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Goodbye Gorebulbs!

by Lloyd Alter (@lloydalter)

Hillary CLinton

On sister site MNN, Matt Hickman describes how Ahead of Valentine’s Day, GE calls it quits with the CFL bulb. Matt notes that it isn’t much of a loss, as LEDs “continue to emerge as a more viable, in terms of both cost and lighting quality, incandescent alternative.”

Nobody was very happy with compact fluorescent light bulbs, because they were really just squiggly little fluorescent tubes, with their crappy color rendition, fragile construction and mercury vapor. They were also so very political, a favorite target of right wing writers when George Bush signed the energy bill that was to eventually phase out most incandescent bulbs.

gore money

There was Michelle Malkin who back in 2007 labeled them Gorebulbs, and others who called President George Bush part of “the Greenie Left who claim jurisdiction over any activity of your life that affects the environment.” Of course they should have been called Bushbulbs, he’s the President who signed the legislation, but no matter. Malkin wrote:

What happened to keeping government out of our bedroom? And our bathroom? And our utility closets? The Gore-ing of America continues…

 

Then there is Fox News, which as Brian Merchant puts it, claimed Energy efficient light bulbs will kill us all! Oh, those were the days.

michelle

Then of course there was our absolute favorite leglislation, Michele Bachmann’s Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act (don’t read the comments!)

This is an issue of science over fads and fashions,” she told an interviewer, and called any human connection to global warming “voodoo, nonsense, hokum, a hoax.” She continued: “Fluorescent bulbs are more polluting because of their mercury content. We are working on a light bulb bill. If the Democrats can hose up a light bulb, don’t trust them with the country.

None of which is true, of course; it is a tiny amount of mercury, you did not need a hazmat suit and thousands of dollars to clean it up, and the energy saving bulbsactually reduced mercury pollution.

As late as 2011, Republicans were still complaining about the bulbs, with Rand Paul going on about environmental standards in general, quoted in Politco:

“Lightbulbs, refrigerators, toilets, you name it. You can’t go around your house without being told what to buy,” Paul said in 2011 while chastising an Energy Department higher-up. “You restrict my purchases. You don’t care about my choices. You don’t care about the consumer.”

In turn, Obama has openly mocked conservatives’ obsession with the bulb rules. “We’ve actually been criticized that it’s a socialist plot to restrict your freedom for us to encourage energy-efficient light bulbs. I never understood that,” the president said.

Now incandescent bulbs are pretty much gone and the compact fluorescent bulbs are following closely (I converted my home to 100% LED lighting and you should too) and there is not a peep out of the former defenders of the incandescent bulb. This should not be a surprise; the LED bulbs are pretty good, they last a long time and live up to their billing, and they save a lot of money. They are even made in America.

George Bush© JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images/ Signing the lightbulb bill

On signing the Energy independence and Security Act in 2007, President Bush noted:

Today we make a major step toward reducing our dependence on oil, confronting global climate change, expanding the production of renewable fuels and giving future generations of our country a nation that is stronger, cleaner and more secure.

Not all of that came true. But if anyone thinks for a second that we would have ever got the LEDs we have today without that legislation, whether we would have seen close to a decade of really exciting research and developments where every week it seemed Mike was covering a newer, cheaper or better LED bulb, they are dreaming. We can happily say goodbye to our Bushbulbs and Gorebulbs and all the stupid politics because they led to the development of something far better, no thanks to Michelle or Michele.

But thank you, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and George W. Bush. We really owe this milestone to you.

Tags: Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs | George W. Bush | LEDs

 

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Michael Moore says only sending water to Flint won’t work. Here are 3 things to do also.

Bottled water is a Band-Aid. Flint is hemorrhaging — it’s going to take more.
Angie Aker By Angie Aker

flint-water-aid_0Why wouldn’t Michael Moore want us sending water to Flint, Michigan?
The documentary-maker wrote an open letter imploring people to think deeper than just the surface-level solution of sending bottled water when it comes to helping the city, which is in the middle of a public water crisis.

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The short story of what happened in Flint in case you don’t know: An emergency manager appointed by the governor chose to switch Flint’s water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River. They didn’t treat the water correctly, which meant just about everyone was exposed to lead in their drinking water for over a year, and officials sat on this information until it was truly a health crisis of epic proportions.
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river-5287091eeae4d2f188ab8f6e49b26d6eThe people of Flint used to get their water from clean, delicious Lake Huron. Then it changed to Flint River’s polluted water. Image by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers/Wikimedia Commons.

“I was hysterical. I cried when they gave me my first lead report,” LeeAnne Walters, whose children all tested positive for lead poisoning after the Flint River switchover, told the Detroit Free Press about the heart-wrenching moment she learned they’d been affected.

“I pushed them to drink water — ‘Put down that juice, go get some water.’ [Now] lead is in our blood,” Melissa Mays, another Flint mom, also told the Free Press, expressing her regret at having her teen boys drink the water. She says now she will be plagued with worries and doubts whenever something goes wrong with them in the future, not knowing if it’s from the lead or not.

 
Essentially, the Flint water crisis is a complex, gargantuan-level disaster that will take various phases and layers of work to address. The first phase of response has been to establish that the poisoning has occurred, ring the alarm loud and clear for the whole country, and to immediately get some clean water to the citizens. That’s a necessary short-term reaction and definitely something that was needed.

And people rushed to fill that need.

Like when Cher got Icelandic Glacial to partner with her to donate trucks full of water:
And many other celebrities and regular citizens followed suit.

But what comes next? And does Moore really want us to stop sending water to residents in need?
The city’s immediate need for bottled water is far from over, but the larger point he’s trying to make is right on. We can only solve the problem if we focus on more than just fixing one symptom of it. Here’s how we can do that.

A kind of second phase of recovery requires moving on to doing things to fix Flint’s water systems for the medium- and long-terms and to rectify the faulty system that allowed this lead poisoning to occur in the first place. It’d be foolish to let the decision-makers responsible for such bad oversight just promise they’ll have really good oversight this time, they swear, in order to fix the mess.

Here are three things all Americans should be doing right now (no matter your political affiliation) in order to help Flint move forward for the long term:

1. Call for Gov. Rick Snyder’s resignation.
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Snyder speaks to the media about the Flint water crisis on Jan. 27, 2016. Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images.

This isn’t about partisan politics; it’s just a good idea for how to move on from this crisis. A neutral party is needed in Michigan to assess the situation clearly, not from the vantage point of someone who has a clear reason to minimize his role in the disaster. In his open letter, Moore explains why this is so important:

“Whether it’s via resignation, recall or prosecution, this must happen now because he is still refusing to take the aggressive and immediate action needed. His office, as recently as this past Thursday, was claiming the EPA had no legal authority to tell him what to do.”
You can sign the petition here.

2. Insist the state of Michigan be held financially responsible for its role in Flint’s poisoning.
Snyder is trying to have Flint declared a federal disaster zone, which will likely at some point be appropriate and necessary. But the significance of this is that it will take the state off the hook for having to cough up the funds it should be providing to clean the mess it pretty much willfully made.

Here’s the financial breakdown from Moore:

“This year the state treasury posted nearly a $600 million surplus. There is also another $600 million in the state’s ‘rainy day fund.’ That’s $1.2 billion – just about what Flint’s congressman, Dan Kildee, estimates it will cost to replace the water infrastructure and care for the thousands of poisoned children throughout their growing years.”
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Fred the handyman explains a new water filter to a resident of Shiloh Commons, a low-income housing area in Flint. Citizens have been given water testing jugs, filters, and clean water by the National Guard. Photo by Sarah Rice/Getty Images.

Once the state pays its share of the clean up, the federal funds should be a next step, but the state’s responsibility for the crisis should not be ignored or overlooked.

Remember the mom beating herself up for having her sons drink the tap water? Chances are she and everyone like her are going to need a lot of services to help their children achieve the best cognitive abilities possible. It’s gonna require funding — every penny of assistance Flint can get will be needed — and that includes state money.

How do you insist on this? Contact your local paper and write a letter to your editor or just send lots of tweets (to news sources and elected officials), no matter where you live.

3. As soon as the state has earmarked their share of payment for Flint, the recovery operations need to be placed into the hands of the federal government. STAT.
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National Guard members distribute free water to Flint citizens on Jan. 23, 2016. Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images.

Moore has pointed out that the water replacement efforts must be bigger in scope than just providing bottled water. He’s right. The federal government can send in help on a level the state just can’t. Here’s what he proposes:

“The State government cannot be trusted to get this right. So, instead of declaring a federal disaster zone, President Obama must declare the same version of martial law that Governor Snyder declared over the cities of Flint and Detroit. He must step in and appoint a federal emergency manager in the state capitol to direct the resources of both the state and federal government in saving Flint. This means immediately sending in FEMA in full force. It means sending in the CDC to determine the true extent of not just the lead poisoning in the water, but also the latest outbreak that has been discovered in Flint – a tenfold increase in the number of Flint people who’ve contracted Legionnaires Disease. There have now been 87 cases since the switch to the Flint River water, and ten people have died. The local hospital has also noted sharp increases in a half-dozen other toxins found in people’s bodies. We need the CDC. The EPA must take over the testing of the water, and the Army Corps of Engineers must be sent in to begin replacing the underground pipes. Like the levees in New Orleans, this will be a massive undertaking. If it is turned over to for-profit businesses, it will take a decade and cost billions. This needs to happen right now and Obama must be in charge.”
Again, you can call for this by writing letters to the editor, signing Moore’s petition, and calling your elected officials and asking them to take a stand together for Flint on your (their constituent’s) behalf.

These are the things we can all do to help the people of Flint beyond just sending bottled water.
It’s not that bottled water isn’t appreciated. It is. It’s just that it only goes so far for so long. And bottled water treats the symptom, not the problem. At this point, Flint needs people to roll up their sleeves and help get them back on track by holding the people who caused the problem in the first place accountable.

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Matt Hopper comforts 5-year-old Nyla Hopper after she has blood taken for a free lead testing. Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images.

The people of Flint need to know that even though their state failed them, America has not forsaken them — or the possibility for their futures. Flint can rise again, in time, with our help.
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Obama administration to delay issuing new regulations under the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

ada

 

Dear Federationists:

The following op-ed by President Riccobono appeared last week on the Congress Blog of the influential Washington newspaper The Hill. The text is pasted below. You can also access the article by browsing to http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/civil-rights/266943-inequality-and-indifference

Please consider sharing the above link with your contacts. Also, please sign and share our petition to President Obama to release the regulations referenced in President Riccobono’s piece. The petition is located here:

https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/direct-us-department-justice-promptly-release-ada-internet-regulations

By Mark A. Riccobono

The recent decision by the Obama administration to delay issuing new regulations under the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is outrageous. The regulations would have provided guidance on how businesses can meet their legal obligation to make their websites accessible to people with disabilities. These regulations have been in the works for over five years, but the Obama administration now proposes further delaying them until 2018, effectively washing its hands of the matter. This move is particularly shocking in light of the president’s correct observation, made when he first announced his intention to issue the regulations in 2010, that such rules are “the most important updates to the ADA since its original enactment.” The urgent need for these regulations has only increased, so why has the administration’s position inexplicably changed?

Thanks to today’s technology, people with all kinds of disabilities can access computer information, including websites, with tools such as text-to-speech screen readers that verbalize what the computer is displaying, connected devices that can display the content in Braille, and alternative input devices for people who can’t physically use a mouse or keyboard. Despite this advanced technology, however, most of us, especially blind people like me, struggle every day to perform routine internet-based tasks, including paying our bills, examining electronic health records, and making hotel reservations. That’s
because improperly designed websites can block our ability to effectively access all of the information. For example, if a website uses images to convey important information without also providing “alt tags” that a screen reader can read, then the screen reader will spit out gibberish because it can’t “read” a picture in the way it can read text. And the inability to access websites is not merely an inconvenience; it is a barrier to education and employment. For example, the college graduation rate for people with disabilities is just thirty-four percent; inaccessible online technology used by today’s colleges and universities undoubtedly contributes to this dismal statistic.

All of this is not due to hostility towards Americans with disabilities. While a few businesses simply refuse to provide equal access to their websites until a legal settlement or court order forces them to do so, many others simply don’t know where to turn for guidance on how to make their websites accessible. Organizations like the National Federation of the Blind are doing all we can to educate business leaders and programmers, but by issuing clear and legally binding guidelines, the Obama administration could quickly bring reluctant businesses to the table and show other well-intentioned but uninformed players a clear path to providing equal service to their clients and customers with disabilities. The administration’s continued refusal to do this is irresponsible. Its failure to act not only leaves disabled computer users on the wrong side of a real digital divide, but ensures that litigation, which is costly both for disability advocates and businesses, will continue for the foreseeable future.

Recently, the National Federation of the Blind and several other organizations representing Americans with all types of disabilities urged the immediate issuance of the proposed regulations in a letter sent directly to President Obama. From the business perspective, Microsoft and other business leaders have also written to the president calling for the release of the regulations. If the president ignores these requests, the inescapable conclusion will be that he is indifferent to the inequality that is part of everyday life for me and millions of other Americans. This indifference has an intolerably high cost: we are denied equal access to services that are readily available to everyone else, denied educational and employment opportunities, and denied first-class citizenship in twenty-first-century America. If the president is serious about the civil rights of all Americans, a recurring theme in his rhetoric, then he must not renege on the commitment to equal Internet access for Americans with disabilities that he made in 2010. Fortunately, he still has time to honor that commitment. I, along with millions of other people with disabilities, fervently hope that the president will do so immediately.

Mark A. Riccobono is president of the National Federation of the Blind.  He lives in Baltimore, Maryland with his wife and three children.

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25 remarkable moments in black history from the last 25 years.

Being black is a wonderful thing.

Throughout history, black people have proven our courage, intelligence, and creativity time and time again. But as Black History Month approaches, you may notice the same names and faces representing African-American accomplishment and resilience. No shade to Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and Medgar Evers, but there are plenty more examples of black excellence worth noting.

There are even people whose legacies we don’t confine to the limitations of Black History Month who are rumored to be black or biracial (Beethoven, Pushkin, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, to name a few) but because most records of African ancestry were hidden, scrubbed, or mentioned in hushed tones, a lot of that is speculative.

Photo by AFP/Getty Images.

The beauty of black history is that we’re still making it every single day.

It’s no secret that black “firsts” happen each year, but the sheer number from the last quarter-century is both surprising and inspiring. Some of these individuals are household names while others barely received their 15 minutes of fame. But all are great moments worth commemorating and sharing.

Photo by Aude Guerrucci-Pool/Getty Images.

Take a minute to celebrate and discover these 25 black “firsts” from the last 25 years.

1. First African-American woman to win the Academy Award for Best Actress: Halle Berry (2002)

Photo by Getty Images.

2. First African-American pilot to fly solo around the world: Barrington Irving Jr. (2007)

Barrington Irving Jr. waves from his Columbia 400 aircraft named Inspiration. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

3. First African-American appointed surgeon general of the United States: Dr. Joycelyn Elders (1993)

Photo by Kort Duce/AFP/Getty Images.

4. First African-American to win the Masters golf tournament: Tiger Woods (1997)

Tigers Woods hits a putt on the 18th hole to win the Masters Tournament in Augusta, Georgia. Photo by Steve Munday/Allsport/Getty Images.

5. First African-American U.S. attorney general: Eric Holder (2009) 

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

6. First African-American woman named U.S. attorney general: Loretta Lynch (2015)

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

7. First African-American to reach the peak of Mount Everest: Sophia Danenberg (2006)

8. First African-American named U.S. poet laureate: Rita Dove (1993)

President Obama presents 2011 National Medal of Arts and Humanities to Rita Dove during a ceremony at the White House in 2012. Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images.

9. First African-American chess international grandmaster: Maurice Ashley (1999)

10. First African-American president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences: Cheryl Boone Isaacs (2013)

Isaacs recently announced changes to diversify its membership in response to the second year of backlash for a full slate of white acting nominees. Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images.

11. First African-American president of an Ivy League institution: Dr. Ruth Simmons (2001)

Simmons accepts the BET Honor for education during the 2010 BET Honors in Washington, DC. Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images.

12. First African-American to earn a gold medal at the Winter Games: Vonetta Flowers (2002)

Vonetta Flowers (left) and Jill Bakken after being awarded gold medals in the women’s bobsled competition during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. Photo by Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images.

13. First African-American to earn an individual gold medal at the Winter Games: Shani Davis (2006)

Gold medalist Shani Davis (center) during the 2006 Winter Olympics medals ceremony of the men’s 1,000-meter speed skating in the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. Photo by Jean-Pierre Clatot/AFP/Getty Images.

14. First African-American to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature: Toni Morrison (1993)

Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images.

15. First African-American billionaire: Robert Johnson (2001)

Johnson is an entrepreneur and founder of BET. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

16. First African-American woman to serve as mayor for a major U.S. city: Sharon Pratt (1991)

Bill and Hillary Clinton join hands with Martin Luther King III and Washington, D.C., Mayor Sharon Pratt to sing “We Shall Overcome” in 1993. Photo by J. David Ake/AFP/Getty Images.

17. First African-American driver to qualify for the Indy 500: Willy T. Ribbs (1991)

Willy Ribbs at the Daytona 500 Speedweeks at the Daytona International Speedway. Photo by Robert Laberge/Allsport/Getty Images.

18. First African-American to lead the Environmental Protection Agency: Lisa Perez Jackson (2009)

Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images.

19. First African-American to launch his own film and television studio: Tyler Perry (2008)

Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images.

20. First African-American named secretary of state: Gen. Colin Powell (2001)

Photo by David Bohrer/U.S. National Archives via Getty Images.

21. First African-American woman named secretary of state: Dr. Condoleezza Rice (2005)

Photo by Stephen Jaffe/AFP/Getty Images.

22. First African-American to host the Academy Awards: Whoopi Goldberg (1994)

23. First African-American promoted to principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre: Misty Copeland (2015)

Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images.

24. First African-American to referee a Super Bowl: Mike Carey (2008)

Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images.

25: First African-American woman in space: Dr. Mae Jemison (1992)

Photo by NASA/Flickr.

Hats off to these role models, charting new courses for black excellence each and every day.

It may seem shocking that after over 400 years in this country, we still see so many African-American firsts. That’s why it’s imperative we commemorate these achievements and not just for one month out of the year.

It’s important for children of all of races to see examples of African-Americans succeeding in different industries and professions. Positive representations and strong role models are vital to kids as they create themselves and craft their identity. By celebrating these individuals and the mark they made in history, we open up a world of possibility to a new generation.

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

ABOUT

There was one more person I wanted to include, but couldn’t find a great picture. Barbara Hillary was the first African-American woman to reach both poles of the Earth. Best part? She was in her 70s when she did it. Go, girl!

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What Michael Moore has to say about what is “possible” for our country.

My Dear Friends,

When I was a child, they said there was no way this majority-Protestant country of ours would ever elect a Catholic as president. And then John Fitzgerald Kennedy was elected president.

The next decade, they said America would not elect a president from the Deep South. The last person to do that on his own (not as a v-p) was Zachary Taylor in 1849. And then we elected President Jimmy Carter.

In 1980, they said voters would never elect a president who had been divorced and remarried. Way too religious of a country for that, they said. Welcome, President Ronald Reagan, 1981-89.

They said you could not get elected president if you had not served in the military. No one could remember when someone who hadn’t served had been elected Commander-in-Chief. Or who had confessed to trying (but not inhaling!) Illegal drugs. President Bill Clinton, 1993-2001.

And then finally “they” saId that there’s NO WAY the Democrats were going to win if they nominated a BLACK man for president — a black man whose middle name was Hussein! America was still too racist for that. “Don’t do it!”, people quietly warned each other.

BOOM!

Do you ever wonder why the pundits, the political class, are always so sure that Americans “just aren’t ready” for something — and then they’re always just so wrong? They says these things because they want to protect the status quo. They don’t want the boat rocked. They try to scare the average person into voting against their better judgment.

And now, this year “they” are claiming that there’s no way a “democratic socialist” can get elected President of the United States. That is the main talking point coming now from the Hillary Clinton campaign office.

But all the polls show Bernie Sanders actually BEATING Donald Trump by twice as many votes than if Hillary Clinton was the candidate.

Although the polls nationally show Hillary beating Bernie among DEMOCRATS, when the pollster includes all INDEPENDENTS, then Sanders beats Trump two to one over what Clinton would do.

The way the Clinton campaign has been red-baiting Sanders is unfortunate — and tone deaf. According to NBC, 43% of Iowa Dems identify themselves more closely with socialism (sharing, helping) than with capitalism (greed, inequality). Most polls now show young adults (18-35) across America prefer socialism (fairness) to capitalism (selfishness).

So, what is democratic socialism? It’s having a true democracy where everyone has a seat at the table, where everyone has a voice, not just the rich.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary recently announced the most looked-up word in their online dictionary in 2015 was “socialism.” If you’re under 49 (the largest voting block), the days of the Cold War & Commie Pinkos & the Red Scare look as stupid as  “Reefer Madness.”

If Hillary’s biggest selling point as to why you should vote for her is, “Bernie’s a socialist!” or “A socialist can’t win!”, then she’s lost.

The New York Times, which admitted it made up stories of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq & pushed us to invade that country, has now endorsed Hillary Clinton, the candidate who voted for the Iraq War. I thought the Times had apologized and reformed itself. What Is going on here?

Well, the Times likes its candidates to be realistic and pragmatic. And to them, that means Hillary Clinton. She doesn’t want to break up the banks, doesn’t want to bring back Glass-Steagall, doesn’t want to raise the minimum wage to $15/hr., doesn’t want Denmark’s free health care system. Just not realistic, I guess.

Of course, there was a time when the media said it wasn’t “realistic” to pass a constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote. They said it would never pass because only all-male legislators would be voting on it in the Congress and the State Legislatures. And that, obviously, meant it would never pass. They were wrong.

They once said that it wasn’t “realistic” to pass a Civil Rights Act AND a Voting Rights Act back to back. America just wasn’t “ready for it.” Both passed, in 1964 & 1965.

Ten years ago we were told gay marriage would never be the law of the land. Good thing we didn’t listen to those who told us to be “pragmatic.”

Hillary says Bernie’s plans just aren’t “realistic” or “pragmatic.” This week she said “single payer health care will NEVER, EVER, happen.” Never? Ever? Wow. Why not just give up?

Hillary also says it’s not practical to offer free college for everyone. You can’t get more practical than the Germans – and they’re able to do it. As do many other countries.

Clinton does find ways to pay for war and tax breaks for the rich. Hillary Clinton was FOR the war in Iraq, AGAINST gay marriage, FOR the Patriot Act, FOR NAFTA, and wants to put Ed Snowden in prison. THAT’S a lot to wrap one’s head around, especially when you have Bernie Sanders as an alternative. He will be the opposite of all that.

There are many good things about Hillary. But it’s clear she’s to the right of Obama and will move us backwards, not forward. This would be sad. Very sad.

81% of the electorate is either female, people of color or young (18-35). And the Republicans have lost the VAST majority of 81% of the country. Whoever the Democrat is on the ballot come November will win. No one should vote out of fear. You should vote for whom you think best represents what you believe in. They want to scare you into thinking we’ll lose with Sanders. The facts, the polls, scream just the opposite: We have a BETTER chance with Bernie!

Trump is loud and scary — and liberals scare easy. But liberals also like facts. Here’s one: less than 19% of the USA is white guys over 35. So calm down!

Finally, Check out this chart — it says it all: (Note: Hillary has now changed her position and is against TPP)

d3546c23-7099-49a0-b38b-881a84f11110

I first endorsed Bernie Sanders for public office in 1990 when he, as mayor of Burlington, VT, asked me to come up there and hold a rally for him in his run to become Vermont’s congressman. I guess not many were willing to go stump for an avowed democratic socialist at the time. Probably someone is his hippie-filled campaign office said, “I’ll bet Michael Moore will do it!” They were right. I trucked up into the middle of nowhere and did my best to explain why we needed Bernie Sanders in the U.S. Congress. He won, I’ve been a supporter of his ever since, and he’s never given me reason to not continue that support. I honestly thought I’d never see the day come where I would write to you and get to say these words: “Please vote for Senator Bernie Sanders to be our next President of the United States of America.”

I wouldn’t ask this of you if I didn’t think we really, truly needed him. And we do. More than we probably know.

Sincerely Yours,
Michael Moore

 

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Prize-winning technology to make the desert bloom

Line in the sand: New technology could transform poor-quality sandy soils into high-yield agricultural land.

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Through a combination of climate change, drought, overgrazing and other human activities, desertification across the world is on the march. It’s a process defined by the UN as “land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid regions”. Given that around 40 per cent of the Earth’s land surface is occupied by drylands – home to around two billion people – the potential for desertification to impact the planet is huge. A recent report from the Economics of Land Degradation Initiative claimed that it’s a problem costing the world as much as US$10.6tn every year – approximately 17 per cent of global gross domestic product.

The refugee crisis in Europe has highlighted the difficulties that arise when large numbers of people migrate. However, the numbers arriving from countries such as Syria, Lebanon and Eritrea pale in comparison to those that could be forced into exile by changing climate conditions. According to the UN’s Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), the process could displace as many as 50 million people over the next decade.

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But one Norwegian start-up is developing a technology to wage a frontline battle with desertification. Desert Control is a Norwegian company set up by Kristian and Ole Morten Olesen, alongside chief operating officer Andreas Julseth. It was recently awarded first prize at ClimateLaunchpad, a clean-tech business competition that attracted more than 700 entries from 28 countries across Europe. The product that earned Desert Control top honours was Liquid NanoClay, a mixture of water and clay that is mixed in a patented process and used to transform sandy desert soils into fertile ground.

“The mixing process splits the clay particles into individual flakes and adds air bubbles on both sides of the flakes,” Ole Morten Olesen, CEO of Desert Control, told The Engineer. “The mix is then spread over the land and allowed to saturate down to root level – about 40-60cm deep. This requires around 40 litres of water and 1kg of clay per square metre.”

Olesen explained that his father Kristian, Desert Control’s chief technical officer, has been working on the process behind Liquid NanoClay since 2008. The treatment gives sand particles a nanostructured clay coating, completely changing their physical properties and allowing them to bind water. The process, which does not involve any chemical agents, can change poor-quality sandy soils into high-yield agricultural land.

According to Desert Control, virgin desert soils treated with Liquid NanoClay produced a yield four times greater than untreated land, using the same amount of seeds and fertiliser, and less than half the amount of water. It found that Liquid NanoClay acts as a catalyst for Mycorrhizal fungi when nourishment is available, with the fungi responsible for the increased yield.

Clay is a fundamental component of productive arable land, acting as a water-holder, providing elasticity, and allowing non-clay elements to bind to the soil. In the past, adding clay to dry land
in order to improve its agricultural value has involved tilling clay into the soil. This requires large volumes of clay and substantial amounts of manual labour. The process of transforming sandy
soil into fertile land can take between seven and 15 years. By comparison, Liquid NanoClay takes just seven hours to saturate into the land.

The water and clay is mixed on site using the patented process, then traditional irrigation systems such as sprinklers or water wagons are used to spread it across the sandy soil. The individual clay flakes bind to the surface of the sand particles with a Van der Waals binding, significantly increasing the ability of the soil to hold water and nutrients.

The cost of treatment per hectare is US$4,800, and requires a 15-20 per cent retreatment after four or five years if the land is tilled. If the soil is untilled, the treatment lasts for longer. Converting a piece of desert the size of a rugby pitch into fertile land for this cost seems like a pretty good deal.

“In just seven hours the soil is totally transformed,” said Ole Morten. “We use existing irrigation systems to apply the Liquid NanoClay, removing the need to till the land and use much
greater volumes of water.”

“In just seven hours the soil is totally transformed

Ole Morten, Desert Control

The performance data for Liquid NanoClay is based on field tests that were conducted at the Agricultural Research Centre (ARC) in Ismailia in Egypt. White pepper was planted in test fields containing dry sandy soil. Fields treated with Liquid NanoClay gave an additional two months of harvest, compared to the fields that were untreated.

Following the initial harvest, the plants were then left without irrigation over winter and spring, when new plants were due to be sown. However, the original crops were found to be in such good condition that they could be used for another season.

“When we returned the following season, we were surprised that the pepper plants were looking so healthy,” said Ole Morten. “We had expected to have to replant, as they had been left over winter and spring without irrigation. But the old plants were in good enough shape that we could use them again in the next season.”

Unsurprisingly, some of the most vulnerable areas to desertification are in north and central Africa, around the edges of the Sahara. Other regions under threat include large parts of China and Mongolia, as the Gobi encroaches into the eastern parts of the Eurasian Steppe and the farmland it supports, as well as several regions in Australia.

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When pitching Desert Control at ClimateLaunchpad, chief operating officer Andreas Julseth also focused in on the particular business opportunity available in Central Valley, California. Making up around 14 per cent of California’s total land area, the valley is one of the world’s most productive agricultural regions. However, since 2011, the state has been in the grip of one of the worst droughts on record.

“In 2014, the agricultural sector in Central Valley lost 165,000 hectares to fallowing,” Julseth recently told the ClimateLaunchpad audience. “Fallowing means they ploughed the land but didn’t sow any seeds, because there simply wasn’t enough water available to sustain the land. They estimate this had a US$2.2bn impact on the agricultural industry.”

In the desperate search for water, farmers in California have been digging ever deeper, employing oil-drilling equipment to reach the disappearing aquifers. Not only is this expensive, it is eradicating an ancient natural resource in a classic tragedy of the commons. Acting out of rational self-interest, the farmers are draining a communal water resource dry. Julseth believes Liquid NanoClay can help avert the impending tragedy.

“I believe that farmers will flock to us as soon as they see that they can reduce their dependency on water by at least 50 per cent,” he said. “Put it this way – if they were using our product, the present drought would no longer be a problem. I also believe that land developers will use the opportunity to buy dry land, have us treat it, and then be able to sell it for eight to 10 times the purchasing price. Because that’s the reality now – dry land goes for one-tenth what fertile land goes for.”

“I believe that farmers will flock to us as soon as they see that they can reduce their dependency on water by at least 50 per cent. If they were using our product, the present Californian drought would no longer be a problem

Andreas Julseth, Desert Control

If Desert Control can successfully get Liquid NanoClay to market, the potential of the technology is enormous, with implications for fragile environments around the globe and the populations that inhabit them. Along with the testing that took place in Egypt, additional third-party verification is taking place at the Faculty of Natural Sciences at Imperial College London.

 

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The unsexy truth about why the Arab Spring failed

 by


Protesters gather in Tahrir Square on February 1, 2011.Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Image

By the time it became clear to the world that Egypt’s Arab Spring had gone terribly wrong, that the seemingly Hollywood-like drama of good-guy protesters triumphing over bad-guy dictator had turned out to be something much more disappointing, the other revolutions across the Middle East had soured as well.

Today, Egypt is under a new military dictatorship; Libya, Yemen, and Syria have all collapsed into civil wars.

In the years since everything went so wrong, it has become fashionable to blame the naiveté of the revolutionaries or the petty incompetence of transitional leaders. We are still trying to make this a story about the personal accomplishments or failures of individual heroes or villains, but that narrative is just as silly as it was when we first tried to apply in 2011.

The truth is that this was never a story primarily about individual heroes or villains. Rather, it was about something much bigger and more abstract: the catastrophic failure of institutions. It’s not a story that is particularly dramatic, and it’s not easy to profile for a magazine cover. But when you look at what has happened from the Arab Spring, from its 2011 beginning through today, you see institutional failure everywhere.

That story isn’t as emotionally compelling as the one we told ourselves in 2011. But it’s a crucially important one, if we want to understand how this went so wrong and the lessons for the world.

The story we tell ourselves about the Arab Spring

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Graffiti on a building in Tunis, Tunisia, during the revolution. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

In the five years since the Arab Spring disappointed the world’s hopes, a story has developed for the revolutions and their failures.

On Egypt, for example, the story usually goes something like this: First, the brave and idealistic but tragically naive revolutionaries focused only on bringing down the evil dictator Hosni Mubarak, but not on governing when he was gone. They failed to plan or to politically organize, foolishly placing their faith in hope, change, and Facebook instead of doing the difficult work of real politics.

In that story, the liberals’ supposed failures left an opening for the Muslim Brotherhood to sweep in and establish a hard-line Islamist government. The Brotherhood failed as well, pursing shortsighted, petty agendas that alienated the public and elites alike. The military was able to exploit the liberals’ naiveté and the Muslim Brotherhood’s incompetence, taking power for itself and placing Egypt under a military dictatorship.

This narrative looks very different from the story we first told ourselves in 2011 about the Arab Spring, in which brave, enlightened protesters were said to be standing up to the evil dictators. But what these two narratives share is that they ascribe everything to the personal failings or strengths of certain individual people: a wicked dictator in the original 2011 story; naive protesters, shortsighted and oppressive Islamists, and an evil general in the 2016 version.

But both versions of the story are incomplete. Individual failures alone didn’t cause the disastrous consequences of the Arab Spring revolutions, just as the individual heroism of Arab Spring protesters wasn’t enough to ensure their success.

The truth is that while the revolutionaries were in fact very brave and the dictators were in fact very bad, the real story of the Arab Spring wasn’t one about individual people being heroic or wicked. Rather, it was a less cinematic — but far more important — story about the dangers of brittle dictatorships and weak state institutions.

Democratic transition, it turns out, isn’t about whom you can overthrow or whom you replace them with. It’s about whether or how you can change the vast network of institutions underneath that person.

If you don’t make those institutions work — and often, by the dictator’s deliberate design, you simply can’t — then your revolution is doomed. No matter how many times you topple the dictator, no matter how pure and good your protesters are, it won’t be enough. That’s the real lesson of the Arab Spring — and it’s important precisely because it’s not as exciting or emotionally satisfying as the good-versus-evil story we prefer to tell.

The story of Egypt’s Arab Spring we don’t see: institutional collapse

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A November 2011 protest in Tahrir Square, seen through a haze of police tear gas. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak began preparing for revolution long before it came. In the three decades of his rule, he systematically ensured that no opposition party or civil society institution grew strong enough to challenge him. But in ensuring that no institutions were powerful or independent enough to threaten his rule, Mubarak also ensured that they were too weak to support a transition to democracy after he fell.

Mubarak stuffed the interior ministry with political loyalists rather than effective public servants, which allowed corruption and brutality to corrode public security. He turned the judiciary into a pro-regime puppet, which gave him a tool to persecute political opponents but left judges dependent and the rule of law weak. He undermined liberal opposition parties and tolerated the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood only enough to let him credibly claim to the world, “It’s me or the Islamists,” using frequent crackdowns and careful electoral rules to ensure that they never got real governing experience.

The one institution that gathered strength was the military. Its role in politics expanded under Mubarak far beyond what his predecessor, Anwar Sadat, had permitted, with Mubarak using patronage to buy the military’s loyalty as it grew more powerful.

But those measures couldn’t protect Mubarak forever. Even before the revolution, there were signs his regime was in trouble. His apparent plans to pass power to his son Gamal provoked popular outrage, including a 2010 protest at which demonstrators burned photographs of Gamal. Popular tolerance for the regime eroded further as inflation raised the cost of food, especially bread, placing real strain on poor Egyptians. Unemployment grew so catastrophically high that the International Monetary Fund warned it was a “ticking time bomb.” Popular anger against police brutality grew.

When the protest movement finally exploded in January 2011, Mubarak’s regime proved brittle. The revolution quickly gathered public support. The Interior Ministry failed to restore order.

And then, perhaps most crucially, Mubarak lost the loyalty of Egypt’s powerful army. Instead of crushing the protests, the army withdrew its support from his regime and installed itself in his place, ostensibly temporarily.

But it turned out that the military, an institution itself, had become focused on preserving its own interests over those of the state, and, a mere year after the Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi became president, executed a military coup that deposed him and installed Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as president.

The Morsi government, in its year of rule between military regimes, did some things right and a great many things wrong. But at all times, regardless of its performance, it was beset and undermined by the weakness or total incapacity of institutions and civil society. The judiciary turned openly against the Morsi government, security services withdrew from the streets, and even the state institutions that provided gas and electricity failed, according to the New York Times, “so fundamentally that gas lines and rolling blackouts fed widespread anger and frustration.”

Many of Morsi’s failures were self-inflicted, but even if he had been better at governing, the hollowness of Egypt’s state would still have at least severely weakened and possibly doomed him. And so when Morsi faltered, the country’s democratic transition collapsed. The military filled the void left by the rest of the state’s failures.

The problems that brought down Mubarak have never been fixed

December 2011 Tahrir protest

A December 2011 protest in Tahrir Square. (MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/GettyImages)

The conditions that Mubarak deliberately engineered to elongate his rule — an excessively powerful military, a weak opposition without governing experience, corrupt security services, hollowed-out civil society, and no effective democratic institutions — have all remained after his fall, and have undermined successive governments as much as they eventually undermined his own.

When you see that, it becomes clear that the real problem was never the degree to which individual protesters did or did not understand grassroots political organizing. That democratic transition isn’t merely the absence of a dictator. Rather, it is the presence of democratic rule.

And democratic rule requires something a lot more important, if less obviously visible, than having a good-guy democrat at the top of the government. It requires the institutions of democracy: political parties capable of winning elections, politicians capable of governing, a bureaucracy capable of implementing that governance, and civil society groups able to provide support and stability to those institutions.

Many of the liberal protesters had years of organizing experience, yet they couldn’t seem to develop a political party to carry their ideals beyond Tahrir Square into actual governance. Maybe this was due in part to infighting, an inability to reach the working classes, or other failures. But it is also the case, perhaps most important of all, that Mubarak had systematically ensured, over the decades of his rule, that the conditions for developing a successful liberal political party simply did not exist.

The Muslim Brotherhood had fared a bit better — it had a genuine party machine, political candidates, and a base of public support — but as Morsi’s disastrous administration showed, those are only necessary conditions for forming a viable party, not sufficient ones for governing.

Mubarak had ensured, over the decades of his autocratic rule, that basic institutions were weak or missing in Egypt. Yet when his regime fell, we were all shocked — shocked! — to discover that Morsi couldn’t, in his 12 months in power, muster those institutions either.

The story of the Arab Spring is one of weak states imploding

Assad protest 2012

Protesters burn images of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at an April 9, 2012, protest. (John Cantlie/Getty Images)

A similar dynamic played out in most of the other Arab Spring countries — with even worse results.

In Libya, for instance, Muammar Qaddafi had gone to even greater lengths to weaken institutions such that none was strong enough to challenge him. It was, according to theInternational Crisis Group, “a regime centred on himself and his family; that played neighbourhoods and groups against one another; failed to develop genuine national institutions; and deliberately kept the national army weak to prevent the emergence of would-be challengers.”

So when Qaddafi’s regime fell, there was little left of the Libyan state. The country collapsed into conflict and today is mired in a civil war involving two rival governments and countless militant organizations, including ISIS.

In Syria, the military is strong and has largely remained loyal to Bashar al-Assad. But Assad had engineered the military not primarily as an external security force to guard the borders, but rather as an instrument of sectarian rule, staffing it with Alawites who would remain loyal to the regime. The result is that when Assad ordered the military to fire on unarmed protesters — orders that many militaries might have refused — some of the troops complied, while others defected to help begin an armed rebellion.

And so the Arab Spring protests in Syria have led to the worst of both worlds: the preservation of a brutal dictatorship that still holds substantial territory and attacks civilians, but also a power vacuum in territory that Assad lost, which has proved to be fertile ground for ISIS and other extremists. It has, of course, been a disaster for Syrian civilians.

Is Tunisia the exception that proves the rule?

Tunisia protest 2011

A January 2011 protest in Tunis. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

There was one Arab Spring country whose institutions weren’t hollowed out prior to its revolution: Tunisia. It turns out that it was the only country to emerge from the Arab Spring with anything approaching a real democracy.

Although there have been moments of serious crisis, including the murder of two liberal politicians in 2013, Tunisia has thus far stayed the course of its political transition. Its first post-revolutionary government remained quite stable throughout its term, and although it eventually lost public support, that resulted in a defeat at the ballot box in 2014’s free and fair elections, rather than another revolution or coup.

Explaining the success of Tunisia’s revolution necessarily involves some unseemly Monday morning quarterbacking. But Tunisia did have one advantage over its neighbors that seem to have made a crucial difference: Its civil society institutions were far, far stronger.

That meant that when the country faced a political crisis following the 2013 assassinations, and when initial attempts to draft a new constitution broke down, there were other institutions within the country that were strong enough to prevent a descent into violence or state collapse.

Tunisia’s largest trade union, its business organization, its lawyers association, and a leading human rights organization formed, in 2013, a “national dialogue quartet” that successfully brokered talks between rival political factions. Their ability to steer the political system toward consensus defused political tensions, supported the successful drafting of a new constitution, and paved the way for 2014’s historic elections. In 2015, the quartet was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of its work.

Tunisia’s story is, yes, one of brave protesters and noble-minded individual Tunisian leaders, but it’s also one of strong institutions and civil society that allowed those individuals to succeed.

That’s not a particularly emotionally compelling story. As a former lawyer, I know all too well that no one has ever written a revolutionary ballad romanticizing the heroism of a lawyers association’s participation in a series of meetings, and I suspect no one ever will. But without lawyers and trade unions and NGOs willing to step in to do the dull work of civil society, it’s not clear that Tunisia would be the success story we consider it today.

Institutional weakness isn’t as exciting a topic as evil dictators or heroic protesters — but it’s far more important

Ben Ali protest photo

A protester waves a defaced photo of former Tunisian dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

The lesson to draw from this is not that it would have been “better” for Egypt to keep Mubarak, Libya to keep Qaddafi, or Syria to keep Assad. Rather, it’s that by the time these countries got to the moment of choosing to keep or depose these leaders, the game was already lost. The governments were already so brittle and institutions so weakened that any outcome would be bad.

The lesson here is that although rigid autocracies often like to advertise themselves as a regrettable but necessary way to ensure stability, they’re actually drivers of instability. They are only ever buying their regimes temporary stability today by mortgaging their future security.

The primary question we should be asking after the failures of the Arab Spring is not whether more should have been done after 2011 to bolster transitional governments, or whether we should have chosen to simply preserve the dictatorships. The question we should be asking is why and how we allowed those dictatorships, over the decades before the 2011 revolutions came, to hollow out their states so completely that the Arab Spring was all but assured to bring chaos regardless of the world’s response.

It was Qaddafi’s brutal and ruthless regime that paved the way for Libya’s eventual collapse into civil war, and Mubarak’s shortcomings that left Egypt vulnerable to a coup by a mass-murdering general. And Bashar al-Assad is still proving every day that he was and remains the most terrible danger to the Syrian people, both in his own wholesale slaughter of innocent civilians and in his regime’s catastrophic failures that opened up space for ISIS’s own brutality and violence.

That’s not the exciting, emotionally compelling message that anyone craves. Brave young protesters aren’t going to take to the streets waving banners demanding judicial reform or civil society groups that can one day support a slow, incremental process of change. Hollywood isn’t going to make any summer blockbusters about political negotiations that succeed because respected pillars of the community convince stakeholders to adopt a consensus-based approach. And political candidates aren’t going to win applause with debate zingers about the importance of institutions to American foreign policy.

It’s far easier to call for a dictator’s downfall than to pressure for boring, unsexy policies that anticipate such a downfall years in the future and look for ways to ensure a smooth and uneventful transition.

But it’s a story worth paying attention to. The Arab Spring nations aren’t the only countries with brittle autocratic governments that could suddenly and catastrophically collapse. This is a problem we will face again.

 

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