Saturday, February 13, 2016

"Everyone should have access to knowledge regardless of their income or affiliation:" 'Aaron Swartz' of Science Releases Cumulative Research Knowledge from Proprietary Confines

Welcome to the Pirate Bay of science: Researcher illegally shares millions of science papers free online to spread knowledge

by Fiona MacDonald - Science Alert

12 Feb., 2016

A researcher in Russia has made more than 48 million journal articles - almost every single peer-reviewed paper every published - freely available online. And she's now refusing to shut the site down, despite a court injunction and a lawsuit from Elsevier, one of the world's biggest publishers.

For those of you who aren't already using it, the site in question is Sci-Hub, and it's sort of like a Pirate Bay of the science world. It was established in 2011 by neuroscientist Alexandra Elbakyan, who was frustrated that she couldn't afford to access the articles needed for her research, and it's since gone viral, with hundreds of thousands of papers being downloaded daily.

But at the end of last year, the site was ordered to be taken down by a New York district court - a ruling that Elbakyan has decided to fight, triggering a debate over who really owns science.

"Payment of $32 is just insane when you need to skim or read tens or hundreds of these papers to do research. I obtained these papers by pirating them," Elbakyan told Torrent Freak last year
 "Everyone should have access to knowledge regardless of their income or affiliation. And that’s absolutely legal."

If it sounds like a modern day Robin Hood struggle, that's because it kinda is. But in this story, it's not just the poor who don't have access to scientific papers - journal subscriptions have become so expensive that leading universities such as Harvard and Cornell have admitted they can no longer afford them. Researchers have also taken a stand - with 15,000 scientists vowing to boycott publisher Elsevier in part for its excessive paywall fees.

Don't get us wrong, journal publishers have also done a whole lot of good - they've encouraged better research thanks to peer review, and before the Internet, they were crucial to the dissemination of knowledge.

But in recent years, more and more people are beginning to question whether they're still helping the progress of science. In fact, in some cases, the 'publish or perish' mentality is creating more problems than solutions, with a growing number of predatory publishers now charging researchers to have their work published - often without any proper peer review process or even editing.

"They feel pressured to do this," Elbakyan wrote in an open letter to the New York judge last year.

"If a researcher wants to be recognised, make a career - he or she needs to have publications in such journals."

That's where Sci-Hub comes into the picture. The site works in two stages. First of all when you search for a paper, Sci-Hub tries to immediately download it from fellow pirate database LibGen. If that doesn't work, Sci-Hub is able to bypass journal paywalls thanks to a range of access keys that have been donated by anonymous academics (thank you, science spies).

This means that Sci-Hub can instantly access any paper published by the big guys, including JSTOR, Springer, Sage, and Elsevier, and deliver it to you for free within seconds. The site then automatically sends a copy of that paper to LibGen, to help share the love.

It's an ingenious system, as Simon Oxenham explains for Big Think:

"In one fell swoop, a network has been created that likely has a greater level of access to science than any individual university, or even government for that matter, anywhere in the world. Sci-Hub represents the sum of countless different universities' institutional access - literally a world of knowledge."

That's all well and good for us users, but understandably, the big publishers are pissed off. Last year, a New York court delivered an injunction against Sci-Hub, making its domain unavailable (something Elbakyan dodged by switching to a new location), and the site is also being sued by Elsevier for "irreparable harm" - a case that experts are predicting will win Elsevier around $750 to $150,000 for each pirated article. Even at the lowest estimations, that would quickly add up to millions in damages.

But Elbakyan is not only standing her ground, she's come out swinging, claiming that it's Elsevier that have the illegal business model.

"I think Elsevier’s business model is itself illegal," she told Torrent Freak, referring to article 27 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, which states that "everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits".

She also explains that the academic publishing situation is different to the music or film industry, where pirating is ripping off creators. "All papers on their website are written by researchers, and researchers do not receive money from what Elsevier collects. That is very different from the music or movie industry, where creators receive money from each copy sold," she said.

Elbakyan hopes that the lawsuit will set a precedent, and make it very clear to the scientific world either way who owns their ideas.

"If Elsevier manages to shut down our projects or force them into the darknet, that will demonstrate an important idea: that the public does not have the right to knowledge," she said. 
"We have to win over Elsevier and other publishers and show that what these commercial companies are doing is fundamentally wrong."

To be fair, Elbakyan is somewhat protected by the fact that she's in Russia and doesn't have any US assets, so even if Elsevier wins their lawsuit, it's going to be pretty hard for them to get the money.

Still, it's a bold move, and we're pretty interested to see how this fight turns out - because if there's one thing the world needs more of, it's scientific knowledge. In the meantime, Sci-Hub is still up and accessible for anyone who wants to use it, and Elbakyan has no plans to change that anytime soon.

Western Media War Against the Crimean People

Fact Versus Bias in the Western Media War Against the Crimean People

by Roger Annis - New Cold War

Feb 10, 2016  

Data has been published for the first time in Ukraine detailing the reactions of Ukrainian police and armed forces personnel stationed in Crimea at the time of the Maidan coup in February 2014 and the secession vote in Crimea one month later. The information was reported in the Ukrainian news outlet on Feb 5, 2016.

Celebration in Simferopol’s Lenin
Square following Crimean secession
vote in March 2014

Interfax reports the findings of a Rada (parliamentary) committee investigating the circumstances of the secession. The committee says that of the approximately 2,300 Ukrainian national police (SBU) personnel who were stationed in Crimea at the time, only 215 remained loyal to Kyiv.

Of the app. 20,320 armed forces members deployed in Crimea, 6,000 returned to Ukraine. The remainder, a large majority, pledged allegiance to the new, Republic of Crimea and the armed forces of Russia.

Crimea seceded from Ukraine and joined the Russian Federation after an overwhelming majority of the population (some 97 per cent of the 80 per cent who voted) approved the measure in a referendum on March 16, 2014.

Western governments and mainstream media have always presented the Crimea secession vote as a case of “annexation” by Russia. This was never a case of accurate news reporting and objective analysis. It was, instead, a manufactured political claim that was part of a cynical manipulation of the ‘Maidan’ protest movement in order to serve Western interests.[1]

Accordingly, little factual information has been published in the West about the aspirations of the Crimean people, including that media has largely censored reporting of the numerous polls of the people of Crimea taken in 2014 and 2015. Polls show consistently that an overwhelming majority of Crimeans, including those of Ukrainian and Tatar ethnicity, are satisfied with the decision to secede from Ukraine.

An example of the continued, biased reporting of Crimea by Western mainstream media was provided by the weekday, radio newsmagazine program on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, The Current. It broadcast a 25-minute story on January 26, 2016 titled, ‘Russian regrets? Crimeans disenchanted two years after annexation’. Now here is a quiz for the inquiring reader:

Question: Should a serious journalist inquiry into the situation today in Crimea interview people living there, or should it, instead, select disgruntled observers living in Ukraine and further abroad?

Answer: That depends. If it is a serious inquiry, then, of course, the people actually living in Crimea should be canvassed, preferably providing a cross-section of opinion and experience. But if it is a inquiry intended to serve a pre-determined viewpoint–in this case that the Crimean people were bullied into seceding from Ukraine and are today unhappy and regretful of that decision–then by all means do not talk to Crimeans themselves. Because repeated polls show that the interview subjects will not provide the desired responses.

Guess which option the biased producers of The Current chose? Here are the three invited guests on its January 26 program:

“Dmitry Porfirov left Crimea late last year and now lives in Lviv, Ukraine.” Prior to leaving Crimea, Porfirov told CBC, he had “feelings” that he was no longer welcome in Crimea. And he did not like living with the economic hardships created by Western sanctions and acts of sabotage by right-wing Ukrainian paramilitaries.

Ridvan Bari Urcosta, a Tatar and political scientist who left Crimea a few months after Russia took control in 2014…” The CBC interview host introduced this guest by saying “Inside Crimea, ethnic Tatars are one of the groups most fiercely opposed to Russian annexation.” Which happens to be a blatant misrepresentation of the situation in Crimea, including among the Crimean Tatar people. One of the few published polls which has specifically sought out Tatar respondents, in early 2015, showed half of Tatar respondents happy with secession, 30 per cent opposed, and 20 per cent not knowing one way or the other. Tatar political and social organizations in Crimea vigorously challenge the false claim that the disgruntled or hostile Tatar minority speaks for all Crimean Tatars. But this is mainstream Western media, and the subject is Russia and Crimea, so inconvenient facts are not allowed when they get in the way of the ‘correct’ story.

“Journalist Dimiter Kenarov has been covering Crimea over the past two years. ” He spoke to the program from Vermont, USA. Kenarov did acknowledge in the interview that “some kind of majority of Crimeans” supported what he called “Russian annexation”, and he also offered that there is “no chance” that Crimea will ever return to Ukrainian control.

As has been reported in news outlets (though not in biased Western media such as the CBC), the people of Crimea are enduring the harsh consequences of Western economic sanctions created in order to punish them for their 2014 secession vote. They are also suffering from acts of violent sabotage against their economy by right-wing extremists in Ukraine. Since September 2015, extremists have blockaded commercial road shipments between Ukraine and Crimea, including food. The governing regime in Kyiv endorsed the blockades by making them official, in December. In November 2015, the extremists blew up electricity pylons, severing the electrical service from Ukraine on which Crimea depended. Again, Kyiv effectively endorsed the action by declining to restore service[2]

By any measure, the attacks on electricity service and the cutting of food and other vital road and rail transport constitute acts of terrorism. Did the broadcast on The Current make any inquiries along these lines? No, it did not.[3] Nor did the CBC broadcast investigate the legality and morality of economic sanctions imposed by the imperialist countries of Europe and North America against Crimea. Such investigations would get in the way of the pre-determined script of a “Russian annexation” and “Crimean disenchantment”.

This article is translated into Dutch and published on the new website in Holland, Novaya Gazeta.

[1] Sadly, Western media and governments are not the only ones to promote the meme of ‘Russian annexation’ of Crimea. Certain quarters of the international left opt to sing from the same songsheet. 

[2] Most electrical service in Crimea has been restored via the emergency installation of undersea power cables from Russia under the Kerch Strait as well as boosting of emergency electrical production. Full energy independence from Ukraine will be achieved in Crimea by summer 2016, and further strengthened after that by construction of a natural gas pipeline from Russia and several natural gas-powered electrical generation stations. 

[3] There was a brief, rote mention that “power lines were sabotaged by people suspected to be with anti-Russia activists”[?].

Hillary's New Hampshire Nightmare and the Ghost of George McGovern

Hillary Clinton’s Very Bad Night

by Robert Parry - Consortium News

February 10, 2016

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s stunning 22-point loss to Sen. Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire is even more devastating when looked at in the context of the modern history of this first-in-the-nation primary: No one has ever lost by such a margin and gone on to win the presidency.

Among Democrats, no one who lost by even half that margin in New Hampshire has recovered to win the party’s nomination. In 2008, Barack Obama lost to Hillary Clinton by 2.6 percentage points; in 1992, Bill Clinton lost to Paul Tsongas by 8.4 percentage points; in 1984, Walter Mondale lost to Gary Hart by 9.4 percentage points; in 1972, George McGovern lost to Edmund Muskie by 9.3 percentage points.

The magnitude of Hillary Clinton’s New Hampshire drubbing has establishment Democrats wringing their hands as it dawns on them that no candidate in modern U.S. political history has bounced back from a 22-point loss in that first-in-the-nation primary to win the White House, reports Robert Parry.

In two of those cases, New Hampshire did favor neighboring politicians – Sen. Tsongas from Massachusetts and Sen. Muskie from Maine – but Tuesday’s 22-point margin for Vermont Sen. Sanders cannot be explained simply by making the “nearby-favorite-son” argument. Sanders swept nearly every demographic group, including women, losing only to Clinton among New Hampshire’s senior citizens and the state’s small number of non-white voters. Sanders’s margin among young voters was particularly impressive, 82 percent, roughly the same proportion as the Iowa caucuses last week.

If Hillary Clinton hopes to overcome her New Hampshire drubbing, she would have to look for encouragement from the legacy of Republican George W. Bush who lost the 2000 New Hampshire primary to Sen. John McCain by a margin of 49 percent to 30.2 percent, but even Bush’s landslide loss represented a smaller margin of defeat than Clinton suffered on Tuesday.

A Worried Establishment

Clinton’s failure to generate momentum or much enthusiasm in her pursuit of the Democratic presidential nomination presents the Democratic Party establishment with a dilemma, since many senior party leaders fret about the risk that Sanders, a self-described “democratic socialist,” might lead the Democrats to the kind of electoral disaster that Sen. George McGovern did in 1972.

Though the Democrats rebounded in 1976 with Jimmy Carter’s victory amid Republican disarray over Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal, the Republicans soon reestablished their domination over presidential politics for a dozen years with Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. For the Democrats to reclaim the White House in 1992, it took a “New Democrat,” Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, to repackage the Democratic message into one proposing “neo-liberal” (anti-regulatory, free-trade) economics, embracing Republican tough-on-crime tactics, and rejecting “Big Government.”

President Clinton also emphasized “micro-policies,” best illustrated by his call for “school uniforms,” rather than proposing “macro-policies” for addressing poverty and other structural problems facing Americans. Though the economy performed fairly well under Clinton – his success lessening pressures from liberal groups – he also opened the door to Wall Street and other corporate excesses (by supporting deregulation of the financial and media industries).

At that point in the 1990s, the “neo-liberal” strategies had not been tested in the U.S. economy and thus many Americans were caught off-guard when this new anti-regulatory, free-trade fervor contributed to a hollowing out of the Great American Middle Class and a bloated Gilded Age for the top One Percent.

The full consequences of neo-liberalism became painfully apparent with the Wall Street Crash of 2008 and the resulting Great Recession. The suffering and hopelessness now affecting many Americans, including the white working class, has led to an angry political rejection of the American Establishment as reflected in the insurgent candidacies of Donald Trump and Sanders.

A Legacy Campaign

Hillary Clinton (like Jeb Bush) faces the misfortune of running a legacy campaign at a time when the voters are angry about the legacies of both “ruling families,” the Clintons and the Bushes. Though Sanders is a flawed candidate faulted for his muddled foreign-policy prescriptions, he (like Trump) has seized the mantle of fighting the Establishment at a time when millions of Americans are fed up with the Establishment and its self-serving policies.

In some ways, the Iowa and New Hampshire results represented the worst outcome for establishment Democrats. Clinton’s razor-thin victory in Iowa and her slashing defeat in New Hampshire have left Democratic strategists uncertain as to whether they should rally behind her – despite her lukewarm to freezing-cold reception from voters – or try to recruit another candidate who could cut off Sanders’s path to the nomination and represent a “more electable” choice in November.

If Clinton continues to stumble, there will be enormous pressure from Democratic leaders to push her aside and draw Vice President Joe Biden or perhaps Sen. Elizabeth Warren into the race.

If that were to occur — and, granted, the Clintons are notoriously unwilling to admit defeat — the Democrats could experience a political dynamic comparable to 1968 when anti-Vietnam War Sen. Eugene McCarthy challenged the prohibitive favorite President Lyndon Johnson and came close enough in New Hampshire to prompt Sen. Robert Kennedy to jump into the race — and to convince Johnson to announce that he would not seek another term.

Many idealistic Democrats who had backed McCarthy in his seemingly quixotic fight against Johnson were furious against “Bobby-come-lately,” setting up a battle between two anti-war factions of the Democratic Party. Of course, the history of the 1968 campaign was marred by the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and then Robert Kennedy, followed by the chaotic Chicago convention, which handed the nomination to Johnson’s Vice President Hubert Humphrey.

Then, after Republican Richard Nixon secretly sabotaged Johnson’s Vietnam peace talks, Nixon managed to eke out a victory over Humphrey.

While Campaign 2016 reflects a very different America – and the key Democratic issue is “income inequality,” not the Vietnam War – some parallels could become obvious if the presumptive nominee (Johnson in 1968 and Clinton in 2016) is pushed out or chooses to step aside.

Then, the Democratic choice would be plunging ahead with a back-bench candidate (McCarthy in 1968 and Sanders in 2016) or looking for a higher-profile and more mainstream alternative, such as Biden who (like Humphrey) would offer continuity with the sitting president or Warren who shares many of Sanders’s positions (like Robert Kennedy did with McCarthy) but who might be more acceptable to “party regulars.”

A Warren candidacy also might lessen the disappointment of women who wanted to see Hillary Clinton as the first female president. At the moment, however, the question is: Did New Hampshire deal a death blow to Hillary Clinton’s campaign or can she become the first candidate in modern U.S. political history to bounce back from a 22-point loss in the first-in-the-nation primary?

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and

Friday, February 12, 2016

Obama Floats Oil Production Tax Plan

T. Boone Pickens On Obama Oil Tax: "Dumbest Idea Ever"

by Rakesh Upadhyay -

The Obama administration's proposed $10.25 per barrel oil tax adds up to approximately $32 billion a year, and critics are coming out of the woodwork in defense of both the oil industry and end users who would foot the bill for transportation system reforms-but it may be a moot point since the effort will simply be killed off by Congress.

At the end of the day, this proposal is simply meant to start a discussion and possibly add to the Obama environmental legacy. The proposal has sparked immediate backlash, with critics blasting it as an impossible production tax, the death knell for the already struggling oil industry, and an unfair policy that would render gas at the pumps more expensive for consumers.

Oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens has sensationally dubbed the Obama proposal "the dumbest idea ever."

The $32 billion tax per year would be consistent with a production tax, tweeted Ed Crooks, the energy editor of The Financial Times.

Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, likewise criticized the tax, stating, as reported by Reuters: "The President is now apparently proposing yet another way of damage to our nation's oil industry".

According to Steven Kopits, Managing Director of Princeton Energy Advisors, at today's prices there would be no material impact on either U.S. mobility or the economy. However, if WTI were to hit $115 per barrel, an additional $10 per barrel tax could push the economy towards a recession.

Federal gas taxes have not been raised since 1993, and with gas prices at an all-time low, such a proposal will be fairly easy to justify at the pump, and is unlikely to cause much of a fuss for end users. Consumers would pay an additional 22-25 cents per gallon of gas - with the final price still well under gas prices a year or two ago.

According to the American Coalition for clean coal electricity report of June 2015, the lower and middle-income families, which represent 48 percent of the nation's households, spend an estimated average of 17 percent of their after-tax income on residential and transportation energy. If we consider the households earning less than $30,000 before taxes, the expense rises to 23 percent of their after-tax family incomes, without considering any energy assistance programs.

If gas prices should climb higher, the proposed increase would further strain the budgets of the poor, whereas the rich are unlikely notice the price difference between $30 and $40 per barrel - or if gas prices should climb - between $75 and $85 a barrel. It should be noted, however, that the Obama proposal would redirect 15 percent of the revenues to poorer households to offset higher energy costs. On the flip side of this emerging discussion, there are also economists who believe a tax on fossil fuels will benefit the U.S. economy. They talk about taxing "negative externalities" that may lead to "market failure.''

Harvard's Gregory Mankiw notes that there are a "host of side effects'' associated with oil and gas production and consumption, and economists view these negative side effects as a "kind of market failure" that needs to be addressed.

So will this proposal ever see the light of Congressional day? Not likely. History suggests it will be a major challenge. The first budget proposal of the Obama Administration sought to eliminate all remaining tax breaks for oil and gas producers, which would raise another $31 billion in revenue between 2010 and 2019, according to Reuters. That proposal has been shot down seven times already. For the latest budget proposal, Republicans are departing from decades of tradition by not even inviting the White House's budget director to attend Congressional hearings to explain the budget.

The government taxes on fuels have largely remained unchanged since 1993, as Congress has been unable to arrive at an agreement to raise them. The current proposal of a 22-25 cents per gallon rise on top of the existing taxes is unprecedented, so most are viewing this as a legacy-maker and a discussion starter and nothing more - for now, at least.

The proposal has put the spotlight on the administration's futuristic policy and has attracted headlines, but there is little chance that it will make it through Congress.

A New Way to See Gravity

Astronomers detect gravitational waves predicted by Einstein

by Will Morrow  - WSWS

12 February 2016

Astronomers from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) Collaboration have published the first detection of gravitational waves, ripples in the fabric of space and time. The announcement comes almost exactly a century after Albert Einstein, in mid-1916, predicted the existence of the waves on the basis of his Theory of General Relativity.

The findings were announced at a press conference at the National Science Foundation in Washington, D.C. on Thursday morning. They open up a new era in humanity’s efforts to investigate the universal laws of the motion of matter. Until now, there has been no way to directly detect the subtle gravitational vibrations which pass continuously through Earth as they do throughout the Universe. Now, however, a new spectrum of gravitational wave astronomy has begun, allowing scientists to examine regions of the cosmos previously excluded from study.

The detected wave was generated by the merger of two black holes more than one billion light years from Earth. Today’s announcement, therefore, contains two separate discoveries: the detection of gravitational waves and the first-ever observation of a black-hole binary merger, an event which had been theoretically predicted, but never seen. Black holes are so gravitationally strong that even light cannot escape their pull, which has prevented us from directly observing them until now.

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

The paper published today in the journal Physical Review Letters is titled, “Observation of Gravitational Waves from a Binary Black Hole Merger.” It is jointly authored by the LIGO Scientific Collaboration and another gravitational wave detector team, the VIRGO Collaboration. A second paper has also been published outlining the astrophysical implications of the discovery. In total, twelve publications have resulted from this discovery with many more to come.

According to the first paper, the wave passed through Earth on September 14, 2015, at 09:50:45 UTC. This was just two days into the first three-month run by the LIGO detectors after they had received a major upgrade over the previous five years. The two detectors are located in Livingston, Louisiana and Hanford, Washington, both in the United States. The wave was observed at both detectors, with a seven millisecond delay between the two.

The most intense part of the wave passed in a fleeting quarter of a second. In this time, the wave frequency increased from 35 to 150 Hz, as the relative velocity of the black holes sped up to half the speed of light. Just before merging, they were orbiting each other seventy five times per second and separated by just 350 kilometres. Nothing other than black holes would be compact enough to reach such speeds at this proximity.

The two black holes weighed approximately 29 and 36 times the mass of our Sun before the merger. But the final black hole weighs just 62 solar masses—three less than the sum of its constituents. The missing three solar masses were radiated away as energy in gravitational waves, distorting and bending the surrounding spacetime.

Put another way, in the last moments of the collision, the power radiated away by gravitational waves peaked at more than fifty times greater than the combined visible radiation of every star and gas cloud in the Universe. It is the most energetic event ever detected.

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

When speaking about gravitational waves, the obvious question is: what is “waving?”

The existence of these waves flowed from the new equations of gravity which Einstein developed in 1915. The classical theory of gravity, which had been established by Isaac Newton, described it as a force acting instantaneously at a distance between any two objects with mass. Moreover, gravitational interactions were seen to take place against a completely fixed backdrop of space and time, itself completely independent from the motion of matter.

With Einstein's theory, space and time were seen as a unified, dynamic entity. Gravity is the result of the warping of spacetime by the local presence of mass and energy. Moreover, while mass/energy warps spacetime, the curvature of spacetime itself tells matter how to move. (A more comprehensive review of the development and theory of General Relativity can be read here.)

A classic analogy is to consider the four-dimensional spacetime as a two-dimensional flat elastic sheet. Placing a mass on the sheet causes it to bend, and alters the motion of other nearby bodies. Gravitational waves can also be understood with this analogy. Wiggling a very heavy mass very quickly on the sheet will generate ripples, as the membrane seeks to overcome the local build-up of stress by releasing tension outwards. In the case of gravitational waves, what is “wiggling” is the lengths of spacetime.

Albert Einstein in 1921

Before yesterday’s announcement, there had already been strong indirect evidence for gravity waves. Two orbiting neutron stars, discovered in 1974 by Russell Hulse and Joseph Taylor, were seen to slowly approach one another at the rate predicted by their expected gravitational wave emission.

Direct detection of gravitational waves is far more challenging. Gravity is by far the weakest force, and only enormous masses changing their orientation rapidly can make appreciable waves in spacetime. Why gravity is much weaker than the other fundamental forces in nature remains a central question in physics.

To detect these waves, LIGO uses two lasers shooting down two four-kilometre tracks that are at right angles to each other. As a gravitational wave passes across the tracks, one track lengthens and one track contracts. This is revealed in the interference of the two lasers when they meet at the base of the tracks. But the change is exceedingly small: the detected gravitational wave made each four-kilometre track change in length by less than one thousandth of the width of a proton.

This means the apparatus effectively had to measure the distance between Earth and the nearest star, Proxima Centauri, to the accuracy of the width of a human hair. The experiment is the most precise humans have ever conducted.

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

To reach the sensitivity required, the scientists had to develop novel means of suppressing “noise” caused by vibrations of the mirrors from other sources. The detector is sensitive to the crashing of waves on the shore hundreds of kilometres away, wind outside the facility, and thermal vibrations due to heating of the mirrors by the laser itself. As well as using a complicated system of pulleys and magnetic vibrational suppressors, and placing the detectors in a vacuum, the LIGO team also requires that any signal on one detector is seen on the other, to rule out the possibility of a local event being falsely reported as a gravitational wave originating in deep space.

The success of this experiment is the product of more than two decades of scientific collaboration involving researchers from all over the world. The LIGO Scientific Collaboration includes more than 1,000 scientists, including contributors from Japan, Germany, India, Italy, Russia, China and Australia, as well as the United States.

The recently upgraded “Advanced” LIGO detector is the most sophisticated of a new generation of gravity interferometers. The original LIGO was first proposed in 1989 and gained funding in 1992, with the aim of demonstrating the feasibility of the experiment. New upgrades, based on technologies that would be developed later, were planned from the outset.

Over the same period, increased computational power and techniques have opened up the field of numerical relativity, which was not previously possible due to the enormous computational complexity of Einstein’s equations. These simulations allowed the LIGO team to compare their detection with the theoretically predicted signal from a black hole binary merger.


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


Other detectors already exist, and are being upgraded or built. These include the VIRGO detector in Italy and the KAGRA detector in Japan. There are also plans for another LIGO detector in India. Earlier this year, the LISA Pathfinder mission was launched into space, with the aim of testing the technologies for a space-based gravitational wave detector. Having an array of detectors will allow astronomers to triangulate the wave signal and pinpoint the source location, meaning astronomers using conventional electromagnetic telescopes can be notified of where to point their detectors.

The opening up of gravitational wave astronomy has vast implications. It will provide for tests of the validity of Einstein’s theory of General Relativity in the domain of very strong fields and high speeds, such as around black holes. It also allows us to look into the interior of neutron stars, whose incredible densities offer a physical laboratory that could not be replicated on Earth. Moreover, while dust and other matter obscure our observation of the distant universe using light, gravitational waves—because they interact so weakly with matter—reach us relatively unimpeded.

But as well as providing some answers, the introduction of an entirely new, gravitational spectrum will undoubtedly raise new, and entirely unexpected, questions. As Kip Thorne, a LIGO co-founder and a world expert in relativity theory, commented to Physics World: “LIGO has opened a new window on the universe—a gravitational-wave window. Each time a new window has opened up there have been big surprises—LIGO is just the beginning. Until now, we as scientists have only seen warped space-time, when it’s very calm. It’s as though we’d only seen the surface of the ocean on a very calm day when it’s quite glassy. We had never seen the ocean in a storm, with crashing waves. All of that changed on 14 September 2015. The colliding black holes that produced these gravitational waves created a violent storm in the fabric of space and time. A storm in which time speeded up and slowed down, speeded up again.”

The author also recommends:

100 years of General Relativity—Part One
[7 December 2015]

100 years of General Relativity—Part Two
[8 December 2015]

100 years of General Relativity—Part Three
[9 December 2015]

Trumping Sanctions on Iran: A Tale of Two Elections

Notes From Tehran: Trump, the Iranian Elections and the End of Sanctions

by Franklin Lamb - CounterPunch

February 12, 2016

Tehran - The remaining 5 Republican candidates, winnowed in from the original dozen, push to ingratiate themselves among South Carolina’s Republican voters, who like a majority of their countrymen, are angry at Washington ‘pay-to-play’ politicians. The day before that state’s February 27 primary, Iranian voters will have gone to the polls for their own crucial elections.

Iranians will vote in twin elections for the Iranian parliament and to elect a more powerful separate body known as the Assembly of Experts. And yes, The Donald is now a factor in both of those Iranian elections. Before Trump involved himself, the Iranian elections had already proven divisive. Many relatively moderate candidates were rejected by hard-liners during the vetting phase. Several of these blocked candidates support President Hassan Rouhani, a key architect of the Iran nuclear deal that they support.

For his part, Rouhani has been traveling abroad to begin Iran’s process of returning to international global trade. His recent travels are viewed among many in Iran as part of this month’s elections to shore up his support, given that the election is partly a referendum on his record and the nuclear agreement.

Hardliners in Iran and the US have joined the election campaign on the nuclear issue. Trump has referred to all supporters of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreements on Iran’s nuclear program as “stupid.” During recent campaign interviews his approach, which is a mélange of nativism, conservatism, and populism is being closely monitored in Tehran while at home no other current candidate is matching its breadth. The Donald insists that the Obama administration completely botched the negotiation with Iran, whereas being the master dealmaker, he would have negotiated the agreement with Iran and obtained a much better outcome for America.

Trump assures voters that he would have spared America from having to pay to Iran what he wrongly claims are $150 billion. He would have easily done this by telling the Iranians:

“Look guys, we Americans owe $19 trillion in debt. We’re a country that has no money. We can’t give you the $150 billion dollars.” The Iranians, claims Trump, would have said, “But we want it. It’s ours!” And Trump says he would have responded, “We can’t give it! We don’t have it! We don’t have it!” Trump assures audiences that he would have stood his ground and absolutely refused to pay the $150 billion. At that point, the meeting would have broken-up with no agreement. But then, two days later, the Iranians would have folded by calling Trump and saying, “Let’s make a deal.” Iran would then have agreed that America would not be required to pay the $150 billion.

What has many Iranians scratching their heads and asking American visitors: “Who is this is guy?” is partially the fact that Trump seems not even to know that frozen Iranian funds were never part of the US budget and no one has ever seriously claimed that they don’t belong to Iran. The US is obliged under the JCPOA to simply return Iran’s own money that it had seized and was holding in frozen accounts pending the resolution of the sanctions against Iran.

During an interview last week with CNN, Trump, ignorant about the facts of the deal, obviously had no clue that this money always belonged to Iran. Yet this troubling fact does not prevent Trump from lambasting the nuclear deal and pledging to tear it up just as soon as he becomes president. He appears to have no idea what he is talking about in substance and appears to read from AIPAC ‘fact sheets’ which repeat Israel’s PM Netanyahu’s hysterical claims that Iran will be awash with up to $250 billion cash to fund more terrorism.

Of course, neither Trump nor any US President is going to scrap the JCPOA and if one tried, America’s global allies and likely the American public would strongly oppose its attempt. Nor will the Iranians scrape it.

Iranians, unlike candidate Trump, are realistic about what sanctions relief will really mean to Iran, recognizing that $20 billion of their returning money is committed to projects with China where sanction relief funds cannot be spent, and that there are tens of billions of dollars locked up in nonperforming loans to Iran’s energy and banking sectors. Iran has the world’s fourth-largest proved reserves of crude oil, and hopes to quickly increase production, which could lead to tens of billions worth of new oil trade despite a slumping market. But that won’t happen anytime soon.

In the run-up to their elections, many Iranians are increasingly critical of the terms of the deal and Rohani is losing some support for not delivering on promises of JCPOA benefits. This month’s elections will likely be viewed through this prism.

Recent polls of public opinion in Iran show that there has been an approximately ten percent drop in public support for the agreement. A recent poll taken by the University of Maryland’s Center for International and Security Studies last month shows that still nearly 72 percent of Iranians support last July’s agreement. Last August the figure was 75%. Answering a question on whether the deal was a victory for Iran or a defeat, last August 36.6 percent of Iranians said it was a victory, but as of this month the figure has dropped to 27.4 percent. The current trend in Iranian public opinion has shifted with a rising number, currently 54%, up from 43% six months ago, claiming that the deal is beneficial for both Iran and the international community that agreed to it.

So-called moderate supporters of Iran’s President Rohani may have a major impact on this month’s elections and bring changes to Iran. The Iranian public is sophisticated about what JCPOA is likely to mean for them. Recent polls show that there has been an approximately ten percent drop in public support for the agreement.

Trump’s claims that the Obama administration has given Iran a major financial windfall favoring Islamic extremism are not supported by any serious analysis. The Obama administration and its partners on the nuclear deal point out that Iran will receive over the next few years not $150 billion, but more like $56 billion, $32 billion of which it has already received, leaving $20 billion to repair its oil industry, much needed and popularly demanded infrastructure repairs plus measures to try to quell inflation.

The World Bank also estimates that about $100 billion of Iranian assets were frozen abroad, around half of which Tehran could access to as a result of sanctions relief. A contest for available funds in already well underway in Iran between public expectations for use of the money and hardliners favoring the funds going to various military demands including from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its hardliner allies.

Iranians will be indirectly voting this month on this key issue and students interviewed appear realistic that in the short term their lives will not be much improved as a result of JCPOA, but they overwhelmingly favor a return to ‘normal’ relations with the global community while acknowledging that Iran and the West have conflicting opinions on such issues as human rights, religious governments, aspects of Islam, terrorism and Israel among others and that these differences will likely remain for the foreseeable future.

Some Iranians, especially young people, are also vocal about the fact that while Iran’s 1979 Revolution shook its criminal justice system to the core, the country’s legal framework remains largely inadequate, inefficient and inconsistent with fair trial standards, as claimed recently by Amnesty International.

Changes are coming to Iran and America and this month’s elections will likely point in which direction. This year’s elections in America and Iran may well also have a major effect on which direction both countries move, as well as their impact on the Middle East-West Asia region.

Franklin Lamb is a visiting Professor of International Law at the Faculty of Law, Damascus University and volunteers with the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program (
More articles by:Franklin Lamb

Thursday, February 11, 2016

A Cowardly New World: Tyranny of Fear the Currency of Empire

Russia, North Korea, Terrorism...Fear as Currency of Western Tyranny

by Finian Cunningham - RT

Feb. 11, 2016

For those with a weak heart it has been a testing week. Russian nuclear aggression, North Korea’s ballistic missiles, terrorists planning to attack the US and Europe. Please almighty, benevolent Washington – protect us!

History has long shown that fear is the currency of rule by tyrants. Get the people to fear some external enemy and then you can command their submission to any form of control – because it’s for their “protection”.
North Korea sends one across the bow

Organized crime calls it a “protection racket”; colonial powers called it “protectorates”; and modern Western supposed democracies claim it is in the name of “state security”.

In many ways it constitutes a risible ruse that should be easily seen through for the farce that it is. But the otherwise unbelievable farce is given a facade of plausibility, credibility and normality due to the immense conditioning power of the Western news media.

That, by the way, is why alternative new outlets are so vilified by Western powers because they dispel the fiction in a way that exposes the fiction-tellers as the dupes, liars and charlatans that they are.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov this week pointed out the absurdity of Washington and its NATO allies hyping the “myth of Russia’s threat” to Europe. Particularly insulting to ordinary decent human intelligence is the claim put out by Western countries that “Russia is planning to use nuclear weapons to intimidate Sweden and the Baltic countries.”

As ever, Washington and its NATO allies do not present evidence to support their far-fetched claims. Tendentious assertions are simply turned into “facts” by force of repetition and dissemination, and sheer double think, as illustrated by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg making the bizarre statement that the military alliance is not posing a threat to Russia.

The fear factor in this case works to subdue public criticism in NATO countries of their governments piling up more military firepower around Russia’s borders. This week, the American Pentagon announces plans to increase its military spending in Europe fourfold to $3.4 billion, purportedly to “deter Russia’s threat”. Not only is this expenditure depriving American people of needed public services, such as clean drinking water, it is actually a deeply provocative act of aggression towards Russia.

But the trick tends to work, with apparent public consent, because it is all done in the name of “protecting us” from “evil Russians”.

The same goes for implementing state emergency powers in France this week and the long-established post 9/11 so-called Patriot legislation in the US, giving the authorities license to erode civil liberties.

The US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Congress this week that the country is facing a major attack this year from the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIL/ ISIS) terror group. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer described Clapper’s presentation as “a sober assessment”, thus giving it a veneer of substance. But in reality all that the intelligence (sic) chief said was that there were thousands of ISIS cadres in 40 different countries. How this presents a clear and imminent security danger to the US is not evidenced, but no doubt it will serve to maintain, if not extend, federal police powers against their own citizens.

And, of course, CNN or any other Western corporate media outlet would never question or probe the origins of ISIS and other Al Qaeda-linked terror networks as a willful creation of American, British, French, Saudi and Turkish state intelligence.

In the same Congress briefing, the US disinformation chief also gave a grim assessment of North Korea producing plutonium for nuclear weapons. Clapper said with apparent gravity that the secretive authoritarian state is “making steps towards developing intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) which could target the United States.” And, dutifully, the Western news media amplify those words in order to give them credibility and ominousness.

A BBC World news ticker read: “North Korea close to having bomb”. Funnily enough, the very next ticker headline read: “Andy Murray’s wife has a baby”.

So you see, not only are vacuous claims about the alleged threat from North Korea transformed into a seemingly serious fact, the issue is also given a sense of normalcy and banality by mixing it up with news on a tennis player’s family.

Last week, North Korea did indeed launch a ballistic rocket into outer space to put an observation satellite in orbit. Yes, the launch breached UN resolutions banning Kim Jong-Un’s regime from using ballistic power. Pyongyang is no doubt using the satellite story as a cover for testing dual ballistic technology that could be, eventually, used to build an ICBM.

And, yes, North Korea carried out a nuclear test explosion last month – the fourth such explosion since 2006, again in violation of UN resolutions.

But such activity is a distant remove from actually being able to mount a nuclear warhead on to a serviceable ICBM and to be able to fire the weapon thousands of kilometers. Most international ballistic experts do not believe that North Korea is anywhere near that stage of development.

The AFP news agency quoted aerospace engineer John Schilling, who has closely followed the North’s missile program, as saying: “An ICBM warhead, unlike a satellite, needs to come down as well as go up. North Korea has never demonstrated the ability to build a re-entry vehicle that can survive at even half the speed an ICBM would require.”

In short, despite what the US and heaps of Western media coverage would have us believe, North Korea is not a threat to international security. Sure, the secretive state can be said to be in breach of UN resolutions. But a nuclear enemy of the world it is most certainly not.

Meanwhile, Washington possesses more than 1,500 actively deployed nuclear warheads across the globe, ready to launch at the touch of a button. The US is the only country to have ever used nuclear weapons, killing more than 200,000 people in the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Nearly, 40 years after signing the Non-Proliferation Treaty mandating nuclear disarmament, the US is in a process of upgrading its nuclear arsenal at a cost of $1 trillion over the next 30 years.

Behind all the bombast over North Korea’s alleged “threat”, the US is moving ahead with the deployment in South Korea and Japan of its “missile shield” system. Such a move is much more destabilizing to international security than any alleged violation by North Korea, because as China and Russia have consistently argued over many years, such a so-called defense shield tends to give the US a “first strike nuclear capability”. That increases the risk of a nuclear war, making nuclear weapons escalation a relentless tendency rather than disarmament. So who is the rogue state here?

It should be noted too that the US-led NATO alliance is pushing ahead with deploying a similar missile shield system in Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, at the same time that NATO is building up ever-more of a presence.

Where is the accountability of Western governments to their public for such provocative, precarious, police-state policies? If there is no accountability, then that is the definition of tyrannical power.

But how could such tyranny pertain in notional democracies, you may ask? Fear. Fear is the currency of tyranny. And servile news organizations – more accurately perception-management services – condition public acceptance of these fears. Fears that in a more rational perspective would be dismissed as outrageous fabrications.

Finian Cunningham (born 1963) has written extensively on international affairs, with articles published in several languages. Originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, he is a Master’s graduate in Agricultural Chemistry and worked as a scientific editor for the Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, England, before pursuing a career in newspaper journalism. For over 20 years he worked as an editor and writer in major news media organizations, including The Mirror, Irish Times and Independent. Now a freelance journalist based in East Africa, his columns appear on RT, Sputnik, Strategic Culture Foundation and Press TV. 

Solving the Bernie Problem: Democrat Elites and Their Handmaidens Take On the Populist

Can the Establishment Fix Its Bernie Sanders Problem?

by Shamus Cooke - CounterPunch

February 11, 2016 

The Democrats’ fight against Bernie is appearing futile. Like a python choking on an elephant, they’ve miscalculated. The Party elites underestimated their opponent, and with each new attack the snake swallows an extra inch, harming only itself.

Establishment figureheads are taking turns ruining their reputation as they attempt to ruin Bernie’s. The U.S. ruling class as a whole revealed the depth of its crisis in this election: not since the Vietnam War have both wings of the establishment thoroughly discredited themselves.

The Republican wing combusted quickly while the Democrats have chosen a slower, more torturous form of self-harm.

The problem with both parties is their inability to serve the super rich while successfully appealing to voters. As inequality widens, democracy suffers. Focusing on the “billionaire class” has catapulted Bernie’s campaign, but the presidency is not an institution that just anybody is allowed to capture.

How will this all play out? Nobody knows. Polls swing wildly in times of flux, making predictions risky. Here are two questions whose answers will guide the future of the election:

1) Can Bernie win the Democratic nomination?

2) If Bernie wins, what next? Will the establishment try to make a deal with him? And will Bernie take it? Or will he remain true to his rhetoric and be a candidate of the 99%?

Nobody except his cheerleaders believed Bernie could actually win, until recently. His momentum combined with Hillary’s crash has forced many to rethink.

An excellent article by Arun Gupta lays bare the machinery of the Party that could be used to decapitate Bernie’s campaign. Yes, the Democratic Party machine could destroy Bernie’s campaign, but it could come at a cost they might not be willing to pay. Most of the Party’s weapons are blunt instruments that leave too much evidence. And millions of people are watching closely.

The first major Party attack misfired badly when the Democrats tried to sabotage Bernie by restricting access to voter data. Hundreds of thousands of people expressed outrage on social media and by signing petitions.

The blowback stunned the Party, which quickly backtracked. They learned a powerful lesson: By destroying Bernie, they could destroy the Party, completely discrediting themselves in front of millions of people.

They didn’t realize how fast the political ground was shifting beneath their feet. Nobody did, and unless an anti-Bernie cryptonite is found soon, the crisis will deepen. Their own electoral game is rigged, yet out of their control.

The trump card of the Party elites is their control of “superdelegates.” But overplaying your best cards is risky too. Imagine Sanders winning the popular vote by wide margins in state after state, only to have the Party machine give the delegates to Clinton. Acting this undemocratically could trigger a deep crisis and destroy the veneer of democracy.

For now the Democrats have opted for a backup plan. It isn’t working. They launched a coordinated pro-Hillary bandwagon campaign, foolishly thinking that Bernie’s populist message could be drowned by a flood of “respected individuals” offering glowing endorsements of Clinton or making cheap attacks against Bernie.

Hillary’s bloated list of endorsers is a “who’s who” among Party elites; nearly every Democratic senator and House representative has endorsed Hillary, while an array of intellectuals have emitted a stream of drivel from their pens and mouths. But their pro-Hillary hack pieces have only invited rage and insults. Nobody likes an arrogant salesman with a shoddy product.

Gloria Steinem, Paul Krugman, Bernie Frank, Madeleine Albright, and a host of others have proven themselves cheap hit-men for the establishment. But their aim is off. The self-inflicted wounds are exposing the hollow intellectualism of the Party elites. Trying to sound smart is tough while making dumb arguments.

Esteemed liberal economist Paul Krugman proved to everyone how clueless he was about political change in his anti-Bernie article “How Change Happens.” His readers skillfully torched him in the comments section.

Famous feminist Gloria Steinem had to apologize for her sexist comment that young women like Bernie because “boys” do.

And Madeline Albright would apologize too, had she any dignity. In her pro-Hillary rant she said there was a “special place in hell” for women who would vote Bernie. But if hell does exist, Albright certainly has her own very special place reserved, for having argued that it was “worth it” that 500,0000 Iraqi children died as a consequence of the U.S. Clinton-era sanctions levied against Iraq.

These “influential” people have lost their authority, which hinged on a political equilibrium that has drastically changed. They can no longer stuff their beliefs down others’ throats. There is a resounding clash of realities which the elites are smashing their heads against, one after another. Young people care nothing about what these so-called experts say. Nor should they.

The mass discrediting of “respected” individuals represents another side of the establishment’s crisis. The question is being posed: who really has the ear of the people? It turns out that very few elites can exert much influence.

They are too alienated. Historic inequality has shrunken the establishment to 1% of the population. Meanwhile, the ranks of the “middle class” have been reduced, most of those still in the “middle class” are now struggling to get by, and the poor are getting poorer. By breaching this alienation Bernie has exposed the whole rotten system that Hillary hopes to preserve.

The many organizations endorsing Hillary faced similar denunciations from their adherents. Groups like Planned Parenthood, national labor unions, The New York Times, and the League of Conservation Voters proved how unrepresentative they were of their followers and members.

An article by the Intercept noted that “Bernie gets endorsements when members decide; Hillary gets endorsements when leaders decide.” The leaders of these groups miscalculated; they tried to play the old political game without realizing the game had changed. They tried to help Hillary but only harmed themselves.

This dynamic can’t go on much longer. It’s too dangerous; it creates unpredictable political chaos. If Bernie survives the multi-state primary “Super Tuesday” on March 1st, the Party establishment may give up and approach him to make a deal. If they can’t beat Bernie they’ll join him; or more accurately, they’ll officially ask Bernie to join them.

What might an offer look like? Broadly speaking, they would ask Bernie to focus his campaign against the Republicans in certain ways, and if he were to become president they’d ask that he’d adhere to a small list of policy considerations.

But would Bernie take the bait as Obama did? Yes, most likely he would. As argued in a previous article, Bernie supports the unifying priority of the establishment: war and imperialism abroad, which requires less domestic spending at home.

His allegiance to the juggernaut of the U.S. military-industrial complex isn’t a blind spot of his politics; he’s trying to play ball. You’ll notice that Bernie isn’t advocating the slashing of the military budget during the debates, even though the vast majority of people would enthusiastically support such an idea, especially if it meant funding the programs Bernie is promoting.

Another indication that Bernie would be willing to join hands with the 1% is his stated willingness to support Hillary if he loses. If he is so anti-establishment why would he campaign for one of its most notorious figures? As author Diana Johnstone shows in her new book “Queen of Chaos,” Hillary is a quintessential member of the ruling class, representing everything that Bernie claims to be against. His principles are mushier than they appear on TV.

Sanders would surely justify his pro-Hillary campaigning as a “fighting against the right wing,” a common theme of Sanders’ politics over the years. He’s attacks have been limited to Republicans, which is why Obama’s establishment presidency provoked little criticism from Sanders, and never a strong denunciation.

Sanders has already made overtures to the Democratic establishment during his campaign. At a Party conference he pleaded for support, arguing that he is the candidate the Party should unite around since his popularity would increase voter turnout.

There is plenty of other evidence that Bernie could make peace with a Democratic Party agenda, based on the years that he caucused with Democrats in the Senate. It’s true the establishment doesn’t identify with Bernie. They don’t trust him. But Bernie identifies with them.

Many have compared Bernie Sanders with the UK Labor Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn. But several articles have made the case, correctly, that Corbyn’s politics are far to the left of Bernie’s, who could taper his rhetoric just a bit to fit into the mold of the Democratic Party elites. The Democrats wouldn’t be able to make a deal with a Jeremy Corbyn, who’s been a consistent anti-war politician for decades, but they could possibly do business with Bernie, were they desperate enough.

The emperor can easily change clothes, and feels comfortable in different skin colors or genders. But capitalism will shed its democratic clothing if needed. If Bernie posed a real threat to core economic interests, the establishment would go to greater undemocratic lengths to prevent him from taking office.

And if Bernie somehow manages to become president without agreeing to a deal, his physical safety would be at risk. It may already be at risk. The U.S. ruling class just doesn’t allow anybody to become president. There is too much money and power at stake. The next few months are sure to be fascinating.
Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action ( He can be reached at
More articles by:Shamus Cooke

Meanwhile...As You Watched the Election Horserace

What Obama Did While You Were Watching Elections

by David Swanson - Let's Try Democracy

11 February 2016 
Pass the popcorn! Wait till I tweet this! Did you see the look on his face?

Ain't elections exciting? We just can't get enough of them, which could be why we've stretched them out to a couple of years each, even though a small crowd of Super Delegates and a couple of state officials with computer skills could quite conceivably decide the whole thing anyway.

Through the course of this marvelous election thus far I've been trying to get any human being to ask any candidate to provide just the most very basic outline of the sort of budget they would propose if president, or at least some hint at the single item in the budget that takes up more than half of it. 

Do they think military spending should go up, go down, or stay right where it is?

Who knows! Aren't elections wonderful?

I'd even settle for the stupid "gotcha" question in which we find out if any of the candidates knows, even roughly, what percentage of the budget military spending is now.

Why is this topic, although seemingly central, scrupulously avoided?
The candidates all, more or less, agree.
None of the candidates brings it up.
Nobody in Congress, not even the "progressive" caucus, brings it up.
Nobody in the corporate media brings it up.
The corporate media outlets see war profiteers as customers who buy ads.
The corporate media outlets see war profiteers in the mirror as parts of their corporate families.

The fact that the military costs money conflicts with the basic premise of U.S. politics which is that one party wants to spend money on socialistic nonsense while the other party wants to stop spending money and build a bigger military.

Those seem like the obvious answers, but here's another. While you're being entertained by the election, President Obama is proposing a bigger military than ever. Not only is U.S. military spending extremely high by historical standards, but looking at the biggest piece of military spending, which is the budget of the Department of so-called Defense, that department's annual "Green Book" makes clear that it has seen higher spending under President Barack Obama than ever before in history.

Check out the new budget proposal from the President who distracted millions of people from horrendous Bush-Cheney actions with his "peace" talk as a candidate eight years ago. He wants to increase the base Do"D" budget, both the discretionary and the mandatory parts. He wants to increase the extra slush fund of unaccountable money for the Do"D" on top of that. This pot used to be named for wars, but wars have gotten so numerous and embarrassing that it's now called "Overseas Contingency Operations."

When it comes to nuclear weapons, Obama wants to increase spending, but when it comes to other miscellaneous extras for the military, he also wants to increase that. Military retirement spending, on the other hand, he'd like to see go up, while the Veterans Administration spending he proposes to raise. Money for fueling ISIS by fighting it, Obama wants raised by 50%. On increasing hostility with Russia through a military buildup on its border, Obama wants a 400% spending boost. In one analysis, military spending would jump from $997.2 billion this year to $1.04 trillion next year under this proposal.

That's a bit awkward, considering the shade it throws on any piddly little project that does make it into election debates and reporting. The smallest fraction of military spending could pay for the major projects that Senator Bernie Sanders will be endlessly attacked for proposing to raise taxes for.

It's also awkward for the whole Republican/Hillary discussion of how to become more militarized, unlike that pacifist in the White House.

And, of course, it's always awkward to point out that events just go on happening in the world rather than pausing out of respect for some inanity just uttered by Marco Rubio.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Defensive Defenders Demand "Get the Facts Straight" on Great Bear Deal

85% Means 85% - Get the Facts Straight on the Great Bear Rainforest Agreement

by Valerie Langer, Director of BC Forest Campaigns, ForestEthics Solutions

Feb 5, 2016

The Great Bear Rainforest Agreement strengthens the position of Native People and legally prevents logging on 85% of the massive temperate rainforest.

On February 1, 2016, Coastal First Nations, Nanwakolas Council (First Nations) and the Province of British Columbia announced the Great Bear Rainforest Agreement. ForestEthics and our partners Greenpeace and Sierra Club BC strongly support the plan. For a decade we worked alongside First Nations, the Province and five logging companies to develop a conservation package that would put people and the environment first. And while the scope of conservation is very significant, it is also rather complicated.

For more than a century protecting wildlands has meant setting up parks. But that history includes a darker side, one where Native Peoples are excluded from their homes or territorial lands. The term “conservation refugees” was coined to describe people removed from parks because of the faulty belief that healthy ecology means no human communities. To native people who have inhabited rainforests and other wild areas for milenia, this belief is as dangerous as destruction or industrialization of the forest. Across the globe natural forest is directly correlated with Indigenous people -- where First Nations live on their ancestral lands, forests and other wildlands remain.

For the past 10 years we worked closely with First Nations to develop legal conservation approaches and designations that respect Indigenous rights and the needs of their communities. Different designations, each with its own governing principles were developed, but all share one common trait -- these areas cannot be logged. So it is through this variety of designations that the full 85% of the forested land-base in the Great Bear is legally off limits to logging. And let’s not forget that the remaining 15% will only be logged subject to the the most stringent commercial logging rules in North America.

Some people have said only 38% is legally off limits to logging -- those people are simply wrong. The legal requirement for 85% (3.1 million hectares) can be found in The Legal Order on the Provincial website (Part 1; Section 6; page 10). This sections states:

Great Bear Rainforest Order Part 1:

1. Objectives for Managed Forest and Natural Forest

(1) Identify and maintain in the order area:

(a) an area of Managed Forest of 550,032 hectares that is or will be available for timber harvest; and

(b) a Natural Forest area that continues to grow older over time subject to natural disturbance and non-forest tenure activity, and has an area of 3,108,876 hectares

Here is a cheat sheet on the conservation and advancements for First Nations that are included in the Great Bear Agreement:

First Nations

Strengthened their governance and economic relationships with the province (for forestry and carbon revenues and other community well being measures)
Identified areas they want protected and not protected and jointly developed and approved the out the new logging rules with the province

Protected Areas

8 new protected areas including (295,000ha). Brings total to 38% of the landmass (41% of Great Bear Rainforest forested landbase)

New Legal Designations:

  • Managed Forest - new legal designation = 15% of the total forest (550,000 ha) where LOGGING ALLOWED
  • Natural Forest - new legal designation = 85% of the total forest (3.1 million ha) is OFF LIMITS TO LOGGING (this includes the protected areas and the conservation targets for every ecosystem type in the Great Bear Rainforest which are now legally required to be maintained under the new Land Use Order)

Improved Forest Management

  • Conservation Targets - legal requirement to maintain conservation targets of minimum 70% of each ecosystem type (except for 30,000 ha)
  • Restorations Zones - 9 new Restorations Zones (90,000 ha) in the very south (which has been heavily logged) to recuperate old forest to 30% where currently there is less than 10% old growth forest
  • Landscape Reserves - requirement to map where conservation targets will be achieved
  • Annual Allowable Cut - big reduction (~40% reduction since pre Ecosystem Based Management. of that 19% just achieved Feb 1st)
  • GBR Act - The AAC will be entrenched in a new GBR Act that will be legislated in the spring session.
  • Close Loopholes - loopholes from prior Land Use Orders have been closed and Land Use Objectives and the associated policy has been improved (bear dens, cultural objectives, Reserve Design requirements, endangered and threatened ecosystem requirements and definition of old forest etc.)
  • Accountability - Forestry is going to be done in a new, more cooperative and accountable fashion
  • Transparency - There will be greater transparency for the general public about how forestry occurs including an annual report out on how conservation targets were met.

Trophy Hunt

The Trophy bear hunt is still allowed (despite the Premier saying otherwise during a press conference). We strongly support abolishing this barbaric practice.
By Valerie Langer, Director of BC Forest Campaigns, ForestEthics Solutions

By Valerie Langer, Director of BC Forest Campaigns, ForestEthics Solutions

Follow Valerie Langer on Twitter: @ValerieLanger

More by Valerie Langer:

85% of Great Bear Rainforest Off Limits to Logging

Kinder Morgan vs. Everyone in the World

The Homestretch for the Great Bear Rainforest Agreements

Syria Peace Talks: One Hand Stops Clapping in Geneva

Will Geneva talks lead right back to Assad’s 2011 reforms?

by Sharmine Narwani - RT

Feb. 10, 2016

Syrian peace talks have already stalled. The opposition refused to be in the same room as the government delegation, while the latter blamed opposition ‘preconditions’ and the organizers’ inability to produce a ‘list of designated terrorists’.

The UN’s special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura has now promised talks will reconvene on February 25, but how will he achieve this?

So much has shifted on the global political stage and in the Syrian military theater since this negotiation process first began gaining steam.

In just the past few weeks, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and its allies have recaptured key areas in Latakia, Idlib, Daraa, Homs and Aleppo, and are making their way up to the Turkish border, cutting off supply lines and exits for opposition militants along the way.

While analysts and politicians on both sides of the fence have warned that a ‘military solution’ to the Syrian crisis is not feasible, the SAA’s gains are starting to look very much like one. And with each subsequent victory, the ability for the opposition to raise demands looks to be diminished.

Already, western sponsors of the talks have as much as conceded that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will continue to play a role in any future government - a slap in the face to the foreign-backed Syrian opposition that have demanded his exit.

And the long list of deliverables in peace talks yet to come - transitional governance, ceasefires, constitutional reform, and elections - are broad concepts, vague enough to be shaped to advantage by the dominant military power on the ground.

The shaping of post-conflict political landscapes invariably falls to the victor – not the vanquished. And right now, Geneva looks to be the place where this may happen, under the watch of many of the states that once threw their weight – weapons, money, training, support – behind the Syrian ‘opposition.’

So here’s a question: As the military landscape inside Syria continues to move in the government’s favor, will a final deal look very much different than the 2011 reforms package offered by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad?

Assad’s 2011 reforms

In early 2011, the Syrian government launched a series of potentially far-reaching reforms, some of these unprecedented since the ascendance of the Baath party to power in 1963.

Arriving in Damascus in early January 2012 – my third trip to Syria, and my first since the crisis began – I was surprised to find restrictions on Twitter and Facebook already lifted, and a space for more open political discourse underway.

That January, less than ten months into the crisis, around 5,000 Syrians were dead, checkpoints and security crackdowns abounded, while themes such as “the dictator is killing his own people” and “the protests are peaceful” still dominated western headlines.

Four years later, with the benefit of hindsight, many of these things can be contextualized. The ‘protests’ were not all ‘peaceful’ – and casualties were racking up equally on both sides. We see this armed opposition more clearly now that they are named Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and ISIS. But back in early 2012, these faces were obfuscated – they were all called “peaceful protestors forced to take up arms against a repressive government.”

Nevertheless, in early 2011, the Syrian government began launching its reforms - some say only to placate restive populations; others saw it as an opportunity for Assad to shrug off the anti-reform elements in his government and finish what he intended to start in 2000’s ‘Damascus Spring.’

Either way, the reforms came hard and fast - some big, some small: decrees suspending almost five decades of emergency law that prohibited public gatherings, the establishment of a multi-party political system and terms limits for the presidency, the removal of Article 8 of the constitution that assigned the Baath party as “the leader of state and society,” citizenship approval for tens of thousands of Kurds, the suspension of state security courts, the removal of laws prohibiting the niquab, the release of prisoners, the granting of general amnesty for criminals, the granting of financial autonomy to local authorities, the removal of controversial governors and cabinet members, new media laws that prohibited the arrest of journalists and provided for more freedom of expression, dissolution of the cabinet, reducing the price of diesel, increasing pension funds, allocating housing, investment in infrastructure, opening up direct citizen access to provincial leaders and cabinet members, the establishment of a presidential committee for dialogue with the opposition – and so forth.

But almost immediately, push back came from many quarters, usually accompanied by the ‘Arab Spring’ refrain: “it’s too late.”

But was it?

Western governments complained about reforms not being implemented. But where was the time – and according to whose time-frame? When the Assad government forged ahead with constitutional reforms and called for a nationally-held referendum to gain citizen buy-in, oppositionists sought a boycott and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the referendum “phony” and “a cynical ploy.”

Instead, just two days earlier, at a meeting in Tunis, Clinton threw her significant weight behind the unelected, unrepresentative, Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Syrian National Council (SNC): “We do view the Syrian National Council as a leading legitimate representative of Syrians seeking peaceful democratic change.”

And when, in May 2012, Syria held parliamentary elections – the first since the constitution revamp – the US State Department called the polls: “bordering on ludicrous.”

But most insidious of all the catch-phrases and slogans employed to undermine the Syrian state, was the insistence that reforms were “too late” and “Assad must go.” When, in the evolution of a political system, is it too late to try to reform it? When, in the evolution of a political system, do external voices, from foreign capitals, get to weigh in on a head of state more loudly than its own citizens?

According to statements made by two former US policymakers to McClatchy News: “The goal had been to ‘ratchet up’ the Syria response incrementally, starting with U.S. condemnation of the violence and eventually suggesting that Assad had lost legitimacy.”

“The White House and the State Department both – and I include myself in this – were guilty of high-faluting rhetoric without any kind of hard policy tools to make the rhetoric stick,” confessed Robert Ford, former US Ambassador to Syria.

An analysis penned by veteran Middle East correspondent Michael Jansen at the onset of the talks in Geneva last week ponders the point: “The Syrian crisis might have been resolved in 2011 if US president Barack Obama had not declared on August 18th that year that his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad had to 'step aside.'”

Were the additional 250,000 Syrian deaths worth those empty slogans? Or might reforms, in Syrian hands, have been worth a try?

Domestic dissent, Assad and reforms

The story inside Syria, within the dissident community, still varied greatly during my January 2012 trip. But with the exception of one, Fayez Sara, who went on to eventually leave the country and join the SNC, Syrian dissidents with whom I met unanimously opposed sanctions, foreign intervention and the militarization of the conflict.

Did they embrace the reforms offered up in 2011? Mostly not – the majority thought reforms would be “cosmetic” and meaningless without further fundamental changes, much of this halted by the growing political violence. When Assad invited them to participate in his constitutional reform deliberations, did these dissidents step up? No – many refused to engage directly with the government, probably calculating that “Assad would go” and reluctant to shoulder the stigma of association.

But were these reforms not a valuable starting point, at least? Political systems don’t evolve overnight – they require give-and-take and years of uphill struggle.

Aref Dalila, one of the leaders of the ‘Damascus Spring’ who spent eight years in prison, told me: “The regime consulted with me and others between March and May and asked our opinion. I told them there has to be very serious reforms immediately and not just for show, but they preferred to go by other solutions.”

Bassam al-Kadi, who was imprisoned for seven years in the 1990s, managed to find one upside to reforms. Speaking about the abolishment of the state security courts in early 2011, Kadi said:

“Since 1973 until last May, it was actually a court outside of any laws and it was the strong arm of the regime. All trials held after abolishing this court have taken place in civilian courts. Sometimes the intelligence apparatus intervenes but in most cases the judge behaves according to his or her opinion. Hundreds of my friends who were arrested in the past few months, most were released within one or two weeks.”

This reform, by the way, took place a mere few months before Jordan’s constitutional reforms added another security layer - the state military courts - for which it was promptly lauded.

Hassan Abdel Azim, head of the National Coordination Committee (NCC) which included 15 opposition parties, took a different view: “Our point of view is that such reforms can only take place when violence stops against protestors…But since the regime tries to enforce its reforms, the result will only be partial reforms that enhances its image but not lead to real change.”

The NCC went on to have a short-lived alliance with the foreign-based SNC which fell apart over disagreements on “non-Arab foreign intervention.”

Louay Hussein who headed the Tayyar movement and spent seven years in prison when he was 22 (and recently as well), told me that January: “We consider Assad responsible for everything that’s happened but we are not prepared to put the country in trouble…In March, we wanted what the regime is giving now (reforms). But when the system started using live bullets we wanted to change it and change it quickly. But after all this time we have to reconsider our strategy.”

And the list goes on. The views ranged from dissidents who “like Assad, but hate the system” to those who wanted a wholesale change that was arrived at through a consultative process – but definitely not foreign intervention. Eighteen months later when I revisited some of these people, their views had transformed quite dramatically in light of the escalation of political violence. Even the ones who blamed the government for this escalation seemed to put their arms around the state, as nationalists first and foremost.

Had the conflict not taken on this stark foreign-backed dimension and become so heavily militarized, they may have expended their energies on pushing at the limits of reforms already on the table.

How can Geneva transform Syria?

First on the table in Geneva is the establishment of a transitional process that gets the two sides working on common governance. On a parallel track, demilitarization is on the menu - which basically consists of organizing ceasefires throughout Syria. The transitional team will then work on hammering out a new constitution, with elections to be held within 18 months.

That sounds a bit like the process already underway in Syria in 2011 and 2012.

Certainly, the opposition believes it has a stronger hand today than back in 2011, supported as it is by the UN-sponsored Geneva process. But the difficulties will start the moment decisions need to be made about which opposition participates in the transitional body, if they can even manage to convince the Syrian government - now racking up military victories every week - that it needs to relinquish a chunk of its authority to this new entity.

It is the kind of ‘opposition’ that eventually enters the transitional process that will help ultimately determine its outcome. Look for some Riyadh- and Turkish-backed opponents to be tossed by the wayside during this process.

With the introduction of Russian air power and qualitative military hardware last autumn, the Syrian army and its allies have gained critical momentum in the field.

So why would the Syrian state backtrack on that momentum to give up authority in Geneva? Even the expectation of this is illogical.

There is a growing consensus among Syria analysts that the Americans have ceded the Syrian theater to the Russians and Moscow’s allies. Washington has barely registered any meaningful objections to Russian airstrikes over the past months, apart from some sound bites about hitting ‘moderate rebels’ and not focusing enough on ISIS.

Part of the US problem is that, without any clear cut Syria strategy, it has found itself neck-deep in this crisis without any means to extricate itself from the uncomfortable dependencies of thousands of rebel militants, and the demands of increasingly belligerent allies like Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

They Russians offer that opportunity – like they did in 2013 by taking the Syrian chemical weapons program off the table - and it looks like Washington is grabbing it with both hands right now. It is likely that Moscow waited to intervene in the Syrian quagmire only when it was absolutely sure the US needed an exit – any earlier, and the Americans were still playing both sides and all cards.

For Geneva to move forward, the participants are going to have to make some awkward commitments. Firstly, the batch of Islamists-for-hire that currently makes up the opposition will need to be finessed – or torn apart – to include a broad swathe of Syrian ethnic groups, sects, political viewpoints and… women.

Secondly, all parties to the talks need to agree on which militants in the Syrian theater are going to make that “terrorist list.” This was a clear deliverable outlined in Vienna, and it hasn’t been done. This all-important list will make clear which militants are to be part of a future ceasefire, and which ones will be ‘fair game.’

After all, there can be NO ceasefires until we know who is a designated terrorist and who can be a party to ground negotiations.

I suspect, however, that this terrorist list has been neglected for good reason. It has spared western rebel-sponsors the discomfort of having to face the wrath of their militants, while allowing time for the Russians and Syrians to mow these groups into the ground. Hence the stream of recent victories – and the accompanying timid reaction from Washington.

As the balance of power shifts further on the ground, we may see a much-altered ‘Geneva.’ Will it genuinely beget a political process, will the players at the table change, will the ‘political solution’ be entirely manufactured behind the curtains… only to be offered up to an unsuspecting public as a victory wrenched from a ‘bad regime?’

Because, right now, Syria would be fortunate to have those 2011 reforms on that table, the rapt attention of the global community encouraging them forward, weapons at rest. A quarter million Syrians could have been spared, hundreds of towns, cities and villages still intact, millions of displaced families in their own homes.

Perhaps Geneva can bring those reforms back, wrapped in a prettier package this time, so we can clap our hands and declare ourselves satisfied.

Sharmine Narwani is a commentator and analyst of Middle East geopolitics. She is a former senior associate at St. Antony's College, Oxford University and has a master’s degree in International Relations from Columbia University. Sharmine has written commentary for a wide array of publications, including Al Akhbar English, the New York Times, the Guardian, Asia Times Online,, USA Today, the Huffington Post, Al Jazeera English, BRICS Post and others. You can follow her on Twitter at @snarwani