I love to blog about science and figure we could use another topic as we wait for the results of the election (and maybe we will be waiting until Thanksgiving for those -- or even later). There's a new planet to discuss and marvel over. Sophie Lewis (CBS NEWS) reports:
If you thought living on Earth in 2020 was comparable to hell, planet K2-141b is here to prove you wrong.
On the scorching hot planet, hundreds of light-years away, oceans are made of molten lava, winds reach supersonic speeds and rain is made of rocks. Scientists have referred to the bizarre, hellish exoplanet as one of the most "extreme" ever discovered.
According to a new study published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society,
scientists from McGill University, York University and the Indian
Institute of Science Education have uncovered details of one of the
newest "lava planets" — a world that so closely orbits its host star
that much of it is composed of flowing lava oceans.
Scientists found the atmosphere and weather cycle of K2-141b to be particularly bizarre. The Earth-sized exoplanet appears to have a surface, ocean and atmosphere all made of the same ingredients: rocks.
I wonder, in twenty years, how many more planets we will know about. They're out there and each year we get better and better at research and travel. And once a scientific breakthrough takes place, things tend to move much quicker. So it's interesting, to me, anyway, to think about how other planets, new ones, may pop up on a monthly or, who knows, maybe even a weekly basis.
On the new planet, SPACE.COM adds:
The scientists behind the new researchers wanted to understand what sort of atmosphere such a hot world might have and how terrestrial tools would see it. K2-141b was a tempting target because it's been studied by both the K2 mission of NASA's Kepler Space Telescope and by the agency's Spitzer Space Telescope. And the atmosphere is particularly intriguing because scientists believe that NASA's upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, due to launch late next year, will be able to analyze the components of distant planetary atmospheres.
The researchers started with what previous studies have determined about K2-141b so far — for example, that the planet's density is about that of Earth's, so the crust can be modeled as pure silica as a reasonably simplified representation. Then, the scientists figured out what the surface might look like. That work took into account complications like the fact that the planet is so close to its star that more than half the world's surface might be sunlit, perhaps as much as two-thirds, the researchers calculated.
Offering more specifics, Andrew Griffin (INDEPENDENT) explains, "Two thirds of the planet is stuck in perpetual, blazing daylight from the orange dwarf star that K2-141b orbits around. Because it is so close to its sun – with years that last less than a third of a day on Earth – it is locked in place gravitationally, meaning the same side of the planet always faces its star."
That's a very interesting discovery.
"Iraq snapshot" (THE COMMON ILLS):
Thursday, November 5, 2020. The ballot counting continues in the US, the corruption continues in Iraq, and much more.
What a difference a day makes? Yesterday morning, on many programs, including RISING, Democrats were stating that the mail-in ballots would have to be counted and this race was going blah blah blah. But now Joe Biden's trying to declare victory?
One of the things that this elections has made clear is that we can't move towards mail-in ballots under the current system. Example of why? Arizona being called for Joe Biden yesterday with less than 75% of the votes being counted. It's now at 88% counted and Joe is only 2.4% ahead of Donald Trump. 12% of the vote remains uncounted -- of the known vote, that's not including any ballots en route and post marked on election day -- and its being called?
We should move towards universal mail-in ballots. We can't at this time because of the fact that people aren't honest. Now if this was California and it only had 62% of the vote counted and it was declared for Joe, I wouldn't blink twice. California is a Democratic state. But this is Arizona which is supposedly in play.
The rush to declare Arizona? Makes you wonder if Katharine Harris is their Secretary of State this year?
In 2000, many of us wanted to see all the ballots counted (yes, I supported Al Gore but I wanted to see all the ballots counted regardless of whether they favored Gore in the end or not). There was a media rush created insisting that we had to know and we had to know now, wrap it up, wrap it up. No, we didn't need to know immediately. The new president is sworn in when? Middle of January. We certainly could have waited and allowed, for example, the recount to be finished in Florida. By the same token, there is no need to rush the count this go round. We need to be fair and we need to be transparent. That this even has to be said is rather sad and a sorry comment on the current state of politics in the United States.
Can we move towards online voting?
That's a big question we got yesterday when we were speaking to various college groups.
We could but the problem there is the same problem we've had with the machines of the '00s. Verifiable? Do we print a paper receipt that's kept? Black box voting is a term that was very popular in the '00s and a major voting concern for some.
There's a lot we need to ponder between now and the next election.
In two different groups, students brought a new voter shaming technique that emerged this election, one I had ignored. The minute that they mentioned I remembered vaguely hearing that in a commercial. Apparently, the commercial was all over YOUTUBE.
You have to vote, the commercial argues, because while your ballot is secret, your neighbors will be able to find out whether or not you voted due to the voting rolls.
This is the United States of America and you do not have to vote. Back when the USSR was around, some commentators used to note that was part of the freedom -- that in the USSR you had to vote but in a democracy you do not have to vote. The bullying and shaming and attempts at voter intimidation seem to only increase each year.
Do you have to vote to avoid your nosy neighbors?
No. You can tell them that you're registered at your parent's address, for example. You can tell them you did a mail-in ballot and it must have been a 'spoiled' ballot or not received. You can also tell them -- and should consider telling them -- "Get out of my f**king business you spying piece of trash." Because that's really what they are. It is not their business whether you voted or not. The Tattle States of America, is that what we're becoming?
Voter disenfranchisement is an issue that has many levels and that should be explored between now and the next election.
Clearly, the biggest segment of disenfranchisement are non-voters who do not feel part of the system. That's something that really needs to be explored. Another area of disenfranchisement is when you can't vote for your candidate due to ballot access.
The Democratic Party's efforts to keep the Green Party off the ballot were disgusting and dishonest and most looked the other way.
Don't come crying to me when you feel disenfranchised if you spent your time trying to keep someone off a ballot.
If you want to increase voter turnout, you need to make voting easier. That's not just access to a ballot to vote on, that's also access to a ballot -- meaning candidates have ballot access.
It's a funny sort
of limited call for voting offered by the Norman Solomon's of the
country. Vote!!! But just vote for the candidate I tell you to and
ignore the efforts to keep others off the ballot.
On the election, C. Alexander Ohler ("a former senior analyst for the U.S. Department of State in Iraq and currently serves as a visiting fellow at the University of Tennessee. ) argues a win for Joe is bad for Iraq at THE HILL:
Directly after taking office, President Obama appointed Vice President Biden to oversee U.S. operations and diplomacy in Iraq. At that time, Iraq had begun to stabilize. The once-formidable al Qaeda in Iraq had been all but defeated and relegated to the outskirts of Mosul and civilian deaths fell to about one-fourth of what they had been before the “surge.”
But by the end of the vice president’s first term, civilian casualties in
Iraq rose by almost 400 percent to over 20,000, and ISIS (a.k.a. ISIL,
IS, [. . .]) flew its black flag from Syria through northern Iraq to a
point about 60 miles outside of Baghdad.
What happened during the period that Biden oversaw Iraq? In 2009, Iraqiyya, a multi-sectarian and moderate political party founded by Sunni leader Rafe al-Essawi and Shia leader Ayad Allawi, challenged then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law Coalition in the 2010 national election and won with a narrow victory.
Iraq’s parliamentary system designates that the winning electoral party has the first shot at forming a coalition government with other parties. Maliki, however, influenced the court and had the interpretation of the law altered that led to a six-month standoff in which Maliki, backed by Iran, retained power but was unable to form a coalition government.
Joe Biden and the Obama administration faced a decision: to support the democratic results of the election or to back Maliki’s bid to retain power. Against the advice of Ambassador Robert Ford, a six-year diplomatic veteran of Iraq, General Ray Odierno and others, Biden and then-Ambassador Hill decided to backstop Maliki and the State of Law Coalition.
The administration’s reasoning is not entirely clear. Michael R. Gordon and retired Lieutenant General Bernard E. Trainor report in their book, “The Endgame: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Iraq, from George W. Bush to Barack Obama,” that Vice President Biden was convinced that Maliki would deliver a Status of Forces Agreement.
[. . .]
Regardless of the reason, Biden’s fateful decision to support Maliki would seed political turmoil in Iraq that, according to General Petraeus and others, paved the way for the rise of ISIS.
securing the premiership, Maliki reneged on several power-sharing
agreements with Iraqiyya. Instead, the prime minister moved to
consolidate power by exerting control over independent Iraqi
institutions and appointing high-level security positions without
required constitutional approval that transformed Iraqi security forces
into sectarian instruments. The Status of Forces Agreement never
materialized, and immediately after the withdrawal of U.S. forces in
2011, Maliki placed tanks in front of the homes of Sunni leaders in the
If that sounds familiar, it should. We've been making that argument here for over eight years now. Glad it's at THE HILL today but is there a reason no one could make it before? Is there a reason that this issue couldn't be explored by the press before the election?
Is there a reason that it never came up in any debate -- not in the Democratic Party debates not in the Democratic-Republican debates of the general election.
Joe ran through the campaign citing his wisdom and experience and Iraq. Yet that never got challenged for the reality of that record. The closest it came to being challenged was him being asked about his vote for the war -- an action that took place in 2002 before the war started. Everything he did as a senator after that vote and as vice president for eight years -- when Barack put him in charge of Iraq -- as vice president was ignored.
Can someone offer an honest explanation and not just an excuse or rationalization?
Over at the US government's Carnegie Endowment for Peace (a misnomer), Kirk H. Sowell writes:
Since taking office, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has faced a series of fiscal and security crises amid collapsing public services and protests. The collapse in global oil prices due to the coronavirus pandemic and the Saudi-Russia oil price war caused Iraq to face an internal solvency crisis as early as June. This fiscal crisis has short and long-term implications. In the short-term, Baghdad continuously struggles to pay public sector salaries, which required the state to borrow from the Central Bank over the summer. With low oil revenue, the state’s monthly profits are covering just over 50 percent of its expenses. In the longer-term, Iraq faces a looming macro-fiscal state collapse—potentially within the next year.
The state is struggling to cover its monthly expenses. Over successive governments, the size of the public sector has grown to the point that Iraq needs to spend more than its total revenue on basic payments—public sector salaries, pensions, food aid, and welfare—to keep a majority of Iraq’s population out of destitution. In 2019, oil revenue averaged $6.5 billion per month, and with modest non-oil revenues (largely customs, well less than $1 billion per month), this covered operational expenses with a small amount left over for capital spending. Since the recovery of oil prices after the March collapse, Iraq’s monthly oil revenues have averaged just over $3 billion/month, hitting a high of $3.52 billion in August. In testimony before parliament in September, Finance Minister Ali Allawi revealed1 that with revenues at these levels, the government was still borrowing 3.5 trillion Iraqi Dinars (IQD) — just over $3 billion—from the Central Bank each month.
On October 10, as Iraq’s cash crunch became more acute, Allawi explained that state employee compensation rose from 20 percent of oil revenues in 2005 to 120 percent today. To help the public understand why the government of such an oil-rich country was broke, he explained that a government of this size should have at least $15 to 20 billion in funds to pay monthly expenses on an ongoing basis, but when this government took office, only about $1 billion was available.2 This is in part due to weak revenues, the result of low oil prices and Iraq’s adherence to OPEC’s limitations on oil exports. In the past, Iraq’s oil exports have reached 3.5 million barrels per day (bpd), yet they decreased to 2.5 million bpd in recent months. Prominent figures, including former oil minister Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulum, have argued in favor of leaving the OPEC agreement unilaterally. Yet Allawi, speaking before Parliament, explained that while he agreed that OPEC’s quota formula was unfair, Iraq needs the OPEC agreement to keep oil prices from collapsing. More recently, according to the Iraq Oil Report, the government has signaled that it may try to thread the needle by increasing exports by 250,000 barrels per day to satisfy critics—an amount above its quota, but still about 750,000 barrels per day below peak production, and thus hopefully too small an increase to incur Saudi retaliation.
Iraq’s monthly oil revenue to collapsed from $6.2 billion in January to just $1.4 billion in April. The figure recovered to $2.9 billion in May and has gradually improved since, but in August was still just $3.5 billion. Since the government only had about $3 billion in expendable reserves in May, it became clear that Iraq could not pay state employees in June. Salaries over the summer were paid as money became available. As late as July 28, the prime minister’s spokesman admitted that employees at the Culture & Antiquities Ministry (apparently the lowest priority), were still waiting to be paid.
Kirk's preaching austerity. Oh, boo, hoo, poor little government only took in X billions a month. Oh, boo, hoo. That's more than many countries ever do. If you addressed the corruption, the people would be better off but you don't want that, what you want is austerity. It's not about helping the Iraqi people, it's about gutting their social programs. You want them in a for-profit, capitalistic system and that's all this is about. Quit pretending otherwise. This is an attack on the Iraqi people.
If you were concerned about anything resembling reality, you'd note that Iraq's population is around 35 million and bringing in X billion a month should be more than enough to ensure a high standard of living for every Iraqi. The failure to make that happen goes to corruption.
Equally true, these efforts to prop up Mustafa are getting really pathetic -- what happened to the promise that he would be a prime minister only until early elections (June 2021) could be held?
Kirk overlooks that promise, he's too busy preaching his own wants and desires: austerity.
The following sites updated: