Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category
Bill Gates: Hurricane Killer?
It may sound like the twisted plot of a comic book or the ramblings of a James Bond villain, but this week’s oddest tech story is based on a patent filed by Bill Gates himself — controlling the weather. Bill Gates and a litany of other inventors have come together to form a plan to “kill hurricanes” while they’re over open ocean and before they can hit land and wreak havoc.
Gates’ idea sounds simple enough — send barges to pull cold deep ocean water up to the surace to create a virtual road block that will weaken or even dissipate the savage forces of hurriances. Why would this work? Hurricanes, as you may remember from sixth grade science class, get their power from warm ocean waters — so cooling the water around and in front of a hurricane, theoretically, should lessen the power of that tropical storm, and potentially make it go away for good.
Five U.S. Patent and Trade Office applications, which were made public this July 9, indicate that Gates’ plan is to slow hurricanes by pumping that cold water directly in their paths, using giant barges. If the patents are issued (or “legally recognized”), Gates and his co inventors would enjoy 18 years of legal rights to the unique hurricane killing idea. This isn’t exactly pseudo science — one of Gates co inventors is the venerable climate scientist (and sometime environmental activist) Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution of Washington.
A hurricanes power is easy to see — just look at the deadly intensity of Hurricanes Katrina or Rita, which wreaked havoc on the Gulf Coast in 2005 and 2006. The patents described by Gates and his group indicate that a strategic positioning of barges with turbine engines would use various methods to chill sea surfaces. This isn’t exactly a new idea for Gates — the idea was first floated by the software magnate sometime last year — and would use “atmospheric management, weather management, hurricane suppression, hurricane prevention, hurricane intensity modulation, and hurricane deflection” to prevent future disasters like the one that nearly wiped out New Orleans.
According to various patent experts, the scope of this hurriance stomping idea is so large that the patents may sit in patent hell for years. An issue this complex isn’t going to be rushed through the patent office. Scanning the web for various news sources on the issue, it is clear that no one associated with Gates or Ken Caldeira are willing to release a statement. Specifically, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Institution have declined to make any comment on the patent plans.
An interesting name is being floated for the venture — Big Hurricane Suck. Before you go making jokes about what a great band name that would be, understand that Gates and his co inventors are quite serious about the idea. In fact, the idea is being worked on through Microsoft’s Intellectual Ventures Lab, a think tank founded by former Microsoft executives (like Gates) to think up and develop new technologies to benefit humanity. According to Intellectual Ventures Lab, the Big Hurricane Suck isn’t a “Plan A or Plan B scenario”, but more like a last ditch effort in the face of a deadly hurriance. Writing in Intellectual Ventures Lab blog, a co inventor of the patent says that “Big Hurricane Suck would be used when humans decide that we have exhausted all of our behavior changing and alternative energy options and need to rely on mitigation technologies.”
Hurricane experts aren’t giggling at this idea — in fact, Kerry Emanuel of the Massacusetts Institute of Technology (who is a hurricane expert) had this to say — “The bottom line here is that if enough pumps are deployed, it is reasonable to expect some diminution of hurricane power.” According to Emanuel, lowering the sea surface temperature by as little as 4.5 degrees directly under the eye of a hurricane would literally kill the storm. The one downside to Gates’ plan, according to Emanuel, is that Big Hurricane Suck would have to be performed on a “massive scale”. Who knows how many turbine powered barges would have to be employed — but at least the plan is feasible.
The technology is built around the concept that ocean water gets colder and colder the deeper you go, even reaching below freezing temperatures of 28 degrees as little as 500 feet below the surface. Remember that salty water won’t freeze at the traditional 32 degrees.
The patents specifically mention sail powered barges, with pumps as long as 500 feet, moving warm water down to the depths and bringing cold water back up. If you cool the water in a region that is in the known path of a hurricane (according to the patent, this would mean about 60 square miles of ocean), the hurricane could be slowed by a category of wind speed per 60 square miles. Unfortunately, according to computer modeling included in the patent application, the path of the hurricane won’t be directly affected, just the strength.
So why are hurricanes such a problem? The National Weather Service tells us that in an average storm year, six major hurricanes will develop in the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean or Gulf of Mexico between June 1st and November 30th. Looking back over the last 100 years, the annual cost in damages to the USA averages $10 billion, which may sound like a lot until you learn the impact of individual storms. Back in 2005, Hurricane Katrina killed around 2,000 people and caused more than $81 billion in damages — and that’s a single storm.
Will Bill Gates soon be known as the man that killed hurricanes? If he has his way, and if Big Hurricane Suck can be implemented, that may be his biggest legacy.
Why is the Cash for Clunkers program controversial?
After writing about the so called “Cash for Clunkers” program a few weeks ago when it was announced, I was stunned to find out that there was a contingent of people who were against the program. Some people are using it to make a case against the entire Obama administration and their economic policies — still others point to this piece of legislation as unneccessary government subsidizing. As usual, both sides have valid points.
You know about the “Cash for Clunkers” program if you’ve had the news on the past week or so — the Federal government has decided to hand out vouchers of different amounts to people for trading in their old or inefficient cars for newer models with better gas mileage. It is a sort of “fleet modernization” that is unparalleled in American history.
First, a positive sign for the American economy — nearly half of the vehicles sold to this date under the “Cash for Clunkers” buyer incentive program put money in the coffers of General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co and Chrysler. That’s right — the big three automakers performed way above average among people purchasing a new car with the government incentive money.
Other information about how the “Clunker” program has fared so far — small passenger cars accounted for 60 percent of the nearly 90,00 sales during the first week of the program, this according to numbers reported to the government by various retail dealers through this past Saturday. It is a good sign that Americans are looking smaller in terms of their vehicles — smaller cars are generally more fuel efficient. So far, the top selling car among buyers using the incentive program is the Ford Focus.
This represents the first major assessment of how the program is working out at the consumer level. Remember that some consumers are offered a voucher of $4,500 to trade in those clunker vehicles for more efficient models. It is good news that Americans are putting their faith back in American cars. And remember when everyone on Capitol Hill was shouting about those “big 3″ manufacturers being a major piece of the American economy? Guess what — the program’s working for them.
According to Obama administration officials, the “Cash for Clunkers” incentive will prove to be a major economic stimulator during a nasty recession. Those some officials are putting heavy pressure on the Senate to approve a proposed $2 billion extension of the program by the end of this week. Without the additional money, says Obama and company, the program will die on the vine. Obama’s already won half of the battle — the House of Representatives voted in support of the extension package late last Friday. We’ll have to wait to hear what the Senate thinks about an extension — that chamber won’t consider the extension measure until the middle of this week.
Those who oppose the “Clunkers” program think of it as another form of the bank bailouts that caused so much controversy last year. You can tell them until you’re blue in the face that “Cash for Clunkers” isn’t anywhere near as expensive a program for the taxpayers, but they will cling to their “subsidization” argument. $1 billion might sound like a huge incentive program, but the payouts to financial institutions amounted to $2.5 trillion and climbing. These same detractors will admit that the program has caused renewed auto sales and put people in the doors of dealerships. They’ll admit that the timing of the incentive program was perfect for struggling auto manufacturers.
What they’ll also tell you is that some recent analysis made of the program by non partisan economics forecaster suggests that the program will have no noticeable impact on the actual number of car sales. In other words, these were car sales that didn’t depend on the voucher — rather, these vouchers hit some consumers when they needed it most, when their older less fuel efficient cars needed replacing anyway.
The “Cash for Clunkers” program is also being cited as a perfect example of the Obama administration’s lack of understanding about the economy — critics say that “Cash for Clunkers” borrows money from one source in order to stimulate a bit of economic activity — and even worse, that this stimulation “borrows growth” from the economic future. In short, critics of “Clunkers” warn that your future tax hikes will pay for your current “new car voucher”.
What Is Solar Power?
Solar power is energy that comes from the Earth’s Sun. When scientists and ecologists speak about harnessing solar energy, they talk about finding technologies that collect solar rays and store that energy, converting it for use in heating homes and energizing the batteries which power everything from cars to flashlights. You might be wondering what “solar rays” are.
What Are Solar Rays?
The Sun produces solar rays through the process of nuclear fusion. The same process which explodes hydrogen bombs also power the vast energies of the stars. Only a tiny fraction of the heat and light put off by the Sun ever hits Earth, but if we could build technologies to harness the solar rays that do reach Earth’s surface, the human race could solve all of our energy needs.
In fact, the Sun already is the source of virtually all of the energy stored on the planet (besides the tiny amount of energy from other stars). This energy is stored in the form of the coal, oil, and natural gas we burn, as well as the calories found in the plants and animals we eat.
The problem is that collecting the energy stored in fossil fuels like coal and petroleum requires whole industries, while the burning of these fossil fuels to release the energy stored creates massive amounts of air and environmental pollution. To be able to catch solar rays and convert it into clean, efficient energy is a much better proposition.
Why Isn’t Solar Power Used More?
So you might be asking why our civilization doesn’t ditch fossil fuels and switch entirely to solar powered technologies. We don’t have the technological advancement yet to harness solar energies as cheaply as we can mine for coal and drill for oil and natural gas. That’s only going to happen when methods of capturing ultraviolet rays and powering our cities and transportation systems get cheaper, or the scarcity of our fossil fuels drive up prices so high that solar power because a feasible alternative.
You might ask why governments and private interests invest so much in perfecting solar power technology, if it’s more expensive than oil. Good investments in technology pay off over time, even if they don’t at first. The materials used to build and implement solar technology is too expensive right now, but working every day scientists and engineers work with those materials is another day closer to finder cheaper ways to produce them. Consider the rapid advances in aviation from the 1920s to the 1940s, as new and better materials–and better designs–came into usage.
Rapid Advances in Technology
As another example, look at the advances the “space race” and the lunar landings yielded. You might say that the space program is or was a waste of time, money, and resources, but exploring that little bit of space we’ve explored created much more rapid advances in satellite technology, telecommunications, and computer science. Every time you log onto your computer, every time you dial up on your cell phone, and every time you watch a sporting event live from the other side of the world, you are benefitting from the advances in technology made from public and private investments in technology.
So eventually, some genius is going to figure out a way to make solar power the cheapest energy science on the planet, and that will revolutionize the world economy, along with how we look (and cope) with a host of other social and geopolitical issues. Harnessing solar power and finding a cheaper, cleaner alternative to fossil fuels might happen tomorrow or next year, or it might be 20 years down the line, but it is going to happen–possibly before our supply of cheap oil runs out.
Solar Power in the Future
Who can say where the future of solar power lies? Science fiction writers have proposed technologies that seem outlandish by our scientific standards, such as the “Dyson sphere”, a technological sphere built around an entire star, so that a sci-fi civilization traps every single bit of light and stellar energy escaping from the star. I imagine our technologists will find less dramatic, more practical solutions to our energy crisis, but you can bet that harnessing “solar power” is going to be at the forefront of our energy solutions in the 21st century.
- Solar Garden Lights
- Solar Yard Lights
- What Is Green Energy?
- Are Light Bulbs Bad for the Environment?
- What Are Windmills and How Do They Work?
- Earth Day Coloring Pages
How Does Soap Work?
There’s a complex chemical in our homes that we use daily with little regard to what it is or how it works — soap. This substance seems simple. Just rub it on your hands or pour it into a washing machine and instantly make something clean. But using soap can be important, for example, if you want to prevent boils.
The Basics of Soap
Soap is the name we give any blend of sodium or potassium-based “salts” of fatty acids. When you think of the word “salt”, don’t think of the stuff on the kitchen table — in chemistry terms, a “salt” is a compound that forms when acids become chemically neutralized. These compounds are produced when fats undergo a process called “hydrolysis”. This process is known as saponification, or soap-making.
Each molecule of the soap on your kitchen counter or under the bathroom sink contains a long chain of hydrocarbons (known as the “tail” of the molecule) and a chunky”‘head” made of carboxyl acids. Look at the structure of a molecule of soap and you’ll be reminded of a tadpole.
How Does Soap Clean Things?
When it is introduced to water, the sodium or potassium ions of the soap float away freely, leaving behind an oppositely charged “head”. To explain how this works as a cleaning agent, think of putting soap into dirty water.
When you put soap into dirty water it is easy to see its emulsifying properties. We call soap an emulsifier because of its ability to disperse liquids into each other, especially for its ability to mix water with another liquid that normally wouldn’t mix well. You know how oil doesn’t mix well with water? The use of a soap will help suspend oil or dirt so it can be washed away with water.
Seems complicated, right?
Remember that negatively-charged molecule we talked about? It turns out that the “head” of a soap molecule undergoes some big changes when it contacts water. The other part of the molecule (the hydrocarbon “tail”) does not change in the presence of water.
What happens next is pretty cool — the various “tails” of the soap molecules come together to form “micelles” which are like tiny spheres of negatively-charged ions, with hydrocarbons inside them. The bottom line is that these micelles are negatively-charged and push away from each other, allowing them to stay suspended in water.
Getting Rid of Grease and Oil
Certain compounds are insoluble in water — grease and oil are two of these that we combat with soap all the time.
Dirty oils (when mixed with soap) are broken up by the soapy micelles. Interestingly enough, this forms a different compound much like the original micelle that traps the dirty molecules in the center of the compound.This trapping of dirt and oil is what makes soap turn us squeaky clean — the oils and dirt can be easily washed away by plain water which would not normally be strong enough to get rid of the grease and oil.
The Dirty Side of Soap
Natural soaps are some the best cleansers we have, but these natural products come with a few downsides. Remember that natural soaps are “salts” of pretty mild acid compounds. This means that mineral acids are used to form natural soap from fat, and some of these fatty acids are not soluble in sodium or potassium and form “soap scum”.
This also explains why tap water (tap water is pretty much “acidic” everywhere in the US) is not a really effective medium for natural soap. Another form of water that doesn’t work well with natural soap is hard water, or water that naturally contains chemical compounds like calicum, iron, or magnesium. This is why it is hard to lather up in hard water.
The next time you dirty a plate and slide it into the dishwasher without a moment’s thought, think of the complex chemical reaction happening inside of soap. Without the interaction of soap and water, we’d all be a lot less healthy and a lot stinkier.
This is part of a series of blog posts we’re publishing about How Stuff Works. The other posts in this series include:
- How Does E-Mail Work?
- How Does Twitter Work?
- How Does Gravity Work?
- How Does Unemployment Work?
- How Does Wi-Fi Work?
- How Does the Eye Work?
- How Does Rent-to-Own Work?
- How Does a GPS Work?
- How Does Electricity Work?
Acid Rain Basics
Acid rain is a rainfall that is unnaturally acidic in nature, usually caused by the inclusion of nitric and sulfuric acids from the emissions of chemicals from industrial plants in the region.
When nitrous oxides and sulfur oxide are pumped into the atmosphere, those chemical compounds react with oxygen and water in the air, creating clouds that contain nitric acid and sulfuric acid. The next time it rains, the rain water will come down as “acid rain”.
Most acid rain is produced from gases released by the burning of fossil fuels. Roughly 2/3rds of the acid rain in the United States is produced by the burning of coal in industrial plants. This is why acid rain appears in regions that are heavily industrialized with coal-burning plants.
History of Acid Rain
Acid rain was first discovered in 1852, roughly a 60 to 70 after the Industrial Revolution began in England and during the period that is now known as the Second Industrial Revolution (1850), when industrialization picked up pace in advanced countries. This discovery noted a mere mention and the phenomenon was not studied for over a century, when the much heavier industrialization of the 20th century began to create more common and more widespread instances of acid rain.
Scientists in the 1960′s and 1970′s began to notice the acidic rainfall in industrial regions, as well as lakes that contained no life. With studies of the effects of acid rain, environmentalists and ecologists began to note the aquatic life of lakes saturated with acid rain died from unsafe living conditions: they were killed by the increasing levels of acid in the water.
The U.S. Congress authorized a 10-year study of acid rain in 1980. By the 1990′s, it was determined that some 5%-6% of American lakes do not sustain life due to the appearance of acidic rain.
This was followed by emissions laws to reduce CO2 and other compounds which cause acid rain. Since that time, emissions laws have been passed in 28 US states. As a result, acid rain has been reduced by roughly 65% in the most affected regions.
Does Acid Rain Harm Humans?
Studies have shown that acid rain is likely to cause harm human beings. When fine particles of something harmful to the human body enter the air and eventual enter the human body, they can cause diseases like cancer. People breathing air in areas where acid rain occurs are more likely to get cancer and other diseases.
Besides, damage to the ecosystem has harmful effects on human society. Fish are a major link in many food chains. If fish are needlessly killed, it can have a damaging effect on the entire food chain. When enough of the wrong kind of fish die, that can make the price of fish and fish products increase. When even more die, it can damage the food supply for all kinds of animals, including humans.
Where Is Acid Rain Worst?
The New England states were the ones that first noticed acid rain, but their ecosystems have improved in recent decades. New York State is heavily affected by acid rain. Other U.S. states also are affected, as is southeastern Canada.
Southeastern China and Taiwan are also affected by acid rain. Scandinavian countries have suffered from acid rain. Other places that might become trouble areas are Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the western portions of South Africa, West Africa, Sri Lanka and Southern India.
Countries where the need to develop quickly overrides environmental concerns are where acid rain is most likely to appear in the future.
Where will this month’s solar eclipse be visible?
This Wednesday, June 22, 2009, a large portion of the population of Earth is in for quite a show.
The longest total solar eclipse of the 21st century is about to take place — specifically, this Wednesday, with time around 2:35:21 UTC. This will be the longest totality event until June 13 2132, when none of us will be alive to view its beauty — hell, it is unlikely that any of our children will be around then.
There will be no other eclipse to rival its duration for over a hundred years. This huge eclipse will last a full 6 minutes and 39 seconds, and it will reach its maximum phase around 80 miles south of the Bonin Islands in the southeast of the nation of Japan.
The eclipse, which scientists have assigned a magnitude of 1.0799, will be visible from northern India, eastern Nepal, northern Bangladesh, Bhutan, the northern tip of Union of Myanmar, central China and the Pacific Ocean, including the Ryukyu Islands, Marshall Islands and Kiribati. The totality itself will be seen by citizens of Surat, Varanasi, Patna, Thimphu, Chengdu, Chongqing, Wuhan, Hangzhou and Shanghai. A wider swath of Asia will experience a partial eclipse event — this darkening of the sky will be noticeable in the much wider path of the moon’s shadow, covering most of southeast Asia and northeast Oceania.
The lengthiest and most accessible solar eclipse of the 21st century, for the majority of the population, will stretch over half of the globe. NASA is predicting that the path of the eclipse will cover all of India and Indonesia and most of China, as well as parts of the entirety of Eastern Asia and the islands of Japan and the Pacific Ocean. While no one in the Western hemisphere will be able to see the eclipse live, NASA has come up with a few cool ways for those of us not living in the East to experience this amazing phenomenon.
First, there’s an interactive map available online that uses Google Maps to track the path of the total eclipse, though the boundaries of various partial eclipse phenomena are much, much wider. The path for what is called “totality” (the area of the world that will experience a total solar eclipse) is notable mostly because it passes through or near huge population centers in Asia — metropolises like Shanghai and Mumbai. There are also plans to broadcast video of the eclipse both in video replay and in real time over the Internet. A team of scientists and tech enthusiasts from the University of Madrid (who would normally not be able to view the largest exclipse of any of our life times, as they are not in the path of the eclipse) have set up cameras and a web presence to display the events of the eclipse for the world to see.
As of this writing, the eclipse broadcast is accessible at this website (http://om.fi.upm.es/CiclopeAstro/?locale=en).
This eclipse is generating a lot of attention, and not only because it will be the largest and most visible of any of our lifetimes. The position and magnitude of this eclipse has some scientists (but mostly end of the world paranoids) predicting massive earthquakes and tsunamis off the coast of Japan — the theory is that the tidal pull created by such a solar event will rattle the tectonic plates in the area, which are notoriously picky about being shaken about.
Tourism is also a huge even for some cities in the path of the totality — there are reports that the very small and poor Indian village of Taregana is enjoying the massive increase in tourism and influx of cash that comes with the honor of being labelled the “ideal vantage point” for viewing a total eclipse. Naturally, Chinese scientists disagree that Taregana is the best spot for viewing the totality, claiming instead that parts of China are the best place to be. In actuality, the best spot to view the totality event is probably the island of Iwo Jima, since the maximum duration of eclipse won’t be anywhere near the mainland of Asia.
There won’t be an eclipse like this for another 12 decades — unless you’re planning on being unfrozen in a hundred years it is unlikely there will be a more engaging eclipse event in your lifetime. If that fact alone doesn’t send you into a state of reverie and awe, you’re unlikely to be excited by any solar or space event.
What is the “cash for clunkers” program?
Even though unemployment numbers are higher than they’ve been in over twenty years, and people are watching their investments lose value faster than ever before, consumers may just get a huge break from the US government when they go to buy their next car.
It may seem counterintuitive to offer consumers a break on an item that the media would have us believe no one is buying, but let’s be real. People will always have a need for a new vehicle. To spark that interest, the Obama administration has invented an incentive, known as “cash for clunkers”, that would give consumers anywhere from $3,500 to $4,500 off the purchase of a new car — if they meet a few guidelines.
The United States House of Representatives has just approved the “cash for clunkers” legislation. This is great news, but not all that surprising — Democrats far outnumber Republicans in the House, and the legislation was expected to pass, even though Republicans seem to be doing all they can to take Obama out at the ankles. The “cash for clunkers” legislation will offer new car buyers up to $4,500 in incentives if they are willing to trade in their old model gas guzzlers for new environment friendly high mileage cars. The House voted 298-118 in favor of the bill — this represents a “yes” vote from all but nine Democrats, as well as “yes” votes from a measly 59 Republicans. It is difficult for political pundits to answer the question “Why did Republicans not back this legislation?” with anything but an anti-Obama position. However, with control of both the House and the Senate, Democrats shouldn’t have trouble passing just about whatever they want this term.
For consumers to earn “cash for clunkers”, the trade in vehicle must be rated at no more than 18 mpg in order to qualify, meaning “cash for clunkers” will benefit truck, SUV and van owners more than passenger car owners. What’s hilarious to many liberal bloggers is this — wouldn’t you say that most people who own low mileage SUVs are probably conservatives, represented in the House by the same people who attempted to keep “cash for clunkers” down? Regardless of your political opinion on the issue, you have to be optimistic about car dealers have the opportunity to churn up some business.
Further qualifications exist. If you’re buying a car that gets at least 4 mpg more, you’ll instantly get a $3,500 voucher — but it gets better. Pick a car that averages 10 mpg more than your old clunker, and you’ll earn an additional $1,000 credit. The total — $4,500 towards the purchase of your new gas sipping car.
The measure will now move directly to the Senate, where it is expected to pass. If the legislation passes the Senate, it will head back to President Barack Obama for his approval and signature. Obama has been all but a cheerleader for “cash for clunkers”. The program is expected to go into effect within 30 days of Obama’s anticipated signature, but will not be retroactive for car purchases made before that 30 days begins later this year.
There are some restrictions built into “cash for clunkers”. Trade-in cars must have been under insurance at some point during this past year, and trade in cars that are 25 years old or older are not eligible. In part, this will keep people from attempting to trade in any old rust trap they have sitting on cinder blocks in the front yard. The cash for clunkers program is not permanent — the current language clearly designates the program to last for exactly one year from the time of its inception, or “until Federal funding runs out”.
The House says it will spend about $4 billion that had been expected to be allocated toward a now unncessary war supplemental spending bill, rather than using previously allocated dollars. This could be the cause of conservative uproar — unfortunately, the money that was intended to move toward the military’s supplemental spending bill has been made obsolete by the approaching end to major Iraqi occupation.
Don’t worry about dealing with unwilling or scam happy car dealers, either. Dealers will be required to participate in the program by the government, and will also be required to prove that traded in vehicles have been crushed or shredded, and not resold to consumers.
What is Freecycle.org?
The Freecycle Network is made up of nearly 5,000 member groups with over six and a half million members around the world. It is a grassroots nonprofit ecological movement made up of people who are giving and receiving free stuff right in their own communities. The purpose of freecycle.org is to encourage people to reuse things they may throw away — or as the website puts it, to “keep good stuff out of landfills”.
Each local group is moderated by a local volunteer. Membership is free.
To sign up, find your community on freecycle.org or browse through their various groups with their easy to use “Browse Groups” options on the mainpage.
Their mission statement breaks down the group’s goal better than I ever could: “”Our mission is to build a worldwide gifting movement that reduces waste, saves precious resources & eases the burden on our landfills while enabling our members to benefit from the strength of a larger community.”
By calling the recycling of used goods “gifting”, the owners of freecycle.org have effectively rebranded the re-use movement. When some people think of recycling, they think of dumpster diving hippies with dreadlocks and hummus breath — but if you call it “gifting”, you’re taking the stigma out of saving the Earth.
I’ve just recently freecycled for the first time. After a move, I found myself with an extra metal bed frame — you know the type, the cheap metal frame with wheels that simply won’t fit anywhere in your apartment. I wanted rid of the thing, but I didn’t want to toss all that metal into the trash or attempt to “recycle” it at one of the scrap metal centers in town. So through freecycle I found a college student who just recently moved out of the dorm and needed a bed frame. In exchange, I took his old bicycle off his hands. While it isn’t a brand new bike, it gets me where I need to go, and at zero cost. This kind of exchange is perfect for such a massive consumerist culture
Freecycle.org started out as a project of an organization called RISE Incorporated, a nonprofit corporation, to promote waste reduction in Tucson, Arizona. In fact, Freecycle.org is still registered as an Arizona non profit. RISE subsequently handed it over to the project leader, Deron Beal, who happens to be a distant relative of mine. Beal set up the first Freecycle e-mail group for the citizens of Tucson. The concept has since spread to over 85 countries, with thousands of local groups and millions of members.
Each local group currently exists on Yahoo Groups as a mailing list. Volunteer moderators keep things kosher, reflecting the volunteer spirit of freecycle.otg. The Freecycle Network, known as TFN, encourages the formation of new groups, which are of course subject to approval by people known as “regional New Group Approvers” or NGAs.
Groups approved by TFN are then listed at the official website. They have the benefit of using the TFN name and logo, and are subject to rules enforced by a structure of global and regional Group Outreach Assistance volunteers. As you can tell, TFN is well organized.
TFN originally planned to move a custom designed, centralized site in 2004, but the project moved very slowly, mostly because of a shortage of skilled volunteer labor. By the year 2008, Freecycle went live with a beta version of a centralized, custom site at freecycle.org. As of May 2009, all new groups must be started on www.Freecycle.org’s new group system. This system gives TFN a massive amount of control over the individual groups. TFN is run much like a commune or a government organization. Moderators of existing Yahoo groups have the choice of remaining on Yahoo groups or moving their groups to the freecycle.org site. There doesn’t seem to be much benefit to staying at Yahoo groups, considering the centralized location at freecycle and the huge amount of traffic there.
TFN has since grown rapidly into a global organization of over four thousand local chapters, and first passed the 2 million member mark in February 2006. The original idea of TFN has been copied and altered by hundreds of similar groups around the world, much to the delight of the founders of TFN.
If you’re looking to get rid of a piece of furniture, electrical equipment, or even a large number of cardboard boxes, consider “gifting” these items through Freecycle.org. You’ll be doing your community and your plant a huge favor.
- How to Simplify Your Life
- How to Compost
- Healthy Breakfast Ideas
- What is the Zone Diet?
- Green Tea and Weight Loss
What is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also known as the Pacific Trash Vortex or the Eastern Garbage Patch, is a massive amount of floating trash in the north central Pacific Ocean that is rumored to be twice the size of the state of Texas. Specifically, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is composed of mostly plastic waste that is held suspended near or on the surface of the Pacific Ocean by currents.
The Patch gained notoriety when it was “discovered” by Charles Moore, an ocean researcher and sea captain who may have been the first to sail through it and document his findings. Charles Moore was returning to his home in California from a sailing race when he found himself mired in a massive patch of floating garbage. Since Moore’s discovery, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch has been a major piece of the marine pollution puzzle, often cited in reports about ocean pollution. The Patch was recently featured on Oprah, and though scientists and environmentalists have known about its existence since the late 1980s, it is likely that most Americans had no idea that sitting just to the west of their country was a giant pile of trash floating in the Pacific. Since Oprah’s discussion about the Pacific Trash Vortex, it has become a popular web search term and has appeared more often in the news.
Charles Moore determined that much of the waste is in the form of “tiny plastic chips”, and postulated that the forces of currents, waves and sun wear down larger pieces of plastic and convert them into tiny fragments which are even more dangerous to wildlife because of their easy to swallow size. Moore also discovered that these tiny chips of plastic outnumber naturally occuring plankton by a ratio as high as six to one.
The existence of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch was predicted by oceanographers and environmentalists as early as 1985. Researchers looking into concentrations of trash found in places like Alaska and the Sea of Japan proposed that somewhere in the north Pacific there must be an even larger concentration of plastic and trash that was “feeding” the pollution found in other places. Once Charles Moore discovered material evidence of the Trash Vortex, he immediately reported to marine biologists and oceanographers (like Curtis Ebbesmeyer) who began to document the Eastern Garbage Patch, taking pictures and trying to determine its source.
While it is not the only area of concentrated marine debris in the world’s oceans, the Eastern Garbage Patch is the most notorious and probably the largest. And much like those other ocean based garbage piles, the Pacific Trash Vortex is believed to have formed over time as a result of marine pollution gathered into a mass by the action of oceanic currents.
The garbage patch occupies a mostly stationary region of the North Pacific Ocean bound by the “horse latitudes”. The rotational pattern created by wind and current conditions in the North Pacific Gyre sucks up waste material from across the entirety of the North Pacific, including the coastal waters off North America and Japan, and push this debris towards the center of the current zone. As material is captured in the currents, wind-driven surface currents gradually trap floating debris in the region.
The actual size of the Patch is unknown, but estimates of its size range from 700,000 square kilometers to more than 15 million square kilometers — to put this in perspective, that would mean that the Patch takes up between 0.4% and 8% of the size of the entire Pacific Ocean. Oceanographers suggest that the area probably consists of well over 100 million tons of plastic and other waste products.
Adding to the hype surrounding the Eastern Garbage Patch, a group of conservationists and scientists will soon launch a mission to map and run tests on sections of the floating garbage dump. The mission will depart from San Francisco sometime in June with the express purpose of exploring and learning more about the constantly shifting patch of plastic waste and other pollutants. Estimates suggest the Patch is made up of six million tons of discarded plastic alone.
Members of the expedition will be the first to attempt to capture a portion of the Patch and recycle the waste into a monument to “throwaway living” to raise awareness of the problem of ocean pollution. This massive toxic soup of waste went undiscovered until the late 1990s, because of the geography surrounding the majority of the Patch. Sailors tend to avoid oceanic gyres because of the constant presence of high pressure systems (what sailors call “doldrums”) which lack normal wind and currents.
Hopefully the expedition into the heart of the Eastern Garbage Patch will eliminate some of the mystery surrounding the waste vortex — what size is it? what is it composed of? what is its impact on the local ecology? — and lead ecologists and scientists to think of a potential solution.
The Worlds Best Places to Live 2009
As the world economy continues to slump and health scares such as the swine flu terrify millions, many people are becoming increasingly interested in the world’s best places to live in 2009. Fortunately, Mercer Consultings releases a yearly list ranking the world’s best places to live out of 420 global cities. A score is given to each city on the list, with New York City considered the base (with a score of 100). Factors used to determine ratings include:
- Law enforcement
- Strength of the economy
- Quality of health care
- Restrictions on free speech and personal freedom
- Sports activities
- Relationships with neighboring countries
- School quality
- Cost and availability of housing
- Natural disasters
- Access to grocery markets
- Infrastructure (including public transportation, traffic congestion, mail service, available water and electricity, and more)
European cities ranked among the world’s best places to live in 2009, with seven being in the Top 10. The highest-ranked American cities were Honolulu, Hawaii (#29) and San Francisco, California (#30). The three lowest-ranked places to live were N’Djamena, Chad; Bangui, Central African Republic; and Baghdad, Iraq (with a score of just 14.4, compared to New York City’s base score of 100).
Below, I’m going to list the 10 cities which are currently considered the world’s best places to live in 2009. While it’s safe to assume that they scored high on most of the criteria listed above, I’m also going to throw in a few additional reasons why each city might be a pleasant place to live. If you decide to move to one of these amazing destinations, be sure and drop me a postcard or email.
Ranked as the world’s best place to live in 2009, according to the Mercer score of 108.6. Vienna is Austria’s largest city and capital, and the total population is in the range of 1.7 million.
- While it scored the top spot in 2009, it also took second place in 2008. As far back as 2001, it ranked third for quality of life.
- Conveniently located near Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Hungary.
- The economic, cultural and political capital of Austria.
- Half of the population adheres to the Roman Catholic beliefs, making it an excellent choice for people of this religion. Other religions include Jewish, Muslim, Orthodox and Protestant.
- Vienna has a large public transportation network.
- Numerous parks and gardens add to the beauty of the city.
- Renowned for its architecture, museums and theaters (including opera and classical music).
Ranked #2 on the world’s best places to live for 2009 (with a score of 108), Zurich is the cultural and commercial center of Switzerland. Having finished in first place in 2008, Zurich routinely ranks among the world’s cities with the best quality of life.
- It is often ranked as the wealthiest city in Europe.
- Zurich is among the world leaders in protecting the environment.
- The city is a hub for air traffic, roads and railways.
- A leading financial center, Zurich is also the biggest center for offshore banking. Numerous international companies make their home here.
- Zurich is home to two of the most prestigious universities in Switzerland, ETH Zurich and the University of Zurich. Both are ranked among the top 200 universities in the world.
- The city contains a number of art and history museums, including Uhrenmuseum Beyer (which documents the history of timekeeping and timekeepers). The Zurcher Opernhaus is one of the leading opera houses in Europe.
- Zurich is known for its nightlife, with a multitude of bars, clubs, restaurants, cinemas, hotels and lounges. There’s also a thriving red light district. Every August, the city hosts the internationally-known Street Parade.
Ranked third on the list of the world’s best place to live in 2009, Geneva also ranked second in 2008. The total city population is 438,177, and it is known as a center for international diplomacy and cooperation. It is sometimes known as the “Peace Capital.”
- Considered the sixth most important financial center in the world.
- Numerous international organizations make their home in Geneva, such as the Red Cross and the United Nations. Over 25,000 people are employed by these agencies alone.
- The city has a temperate climate, and locals enjoy swimming in Lake Geneva and going to the public beaches.
- An abundance of art galleries and museums are located in the city.
Considered the fourth best place to live in the world for 2009 (tied with Auckland, New Zealand). Also ranked fourth in 2008. The largest city in Western Canada and British Columbia.
- Vancouver has a low rate of unemployment, and the economy is consistently strong.
- Compared to cities in Europe, Vancouver boasts a relatively low cost of living.
- The cost of healthcare is low, and the quality is high.
- Both public schools and universities are highly regarded.
- Numerous recreational activities exist in and around the Vancouver area.
Auckland, New Zealand
Tied with Vancouver as the fourth best place to live in the world in 2009, the largest city in New Zealand finished in fifth place in 2008. This city has the largest Polynesian population in the world, and many Asians have begun to migrate there over the last two decades.
- While the city is large, the number of people are relatively small. This allows residents to live inside the city but maintain houses instead of cramped and overpriced apartments.
- Over 200,000 Auckland residents speak multiple languages, and over 55,000 speak three or more languages.
- The city enjoys a mild climate throughout the year.
- Numerous educational and employment opportunities exist.
- One of the top 25 richest cities in the world.
- Known as the “City of Sails,” Auckland’s harbor has more yachts per capita than any other city in the world (an estimated 135,000 yachts and launches).
In both 2008 and 2009, this capital city of North Rhine-Westphalia finished in sixth place in the Mercer rankings. Located on the River Rhine, the total city population is 581,858.
- Known for many yearly events, including trade and fashion fairs. One July fair in Dusseldorf draws more than 4.5 million visitors.
- The average yearly temperature is a mild 51 degrees (10.5 C).
- Known as a center for German fashion and advertising.
- Over 18 internet providers are located in the city.
- King’s Avenue has some of the most exclusive–and expensive–shopping opportunities in all of Germany.
- A major railway hub, more than 1,000 trains stop in Dusseldorf each day.
- A wide array of culture is available, including ballet, opera, political cabarets, and museums for film, art, and history.
Ranked seventh among the world’s best places to live in 2009, it also ranked seventh in 2008. The capital city of Bavaria, Germany has a total city population of 1,300,000 (making it the nation‘s third largest city). Locals often refer to Munich as “Millionendorf,” which means “village of a million people.”
- 47.4% of Munich does not belong to any religious group. This is the fastest growing segment of the city’s population.
- Munich consistently ranks in the Top 10 in regards to quality of life.
- The city’s economy is driven by publishing, technology and biotechnology.
- Low levels of environmental pollution.
- The crime rate is much smaller than other major German cities.
Ranked eighth by the Mercer survey, Frankfurt finished seventh as one of the world’s best cities to live in for 2008. The fifth-largest city in Germany, the population of Frankfurt is 662,000.
- The largest financial center in continental Europe.
- Frankfurt International Airport is one of the busiest airports in the world.
- The only German city listed as one of the world’s 10 Alpha cities.
- The Frankfurt Central Station is one of the busiest (and largest) train stations in Europe.
- Boasts the highest concentration of jobs in Germany (with 922 jobs per 1,000 residents). The Frankfurt International Airport is the largest supplier of jobs in Germany.
- The Museum Riverbank Festival is one of the largest cultural festivals in Germany, drawing more than 3 million visitors each year during a 3-day period in August.
- More than 20 museums are located on the Main Riverbank.
- Numerous places of culture and history exist, including Frankfurt Opera House, Old Opera House, Saint Paul’s Church and Saint Bartholomeus’ Cathedral.
- Has the highest number of home owners in Germany.
Ranked ninth by Mercer in both 2008 and 2009. The total city population is 962,983.
- The city market is located in the center of Bern, and fresh fruits and vegetables are available three times per week.
- The city’s size allows residents to walk almost anywhere they need to go.
- Covered walking areas allow shoppers to stay comfortable in both winter and summer.
- Citizens love to swim in the river Aare during the summer, and the free Marzili baths are also very popular.
- Many small, quaint towns are located with five minutes of Bern.
Sydney finished tenth in 2008 and 2009, making it consistently one of the world’s best places to live. This largest Australian city has 4.34 million residents and serves as the capital of New South Wales. It was also the site of the first British colony to be established in the country.
- Built around a port, Sydney is known as “The Harbour City.”
- Numerous international sporting events have been hosted in Sydney, including the 2000 Summer Olympics and the 2003 Rugby World Cup.
- The Economist has ranked Sydney is the Top 10 of the world’s most livable cities.
- One of the most multicultural cities in the world.
- Of all the cities in Australia, Sydney has the highest median household income (equivalent to $42,559).
- A large variety of culture can be enjoyed in Sydney, with the most famous being the Sydney Opera House.
- Sydney is also well-known for its beaches, bays, rivers, and national parks.
Is 2012 the apocalypse?
As we get closer and closer to the year 2012, the spiritually minded and conspiracy theorists alike are growing increasingly paranoid. But why is so much noise being made about this particular year? You may have heard vague references to the “2012 apocalypse” in passing news reports or in films, but what is the basis for all this 2012 paranoia? Why do people think the apocalypse will be in 2012?
Turns out, there’s quite a few sources for the supposed coming apocalypse. From the Mayans, whose “Long Count” calendar indicates that the apocalypse will occur on December 12, 2012, to “Bible code” followers who claim to have found evidence of a 2012 apocalypse in the book of the Revelation of John, the 2012 theory comes from a wide array of sources. Though most of these prophecies are spiritual in nature, some (like the Mayan code mentioned earlier) are a blend of spiritual and secular sources. Let’s take a look at just a handful of the propecies indicating 2012 as the time of the apocalypse.
Mayan Calendar Prophecy
This is the most popular of the 2012 apocalypse stories, and the one most often referenced in the media and popular culture. The Mayan calendar is quite complex, and is broken up into units called “Kin”, “Tun”, and “Baktun”. The much hyped “13-baktun cycle” is scheduled to be completed 1,872,000 days (or 13 baktuns) after the beginning of their calendar. This period of time is the well knwon Mayan “Great Cycle” of their Long Count calendar and is equal to 5125.36 of our standard years. This is where the date of December 12, 2012 comes from, as the Mayan calendar purportedly began August 11th, 3114 BCE — do the math, and you’ll come to the same conclusion as other Mayan scholars. The “end” of the Mayan calendar is 12/12/2012. Hence the 2012 apocalypse scare.
One reason people put so much stock in the Mayan Long Count calendar is that the Mayans were extremely sophisticated mathematicians and stargazers. It is well known that Mayans understood mathematical concepts hundreds of even thousands of years before the rest of the world. The Mayans worked out the seemingly simple concept of zero by around 36 BCE. Inscriptions discovered by archaeologists show the Mayans working with complex sums up to the hundreds of millions. The Mayans also produced extremely accurate astronomical maps and notes — their charts of the movements of the moon and planets are far superior to the maps and charts of any other civilization that was working strictly from observations by the naked eye.
Because the Mayans are known to have worked out a complex and accurate calendar well before “Western civilization”, people put great faith in their 2012 apocalypse theory.
According to Hindu scripture, the “Golden Age of Krishna” is likely to start in 2012. In the “Brahma-Vaivarta Purana”, Lord Krishna tells a devotee named Ganga Devi that a Golden Age will come in the Kali Yuga – one of the four stages of development that the world goes through as part of the earth’s time cycle — a cycle described in Hindu scriptures. Lord Krishna predicted that this Golden Age will start 5,000 years after the beginning of the Kali Yuga, and will last for 10,000 years.
That may sound like sometime in the distant future, but according to some Hindu researches, the Kali Yuga began on February 18, 3102 BCE. That means there is only a difference of 12 years between the Hindu’s beginning of the Kali Yuga and the Mayan’s beginning of their “Fifth Great Cycle”. Its important to know that the ancient Hindus mainly used a lunar calendar but also used solar calendars — this throws off those of us in the West, as the ancient Hindu time system is vastly different from our own. By either solar or lunar years, we are over 5,000 years into the Kali Yuga and it is time for Lord Krishna’s prophecy to happen according to the ancient Hindu scriptures. This may not be a direct reference to 2012, but is so closely aligned to the Mayan and other prophecies, that people lump it in with other “2012 apocalypse” theories.
You may be surprised to learn that many 2012 apocalypse believers point to some NASA studies as evidence of the coming endtimes. NASA has released a study of the sun that includes predictions about solar flares, sunspots, and other solar interference that could have a catastrophic effect on life here on Earth. According to the report:
“Many forecasters believe Solar Cycle 24 will be big and intense. Peaking in 2011 or 2012, the cycle to come could have significant impacts on telecommunications, air traffic, power grids and GPS systems. In this age of satellites and cell phones, the next solar cycle could make itself felt as never before.”
Some see the fact that this new solar outburst will arrive in 2012 as more than a coincidence — maybe it is further evidence of a catastrophic event in 2012, something that ushers in the 2012 apocalypse.
Nostradamus’ 2012 Prophecy
Some people falsely believe that Nostradamus predicted the end of the world in 2012 — they point to a “lost book” of Nostradamus predictions supposedly discovered in a Roman library, in which there are prophesies pointing to 2012 as the time of the third world war and all kinds of other destruction. Unfortunately for these believes, Nostradamus would have to contradict his own prophesy in order for this to be true, as in his own previously published material there exists a prophesy identifying world events occuring up to 3000 CE, hundreds of years after 2012. The Nostradamus “prophesy” of 2012 is almost certainly a hoax.
Regardless of how you feel about the 2012 apocalypse hubbub, it is certainly an interesting coincidence that many traditions and prophecies seem to point to 2012 as the endtime. There are many thousands of people who are preparing for the end of the world, many who have quit their jobs and completely rearranged their lives, so strong is their belief that the end of the world is nigh. Keep in mind — as many prophecies as there are about 2012, there are twice as many about other dates, including many dates that have come and gone.
by John Clifton Yesterday, I read the New York Post’s “100 Days, 100 Mistakes” list and found myself both amused and annoyed. So I decided to write my own “100 Days, 100 Successes” list for the first hundred days of the Barack Obama administration. The list ranges from the policy successes to personal political triumphs to successes that simply help a lot of people. I like the list, but I would be interested in hearing feedback from both sides. In no particular order, here’s 100 successes by Barack Obama and his administration in their first hundred days. I’ll start with broad concerns and narrow down to individual successes as I go. Leadership SuccessesSuccessful presidents are successful leaders. At times, that means sensing the mood of the country and seizing the opportunity. At times, that means making the unpopular decision that you know to be right. Being a good leader is making the right decision most of the time, while taking responsibility on the occasions that you don’t. So far, it looks like Barack Obama has the making of a good leader.
- Setting Expectations – While the first 100 days of the Obama presidency are important, Obama reminded Americans that the work doesn’t end there. He stated, “The first hundred days are going to be important, but it’s probably going to be the first thousand days that makes the difference.”
- Honest Assessment – Give Obama credit for being brutally honest on the future of his presidency. He admitted early on that, if his plans to turn around the U.S. economy were unsuccessful, America would have a new president in 4 years. That’s laying it on the line. Just imagine the kind of ammunition that quote will give Obama’s opponents if the U.S. economy is still sputtering in four years. And you know what? If he has failed, he deserves to lose his job in four years.
- Admitting Mistakes – When it became clear the Tom Daschle nomination would be a disaster, Obama owned up to the error by saying “I screwed up”. Can you imagine George W. Bush admitting something like that? If a president doesn’t blame the press constantly, he might learn from his mistakes.
- Delivering on Change – Argue what you want about whether Barack Obama’s changes are for the better or not. We’ll see in time who’s write. But Barack Obama campaigned on the need for change and was elected to be an engine of change in Washington. In that respect, Barack Obama has brought many changes in policy. In that respect, Obama he’s been remarkably successful. Let’s discuss those changes.
- Signing the Economic Stimulus Package – The stimulus package meant to give tax reductions to most Americans and economic aid to states was signed into law. One consequence of the Bush tax cuts was that much of the tax burden has been shifted to states over the years, hurting public education and infrastructure projects. Despite the grandstanding of Republican governors, most states need these federal funds.
- Staying Calm and Confident – President Obama appears to be calm and confident, seeming like a reasonable and moderate politician. Conservative attempts to portray him as a radical socialist have fallen on largely deaf ears. As a consequence, the Republican Party has had to whip up their base to get their arguments heard, and this makes them look like the radicals.
- Stock Market Is Stabilized – For those who predicted the Dow Jones would fall to 6000, the first 100 days of the Obama Administration have seen a steadying of the stock market. The Dow Jones Average sat at 8281.22 to open Inauguration Day, and there was widespread consternation of a record inaugural drop of over 300 points the day Obama was sworn in. As I write this, I’m looking and the Dow Jones is sitting at 8,250.48 So after months of sinking numbers in the final days of the Bush Administration and fears of a panic on Wall Street that a socialist has taken over, the panic on Wall Street seems to have ended – which is a sign that Obama is winning over the money men to the idea he isn’t bad for business.
- Expanding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program – The 1997 SCHIP law provided federal matching funds to help uninsured children and pregnant women, but two proposed expansions were vetoed by President Bush. Barack Obama helped 4,000,000 children get insurance by signing an expansion of S-CHIP.
- Health Care Reform Promises – Barack Obama also gained the approval of a budget resolution that the Congress will work on major health care reform laws in 2009. Once again, this follows Obama’s campaign pledge to work on much-needed health care reform.
- The White House Office of Health Care Reform – Taken alongside the promise to have a health care reform bill in front of Congress by October 15, 2009, President Obama created the White House Office of Health Care Reform. This signals a clear decision to address the health care crisis in America.
- Listening Tours – Like in the Obama Campaign, the president has announced he will send officials on listening tours to discuss with American citizens their hopes, dreams and fears about the American future. Unlike the previous administration, which often seemed unwilling to listen to what the average citizen thought about their country, the listening tours are a sign that the Obama administration will be responsive to the cares and concerns of average US citizens.
Political SuccessesThere’s a difference in good politics and good policies. The Bush administration was great at winning elections and winning debates, though their policies were frequently awful. It looks to me like Obama is a skilled politician, as evidenced by his unlikely election and the victories listed below. Here’s hoping he has as good of an eye for successful policy making, too. So far, I’m happy with most of his decisions, as you’ll see below.
- The Inaugural Speech – It wasn’t one of his best performances, but President Obama’s Inaugural Speech had a sense of gravity and seriousness that set out for the American people the scope of the challenges we face. Americans have a sense that they finally have a serious leader (for the first time in a while) in President Obama.
- Retaking the Oath of Office – For that group of knuckleheads who would claim he wasn’t really president because he flubbed the oath, going through this formality was probably the right thing to do. End the debate.
- The Budget Vote – Some suggested that the $3 billion-plus budget passed by Congress wasn’t entirely a victory for President Obama, but he got his way on all of his major budget priorities. It’s as simple as that.
- The Bailout Plan – Americans want this economic mess cleaned up sooner rather than later. Simply by having his own bailout plan, that forces the Republicans to oppose American recovery. The recovery plans have become a debate on more or less government action, and while the Republicans are sticking to first principles in opposing a government bailout of Wall Street, they are simply marginalizing themselves and looking like they have their heads in the sand.
- Earmarks Done Right – Contrary to the opinion that earmarks are necessarily evil, President Obama referenced the “good” earmarks in a speech. Earmarks are sometimes needed to fund necessary projects in certain districts of the country and they are not always a measure of corruption.
- Swine Flu Response – The Obama Administration built on the post-Katrina Bush Administration preparations for disaster response by organizing a swift response to the Swine Flu scare by top-level officials like Janet Napolitano (Homeland Security) and Richard Besser (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention). This means the administration should be positioned for a quick response if the swine flu begins to affect cities in this country like it has Mexico City.
- Calling Out Rush Limbaugh – Singling out Rush Limbaugh worked even better. Limbaugh has a huge audience, enough to make him millions and millions of dollars. But most Americans think he’s radical, partisan and overblown. So when Rush Limbaugh is the face of the Republican Party, the Republican Party isn’t very popular.
- Calling Out Sean Hannity – When President Obama singled out Sean Hannity in a comment, I thought, “Why does he care?” Then I realized that he wanted to portray the Republicans as thinking like their most radical public faces. Brilliant. Sean Hannity and his conservative pals rant about it for days, becoming the face of the Republican Party throughout the resulting news cycles.
- Congratulating Arlen Specter – Welcome more into the tent. Republicans have long suspected that Arlen Specter was a Donkey-in-Elephant’s clothing, so it wasn’t that big of a surprise to see Specter jump ship in anticipation of his reelection campaign in 2010. An enthusiastic welcome makes sure there’s no second thoughts.
- The No-Lobby Rule – The rule against having someone in the administration who has been a lobbyist in the last two years is a start in the right direction. The last thing this country needs is a bunch of lawyers on the payroll of lobbying firms making policy decisions.
- Community Organizing is Back! – Much was made about Barack Obama’s past as a community organizer during the election year campaign. While much of the talk was generated by Obama’s opponents in an effort to disparage his past, his election has led to a resurgence of the community organizer in American communities. Suddenly, it’s cool to be a community organizer and Americans are volunteering to help out in their local communities than in recent years. Barack Obama has succeeded in making community service hip again.
Administration Staff SuccessesBelow is a list of some of my favorite decisions of Barack Obama on the staff level. While I’m sure I’m overlooking numerous great officials, these were the ones that jumped out at me. Here’s hoping these guys don’t get into a mess of scandals and make me look like a fool – or Obama look like a fool, for that matter.
- Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State – Regardless of whether you like or hate Hillary Clinton, it’s obvious that she has clout with foreign leaders. While Obama focuses on the economy and other domestic issues, he has a major figure in the State Department looking out for America’s interests abroad.
- Retaining Robert Gates – Keeping Robert Gates on as Secretary of Defense meant a smooth transition at the Pentagon for our various war efforts around the globe. Usually when a new administration comes in, there are the standard period of inefficiency as people learn new jobs and learn about the new personalities. But keeping on the previous secretary in a time of war makes good sense.
- Pay Freeze For White House Staffers – President Obama enacted a pay freeze for White House staffers making over $100,000 a year, affecting approximately 120 staff members. While the savings to the American taxpayer are miniscule compared to overall expenditures, it’s a way of reminding officials in the White House that everyone is affected by the economy and is a personal incentive for them to work towards a time when such measures won’t be needed. Besides, it eliminated cries from the Right if some gesture like this wasn’t enacted.
- Arne Duncan as U.S. Secretary of Education – Placing a man who has worked on inner city education programs as the head of our childrens’ education is a solid idea. America is about equal opportunity, and the idea that everyone has a chance at a good education not only is fair, but it allows America to tap the full potential of its next generation, while education is the best hope to keep the young out of prisons and in productive jobs.
- Steven Chu as U.S. Secretary of Energy – Secretary Chu, a Nobel Prize winner in Physics, is an advocate of reducing our need for oil to help slow down global warming. Steven Chu suggests we increase our energy capacity with both nuclear power and alternative energy. These are practical positions after eight years of pandering to the interests of oil interests.
- Eric Shinseki as U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs – There is nothing more shameful than claiming you support the troops while cutting the benefits of those veterans who have already served their country, but that is what happened during the Bush Administration. Placing an army veteran in as Secretary of Veterans Affairs hopefully means that military veterans have an advocate in this pivotal positions for their needs.
- Judd Gregg as Secretary of Commerce – A third Republican in the Cabinet lends credibility to the idea of bipartisanship. The economy is in a mess and Americans need to leave partisanship at the door while working on recovery.
- Dawn Johnsen as Head of the OLC – The administration nominated Dawn Johnsen, a professor of Constitutional Law, to head the powerful but obscure Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice. Mrs. Johnsen was highly critical of several OLC decisions during the Bush Administration, greatly abetting President Bush’s attempts to skirt the Constitution in its War on Terror. Several Republican congressional members have been critical of the Dawn Johnsen nomination, but she’s a good candidate to frame the debate about the president’s role and power in our society. I welcome the continuing debate on the limits of presidential power.
Interrogation Policy Change SuccessesI wanted to include this as far up the list as possible, so I made the difference in interrogation policies the first specific policy issues on this list. I know it’s political orthodoxy that pardoning presidents for the crimes they commit in office is the right thing, because the resulting political controversies from prosecution are too great. For instance, the Ford pardon of Nixon is considered a wise move. I would completely disagree. If our highest officials believe they will be immune from accountability, they are more likely to break the laws. That’s just human nature. And if our government is allowed to torture people, that government might one day decide to torture people who are Americans. With that in mind, I’m glad to see that Obama has changed the policies of the Bush administration. I’m hopeful that officials who set possibly illegal policies will be held to account. It’s not a matter of revenge. It’s a matter of defending the Constitution and the basic rights of not just people, but Americans. Here’s hoping Barack Obama agrees.
- Setting a Time Table to Shut Down Guantanamo – Crazy things happen in war, but we can’t make it a matter of national policy that we torture people. A government that tortures foreigners will soon torture citizens, so this had to come to an end.
- Closing the Secret CIA Prisons – There are secret CIA prisons out there besides the Guantanamo Prisons. CIA Director Leon Panetta claims that most of these so-called “black sites” were closed by April 9th and that the remaining ones will soon be. Despite the public outcry about Gitmo, Human Rights Watch claims that some of the worst human rights violation went on in the secret prisons, which held about 100 terror suspects.
- Ending Waterboarding and Other Illegal Acts – Obama signed an order that set the Army Field Manual as our interrogaters’ guideline for interrogation of those captured in the war on terror. Waterboarding was one tactic, considered torture by our military since the time the North Vietnamese used it in Vietnam, banned. Once again, while torture has no doubt go on in every war and possibly by every side in every war, the Bush Years was the only time that torture was a matter of national policy, and rejecting torture as a national policy was an important step for Barack Obama.
- Setting Up an Interagency Task Force To Review Interrogation Techniques – On January 22, 2009, President Obama set up an interagency task force to review whether the Army Field Manual is adequate for acquiring the terrorism network intelligence required to keep America safe. Their decision comes down in the middle of July. For those who think Obama has made America less safe with his interrogation decisions, we’ll have the experts’ opinion in the middle of the summer.
- Repudiation of Bush Presidential Directives on Torture – President Obama was quick to repudiate and contraindicate Bush presidential memos on torture practices, bringing the U.S. in line with international standards for interrogation.
- Suspension of the Military Commissions – President Obama temporarily suspended the military commission prosecutions at Guantanamo, which do not hold up to the standards of American jurisprudence. Hopefully, this is a precursor to the terror suspects being tried in a Federal Court, which have a solid tradition in terror cases. This further allows us to prove to ourselves – and the world – that the Bush Administration was holding real terror suspects.
- Setting a Trial for Saleh Kahlah al-Marri – Obama signed a presidential memo which led to Saleh Kahlah al-Murri, a Qater citizen in the U.S. as a student, being placed back into the criminal justice system. al-Marri was originally charged with credit card fraud, but has been held by the Bush Administration since 2003 as an “enemy combatant” and been denied a trial to prove his guilt. Now, we all get to see the evidence against al-Marri and, if he’s guilty of federal crimes, he’ll face a just punishment.
- Review of Rendition Practices – Obama’s January 22nd memo also ordered the creation of a task force to review the transfer policies under the “rendition” category, where foreign terror suspects are rendered to foreign countries who use torture practices. Once again, the rendition process has not been firmly rejected by the Obama Administration, but hopefully Obama’s commission will come back with the proper and safe recommendations.
- No CIA Prosecutions – When the Obama Administration said they would not prosecute members of the CIA for following policies set by the previous administration, many on the left assumed that was it for the prosecution talk. My guess is the administration is splitting hairs, signaling that they are going to go after the policy makers at the Department of Justice. That’s my hope, because people in government must be punished for abuses of power. Criminal wrongdoing unchecked just invites more criminal wrongdoing. I’m willing to give Obama a pass on the CIA interrogations charges – for now.
- Releasing Interrogation Memos – In his decision to make America a more open society, President Obama continues to release interrogation memos that allow the world to see exactly what happened on Bush’s watch. This is only a good move if there are eventual charges brought against officials for breaking the law. Otherwise, this is an attempt to make the opposing party look bad. This may be the precursor to a bloodletting of bad officials at the DoJ by Eric Holder.
- Drawing Dick Cheney Offsides – Since Vice President Cheney left office, he has been one of the most outspoken critics of the Obama Administration. Drawing Dick Cheney into the debate is a big success, because Cheney is so unpopular with large segments of the American public. When the Obama Administration recently unleashed documents about the CIA torture program, Cheney went on FoxNews and demanded that Obama release documents showing the successes of the program. This begs the question, if the successes were so great, why Dick Cheney and friends never released the documents in their eight years in office. This either highlights either the paranoid secrecy of the Bush administration or the lack of evidence to support their claims, or both. Either way, since the Bush Administration seemed incompetent in so many ways that the American public could measure (WMDs in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina), the idea that the Bush Administration was insanely competent in foiling hundreds of terrorist attacks before they happened undermines Dick Cheney’s argument and makes his continued presence on the national scene a big plus for the Obama Administration.
Policy Change SuccessesFor those who say that the two parties are the same, here are a number of policy breaks between the new Obama administration and the old Bush administration. You can see that there are a lot of differences between these two presidents and their parties. I hope you’re reading this, Ralph Nader.
- Freedom of Information Act – Barack Obama made America a more open society by changing government procedures under the Freedom of Information Act during his first days in office.
- Signed the Ledbetter Law – The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Play Act allows women to better challenge pay discrimination in court. This is for cases when women are institutionally paid less for the same work than their male colleagues. A basic matter of fairness like equal pay for genders is a basic American concept.
- Department of Transportation Energy Memoranda – President Obama signed a pair of memoranda which ordered the Department of Transportation to set higher fuel standards for the 2011 and future year car models. Not only does this make good scientific and environmental sense, but higher fuel standards allow Detroit cars to make it into more markets worldwide – like China for example – so higher fuel standards make economic sense, too.
- Reversing the Stem Cell Ban – It’s quite simple: Barack Obama’s reversal of Bush’s stem cell ban is a victory for science. Instead of stem cells being thrown out with the trash, they now can be used to research cures for Alzeihers, Parkinsons and other horrible diseases. That’s a good thing, despite reactionary comments from the Right about stem cell farms and other tactics used to scare good people into immoral positions on the stem cell debate.
- Funds For College Education – President Obama has offset rising college prices for up to 7,000,000 university students by increasing the funds for Pell Grants and other student aid programs. One overlooked issue is how underfunded the Pell Grants have been the last few years. The next generation needs to be educated to pay off all the debts we’re creating for them.
- Increased Funding for Public Education – Amid all the posturing about evil federal funds going to states is the fact that many states will have to cut funding and layoff a lot of school personnel without federal funds. Obama provided over $53,000,000,000 to state education agencies and local school districts to help them avoid these layoffs. That’s a good plan for our childrens’ education.
- Focus on At-Risk Students – The Obama Administration set aside 25 billion dollars to help at-risk students and special needs students. “At risk” means students who have a higher risk of dropping out of school and starting a life of crime. The benefits of keeping these kids in schools, off the streets and out of jail is incalculable, creating a safer community and increasing the talent pool of educated Americans. It also happens to be the moral thing to do.
- Endangered Species Get a Break – Just this week, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar rolled back a Bush Administration decision that put endangered species in great danger of dying out. Plus one for our role as stewards of this Earth.
- Early Head Start Funding for Children – The president’s education package offered over a billion dollars to help fund the “Early Head Start” program, to start children on their way to a better education and a better future.
- Head Start Funding – Besides funding the Early Head Start, the administration offered a billion dollars to fund the head start programs across the country. These two measures increased head start and early head start services for nearly 120-thousand children and infants.
- Credit Card Reform – President Obama recently met with executives of the credit card industry in anticipation of a future credit card reform bill. Critics of the current credit card laws have argued that credit card companies are unclear and predatory in their practices, and that laws pushed through by the previous Republican Congresses allow the companies to set up credit traps. The new proposed laws will create regulations that will require transparency and clear stipulations, instead of the “lawyer speak” that is the current practice. Once again, I would say that Obama’s attention to credit card laws indicates he cares about the normal American and this is a worthwhile cause.
- Funding for Local Health Care Facilities – The Obama Administration also increased funds for community health centers, which means that health centers across the country will be modernized. These funds will also go towards health care research, to make certain the next generation has better health care provided to them than this generation.
- Medicaid Money Release – Obama announced in early February that he would release $15 billion to pay medicaid expenses, which gives pharmacies and hospitals relief after waiting months for Medicaid bills to be paid. It also helps businesses of all sizes, who have been required to pay Medicaid expenses, but waiting weeks and months to be reimbursed.
- American Recovery & Reinvestment Act and Medicaid – Let’s get back to the stimulus package. This legislation potentially protects up to 20 million Americans who are at risk of losing their Medicaid or State Children’s Health Insurance Program eligibility. We’ll talk about the economic stimulus package in greater detail in a minute.
Tax Relief SuccessesWhile the Tax Tea Parties raged in cities around the country, the tax code was being rewritten by Barack Obama and colleagues to give most Americans a tax break. Besides a few conservative talk show hosts and Republican politicians, it looked to me like most of the people protesting the tax increases were those good, hard-working American working class citizens who are actually getting some relief. Here’s the numbers and you can sort it out for yourself.
- Siding With the American Worker – 100 days in and President Obama has convinced the majority of the American working class that he’s on their side. No miracles here, either. Whether you think he’s a president who finally gets it or you think he’s the Anti-Christ, you have to admit that President Obama has convinced most Americans he’s working to solve the great problems that face this great nation.
- Tax Relief for the Citizens – Part of the Obama Economic Recovery Package offers over $280,000,000,000 in tax relief for middle class Americans. Obama understands that the American middle class and lower middle class is the engine of the economy, so he’s priming that engine by giving targeted tax cuts to the people who go to Wal-Mart and Target and buy the products that corporation produce. This should help stimulate the economy in the short term. By the way, this makes the Tea Parties seem bone-headed, since most of the people protesting are likely to be in the tax brackets of people getting tax relief. I won’t repeat the oft-repeated factoid that this helps 95% of workers. Oh, wait, I just did.
- Ignoring the Tea Parties – I kept wondering during the tea parties how many of the protesters had paid appreciably higher taxes in 2009 than in 2008. I’m guessing nowhere near 50%, so Obama let this play itself out and allow Americans to decide on their own that this was a politically motivated publicity stunt.
- Alternative Minimum Tax Relief – The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act also spares millions of middle class American workers from paying the alternative minimum tax. Since this is often the required “higher” tax that people have to pay (as opposed to the standard tax formula), the alternative minimum tax relief measure helps millions of middle class Americans pay lower taxes.
- Less Taxes on New Car Purchases – The ARRA package allows makes the sales tax payed when buying a new car tax deductible. By paying less taxes on new car purchases, this gives your average American a tax break when buying a new car and helps the Detroit automakers sell a few more cars to the American public – which can’t hurt the economy.
- Expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit – The Obama economic recovery package targets low-income families with 3 or more children by giving offering a larger Earned Income Tax Credit when figuring income taxes. This is a targeted tax break to help families that are often most-affected by the bad economy. I consider this a “family values” economic tax cut.
- Increasing the First-Time Home Buyer Tax Credit – When an American taxpayer buys their first home, they get an $8,000 tax credit for doing so. This encourages Americans to stop renting and start buying homes, which should help the real estate market as well as American homeowners.
- Tax Credits For College Students – President Obama expanded the tax credits program for college tuition, making it easier for college students to stay in college and receive the education to compete in the increasingly global jobs market.
Economic Stimulus SuccessesThe economic stimulus that Barack Obama and the Democrats have put forward have been pretty much in line with what the American people wanted, despite complaints on both the far left and the far right (or the moderate right, for that matter). An age of deregulation and lack of oversight on Wall Street has proven that economic self-interest requires economic wisdom, which Wall Street doesn’t seem to have at the moment. So in steps the government to force Wall Street to do what they should have had the sense to do themselves. To save “the system”, most Americans agree that Wall Street has to have transparency and accountability to go along with the tremendous economic advantage and importance they possess. That’s pretty much where most Americans are at the moment, and that’s the stance Barack Obama and his administration has taken. While we sort out the mess on Wall Street, though, the Democrats have brought forward an economic stimulus package to limit the damage on “main street” and help millions of middle class Americans get out of a jam that is partly of their own making, and partly the making of the lending people who should have known better than to give out sub-prime loans.
- American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – President Obama signed into law a bill that provides over $500,000,000,000 to promote the creation of jobs around the country. Note that this package isn’t just some massive “New Deal” package where we put Americans on the government’s payroll. Over 90% of the jobs created by the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act are private sector jobs.
- Transforming the American Economy – By the way, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is part of President Obama’s plans to transform the American economy into a “green economy”. The economic package hopes to target industries that promote clean energy.
- Avoiding Populism – One fact that escapes many commentators in the media is that Barack Obama has avoided populist causes like nationalizing the money industry and renegotiating the NAFTA Agreement. These are causes the far left want Obama to take up, but he has steadfastly refused to go in that direction. The truth is, Barack Obama has shown a tremendous ability to read the political tea leaves in his first 100 days in office, allowing him to steer America away from the past eight years without veering too far in the other direction. So far, Obama has kept himself planted firmly in the center, making changes he views are necessary, driving the conservatives to the margins of the debate and accurately reading what the American people elected him to do.
- Infrastructure Maintenance – Finally, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provides money to help rebuild the American infrastructure. While Republicans might roll their eyes at infrastructure projects, it’s a complete embarrassment (and a tragic one) when major bridges fall down with American drivers on them. It’s time to rebuild the American infrastructure, which will help the jobs market by providing jobs and helping commuters get to their jobs quicker and with a lower carbon footprint.
- Anti-Foreclosure Package – The other four million American homeowners affected by the Foreclosure Prevention Package creates a fund of up to $75 billion dollars to keep them in their homes directly. This reducing the affects on local economies of home foreclosures, which had sent a ripple affect through many U.S. towns and cities.
- Increasing Affordable Housing – The Foreclosure Prevention Package set aside 10 billion dollars to increase the availability of affordable housing. This helps families refinance their homes and has led to an almost 90 percent increase in refinance applications.
- Homeowner Refinancing Package – The Foreclosure Prevention Package specifically helps nearly 5 million homeowners refinance their homes with more realistic mortgages. This package not only helps to keep up to 20,000,000 Americans (including family members) in their homes, but gives mortgage companies and home lenders a needed break that helps get the economy back on track. Good plan.
- One aspect of the American jobs market that isn’t talked about much is the fact that the health care industry often is understaffed. The Recovery and Reinvestment Act should fund the creation of jobs in the health care industry, too, which helps provide good jobs for Americans, while increasing the quality of health care in the U.S.
- Serve America Act – President Obama has encouraged Americans to serve their country in a peaceful way by expanding the national service in areas like the AmeriCorps and other nonprofits organizations that are trying to help American communities in profound ways.
Environmental Successes and Energy Independence SuccessesArgue all you want about global warming, but if we can make investments in the economy that will end our dependence on foreign oil, that is an absolute win for the United States. The sooner we don’t view oil as the most pivotal strategy asset, the fewer costly wars we’ll have to fight in far-flung corners of the world.
- Investment in Energy Efficiency – The Obama administration invested of three billion dollars in the local energy efficiency projects and conservation projects in local Americas states and cities. As you start to see the various investments in energy alternatives, you see that the Obama Administration believes there is no one answer to ending America’s dependence on carbon fuels.
- Clean Energy Research & Development – President Obama set aside $2,500,000,000 for the research and development of alternative energy sources.
- Electric Vehicles Funding – The Obama Administration provided $2,400,000,000 to support advances in electric vehicles engineering. Some on the right sneer at the idea of electric cars, but whatever statistics that point to the lack of viability of such cars at the moment overlook the fact of technological advancement and how those innovations will lower costs and increase capabilities in the future. We had bi-planes at a time, but that didn’t keep airplane designers from trying to improve their designs. Saying the electric car technology isn’t there would be akin to saying we should have stopped developing airplane technology in 1920.
- Financial Support for Renewable Energy Companies – Alternative energy private interests got a boost when Obama doubled the amount of money over the next three years to help them develop renewable energy technologies and capabilities.
- Electric Grid Infrastructure Package – The administration also provided $11,000,000,000 to upgrade America’s electric grid. This should lower costs for American electricity consumers, as well as provide more infrastructure for those using electric cars.
- Persuading Congress to Release the Other $350 Million – The $700 million dollar bailout package passed in the last months of the Bush Administration required that the second half be released when the new term started. This meant that the new president, whether John McCain or Barack Obama, would direct where that money went and how it would be spent. One of the early successes of the Obama Administration was getting those funds released sooner rather than later.
Iraq and Afghanistan War Successes – “War on Terror” SuccessesThe wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are murky situations and I don’t pretend to know what all the solutions in that troubled region are. I opposed the invasion of Iraq because I thought didn’t think it was in our national interests, mainly because I thought the tribal and religious leaders of that country would mess up all the hard work our troops and leaders put into that country. I hope to be proven wrong and I’ll give George W. Bush credit if a stable democracy emerges in the Middle East, but I think getting out of Iraq and disengaging from direct occupation in the Middle East is essential to peace and stability in that region. As far as Iran and North Korea are concerned, I’m more certain that the Bush policies have failed. Claiming you have the right to invade a country because they might one day have weapons of mass destruction puts your potential enemies on alert that they better arm themselves, which is what Iran and North Korea have done. I’m hopeful that Barack Obama’s changing policies in these countries (and Afghanistan) will bring greater stability to the regions surrounding the Korean Peninsula and the Middle East, and hopefully for the rest of the world by consequence.
- Iraq Withdrawal Plans – Obama agreed to go ahead with his election year promises to withdraw troops from Iraq in an orderly fashion.
- Iraqi Responsibility – President Obama’s plan for Iraq includes provisions to encourage Iraqis to stand up and take responsibility for their own country. That’s the essence of freedom and responsibility and is the heart of why we should want the Iraqi government to be a democratic bastion in the Middle East.
- New Afghanistan and Pakistan Strategy – Barack Obama has shifted focus in the Afghanistan-Pakistan phase of the anti-terror war to greater counter-terrorism efforts, more coalition building, a new diplomatic initiative in the region and more training of local anti-terror forces. Perhaps most important is Obama’s increased focus on accountability. One reason the war in Afghanistan went from having the support of the Afghan people to being widely unpopular was the lack of accountability for officials we’re allied with in that trouble country. So a new strategy that combines smart policies with ethical policies hopefully will open new opportunities for success for the U.S. and its allies in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
- First Visit to a Muslim Country – Obama’s visit to Ankara was an important symbolic gesture to the Turks, a longtime ally and about as moderate of a Muslim country as you can find. While many complained that Obama didn’t mention the Armenian Holocaust, the fact is that politicians have been mentioning those atrocities for 90 years without much of a change in Turkey’s position. Presidents throughout the Cold War chose to overlook the decisions Turkey’s leaders made in World War I and that’s a good recipe for diplomatic success in the Age of Terror.
- Greater Emphasis on Afghanistan – Obama sent 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan, a sign that the U.S. was going to put a greater emphasis on its war effort in Afghanistan. The Iraq War has distracted the U.S. from securing the real primary battleground in the War on Terror. It was terrorists based in Afghanistan who undoubtedly attacked this country on 9/11, so it only makes sense that securing Afghanistan should be first priority when trying to avoid future attacks.
- The Transitional Force in Iraq – For all those who thought Obama would pull U.S. troops out of Iraq too soon and increase instability, his decision to leave a transitional force of advisers, trainers and counter-terrorism experts in Iraq until late 2011 should come as some relief. This might not play well with the far left, but a smooth transition in Iraq is in our national interest.
- Embracing Moderate Islam – Obama’s visit to Turkey highlighted Obama’s attempt to embrace the moderates in the Muslim world by highlighting the positive aspects of America’s history with the Muslim world. While some view this as weak or cowardly, it’s actually a logical next step in pursuing President Bush’s goal of a more democratic, peaceful Middle East. The Middle East could never be made peaceful through force alone, so it’s only right that we build bridges to those in the Middle East who want to see stability. When Obama said, “The United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam,” that was a profound statement to many Muslims, despite how it reads to the American public.
- Not Bombing North Korea Over Their Failed Launch – Several prominent Republicans suggested that we should have responded to the North Korean launch of a satellite. Luckily, cooler heads prevailed, so we didn’t have escalating tensions in the Far East, where the subsequent bombing of Seoul or Tokyo would damage an already weak global economy, and the consequences of a prolonged showdown would require South Korea and Japan to consider building a nuclear arsenal, greatly increasing both tensions and danger in the Far East.
- Shifting Approach on North Korea – Barack Obama has signalled a shift from the confrontational approach President Bush took to North Korea. Including North Korea in the Axis of Evil seems to have increased its desire for nuclear capacity and missile technology – not cowed the so-called hermit kingdom. Perhaps engagement will net better results. One thing that’s certain is that engagement is in no way worse than ignoring the problem, which is what Bush did. While we postured, Kim Jong-Il stepped up efforts at building missile technology and nuclear plants. Perhaps a more rational approach will yield better results.
- Shifting Approach on Iran – Ditto. Once again, including Iran in the Axis of Evil seems to have produced the opposite results from what the Bush Team wanted. Instead of cowing the Iranians, they have become more aggressive and assertive in foreign policy, increasing their research programs. The lesson of Iraq is obvious – if you don’t have a deterrent, we might be the next in line for invasion. So North Korea and Iran have stepped up efforts to build a deterrent capacity, which is the exact opposite of what President Bush wanted. An attempt to reassure the Iranians is a good idea, since the Bush solution seems to have worsened our position vis a vis the Iranians in the Middle East.
Foreign Policy SuccessesThere are more countries in the world than the Middle East and North Korea, so I’ve included comments on Obama’s other travels around the world. I end with a joke and a tip of the hat to Obama’s popularity around the world. To those who think I’m seriously suggesting Bo is a foreign policy success, I would actually rate the presidential dog as more of a domestic policy success (another joke). Seriously, no arena contrasts the clashing styles of George W. Bush and Barack Obama more than the foreign policy arena. I won’t doubt the patriotism of those who think saber rattling and hardball politics are what work in international relations, though I will disagree and say that traditional diplomacy is a better way to further our nation’s interests.
- European Tour a Success – Say what you will, but Barack Obama is popular with the European public. While that popularity doesn’t naturally translate to success, it does put pressure on European leaders to reach compromise with the president. Just like American politicians, European politicians have to consider their constituencies when making decisions, and most are not going to want to seem too nationalistic to a popular U.S. president who seems to be extending the hand of cooperation. Obama’s successful public relations in Europe will pay dividends in the years to come, when politicians who embrace his diplomatic efforts are likely to gain ground in local political contests.
- Brokering Consensus Among NATO – Obama helped broker a consensus among NATO members that led to the accession of Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Danish Prime Minister, as the next Secretary General of the NATO Alliance. This showed that Obama had the deftness and authority to still lead Europe.
- The G-20 Summit – It’s unrealistic to imagine that 2/3rds of the world’s population – which is the amount of people represented at the G20 Summit – are going to agree on everything. But the key factor is that, unlike previous world economic crises, the world’s governments are sitting at a table and trying to find solutions to the world economic crisis. Compare this to the reaction of the world’s powers to the Great Depression (protectionism and sometimes virtual autarky) and you’ll see that Obama’s seeming failures at the negotiating table are actually real strides. For those who distrust foreigners, I guarantee you that the leaders of China and Europe don’t feel like Obama caved in to him. Many felt his economic plans didn’t help their investments in the U.S. dollar. The fact is, America still dominates the negotiating table, and Obama’s courtesy does not undermine that dominance.
- Obama’s Meeting With Medvedev – Obama seems to be winning over even Russian President Sergei Medvedev. A calm talk at the highest levels is probably what’s needed after the saber rattling and childish posturing of the last eight years. The fact is, the policies of the past administration caused a blunder in George, as talk of NATO expansion into that country is a provocation to Russia.
- Shaking Hands With the Help – One of the priceless moments of President Obama’s visit to Europe was his handshake with the English bobby guarding the door at 10 Downing Street. Gordon Brown’s ignoring of the outstretched hand of the bobby was equally priceless, and probably a classic contrast between class identity in England and America.
- European Stimulus Package Concessions – Many derided Obama’s concessions to the European leaders on their own stimulus plans, because European leaders wanted only to spend about half of the percentage of GDP on their economic stimulus packages that the U.S. government is. But Obama understood what the truth is – the socialist European states already spend a larger percentage of their GDP on programs that are helping put money in the hands of its neediest citizens. Therefore, these concessions are no more than a recognition of different circumstances in Europe, which has not been forthcoming in recent years. The European and American stimulus GDP percentage is a lot closer than you would think.
- Politeness in the Face of European Reticence – Obama also understands that diplomacy is a two-way street. Instead of the insults heaped on European countries when they didn’t agree with Bush policies, President Obama remains polite. Allies disagree on policy all the time. Read any diplomatic history and you’ll see that allies are not going to see eye-to-eye all the time. Obama understands this, unlike Dick Cheney, so he finds compromise which suit both parties and realizes that European politicians have their own constituencies to consider.
- Lifting Restrictions To Cuba – We can all agree that the Castro Regime is thuggish and backward. But when we are willing to deal with communist regimes in China and Vietnam (of all places), it’s silly to continue travel restrictions to and from Cuba. Like our engagement policy in China, the idea that more engagement with Cuba will lead to a freer and more open society in this island nation is probably the right call. Let’s prepare for the day Fidel Castro and family no longer rule Cuba by engaging its people. By the way, 92% of Americans agree that this is a good idea.
- Obama and Hugo Chavez Shaking Hands – Chavez comes off like a fan wanting an autograph. Obama looks presidential. The handshake is more dignified than Nixon paying homage to Mao Zedong, who killed tens of millions of his own people and thousands of Americans in the Korean War.
- Standing Up To Piracy – I couldn’t believe when Rush Limbaugh criticized Obama for killing teen-aged “organizers”. This country’s citizens shouldn’t worry about being seized off of ships at gunpoint and those who consider it need to know America won’t stand for it. I thought we ended this debate when Jefferson stood up to the Barbary Pirates.
- Bo – Let’s face it: Bo’s the most vetted dog in presidential history. The president and his family spent months and months deciding on a presidential dog and came up with Bo, a Portuguese water dog. Bo’s hypoallergenic, if somewhat aggressive for a children’s dog. Strangely, Obama admirers around the globe are now wanting to own their own Portuguese water dog. If only the President had put as much thought into selecting his Treasury Secretary. Bada-bing!
- 10 Cool Earth Day Coloring PagesCheck out this page for 10 cool Earth Day coloring pages – the page also provides links to more poster-friendly versions of all of their designs.
- Earth Day Posters6 unique and “cute” Earth Day poster / coloring page designs can be found here.
- Animal AnticsFor older kids, or kids with a ton of imagination, here is an interactive comic book that you can write your own captions for, print out, and color the way you want to.
- Earth Day Coloring PagesRather than providing the pictures for you, as other sites do, this page of Earth Day coloring pages offers a big list of links to printable Earth Day poster templates or simple black and white coloring pages.
- Apples 4 Teacher – Earth Day Coloring Pages10 more well designed Earth Day coloring pages are presented – what I like about this page is that there are designs for boys AND girls.
- Coloring.WS Earth Day PostersOne of the largest single collections of printable Earth Day posters and coloring pages – 18 unique designs are provided and are easy to print, with instructions and “printer friendly” links.
- Earth Day Craft & ActivitiesAlong with a few coloring books and pages, this site has a huge variety of Earth Day related crafts and activities – a great page for teachers.
- Earth Day Coloring ProjectsA small but attractive group of Earth Day related coloring projects.
- EPA Earth Day Coloring and Activity BookDirectly from the EPA, here is an 11 page coloring book with good designs and a lot of variety.
- Planet Protector’s Coloring BookHere is an “eco friendly” online coloring project from the EPA – not only will you be saving paper and coloring materials, but you can color the picture again and again with different colors and results.
Where Can I Find Earth Day Worksheets?
- Earth Day Theme WorksheetThis is a big list of free Earth Day worksheets and materials – brought to you by the folks at ABCTeach.com. Become a member of the site and you’ll have access to even more Earth Day crafts.
- Earth Day Projects CollectionAnother big collection of Earth Day related projects and worksheets aimed at teachers. You can even print out “Earth Day awards” for your students who take part in Earth Day projects.
- Caring For Earth Day Theme UnitA vast resource full of Earth Day worksheets, coloring pages, and projects.
- Earth Day Teacher ResourcesThis teacher’s resource provides plenty of unique Earth Day activies, including worksheets, projects, and science activities related to conservation.
- Earth Day Projects DirectoryHere are a few worksheets and projects aimed at teaching Earth Day principles for students from 1st through 8th grade.
- Earth Day Worksheets at School FamilyA variety of Earth Day activities aimed at younger students: worksheets, coloring pages, and craft ideas you can do with your kids.
- Earth Day.org Teacher’s ResourceA huge resource for teacher’s related to Earth Day, direct from the US government – articles, info, worksheets, and other Earth Day activities can be found here.
- Teacher Planet Earth Day ResourcesEducator’s web pages are full of activities for Earth Day – this page is no exception. Probably the largest collection of pure “worksheets” and workpages about Earth Day.
- Earth Day Worksheets from WorksheetLibraryThis collection of Earth Day worksheets is easy to access, easy to print, and features well designed projects.
- Planet Earth WorksheetsA good resource for teachers looking for classroom material about Earth Day.
- Earth Day – The Green GuideThis page from National Geographic is full of info and articles on Earth Day as well as links to worksheets and other craft ideas.
- Earth Day 2009 Crafts & MoreA wide variety of Earth Day worksheets, projects, and craft ideas will keep your kids active for hours.
- Earth Day Informational SitesA collection of links to Earth Day info, crafts, worksheets, puzzles, and games.
- Activities to Celebrate Earth DayAnother great resource for teachers looking to provide their students with worksheets and projects related to Earth Day – including plenty of info about Earth Day and why we celebrate it.
- Scholastic’s Celebrate Earth DayStudent activities and worksheets about Earth Day, from Scholastic . com
Where can I find Earth Day word searches?
- Kid’s Earth Day Word SearchHere you can find three ready to print Earth Day word searches at three different levels of difficulty.
- About.com’s Homeschooling Earth Day Word SearchA big Earth Day word search is available for free from this Homeschooling related About.com page.
- Eco Kids Online – Earth Day Word Search (PDF)Two printable Earth Day word searches.
- Earth Day Word Search at Missouri Dep of Natural ResourcesA big Earth Day word puzzle for kids who like language games.
- Earth Day Word Search by Teacher VisionAn “easier” Earth Day word search puzzle for grades 3-5.
- Surf Net Kid’s Earth Day Word SearchHere is an Earth friendly Earth Day word search – no printing required, play the game right on your computer.
- DLTK’s Earth Day Word SearchTwo different Earth Day word searches can be found here – an “easy” and a “difficult” version.
- Think Green Word PuzzlesFour Earth Day and ecology word searches that will challenge your student or child between the ages of 6 and 12.
- The Teacher’s Corner Earth Day Word SearchAnother “green” word search for Earth Day – you play this word search game online rather than printing it out and using up paper. A great way to teach your child about saving paper.
- Word Search MakerGet interactive, and make your OWN word search. You can insert words related to Earth Day, “living green”, or whatever ecology topic you choose.