Mar 18

Open thread for night owls: Cities offer tax breaks to lure Amazon—but the return is unclear

A new Amazon fulfillment center is coming to Fresno, California after city leaders promised the company up to $ 30 million in tax breaks. But as the Fresno Bee reports, it’s not clear that those tax incentives will result in any benefit for the city providing them.

In the Economic Policy Institute’s report entitled “Unfulfilled Promises,” EPI economist Ben Zipperer and economic analyst Janelle Jones concluded that on average, “Amazon’s fulfillment centers are ineffective at providing net job growth.” […]

But the EPI researchers suggest that in a community’s overall economy, the effects of an Amazon warehouse coming to town may not be all they’re cracked up to be. The overall number of people employed in a county after Amazon arrives is relatively flat when compared to before the company opened a center.

In the report, the EPI economists offer two possible explanations: “That the jobs created in the warehouse and storage sector are offset by job losses in other industries, or that the employment growth generated by Amazon is too small to meaningfully detect in the data.”




This man is not a hero.

— Brittany Packnett (@MsPackyetti) March 18, 2018


On this date at Daily Kos in 2011—GOP Wall Street reform repeal efforts moving forward:

We knew this was coming, the Republicans’ latest not-job creating legislation to roll back Wall Street reform. Because, hey, what’s a little global financial meltdown between friends? Why should Wall Street have to be accountable? […]

Of course, they’re not proposing putting anything in its place. They don’t do policy, they only do dismantling. But, as Greg Sargent says, they’re approaching this one more cautiously, and certainly more quietly, than they did health reform repeal. That’s because Wall Street is still hugely unpopular and untrusted. As Greg says, “[t]his one could provide another chance to draw a very clear contrast between the parties—on turf that may be a bit more favorable to Dems than health care repeal or spending.”

For that to happen, Dems—including the White House—need to make a lot of noise about it. 

Monday through Friday you can catch the Kagro in the Morning Show 9 AM ET by dropping in here, or you can download the Stitcher app (found in the app stores or at, and find a live stream there, by searching for “Netroots Radio.”


Daily Kos

Mar 18

Trump’s Position on Guns Defies Reason and Reality

America's young people are fed up with a government beholden to lobbyists promoting gun sales.

Thousands of high school students around the nation walked out at 10am Wednesday morning, marking the one-month anniversary of the Parkland, Fla., shooting that claimed 17 lives.

The national walkout was an inspiring show of force by young people who are fed up with a government beholden to lobbyists promoting gun sales. President Donald Trump, who rarely hesitates to use his Twitter bullhorn to promote his favorite causes, remained stunningly silent on the walkouts. When asked by reporters to comment on it, his deputy spokesperson Raj Shah simply said the president “shares the students’ concerns about school safety,” and was in favor of greater mental health resources and strengthening background checks. Except of course, the students are explicitly calling for stricter gun laws—an issue Trump has overtly deferred to the National Rifle Association (NRA) in terms of setting government policy.

Trump has not only betrayed students but teachers as well in announcing that he wants to set aside funds to arm teachers as a deterrent to school shootings, rather than offer wage relief to struggling educators in West VirginiaOklahomaArizona and other states. The idea of arming teachers is nothing more than the NRA’s perverted fantasy of promoting more gun sales by using the tragedies fomented by gun use.

For a very long time, the NRA has asserted the ludicrous idea that the more weapons in a society, the safer that society. Not surprisingly, this directly benefits the NRA, which is effectively a gun manufacturers trade association rather than a gun owner’s membership club. To keep its benefactors happy, the NRA needs to continually promote gun proliferation, which in turn translates into real profits for the industry. Arming teachers is the perfect red herring to address school shootings—and benefits only those who profit off guns.

Still, that this idea, which has been laughable in the recent past, is now being seriously considered and tweeted about by the president, ought to give us pause. Even Trump seemed initially embarrassed by the idea, defensively tweetingseveral weeks ago that he “never said ‘give teachers guns,’ ” but instead wanted “to look at the possibility of giving concealed guns to gun adept teachers with military or special training experience” (which, of course, translates to him saying “give teachers guns”).

It is also hugely disturbing that at a time when political kowtowing to “special interest” groups is considered anathema, the NRA appears to be the exception to the rule and is considered not simply to be a powerful lobby organization, but patriotic. Rather than try to hide the influence this powerful group wields over him, Trump attempted to ingratiate himself to the head of NRA by begging ordinary Americans, on Twitter, to admire the NRA’s CEO, Wayne LaPierre, because LaPierre is among those “folks who work so hard” and are “Great People and Great American Patriots.”

After a brief moment of sanity when Trump shot from the hip and tweeted that he wanted to raise the minimum gun purchasing age to 21 and end the sale of bump stocks, NRA lobbyists took him aside in a meeting at the White House and set him straight. The president promptly flip-flopped on the issue (as he has increasingly been doing).

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway reassured the gun lobby that Trump has an “A-plus rating from the N.R.A. because he made specific promises,” as if that were an achievement worth boasting about. She also admitted that the president “understands the overlap between gun owners and those voters who supported him,” which sounds like a coded way of saying “he knows who his real bosses are.” According to The New York Times, “Ms. Conway said that no one should expect the president and the N.R.A. to be in lock step on every issue, but that they remained generally in sync.”

Imagine the spokesperson of a sitting president openly admitting that he or she has promised to be in sync with a powerful lobbying group. Now imagine that that powerful group was pushing hugely unpopular policies that would predictably lead to a more violent and dangerous nation.

In essence, the NRA’s solution to guns on school campuses has been to add more guns to school campuses. And its compliant politician in the White House, bought and paid for via $ 30 million in campaign contributions, is seeing to it that a moment of tragedy is spun into more gun profits and an increased likelihood of future tragedies.

The NRA and Trump must imagine the American electorate is pretty stupid if they want us to believe that arming teachers is a good idea. While there have not been many studies done to refute the “good guy with a gun” fantasy, a 2008 Rand Corp. study about the shooting statistics of New York City Police Department officers offers some guidance.

Making the obvious assumption that police are among the most highly trained marksmen in the nation, it is shocking to learn that “the average hit rate in situations in which fire was not returned was 30 percent.” In the midst of a school shooting of the type that unfolded in Parkland, Fla., an armed officer would have encountered return fire. According to the Rand study, the accuracy of well-trained armed police to hit their target was only 18 percent when the subject returned fire. That means that Trump and the NRA’s idea to arm teachers requires that a person whose primary job is to teach is being expected to wield a gun during an active shooting in which their best chance of hitting the shooter is a mere 18 percent, and that is if they are as good a shooter as an NYPD officer.

It is no wonder that the armed deputy assigned to Marjory Stoneman Douglas School did not enter the school the day Nikolas Cruz was in the middle of his killing spree. With such a low statistical chance of success against an active shooter it is no wonder that the officer presumably chose to remain alive against an assault rifle-wielding madman. As The Washington Post put it: “Facing a gunman with a high-powered weapon is a life-altering call, and officers don’t always charge in despite their training.” Indeed, at the most infamous school shooting of the 1990s, Columbine High School, two armed guards were also present, and events transpired similarly to those at the Parkland school: Trained security officers were present but did not engage the shooter to stop him.

After the Sandy Hook massacre in Connecticut, the NRA called for—you guessed it—armed resource officers in schools. LaPierre loftily announced in a manner that tried to invoke a semblance of compassion for school kids: “I call on Congress today to act immediately to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every single school in this nation and to do it now to make sure that blanket safety is in place when our kids return to school in January.”

Since arming school officers has repeatedly proved to not work, the NRA has taken to demanding we arm teachers. And Trump has gone along with it.

What’s next? After armed teachers fail to stop a mass shooting, surely the NRA will push for arming school children themselves, right? Will parents be expected to pack lunches and heat for their little ones each morning? Will LaPierre keep a straight face while he asserts: “The only way to stop a bad kid with a gun is a good kid with a gun”?

Strangely, neither the president nor the NRA risk their own personal safety at the altar of such twisted logic, relying sensibly on weapons bans at the White House and all the president’s appearances, as well as when he speaks at NRA conventions. The Secret Service does not take chances in protecting the life of the most important person in the nation. If only the life of every American child was as precious as the president’s.

Trump and the NRA want us to believe that in real life we can expect the type of scenario we see playing out in Hollywood films, where gun-wielding heroes miraculously hit every one of their targets while magically escaping unscathed in the middle of volleys of gunfire. Indeed, Trump went as far as saying about the Parkland shooting: “I really believe I’d run in there even if I didn’t have a weapon.”

Thankfully, most Americans appear to be able to tell fiction from reality and oppose arming teachers. But with the president in its back pocket, the gun manufacturers’ lobbying group doesn’t need the public on its side—for now.

With America’s children leading the way, we can only hope that their demands for sanity on this issue will prevail.



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Mar 18

Seven questions for Rasleen Krupp, high school founder of the Young Feminists Coalition

I first heard Rasleen Krupp speak at the Cincinnati Womens’ March last year. She is a high school junior at Wyoming High School and founder of the Young Feminists Coalition. With the recent national school walkout and upcoming March for Our Lives, I’m honored to introduce you to Rasleen. If students like her represent our future, our future looks bright. 

1. How did you become interested in activism?

I became interested in activism after the last election. I realized that the administration stood for things that I did not stand for. Because of this, I decided to fight back. If things aren’t how you want them to be, you should be a part of the force to change them.

2. Tell us about the Young Feminists Coalition and what it’s working on.

Aftab Pureval, candidate for Ohio’s 2nd Congressional district, speaks at the International Womens’ Day event organized by Rasleen’s Young Feminists Coalition.

The Young Feminists Coalition is a group I started to unite young feminists around the area. We are still getting started and had our first event on International Women’s Day that was full of speeches from youth and influential community members (including Aftab Pureval!). My main goal for the group is to create change, as cliche as that sounds. I want the youth of our local area to fight for a better future, and the way we are doing that currently is through the planning for Cincinnati’s March For Our Lives, which will be on March 24 at 11 AM at Cincinnati City Hall.

3. Who inspires you?

The mentors who guide me inspire me. People like Debbie Smith Webster, Billie Mays, and Marguerite Boeckmann. They have been in the fight for social justice for many years now, but still haven’t given up. I find their courage and power incredibly inspiring. Also, any woman who runs for office inspires me. As someone who wants to run for office in the future, I look up to the women who have taken a risk and run for public office.

Daily Kos

Mar 18

Labor Organizes a Congressional Win

Democrat Conor Lamb and organized labor make for a winning combination in a long-time red district.

On Tuesday in Western Pennsylvania, a novice candidate, a 33-year-old Democrat who had never before run for office, upset an experienced politician who President Donald Trump, Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. all stumped for and who received more than $ 10 million from dark money groups and the  Republican Party.

Not only that, the rookie did it in a congressional district that was gerrymandered to elect Republicans for life, a district that went for Trump, Mitt Romney and John McCain.

It was stunning.

Democrat Conor Lamb defeated Republican Rick Saccone in Pennsylvania’s 18th District, which had sent a Republican to Congress for the past 15 years.

The shocker resulted from a winning combination. Organized labor worked for the candidate who pledged to work for labor. That candidate, of course, was Conor Lamb.

Lamb did not view unions as boogey men to fear and run from. He saw them as friends to run and win with.

In his victory speech, Lamb acknowledged the role organized labor played in putting him some 600 votes over the top in a district that had gone for Trump by 20 points. Lamb said organized labor “was the heart and soul” of his campaign and he would not forget it. “Side by side with us at each step of the way were the men and women in organized labor,” he said.

Lamb’s win illustrates that the manufacturing middle of the country and working-class voters who went for Trump nationwide do not belong to him or to Republicans.

They can be won by labor-supporting Democrats backed by grassroots and union activists despite $ 10 million in dark money and high-paid political consultants. They can be won by a candidate who workers trust to fight for issues critical to them. They can be won over to a candidate by face-to-face conversations with active and retired members of their own union.

Hundreds of labor union members did that in Western Pennsylvania for Lamb. They went door-to-door, visiting tens of thousands of homes in the 18th District, to urge fellow union members to vote for Lamb. They phone banked. They rallied.

In the week before the election, hundreds of United Steelworkers, United Mine Workers of America and Carpenters attended three rallies for Lamb, including one that featured former Vice President Joe Biden who said Lamb would “throw himself in front of a train” to protect the working class from Republican-backed plans to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Candidates like Saccone, who ignore, insult or injure blue-collar workers and union members, do so at their peril. Mike Mikus, a Western Pennsylvania political consultant, said, “What this race shows. . . is that labor is still very relevant and still has a lot of clout and the ability to organize and affect elections.”

Joe DiSarro, chairman of the political science department at Washington & Jefferson College, located in the 18th Congressional District in Washington, Pa., said, “You cannot ignore 25 percent of the constituency, which is labor, and expect to win.”

U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-Long Island, took note of the GOP loss, and urged his fellow Republicans to try to understand and attract Trump’s core supporters. “We have to better appeal to blue-collar voters. Whatever coalition Donald Trump had, we can’t afford to lose that,” he told The Hill newspaper. “We talk too much about corporations. We talk too much about abstractions. We should be down there and a lot closer to organized labor.”  

Saccone, who ran in a district dense with labor union members, is about as far away from labor as it’s possible to get. As a state lawmaker, he voted in favor of perversely named right-to-work legislation that assures no right to work but instead ensures employees will work for less money and unions will suffer a financial hit. And Saccone was endorsed by the Pennsylvania Right to Work PAC.

Saccone voted against an infrastructure bill that would have provided jobs. He opposed extending unemployment compensation, which many workers in the 18th District needed during the Great Recession.

Saccone bragged that he was “Trump before Trump was Trump.” And the President visited the district twice to rally for Saccone. But hugging Trump wasn’t enough to persuade workers in the 18th District that Saccone was their man.

That is because labor, including members of the USW, the UMWA, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the Laborers International Union (LIUNA), the pipefitters, the building trades, the painters (IUPAT), the teachers, the carpenters and other unions, in addition to the AFL-CIO, visited or called nearly every one of the more than 80,000 households in the district belonging to union members registered to vote.

Volunteer activists from the Steelworkers contacted every one of the more than 17,000 registered voters who live in USW households in the 18th District.

Those face-to-face interactions between fellow union members were highly effective. They trusted each other in a way not possible when a homeowner is confronted by a stranger at the door with campaign literature.

Even early on, in the chill of January, members of the USW began reporting enthusiasm in the suburban neighborhoods, mill towns and coal communities. More than one told of homeowners who chased them down the sidewalk to get literature and talk about Lamb.  

It was the same enthusiasm that USW volunteers noted when they went door-to-door in deep-red Alabama for Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Doug Jones, who is the son of a Steelworker and worked in a steel mill while in college. Jones won.

The fact that Lamb was a, shall we say, dyed-in-the-wool union supporter helped tremendously. He talked about it at every rally, every Lenten fried fish dinner, every fund raiser.

He told the story of his aunt, who belonged to St. Anne’s parish, south of Pittsburgh in Castle Shannon, where the priest for a decade had been Monsignor Owen Rice, known as Pittsburgh’s labor priest. The monsignor placed in the churchyard a statue of Philip Murray, who was a member of the parish but who also launched the Steelworkers Organizing Committee, which would later become the USW. Murray was the first USW president.

“In western Pennsylvania, it’s no surprise that we put a statue of one of our great labor leaders right there in the churchyard for everyone to see, forever,” he said at an event in January.

Lamb’s priorities are labor’s priorities, including supporting a federal infrastructure bill, pushing legislation to buttress coal miners’ underfunded pensions, and defending workers’ right to organize and collectively bargain for better pay and working conditions.

UMWA President Cecil Roberts expressed union support for Lamb in the best manner at a rally Sunday in Greene County, located in the southwest corner of Pennsylvania, bordering West Virginia and Ohio.

“He’s a God-fearing, union-supporting, gun-owning, job-protecting, pension-defending, Social Security-believing, healthcare believing, sending-drug-dealers-to-jail Democrat,” the labor leader said of Lamb, a former federal prosecutor and Marine.

That is the kind of Democrat that workers and organized labor volunteers will gladly spend hundreds of hours walking door-to-door to support. And that block-walking and door-knocking clearly can make the crucial 600-vote difference between winning and losing in a long-time Republican district.



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Mar 18

What can we learn from Conor Lamb’s victory in Pennsylvania?

Too many progressives are complaining that Conor Lamb, who just scored a major upset by winning a congressional seat in Pennsylvania Trump country, is not a real progressive—and they are correct. However, he is progressive enough.

My advice here in Texas has been consistent: vote for the most progressive candidate that can win. Then fight like hell when they are elected to ensure they vote according to our progressive tenets as defined in the Democratic Party platform.

Conor Lamb won his district because he intelligently balanced his values against his party’s values and his potential constituents’ values. He successfully navigated his beliefs vs. the public interest, as best he could (e.g., he is personally anti-choice, but supports pro-choice policies).

Lamb’s form of campaigning is instructive. A caller to my show said she had nothing against immigrants, but was concerned that having another pool of workers would materially affect her family’s life. She said her husband who worked in construction was always undercut by the immigrant worker, because they worked for less. She also assumed that they could work for less because immigrants might not be accountable for paying taxes and other things citizens are responsible for. In effect, she feared the immigrant not out of racial animus, but because she felt it affected her family’s bottom line.

I am not naive, and it’s clear there are some who are just racist. That said, the right wing has understood that selectively personalizing issues specific to regions around the country is successful, because that is how humans are wired. They also understand that in our fast-paced world where the working/middle class does not have the time to spend doing a lot of research, getting their message out (however untrue) and repeating it ad nauseam makes it true to a large segment of the country.

The right wing has an echo chamber in Fox News and talk radio to hammer that message. What is even worse is that they have enlisted evangelical leaders to promote fallacies by giving them the social carrot of being completely against same-sex marriage, abortion, and much more. This is doing much harm to our country, but Lamb’s form of campaigning was so effective that he prevailed in a district that Trump won by 20 points.

Daily Kos

Mar 18

The Dangers Of Diplomacy, Trump-Style

He's destroying our hope for progress with Iran and North Korea.

This planet just became a more perilous place to live.

It may not have seemed so last week, when Donald Trump agreed to meet Kim Jong Un for negotiations over North Korea's nuclear arsenal. Trump's abrupt diplomatic offer was certainly an improvement on his jeering, boasting and threatening on Twitter — even if he doesn't understand that he gave away exactly what the dictator wanted most, without getting anything in return. The prospect of talks is almost always preferable to the possibility of war, which is why previous presidents consistently sought ways to engage the hereditary despots in Pyongyang.

The difference is that those presidents also knew enough not to approve any discussion without adequate preparation, let alone the total absence of rational planning and knowledgeable staff. Only a figure as arrogantly stupid as Trump would assume that he can handle such a complex and delicate situation on his own, without the military and diplomatic expertise that is at every president's disposal.

Unfortunately, the margin for error in dealing with a regime like Kim's is very, very small — and the stakes in a nuclear negotiation are unimaginably big. Any mistake can make a bad situation much, much worse.

That was why the State Department and the National Security Council spent many hours secretly preparing former president Bill Clinton and his companions for their August 2009 trip to bring home two American journalists imprisoned by the North Korean government.

Although the Obama administration publicly pretended to keep the rescue mission at arm's length, its officials informed and oversaw everything that the Clinton party did, down to their deadpan facial expressions in the official photograph taken after their encounter with Kim Jong Il, the late father of Kim Jong Un.

Every word was scripted with absolute precision. Laura Ling and Euna Lee were released, as were several South Korean prisoners. More important, Clinton's discussion with Kim led directly to the resumption of talks with the United States, which delayed the North's acquisition of nuclear bombs and intercontinental ballistic missiles for years.

The results of the 2009 mission were a testament to the 42nd president's own skills, yet he would be the first to admit that the weeks of instruction and preparation — not to mention the knowledge about North Korea acquired during his presidency — had been crucial to a happy outcome.

Flash forward to a new president who starts off knowing nothing, who refuses to read anything longer than a page or two, and whose hostile belligerence has led to the rapid dismantling of the State Department. As Trump contemplates meeting with Kim in just two months, he has fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, further destabilizing the apparatus needed to support his diplomatic adventure. And he has replaced Tillerson with Mike Pompeo, a former congressman from Kansas who has been running the CIA.

Pompeo's appointment is not a promising development.

While it is hard to imagine him making matters worse for the deeply demoralized Foreign Service, Pompeo clearly shares the blustering, foolhardy attitudes toward nuclear negotiation voiced by Trump himself. He has hinted that the solution to our problems with North Korea may lie in military action, and even joked about assassinating Kim.

More troubling still is that Pompeo, like Trump, believes the United States should scuttle the nuclear agreement with Iran that was achieved after years of negotiation supported by our European allies, Russia, and China. Although the Trump administration certifies that the Iranians have lived up to its requirements in every respect, Pompeo has said, “I look forward to rolling back this disastrous deal.” Which would free the Iranians to resume their own nuclear program — and increase the likelihood of another disastrous war in the Middle East.

Indeed, Trump appears prepared to reinstate sanctions on Iran, in violation of that agreement, on May 12 — just around the time he is expecting to sit down with Kim to forge a similar agreement with North Korea. Evidently, neither he nor Pompeo nor any of the strutting hawks in the White House realize that the chances of a deal with Pyongyang are unlikely to survive a rupture with Tehran.

Nobody will accept the word of an American president after Trump violates the agreement that his predecessor reached with Iran. Even if North Korea signs an agreement, its erratic leader will hardly feel obligated to honor the deal when the United States so casually discards its own commitments.

Let's hope someone can explain all this to Trump, in two pages or less, before it is too late.



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Mar 18

Trump ‘fake memos’ attack on McCabe raises fears of firing special counsel

  • Tweet claims FBI deputy never took notes when meeting president
  • Jeff Flake: Trump ‘seems to be building towards’ firing Mueller

Donald Trump cast doubt on memos of conversations between him and the fired FBI deputy director that have reportedly been handed to Robert Mueller, claiming Andrew McCabe did not take notes during their meetings.

Continue reading…
US politics | The Guardian

Mar 18

In weekend tweets, an unraveling Trump goes after Mueller probe directly

Our regular examination of Donald Trump’s weekend tweeting habits has taken a bit of a dark turn. It seems evident now that, at whatever moment Trump is sure that Robert Mueller’s investigation has gotten the goods on him, he fully intends to fire Mueller and dare the rest of the nation to make something of it.

Donald Trump is not a complex man. He is obsessed with only two things: self-adulation, and self-preservation. It is no coincidence that immediately after the special counsel investigating Russian election interference targeted the Trump Organization, directly, with a subpoena for Russia-related documents that Trump spontaneously combusted.


The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime. It was based on fraudulent activities and a Fake Dossier paid for by Crooked Hillary and the DNC, and improperly used in FISA COURT for surveillance of my campaign. WITCH HUNT!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 18, 2018

Until now Trump’s staff has largely curtailed his instinct to attack Robert Mueller by name, even as he sends off spittle-flecked rants towards every other of his perceived enemies. That they can no longer contain those efforts demonstrates both their dwindling power over the garbage fire behind the desk and his own increasing fury—or panic—as the investigation brings down indictment after indictment.

The reason for Trump’s alarm is evident. Federal investigators would not be taking the dramatic step of subpoenaing documents from the private company of a sitting president unless they had strong suspicions of what they would find; it may even be likely that investigators have knowledge of key events or documents, and that the subpoena is yet another opportunity for the team to ensnare anyone in Trump’s circle stupid enough to attempt to hide them.

And it’s becoming increasingly clear that Mueller’s investigation is closing in on the  actions of Donald Trump’s core team; not just Manafort, Flynn, and Papadopoulos, but Sessions, Don Jr., and Trump himself.

So yes, the man is coming apart at the seams.

Daily Kos

Mar 18

Science Still Can’t Explain This Biological Mystery, But Scientists Like to Pretend Otherwise

We still have no scientific explanation for organisms.

Those of us who embrace science are growing increasingly impatient with religious and spiritual traditions. To us, absolute faith in claims scribed by backwards people thousands of years ago is delusional. We think it’s time for the faithful to get over themselves. The culture wars will end when it finally does. We’re waiting, though not patiently, because much is at stake.

Much is indeed at stake, but we’re actually waiting for the scientific to get over themselves. I say this as an atheist fully committed to science as the best method yet for discovering the nature of reality.

Between science and faith, I think faith is te more honest about what the scientific community seems perversely averse to explaining: Organisms: what they are and how they emerge from chemistry. Scientists explain organisms away or simply assume them without explaining them. At least the faithful recognize that life’s purposefulness needs explaining, even though their explanation is no explanation at all.

Notice your response to my claim that scientists haven’t explained organisms. What camp do you find yourself putting me in? The intelligent design community? The pseudo-scientific? I’ve already declared myself an atheist devoted to science. Please hear me out.

How does science not yet explain organisms? We know that organisms evolve. We know vast amounts about the physiochemical processes and mechanisms that account for organismic behavior.

All true and not in dispute. Still, we have no scientific explanation for organisms.

Unlike inanimate things, organisms engage in functional, fitted effort. Effort is purposeful work, an organism trying to achieve what is functional – of value to it, fitted or representative of its circumstances. Effort value and representation only make sense with respect to organisms. Organisms try to benefit themselves given their environment. Inanimate things don’t.

In the physical sciences, there’s simply no room for explanation from functionally fitted behavior. Any physical scientist who claimed that subatomic, atomic, molecular, geological or galactic phenomena as trying to benefit itself given its circumstances would be drummed out of the physical sciences. A physicist knows better than to say the moon tries to lift the tides for the moon or the tide’s benefit.

In contrast, in the life and social sciences, one can’t do without explanations that assume functional fitted behavior. That’s what’s meant by an adaptation, a trait that enables an organism to engage in effort that functions for itself, fitted to its environment.

What then explains the transition from phenomena that can’t be explained in terms of functional fitted effort to behavior that can’t be explained without reference to functional, fitted effort?

A tacit assumption in the sciences is that evolution explains it. It doesn’t.

This assumption takes three forms. The most popular is that evolution starts (here, 10 billion years into the history of the universe) once there are molecules that replicate – special molecules – probably RNA since its instrumental in life today. Once there are copying RNA molecules, there’s heredity and variation. According to this view, the differences in replicating molecules is the beginning of evolution and therefore the beginning of life.

This doesn’t explain functional fitted effort. There’s no effort. The molecules aren’t trying to copy. They’re passive, like any molecular products of catalysis. They copy when conditions cause them copy. Is there function or fittedness? Is anything useful or functional for the copying molecules fitted to their environment?

You could say that any molecule that copied better functioned better, but given their passivity (they’re not trying to copy) that’s just an observer’s perspective, no more about true function than it would be to say that of two balls rolled down a ramp the one that arrived at the ground first had more useful, functional features. Yes, from the observer’s perspective it did but that’s just an outsider’s impression. The ball isn’t trying to win any races. Nor is a copying molecule trying to copy, even if it happens to be the kind of molecule that, in us is functional as a repository of functional information that constrains our behavior. A repository. In us, RNA and DNA aren’t making effort to benefit themselves either. Genes are not selfish. There’s no self in those molecules that is trying to do anything for its own sake.

Researchers today are moving toward a second approach to the origin of evolution based on the way that, under certain conditions, order accumulates resulting in the more efficient dissipation of energy. But again, the order is passive in the process. It’s not trying to become more efficient in the dissipation of energy.

Order is measured in regularities, similar molecules lined up in non-random ways. Picture a pot of soap water stirred by some outside force. Regularities emerge, bubbles of lipid molecules all lined up next to each other in an orderly fashion. Are they trying to become orderly? If the soap water foams up into lots of baby bubbles, is that evidence of functional fitted effort, bubbles trying to make baby bubbles? Again an observer who values foam might get that impression. But no proliferation of orderly soap bubbles is at all like an organism.

The third approach is just a vague hand-wave as though evolution somehow gets imposed two-thirds of the way into the history of the universe. Never mind how it produces organisms. It just does. By this account, so long as you know that an organism is evolved you have permission to assume functional fitted effort even though you haven’t explained it. You hear it, for example in the renown bio-philosopher Dan Dennett’s triumphant claim that “Evolutionary processes brought purposes and reasons into existence…”

This approach, broadened to include the evolution of everything from culture to technology makes scientists feel safe attributing functional fitted effort to all manner of things. It’s how we arrive at the false impression that AI or compute, in general,al engage in functional fitted effort, the idea that they’re coming alive and that organisms are just complex computers.

None of this explains the emergence of organisms. All of it sidesteps what must be explained by the sciences, how mattering emerges from matter, currencies of value from energetic currents, objectives from objects, an organism’s means-to-ends trying from chemistry’s cause-and-effect phenomena.

Evolution doesn’t start organisms. Organisms start evolution and we still have no explanation for what they are and how they emerge by chance from chemistry.

We still have no explanation for the major transition that occurs at the origin of life, and with it the emergence of everything that matters to anyone – all value, representation and effort. Organisms engage in self-directed work, effort produced by themselves, of value for themselves fitted to their circumstances. Nothing else does. What’s the difference between us and inanimate things? Scientists really have no answer.

Scientists acknowledge that though our understanding of evolution is deep and detailed we still don’t have an explanation for the origin of life. Still they treat the origins of life challenge as a mystery of material mechanism, chemistry that produces a proliferation of “special” molecules or order as though once that gets going you’ve got evolution and therefore organisms and purpose.

You don’t. A molecule never makes effort on its own behalf, nor does the kind of self-organized order that has become the focus of recent research. Only organisms make effort on their own behalf and how they emerge with the ability to do this has remained a mystery, one that scientists barely acknowledge.

So far, the science community has benefited from the Intelligent Design community ignoring this broad target of attack. Intelligent design focuses on whether evolution can explain our traits, which it actually explains readily. What it can’t explain is the existence of organisms in the first place, and no quantity of persistent scientific insistence about the nature of evolution can explain it. This is the sciences’ greatest vulnerability, our greatest blind spot, our big lacuna. The burden is on scientists to explain how functional fitted effort emerges from chemistry, a burden it has yet to address in earnest let alone acknowledge as a mystery to be solved.

I work with scientists who address it. Our approach recognizes that organisms have to make ongoing effort to stay in existence rather than petering out, something ignored when one treats life as starting with special molecules or order. The first function couldn’t have evolved since evolution only begins once there is function that can be honed by natural selection. The first function is preventing petering out. Living is first and foremost death prevention and has been from before evolution. Our research team has an explanation for how this would emerge from chemistry and if we’re right, we have a physical science explanation for the emergence of functional fitted effort.

And if we’re wrong and other scientists don’t admit to or get around to explaining organisms, the culture wars will roll on and on. Faith-based sects will continue crowing triumphantly in ways that resonate with the general public because at least they sound like they explain functional fitted effort, even though they don’t.

They don’t but scientists don’t either. The culture wars are at present a battle between two movements that claim to have explained what neither has explained, what organisms are and how they emerged from chemistry.  

For a quick sketch of our theory for the emergence and nature of selves, here are some youtube videos I've produced.


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Mar 18

Facebook employs psychologist whose firm sold data to Cambridge Analytica

  • Joseph Chancellor was co-director of GSR with Alexsandr Kogan
  • Data harvesting scheme called ‘scam’ and ‘fraud’ by Facebook

The co-director of a company that harvested data from tens of millions of Facebook users before selling it to the controversial data analytics firms Cambridge Analytica is currently working for the tech giant as an in-house psychologist.

Related: ‘I made Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare tool’: meet the data war whistleblower

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US politics | The Guardian