Sunday, February 25, 2018

As the California Democratic Party crumbles (continued)
  California Democrats abandon key elections to
  monied interests per 2010 Prop 14 voter wishes

As of today, the desire by California voters to turn elections over to monied interests was ratified by the California Democratic Party.

Concerned California voters can always be described as "well meaning" when they enable solutions to political problems.

For instance, as part of Progressive era reforms the voters in California counties were given initiative powers in 1893, in 1898 San Francisco and Vallejo became the first cities to adopt the initiative process, and in 1911 a new Progressive majority in the legislature gained the adoption of the initiative, referendum, and recall processes at both the state and local levels approved by voters in a special election on October 10, 1911.

Further, the solution to the problem of "machine politics" in political parties in 1909 wasn't for the 2+ million Californians to get more involved, but rather it was to establish a direct party primary system.

Unfortunately, to understand what's happening you have to understand some California history and the people with the least imagination possible - Progressives. So this post will be long. And to make clear just how unlikely Progressives will anticipate the obvious, we'll begin by exploring the initiative process before taking up the process of nominating candidates for office.

When monied special interests discovered the initiative process

Monied special interests began to explore how to use the initiative process after the end of WWII as the population had increased five-fold since 1911.

A 1956 initiative regarding changes in the state regulation and taxation of oil and gas production was sponsored by one group of oil companies that sought to make their business more profitable and opposed by another group of oil firms that preferred the existing system. Campaign funds spent by both sides totaled over $5 million ($46 million in today's dollars). Almost as expensive was the gargantuan 1958 labor-capital conflict over a "Right to Work" (open shop) initiative sponsored by employers.

The California initiative process gave rise to a new breed of campaign professional: the paid petition circulator. With signature requirements doubling nearly every decade, citizen groups were unable to rely solely on volunteer effort. As early as World War I, Joseph Robinson was offering his organizing services to initiative proponents. His firm, which paid its employees a fee for each signature brought in, had a virtual monopoly on the petition business from 1920 to 1948 - a period during which, Robinson estimated, his firm was involved in 98 percent of the successful statewide initiative petition drives. And so monied interests took notice of the basic flaw in the Progressives' thinking.

California liberals discovered just how flawed the initiative process of letting voters be "lobbied" by expensive advertising was when two measures passed by voters in 1964. The first repealed the Rumford Fair Housing Act, which the legislature had passed, and Governor Brown had signed, in 1963. The second banned cable television. That measure was sponsored by theater owners who, fearing competition, advertised the initiative as guaranteeing "free television" and eliminating the specter of "pay television." (Both 1964 initiatives were later overturned by the courts as unconstitutional.)

California's most famous initiative was Proposition 13, approved by voters in 1978. Much like the 2017 income tax reform, the measure gave long-lasting significant tax relief to major corporations and wealthy land-owning families while giving limited-duration tax relief to middle-class homeowners. And yet, just like the 2017 income tax reform, Prop 13 remains enshrined for most middle-class voters despite the fact that the largest beneficiaries are corporations like Chevron which is  is saving over $100 million a year in property taxes statewide while the owners of recently purchased homes get no benefits.

And in a 2010 the voters approved Proposition 14 finally removing the parties from directly competing against special interest money in elections.

How the "top 2" primary will benefit monied interests

We know, in California at least, that the voters' solution to the problem of machine politics and monied interests in political parties is to give the monied interests more direct control over electing officials.

As explained above, the solution to the problem of "machine politics" in political parties in 1909 wasn't for the 2+ million Californians to get more involved, but rather it was to establish a direct party primary system. That system was modified - tweaked, really - several times by the voters over the years because there were always some dissatisfied voters. But it was basically replaced in 2010 by Proposition 14.

Proposition 14 was submitted to the voters as a proposal to amend Sections 5 and 6 of Article II of the California State Constitution relating to elections. It is officially known as the Top Two Primaries Act.

It was authored by Republican State Senator Abel Maldonado as Senate Constitutional Amendment 4 of the 2009–2010 Regular Session (Resolution Chapter 2, Statutes of 2009). It was based on a 2008 proposal drafted by the Independent Voter Project, an organization that has questionable financial ties related to Republicans Charles  Munger, Jr. and Vigo G. Niesen, Jr. It was passed in the State Senate by a vote of 27 to 12 and in the State Assembly by a vote of 54 to 20.

The proposition was publicly backed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger as part of a deal in which Maldonado agreed to support his proposed 2009–2010 state budget. It was opposed by political parties.

Maldonado was appointed Lieutenant Governor by Schwarzenegger in 2010. Schwarzenegger, who could have never been nominated in either political party, was elected outside the partisan primary system as a Republican when Governor Gray Davis was recalled in 2003.

With the 2010 adoption of the Top Two Primary pursuant to Proposition 14, all candidates running for an office are listed on one ballot, regardless of their party preference. A candidate’s party has no impact on how the election is conducted or who is allowed to advance to the General Election. Instead, candidates go on to a run-off election based solely on how many votes they receive in the Primary.

The two candidates who receive the most votes are "voter nominated" and qualify for the general election, hence the name “Top Two.”

A candidate nominated for a voter-nominated office at the primary election is the nominee of the people and not the official nominee of any party at the following general election. A candidate for nomination or election to a voter-nominated office shall have his or her party preference, or lack of party preference, reflected on the primary and general election ballot 

But that party preference designation is selected solely by the candidate and is shown for the information of the voters only. It does not constitute or imply an endorsement of the candidate by the party designated, or affiliation between the party and candidate, and no candidate nominated by the qualified voters for any voter-nominated office shall be deemed to be the officially nominated candidate of any political party.

This all sounds very democratic, no party shenanigans screwing with the interests of the brilliant voters? So how does this all mean that the voters have successfully turned elections over to monied interests?

The answer is simple. If the parties aren't actively backing candidates in the primary, the money will come from somewhere. Nonetheless, the California Democratic Party does endorse some candidates, so that has to mean something, right?

What happened in San Diego this weekend?

Looking at the list of the 2018 California Democratic Party (CDP) "endorsements", or many cases lack thereof, the first question is "does it matter?" Well, maybe.

A study was done on the 2012 Primary, the first Top Two, regarding the outcome of which the authors state:

    Depending on how we ran the analysis, we found an endorsement effect of somewhere between seven and 15 points.
    This isn’t necessarily an enormous effect. A particularly skilled or lucky candidate could beat the party’s preferred one, but not easily. What this study does show is that those who receive this one endorsement get a substantial advantage in the primary election, and this is an endorsement worth fighting for.

The problem is that this study was done on the first Top Two primary. The 2018 primary will be the third. The voters are getting used to the idea that partisan affiliations may not be very important or even undesirable.

And the curious thing is that the California Democratic Party has chosen to not endorse in key races where it could matter, as well as in some important races where it probably won't matter.

From the viewpoint of the press, the most important thing that happened in San Diego this weekend was the failure of the CDP to endorse incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein. There was no endorsement for this position.

What the voters might find interesting is who has filed to run in the Top Two Primary for that seat:
  • Senator Dianne Feinstein, Incumbant, Democratic
  • State Senator Kevin de León, Democratic
  • Eugene Patterson "Pat" Harris, Democratic
  • Alison Hartson, Democratic
  • David Hildebrand, Democratic
  • John "Stuttering John" Melendez, Democratic
  • Douglas Howard Pierce, Democratic
  • Steve Stokes, Democratic
  • Michael Vincent "Cal Songmaker" Ziesing, Green
  • Derrick Michael Reid, Libertarian
  • Donald R. "Don" Adams, Republican
  • Gary Lynn Coson, Republican
  • Erin Cruz, Republican
  • John Anthony Estrada, Republican
  • Former Assemblyman David Hadley, Republican
  • Timothy Charles Kalemkarian, Republican
  • Caren Dianna Lancona, Republican
  • Jazmina Saavedra, Republican
  • Stephen James Schrader, Republican
  • Paul Allen Taylor, Republican
  • Jerry Leon Carroll, No Party Preference
  • Michael Eisen, No Party Preference
  • Tim Gildersleeve, No Party Preference
  • Charles Junior Hodge, No Party Preference
  • Richard Thomas Mead, No Party Preference
  • Lee W. Olson, No Party Preference
  • Clifton Roberts, No Party Preference
  • Ling Ling Shi, Unaffiliated
With that large a lineup, it seemed an endorsement might have helped. And, in fact, it might have had Kevin de León been able to get it. He received 54 percent of the vote, just short of the 60 percent threshold to capture the Democratic endorsement, while Feinstein received only 37 percent.

The thing is, both have been running since October. At the end of the year de León had raised about $500,000 while Feinstein had nearly $10 million on hand, including $5 million of her own money.  Also a Public Policy Institute of California poll released this month showed Feinstein leading among likely voters 46 percent to 17 percent.  Nearly two-thirds of respondents had never heard of de León or didn’t know enough about him to form an opinion.

The Party also did not endorse for the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General offices. Unlike the U.S. Senate seat, the Governor's race is not clear cut. Here is a list of who has filed for the seat with the CDP Convention delegate vote share for endorsement (again, 60% needed):
  • Lieutenant Governor  Gavin Newsom, Democratic, 39%
  • Treasurer  John Chiang, Democratic, 30%
  • Former Public Instruction Superintendent Delaine Eastin, Democratic, 20%
  • Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Democratic, 9%
  • Akinyemi Agbede, Democratic
  • David Asem, Democratic
  • Ramon Barajas, III, Democratic
  • Michael Robert Bracamontes, Democratic
  • Juan Bribiesca, Democratic
  • Ted Crisell, Democratic
  • Harmesh Kumar, Democratic
  • Former Manteca City Councilman Albert Mezzetti, Democratic
  • Amanda Renteria, Democratic
  • Klement Tinaj, Democratic
  • Former state Controller Steve Westly, Democratic
  • Christopher Carlson, Green
  • Veronika Fimbres, Green
  • Josh Jones, Green
  • Zoltan Istvan, Libertarian
  • Patrick Wheat, Libertarian
  • Nickolas Wildstar, Libertarian
  • Michael Bilger, No Party Preference
  • Andy Blanch, No Party Preference
  • David Bush, No Party Preference
  • Peter Crawford-Valentino, No Party Preference
  • Shubham Goel, No Party Preference
  • Grant Handlik, No Party Preference
  • Robert Jacques, No Party Preference
  • Analila Joya, No Party Preference
  • Joshua Laine, No Party Preference
  • Michael Podkomarka, No Party Preference
  • Timothy Richardson, No Party Preference
  • Boris Romanowsky, No Party Preference
  • H. Fuji Shioura, No Party Preference
  • Lindsey Neil Shortland, No Party Preference
  • Scot Sturtevant, No Party Preference
  • James Tran, No Party Preference
  • Frederic Prinz von Anhalt, No Party Preference
  • Gloria LaRiva, Peace And Freedom
  • Assemblyman  Travis Allen, Republican
  • Daniel Amare, Republican
  • Stasyi Barth, Republican
  • John-Leslie Brown, Republican
  • John Cox, Republican
  • Brian Domingo, Republican
  • Yvonne Girard, Republican
  • Rosey Grier, Republican
  • Cole Harris, Republican
  • Tulare County Supervisor Allen Ishida, Republican
  • Peter Y. Liu, Republican
  • Jacob Morris, Republican
  • Robert Newman, II, Republican
  • former Congressman Doug Ose, Republican
  • Laura Smith, Republican
  • John Zuber, Republican
Obviously, the California Democratic Party is meaningless in this contest. Every candidate is going to have to find his or her own funding, aka donors.

This situation extends further down the line.

As noted in the previous post, Party officials were concerned about too many candidates for certain previously Republican Congressional seats where the incumbent is not running. For instance in the 49th District where Congressman Darrell Issa is not running, the Party failed to make an endorsement - the only consolation is the along with the five Democrats, there are seven Republicans who have filed to divide up the vote on the other side. (There is also a Peace and Freedom Party candidate.) A similar situation exists in the 39th District.

In three other Districts - 1, 10, and 25 - where the incumbent Republican will be running the Democrats failed to endorse a candidate in the Primary.

In all of these cases, to end up in the top two Democrats will need to compete to find their own funding and supporters.

In five of the 80 State Assembly seats up for election, there was no endorsement, and in two others no Democrat has filed to run. In three out of 20 State Senate seats up for election there was no endorsement and in one no Democrat has filed.

Obviously, in all these election contests "outside" money could begin filling the vacuum left behind by an absent party. This was the year Democrats were going to reassert themselves nationally. But in California the Party is absent in the race for U.S. Senate, Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General, and numerous down-ballot contests.

In the previous post the prediction is made that it will take the 2018 election cycle and two more before the role of political parties in California as we know it will be eliminated. In the election of 2024, the State's voters will experience a new political system of competition.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

As the California Democratic Party crumbles...
  California's Democrats meet to create a winning
  year, only being anti-Trump may not be a panacea

This morning the California headline from Politico is Democrats fear California crack-up while the Los Angeles Times tells us California Democrats agree they have too many candidates for Congress. What to do about them is the problem.

Some 3,400 delegates to the 2018 California Democratic Party State Convention in San Diego will vote Saturday on endorsements for governor, U.S. senator, other statewide offices and the Board of Equalization.

The three-day convention began Friday with a series of caucus meetings, workshops  and panel discussions.

The delegates will adopt the 2018 party platform Sunday and ratify endorsements for congressional and legislative races made earlier at pre-endorsing conferences and endorsement caucuses.

It's a big deal. That Convention includes about 1,000 more delegates than attended the Republican National Convention in 2016. Those 3,400 delegates hope to have an impact on our government.

Unfortunately it's also a really big deal because California Democrats are confronted with the potential fallout of the "Top Two" primary system, such as too many candidates. How could you have too many candidates?

As the LA Times article explains:

    Democratic activists in Orange County threw an impromptu party with cake, party hats and singing after Republican Rep. Darrell Issa announced he was retiring.
    But the exhilaration over the opportunity to capture a Republican congressional seat quickly turned to political panic.
    There are so many Democrats running for Congress in some districts that they could split the votes in the June 5 primary and send two Republicans to the November election, thanks to California's top-two primary system. Democrats need 24 seats to reclaim the majority in the U.S. House — and are putting money and attention toward 10 California contests. In other words, every race matters.
    The volume of Democratic candidates is a particular problem in Issa's 49th Congressional District in San Diego and south Orange County.
    On a recent phone call with 300 local activists, organizers fretted over the entry of a fifth Democrat into the race and rumors about a sixth.

In that situation it is likely the Republicans will likely divide up 50%+ of the vote in the 2018 Primary Election but there are currently seven Republican candidates who have filed. One person has field as a Peace and Freedom Party candidates. And five Democrats have filed. So 13 have filed!

It is conceivable that none of those five or six Democrats will be on the General Election ballot. Far fetched? Not really. If one Democrat ran in the Primary, that Democrat would be on the General Election ballot. Five or six serious Democratic candidates would pretty much water down the vote.

As discussed here in May 2016:

    But don't stress. We Californian's figured out what "the establishment" is - POLITICAL PARTIES. And as usual we are as far out in front of the movement as we can be. There are no party primaries in California except for U.S. President, which we can't control, and for traditional county-level party central committees, which are quaint useless groups anyway.
    Now, it is true that California for over a century had many local and a few state "non-partisan" office elections in which no political party is indicated for any candidate. But on June 8, 2010, California voters approved Proposition 14, the Top Two Candidates Open Primary Act, which allows all voters to choose any candidate for a statewide or state and federal legislative office regardless of the candidate’s or voter’s political party preference.
    The goal was to get the parties out of the election system.
    It took a few years for things to begin to "adjust" to this change. But apparently by 2016 the voters have gotten what they want....
    ...There are 34 candidates for U.S. Senate this year. Before Prop 14, in a U.S. Senate primary a voter had to select from a few candidates seeking nomination in his/her party. Now they are confronted with 34 who don't have to report to any party members after getting elected.
    And it may relegate political parties to the landfill of history, which could be a serious problem.

Four months later it was further reviewed here:

    But the focus here is the potential demise of the two political parties. Guess what - Bernie Sanders doesn't belong to either party - effectively he is an independent who, to use the Pew Study phrase, "leans Democratic" like the Millennials. So Millennials could relate to him and they don't relate to the political parties.
    I'm a Californian. California is the first state to eliminate the partisan primary.
    Also here in California, Governor Jerry Brown is 78, Senator Dianne Feinstein is 83, Senator Barbara Boxer is 75, and our most famous member of Congress Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is 76. The Chairman of the California Democratic Party former Congressman John Burton is 83.
    In California back in 2012, Millennials were 29% of the population, Gen-X'ers wer 21.8% of the population, Baby Boomers were 23.4% of the population, and the Silent Generation was 9.4% of the population. All people who hold power in the Democratic Party are of the Silent Generation.
    That is embarrassing - we have a non-representative government - literally a gerontocracy meaning per Wikipedia "a form of oligarchical rule in which an entity is ruled by leaders who are significantly older than most of the adult population."
    Folks in other states should get to know this logo: .
    Slowly that half of the Millennials who do not consider themselves part of either community known as the Democratic Party and the Republican Party will take control of who gets to be on the General Election ballots in California - the largest state in population with the largest number of electors in the Presidential Electoral College. At some time in the future the top two candidates for a statewide office will both not identify with a party.
    The California Democratic Party is only nominally in control of the election to replace the retiring U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer because both General Election candidates are Democrats. But their party affiliation predates the California Top Two Primaries Act.
    This is the first statewide election under the "top 2" system and the party system is starting to crack. The California Republican Party has essentially collapsed.
    The "top 2" system has forced a division within the Democratic Party that erupted publicly when Democratic President Barack Obama endorsed Democrat Attorney General Kamala Harris, a black woman. Her opponent Latino Democrat Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez' response should be a warning to the Democratic Party that the biggest controversy in the future will be the Party itself....

The following June it was noted here emphasis added:

    Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, who will be 85 next year at 2018 General Election time, is indicating she will run again. Should she win, she will be 91 when the term ends. But how that all plays out in our nonpartisan blanket primary system will be interesting.
    One possibility is that the Neoliberal political machine could disrupt the 2018 nonpartisan blanket primary for Feinstein's Senate seat, perhaps funding a run by a younger non-partisan candidate who could literally run on a platform challenging the power of the federal government now controlled by Republicans.
    Such an effort might not succeed in 2018. The California Democratic Party still has access to money and people on the ground.
    But Party Chairman John Burton retired this year and the process of replacing him has sown discord - about half of the active California Democrats are disgruntled that no real change has occurred. U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer retired and the contest to replace her has left an open sore, particularly among Southern California Hispanic Democrats. Governor Jerry Brown is termed out and will retire at the end of 2018. That will reduce the gerontocracy members of the party leadership to House Minority Leader Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi who is under attack at the national level and Senator Dianne Feinstein who is about as conservative as a California Democrat can get.
    So to repeat myself, here in Democratic California we are likely three general elections (seven years) away from Democratic voters and elected officials understanding the full impact of our nonpartisan blanket primary system. The traditional party system will be meaningless, leaving California Democrats, like California Republicans, with little partisan power within the state or nationally.
    What is not reported in the press is that Burton, Boxer, Brown, Pelosi, and Feinstein are essentially "Bay Area" white people while the vast majority of Californian's live south of the Tehachapi Mountains and are the majority of Californian's are not white.
    California Democrats have hidden the meaning of the geographical split. The Bay Area generally is far more inclined to cultural liberalism. Once the Southern California influence gains strength, Hollywood notwithstanding, at the national level the meaning of being a California Democrat will change. And it was California that gave Hillary Clinton here majority in the national popular vote when the California Democratic Party was controlled by a white gerontocracy.

This November we will vote in the first of those "three general elections" likely necessary before all "Democratic voters and elected officials [understand] the full impact of our nonpartisan blanket primary system."

What the 2018 California political process beginning this weekend will mean to future government policy is anyone's guess. But it will be interesting to this delegate to the 1964 California Democratic Council Convention held during the weekend of February 22, 1964 (yeah, that's 54 years ago). That too was a disruptive time. But political disruption doesn't guarantee a good outcome.

to be continued

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Anthropocene is not real
  How arrogance of human-importance has allowed
  climate scientists to trample chronostratigraphic
  science creating fake news for political purposes

Donald Trump did not invent the arrogance of self-importance endemic to humans, despite the fact that so many people find him irritating.

The truth is that human arrogance of self-importance is always irritating. Sometimes it's only about the self-importance of one person. Other times it becomes a group arrogance of self-importance. But it seems we are surrounded by an arrogance species-importance, of human-importance!

The Arrogance of Human Importance Infects Climate Scientists

During the last 20 years of the 20th Century, we began seeing climate change activists start to take on that group arrogance of self-importance. Then, beginning right at the Turn of the Century, a group of scientists within those climate change activists started embracing the arrogance of  human-importance using climate change as an argument.

This group of pop-science advocates are pushing the Earth's age along into what they call the "Anthropocene Epoch."

They bypass the stratigraphers (scientists who study rock layers) who, over many decades through careful extensive study and extensive debate within the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS), established the Earth’s time scale system.

When challenged, these pop climate science advocates offer the best pop-science answer ever as explained this 2013 Smithsonian article What Is the Anthropocene and Are We in It?:

    Many stratigraphers (scientists who study rock layers) criticize the idea, saying clear-cut evidence for a new epoch simply isn’t there....
    Some Anthropocene proponents concede that difficulty. But don’t get bogged down in the mud, they say, just stipulate a date and move on. ...Will Steffen, who heads Australia National University’s Climate Change Institute...says the new name sends a message: “[It] will be another strong reminder to the general public that we are now having undeniable impacts on the environment at the scale of the planet as a whole, so much so that a new geological epoch has begun.”
    To Andrew Revkin, a New York Times reporter (now blogger) who suggested a similar term in 1992 that never quite caught on (“Anthrocene”), it’s significant that the issue is being debated at all. ...He says. “We’re the first species that’s become a planet-scale influence and is aware of that reality. That’s what distinguishes us.”

In other words, ignore scientific method because science indicates that within one scientific field - climate science -we humans are important right now. 

Sometimes we humans need to step back from the arrogance precipice and acknowledge just how truly unimportant we are in the big picture.

Of course, I have to offer an admonishment to the reader - don't read further if  you have absolute beliefs that recognize a human superiority over the Earth and all its creatures or if your thing is Genesis 1:26-31 of the Bible which clearly expresses this arrogance:

    Then God said, “Let Us make man like Us and let him be head over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every thing that moves on the ground.”
    And God made man in His own likeness. In the likeness of God He made him. He made both male and female. And God wanted good to come to them, saying, “Give birth to many. Grow in number. Fill the earth and rule over it. Rule over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
    Then God said, “See, I have given you every plant that gives seeds that is on the earth, and every tree that has fruit that gives seeds. They will be food for you. I have given every green plant for food to every animal of the earth, and to every bird of the sky, and to every thing that moves on the earth that has life.” And it was so.
    God saw all that He had made and it was very good. There was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

At this point those of us who don't believe in human superiority over the Earth and all its creatures need to review some boring hard science.

About Geological Time Spans and Life

More than 99% of all species of life forms that ever lived on Earth are extinct. Although the number of Earth's catalogued species of lifeforms is between 1.2 million and 2 million, the total number of species estimates range from 8 million to as high as 1 trillion. The oldest physical traces of life date back 3.7 billion years. Consider this:

The current geological era, covering the period from 66 million years ago to the present day, is called The Cenozoic Era.

It is also known as the Age of Mammals by the arrogant because they think large mammals dominate it.

Apparently not existing in their world are arthropods, despite the fact that by nearly any measure, arthropods constitute the most successful Phylum in the Animalia Kingdom on the planet:
  • over a million arthropods species have been scientifically described as compared 5,416 species of mammals, 
  • arthropods make up more than 80% of all described living animal species, 
  • their evolutionary ancestry dates back to the Cambrian period of the Paleozoic Era, 
  • some arthropods, such as the gregarious German cockroach, have an elaborate social structure involving common shelter, social dependence, information transfer and kin recognition, and
  • some arthropods, unlike most animals, are very successful in dry environment habitats which likely will expand due to climate change.

They are spiders, insects, centipedes, mites, ticks, lobsters, crabs, shrimp, crayfish, krill, barnacles, scorpions and many, many others. A few are a direct threat to mammals (including humans) with their poisonous venom. Many are an indirect threat because they carry infectious disease-causing microbes. Many others are food sources.

But I've digressed, so let's return to the geologically-determined layers of time.

The continents moved into their current positions during this Cenozoic era. Cenozoic, means "new life," derived from Greek. The Cenozoic is divided into three periods: the Paleogene, Neogene, and Quaternary; and seven epochs: the Paleocene, Eocene, Oligocene, Miocene, Pliocene, Pleistocene, and Holocene.

Notice on that "clock" above at about 11:59 pm the "First Hominins" label with its yellow line adjacent to the midnight black line denoting the Formation of the Earth. That entire "time" width of the yellow line is represented on the table to the right. We are currently in the Holocene Epoch of the Quaternary Period of the Cenozoic Era which is 0.00000257% of the time the Earth has existed, or if you prefer 0.000031% of the time land plants and animals have existed on Earth.

And if you want to assert that modern humans are causing environmental changes that could destroy the Earth or life on Earth, consider this graph:

As noted on the graph, the Oxygen Crisis caused the most significant mass extinction in the history of the Earth. But don't get confused. It wasn't a shortage of oxygen to breath. It was the introduction of breathable oxygen in the atmosphere the killed off most existing life.

Yet somehow, life on Earth made it despite that toxic element oxygen, adapting to thrive in the presence of an oxygenated atmosphere.

It is not life as creatures back then would recognize. Instead, most recently it is you and me that resulted. Again, the time modern humans have existed on Earth cannot be accurately represented on the clock because it is so small and insignificant. Heck, even the time modern humans have existed relative to the existence of land plants and animals is also too small and insignificant to be relatively represented properly.

In other words, human existence is insignificant in the big picture. In terms of Earth time the Holocene Epoch of the Quaternary Period of the Cenozoic Era has not existed long enough to have even one named Stage/Age.

But these pop-science advocates say the Holocene Epoch ended because of human activity. Last year an article in Forbes declared Humanity Officially Started Ruining The Planet In 1965 -- Welcome To The Anthropocene Era and this month we're offered articles such as 'Loneliest tree' records human epoch telling us that nuclear testing in the 1950's was the defining moment because of Carbon-14 in a ring of a living tree.

How this relates to established rock layers isn't clear, but as these pop-science climate change activists tell us "don’t get bogged down in the mud" of established scientific method because there is a political agenda based on science that needs to be advanced.

Homo sapiens sapiens, Indirect Energy, and Climate Change

It is true that humans as a life species are starting to have a measurable impact on climate which may create a geological record comparable to that found in the beginning of an ice age. This started at the beginning of what generally is referred to by social scientists as the Industrial Age, when humans began using indirect energy sources to accomplish physical work and, more recently, mental tasks.

Archeology and anthropology scientists recognize a "Neolithic" age prior to the current age. It is a period of about a dozen millenniums. During this time the wide-scale transition of many human cultures from a lifestyle of hunting and gathering to one of agriculture and settlement made an increasingly larger human population possible. Archaeological data indicates that the domestication of various types of plants and animals happened at the beginning of the Holocene Epoch in separate locations worldwide.

Initially in this review of the Neolithic Age of the Holocene Epoch we need to acknowledge the following:
  • Tools in rudimentary form were used in the preceding Pleistocene Epoch by numerous members of the hominid family. But as we Homo sapiens sapiens now acknowledge, birds and other animals started using tools even earlier. The use of the wheel did not arise until the Holocene. Nonetheless, tools use is not what sets this age apart from the early Holocene Epoch.
  • Energy in the form of fire was "domesticated" in the Pleistocene period by Homo erectus beginning some 600,000 years ago. 
  • To achieve the transition to agriculture and settlement, humans first used their own bodies and subsequently those of domesticated animals for energy to create those Neolithic communities which rose to civilizations.
That last fact is what we must understand as the Neolithic Age direct use of energy - meaning humans first utilized their own bodily energy to get physical and mental work done, then started using the bodily energy of domesticated animals.

The indirect use of energy in the form of heat to create steam to drive engines for mechanical work did not begin until 400 years ago. It is only after that time that the use of internal combustion engines, electricity, nuclear energy, and other forms of energy not from living lifeforms became widespread to accomplish physical and, more recently, mental tasks.

In effect, we humans have moved on to a new age - what I would call the Energaic Age (see table to the right) in recognition of the impact of concentrated indirect uses of large quantities of energy sources.

In the process, which is only 400 years old, we see some unanticipated side effects that could destroy the current version of human civilization or, at maximum impact, end The Quaternary Period or The Cenozoic Era.

However, that is unlikely. We Homo sapiens sapiens are beginning to
  1. adapt to the inevitable impacts of climate change such as through the creation of barriers to the rising oceans while planning how to implement relocation of people over a long period and 
  2. alter the selection of energy sources we use to accomplish physical and mental tasks in order to prevent a catastrophic version of human induced climate change.
I am an aging member of the subspecies Homo sapiens sapiens living in the early stages of what I suggest we call the Energaic Age in the Holocene Epoch of the Quaternary Period. In my opinion if scientists want to maintain credibility they should quit trying to invent some "Anthropocene Epoch" just to separate ourselves from the ancient Sumerians for the purpose of communicating a political message.

Yes, over the next millennium there is a chance that something like a huge release of methane into the atmosphere from the melting Arctic permafrost could stimulate a New Oxygen Crisis. One can hope that sufficient mental tasks and physical work can be accomplished over the next two centuries to avoid such a New Oxygen Crisis.

In the meantime, I'm going to step outside and commune with some Sequoia sempervirens (redwood trees) which, since their relatives were around in the Mesozoic Era, can show my species how to survive. It helps maintain some sense of perspective on the chronological meaning of human existence.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

It's just another war we started
  About that Russian election interference problem,
  Americans doth protest too much, methinks

On occasion indignant Americans need to be called on their complaining, particularly when they protest too much either out of ignorance or to establish a lie as truth.

The United States is the only nation to use atomic weapons in a targeted attack against another nation. Of course, many say that is ancient history and related to ending a world war. So how about this.

In the 21st Century the United States became the nation that first engaged in cyberwarfare in a targeted cyberattack against the energy and defense infrastructure of another nation using a computer virus called STUXnet.

The details of the attack and how the STUXnet virus works is a long and complicated story. You can read more about it in the 2014 book Countdown to Zero Day: Stuxnet and the Launch of the World's First Digital Weapon written by Oakland, California, freelance journalist Kim Zetter who was a WIRED magazine senior staff writer at the time. In a 2014 WIRED article by Zetter introducing the book we were told:

    In January 2010, inspectors with the International Atomic Energy Agency visiting the Natanz uranium enrichment plant in Iran noticed that centrifuges used to enrich uranium gas were failing at an unprecedented rate. The cause was a complete mystery—apparently as much to the Iranian technicians replacing the centrifuges as to the inspectors observing them.
    Five months later a seemingly unrelated event occurred. A computer security firm in Belarus was called in to troubleshoot a series of computers in Iran that were crashing and rebooting repeatedly. Again, the cause of the problem was a mystery. That is, until the researchers found a handful of malicious files on one of the systems and discovered the world's first digital weapon.

Most Americans didn't follow the extensive discussion in the technical press and even the more mainstream press like Forbes in 2010, and like Donald Trump, didn't and won't read the book.

So, in 2016 Showtime Documentary Films released producer/director Alex Gibney's Peabody Award winning Zero Days which was the first time that the complete story of the phenomenon was captured on film. It was intended to be a call-to-action for countries and citizens to address the issue of cyberattacks and to start public discourse on what could happen if, and when, diplomacy fails.

Of course documentary films are not entertaining enough for most, so Gibney and HBO are working on a miniseries which maybe more Americans will watch. Gibney recently commented on the U.S. government engaging in a new kind of warfare against other nations in peacetime:

    It sent another kind of message, too, which is, the United States and Israel will use weapons and attack people first, and that sets a different kind of precedent for other countries, as well: Why shouldn’t we do the same? You can say that what we did with Stuxnet was an undeclared act of war—it was an attack on critical infrastructure in a time of peace. That sets a terrible legal precedent. Right now, the norm in cyber is, do whatever you can get away with. Well, if you’re an average citizen, that’s not a very comforting idea.

That is particularly true where people live in an open society and elect their government. Here in the United States there is a lot of complaining going on about the Russians interfering in our elections through a kind of cyberwarfare. Really? We in the United States are complaining? Being well-informed citizens of a democratic society already know we started the war. Sure we do.

And being such citizens  we know we each have given in extra funding to our local and state and federal officials annually at least as much as we spend on smart phones and related service protect us from cyberwarfare. We do this because we value secure elections more than anything. Sure.

We are already losing this war by our complaining.

But there an ongoing misuse of power related to this story.

Kaspersky Lab, one of the leading antivirus companies, has been the target of those who are revel in our war effort. Companies such as Kaspersky are judged in part on how many viruses they are first to detect, and Kaspersky was considered among the best. But with its success came controversy. Some accused Kaspersky of having ties with the Russian government—accusations the company has denied. As noted in the 2015 WIRED article by Zetter Kaspersky Finds New Nation-State Attack—In Its Own Network:

    Researchers at Kaspersky Lab in Russia have discovered yet another new nation-state attack attributed to members of the infamous Stuxnet and Duqu gang. But this time the perpetrators were hiding in plain sight—inside the security firm's own networks.
    Kaspersky wasn't the only victim of Duqu 2.0. Based on data the company collected from its customers, the attackers also struck a series of hotels and conference venues, each of them a location where members of the UN Security Council met in the past year to negotiate Iran's nuclear program. That program is a recurring interest for the attackers behind the Duqu code, which shouldn't come as a big surprise. The US and Israel reportedly were behind Stuxnet, but various researchers have long suspected that Israel alone was behind the Duqu code. The focused spying on the nuclear negotiations, from which Israel was excluded, would seem to support this theory.
    Additionally, the security firm Symantec, which obtained samples of Duqu 2.0 provided by Kaspersky, uncovered more victims of the targeted attack code among its own customers, and found that some of these victims were in the US—a fact that would be cause for even more concern if the attack were perpetrated by the US government.

When Stuxnet went wild and similar virus attacks started to appear widespread, Kaspersky started an investigation and soon concluded that the code was too sophisticated to be the brainchild of a ragtag group of black-hat hackers. Kaspersky Lab concluded that the sophisticated attack could only have been conducted "with nation-state support." The worm had infected a nuclear powerplant in Russia.

In 2015, Kaspersky Labs noted that the Equation Group had used two of the same zero-day attacks, prior to their use in Stuxnet, and commented that: "the similar type of usage of both exploits together in different computer worms, at around the same time, indicates that the Equation Group and the Stuxnet developers are either the same or working closely together".

The Equation Group, classified across the world as an advanced persistent threat, is the code name for the Tailored Access Operations (TAO) unit of the United States National Security Agency (NSA). Kaspersky Labs describes them as one of the most sophisticated cyber attack groups in the world and "the most advanced ... we have seen", operating alongside but always from a position of superiority with the creators of Stuxnet and Flame. Most of their targets have been in Iran, Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Syria, and Mali.

Kaspersky Lab ranks fourth in the global ranking of antivirus vendors by revenue. It was the first Russian company to be included into the rating of the world’s leading software companies, called the Software Top 100 (65th on the list published in 2016). According to Gartner, Kaspersky Lab is currently the third largest vendor of consumer IT security software worldwide and the fifth largest vendor of Enterprise Endpoint Protection. Kaspersky Lab has been named a "Leader" in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Endpoint Protection Platforms.

So of course Kaspersky literally became a target of the U.S. Congress and the Trump Administration, neither one of which has offered significant protection for the 2018 elections. The Equation Group could do that, though they would have to either be given more money or spend less time attacking foreign nations. In fact, a division of Equation Group would have to be repurposed for the defense of the United States. But our members of Congress would first have to acknowledge that the Equation Group exists and what it is doing.

In October 2012, U.S. defense secretary Leon Panetta warned that the United States was vulnerable to a “cyber Pearl Harbor” that could derail trains, poison water supplies, and cripple power grids. When (not "if") that happens, Americans will blame someone else. And the rest of the world will continue to puzzle over how we simultaneously could be so arrogant and so ignorant.