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Wednesday, 18 October 2017 08:09

In This New Age of Automation, We Are Luddites

JIM HIGHTOWER ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Luddite 1018wrp opt(Photo: aaaf17-010 / Flickr)"THE ROBOTS ARE COMING! THE ROBOTS ARE COMING! ... EEK! THEY'RE ALREADY HERE!"

Today's proliferation of industrial robots is an advanced generation of powerful, autonomous machines driven by artificial intelligence. The profiteers and techies propelling us into the deep unknown of a robot economy concede that the fast-evolving machines will be radically disruptive, not just in the workplace, but throughout society. Yet, they insist that AI will end up a godsend, even for the millions "adjusted" out of their jobs. Trust us, they say, genuflecting to Efficiency and Productivity, their twin gods of economic progress. Intelligent robots will reduce labor costs (efficiency) and increase output (productivity), thus generating the one product the Powers That Be constantly demand from our economy: more wealth. Just wait, they say, this is gonna be BIG!

Those who question the establishment's mantra that labor-reducing technologies are inherently good and will magically enrich everyone are derided with high tech's ultimate insult — LUDDITE!

What's the origin of this corporate-hurled pejorative? In 1811, skilled weavers and other textile makers in Northern England launched a short-lived rebellion. These artisans had been the middle class of their day. Working from their own cottages, they made a decent living producing quality stockings and cloth that merchants sold throughout the Commonwealth.

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Windmill 1018wrp optThe base of a windmill. (Photo: Sandra / Flickr)You don't have to be a science geek to have heard of DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, but unless you like digging deep into Department of Energy, you are unlikely to know about ARPA-E, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. DARPA was created in 1958 during the Eisenhower administration as a response to the Soviet Union's Sputnik launching. DARPA-funded projects have had some incredible – some might call revolutionary – success, providing technologies that influenced the creation of the Internet, the G.P.S., and numerous military and national security projects. In July of last year, the agency announced its Cyber Grand Challenge (CGC), which aims to combat security vulnerabilities.

In Michael Lewis' extensive Vanity Fair article about Rick Perry's Department of Energy, a small section of the piece talked about ARPA-E. ARPA-E was developed during the George W. Bush administration, and funded during President Obama's first administration. It is intended to be the "energy equivalent of DARPA. Now, the agency is facing Team Trump's chopping block.

ARPA-E was the place where "wildly creative ideas," and out-of-the-box thinking would find a home. To non-scientists, some of the research may seem a bit fanciful, non-productive, or even downright nutty. At ARPA-E, researcher would be given license to explore what might be thought of as unexplorable. And, at $300 million a year, who knows where small grants to researchers might lead.

"The idea behind ARPA-E was to find the best …ideas that the free market had declined to finance and make sure they were given a chance," Lewis wrote.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

swamptrumpTrump is making the DC swamp even fouler. (Photo: James Loesch)

When Donald Trump was campaigning for president, he repeatedly promised that if elected he would "drain the swamp" in Washington, DC. Tuesday, October 16 is a regrettable example of how Trump is not only not "draining" the swamp, he is building his own deplorable swamp entirely centered around him.

Yesterday at a White House news conference, for instance, Trump asserted, "People have to be careful, because at some point I fight back.... it won't be pretty." What was Trump responding to? He was threatening Sen. John McCain for criticizing Trump's foreign policy earlier in the day at an awards ceremony, according to CNBC:

Republican Senator John McCain condemned rising nationalism and isolationism in the U.S. that has gone hand in hand with Donald Trump's presidency during an awards ceremony Monday.

"We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil," McCain said, after he was introduced by former Vice President Joe Biden while being honored with the Liberty Medal at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.

McCain's use of the phrase "blood and soil" echoed a neo-Nazi slogan shouted during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in August.

McCain, CNBC reported, went onto a more sweeping censure of Trump's foreign policy.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017 08:09

A Question for Betsy DeVos

2017.17.10 bf bradyGiven the cost to taxpayers of standardized tests; given the time devoted to preparing for them; given the life-altering consequences of their scores, why is it not morally unacceptable, ethically indefensible and practically unwise to continue their use? (Photo: Alberto G. / Flickr)MARION BRADY FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

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Worldwide, the rate of environmental, technological and demographic change is more rapid than it's ever been, and is accelerating. If we want to maintain our way of life, we must understand the changes, manage those that can be managed, and adapt to those that are beyond our control.

Because problems can't be solved using the same kind of thinking that created them, understanding, managing and adapting to change require an ability to think in new ways. In the 1960s, thoughtful federal education legislation and funding for research encouraged educators to think freshly, and new instructional materials in the physical and social sciences, and humanities began to appear that emphasized "learning by doing" rather than merely trying to remember secondhand, delivered information. The materials went by various labels -- "inquiry," "discovery," "active learning" and "constructivism."

Aung San Suu Kyi addressing the members at the European ParliamentAung San Suu Kyi addressing the members at the European Parliament on October 22, 2013. (Photo: European Parliament / Flickr)ARSHAD M. KHAN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

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Despite claims by Burma of efforts to improve relations between Buddhists and Muslims, the facts prove otherwise. Another 11,000 Rohingya Muslims crossed into Bangladesh the week of October 9 in the latest paroxysm of Burmese Buddhist hatred.  

Burma and its de facto leader State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi have become pariahs in the human community.

The Oxford City Council has followed the example of Oxford University, which revoked the honorary doctorate awarded to Suu Kyi, and her college, St. Hugh's, that removed her portrait displayed prominently in the foyer. On Tuesday, October 3, the vote at the City Council meeting was unanimous. It will hold a special meeting on November 27 later this year to strip Suu Kyi of the Freedom of the City of Oxford, an award bestowed on her in 1997. The city of London is to debate a similar Honorary Freedom she received there.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

pruittstopThe EPA raises acceptable radiation exposure to toxic levels. (Photo: Lorie Shaull)

Scott Pruitt, chief of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), isn't just going about destroying environmental safeguards; he has now issued a "guideline" document that states that excessive exposure to radiation is safe for human life. That means he's not only allowing more pollution that can contribute to ill health and degradation of the environment, but he is also putting us at risk when it comes to radiation. According to Bloomberg,

In the event of a dirty bomb or a nuclear meltdown, emergency responders can safely tolerate radiation levels equivalent to thousands of chest X-rays, the Environmental Protection Agency said in new guidelines that ease off on established safety levels....

It could lead to the administration of President Donald Trump weakening radiation safety levels, watchdog groups critical of the move say.

"It’s really a huge amount of radiation they are saying is safe," said Daniel Hirsch, the retired director of the University of California, Santa Cruz’s program on environmental and nuclear policy. "The position taken could readily unravel all radiation protection rules."

The "guideline" doesn't have the standing of a regulation or law, but it is reflective of the EPA's thinking regarding radiation tolerance by humans and is, therefore, worrisome.

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Bannon 1016wrp(Photo: thierry ehrmann / Flickr)If Hillary Clinton were to comment on this year's collection of speakers at the Values Voter Summit, she would have to supersize that basket of deplorables. The annual gathering hosted by the Family Research Council, featured speakers of the anti-LGBT, anti-Muslim, pro-gun, alt-right, and of course, religious right variety. Every year at about this time, since its launch in the fall of 2006, the vigorously anti-LGBT Family Research Council holds the Summit. And every year when it's over, it declares it to be the most successful ever. This year, however, that claim might be accurate, featuring the first appearance by a sitting president, and, with Steve Bannon's rousing speech on Saturday, signaling the growing relationship between the alt-right and the Christian Right.

Coming off a few days of issuing a string of mean-spirited executive orders, Trump was greeted like a conquering hero by white evangelicals who, last November, put aside their moral compasses and voted overwhelmingly for him; according to exit polls, more than 80 percent of white Christian evangelicals voted for him.

Trump greeted the crowd by saying that "America is a nation of believers." He called his recent actions aimed at dismantling the Affordable Care Act "a very big step." He pointed out that he had to take "a little different route, because Congress forgot what their pledges were," a reference to their failure to repeal Obamacare. He promised that the new health care plan will "even be better."

"We are stopping cold the attacks on Judeo-Christian values," Trump said to applause. He attacked people who don't say "Merry Christmas." "They don't use the word Christmas because it is not politically correct," Trump said. "We're saying Merry Christmas again."

PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Poverty 1016wrp opt(Photo: Aaaarrrrgggghhhh! / Flickr)"Fact checker" Ballotpedia said that presidential candidate Jill Stein's claim that "one in two Americans remain in or near poverty" was "untrue according to most conventional measures and definitions of near poverty." But a responsible fact-checker should know that an issue of this magnitude demands more than a cursory look at "conventional measures" of poverty. 

Furthermore, Ballotpedia may have been engaging in fake-factchecking. The service is run by the Lucy Burns Institute, a right-wingKoch-funded organization that has every incentive to avoid popular resistance by convincing Americans that they're not really poor. 

The Definitions of Poverty are Way out of Date

The povertythreshold is still based on a formula from the 1960s, when food expenses were a much greater part of the family budget. It hasn't kept up with other major expenses. Since 1980, food costs have gone up by 100%, housing 250%, health care 500%, and college tuition 1,000%.

Friday, 13 October 2017 07:22

The Calm Before the Storm

ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

TrumpZombie 1013wrp opt(Photo: Matt Brown)Every time Donald Trump blurts or tweets a shocker — "Maybe it's the calm before the storm," for instance — questions flood the media.

Is he serious? What did he mean? Yes, of course, but beyond these, larger questions hover half-asked, cutting into the soul of who we are. This is painful, but not necessarily a bad thing. For me, one question that keeps emerging is: What is the relationship between Trump and the military-political system he stepped into?

That is to say, is he furthering its covert agenda (creating the conditions for more war) or, contrarily, exposing it for what it is?

Or both?

Back in February, for instance, Trump the pugnacious 14-year-old told a Reuters reporter:  "I am the first one that would like to see . . . nobody have nukes, but we're never going to fall behind any country even if it's a friendly country, we're never going to fall behind on nuclear power. It would be wonderful, a dream would be that no country would have nukes, but if countries are going to have nukes, we're going to be at the top of the pack."

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

gerrymanderThe first image representing gerrymandering, from the early 1800s. (Photo: Kenny Cole)

The most significant recent case that will have an impact on whether or not we have a robust and fair democracy is before the Supreme Court this session. Oral arguments have already been heard on the partisan practice of gerrymandering.

An October 5 Fortune article defines the practice:

Gerrymandering occurs when voting districts are redrawn to benefit one party over another in elections, forcing the other side to “waste” votes. For example, someone drawing district lines might cluster opposition party voters together in one district in order to concentrate their votes so that they influence only a few seats. Or it could mean grouping those opposition voters into districts where the other party has a lock on power—making it very difficult for the opposing party to win elections there.

Achieving this normally means dividing districts up along highly irregular lines to ensure that voters from each party are concentrated in the right areas and spread thin in others, as the Washington Post illustrates using a popular explanation adapted from Reddit. Now, with the assistance of software, state legislators are able to control gerrymandering or who ends up in a particular district with more precision than ever before.

Although the Democrats sometimes engage in gerrymandering when they control legislatures and the governorship in a state, it is the Republicans who have mastered the technique. Furthermore, as I noted in a September commentary, there are 26 states in which Republicans run all three branches of state government -- a "trifecta" of governance. Only six states are completely run by the Democrats. As a result, the Democrats are at a severe disadvantage when it comes to creating state legislative and congressional districts when they are redrawn after a census.

In the case before the Supreme Court, Gill v. Whitford, the plaintiff attorneys argue that after the 2010 census the Wisconsin legislature created state legislative districts that were highly weighted toward maximizing Republican votes.

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