The Guardian reports that
“A controversial bill that officially defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people has been approved by cabinet despite warnings that the move risks undermining the country’s democratic character.
Opponents, including some cabinet ministers, said the new legislation defined reserved “national rights” for Jews only and not for its minorities, and rights groups condemned it as racist.
The bill, which is intended to become part of Israel’s basic laws, would recognise Israel’s Jewish character, institutionalise Jewish law as an inspiration for legislation and delist Arabic as a second official language.”
Netanyahu’s measure is much worse than that of Mississippi fundamentalists who want to declare Mississippi a principally Christian state and want to celebrate the white-supremacist Confederacy as part of the state’s heritage.
@ JUAN COLE
Earlier this month, my great home state of Illinois joined the party and legalized medical marijuana, becoming the 20th state in the nation to do so. With most of the rest of the thirty straggling states now trying to push forward some kind of legislation, and with Washington and Colorado both taking the unprecedented step to outright legalize it, and with CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta officially climbing on board the Green Express by saying that he believes it has legitimate medicinal properties, the nationwide legalization of marijuana is less of a hope and more of an inevitability. At some near point in the future, most likely one that takes place in our own lifetimes, the use of marijuana will be as prevalent as cigarettes, alcohol, and aspirin.
And, as anyone who’s ever stepped foot in a bar or liquor store or hospital knows, that means big corporations jockeying for your money.
As this report from CNBC makes clear, there’s tons of money in pot. It’s the so-called “largest cash crop in California” for a reason: the cultivation of marijuana plants in Mendocino County alone is theorized to reach roughly $1.5 billion a year. Seeing as no one has a perfect understanding of just how many plants are being grown up there, that estimate may actually be low. And with that much money hanging around, corporate interests are sure to follow.
What the CNBC report surmises, then, is that what has happened with the coffee/beer/wine industry is going to happen to the marijuana one: Small artisan growers get a jump-start and make big profits for a few years before large corporations buy them out, create partial monopolies, and dominate the industry from that point forward.
Motors, motors, motors!
Big engines like the 707-horsepower monster Dodge put in the Challenger Hellcat or Volvo’s little four-cylinder that makes 425 ponies get all the attention these days. But there are millions of tiny engines doing tiny things (think garden trimmers, leaf blowers, that sort of thing) that we never give much thought to. But just as there are engineers pondering how to make big engines more powerful, so too are there engineers pondering how to make tiny engines more powerful.
Some of those engineers work at the engine development firm LiquidPiston, which has created a 70cc pistonless rotary engine that it expects to produce five horsepower at an astounding 15,000 RPM—in a package 30 percent smaller than a similar piston engines. Now, five horsepower doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s more than adequate for the applications such an engine might be used in. And further refinement of the prototype could, of course, bring more power.
Wall Street is Taking Over America’s Pension Plans
By Murtaza Hussain
November 21, 2014 “ICH” – “The Intercept” – Coverage of the midterm elections has, understandably, focused on the shift in political power from Democrats toward Republicans. But behind the scenes, another major story has been playing out. Wall Street spent upwards of $300M to influence the election results. And a key part of its agenda has been a plan to move more and more of the $3 trillion dollars in unguarded government pension funds into privately managed, high-fee investments — a shift that may well constitute the biggest financial story of our generation that you’ve never heard of.
Illinois, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island all recently elected governors who were previously executives and directors at firms which managed investments on behalf of state pension funds. These firms are now, consequently, in position to obtain even more of these public funds. This alone represents a huge payoff on that $300M investment made by the financial industry, and is likely to result in more pension money going into investments which offer great benefits for Wall Street but do little for the broader economy.
But Wall Street’s agenda goes beyond any one election cycle. It has been fighting to turn public pensions into private profits for quite some time, steering retirement nest eggs into investments that are complex, charge hefty fees, and that generate big profits for management firms. And it has been succeeding. Of the $3 trillion in public assets currently in pension funds throughout the country, almost a quarter of that has already found its way into so-called “alternative investments” like hedge funds, private equity and real estate. That translates to roughly $660 billion of public money now under private management, invested in assets that are often arcane and opaque but that offer high management and placement fees to Wall Street financiers.
Our recent financial crisis demonstrated just how risky and potentially destructive these types of assets can be — so the question becomes, why is so much money going into them?
The new US ambassador to Moscow presented his credentials to Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, less than a day after the Russian president declared the US “wants to subjugate us” but would never succeed.
Ambassador John Tefft met Putin in a slightly awkward ceremony during which new international envoys showed the president their credentials. Perhaps reflecting the frosty state of affairs between Washington and Moscow, the men said little to each other as they shook hands in a huge gilded hall at the Kremlin. Putin did however offer a typically stern proposal of rapprochement.
“We are ready for practical cooperation with our American partners in different sectors – on the principles of mutual respect for each others’ interests, fairness and non-interference in internal affairs.”
“We proceed from the fact that Russia and the US bear special responsibility for supporting international peace and stability, and for counteracting global challenges and threats.”
Tefft, a career diplomat who has served as envoy to Ukraine and ambassador to Georgia, takes on his new role with US-Russian relations at their worst point since the cold war. Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in March prompted rounds of sanctions from the US and EU, against major banks, industries and prominent Russians. Tefft’s predecessor, Michael McFaul, left Russia after two years of harassment and ridicule by state media.
Only a day before the new ambassador’s meeting with Putin, the president told a televised forum that Americans “don’t want to humiliate us, they want to subjugate us”.
@ THE GUARDIAN
Merry Cometary Christmas!!
The Philae lander has found organic molecules – which are essential for life – on the surface of the comet where it touched down last week.
The spacecraft managed to beam back evidence of the carbon and–hydrogen–containing chemicals shortly before it entered hibernation mode to conserve falling power supplies.
Although scientists are still to reveal what kind of molecules have been found on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the discovery could provide new clues about how the early chemical ingredients that lead to life on Earth arrived on the planet.
Many scientists believe they may have been carried here on an asteroid or comet that collided with the Earth during its early history.
The DLR German Aerospace Centre, which built the Cosac instrument, confirmed it had found organic molecules.
@ THE GUARDIAN