Monday, February 19, 2018

ANS -- Five Activism Suggestions That Worked: When Your Representatives Don't Listen

Activism is working when it is focused and strategic.  "Indivisible" was one of the best things that ever happened to politics.  

Five Activism Suggestions That Worked: When Your Representatives Don't Listen

Monday, February 19, 2018By Ilana Novick, AlterNet | Op-Ed

Nearly every Friday since Trump took office, constituents of longtime Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) took time out of their busy lives to visit his Morristown, New Jersey office to encourage him to protect Obamacare, to vote no on a GOP tax plan, and most importantly, to hold a town hall meeting (which it seemed like he bent over backward to avoid). Members of this tireless group, NJ 11th for Change, a branch of the Indivisible movement, never did get that town hall, but their tenacity may have landed them something better: his retirement. 

Frelinghuysen, who served as the chair of the House Committee on Appropriations, announced recently that he would not seek reelection in New Jersey's 11th congressional district. He is the eighth long-serving Republican to call it quits in the lead-up to the 2018 midterm elections, and the second in the last week, after Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania. Unlike Meehan, and fellow retiree Blake Farenthold, sexual harassment allegations didn't push Frelinghuysen out the door. It was activism.

"Frelinghuysen won his last election by 19 points, but by this November, his race had been called a tossup," Elizabeth Juviler, a co-executive director of NJ 11th for Change, told AlterNet. "That was the power of people's voices in a classically democratic process. People spoke up, they were heard, and our institutions and government are changing as a result. It's a shame that Frelinghuysen refused to hear our voices until it was too late for him." 

The group started in 2016, and in January 2017, Fridays Without Frelinghuysen, as their visits to his office became known, gained the group so much notoriety that one of Juviler's fellow co-directors, Saily Avelenda, lost her job. Frelinghuysen himself sent an article about the group to the board of the bank where she was senior vice president and assistant general counsel. On the back, he wrote, "One of the ringleaders works at your bank!" Despite this setback, Avelenda told local paper the Morristown Green that Monday's announcement was a win "for all those people who stood in the rain, the cold, the crazy heat, every Friday."

Juviler spoke to AlterNet about her experiences as a new activist, and offered a few tips for sustainability and long-term success.

1. Have a clear mission and focus.

NJ 11th for Change's goal was to force Frelinghuysen to hold a town hall. 

Juviler says:

"I think the biggest tip is that we had a mission that was exciting and welcoming to a broad group of people, but laser-focused at the same time. We are nonpartisan. We are unaffiliated with any party, though eventually we were campaigning against Frelinghuysen.

"We have tried as hard as possible to maintain deeply supportive, friendly, forward-thinking culture within the group, particularly on our Facebook group, which is the main social hangout. There's no question we benefited from a targeted focus on congressional representation rather than getting too far off into any one issue. We were confident that so many other groups were active on issues and watching senators and involved with legislative policy within the state... that we could keep our tent wide and our path narrow."

2. Diversify your tactics.

While your mission should be crystal-clear, sometimes the methods you use to carry it out will have to change, and it's important to be flexible.

Juviler explains:

"In the beginning, Fridays [Without Frelinghuysen] provided a huge amount of energy and focus. People took time off work, issue groups gathered, civic groups gathered -- but when it became clear that Rodney would never meet with us, and when his votes consistently betrayed his district's interests, we moved on to other activities."

3. Be hyper-local.

There's a reason the Tea Party's damage to our democracy has been so long-lasting. When Obama was in office, they didn't just direct their ire at the president, but at all of their representatives. Tea Party groups went to town hall meetings (although Frelinghuysen didn't give constituents that opportunity).

Juviler says:

"We started town teams in most of the towns within the district, and both teams carried out all kinds of activities like tabling at farmers markets and street fairs, having issue educational meetings at the library, etc. These hyper-local groups are able to speak to their neighbors about the things our neighbors most care about in a way that resonates, and we found this extremely effective...

"We were local, visible, persistent and effective opposition to his status quo of entitled representation."

4. Do your research and learn your representative's history.

It will help you better plan your strategy and fight back against attacks. Juviler says NJ 11th for Change did this, "and he didn't know how to handle it."

Juviler recalls the ethics complaints filed after Frelinghuysen got Saily Avelenda fired:

"[I]t was not only a terrible error in strategy, but pretty terrible period....He really expected we would fade away, and when we didn't, he'd already dismissed us, refused to meet with us in such silly public ways. And meanwhile, his voting record [showed he was] beholden to Paul Ryan in obvious ways [that] went against most of his constituents' desires."

5. Don't forget to celebrate the small victories.

Juviler recalls:

"One of the most amazing moments was at the end of March [2017], when the AHCA was due for a vote on a Friday, but before noon Frelinghuysen had announced that he could not support the bill. We turned our regular Friday meeting with his staff into a celebration. It was the first big sense that we regular people could together make a big difference on our government."

As for next steps, Juviler says despite Frelinghuysen's resignation, the group's plans remain largely the same. Until he's gone, they will continue to be "focused on educating constituents about Rodney's record and how it affects them."

"There is still a lot of bad policy coming out us from Washington," she continued, "and we will see how Republican candidates lineup, if they have been silent about the despicable things that are happening to New Jersey and the country or if they have a backbone."

The group is also looking toward the midterm elections. NJ 11th for Change is so far declining to endorse anyone in the primaries, but noted, "We already have an excellent field of candidates. We still are working to get an excellent representative into Congress from the 11th District, one who will advocate for us, be responsive, transparent, and accountable. One hurdle is behind us, but the goal still lies ahead."

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

ANS -- Are You Ready To Consider That Capitalism Is The Real Problem?

This is a sort-of medium length article saying that it is time to change.  

Are You Ready To Consider That Capitalism Is The Real Problem?

Before you say no, take a moment to really ask yourself whether it's the system that's best suited to build our future society.

Are You Ready To Consider That Capitalism Is The Real Problem?
Fifty-one percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 no longer support the system of capitalism. [Illustration: Kseniya_Milner/iStock]

This story reflects the views of the authors, but not necessarily the editorial position of Fast Company.

In February, college sophomore Trevor Hill stood up during a televised town hall meeting in New York and posed a simple question to Nancy Pelosi, the leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives. He cited a study by Harvard University showing that 51% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 no longer support the system of capitalism, and asked whether the Democrats could embrace this fast-changing reality and stake out a clearer contrast to right-wing economics.

Pelosi was visibly taken aback. "I thank you for your question," she said, "but I'm sorry to say we're capitalists, and that's just the way it is."

The footage went viral. It was powerful because of the clear contrast it set up. Trevor Hill is no hardened left-winger. He's just your average millennial—bright, informed, curious about the world, and eager to imagine a better one. But Pelosi, a figurehead of establishment politics, refused to–or was just unable to–entertain his challenge to the status quo.

There's something fundamentally flawed about a system that has a prime directive to churn nature and humans into capital. [Illustration: Kseniya_Milner/iStock]
It's not only young voters who feel this way. A YouGov poll in 2015 found that 64% of Britons believe that capitalism is unfair, that it makes inequality worse. Even in the U.S., it's as high as 55%. In Germany, a solid 77% are skeptical of capitalism. Meanwhile, a full three-quarters of people in major capitalist economies believe that big businesses are basically corrupt.

Why do people feel this way? Probably not because they deny the abundant material benefits of modern life that many are able to enjoy. Or because they want to travel back in time and live in the U.S.S.R. It's because they realize—either consciously or at some gut level—that there's something fundamentally flawed about a system that has a prime directive to churn nature and humans into capital, and do it more and more each year, regardless of the costs to human well-being and to the environment we depend on.

Because let's be clear: That's what capitalism is, at its root. That is the sum total of the plan. We can see this embodied in the imperative to grow GDP, everywhere, year on year, at a compound rate, even though we know that GDP growth, on its own, does nothing to reduce poverty or to make people happier or healthier. Global GDP has grown 630% since 1980, and in that same time, by some measures, inequality, poverty, and hunger have all risen.

Gains are seen as the natural property of the investor class. [Illustration: Kseniya_Milner/iStock]
We also see this plan in the idea that corporations have a fiduciary duty to grow their stock value for the sake of shareholder returns, which prevents even well-meaning CEO's from voluntarily doing anything good—like increasing wages or reducing pollution—that might compromise their bottom line.

Just look at the recent case involving American Airlines. Earlier this year, CEO Doug Parker tried to raise his employees salaries to correct for "years of incredibly difficult times" suffered by his employees, only to be slapped down by Wall Street. The day he announced the raise, the company's shares fell 5.8%. This is not a case of an industry on the brink, fighting for survival, and needing to make hard decisions. On the contrary, airlines have been raking in profits. But the gains are seen as the natural property of the investor class. This is why JP Morgan criticized the wage increase as a "wealth transfer of nearly $1 billion" to workers. How dare they?

What becomes clear here is that ours is a system that is programmed to subordinate life to the imperative of profit.

For a startling example of this, consider the horrifying idea to breed brainless chickens and grow them in huge vertical farms, Matrix-style, attached to tubes and electrodes and stacked one on top of the other, all for the sake of extracting profit out of their bodies as efficiently as possible. Or take the Grenfell Tower disaster in London, where dozens of people were incinerated because the building company chose to use flammable panels in order to save a paltry £5,000 (around $6,500). Over and over again, profit trumps life.

It all proceeds from the same deep logic. It's the same logic that sold lives for profit in the Atlantic slave trade, it's the logic that gives us sweatshops and oil spills, and it's the logic that is right now pushing us headlong toward ecological collapse and climate change.

Millennials can see that capitalism isn't working for the majority of humanity, and they're ready to invent something better. [Illustration: Kseniya_Milner/iStock]
Once we realize this, we can start connecting the dots between our different struggles. There are people in the U.S. fighting against the Keystone pipeline. There are people in Britain fighting against the privatization of the National Health Service. There are people in India fighting against corporate land grabs. There are people in Brazil fighting against the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. There are people in China fighting against poverty wages. These are all noble and important movements in their own right. But by focusing on all these symptoms we risk missing the underlying cause. And the cause is capitalism. It's time to name the thing.

What's so exciting about our present moment is that people are starting to do exactly that. And they are hungry for something different. For some, this means socialism. That YouGov poll showed that Americans under the age of 30 tend to have a more favorable view of socialism than they do of capitalism, which is surprising given the sheer scale of the propaganda out there designed to convince people that socialism is evil. But millennials aren't bogged down by these dusty old binaries. For them the matter is simple: They can see that capitalism isn't working for the majority of humanity, and they're ready to invent something better.

What might a better world look like? There are a million ideas out there. We can start by changing how we understand and measure progress. As Robert Kennedy famously said, GDP "does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play . . . it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile."

We can change that. People want health care and education to be social goods, not market commodities, so we can choose to put public goods back in public hands. People want the fruits of production and the yields of our generous planet to benefit everyone, rather than being siphoned up by the super-rich, so we can change tax laws and introduce potentially transformative measures like a universal basic income. People want to live in balance with the environment on which we all depend for our survival; so we can adopt regenerative agricultural solutions and even choose, as Ecuador did in 2008, to recognize in law, at the level of the nation's constitution, that nature has "the right to exist, persist, maintain, and regenerate its vital cycles."

Measures like these could dethrone capitalism's prime directive and replace it with a more balanced logic, that recognizes the many factors required for a healthy and thriving civilization. If done systematically enough, they could consign one-dimensional capitalism to the dustbin of history.

None of this is actually radical. Our leaders will tell us that these ideas are not feasible, but what is not feasible is the assumption that we can carry on with the status quo. If we keep pounding on the wedge of inequality and chewing through our living planet, the whole thing is going to implode. The choice is stark, and it seems people are waking up to it in large numbers: Either we evolve into a future beyond capitalism, or we won't have a future at all.

Dr. Jason Hickel is an anthropologist at the London School of Economics who works on international development and global political economy, with an ethnographic focus on southern Africa.  He writes for the Guardian and Al Jazeera English. His most recent book, The Divide: A Brief History of Global Inequality and Its Solutions, is available now.

Martin Kirk is cofounder and director of strategy for The Rules, a global collective of writers, thinkers, and activists dedicated to challenging the root causes of global poverty and inequality. His work focuses on bringing insights from the cognitive and complexity sciences to bear on issues of public understanding of complex global challenges.

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Saturday, February 17, 2018

ANS -- Legal Pushback Takes Shape on Trump’s Solar Tariffs

This is a short article on what's happening with the solar panel tariff Trump imposed.  It shows that these things are always more complex than the news makes them.  

Legal Pushback Takes Shape on Trump's Solar Tariffs

February 13, 2018
solar tariffs

Countries and entities negatively affected by solar tariffs set by the Trump Administration in January on imports of crystalline silicon PV cells are beginning to seek redress — with the latest action taking the form of a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of International Trade.

Manufacturers in Canada came together last week to file the lawsuit, according to international law firm Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy, which is not involved in the litigation. Three companies — Silfab Solar, Heliene and Canadian Solar — claim that the tariffs violate the U.S. Trade Act and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Requests for consultation also have been filed with the World Trade Organization (WTO) by Taiwan and the Republic of Korea.

Allan Marks, partner with Milbank, told Renewable Energy World that the Canadian manufactures make two arguments in their lawsuit.

Given that the International Trade Commission's finding was that Canadian exports had not done substantial harm to U.S. manufacturers, the Canadian manufacturers say the tariff should not have been applied to Canada. That it was, they say, is a violation of U.S. law, namely the Trade Act. In addition, they say that the tariffs violate the spirit of NAFTA, which governs trade between the U.S. and Canada.


Rising residential solar loans, cash sales pose threats, opportunities for market leaders

Home and property owners across the U.S. continue to install solar photovoltaic (PV) energy systems at a rapid pace, and they're increasingly purchasing their systems outright as opposed to leasing them or signing a power purchase agreement (PPA) with a third party.

Marks said that it is likely that the manufacturers moved forward with the lawsuit because their imports would not benefit from an exemption on quantity.

"If you look at how the tariffs were imposed, you have the 30 percent tariff that declines over four years, in 5 percent increments, but there's an exemption — the first 2.5 GW of imports are not subject to the tariff, and that only applies to the cells on a standalone basis," he said. "If they are incorporated into bigger modules, then they will not benefit from the exemption." The imports by these Canadian manufacturers, he added, are of those bigger modules, and would not, therefore, benefit from the exemption.

The outcome of the case would only affect the import status for Canadian products, and would not, therefore negate the tariff completely, Marks said.

The U.S. government, through the trade representative and the Department of Justice, will reply to the lawsuit, and Marks said it's likely they will argue that President Donald Trump complied with U.S. law in imposing the tariffs and including Canada.

While the lawsuit by the Canadian manufacturers makes a claim based on violation of U.S. law, complaints filed with the WTO address whether the U.S. action violates international law.

"I think we'll see more action there, legally with the request for consultations, and compensation potentially, from WTO action that could declare the U.S. measures illegal, and if that were the case, produce retaliatory tariffs," Marks said. He added that it's likely that the U.S. will begin to negotiate with other countries and regions to address the claims of international violations.

Lead image credit: CC0 Creative Commons | Pixabay

ANS -- Super wood could replace steel

We probably won't see this soon, but maybe eventually.  Plant more trees!  It's tougher, stronger wood.  At the end, they say they can make it transparent!  Short article.  

Science News
from research organizations

Super wood could replace steel

New process could make wood as strong as titanium alloys but lighter and cheaper

February 7, 2018
University of Maryland
Engineers have found a way to make wood more than 10 times stronger and tougher than before, creating a natural substance that is stronger than many titanium alloys.

Liangbing Hu, left, and Teng Li, right, are engineers at the University of Maryland, College Park who have found a way to make wood more than 10 times stronger and tougher than before.
Credit: University of Maryland

Engineers at the University of Maryland, College Park (UMD) have found a way to make wood more than 10 times times stronger and tougher than before, creating a natural substance that is stronger than many titanium alloys.

"This new way to treat wood makes it 12 times stronger than natural wood and 10 times tougher," said Liangbing Hu of UMD's A. James Clark School of Engineering and the leader of the team that did the research, to be published on February 8, 2018 in the journal Nature. "This could be a competitor to steel or even titanium alloys, it is so strong and durable. It's also comparable to carbon fiber, but much less expensive." Hu is an associate professor of materials science and engineering and a member of the Maryland Energy Innovation Institute.

"It is both strong and tough, which is a combination not usually found in nature," said Teng Li, the co-leader of the team and Samuel P. Langley Associate Professor of mechanical engineering at UMD's Clark School. His team measured the dense wood's mechanical properties. "It is as strong as steel, but six times lighter. It takes 10 times more energy to fracture than natural wood. It can even be bent and molded at the beginning of the process."

The team also tested the new wood material and natural wood by shooting bullet-like projectiles at it. The projectile blew straight through the natural wood. The fully treated wood stopped the projectile partway through.

"Soft woods like pine or balsa, which grow fast and are more environmentally friendly, could replace slower-growing but denser woods like teak in furniture or buildings," Hu said.

"The paper provides a highly promising route to the design of lightweight, high performance structural materials, with tremendous potential for a broad range of applications where high strength, large toughness and superior ballistic resistance are desired, " said Huajian Gao, a professor at Brown University who was not involved in the study. "It is particularly exciting to note that the method is versatile for various species of wood and fairly easy to implement."

"This kind of wood could be used in cars, airplanes, buildings -- any application where steel is used," Hu said.

"The two-step process reported in this paper achieves exceptionally high strength, much beyond what [is] reported in the literature," said Zhigang Suo, a professor of mechanics and materials at Harvard University, also not involved with the study. "Given the abundance of wood, as well as other cellulose-rich plants, this paper inspires imagination."

"The most outstanding observation, in my view, is the existence of a limiting concentration of lignin, the glue between wood cells, to maximize the mechanical performance of the densified wood. Too little or too much removal lower the strength compared to a maximum value achieved at intermediate or partial lignin removal. This reveals the subtle balance between hydrogen bonding and the adhesion imparted by such polyphenolic compound. Moreover, of outstanding interest, is the fact that that wood densification leads to both, increased strength and toughness, two properties that usually offset each other," said Orlando J. Rojas, a professor at Aalto University in Finland.

Hu's research has explored the capacities of wood's natural nanotechnology. They previously made a range of emerging technologies out of nanocellulose related materials: (1) super clear paper for replacing plastic; (2) photonic paper for improving solar cell efficiency by 30%; (3) a battery and a supercapacitor out of wood; (4) a battery from a leaf; (5) transparent wood for energy efficient buildings; (6) solar water desalination for drinking and specifically filtering out toxic dyes. These wood-based emerging technologies are being commercialized through a UMD spinoff company, Inventwood LLC.

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of Maryland. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Jianwei Song, Chaoji Chen, Shuze Zhu, Mingwei Zhu, Jiaqi Dai, Upamanyu Ray, Yiju Li, Yudi Kuang, Yongfeng Li, Nelson Quispe, Yonggang Yao, Amy Gong, Ulrich H. Leiste, Hugh A. Bruck, J. Y. Zhu, Azhar Vellore, Heng Li, Marilyn L. Minus, Zheng Jia, Ashlie Martini, Teng Li, Liangbing Hu. Processing bulk natural wood into a high-performance structural material. Nature, 2018; 554 (7691): 224 DOI: 10.1038/nature25476

Friday, February 16, 2018

ANS -- Farmers Are Using Flowers To Beat Back Pests Instead Of Chemicals

This is a brief article about using flowers to control pests in cropland.  If the pictures don't come through, go to the site.  You should see them.

Farmers Are Using Flowers To Beat Back Pests Instead Of Chemicals

A farm is its own ecosystem, but many conventional practices strip away the life cycle of all the creatures living in it by using pesticides. This makes sense, since crops can be decimated by the wrong kind of insect or other invader. But pesticides have created a number of problems; not only do pests become gradually resistant to the poison, the use of the chemicals can be unhealthy for workers and potentially for the people who come in contact with the produce in their food cycle.

Fast Company reports that many organic farmers are going back to older practices by cultivating an environment where natural pest predators can live. They're growing flowers amongst their other crops, creating a home for creatures like parasitic wasps, who eat aphids in their larval state. It's been a common practice to grow flowers around the perimeter of farmland acres, because it encourages biodiversity. But agriculturalists are experimenting with strips of flowers within their crops, creating a highway for bugs to travel farther and cover more ground for pest control.

It's an especially popular experiment in the U.K., where researchers Ben Woodcock and Richard Pywell are studying the new tactic at the Center for Ecology and Hydrology. They say that planting flowers to encourage bugs may seem obvious, but a certain amount of precision is needed to encourage the right kind in the right amounts, which requires more modern monitoring techniques.

"The wide-scale adoption of precision agricultural systems, particularly GPS mapping and precision application technologies, means that it should now possible to implement and protect these in-field habitats," they wrote to Fast Company in an email. "This would have been very challenging a few years ago. While this is unlikely to eliminate the need to apply pesticide, it may mean that pests populations are maintained below levels at which they cause damage to crops for longer periods, thus reducing the number of pesticide sprays applied."

The flowers are particularly important as scientists struggle with the widespread and terrifying phenomenon of beehive death. There are various explanations for why bee colonies have been dying in huge swathes across the world, but many think that overuse of pesticides is a contributing factor.

Other countries have been experimenting, too; in Switzerland, researchers planted a mix of poppies, cilantro, dill, and other flowers in combination with fields of wheat. They found that bugs who eat pests that eat wheat were encouraged by the flower growth, particularly ladybugs. Leaf damage declined by 61 percent. The goal is to find a mix of plants that help increase yield, which would justify the care required to cultivate them.

Even if flower production became simply another tool in the toolbox for farmers, it could dramatically reduce the use of pesticides—and they're also very pretty to look at.