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Global Cooling returns to the news, another instructive lesson about America

25 January 2014

Summary:  FM website seeks to explain events, and successful predictions are among the best ways to do so. Last September you read Start of another swing of the media narrative – to global cooling. The current cold winter in most of North America brings a harvest of global cooling stories, yet another illustration of our sad preference for pleasing stories over reality. We can do better.

Global Cooling

Contents

  1. Global cooling returns (to the news)
  2. Scientists reply
  3. It’s extreme climate!
  4. Conclusions
  5. Scientific American rewrites the past
  6. For More Information

(1)  Global cooling returns (to the news)

Some things never change. Much like “if it bleeds, it leads”, the news media take current weather extremes and exaggerate them into a trend. Makes good headlines, and there are always climate scientists willing to provide good quotes — and some research providing a foundation (albeit weak) for the story.

Climate change is a partisan food fight, so the exaggerated cooling stories come from the Right:

(2)  Scientists reply

Of course, individual events tell us nothing about the longer-term trend.  For analysis of this cold winter in North America see

Read more…

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Climate change sinks the Left, while scientists unravel mysteries we must solve

24 January 2014

Summary: Climate change appears on the FM website (about geopolitics) because it shows how America deals with highly politicized and complex challenges. 150 posts later, somethings are clear. Climate scientists are moving the frontiers of knowledge (as shown in this post) and skillfully coping with the various audiences involved in this vital public policy debate. The Right has, as usual these days, slowly collapsed into ignorance (the comments on conservative websites like WUWT are horrifying). The Left’s reaction is more interesting, and the first subject of this post.

Over the top Climate Change drama

Over the top Climate Change drama

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Contents

  1. The Left liquidates itself
  2. We listen to climate scientists and learn
  3. Key things to know about climate change
  4. For More Information

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(1)  The Left liquidates itself

It’s sad to watch the Left liquidating their reputation with hysteria about climate change. They can chant “the facts have a well-known liberal bias” and claim to be the “reality based community” — but it all goes away as they abandon the IPCC’s work, declare belief in catastrophic anthropogenic global warming the touchstone of truth, and label any who disagree “deniers” (even eminent climate scientists).

They seek to advance their goals of increasing the government’s revenue (carbon taxes) and regulatory power, but have instead mirrored the Right’s epistemic closure.– becoming ineffective and powerless.

Look at this post to see this in action: “Hot” by Erik Loomis (Prof of History, U RI) at Lawyers, Guns and Money. Loomis misrepresents the global temperature data, not mentioning there has been no statistically significant change in the global surface air temperatures since 1996 – 2000 (depending on the dataset used). He quotes Phil Phait (astronomer; propagandist at Slate): “making you think there’s a pause in warming when no such pause exists”. For 4 years climate scientists have discussed the pause (dozens of citations here); in recent years they have moved to analysis of its causes and probable duration. Yet poor Phil and others still rant that these scientists are wrong.

While pitiful, it gets worse. Their propaganda — exaggerating the IPCC’s odds of severe warming, and it effects — has decoupled many of their followers from reality. They become doomsters. See the comments to Loomis’ post:

  • “Nobody contests that the planet is f**ked, and there aren’t many solutions to it, and even fewer good ones. There are two solutions that real, flawed humans will be able to take — mass murder, and large-scale geoengineering.”
  • “On the contrary, literally millions of people contest this, and some of them have devoted enormous sums of money to convincing other people of it and to buying off politicians who might do something to stop the ongoing f**king of said planet.”
  • “Solving carbon emissions is simple {simplistic crackpot thinking follows}”
  • “Humans can personally adjust their carbon output to prevent any problems.”
  • “No, it isn’t a debatable point at all. We’re f**ked.”
  • “As long as the majority of people vote for death, then death is what we’ll get.”

Personal experience in the comments on the FM website prove these people unreachable by any combination of facts and science.

(2)  We listen to climate scientists and learn

Let’s look at how actual climate scientists discuss these issues. The truth is out there, if we wish to see it.

In the excerpt below Nielsen-Gammon describes some of his points of agreement with Curry. This nicely shows, roughly, the area of general agreement among climate scientists today. Laypeople can learn from this. People who get their information from climate activists will learn even more from this. Read the posts to see their equally interesting disagreements.  Red emphasis added.

Yet, we’re in the middle (or perhaps the end, or perhaps the beginning) of a hiatus in the rise of global temperatures. The evidence seems to be mounting that natural variability is more important than the IPCC reports had previously contemplated, yet the IPCC’s confidence in anthropogenic global warming grows stronger.

Read more…

A note from the time of WWI, lessons from The Great War for us fighting the Long War

23 January 2014

Summary: History makes her lessons available to us, if we wish to use them. Today we look at WWI, finding some insights from that great war that apply to our long war. This should disturb us, and inspire us to do better this time as we fight a war that many Americans are almost unaware of, but might have horrific consequences for us. No nation, however powerful, can prosper if it does not learn from history.

Cleo - muse of History

Cleo, the Muse of History
– By Reylia at DeviantART

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“What experience and history teach is this — that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.”

— Hegel’s Lectures on the Philosophy of History (1832)

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Many of the great events in history have lessons for those living in radically different eras.  Unfortunately Hegel’s generalization describes most peoples in most times. But it is not true of truly great nations. It has not been true of America, which has become a great nation in part because we have learned well and rapidly (e.g., our resolution of WW2 and construction of the post-war world).

Are we still learning? The long war  will provide an answer. See this article for a powerful example of painful lessons from the past that apply quite well to us today. It’s well-worth reading in full, implicitly posing questions the next few years will answer.

Excerpt from “‘The Greatest Catastrophe the World Has Seen’

by R.J.W. Evans, New York Review of Books, 6 February 2014

But of course the Sarajevo assassination captivates posterity for its consequences. … Thus was unleashed the calamitous conflict that, more than any other series of events, has shaped the world ever since; without it we can doubt that communism would have taken hold in Russia, fascism in Italy, and Nazism in Germany, or that global empires would have disintegrated so rapidly and so chaotically. A century on we still search for its causes, and very often, if possible, for people to blame.

… Margaret MacMillan charts the series of resultant international crises that had a cumulative effect, among them the two Balkan Wars of 1912–1913: they tested commitments and amplified anxieties, but also fostered a sense of controlled brinkmanship. Much depended upon the “unspoken assumptions,” the mental maps that made war seem acceptable, at least as a last resort; and upon the increasingly autonomous army chiefs wedded to the doctrine of the offensive, just as significant sections of the populace were seduced by war’s perceived glamour, and vaunted its benefits with reference to the ideas of thinkers as diverse as Darwin, Nietzsche, and Bergson.

By May 1914 President Woodrow Wilson’s adviser Colonel House summarized the mood in Europe as “militarism run stark mad.”

Read more…

Wagering America on an untested monetary theory

22 January 2014

Summary: After years of quantitative easing, with the Fed starting to slow the third great wave, officials are breaking their facade of confidence to admit what many of us have long said. They do not know how QE works, or the effects of ending it. QE is an experiment, one of the greatest economic experiments of the modern era. That is the most important thing to know about QE, and the fact most carefully hidden (until now). We might find the next few years quite exciting. Here are two articles to help you understand, and so prepare.

Money world

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“We don’t understand fully how large-scale asset purchase programs work to ease financial market conditions. Is it the effect of the purchases on the portfolios of private investors, or alternatively is the major channel one of signaling?”

— William Dudley (President, Federal Reserve Bank of New York), speech at the American Economic Association Annual Meeting, 4 January 2014

“The problem with QE is that it works in practice but it doesn’t work in theory.”
— Ben Bernanke, speech at Brookings Institute, 16 January 2014

“When you believe in things that you don’t understand, then you suffer. Superstition ain’t the way.”
– Stevie Wonder, “Superstition” (1972)

(1)  Weekly comment by John Hussman (former Prof Economics at U MI, portfolio manager of the Hussman Funds), 20 January 2014 — Excerpt (red emphasis added):

What FOMC officials are really saying is that aside from a very predictable effect on short-maturity interest rates, there is no mechanistic link between the monetary base and any other variables – financial or economic – that they are trying to control. There is a sense that creating more monetary base helps stocks advance, and that this contributes to economic confidence. What’s missing is a transmission mechanism that operates through identifiable banking and economic channels – other than promoting a speculative reach-for-yield and the psychological exuberance that accompanies a bull market.

The fact is that Treasury bond yields are above where they were when QE2 was initiated in 2010, and year-over-year growth in non-farm payrolls, civilian employment, real GDP and real final sales have at best done little but hover at the thresholds that have historically bordered expansion and recession. Good economic policy acts to ease constraints that are binding, and monetary policy can clearly be useful in that regard – particularly during liquidity crises when depositors are rushing for cash. At present, however, quantitative easing acts by massively loosening a constraint that is not binding at all, drowning the economy with idle bank reserves that aren’t even desired. That’s going to have negative consequences.

… Regardless of my objections to the course of monetary policy, I think the Fed’s intentions are good, and I share Janet Yellen’s concern for the unemployed. I just believe that there is no demonstrable mechanism that reliably links the actions of the Fed to the outcomes it seeks, and that the unintended effects are greatly underestimated.

Read more…

Experts see that the 3rd Industrial Revolution is upon us. How many jobs will be lost?

21 January 2014

Summary:  It’s been almost 4 years since the first article appeared on the FM website warning about the next wave of job losses from automation. Now experts slowly begin to grapple with this problem, estimating its magnitude, extent, and possible solutions. Here we look at three of these. Properly managed, the 3rd industrial revolution will be an unmixed blessing to all. But only if we manage it better than we’re doing with simpler problems today.

We are being afflicted with a new disease of which some readers may not yet have heard the name, but of which they will hear a great deal in the years to come – namely, technological unemployment. This means unemployment due to our discovery of means of economising the use of labour outrunning the pace at which we can find new uses for labour.

But this is only a temporary phase of maladjustment. All this means in the long run that mankind is solving its economic problem. I would predict that the standard of life in progressive countries one hundred years hence will be between four and eight times as high as it is to-day. There would be nothing surprising in this even in the light of our present knowledge. It would not be foolish to contemplate the possibility of afar greater progress still.

Economic possibilities for our grandchildren” by John Maynard Keynes, The Nation, 11 October 1930. He had confidence in our ability to solve both economic and political problems of modernization.

Jobs of the Future

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Contents

  1. Retail: an example of the coming wave of losses
  2. Number crunching to estimate the jobs at risk
  3. A more realistic analysis
  4. For More Information

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(1)  Retail: an example of the coming wave of losses

The next industrial revolution will improve productivity in many ways, not just the simple machine-replace people exchange seen so often in the past.

Fifteen million people work in retail, plus millions more in jobs supporting them. A large fraction of those jobs will go away in the next decade as e-commerce gains market share. Salespeople, the people that run and maintain the companies and the stores, the people that maintain the buildings — a widening circles of impact.

Here’s one of the many articles appearing as the inevitable approaches: “The Tipping Point (E-Commerce Version)“, Jeff Jordan (Partner, Andreessen Horowitz), 14 January 2014 — Excerpt:

We’re in the midst of a profound structural shift from physical to digital retail. The drivers of this shift are simple:

  • Online retail has strong cost advantages over its offline counterparts and is rapidly taking share in many retail categories through better pricing, selection and, increasingly, service.
  • These offline players have high operational leverage and many cannot withstand declining top-line revenue growth for long.
  • The resulting bankruptcies of physical retailers remove competition for online players, further boosting their share gains.

So, how has this shift been playing out? Recent data suggests that it’s happening faster than I could have imagined.

Online Share of Retail

From Recode, 14 January 2014

The data suggests that there are two very different patterns going on with respect to e-commerce penetration. The two largest categories — “Food and Beverage” and “Health and Personal Care” — show e-commerce penetration well below the overall average. These categories essentially are the domains of grocery stores and drug stores, and e-commerce (at least to date) has achieved only modest penetration of these massive categories (but Amazon Fresh has designs on changing that).

… One additional observation is that the pace of online share gain in the specialty retail categories shows absolutely no signs of slowing down.

Read more…

Martin Luther King Jr’s advice to us about using violence to reform America

20 January 2014

Summary: One of our greatest tools in the struggle to reform America is our history, its ability to inform and inspire us. National holiday’s point to some of these people, so that we can not only celebrate their accomplishments but als0 learn from them. Among those most appropriate for us today is Martin Luther King.  His courage, his ability to lead and recall us to our core beliefs, all put him among our greatest leaders. Here we look at one aspect of his work.

Martin Luther King and company

Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Abernathy, their wives, & the Abernathy children leading a march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. Wikimedia Commons/Abernathy Family

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The dozens of posts on the FM website about reforming America have covered many aspects of building and running a reform movement. One policy of great importance concerns the use of violence. American reform movements have often used violence, almost always (perhaps always) unsuccessfully. Yet the love of violence has deep roots in our culture, seen in our many wars (mostly successful) and frequent state-sponsored political violence (mostly successful, against minorities, unions, etc).

Rev King’s leadership encouraged the civil rights movement to avoid this dark path (against great provocation), and take the moral high ground that has so often proved decisive in US history. Today’s reading describes this history. It worked for them, and can work for us today.
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Excerpt from “When Martin Luther King gave up his guns

Mark Engler and Paul Engler
Waging Nonviolence, 15 January 2014
Posted here courtesy of a Creative Commons license.

A personal conversion

The 1956 Montgomery Bus Boycott, the campaign that first established King’s national reputation, was not planned in advance as a Gandhian-style campaign of nonviolent resistance. At the time, King would not have had a clear sense of the strategic principles behind such a campaign. Rather, the bus boycott came together quickly in the wake of Rosa Park’s arrest in late 1955, taking inspiration from a similar action in Baton Rouge in 1953.

… Soon he was receiving phone calls on which unidentified voices warned, “Listen, nigger, we’ve taken all we want from you. Before next week you’ll be sorry you ever came to Montgomery.” After such threats resulted in the bombing of King’s home in February 1956, armed watchmen guarded against further assassination attempts.

This response reflected King’s still-tentative embrace of the theory and practice of nonviolence. In his talks before mass meetings, King preached the Christian injunction to “love thy enemy.” Having read Thoreau in college, he described the bus boycott as an “act of massive noncooperation” and regularly called for “passive resistance.” But King did not use the term “nonviolence,” and he admitted that he knew little about Gandhi or the Indian independence leader’s campaigns.

Read more…

Murder by police. If these incidents do not anger us, then what will?

19 January 2014

Summary:  Police casually shooting citizens. Nothing shows the rise of New America as the exercise of the ultimate power, demonstrating there are State agents, the rich & powerful, and the little people. A rash of incidents rubs our faces in this ugly truth. We smile and pass the soma. We can do better.

Police shooting

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“Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”
— Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book (1964)

Contents

  1. Introduction to our security services
  2. A sample of incidents
  3. Analysis
  4. For More Information
  5. Welcome to America

(1)  Introduction to our security services

Last year Michael Cohen asked me on Twitter why I talk about a New America (he is a columnist for the Guardian about US politics, and a fellow of the Century Foundation. See his Twitter feed here.) He is one of his generation’s best and brightest, and his reaction is usually typical of pundit opinion. As it was with Snowden, where Cohen joined those mocking him. As it is with his inability to see the large-scale structural change that I call the construction of a New America on the ruins of the old.

This is yet another post documenting an aspect of this evolution (aka a slow revolution; see others at the end). It’s a common story in history. The interesting part of this story is peoples’ unwillingness — then and now — to see from the individual events on the news to the big picture.

It’s not difficult. Look at the transformation of our police from doing law enforcement into security services. SWAT teams bringing military tactics and equipment to routine police work (most frequent task: serving warrants); see details here. DoD arming police with military equipment (see Fox News and Washington Post).

And shooting people. With little reason. It’s becoming an issue as they become more blatant (not just the usual oppression of the poor and minorities) — and as modern tech catches them on film. But as with the revelations about surveillance by the NSA, the real significance of these stories comes from our reaction. Or, as with the NSA news, our lack of reaction.

The creation of the New America follows the death of the America-that-once-was — by neglect and apathy. The machinery of democracy still exists, if only there a free people can be found to work it.

Read more…

A Fed Governor speaks honestly to us about the costs and risks of our monetary policy

18 January 2014

Summary: Fed officials see as tools their ability to manage our confidence and expectations. This means a constant policy of exaggeration and distortion in their speeches, as truth and plain-speaking are secondary considerations. But there are exceptions. Perhaps the most famous is Bernanke’s 2002 “the U.S. government has a technology called a printing press” speech. This week as another, an even more impressive and rare example of honesty by a high government official. He warns us that the extreme monetary policy of today has costs, and might prove difficult to unwind. Let’s pay attention to his words.

Note: We tend to get our news and insights through intermediaries, who inevitably filter and distort the content. On the FM website we try to avoid this, instead giving excerpts with links to the full text.  Governor Fisher — like the IPCC, and the famous leaders of our past — speaks to us, and needs no interpreters.

Magic Hat Money

Beer Goggles, Monetary Camels, the Eye of the Needle and the First Law of Holes
With Reference to Peter Boockvar, the Book of Matthew, Sherlock Holmes, ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ & Denis Healey

Richard Fisher, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas
Remarks before the National Association of Corporate Directors
14 January 2014

Excerpt #1:  Beer Goggles …

Two comments I recently read have been buzzing around my mind as I think about the many issues that will condition my actions as a voter.

The first was by Peter Boockvar, who is among the plethora of analysts offering different viewpoints that I regularly read to get a sense of how we are being viewed in the marketplace. Here is a rather pungent quote from a note he sent out on Jan. 2:

“… QE [quantitative easing] puts beer goggles on investors by creating a line of sight where everything looks good …”

For those of you unfamiliar with the term “beer goggles,” the Urban Dictionary defines it as “the effect that alcohol … has in rendering a person who one would ordinarily regard as unattractive as … alluring.” This audience might substitute “wine” or “martini” or “margarita” for “beer” to make it more age-appropriate, but the effect is the same: Things often look better when one is under the influence of free-flowing liquidity. This is one reason why William McChesney Martin, the longest-serving Fed chairman in our institution’s 100-year history, famously said that the Fed’s job is to take away the punchbowl just as the party gets going. {1955 speech}

Peter Boockvar is Chief Market Analyst of The Lindsey Group (bio here). Here is an early statement of his “beer goggles” theory.

Excerpt #2: Free and Abundant Money Changes Perspective, the first explicit mention I’ve seen by a Fed official of QE’s possible ill effects.

Read more…

Scientists explore causes of the pause in warming, perhaps the most important research of the decade

17 January 2014

Summary:  Today we look at papers exploring the pause in warming of the surface atmosphere temperature, now in its second decade. This is one of the world’s most important science priorities, which will guide public policy for the next decade. Do we need a crash program to control CO2 emissions, and mitigate the effects of warming. Or do we have time for more measured responses?  There is another dimension to this. Climate science not only teaches us much about our planet, but the reactions of political activists on both says much about modern America.

“The biggest mystery in climate science today…”
— “Climate change: The case of the missing heat“, Jeff Tollefson, Nature, 15 January 2014 — “Sixteen years into the mysterious ‘global-warming hiatus’, scientists are piecing together an explanation.”

“Overdetermination is a phenomenon whereby a single observed effect is determined by multiple causes at once, any one of which alone might be enough to account for (‘determine’) the effect. That is, there are more causes present than are necessary to cause the effect.” (From Wikipedia}

Science In Action

Content

  1. Introduction
  2. Surveys of the literature
  3. It’s less water vapor in the atmosphere
  4. It’s natural variability
  5. More aerosols (e.g., burn more coal)
  6. It’s the volcanoes
  7. The deep oceans are absorbing the heat
  8. “Stadium Waves”
  9. It’s the reduced emissions of CFCs and methane
  10. It’s the reduced solar activity
  11. One temperature dataset mismeasures warming
  12. The trade winds have changed
  13. Important things to know about global warming
  14. For More Information

(1)  Introduction

Research into the causes of the pause in surface temperature warming is some of the most important science being done today. We will gain not only vital information about our world, but also — if we look — insights about ourselves that can help us become a more effective society.

(a)  Learning about our world

The results of this research might determine public policy priorities for the next decade or more. Do we have time for measured responses to rising CO2 levels, or are crash programs required now to limit them — and prepare for the effects of resumed warming?

Here are some samples of papers about possible causes of the pause. These are all speculative (science takes place on the edges of available data and theory). Eventually these lines of research will produce answers. Meanwhile we get to watch science in action.

(b)  Learning about ourselves

American society has long been famously anti-intellectual. The Right cherishes creationists; the Left loves the Pope when he supports their views (He’s a superstitious old reactionary the rest of the time). The climate wars demonstrates that this remains true today.

  • Much of the lay debate on both sides consists of personal attacks on climate scientists (guilty of playing for the wrong team). Skeptic websites overflow with attacks on science.
  1. Climate activist website have abandoned the IPCC as insufficiently alarmist, relying largely on exaggerations of conclusions of outlier papers in the climate literature to paint doomster scenarios as inevitable (the IPCC being created to discourage this).

Now we see the climate activists in full madness. They loudly declare that there is no pause in surface temperature warming. This ignores the dozens of papers mentioning the pause, reports by major climate agencies (e.g., the UK Met Office), papers forecasting when the pause will end, and — the subject of this post — papers about possible causes of the pause.

What’s more pitiful? Activists attempts to conceal the work of climate scientists? Or their followers who close their eyes, seeing only what they’re told to see (a modern version of the prisoners in Plato’s cave).

Now — onto the science. This is a brief summary of research conducted about climate by scientists in many fields. Shown in chronological order.  This will be updated as new papers appear. These are given as examples of work on this exciting frontier of climate science. This is not a comprehensive bibliography, nor does it attempt to list all the major papers in each of these areas.

(2) Surveys of the literature

Here are survey papers, reviewing the current state of the various explanations of the pause.

Read more…

Should we risk using anger to arouse America?

16 January 2014

Summary:  Anger can be a political tool, motivating both an organization’s cadre and its mass audience. Too risky or the other available tool? Today we examine both sides of the issue, and end with a question for readers.

Danger: Angry American

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“As for those American soldiers asking, “Was our sacrifice in Fallujah worth it?,” one is at a loss about how to reply to the thought that comes to mind this week: No, it really wasn’t. It is time to get angry.”

— “What the War in Iraq Wrought“, Jon Lee Anderson, The New Yorker, 15 January 2014

I remain convinced that motivating Americans is the key to starting a reform movement, both to obtaining the key people necessary to build an organization — and to spur public interest and then involvement.  Appeals to logic and theory are insufficient. Anger is the key to arouse passion, and passion unlocks resources — people’s  time and money.

America, especially the construction of New America on the ruins of the old, provides a plethora of sparks to arouse anger. Jon Anderson mentions one. The bank bailouts rightly aroused anger that led to the Tea Party Movement. The ongoing diversion of Federal, State, and local tax dollars to the 1% provides another.

Readers objected in the comments that anger has an irrational component, easily exploited by unscrupulous leaders. Worse, it often precludes effective decision-making, the balancing of resources, goals, risk, and moral considerations. Too often it leads to futile, senseless violence.

These are all valid points. Consider the dark side of this quote I’ve often cited:

Read more…

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