Volume 16, Number 19 – 10/15/13

 Volume 16, Number 19 – 10/15/13     

An Oxford University study has concluded that 47% of all U.S. jobs could be automated within the next 20 years.

Fifty-five million years ago, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was elevated to a level comparable to today. The Arctic Ocean did not have ice in the summer, and nearby land was warm enough to support alligators and palm trees.

On average, Alberta Canada has had two crude oil spills per day for the last 37 years, according to data from the Canadian Energy Resources Conservation Board.

In a recent study, subjects who had a specific form of a gene in which certain amino acids are missing, found in about half of Caucasians, had a heightened awareness of negative stimuli.

by John L. Petersen

John Petersen Speaking on Climate Change in Berkeley Springs

The whole business of climate change has been a political and scientific football over the past decade, with assertions and counter assertions and predictions and counter predictions flying all over the place. There’s a lot of research money and many reputations at stake, so the struggle has been serious, but neither of the major positions on both sides of the argument for anthropogenic global warming are telling you the whole truth.

There are a lot of rather extraordinary, fascinating converging forces in play – including a thinning of our atmosphere, a decrease in solar activity and the accelerating trend toward a planetary magnetic pole shift that fly in the face of the usual arguments that humans are causing global warming or that this is all just a ruse by the government to take more of our money through things like carbon taxes. The truth is much bigger than that and you should understand what is happening.

For the last six months I have been collecting everything that I can find on the climate change subject and building a coherent picture (to me, at least) of what is really going on. I’ll be laying out the whole picture in a Transition Talk on Saturday the 26th of October at 3:00 PM at the Ice House here in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. There will be lots of slides and graphics that help to present a comprehensive image of all of the moving parts, where they seem to be going and what we probably should be doing about it. Hint: it’s really big stuff. More info here.

I hope that you will be able to join us. It will be a good afternoon. Come and spend the weekend and enjoy our town’s warm hospitality.

Climate Change Report Misleading

Last week the UN published its latest climate change report. It was hard for them to justify anthropogenic global warming since it is now officially known that the planet hasn’t warmed at all in the last 16 years. But they tried very hard, labeling the lack of warming – that their models all called for but didn’t happen – a “pause” in global warming. As mentioned here before, there are essentially as many places on the planet that are seeing all time cold records as those that are seeing hot records, suggesting rather clearly that we are seeing the oscillations of a complex system before a major state change. I think I can show you that it is going to get rather colder – scientists are labeling it a potential mini-ice age – in the very near future. Come and hear my talk in Berkeley Springs if you can.

I was interested to see how the non-global warming folks would react to the UN report. This is the most thoughtful response that I found that explains the shortcomings of the dependence on models and the history of how we have arrived where we now have. Let me say again, it is very important that we don’t throw out the baby with the bath water here. The climate very clearly is changing, but it really makes a great deal of difference whether you think it is going to get hot or cold . . . and whether you put your efforts and resources into affecting something (e.g. CO2) that really doesn’t make a difference. We need to refocus on what is really happening and get ready for about a generation of rather cold weather.

IPCC Climate: A Product of Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics Built On Inadequate Data
by Dr. Tim Ball on September 30, 2013 in AtmosphereDataHistoricalPoliticsStatisticsTheoryWeather

Torture numbers, and they will confess to anything.
Greg Easterbrook.

Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are more pliable.

Climatology is the study of average weather over time or in a region. It is very different than Climate Science, which is the study by specialists of individual components of the complex system that is weather. Each part is usually studied independent of the entire system and even how it interacts or influences the larger system. A supposed link between the parts is the use of statistics. Climatology has suffered from a pronounced form of the average versus the discrete problem from the early 1980s when computer modelers began to dominate the science. Climatology was doomed to failure from then on, only accelerated by its hijacking for a political agenda. I witnessed a good example early at a conference in Edmonton on Prairie Climate predictions and the implications for agriculture.

It was dominated by the keynote speaker, a climate modeler, Michael Schlesinger. His presentation compared five major global models and their results. He claimed that because they all showed warming they were valid. Of course they did because they were programmed to that general result. The problem is they varied enormously over vast regions. For example, one showed North America cooling, another showed warming. The audience was looking for information adequate for planning and became agitated, especially in the question period. It peaked when someone asked about the accuracy of his warmer and drier prediction for Alberta. The answer was 50%. The person replied that is useless, my Minister needs 95%. The shouting intensified.

Eventually a man threw his shoe on the stage. When the room went silent he said, “I didn’t have a towel”. We learned he had a voice box and the shoe was the only way he could get attention. He asked permission to go on stage where he explained his qualifications and put a formula on the blackboard. He asked Schlesinger if this was the formula he used as the basis for his model of the atmosphere. Schlesinger said yes. The man then proceeded to eliminate variables asking Schlesinger if they were omitted in his work. After a few eliminations he said one was probably enough, but you have no formula left and you certainly don’t have a model. It has been that way ever since with the computer models.

Climate is an average, and in the early days averages were the only statistic determined. In most weather offices the climatologist’s job was to produce monthly and annual averages. The subject of climatology was of no interest or concern. The top people were forecasters who were meteorologists with only learning in physics of the atmosphere. Even now few know the difference between a meteorologist and a climatologist. When I sought my PhD essentially only two centers of climatology existed, Reid Bryson’s center in Wisconsin and Hubert Lamb’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at East Anglia. Lamb set up there because the national weather office wasn’t interested in climatology. People ridiculed my PhD being in the Geography Department at the University of London, but university departments weren’t doing such work. Geography accommodated it because of its chorologic objectives. (The study of the causal relationships between geographic phenomena in a region.)

Disraeli’s admonition of lies, damn lies and statistics was exemplified by the work of the IPCC and its supporters. I realized years ago that the more sophisticated the statistical technique the more likely the data was inadequate. In climate the data was inadequate from the start as Lamb pointed out when he formed the CRU. He wrote in his autobiography “…it was clear that the first and greatest need was to establish the facts of the past record of the natural climate in times before any side effects of human activities could well be important.” It is even worse today. Proof of the inadequacy is the increasing use of more bizarre statistical techniques. Now they invent data such as in parameterization. Now they use output of one statistical contrivance or model as real data in another model.

The climate debate cannot be separated from environmental politics. Global warming became the central theme of the claim humans are destroying the planet promoted by the Club of Rome. Their book, Limits to Growth, did two major things both removing understanding and creating a false sense of authority and accuracy. First, was the simplistic application of statistics beyond an average in the form of a straight line trend analysis: Second, predictions were given awesome, but unjustified status, as the output of computer models. They wanted to show we were heading for disaster and selected the statistics and process to that end. This became the method and philosophy of the IPCC. Initially, we had climate averages. Then in the 1970s, with the cooling from 1940, trends became the fashion. Of course, the cooling trend did not last and was replaced in the 1980s by an equally simplistic warming trend. Now they are trying to ignore another cooling trend.

One problem developed with switching from average to trend. People trying to reconstruct historic averages needed a period in the modern record for comparison. The 30-year Normal was created with 30 chosen because it is a statistically significant sample, n, in any population N. The first one was the period 1931-1960, because it was believed to have the best instrumental data sets. They keep changing the 30 year period, which only adds to the confusion. It is also problematic because the number of stations has reduced significantly. How valid are the studies done using earlier “Normal periods”?

Unfortunately, people started using the Normal for the wrong purposes. Now it is used as the average weather overall. It is only the average weather for a 30 year period. Actually it is inappropriate for climate because most changes occur over longer periods.

But there is another simple statistical measure they effectively ignore. People, like farmers, who use climate data in their work know that a most important statistic is variation. Climatology was aware of this decades ago as it became aware of changing variability, especially of mid-latitude weather, with changes in upper level winds. It was what Lamb was working on and Leroux continued.

Now, as the global trend swings from warming to cooling these winds switched from zonal to meridional flow causing dramatic increases in variability of temperature and precipitation. The IPCC, cursed with the tunnel vision of political objectives and limited by their terms of reference did not accommodate natural variability. They can only claim, incorrectly, that the change is proof of their failed projections.

Their projections fail for many other inappropriate statistics and statistical methods. Of course, it took a statistician to identify the corrupted use of statistics to show how they fooled the world into disastrous policies, but that only underlines the problem with statistics as the two opening quotes attest.

Other quotes about statistics reveal a common understanding of their limitations and worse, their application. Here are a few:

He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lampposts – for support rather than for illumination.
Andrew Lang.

One more fagot (bundle) of these adamantine bandages is the new science of statistics.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Then there is the man who drowned crossing a stream with an average depth of six inches.
W E Gates. 

Satan delights equally in statistics and in quoting scripture.
H G Wells

A statistical analysis, properly conducted, is a delicate dissection of uncertainties, a surgery of suppositions.
M J Moroney.

Statistics are the modern equivalent of the number of angels on the head of a pin – but then they probably have a statistical estimate for that. 
Tim Ball



Despite Lobbyist Claims, Piracy Is Not Killing Media Industry, Study Shows – (RT- October 04, 2013)
Online piracy is not the scourge of the media industry, as proponents of a crackdown on copyright infringement claim, says a new study. Creative business is doing well, with those embracing the new realities of digital sharing even flourishing. The study by the London School of Economics (LSE) says that claims by industry lobbyists of damage from piracy are largely exaggerated. Meanwhile, policies aimed at curbing illegal file sharing that that the likes of the British Phonographic Industry and the British Video Association are neither efficient nor help the entertainment industry to boost its bottom line. The policy report suggests that attempts to stop digital sharing and close sites like The Pirate Bay are going against the natural development of creative communities and advise to review UK’s attitude to copyright. “Neither the creative industry nor governments can put a stop to cultural change that is global and in many cases welcomed, including by other segments of industry,” said LSE’s Professor Robin Mansell, co-author of the report.

Half of All U.S. Jobs Will Be Automated, But What Opportunities Will Be Created? – (Smart Planet – September 13, 2013)
What are human workers going to do when super-intelligent robots and computers are better than us at doing everything? That is one of the questions that a new study by Dr. Carl Frey and Dr. Michael Osborne of Oxford University sought to address, and what they concluded was that 47% of all U.S. jobs could be automated within the next 20 years. Considering the fact that the percentage of the U.S. population that is employed is already far lower than it was a decade ago, it is frightening to think that tens of millions more jobs could disappear due to technological advances over the next couple of decades. What happens when the day arrives when computers and robots can do almost everything more cheaply and more efficiently than humans can? For employers, there are a whole host of advantages that come with replacing human workers with technology. Robots and computers never complain, they never get tired, they never need vacation, they never show up late, they never waste time on Facebook, they don’t need any health benefits and there are a vast array of rules, regulations and taxes that you must deal with when you hire a human worker. Here’s how this process might play out…The automation of half the nation’s jobs will occur in two phases, the study says: The first wave will affect (and is affecting) jobs in transportation/logistics, production labor, administrative support, services, sales, and construction. The second wave — propelled by artificial intelligence — will affect jobs in management, science, engineering, and the arts.

Facebook Users Are Committing ‘Virtual Identity Suicide’ in Droves – (Daily Mail – September 17, 2013)
Facebook users are quitting the social network in droves due to privacy concerns and fear of internet addiction, according to new research. Increasing numbers are taking part in what’s been dubbed ‘virtual identity suicide’ and deleting their accounts. Analysis of more than 600 people, by researchers from the University of Vienna, found that data protection issues and social pressure to add friends were also among the reasons for leaving. Compared to the sample of those who continued to use Facebook, the quitters were older, on average, and more likely to be male. Reasons for quitting Facebook were mainly privacy concerns (48.3%), followed by a general dissatisfaction (13.5%), negative aspects of online friends (12.6%) and the feeling of getting addicted (6.0%). According to journalist Sarah Kessler from FastCompany, leaving Facebook can be a long-winded and difficult process. After struggling to find the Delete Account option, which she eventually found by searching Google, she was met with photos of a selection of her Facebook friends with an automated message about how much they’d miss her if she left — and that was just the beginning.


A View of Health Based on Cooperation and Disease Based on Competition – (Kurzweil AI – September 16, 2013)
Researchers at The Mount Sinai Medical Center have developed a radical holistic view of health — seeing it as a cooperative state among cells, while they see disease as result of cells fighting with each other for domination. Their unique approach is backed by experimental evidence. The researchers show a network of genes in cells, which includes the powerful tumor suppressor p53, which enforce a cooperative state within cells — rather like the queen bee in a beehive. Disease or disorder occurs when these enforcer genes are mutated, allowing competition between cells to ensue. “Both competition and cooperation drive evolution, and we are wired for cooperation all the way down to our genes,” says the study’s senior investigator, Thomas P. Zwaka, MD, PhD, Professor at the Black Family Stem Cell Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. The findings, if backed by future research, offer a new way to address disease, Dr. Zwaka says. Understanding the genetic basis of cooperative and competitive cellular behaviors could explain how cancer and immune system dysfunction develops, he says.

Yale Breakthrough Bolsters Fight against Alzheimer’s – (GizMag – September 22, 2013)
A team of researchers at Yale University has completed a molecular model for Alzheimer’s disease by identifying a protein that plays a key role in its onset. Promisingly, the study showed that when the activity of this protein is blocked by an existing drug, mice engineered as models for human AD recover their memories. Often described as the progressive loss of self, more than 10% of those over 80 years in age are affected, a number projected to grow to about 100 million worldwide by 2050. The Yale team reports the discovery that the activation of Fyn, a signaling protein in cellular metabolism, takes place through the mediation of a protein within the cell membrane, metabotropic glutamate receptor 5 (mGluR5). Antagonists and modulators of this receptor are known to have mood-leveling effects, and have been under investigation for use in patients with Fragile X syndrome, a genetic form of autism. When such an antagonist drug was given to mice with AD-like brain damage, the ability of the mice to remember the past and set new memories for future access was restored. Inhibition of the mGluR5 signaling path proved far more effective in treating the underlying condition of the mice than did previous attempts to simply remove the plaques.

A Trojan Treatment for Parkinson’s Disease – (Technology Review – October 14, 2013)
Deep in the base of the brain, a cascade of events including oxidative damage and inflammation can kill neurons, resulting in the debilitating symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. An international team of researchers has now developed a technique that might be used to prevent this cell death. They engineer immune cells to carry protective stowaway molecules, and the hope is that these Trojan cells can help prevent neuron death by delivering treatments across the blood-brain barrier—a layer of cellular structures that blocks most molecules from passing into the brain. The researchers have so far tested the approach successfully in mice. The hope is that one day these immune cells could be extracted from a patient’s own blood, engineered to carry a therapeutic payload, and injected back into the body. The approach might be able to slow the progress of other neurodegenerative diseases associated with neuron death such as Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s disease.

Study Links Gene Variation to a Darker View of Life – (Washington Post – October 12, 2013)
Some people just see the world more darkly than others. A group of scientists says that what people observe in everyday life may depend on their genetic blueprint. A particular gene, known to play a part in emotional memories, could also influence where people tend to focus their eyes and attention. Study author and Cornell University psychologist Adam Anderson said, “What our brain tells us is filtered, and emotions really have a powerful influence on how we see the world.” Subjects who had a specific form of a gene in which certain amino acids are missing, found in about half of Caucasians, had a heightened awareness of negative stimuli. For instance, these people might look down a busy city street and catch the shady character hanging out by the ATM rather than the jubilant children playing in the park. Or during a nature hike, they would focus on the slippery rocks instead of the breathtaking scenery. Individuals with the missing amino acids in the ADRA2B gene have more norepinephrine in their brains. The new findings hint that not only is the gene linked to more vivid emotional memories, but it may also make people more prone to noticing the negative in real time.


Climate Change on Pace to Occur 10 Times Faster Than Any Change in Past 65 Million Years – (Stanford University – August 1, 2013)
The planet is undergoing one of the largest changes in climate since the dinosaurs went extinct. But what might be even more troubling for humans, plants and animals is the speed of the change. Stanford climate scientists warn that the likely rate of change over the next century will be at least 10 times quicker than any climate shift in the past 65 million years. If the trend continues at its current rapid pace, it will place significant stress on terrestrial ecosystems around the world, and many species will need to make behavioral, evolutionary or geographic adaptations to survive. Although some of the changes the planet will experience in the next few decades are already “baked into the system,” how different the climate looks at the end of the 21st century will depend largely on how humans respond. Some of the strongest evidence for how the global climate system responds to high levels of carbon dioxide comes from paleoclimate studies. Fifty-five million years ago, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was elevated to a level comparable to today. The Arctic Ocean did not have ice in the summer, and nearby land was warm enough to support alligators and palm trees. “There are two key differences for ecosystems in the coming decades compared with the geologic past,” according to Noah Diffenbaugh, an associate professor of environmental Earth system science, said. “One is the rapid pace of modern climate change. The other is that today there are multiple human stressors that were not present 55 million years ago, such as urbanization and air and water pollution.”

The Tar Sands Leaks That No One Knew How to Stop in July Are Still Leaking – (ThinkProgress -September 25, 2013)
Tar sands oil that began leaking more than four months ago in northern Alberta is still bubbling to the earth’s surface, an environmental disaster that has prompted the Alberta government to intervene. The government has ordered Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., the company in charge of the leaking Primrose tar sands operation, to drain two-thirds of a 131-acre lake on the property in an attempt to plug one fissure, located directly below the lake, which has been spilling tar sands oil into the lake over the four months. The order, according to CNRL, will allow the company to identify the exact location of the leak and attempt to halt it. The company’s plan to stop the other three leaks on the site is unknown, though CNRL says the seepage rate from all four leak sites has been reduced to fewer than 20 barrels a day. The first of the four ongoing leaks at the Primrose site was reported May 20, and may well have started leaking long before that. Part of the reason why it’s so hard to determine cause of the leaks at the Primrose facility — and stop them — is that they occur underground. Instead of the open pit mining that tar sands operations are most famous for, the operation uses cyclic steam simulation, a process similar to fracking that pushes high-pressure steam underground, creating cracks in rock from which trapped oil can escape. CSS extraction is required to reach about 80 percent of Alberta’s tar sands. But the CSS projects aren’t the only ones to spill — on average, Alberta has had two crude oil spills per day for the last 37 years, according to data from the Energy Resources Conservation Board.

A Plague of Hornets in China Is Killing People and Eating Bees – (Grist – September 26, 2013)
Due to climate change, massive numbers of Asian giant hornets (which the size of your thumb) have been rolling through Shaanxi Province, eating honeybees and stinging humans to death. In the hard-hit city of Ankang the fatality toll has been twice the 2002-2005 average; so far in the province there have been 419 injuries and 28 deaths. And that’s just humans, not honeybees, which the hornets chomp on — well, except in Japan, where the bees have developed a pretty metal defense mechanism. Japanese honey bees have figured out how to fight back, by cooking hornets. After surrounding a hornet in a spherical formation, Japanese honey bees engage their flight muscles, raising their collective temperature beyond what hornets can withstand. Bees in Europe can’t do that, though, and that’s probably where the hornets are heading. A smaller species, the Chinese hornet, has already appeared in France, Spain, Portugal, and Belgium, and experts say Italy and the U.K. are next on the itinerary. So far, the Asian giant hornet hasn’t spread outside Asia, but its population is exploding in China because of the recent average temperature increase of nearly 2 degrees F in a couple of years. That increase is happening everywhere, although not always so fast.

MIT Study Finds 200,000 Die in US from Pollution Each Year – (Nation of Change – October 3, 2013)
Although we have been able to reduce the amount of pollution of the years, the issue is still negatively affecting the mass population at large. Now, researchers with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have released a study indicating that as many as 200,000 premature deaths in the U.S. are attributable to pollution. The study looked at pollution from 6 different emission sectors: road transportation, marine transportation, electric power generation, rail transportation, industry, and commercial and residential sources (heating and cooling, etc.). They found that among the 200,000 early deaths attributed to pollution, exhaust from motor vehicles was responsible for the most—an estimated 53,000 annually. In a close second was electricity generation emissions (coal-fired power plants, etc.), with 52,000 early deaths each year. See also this BBC article: Air pollution still harming Europeans’ health.

TEPCO Finds New Radioactive Water Leak at Fukushima – (Arirang News – October 3, 2013)
Plant operator TEPCO says it has discovered a new leak of highly contaminated water from another storage tank that “may well have flowed into the sea.” Officials say they detected 200-thousand becquerels per liter of radioactive substances, including strontium 90. This far surpasses the legal limit of 30 becquerels. In a related development, a recent report says cesium has been detected in 70% of children tested who are living near the capital of Ibaraki Prefecture, which borders Fukushima. See also: Radioactive Rice with More Than Double Gov’t Cesium Limit Found Outside Fukushima Prefecture. The Miyagi prefectural government said that radioactive cesium exceeding a new state-set limit has been found in rice produced last year by a farm in the city of Kurihara. The rice contained up to 240 becquerels of cesium per kilogram, against the 100-becquerel limit set by the central government. It is the first time that radioactive cesium above the limit has been detected in rice grown outside Fukushima Prefecture. (Editor’s note: These articles are translated from Japanese, largely by Google Translation, and the above information is about all that is available from these sources in English.)


Is Your Phone Smart Enough to Not Poison the People Recycling It? This One Is – (Yes – October 11, 2013)
Consumer electronics is the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. waste stream, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In 2009, the most recent year for which the EPA has data, 2.37 million tons of electronics were ready for “end-of-life management,” yet only a quarter of them were collected for recycling. Every year, heaps of American e-waste are shipped to India, China, Ghana, Pakistan, Peru, and other developing countries. By some estimates, 80% of the U.S. e-waste collected ends up on foreign shores, where regulations are lax and incentive for risk high. Now imagine a phone that’s made using conflict-free minerals and is encased in a shell made of nontoxic chemicals. Imagine if that same phone, which looks and works like every other touchscreen smartphone on the market, was manufactured under the supervision of labor-rights organizations and in close collaboration with an established, reputable e-waste recycler that made sure every reusable and recyclable component was recovered safely. That’s the ambition of Fairphone, a Dutch startup that’s currently producing its first batch of 20,000 phones—half of which have already been pre-ordered. The Fairphone is one of the most palpable examples of “benign-by-design,” a school of thought that aims to make products less harmful throughout their entire life cycle.

iPhone Fingerprint Scanner Raises Significant Privacy Questions – (Huffington Post – September 2013)
Apple has billed the new iPhone 5S fingerprint scanner, known as Touch ID, as “one of the best passwords in the world.” But as Senator Al Franken (D – MN) noted: fingerprints have obvious drawbacks: Unlike passwords, they can be left in public and can’t be altered. “If someone hacks your password, you can change it – as many times as you want. You can’t change your fingerprints. You have only ten of them. And you leave them on everything you touch; they are definitely not a secret. Let me put it this way: if hackers get a hold of your thumbprint, they could use it to identify and impersonate you for the rest of your life.” Even before the new iPhone 5S was released, hackers have been competing on a website to see who could be the first to “reliably and repeatedly” break into the new phone by lifting prints. Researchers and a venture capital firm who created the online contest are offering more than $13,000 to the first person to fool the new fingerprint scanner, according to a website that organized the contest. Franken also wanted to know whether Apple has any plans to share fingerprint data from Touch ID with government or law enforcement agencies. He said it was critical to address how Apple handles biometric technology — identifying people based on their fingerprints, faces, irises or heartbeats — because of the company’s influence in the market.


Sheraton Huzhou Hot Spring Resort – (Dezeen – October 8, 2013)
A Sheraton hotel shaped like a giant horseshoe is set to open later this year on the edge of a lake in Huzhou, China. The hotel was designed as a pair of curvaceous towers that connect on the upper levels to create an arched profile. Located on the edge of Taihu Lake, the building’s iconic shape is reflected in the still waters. The 27-story building contains 282 guest rooms, with an additional 39 villas with access to hot springs. Additional facilities are contained within separate buildings and offer a variety of restaurants, a ballroom, conference suites and a wedding center. The photos are stunning. See also: the China Wood Sculpture Museum designed in the shape of an icicle lying on its side by the same firm. Plates of polished steel clad the exterior of the building and are only interrupted by curving strips of glazing that form windows, skylights and a central entrance.


Liquid Fuel, from the Sun – (New Yorker – September 19, 2013)
On technology’s horizon is a solar fuel generator that converts water, light, and atmospheric carbon into liquid fuel, with oxygen as its only byproduct. Built out of nano-thin layers of semiconductors that can rip water molecules into their constituent parts—hydrogen and oxygen—it rearranges their electrons into hydrogen atoms before spitting out the free oxygen that’s left over. The bubbles we’d just seen were the oxygen being released. And the light was a perfect imitation of the kind of sunlight you’d get at noon in northern latitudes. Joel Ager, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, is one of dozens of researchers there working on the device, which is inspired by the process that plants use to draw energy from sunlight. That process, photosynthesis, is unique to plant cells and a handful of other organisms. It also gives the solar fuel generator its nickname: the artificial leaf.

World Record Solar Cell with 44.7% Efficiency – (Fraunhofer Institute – September 23, 2013)
A German-French research team has created a solar cell that can convert 44.7% of the sunlight it receives into energy. The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE, Soitec, CEA-Leti and the Helmholtz Center Berlin jointly announced having achieved a new world record for the conversion of sunlight into electricity using a new solar cell structure with four solar subcells. This is a major step in further reducing the costs of solar electricity and continues to pave the way toward 50% efficiency, considered the symbolic “holy grail” within the solar world. These solar cells are used in concentrator photovoltaics (CPV), a technology which achieves more than twice the efficiency of conventional PV power plants in sun-rich locations. The terrestrial use of so-called III-V multi-junction solar cells, which originally came from space technology, has prevailed to realize highest efficiencies for the conversion of sunlight to electricity. In this multi-junction solar cell, several cells made out of different III-V semiconductor materials are stacked on top of each other. The single subcells absorb different wavelength ranges of the solar spectrum.

World’s Biggest Solar Thermal Power Plant Fired Up in California – (Grist – 25 Sep 2013)
The 3,500-acre Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System is a startling sight in the Mojave Desert. Three sprawling units each contain a circular array of mirrors reflecting rays from the sun toward a 459-foot central tower. Water in the tower is heated by the rays to produce steam, which spins turbines and — voila — electricity is produced. It all seems a bit magical, but the world’s largest solar thermal power plant is now feeding energy into a power grid for the first time. How much energy? Once fully operational, the 392 megawatt (377 megawatt net) plant will generate enough electricity to power 140,000 homes annually that will be sold to two Californian utilities, helping the state’s electricity sector meet state-mandated renewable energy goals. However, this a controversial project. Some environmentalists have been angered by its impacts on the desert ecosystem, focusing on displaced desert tortoises. Others have questioned why a solar plant that uses water would be built in the desert — instead of one that uses photovoltaic panels. Project partners include BrightSource and Google, as well as Bechtel, which is responsible for engineering, procurement, construction and commissioning on the project. For more technical details. See also this assessment from a trade group of utility companies: Solar Panels Could Destroy U.S. Utilities. (Editor’s note: the trade group’s dire assessment is almost certainly overstated, but on-site PV panels may well portend a change in utility companies’ business model. Note that Google, with its vast energy needs, is not going around the utility companies but through them.)


Solar-powered Family Car Wins Race Across Australia – (Dezeen – October 13, 2013)
A vehicle described as “the world’s first solar-powered family car” has come first in a photovoltaic-powered race across Australia. Stella, a four-seater car developed by Solar Team Eindhoven from the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, today claimed victory in the Cruiser class at the World Solar Challenge 2013. The vehicle completed the 3,000 km journey with an average of three people on board at an average of 67 km/h and a top speed of 120 km/h. The Cruiser class, a new category at the biannual World Solar Challenge, was inaugurated in order to encourage the development of commercially viable solar-powered vehicles. Whereas other categories focus on speed alone, the Cruiser class takes into account practicality for everyday use. “The team was judged on several aspects like comfort, features, styling and aesthetics but also parallel parking and cargo space,” said Solar Team Eindhoven. Stella, developed over a year and a half by Eindhoven students, features solar panels on its roof and rear. The rear panels can be flipped up to face the sun, recharging the onboard batteries when the car is stationary. It generates more power than it uses, meaning it could supply surplus electricity to the grid.


Flour Made from Insects Will Feed Underfed Populations – (ABC News – September 30, 2013)
A team of MBA students were the recent recipients of the 2013 Hult Prize, providing them with $1 million in seed money to produce an insect-based, protein-rich flour for feeding malnourished populations in other countries. The product is called Power Flour. “It’s a huge deal because we had a very ambitious but highly executable five-year plan in place,” said team captain Mohammed Ashour, whose team hails from McGill University in Montreal. “So winning this prize is a great step in that direction.” The team will be immediately working with an advisory board to recruit farmers and workers in Mexico, where a population of roughly 4 million live in slum conditions with widespread malnutrition. “We will be starting with grasshoppers,” Ashour said. He noted that the insect is already familiar to the local diet and currently sells at a premium because of a three-month harvesting season and because grasshoppers are typically hand-picked. But farmers have already expressed interest in raising grasshoppers on a mass level, according to Ashour. While for Americans the idea of eating bugs remains mostly a novelty, in other areas of the world they are a common form of protein. The kinds of insects people consume from country to country varies, with the people of Ghana preferring palm weevils and in Botswana, caterpillars. The Power Flour product will vary ingredients according to those habits, adjusting production to the breeding cycles and nutritional profile of each culture.


Bruce Schneier: NSA Spying Is Making Us Less Safe – (Technology Review – September 23, 2013)
This article is an interview with Bruce Schneier, cryptographer and author on security topics, who last month took on a side gig: helping the Guardian newspaper pore through documents purloined from the U.S. National Security Agency by contractor Edward Snowden. Schneier, also a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, notes that “The NSA’s actions are making us all less safe. They’re not just spying on the bad guys, they’re deliberately weakening Internet security for everyone—including the good guys. It’s sheer folly to believe that only the NSA can exploit the vulnerabilities they create. Additionally, by eavesdropping on all Americans, they’re building the technical infrastructure for a police state. Interviewer: You’ve recently suggested five tips for how people can make it much harder, if not impossible, to get snooped on. These include using various encryption technologies and location-obscuring methods. Is that the solution? Schneier: My five tips suck. They are not things the average person can use. One of them is to use PGP [a data-encryption program]. But my mother can’t use PGP. Maybe some people who read your publication will use my tips, but most people won’t. Basically, the average user is screwed. You can’t say  “Don’t use Google”—that’s a useless piece of advice. Or “Don’t use Facebook,” because then you don’t talk to your friends, you don’t get invited to parties, you don’t get laid. It’s like libertarians saying “Don’t use credit cards”; it just doesn’t work in the real world. The Internet has become essential to our lives, and it has been subverted into a gigantic surveillance platform. The solutions have to be political. The best advice for the average person is to agitate for political change.

US Killer Robot Policy: Full Speed Ahead – (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists – 20 September 2013)
In November 2012, United States Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter signed directive 3000.09, establishing policy for the “design, development, acquisition, testing, fielding, and — application of lethal or non-lethal, kinetic or non-kinetic, force by autonomous or semi-autonomous weapon systems.” Without fanfare, the world had its first openly declared national policy for killer robots. The policy has been widely misperceived as one of caution. According to one account, the directive promises that a human will always decide when a robot kills another human. Others even read it as imposing a 10-year moratorium to allow for discussion of ethics and safeguards. However, as a Defense Department spokesman confirmed, the 10-year expiration date is routine for such directives, and the policy itself is “not a moratorium on anything.” A careful reading of the directive finds that it lists some broad and imprecise criteria and requires senior officials to certify that these criteria have been met if systems are intended to target and kill people by machine decision alone. But it fully supports developing, testing, and using the technology, without delay. Far from applying the brakes, the policy in effect overrides longstanding resistance within the military, establishes a framework for managing legal, ethical, and technical concerns, and signals to developers and vendors that the Pentagon is serious about autonomous weapons. In 2001, retired Army lieutenant colonel T. K. Adams argued that humans were becoming the most vulnerable, burdensome, and performance-limiting components of manned systems. Communications links for remote operation would be vulnerable to disruption, and full autonomy would be needed as a fallback. Furthermore, warfare would become too fast and too complex for humans to direct. Realistic or not, such thinking, together with budget pressures and the perception that robots are cheaper than people, has supported a steady growth of autonomy research and development in military and contractor-supported labs.

Matchstick-sized Sensor Can Record Your Private Chats – (New Scientist – September 26, 2013)
Everyone knows that to have a private chat in the NSA era, you go outdoors. Phones, the internet, email and your office can all be compromised with ease. But soon even that whispered conversation in the park may no longer be safe from prying ears. A Dutch acoustics firm, Microflown Technologies, has developed a matchstick-sized sensor that can pinpoint and record a target’s conversations from a distance. Known as an acoustic vector sensor, Microflown’s sensor measures the movement of air, disturbed by sound waves, to almost instantly locate where a sound originated. It can then identify the noise and, if required, transmit it live to waiting ears. Conventional microphones work when sound waves make a diaphragm move, creating an electrical signal. Microflown’s sensor has no moving parts. It consists of two parallel platinum strips, each just 200 nanometers deep, that are heated to 200 °C. Air molecules flowing across the strips cause temperature differences between the pair. Microflown’s software counts the air molecules that pass through the gap between the strips to gauge sound intensity: the more air molecules in a sound wave, the louder the sound. At the same time, it analyses the temperature change in the strips to work out the movement of the air and calculate the coordinates of whatever generated the sound. Until now, the military has been using an early version of the sensor to pinpoint enemy planes and rockets. A single sensor can track and identify multiple distant jets, mortar rounds and sniper rifles in any environment. Earlier this year, Microflown’s researchers discovered by chance that the device can hear, record or stream an ordinary conversation from as far away as 20 meters. Signal-processing software filters out unwanted noise like wind or traffic commotion. Work is now underway to increase the range. Given a battery and a tiny antenna, the sensor could be attached to traffic lights, a shrub or park bench. Such systems can be teamed with surveillance cameras.


NSA Director Admits to Misleading Public on Terror Plots – (Salon – October 2, 2013)
In so many words, NSA director Keith Alexander has admitted that the Obama administration had issued misleading information about terror plots and their foiling to bolster support for the government’s vast surveillance apparatus. During a recent hearing, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy pushed Alexander to admit that plot numbers had been fudged in a revealing interchange: “There is no evidence that [bulk] phone records collection helped to thwart dozens or even several terrorist plots,” said Leahy. The Vermont Democrat then asked the NSA chief to admit that only 13 out of a previously cited 54 cases of foiled plots were genuinely the fruits of the government’s vast dragnet surveillance systems: “These weren’t all plots, and they weren’t all foiled,” Leahy said, asking Alexander, “Would you agree with that, yes or no?” “Yes,” replied Alexander. See also: Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee: “We Get More [Info on NSA Spying] in the Newspapers Than in Classified Briefings”. (Patrick Leahy – Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and member of the Subcommittees on Defense and Homeland Security for the Appropriations Committee – has top secret clearance.)


UK Detention of Reprieve Activist Consistent with NSA’s View of Drone Opponents as ‘Threats’ and ‘Adversaries’ – (Guardian – September 25, 2013)
A well-known and highly respected Yemeni anti-drone activist was recently detained by UK officials under that country’s “anti-terrorism” law at Gatwick Airport, where he had traveled to speak at an event. Baraa Shiban, the project co-ordinator for the London-based legal charity Reprieve, was held for an hour and a half and repeatedly questioned about his anti-drone work and political views regarding human rights abuses in Yemen. When he objected that his political views had no relevance to security concerns, UK law enforcement officials threatened to detain him for the full nine hours allowed by the Terrorism Act of 2000. Perceiving drone opponents as “threats” or even “adversaries” is hardly new. Top secret US government documents obtained by the Guardian from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden characterize even the most basic political and legal opposition to drone attacks as part of “propaganda campaigns” from America’s “adversaries”. The entry referred to is part of a top secret internal US government website, similar in appearance to the online Wikipedia site. Although the document at one points suggests that some drone opposition may come from “citizens with legitimate social agendas”, the section on “adversary propaganda themes” includes virtually every one of the arguments most frequently made in the US against the US drone policy, including that the threat of terrorism is small when compared to other threats, that drone strikes intensify rather than curb the risk of terrorism by fueling anti-American animus, and that drones kill too many civilians. The NSA entry further claims that “manipulation of statistics” over civilian deaths is a frequent propaganda tool of “adversaries”, citing one study that concluded that roughly 9 out of 10 victims from drone strikes are civilians. To contrast such propaganda studies, the NSA entry cites a New America Foundation study concluding that “civilians make up about one-third of those killed”.

Migrants Send over $414 Billion Home – (USA Today – October 2, 2013)
Money that migrant workers send to their families and homeland is far more valuable to developing countries than foreign aid and is expected to grow 6.3% this year, according to a new World Bank study. Migrants are expected to send $414 billion in remittances home this year to developing countries, the study said, and the figure will likely surpass $500 billion by 2016. That makes remittance funds almost four times more important to developing nations than official foreign aid from governments, which the United Nations says amounts to about $126 billion a year. The current global total of remittances to all nations is $549 billion. India gets $71 billion in remittances, the biggest benefactor from such funds. China got $60 billion, the Philippines $26 billion, Mexico $22 billion, Nigeria $21 billion and Egypt $20 billion. Money sent home by migrants is crucial to some nations. Almost half of Tajikistan’s gross domestic product comes from remittances, the study said. Kyrgyzstan gets 31% of its GDP from remittances; Lesotho and Nepal, 25%; and Moldova, 24%.

Internet Freedom on Decline Worldwide As Governments Tighten Grip – (RT – October 4, 2013)
The 2013 Freedom on the Net report, compiled by non-profit Freedom House, says that 34 out of the 60 countries it surveyed suffered a falloff in internet freedom over the past year. In 35 of the 60 countries examined, the government has “either obtained more sophisticated surveillance technology, increased the scope of people monitored, or passed a new law giving it greater monitoring authority.” The authors also suspect that surveillance may have increased in other countries which are simply “better at covering their tracks.” Iran, Cuba, China and Syria were ranked as countries with the greatest restrictions. Iceland, Estonia and Germany took the podium places in the ranking, followed by the United States. Nonetheless, the US was castigated for a “troubling decline” in internet freedom, largely as a result of wide-ranging surveillance practices revealed through Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks.


Rich People Just Care Less – (New York Times – October 5, 2013)
A growing body of recent research shows that people with the most social power pay scant attention to those with little such power. This tuning out has been observed, for instance, with strangers in a mere five-minute get-acquainted session, where the more powerful person shows fewer signals of paying attention, like nodding or laughing. Higher-status people are also more likely to express disregard, through facial expressions, and are more likely to take over the conversation and interrupt or look past the other speaker. Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at Berkeley, and Michael W. Kraus, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, have done much of the research on social power and the attention deficit. While the wealthy can hire help, those with few material assets are more likely to value their social assets: like the neighbor who will keep an eye on your child from the time she gets home from school until the time you get home from work. The financial difference ends up creating a behavioral difference. Poor people are better attuned to interpersonal relations — with those of the same strata, and the more powerful — than the rich are, because they have to be. While Mr. Keltner’s research finds that the poor, compared with the wealthy, have keenly attuned interpersonal attention in all directions, in general, those with the most power in society seem to pay particularly little attention to those with the least power. To be sure, high-status people do attend to those of equal rank — but not as well as those low of status do. This has profound implications for societal behavior and government policy. Tuning in to the needs and feelings of another person is a prerequisite to empathy, which in turn can lead to understanding, concern and, if the circumstances are right, compassionate action. In politics, readily dismissing inconvenient people can easily extend to dismissing inconvenient truths about them.


Subsurface Microbes Alive Millions of Years May Exist on Mars – DNA Repair Mechanism Makes It Possible – (Daily Galaxy – October 14, 2013)
“It just keeps looking better for conditions of habitability on Mars,” said Brent Christner, associate professor of biological sciences at LSU. “This is relevant in an astrobiological sense because if these DNA repair mechanisms operate in Earth’s cryosphere, extraterrestrial microbes might be using this survival mechanism to persist on other icy worlds in the solar system. We are very excited about these results.” Christner said that new research make it reasonable to speculate that if life ever evolved on Mars and microbes are still frozen somewhere in the subsurface, those microbes might still be viable if given the right conditions. With funding from NASA, researchers in LSU’s Department of Biological Sciences have been studying microbial survival in ice to understand how microorganisms could survive in ancient permafrost, or perhaps even buried in ice on Mars. Researchers have already been able to revive microbes buried in ice and permafrost for hundreds of thousands to millions of years. In fact, Christner managed to revive several different types of bacteria from near the bottom of the Guliya ice cap on the Qinghan-Tibetan plateau in Western China – ice that is 750,000 years old, from long before the age of humans.


Untreatable: Report by CDC Details Drug-resistant Health Threats – (Center for Disease Control – September 16, 2013)
Every year, more than two million people in the United States get infections that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die as a result, according to a new report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  The report, Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States, 2013, presents the first snapshot of the burden and threats posed by antibiotic-resistant germs having the most impact on human health. In addition to the toll on human life, antibiotic-resistant infections add considerable and avoidable costs to the already overburdened U.S. health care system. Studies have estimated that, in the United States, antibiotic resistance adds $20 billion in excess direct health care costs, with additional costs to society for lost productivity as high as $35 billion a year.

Surprising Jump in Elderly U.S. Women Living in Extreme Poverty – (All Gov – October 01, 2013)
Eking out a bare existence in the United States became noticeably more difficult last year for many elderly women, according to a new report from the National Women’s Law Center. The study found that the number of women age 65 and older living in extreme poverty increased by 18% from 2011 to 2012. The statistical jump translated into 135,000 more elderly women living on less than $5,500 annually, with the total in this group reaching 733,000. The report’s authors couldn’t say for certain what caused the unexpected jump. The study produced other findings on the state of American women living in poverty, including: 14.5% of women lived in poverty last year, compared to 11% of men; more than one in seven women, nearly 17.8 million, lived in poverty, and nearly 7.8 million of them lived in extreme poverty.

30 Statistics about Americans under the Age of 30 – (Economic Collapse – October 3, 2013)
Sidestep the agenda in this article and just read the statistics. For example: Approximately two-thirds of all college students graduate with student loans; According to the Federal Reserve, the total amount of student loan debt has risen by 275% since 2003; 40% of all households that are led by someone under the age of 35 are paying off student loan debt (in 1989, that figure was below 20%); The total amount of student loan debt in the United States now exceeds the total amount of credit card debt in the United States. See also Wall St. Journal article: Millennials Face Uphill Climb


Pope Francis Lashes Out at a World Economic System for Worshiping a “God Called Money” – (Raw Story – September 22, 2013)
Meeting with a group of unemployed workers, Pope Francis abandoned his prepared text to make some of his strongest remarks against economic inequality. He said, “Excuse me if I use strong words, but where there is no work there is no dignity … We don’t want this globalized economic system which does us so much harm.” Speaking in Sardinia, Francis declared: “[The global economic downturn] is the consequence of a world choice, of an economic system that brings about this tragedy, an economic system that has at its center an idol which is called money.” He later spoke of the “hidden euthanasia” of neglect that afflicts those the economy considers unproductive, “To defend this economic culture, a throwaway culture has been installed,” he said “We throw away grandparents, and we throw away young people. We have to say no to this throwaway culture. We want a just system that helps everyone.”

Meet Your New Boss: Buying Large Employers Will Enable China to Dominate 1000s of U.S. Communities – (Blacklisted News – June 8, 2013)
Chinese acquisition of U.S. businesses set a new all-time record last year, and it is on pace to absolutely shatter that record this year. If China continues to build economic power inside the United States, it will eventually become the dominant economic force in thousands of small communities all over the nation. For example, last year a Chinese company spent $2.6 billion to purchase AMC entertainment – one of the largest movie theater chains in the United States. Now that Chinese company controls more movie ticket sales than anyone else in the world. Another example: Smithfield Foods is the largest pork producer and processor in the world. It has facilities in 26 U.S. states and it employs tens of thousands of Americans. It directly owns 460 farms and has contracts with approximately 2,100 others. But a Chinese company has bought it for $4.7 billion, and that means that the Chinese will now be the most important employer in dozens of rural communities all over America. But China is not just relying on acquisitions to expand its economic power. For example, Golden Dragon Precise Copper Tube Group, Inc. recently broke ground on a $100 million plant in Thomasville, Alabama. And guess where else Chinese companies are putting down roots? Detroit. Dozens of companies from China are putting down roots in Detroit, part of the country’s steady push into the American auto industry. (Editor’s note: Breeze past the obvious slant of this article and just note the facts of Chinese globalization. The facts are worth reading. Also recall that the same tone of fear was used with respect to Japanese investment in U.S. real estate, particularly golf courses, about 30 years ago.)


Why Scandinavian Prisons Are Superior – (The Atlantic – September 24, 2013)
Suomenlinna Island, located in the harbor of Helsinki, Finland, has hosted an “open” prison since 1971. The 95 male prisoners leave the prison grounds each day to do the township’s general maintenance or commute to the mainland for work or study. Serving time for theft, drug trafficking, assault, or murder, all the men here are on the verge of release. Cellblocks look like dorms at a state university. Though worse for wear, rooms feature flat-screen TVs, sound systems, and mini-refrigerators for the prisoners who can afford to rent them for prison-labor wages of 4.10 to 7.3 Euros per hour ($5.30 to $9.50).  With electronic monitoring, prisoners are allowed to spend time with their families in Helsinki. Men here enjoy a screened barbecue pit, a gym, and a dining hall where prisoners and staff eat together. Prisoners throughout Scandinavia wear their own clothes. Officers wear navy slacks, powder-blue shirts, nametags and shoulder bars; but they carry no batons, handcuffs, Tasers or pepper-spray. For the author of this very insightful comparison of Scandinavian and American prisons, it’s the end of his twelfth prison tour, and he considers the semantics of the question: If you can’t tell whether you’re in a prison, can it be a prison? He notes: “I’ve never considered this in so many words. Yet I find that I know the answer, having felt it inside a prison cell in Denmark: There is no punishment so effective as punishment that nowhere announces the intention to punish.” And he might have added, “because it has no intention to punish – only to rehabilitate and return to society.” Inside the four high-security prisons the author has visited in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland, common areas included table tennis, pool tables, steel darts, and aquariums. Prisoner art ornamented walls painted in mild greens and browns and blues. But the most profound difference [between these and American prisons] is that correctional officers fill both rehabilitative and security roles. Each prisoner has a “contact officer” who monitors and helps advance progress toward return to the world outside—a practice introduced to help officers avoid the damage experienced by performing purely punitive functions: stress, hypertension, alcoholism, suicide, and other job-related hazards that today plague American corrections officers, who have an average life expectancy of 59.

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH – articles off the beaten track which may – or may not – have predictive value.

Col. Manners Answers Etiquette Questions on War and Surveillance – (AlterNet – October 10, 2013)
In the sequester and government-shutdown era, the classic military newspaper Stars and Stripes is facing some of the problems of its civilian brethren and so downsizing its print edition. Among the features to go is “Dear Abby”. As it happens, TomDispatch is ready to step into the breach. We’ve called on an old and knowledgeable friend, Colonel Manners (ret.), whose experience in military and surveillance matters is evident from his impressive CV (unfortunately, a classified document). His assignment: to answer letters from Americans puzzled by the etiquette, manners, and language of the arcane national security world of Washington. Here is a first sampling from a column that, in syndication, could go global. His responses to “Stressed and Bloody Anxious in Chicago”, “Tabled in Kalamazoo”, and “Unlucky 13” are all thoughtfully crafted.


The Typewriter – (YouTube – June 12, 2011)
Perhaps you’ve wondered where outdated technologies go when the future has passed them by. Here’s an answer: They become art – more often than you might guess. This particular performance is by members of the National Orchestra of Spain.  The soloist is Alfredo Anaya.  The piece was composed by Leroy Anderson (1908-1975).


The future should be something we deserve, not something which is merely reached at the rate of 60 minutes per hour. – Anonymous

A special thanks to: Bernard Calil, Ursula Freer, Diane Petersen, Abby Porter, Gary Sycalik and all of you who have sent us interesting links in the past. If you see something we should know about, do send it along – thanks.


Edited by John L. Petersen

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A Vision for 2012: Planning for Extraordinary Change
by John L. Petersen

Former senator and presidential candidate Gary Hart has said “It should be required reading for the next President.”

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