then what opportunities remain to effect positive change? And if there are none, then how should we respond? We certainly should not blame the victims of mental collapse. There is a legal principle that should perhaps see much wider use: the principle of nonimputability. Here is a handy definition:

    For a person’s criminal nonimputability to be recognized, it must be established that the person was not aware of the consequences of his or her actions or was unable to control such actions, and that chronic mental illness, temporary disruption of mental activity, feeblemindedness, or some other pathological condition was present. Where at least one of these pathological conditions prevails in combination with the facts of the case, as established by forensic psychiatric testimony, the court recognizes the accused to be not criminally liable. Mandatory medical measures, which do not constitute criminal punishment, may be applied to the accused by court order; such measures include placement in a general or special psychiatric hospital. Similar measures are applied in cases where the accused is criminally imputable at the time of commission of the crime but becomes mentally ill prior to sentencing. [The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition. 1970-1979.]

It seems to me that by now much of the population of the US is in a state of mental collapse, rendering it nonimputable. Leaving aside the question of whether they would be even theoretically capable of effecting positive change (most aren’t), the majority of Americans cannot be persuaded of simple facts.

For instance:

• The majority of Americans is unable to process the idea that owning a gun is a prelude to homicide. The majority of gun deaths result from negligence, accident, anger or mistake, not from crime prevention efforts or self-defense, while the presence of guns increases the lethality of crimes. But no matter the evidence, most Americans will tell you that owning a gun makes them “safer.” Quite a few of them can't even be disabused of the erroneous notion that they can use small arms to stand up against the tyranny of a government that's armed with Predator drones, tanks, mortars, rockets and attack helicopters.

• The majority of Americans is unable to accept the idea that the US is not a democracy and that it doesn’t matter who is president. You can spell it out for them in any number of ways, showing how public preferences have zero correlation with public policy, and yet they will persist in the delusion that they can change something for the better… by voting.

• The majority of Americans is unable to accept the idea that their national defense establishment actually poses a very large threat to national security, from many standpoints. It hastens the approach of national bankruptcy; it emboldens its opponents through its fecklessness in all of the recent conflicts; it creates a class of brutalized, psychologically damaged individuals that go on to terrorize the domestic population; and it may accidentally trigger a nuclear holocaust. But the vast majority of Americans will not listen to such arguments and insist that their bloated yet ineffectual military-industrial complex is “defending” them… from what? From the Canadians?

Numerous similar examples can be found. Given that such people are nonimputable, we can only feel sorry for them and try to treat them humanely. Luckily, a country populated with nonimputable people is mostly a threat only to itself. Still, there is the danger that a nonimputable president surrounded by nonimputable generals might do something ghastly to the world. Here, we can only hope for the best. Not that the best promises to be all that good; in the new subnormal, possibly the best we can hope for is that the situation will remain sublethal.

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Ah, autumn. Season of falling leaves, candied yams — and record temperatures?

Heat records toppled Tuesday in the San Fernando Valley, and more may fall in the days ahead across Southern California as highs in the 90s rage on through the Thanksgiving holiday, according to the National Weather Service.

Fueled by a strong ridge of high pressure and offshore winds, highs reached 91 degrees Tuesday at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank and in Woodland Hills, breaking by several degrees the old records for both areas set  in 2002.

More heat is on the way and will rage on through the weekend. “We will likely not only have record highs, but we could approach highest temps for this late in the year,” according to an weather service statement.

Southern California will continue to bake all week — and not just pumpkin pies. Highs are expected to top 95 in some areas Wednesday and Thursday, especially in the Inland Empire.

Forecasters warned of elevated wildfire risks, noting that gusty winds may develop below mountain passes and in canyons throughout the Inland Empire.

“A trough (of low pressure) in the northeast Pacific will gradually shift east during the weekend and bring a cooling trend (starting Friday),” according to the weather service.

Temperatures will moderate as the ridge is displaced to the east, but they will remain above average going into next week, forecasters said.

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As Black Friday nears, US stores get creative to battle e-commerce
« Reply #9222 on: November 23, 2017, 03:29:50 PM »

Shoppers with their arms full walk to their cars during the Black Friday sales at a Best Buy store in Culver City

The photo op with Santa Claus has long been a holiday mainstay for American children. But this year, shopping malls in several states are scheduling glamour shots for man's best friend.

As the Christmas shopping season kicks into high gear on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, portraits of St. Nick with a family's beloved dog are just one way retailers are looking to attract customers in the face of exploding e-commerce.

Brick-and-mortar stores have expanded their bag of tricks -- and gotten increasingly bold -- as they look to lure shoppers who might otherwise be happy to stay on the couch and pick up gifts while still in their pajamas.

The flagship Bloomingdale's store in New York has held yoga classes, and Nordstrom has displayed Tesla cars near the section for men's suits.

A number of shops now ply visitors with food and drink.

For the holiday shopping season, malls are hosting gingerbread decorating sessions, visits from the Grinch -- Dr. Seuss's beloved Christmas villain-turned-softie -- and ugly Christmas sweater nights.

Temporary ice skating rinks and magical winter decor are also being used to draw customers intent on an in-person holiday experience.

Wal-Mart Stores plans to throw more than 20,000 "holiday parties" at which children can pose for "selfies with Santa."

"All of these retailers are desperate to get people into their stores," said analyst Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, who added a note of caution about all the promotions.

"Whether they work or not is open to debate."

- The draw of the internet -

Most experts predict a solid holiday shopping season, with IHS Markit projecting overall sales growth of 4.2 percent to about $685 billion, said Chris Christopher, executive director at IHS.

Online sales are expected to account for 18.3 percent of holiday sales this year, up from 16.8 percent last year, according to IHS.

Surveys show that creating a festive holiday atmosphere is one way to prompt consumers to pocket their smartphones for a few hours and hit the mall.

About a third of consumers said they enjoyed holiday shopping as a family tradition and 23 percent said they most enjoy holiday decorations, said a National Retail Federation survey.

Tourist Karen Boyd, who was visiting New York this week from Palo Alto, California, said she expects to do half of her shopping online and half of it in stores this year.

"The years I've done 100 percent online, it doesn’t feel like you've done your holiday shopping!" she said near Saks Fifth Avenue's famed holiday window display as Christmas carols played in the background.

- New apps and curbside delivery -

As e-commerce has grabbed bigger market share, chains like Target and Gap have invested heavily in smartphone apps and sophisticated "big data" programs to target consumers and price most effectively.

Upscale department store Nordstrom is offering 24-hour curbside pickup at a handful of stores for the final nine days of the shopping season.

"Customers increasingly want to shop where, how and when they choose, and 24/7 Curbside Pickup is one service we're offering to support their experience," said Shea Jensen, senior vice president of customer experience at Nordstrom.

Department store Kohl's is taking to heart a common motto -- if you can't beat them, join them.

Kohl's will accept returns of goods bought on Amazon at its stores in Chicago and Los Angeles -- and will pack and ship the unpackaged items back to the online behemoth at no charge.

The hope is that Amazon shoppers will linger and buy a few items from Kohl's.

"We have a really very simple, straightforward objective here, and that is driving traffic is the number one priority we have as a company," chief executive Kevin Mansell said earlier this month.

- Heart of the problem? -

For Saunders, while doggie pics with Santa might draw pet lovers to stores, other initiatives are less inviting. And for him, the real issue is on the product side.

"A lot of these retailers aren't delivering what people want," he said.

David Simon, chief executive of the mall giant Simon Property Group, said stores should shake up their approach to customer service, highlighting Apple's attentiveness to customers and sleek store design.

"I think if they did that in a more comprehensive way through checkouts service, styling . . . they would see a pickup in their in-store sales," Simon said on a recent conference call.

Shopper Melin Ghotan said "bad customer service" had marred her recent purchase at a video game store -- a clerk balked when the Los Angeles mother requested a second shopping bag for the items.

"I'd have rather bought it online," she said as she walked near New York's lamdmark Rockefeller Center.

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Merkel TANKS in the polls: Chancellor ratings slump as German anger grows
« Reply #9223 on: November 23, 2017, 03:34:58 PM »
ANGELA Merkel’s worries continue as the latest polls reveal the majority of Germans did not want her to run as a candidate for Chancellor again.

The survey, carried out in the coalition talks breakdown, makes worrying reading for Angela Merkel.

While Mrs Merkel said yesterday she wanted to stand again in any new snap election the German people appear to be turned off by the prospect.

Of those polled, 54 per cent said she should not run for office, according to the polling institute Civey for

Only 38.5 percent of Germans would welcome a renewed candidacy of the chancellor.

A breakdown of those views saw Mrs Merkel pick up 76.2 per cent support amongst the supporters of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Christian Social Union (CSU) which stood at 76.2 per cent.

Amongst supporters of the Greens, Mrs Merkel also seemed to gain a sizeable backing with 52.2 per cent wanting the current leader to stand again.

Among the FDP supporters that was only about 30 per cent.

Perhaps unsurprisingly supporters of the right wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) do not want her to stand again with 88.5 per cent calling on her to step back.

There was also little comfort for the German leader in another poll published yesterday in Der Spiegel.

The latest SPON poll indicated that support for the coalition between Mrs Merkel’s CDU and the CSU fell below 30 per cent to 29.2 per cent.

This is believed to be their lowest ever level.

The polling institute Civey, based in Berlin, indicated the fall is part of a downward trend for the two parties.

There was no joy though either for the main opposition party the Social Democrats (SPD) which also suffered a decline in popularity.

Leader Martin Schulz saw the support for his party drop to 19.5 per cent, its lowest level since December 2016.

A similar fate was suffered by the AfD which had been making progress in popularity recently.

The latest poll shows the party has fallen by 1.5 per cent points since negotiations over forming a new coalition had failed. It is now at to 13.6 per cent.

The main party to gain in popularity were the Liberals with the FDP up 1.7 percentage points, rising to 13.3 per cent.

The Greens have also seen support rise, growing by 1.5 percentage points to 11.9 per cent.

While there have been various shifts in support the overall picture indicates little would change if there was a new election any future government would need some sort of grand coalition to secure a working majority.

Martin Schulz, the leader of Germany's main opposition party the SPD

The SPON election trend was compiled online from November 20-21 in co-operation with the polling institute Civey.

The sample included more than 5,000 respondents.

The SPON election trend before the end of the negotiations took place in the period from November 12-19. That sample consisted of more than 10,000 respondents - the statistical error was 2.5 per cent.

The inability of Mrs Merkel to secure sufficient support has seen Germany plunged into uncertainty as she has been unable to establish a so-called Jamaica alliance with the Greens and the Free Democrats (FDP).

The situation has resulted in the co-founder of the Greens, Hans-Christian Ströbele, saying he could not envisage the chancellor staying in her role for much longer.

In an interview with Swiss website Watson, he said: "The end of the chancellorship of Angela Merkel has already been announced by the outcome of the general election.

"Now Merkel's political end can indeed come very quickly. In my opinion, Mrs Merkel will not be able to stay at the top of the government for much longer."

The veteran politician said his personal preference to solve the current crisis would be for the CDU to form a minority government, calling it "good for democracy".

He said: "It offers the opportunity to strengthen the importance of the parliament and the individual members of parliament - and with it also democracy.

"It is basically good for democracy, if a government has to seek majorities through persuasion in Parliament."

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Tesla Delivers the World’s Biggest Battery—and Wins a Bet
« Reply #9224 on: November 23, 2017, 03:41:35 PM »
CEO Elon Musk had set a 100-days-or-it’s-free deadline for completing the Australian project

Excess electricity generated by Australia’s Hornsdale wind farm will be stored by the world's largest lithium-ion battery bank.

JAMESTOWN, Australia—Tesla Inc. Chief Executive Elon Musk may have overpromised on production of the company’s latest electric car, but he is delivering on his audacious Australian battery bet.

An enormous Tesla-built battery system—storing electricity from a new wind farm and capable of supplying 30,000 homes for more than an hour—will be powered up over the coming days, the government of South Australia state said Thursday. Final tests are set to be followed by a street party that Mr. Musk, founder of both Tesla and rocket maker Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX, was expected to attend.

Success would fulfill the risky pledge Mr. Musk made in March, to deliver a working system in “100 days from contract signature or it is free.” He was answering a Twitter challenge from Australian IT billionaire and environmentalist Mike Cannon-Brookes to help fix electricity problems in South Australia—which relies heavily on renewable energy—after crippling summer blackouts left 1.7 million people without power, some for weeks.

Mr. Cannon-Brookes then brokered talks between Mr. Musk and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who has faced criticism from climate groups for winding back renewable-energy policies in favor of coal. South Australia notwithstanding, the country’s per-person greenhouse emissions are among the world’s highest.

South Australia’s government has yet to say how much the battery will cost taxpayers, although renewable-energy experts estimate it at US$50 million. Tesla says the system’s 100-megawatt capacity makes it the world’s largest, tripling the previous record array at Mira Loma in Ontario, Calif., also built by Tesla and U.S. power company Edison.

“An enormous amount of work has gone into delivering this project in such a short time,” state Premier Jay Weatherill said Thursday, calling the system a clear message that South Australia will be a leader in renewable energy.

Mr. Musk tweeted, “Congratulations to the Tesla crew and South Australian authorities who worked so hard to get this manufactured and installed in record time!”

The battery will provide backup power through its evaluation over coming weeks, Mr. Weatherill said, but the real test will come with the Australian summer, between December and March, when temperatures regularly soar above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mr. Weatherill’s government tapped Tesla in July, after a tender to build a large-scale storage system connected to the 33 million Australian dollar Hornsdale wind farm, being built by French company Neoen along low hills forming the southern tail of the Flinders Ranges.

The site, known as the “whispering plains,” lies among valleys that funnel strong Southern Hemisphere winds and adjacent to lines powering Australia’s eastern seaboard grid, which supplies nine million customers across five states.

Solar and wind produce about 40% of South Australia’s electricity, and last summer’s costly outages fueled a debate also familiar in the U.S. and Europe. The question: Are renewable sources ready to replace fossil fuels like coal and gas?

Energy storage, while in its global infancy, is meant to solve the variability problem of wind and solar, banking power for times of calm air or cloudy skies. Cumulative capacity of lithium-ion storage around the world is set to hit 1.1 gigawatts this year, according to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, up from 0.2 gigawatts in 2010. A gigawatt is 1,000 megawatts.

Investment in electric vehicles by Tesla and others has helped lower battery costs and spread storage grids, including to the walls of homes. Mr. Musk, who test-marketed Tesla’s residential Powerwall system in Australia and in Hawaii, has predicted lithium-ion battery costs will plummet by the end of the decade.

Work at the Australian battery site has been cloaked in secrecy, but local people said that by the time Tesla signed the contract on Sept. 29—starting the 100-day clock—preparations were already well advanced.

At the Jamestown Commercial Hotel, which helped cater the project’s launch party in September, manager Kerry Hodge said he’d previously had “no idea of who Mr. Musk was.”

“They tried to get me to put in an electric charger for all these electric cars that he said were going to come from China in coming years. But I don’t really believe him,” he said. “We’ve just put in our own diesel generator to keep the power on.”