Mar 10

from around the WORLD and BEYOND



Dec 27

Can capitalism be compassionate? A look at the shortcomings of health care and immigration.

Can capitalism be compassionate? A look at the shortcomings of health care and immigration.

By Brian D. Smiley December 20, 2013 influxproduction.com

IMG_5067Questions surrounding healthcare coverage and access for over 10 million undocumented immigrants touch upon the shortcomings of both the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and any immigration reform bills that are currently being debated. According to Harvard Professor and practicing internist Dr. Benjamin Sommers, the wide reaching effects of this lack of health care include exclusion for the millions of U.S. citizens, who are the children of immigrants, financial protection from economic disaster and limited access to comprehensive care (Sommers, 2013).  Even the children granted temporary amnesty under the Dream Act cannot participate in the medical exchanges set-up by the ACA. 80 percent of the undocumented immigrants who live in the U.S. are employed; some work in critical jobs like agriculture and manufacturing (Sommers, 2013).  When this important section of the U.S. labor force grows ill or otherwise cannot reach their vital jobs, food rots on the vines and prices increase.

Sommers points to disparities in the ACA that will actually divert money away from current state run low income medical access programs and make it harder for immigrants to receive health care (Sommers, 2013). He argues for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants to open the doors to Medicaid, Medicare and access to the health exchanges (Sommers, 2013). With the systemic loss of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. and the cheap labor that non-unionized immigrants give to those willing to hire them, it is clear why truly comprehensive immigration reform has stalled for the last 30 years.

A reality of the market driven, current capitalist system is that it requires populations who make low wages to prop it up. Much like the millions of slaves who gave plantation owners an edge on the textile market, European immigrants who fueled the industrial revolution and the current low paid workers that fill inbound cargo ships with cheap goods, the economic advantage of keeping an abundant underclass population is funding political decisions to maintain the status quo. A universal, single payer, health care system that is open and available to those who work in this country is one approach that solves many of the burdens. Some have characterized this as “Medicare For All”. In order to continue the step toward this reality, trust in the government has to be rebuilt. By strengthening the safety net for our neighbors and workforces, we may be able to embrace a compassionate capitalism and democratic socialism that leaves no one behind while reducing the bureaucracy and cronyism of our current broken system.


Photo and article By Brian D. Smiley influxproduction.com

Sommers, Benjamin D,M.D., PhD. (2013). Stuck between health and immigration reform — care for undocumented immigrants. The New England Journal of Medicine, 369(7), 593-5. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1424396859?accountid=32521

Dec 27

Learning as if school was never closed

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Cascading canyon walls and trees block the sounds of the humid city streets

Here in the natural world is where I can truly think

Undistracted by the pollution and form fitting institutions

All of us have a piece of the solutions

Learning as if school was never closed

As if we didn’t graduate and there is such a long way to go

With integration in mind, we pull together all the pieces

Body, mind and spirit face-to-face with community; responsibilities and freedoms

It all begins with my health and strength of immunity

What kind of food I’m eating and how flexible are my knees

When I am properly functioning then… my world comes in

My reality.

It allows me to reflect and begin the tasks of reversing material waste,

Transmuting poisons and raising awareness

Charting the scale of toxic and tonic environments

Vibrational grid is pulsing with my own heartbeat now

As I purify, the mother sighs and blossoms with relief

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Let the sunshine!

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Oct 08 2013

U.S. Foreign Policy: Last 5 Years in the Middle East

U.S. Foreign Policy: Last 5 Years in the Middle East

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The Obama administration ramps up secrecy in what seems like a lead-from-behind approach.

By B.D. Smiley Sept. 24, 2013

            Although the uprising known as the “Arab Spring” held the promise of democracy and justice across the Middle East, factions with extremist views or non-state actors have risen to take the place of fallen dictators or are currently attempting to gain power in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Egypt, and now Syria. The last five years of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East has brought about tumultuous relations with strategic partners in Israel, Turkey and Saudi Arabia and did not bring the democracy that was hoped for in more fragile countries like Tunisia (Walter, 2013). However, recent headway into relations with Iran and the resumption of Israel-Palestine peace talks have brought hope that was desperately missing since President Obama took office. Faced with the grand task of cleaning up two largely unsuccessful wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and adopting a “lead from behind” approach with moderate Islamic groups is an extreme challenge in the face of economic collapse at home and plenty of obstruction from Republicans in congress on just about every issue the Obama administration has presented. After over 30 years of overt military intervention into the Middle East by U.S. forces and its allies, and many years prior in covert operations and sanctions, the region has not seen significant gains in the security of its people or stability of its governments.

Sunnis outnumber Shiites nine to one in the Middle East and the idea (and hope for Ayatollahs) of a unified Ummah of Islamic solidarity has fallen wayside to sectarian violence and reprisal killings across the region (Pryce-Jones, 2013). As formerly entrenched dictators fall by revolution or by the blood and treasure of coalition forces, the power vacuum that has been created is not always as favorable to U.S. interests, civilian rule of law, or minorities in the regions. Often, as in Egypt, Syria and formerly Iraq, it is a case of secular (Bathist) military forces keeping radical groups at bay. When Egypt voted in the moderate Shiite oriented Muslim Brotherhood, the new regime’s inability to stabilize the region and make friends with neighboring oil powerhouse and mostly Sunni, Saudi Arabia, saw a violent coup d’état that does not readily tolerate democratic assembly of grieved Muslim Brotherhood supporters. The military has crushed protest encampments with brutal techniques that have killed hundreds (Nordland 2013). However, the U.S. will not claim that the military overthrow was a coup, apparently to avoid the international ramifications of this status.

The U.S. has annually provided approximately $1.5 billion in military aid to Egypt for the last 30 years. However, Saudi Arabia has stepped up its donations reaching $12 billion earlier in 2013. This undercut the threat of the U.S. and Europe removing their aid in the face of the military brutality against protestors (Nordland, 2013). The undermining of U.S. influence in the region by Saudi Arabia revealed the scope of the loss of power in the region and the importance of friendly forces to their interests being installed versus the threatening power of the Muslim Brotherhood which is mainly Shiite (Nordland, 2013).

The Arab Spring first began in the streets of Tunisia in the face of economic austerity and hardship that has been the root cause of much grievance. Harsh police tactics still suppress the free speech of the people there despite their slow turn towards democracy. The policies of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) dictated that certain economic conditions from borrowing countries had to be met, forcing the dictatorial regimes to pass on higher taxes, inflationary prices, reduced services and restricted loans to its people (Chossudovsky, 2013). Presented with little options for redress, a fruit seller in Tunisia set himself on fire and metaphorically set the region on fire in 2011. Powerful demonstrations then erupted in Egypt, Libya, Syria and Turkey. Protests in Egypt and Turkey were met with concessions. But, the brutal crackdown of protestors in Libya by Muammar Gaddafi, who ruled for 41 years, led to a NATO backed no fly zone. Gaddafi used mercenaries and Islamists from neighboring African countries to reinforce his troops, but his deadly tactics led to his eventual overthrow and murder by the revolutionaries.

In Syria, President Al-Assad, backed by Iran, Russia and China, has committed massive human rights violations in an attempt to quell the unrest in his country with over one hundred thousand deaths and 2 million people displaced (Obama, 2013). Both drought and austerity have hastened the unrest and now many extremist foreign fighters, some affiliated with Al-Qaeda in neighboring Iraq and Hezbollah in Lebanon, have infiltrated the region and added to the depth of chaos that is now a full fledge civil war. Recently, supposed chemical weapons use by the regime in Syria has crossed “red lines” set by President Obama. However, Assad’s powerful ally Russia is standing up for his continued control of Syria (Obama, 2013). When faced with large disapproval of military force by the American people, Obama addressed the nation on September 10th 2013 with a mixed message of selling strikes against Assad’s forces while buying time for a political solution that promises to rid Syria of its chemical weapons stockpile (Obama, 2013).

In a Wall Street Journal article critical of the “leading from behind” strategy, Russell Mead Walter says that the failure of President Obama to overthrow Al-Assad after calling for his removal showed “hardened realists” in the Middle East that, “the American president is irredeemably weak” (Walter, 2013). This position is framed as Walter being a former Obama supporter but now highly critical of a number of decisions made by the White House over the last five years. He calls out five areas of misreading made by the President: the political maturity and capability of allied Islamists, Egypt’s political environment, Israel and Saudi Arabia relations, the new dynamics of terrorist movements in the region and finally the “costs of inaction in Syria” (Walter, 2013). The solutions offered by Walter are to “devote more attention to the concerns of the Egyptian generals and the House of Saud”, to prepare the public for a long-term fight against terrorism and to refocus on Iran and their perceived quest for a nuclear weapon (Walter, 2013).

Walter fails to clearly account for several factors that the President may be counting on. In Syria, despite the civil war, many people are moderate and will not tolerate the extremists who may attempt to fill the power vacuum (Chossudovsky, 2013). In Israel, despite continued settlement expansion, peace talks are set to resume after several years away from the table. Finally, after June elections, a more moderate Iranian representative is set to begin direct talks with U.S. Secretary of state John Kerry after over a decade of mistrust and harsh sanctions. U.S. foreign policy is complex and the shift that has already taken place is vastly different than the years of President G.W. Bush, where the strong hand of military intervention was often disguised by false pretenses. President Obama has kept the military out of large theatre conflict but has ramped up covert CIA drone operations in Pakistan and Yemen and has generally placed more military capability with the CIA.  The U.S. often has a hypocritical rhetoric about its intentions; the continuing support for allies who are not democratically elected and are often brutal to their own people seems contrary to the support of unrecognized rebel forces (i.e. Free Syrian Army) with extremist ties. The U.S. and its allies are now known for helping to overthrow democratically elected governments that may not support U.S. interests, like with President Morsi in Egypt (Chossudovsky, 2013).

The endgame of Iran with nuclear capabilities is feared by nations who see this potential as a threat to the region and promise of a growing Caliphate or Shiite based Islamic Empire that would spread around the world. Western states have levied heavy sanctions against Iran that have only been defended against by their oil connections to Russia and China though it is evident that their people are suffering (Table, 2013).  The west is still reliant on oil and the region holds 65% of the oil reserves and 40% of the natural gas reserves (Table, 2013). So, with the Ayatollah’s calling for an Islamic empire and backing rogue states as allies, some think that if Iran had nuclear capabilities, Israel, Saudi Arabia and other western allies could be targeted. Iran continues to espouse that it is only seeking peaceful nuclear power (Table, 2013).

The political pressure from hawkish Neo-Cons to protect Israel, Saudi Arabia and our other regional allies by use of unilateral military force or covert coup d’état of democratically elected leaders like Mosaddeq in Iran in 1953, has never been enough to fix the problems of the Middle East and has only exacerbated conflict and damaged civilian life (Byrne, 2013). Sanctions drag on that affect regular people who are trying to feed their families. With the foreign policy in place that insists on the U.S. policing the troubled areas, the world has seen a rise in blowback known as terrorism. The complexity of the region has given way to unimaginative leaders who see the heavy handed fist of militarism as the only option for securing multinational interests of oil, minerals and strategic bases.

With new oil and gas shale “fracking” technology, the US has gained a degree of independence from foreign oil imports and has renewed its standing as the world’s largest fossil fuel exporter. This has allowed Saudi Arabia and OPEC to branch out by exporting more to China and other countries (Nordland, 2013). However, even though Saudi Arabia is a staunch ally of the U.S., it is a monarchy that represses its people, especially women. This doesn’t seem to align with the notion that we are spreading democracy, but rather spreading empire to those areas that defy what American power demands while clearly backing regimes that do not maintain human rights or equality for their own people. The message that is sent is that as long as you play nice with U.S. multinational corporations you can have whatever kind of government suits your elites. The U.S. has tenuous moral authority considering it’s recent past.

Israel feels threatened by the position its neighbors have taken against it, but with unflinching friends in the U.S. Congress and a large U.S. military backing, Israel continues to expand it’s settlements through military force (Lobe, 2013). The Palestinian/Arab-Israel differences have created rippling consequences for the region and a fragile peace that has been disrupted by covert operations and outright bombing of Israeli’s neighboring countries (Lebanon,Syria,Palestine). Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, along with staunch Israel supporters in Congress, have recently called on the Obama administration to increase sanctions with Iran despite rapidly growing inroads in relations between the two countries (Lobe, 2013). Part of the advancing hope of regional experts for a detente between the U.S. and Iran comes from agreements between the two countries over Syria’s chemical weapons and a new Iranian President named Rouhani who is making a concerted effort to improve relations with the west over his last two months in power (Lobe, 2013). The people of Iran and the U.S. clearly want better relations but Israel fears the radical elements despite their own massive and secretive nuclear arsenal.

The Jewish and Palestinian conflict has been going on since Israel was etched out by violent actions of the Zionist movement and British colonial forces after WWI. It has continued with violence in the last five years. Palestine is now split between two rival factions who are struggling to come to terms; the democratically elected Hamas who controls Gaza and is aligned with the Shiite’s Muslim Brotherhood versus the hardened and longer lasting Fatah, who controls the other regions of Palestine. They have recently signed peace agreements but continue to remain hostile toward each other, despite The United Nations recognizing Palestine as an observer state against U.S. wishes just last year. The two groups continue to struggle for power while Israel stalls peace talks with settlement practices that threaten to split Palestine into two distinct regions. The fact that Israel or Washington will not publicly admit that Israel has nuclear weapons is a sticking point for its neighbors who would prefer transparency. This secret fact is what created the impetus for Syria to gain access to chemical weapons in the first place (Table, 2013). Mutually assured destruction has been a dangerous game and some experts’ think that Iran is trying to bluff its way into possessing a nuclear weapon of its own, despite its claims for peaceful intentions only.

One of the most disrupting factors in the Middle East was the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 in response to the September 11,2001 attacks of the World Trade Center and Pentagon. President Obama was assigned the task of ending those wars and was prematurely awarded the Nobel Peace Prizesoon  after he took office. His efforts to exit the quagmire in Iraq are valiant but the increased militarization of the CIA drone program in Yemen and Pakistan have drawn rebuke from locals and peace activists who see the drones as a violation of human rights. The blow-back from civilian deaths and foreign incursions has yet to be felt abroad but will surely come at a price. Some wonder if these actions are creating more Salafist Jihadists than destroying them, while others applaud the covert struggle and also call for direct military action with Syria (Table, 2013). The neo-conservatives on the Council of Foreign relations fear that if Syria is left unchecked by the U.S., the violence will spill over to other countries and create a safe harbor for Islamic extremists (Table, 2013). The Sunnis and Shiite of Lebanon are already fighting each other in parts of Syria, as are the Kurdish separatists in the north near Turkey (Table, 2013). However, no one doubts that an increase in humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees and the rest of the region is essential. Diplomatic efforts must continue and a calming of the rhetoric could lead to a Geneva II for a Syrian peace deal (Lobe, 2013). A tough but compassionate, “long distance” approach is better suited than red lining, name calling and short term posturing.

Religious differences and economic power struggles have caused much of the violence in The Middle East and South Asia. However, the recent public admission of the CIA’s involvement in Iran’s 1953 coup, the U.S backing of Saddam Hussein when he used chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq war in the 80’s and the creation of Al-Qaeda to fight the soviets in Afghanistan are all examples of how U.S. involvement has outright created and exacerbated many of the challenges in the region (Byrne, 2013). When you combine this subversion with the alliance of brutal dictatorships in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, because they support U.S foreign policy, the overall approach by the U.S in the Middle East seems hypocritical and tragic. Not only has the U.S. underestimated powers and movements, the lack of support after sanctions and incursions is borderline criminal. The shame of military behavior at Abu-Ghraib prison or the support of questionable mercenary contractors like Xe (Blackwater) have all tarnished the U.S. image in the Middle East and caused a backlash that has helped give rise to Islamic governments in the place of disposed secular leaders. As well, whistle blowing leaks of foreign correspondents and documents by Manning and Snowden have caused friends and foes to question U.S. practices. With the decrease in media attention due to news agency consolidation and lack of foreign policy coverage at home, America has failed to recognize the importance of humanitarian needs and diplomatic intervention until the problems have grown out of control (Bennett, 2012).

The often confusing and complex world of U.S. military intervention in the Middle East over the last few decades has produced quagmires of immense proportion. In the last 5 years there have been short-term gains with disposed enemies and decimated command structures that have only been undermined later by the lack of political will to truly win hearts and minds through meaningful aid programs. The same corporate-beholden, shoot first and ask-questions-later policy, is the same force that is keeping millions of Americans in poverty at home. So, after over 60 years of overt military intervention into the Middle East by U.S. forces and many years prior in covert operations, heavy sanctions that target civilians, secretive drone programs and the stalwart defense of corporate interests,  the region has not seen significant gains in the security of its people or stability of its governments. The blowback from corporate warfare is terrorism in the U.S. and allied territories, but the drone program, secret prisons, and questionable allies are not helping the long term trust needed in the region.

 

 

References

Rubin, J. (2013, May 20). A middle east policy train wreck (posted 2013-05-20 15:01:13). The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1353218155?accountid=32521

Seif El-Nasr, S. n. (2012). Strategies of stability : U.S. interventions in the Middle East (1953-2008) : a social complexity approach.

PRYCE-JONES, D. (2013). Empire Strikes Back. National Review, 65(10), 22-24. Retrieved from http://library.ashford.edu/EzProxy.aspx?url=http://search.ebscohost.com.proxy-library.ashford.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,cpid&custid=s8856897&db=aph&AN=87599258&site=ehost-live

Table, A. J. (2013). Syria’s collapse and how washington can stop it. Foreign Affairs, 92(4), 90-100. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1411622846?accountid=32521

Lazare, S. (August 24, 2013) US moving towards war with Syria? Common Dreams. Retrieved from http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/08/24-1

Miller, A L. August, 8, 2013 Exploiting Egypt’s Rape Culture for Political Gain. The Nation.

Retrieved from http://www.thenation.com/article/175669/exploiting-egypts-rape-culture-political-gain#axzz2d3830hBh

PROSPECTS 2013: US middle east policy. (2012). (). Oxford: Oxford Analytica Ltd. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1178847128?accountid=32521

Walter, R. M. (2013, Aug 24). REVIEW — our failed grand strategy — american foreign policy in the middle east made five big miscalculations; walter russell mead on what went wrong — and how the U.S. can regain leverage. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1427422187?accountid=32521

Nordland, R. (2013, Aug 20). Saudi arabia promises to aid egypt’s regime. New York Times. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1426168520?accountid=32521

Chossudovsky, M. (July 05, 2013) Was Washington behind Egypt’s coup d’etat? Russia Today. Retrieved from http://rt.com/op-edge/us-egypt-muslim-brotherhood-704/

Obama, B. (Sep 10, 2013). Remarks by the President in Address to the Nation on Syria. The White House. Retrieved from http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/09/10/remarks-president-address-nation-syria

Lobe, J. (Sep 24, 2013). Speculation over Iran-U.S détente continues apace. Inter Press Service. Retrieved from http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/09/24-0

Byrne, M (Aug 19, 2013). CIA confirms role in 1953 Iran coup. The National Security Archive. Retrieved from http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB435/

Bennett, W.L (2012). News: the politics of illusion. Glenview, IL. Pearson Education Inc.

 

Aug 27

Arrgh Pirates! New Territory For Radio Expansion in 2013

Arrgh Pirates! New Territory For Radio Expansion in 2013

by Brian D Smiley

August 20, 2013

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Internet radio has opened the doors for countless new formats, programming and content heard by niche markets. Radio listening continues to grow rapidly online with broad listenership of services like Pandora and the “narrowcasting” of services like blogtalkradio.com . Traditional terrestrial radio listening remains steady as companies are finally taking advantage of new technologies like high definition transmition (HD); with the ability to broadcast weather information on sidebands, and the Low Power Frequency Modulation (LPFM) spectrum carved out in 2000 that suits localized communities (1000 new LPFM stations are being released on OCT, 15th across the US!).

FM and AM stations continue in popularity with 243 million people listening every week, but commercial radio has seen large declines in advertising revenue. Despite a rapid growth in smartphone users tuning into online radio, with 21 percent reporting listening while driving in 2013 (up from 6 percent in 2010), AM/FM radio is heard by drivers 84 percent of the time, according to a recent survey by Edison Research. Radios outnumber people in America by two-to-one. The Internet streaming service Pandora has 200 million registered users, up from 100 million in 2011, and Apple, expected to join the rapidly growing industry with its own personalized Web radio service later this year, is joining the game. Commercial, public and home-based radio stations are accessed using online radio services and archived in podcasts, which increases access for advertisers and access for communities.

Despite the recording industry’s challenges to embrace digital download technology, the Federal Communications Commission’s unclear rulings and radio station owners’ slow change to digital broadcasting, radio listeners have benefited with a new wide range of exciting entertainment, compelling news broadcasts and relevant community programming. This resurgence has influenced culture and allowed for more artistic freedom and diversified opinions.

Beginning with the Radio Act of 1927, the U.S. Government was involved with radio station programming despite the First Amendment’s ruling that no law should be created that limits the freedom of speech or the press. The Radio Act came about after it was evident that radio stations stepped on each other’s frequencies, causing interference as well as a concern for public decency.  From there, the equal time rule in 1934, created to balance political discourse, brought about the formation of the FCC. The federally appointed commission then set forth the fairness doctrine, in place from 1949 to 1987, to ensure that all public matters had an even coverage. With the adoption of the long-standing international Berne Convention in 1988, American media companies helped to pressure congress into adopting a set of standards that allowed for media expansion and author protections across borders.

A major communications milestone in 1996; the Telecommunications Act, deregulated radio station ownership as well as other broadcast companies. Media conglomerates like Clear Channel Communications and Cumulus Broadcasting LLC purchased many independent stations at a time when advertising revenue started to wane.  The creation of National Public Radio  (NPR) and public funding of educational and informational programs across public radio allowed for radio to become a place where advertising isn’t the primary objective. In a 2011 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on media programming incentives, they found that programming selections are based on advertisement revenue, the cost of programming and market competition as the main economic factors of what a station chooses to play (2011). Other factors discovered in the GAO report include FCC rules and regulations as well as infrastructure limitations like the station power only able to cover certain areas and demographics (2011).

Radio is the main currency of sonic media but not the only sound that affects modern society.  Digital technology also influences sound in a variety of settings. Audio is used in video, live performance and presentation, podcasting, embedded in various technologies, online interactivity and used for education, entertainment and health applications. Sound is everywhere and messages can be overt declarations or subtle cues to act in a certain way; as seen in crosswalk tones or the sound made to alert when someone walks into a store.  Other sounds have been trademarked to signal when a certain brand is used; think of the Microsoft and Apple start-up sound. The radio waves are used by industry to send cellular signals, two-way radio broadcasts and to send heart monitor information; the radio spectrum is broken up into frequency bands that delineate what type of operation can use them. All are monitored and regulated by the FCC, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulates the industries that spring up around the new technologies. 

The iPod (smartphones) and similar storage and playback devices allow students to capture classroom lectures, listen to iTunes University classes or to transport written material from one computer to another.  With the most sought after radio programs diversifying across broadcast frequencies, the Internet and downloads, it is doubtful that essential audio programming will go away. However, with advertising as the driving force behind commercial radio, it is likely that continued changes to AM and FM will be coming (GAO, 2011).

Internet and satellite radio influence each other and terrestrial radio in a number of ways. In programming, advertisements have grown shorter, playlists have become slightly more varied, following the more random “Jack Fm” format, and stations that support popular all-comedy broadcasts are readily available.  Sirius XM radio has integrated the personalization features of Pandora with a MySXM feature that uses the services playlists as a starting point for their preferences. Clear Channel Communications has struck deals with radio manufacturers to support their iHeart radio application and other media chains have followed suit. Public radio adopted the digital signal early on and provides its programs in a variety of formats. Subscription-based models get rid of or minimize advertising, play directly to niche audiences and utilize metrics on listening time and variability with more accuracy. However, Clear Channel still controls over 800 radio stations nationwide and will often syndicate the same news, talk or entertainment programming across several different markets to cut costs and increase revenue. The quality and diversity of information has suffered under this market factor.

The 2009 GAO report on media programming notes that syndicated programming and voice tracking of DJ’s announcing the songs has not diminished the radio localism that the FCC strives to protect. The value of the programming, according to one station owner, is seen by how much it resonates with the listeners and not by where the programming originates.  Market competition can determine the formatting of a station, and commercial enterprises want to cater to niche markets if they have money to spend on the advertising.  However, for years, under-served communities have lacked the programming they need. KPFA was the first fully listener-sponsored radio stations, formed after World War II and has been on air continuously for over 60 years. The Pacifica network they are part of spans across the country. However, community radio does not serve every community. So, in 2000 the FCC began to license Low Powered Frequency Modulation (LPFM) stations that serve smaller communities and were sometimes operating as “pirate radio” outlaws.

On October 15th 2013, over 1000 LPFM will be released under the Local Community Radio Act signed by President Obama in 2011, and driven by the Prometheus Radio Project. When these stations combine with Internet broadcasting, independent voices, activists and local community groups will get their messages out to the world with a credible foundation of local radio to support them.

The recording industry was an early partner with radio. It provided the content that drew in listeners and targeted messages to the audiences.  Radio stations might have received kickbacks from the industry to play certain artists but listeners could call in to drive programming or respond to Arbitron ratings. Now, the ability for listeners to interact with their Internet radio stations by signaling a like or dislike for a song creates a more specialized and highly targeted sound. Pandora is not anathema to the new marketplace of iTunes and the recording industry. Although there have been complaints that artists do not get paid enough for even thousands of plays, the service allows listeners to bookmark artists and buy songs on iTunes.  Apple’s music store constantly ranks as one of the top Internet sites because of the ability to sample 90 seconds of a song; this natural pairing of sound and movies to digital downloading has saved the recording industry and fostered independent musicians and overall artistic freedom.

The innovation that comes from artists who support themselves on independent labels has been a boon to culture.  Apple’s iRadio is being developed to compete with services like Pandora, Spotify and Slacker and they are slowly working out the contracts with major recording labels, independent artists and various hardware manufacturers before its official release. However, iTunes has been at the forefront of streaming Internet radio since the late 1990’s. Although stations have come and go, the variety of small independent voices has reached millions of otherwise distant listeners throughout the world.

The file sharing software Napster in the mid nineties irrevocably altered the digital audio landscape and sent the recording companies into a decline, saved only by a series of court rulings and the viability of iTunes as an online marketplace. The court actions of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) against Napster, and over 35,000 individuals has created new laws, regulations and set new standards that seek to protect artists and labels from infringement in certain markets. The contracts formed between the RIAA and services like iTunes and Amazon have enabled the increase in the overall number of legal music downloads. However, the amount of illegal downloads worldwide has not diminished as services move to accommodating servers in Russia or other more lenient countries. The rise of illegal file sharing resulted in U.S. federal prosecutors wining a court battle to shut down the giant bit torrent service Megaupload in 2012. This has created a lasting ripple effect among file sharing sites around the world, despite efforts for certain offenders to evade a total shutdown.

The constitution puts a lot of weight into international treaties as the law of the land. With the adoption of the World Intellectual Property Organization’s WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT) and WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT), the United States embarked on a legal precedent that said that rights holders could rely on a violation of the law to protect their work instead of relying on un-hackable technological measures known as Digital Rights Management (DRM) or Technological Protection Measures (TPMs) to protect a copyrighted work. The adoption of the DMCA expanded on these treaties signed in the late 1990’s. However, Hinze (2007) states that there has been significant “collateral damage to consumers, scientific researchers and for competition and technological innovation” because of the overbroad approach that prevents non-copyrighted material from being shared. TPMs work by either limiting access to copyrighted material outright or by preventing copies. Part of her solution to the reforms needed for TPMs is to make sure that non-copyright infringing material is protected across the Internet by limiting the legal protection of TPMs to the boundaries of national law, to establish a flexible mechanism that permits access to legal material, to regulate anti-competition misuse of TPMs, to carefully structure circumvention penalties to allow scientific research, education, and finally that TPMs’ should have a review process to review their effectiveness on non-infringing users rights.  These steps will be necessary to return copyright to its original purpose of promoting the arts, engaging criticism and encouraging the sciences.

With some protections in place, the potential for long-term revenue streams for artists and recording labels exist; what Chris Andersen refers to as the “The Long Tail” which is more possible if media companies can rethink the traditional scarcity models and release their back catalogs. Music and information will generate substantial revenue when it adds to the value of a brand and becomes a facet of social networking sites, merchandising, and ticket sales along with future monetized income streams. For musicians and artists, this creates a whole new world to create in, but does it take away from the purity of their artistic expression? After all, traditionally a composer was not concerned with how their creation was monetized beyond who would pay to record it or how their own album sold. They would often leave the money making in the hands of A&R people or the recording label but this could restrict artistic freedom in an independent setting and thus contribute to a culture in decline. Hopefully for music listeners and industry alike, the marketplace will find a balance between sales and accessibility.

New technological innovations will influence the way that music, news and talk shows will reach the listener, but it is highly unlikely that sound media will vanish anytime soon. Much like print, it will need to adapt to the new technologies. The lessons of digital music streaming and downloading as a challenge to the traditional distribution channels should not be easily forgotten. The almost complete collapse of the recording industry and inability for artists to monetize and control their creations is stemmed for now, but could be easily challenged by the next technology. It is up to the industry to adapt and conform to the desires of the listener and to look at schemes like subscription services to make up for loss of advertising revenue.

Traditional commercial venues for radio are diminishing, but truly important consumer information is in specialized reports across niche stations that work with manufacturers to produce content that strikes a chord with listeners and is free from traditionally deceitful propaganda of advertising. The government can use the leverage of the FCC to enforce laws that foster competition, break up media conglomerates and give more of a local voice to issues as they have done with the Local Community Radio Act of 2011. Artists, entertainers and news media can use the resurgence that Internet radio creates to reach new audiences and foster financial relationships that can sustain their craft.

 

References

Anderson,  C. (October, 2004). The long tail. Wired. Retrieved from http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.10/tail.html

Brabazon, T. (2009). Sounds like teen spirit:itunes U, podcasting and a sonic education. Interactions: studies in Communication and Culture. Volume 1. Number 1. doi: 10.1386/iscc.1.1.71/1

Crosby, M. (May 13, 2013). The long and winding road. Urgent Communications. Pgs 28- 31.

Hightower, J. (Aug, 16, 2013). Get radio-active. Other Words, Op-Ed. Retrieved from http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/18229-get-radio-active

Hinze, G. (2007). Brave new world, ten years later: reviewing the impact of the policy choices in the implementation of the WIPO internet treaties’ technological protection measure provisions. Case Western Reserve Law Review. 57:4.

Palenchar, J. (2013). Survey: Online radio Use In Car Still Growing. TWICE: this Week In Consumer electronics, 28(9). 14-27.

Pember, R. and Calvert, C. (2013). Mass Media Law, 18th Ed.  New York, NY. McGraw-Hill.

Perloth, N. (Jan 23, 2012). Shuttering of Megaupload sends file-sharing sites packing. Bits. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/23/shuttered-megaupload-site-sends-file-sharing-sites-packing/

Peoples, G. (5/18/2013). Radio’s personal touch. Billboard. Prometheus Global media, LLC.

Peoples, G. (2013). Tune In To The Web. Billboard, 125(16), 10.

Roettgers, J (April 17, 2013) this is why Apple want to launch iRadio. GigaOm. USA Today. Retrived from http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2013/04/17/apple-iradio-spotify-digital-radio/2090703/

U.S. Government Accountability Office (2010).  Media programming: factors influencing the availability of independent programming in television and programming decisions in radio. Journal of Current Issues in Media and Telecommunications. Volume 3, Number 3. Nova science Publishers, Inc. ISSN: 1935-3588

Vivian, John (2012). The media of mass communication (10th Ed.). New York. Pearson Education, Inc.

Jun 17

Inspiration For Change

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Pick a card, any card.

Step right up and save the humans!

There’s plenty to be done and no time to be bored. Harness the collective synergy of your community today!

Get money out of politics, moratorium on GMO foods, decriminalize drugs, forgive student debt, repeal the death penalty, less privatization and commercialization, end the surveillance state (yet inspect more than 3% of incoming cargo), use permaculture design, ban nukes, stop the farm bill, stop subsidizing polluters and dark energy, flat tax, occupy Wall Street, break media monopolies, go open source, teach practical knowledge in school, save public schools, go organic and vegetarian and fast, plant food forests, invest in global village, develop third generation biofuels and expand all renewable, maintain the commons, protect all species, practice fair trade, use resource based economics, festival!, get sustainable and then thrive in love as one people exploring space in peace,

for all of time.

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May 01

2013 Early Education Funding

2013 Early Education Funding

Brian D Smiley

April 29th, 2013

InfluxProduction.com

The new model being attempted for the last twelve years for P-12 education in United States schools is a reform movement that ties in teacher and school performance with student test scores. This is characterized by the “No Child Left Behind” policy of the GW Bush administration. As Houston notes, this policy directly affects federal funding for schools based on results through standardized tests (Houston 2009, p 262). Teacher layoffs, school closures and an endless cycle of principals and staff may have created a destabilizing effect on many students. Although the data that reflects student progress is debatable, there is clearly room for improvement in the public schools after years of cuts to the arts, physical education and with sequestration moving forward, unless dramatic reversals get through congress. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Developments’ (OECD) PISA test ranks the US at about halfway up on a list of 34 countries for reading, science and math (OECD.org, 2012).  The website notes that the richest countries are not always the most successful learners. Education Historian at New York University, Diane Ravitch clearly spells out how public schools can become the dumping grounds for students who do not receive vouchers or acceptance to charter schools instead of the model for one of America’s most important democratic institutions. She admonishes that the reform movement is a disguise to privatize education. However, one common voice being heard from educators, activists and politicians is the need to fund preschool access, early childhood health initiatives and programs for P-12 education.

US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently cited James Heckman’s analysis of the Perry Preschool Project to show that there is a return on investment of seven dollars to one for preschool funding (Duncan 2013). However, the study, begun in 1962 was a demonstration project (Schweinhart 2004). President Obama’s proposed “Preschool For All” program, mentioned in his latest State of the Union address, suggests a dramatic increase in funding for children from low to moderate-income levels to gain access to pre-kindergarten quality education. Hand in hand with this is the continued funding of the longstanding Head Start program. Other programs like Race to the Top and the RESPECT project are laying out the groundwork for an increase in education spending in the face of dramatic cuts from the Budget Control Act of 2011 to just about every other public institution.

There are many sides to education funding that are being voiced through the government, new school models and private organizations. Entrepreneur Bill Gates has recently spoke of the importance for teacher feedback mechanisms of their performance. Through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the largest amount of expenditure in America is with education programs (Gates, 2013). Their initiatives have supported the rise of charter schools and the voucher system. Education experts like Diane Ravitch have dire warnings about the erosion of the public school system. The former Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice has even gotten into game in a report with former NY Schools chief Joel Klein that declared, in March of 2012, a failure to provide quality education in areas of science, languages and technology can create a national security risk. Despite this warning, The Heritage Foundation, lambasts the president’s proposal for an increase in education funding of 2.5 percent above 2012 levels at 70 billion, stating more bureaucracy is not what is needed for the 4200 person Department of Education (Burke & Sheffield 2012).

In a bold move against privatization and school closures as a way of reform, Randi Weingarten, the head of the nations largest union, the National Education Association, was recently arrested for blocking a hearing where Philadelphia public schools were to be closed (Resmovits, 2013). The idea is to move underperforming kids into new learning environments. Yet, University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute report stated that only 6% of students performed better in the new schools (Resmovits 2013). Although segregation in the school system is again an issue with many charters schools taking only upper class students and cheating scandals coming to the light when schools are pressured to continuously show improvement, the city of Chicago is moving ahead with a plan to close 80 public schools (Ravitch 2012).

Catholic school educator, Sister Dale McDonald reports that the gridlock in the 113th congress is a major hurdle to education finance in the private and public school communities alike. With sequestration looming, both her and Arne Duncan warn that because education is forward-funded, “districts may begin to ‘hoard” funds for when the impact is felt next year” says McDonald (2013).  The sequestration would effect disadvantaged students with a $41 billion cut in Title I grants, a $200 million cut from Title II –A, which are funds for professional development and special education grants reduced by more than $900 million. The long standing traditions of private schools and the democratic institution of public school are often at odds for federal dollars and in some situations parents can now decide where the funding will go with both state and federal voucher systems for their children.

Sister Dale McDonald’s article in the journal Momentum, found through Online Ashford Library and the ProQuest database, provides a perspective from the Catholic school community on what to expect for education finance and the overall approach from the current congress on education. She uses her article to carefully outline both the pitfalls of the proposed sequestration and beneficial tax breaks that are still in place for student’s families. Her critique of congress and the executive branch is backed up with well-researched facts on the budgetary details within the President’s most recent proposals for 2014 and the Budget Control Act of 2011 that is bringing on spending cuts for certain areas of education in the P-12 environment (McDonald, 2013).

The Heritage Foundation’s 2012 critical report on Obama’s education blueprint, found through ERIC, succinctly summarizes the Republican approach to government spending, taxation and federal overreach into the State’s business. Despite the current administration’s ongoing approach of seeing education as a long-term investment, the authors do not see the results and echo a sentiment from taxpayers for “fiscal restraint in Washington” (Burke & Sheffield 2012). They point to a DC voucher system that was proposed to be cut in place of the stricter federal funding for public and charter schools only. To them, this is evidence that the cuts are not specific enough and bureaucratic in their nature (Burke & Sheffield, 2012).

Michael Resnick’s 2012 article on education funding was also found through the ERIC database of EBSCO. Here he details the cuts that went into effect last year because of the congressional inaction to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) along with other programs. His appeal is largely aimed at the members of the National School Board Association as their Director for Federal Advocacy. His warnings about the cuts that would happen seem to be moving forward unless education can be protected from the sequester by last minute proposals in the budgets. (Resnick, M 2012).

Education funding has many parameters. From teacher preparation programs to Pell grant funding and from making it easy to fill out a FISA application to making sure low income children get enough to eat, the diverse nature of our education system becomes clear when, as Houston says, “you follow the money” (Houston, 2009, p 276). Discovering if early education programs work requires long-term studies and accurate testing systems. Education historian Diane Ravitch points to the models of success in countries like Finland and South Korea which she says have capitalized on the best parts of the American system with school unions and early childhood education investment. She contests that the American system is not in need of the standardization reforms being pushed by the current Administration or the privatization model being pushed by Republicans. In order to get the averages up across the spectrum of students, she feels poverty and segregation need to be addressed (Ravitch, 2012). The PISA test results show that school systems that invest in quality education environments and that respect the student’s complete learning background typically score the highest on the survey.

Research is showing that preschool preparation and K-12 health is an important part of creating education success. Preschool education is being reformed along with increases in spending in areas of health, access and parent involvement. President Obama’s 2014 budget proposal sees continued increases in education at 4.6 percent over 2013 and it includes many reforms and programs to increase safety and improve learning environments for both the preschool and K-12 learning environments (Dept of Education 2014 Budget). Recent changes into No Child Left Behind (NCLB) provide flexibility to the states so that they can more carefully bring up scores while avoiding drastic budgetary cuts and closures but it is up to the states to make the request for changes (ed.gov). It seems as if the reform programs are finally being reformed.

Programs like “Head Start” have slight decreases in funding scheduled yet are seen as ways to make sure that students in early education classrooms are less distracted by hunger pangs and health issues. Those students that were supported by this model have had definitive success stories. The model of the Perry Preschool Project shows that real world individualized learning strategies, holistic development and bringing the parents into a hands-on learning environment also improves income, health and lowers crime and teen birth rates for lower income families (Schweinhart 2004). It remains to be seen if this randomized controlled trial can be replicated at the large scale but it does seem to suggest that when children have a healthy perspective on the learning environment they may be more apt to want to learn. When combined with assessing, acquiring and keeping the highest quality educators and facilities the youngest students benefit throughout their lifetimes. Previous preschool funding was left largely to the states.

Diane Ravitch stated that one of the most important solutions to bringing up the achievement gap across K-12 schools is to invest in prenatal care because pre-term babies often have cognitive deficiencies (Ravitch 2012). She goes on to point out that reduced class size, having a nurse and social worker in every school and afterschool activities are all ways to improve the basic public education system without requiring standardized tests. In fact, she thinks that the testing should be like a students medical records. The results of the tests can be used as a diagnostic tool for the teacher and principal instead of a mark of passing or failing outright (Ravitch, 2012). She opposes the approach taken by Michelle Rhee in Washington DC, from 2007 to 2010 where, as school chancellor, she enacted school closures and teacher firings to meet the strict No Child Left Behind regulations and saw minimal success, if any. Rhee is considered anti-union and is advocating an approach that privatizes schools. Obama’s regulation ending DC’s school voucher programs may go a little way to correct the damage of the hard lined reform policies and the resulting atmosphere of segregation as P-12 schools seek only the best students to raise their testing scores and passing rates. Houston points to questionable cheating exposed by the Dallas Morning news where a grade three at Wilmer Elementary in Texas showed dramatic success at that key grade but the results not duplicated across other grades for that school (Houston 2009, p 262). The pressures for educators to not loose funding may mean skewing the results of tests in their favor under these policies.

In the latest education financing proposals for 2014, the administrations’ Preschool Development Grants ensure that states expand preschool access to four year olds. Some socio-economically disadvantaged preschoolers will also benefit from the investment in the Promise Neighborhoods program. The Promise Zones that are proposed will empower local communities to gain access to all levels of education. School improvement projects also inevitably effect preschool learning environments with overall facility enhancements. Finally, the school safety requirements section of the education budget allots $112 million to enhance emergency preparedness and school gun violence reduction. Details of the proposals will come to light, as specific budget proposals are made to the 113th congress and senate in the coming months.

Federal year 2014 funding highlights for education along with important facts about the reforms and new programs are gleamed on the Department of Education website. Specifically, the proposed programs for 2014 are highlighted here: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/budget/fy2014/assets/education.pdf

The ed.gov website focuses on statements made by officials in the Obama administration, performance outcomes that back up their decisions and special information for citizens on state and federal funding issues. Obama’s programs for preschoolers, that was mentioned in the latest State of Union Address, is outlined on this website: http://www.ed.gov/p-12-reform.  This government resource covers information about funding, research, policy and news as it relates to both P-12 and College level students.

Former Assistant Secretary of education, New York University education historian and once member of the Encyclopedia Britannica’s Board, Diane Ravitch’s website is full of useful and relevant education information. Here personal blog and Twitter feed is accessible on her page along with informative interviews and talks. Her featured video at The City Club in Chicago in 2012 was useful to get a snapshot on her perspective for a wide range of education reform topics and can be found here: http://dianeravitch.com/.

Finally, the National Education Association’s website, at www.nea.org, highlights key issues that are current and relevant to education financing. The NEA voices the opinions of educators and students. It is comprised of 3 million members and is the nation’s largest professional employee organization. They support No Child Left Behind’s initiatives but feel that the law needs to be improved. They are critical of the President’s current budget and provide links to articles like this that say cuts to the social safety net affect schools adversely: http://educationvotes.nea.org/2013/04/11/presidents-budget-disappoints-educators-concerned-for-students-working-families/.

Overall, a careful look at enacting drastic reform versus careful expenditures is still needed. Ravitch points out that we live in a society that has blamed much on the public education system yet in many areas we are successful and improving. Getting the congress to fund early childhood education will be important for the long-term success of the economy, to reduce crime and to fill important positions. There are good arguments that early education funding should be treated like an investment in the future of the country but unwise investments would drain the potential for economic and social success.

 

References

 

Burke, L & Sheffield R (April 12, 2012). Obama’s 2013 education budget and blueprint; a costly expansion of federal control. The heritage Foundation retrieved from http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2012/04/obamas-2013-education-budget-and-blueprint-a-costly-expansion-of-federal-control

Duncan, A (April 29, 2013). Opening Statement, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan–Release of NIEER’s “The State of Preschool 2012″ Yearbook.  Retrieved from http://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/opening-statement-us-secretary-education-arne-duncan-release-nieers-state-preschool-20

Houston, B. (2009). The Investigative Reporter’s Handbook: A Guide to Documents, Databases and Techniques (5th Ed). Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin

McDonald, D (Mar 2013) What Can the Education Community Expect from the 113th Congress? Momentum Vol 44, 1 p 63. Retrieved from http://www.readperiodicals.com/201302/2944793631.html

Ravitch, D (Oct 15, 2012). two visoms for chicago’s schools. Speech and Q & A. retrieved from http://cityclubvideo.wordpress.com/2012/10/15/diane-ravitch/#more-622

Resmovtis, J (March 7, 2013) Randi Weingarten Arrested For Protesting Philadelphia School Closure Hearing (UPDATE). Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/07/randi-weingarten-arrested_n_2832306.html

 

Resnick, Michael (Sep 2012). American School Board Journal. Vol 19, issue 9 p 6-14. Retrieved from http://www.asbj.com/MainMenuCategory/Archive/2012/September/September2012-School-Board-News.html

Scheinhardt L (2004) The High/Scope Perry Preschool Study Through Age 40: Summary, Conclusions, and Frequently Asked Questions. (High/Scope Press 2004)

 

 

Resource Websites:

National Education Association:

http://www.nea.org/home/1709.htm

United States Department of Education:

http://www.ed.gov/

2014 federal year Budget for Education Department:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/budget/fy2014/assets/education.pdf

Bill Gates Interview:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/30/bill-gates-on-education-t_n_2584107.html

Mar 25

Invisible Hand Vs. Mother Nature

Alternatives to resource intensive fossil fuels are necessary for humankind’s survival, yet market capitalism takes big risks in the face of climate changes and forces of nature. By Brian D. Smiley Jan 18, 2013

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In 2008, the global sustainable energy investment reached $155 billion and surpassed the investment in fossil fuels for the first time, yet the US still only gets around 19 percent of it’s energy from renewable sources. As of 2011 we are globally at $257 billion in expenditures for large-scale hydro, solar, wind and biofuel production. By comparison, the world spends around $1630 billion on militaries (SIPRI, 2011). Most science and industry experts agree that a balanced approach of intelligently switching to renewable energy sources, implementing efficiency improvements wherever possible, while simultaneously reducing the total amount of energy consumption for each individual, will be necessary to create a sustainable world for generations to come.

Not only are the emissions from coal and oil leading to global environmental collapse by promoting the greenhouse effect, eventually humans will run out of the current resources that sustain modern life. Other factors of pollution, low efficiency and geographic dependency are pushing a need for a switch to renewable resources. Fossil fuel emissions are the largest contributor to climate change and according to a United States Department of Energy study in 2010, they account for 84.6 percent of greenhouse gases emitted in the US. Yet, powerful lobby groups continue to have unlimited access to lawmakers while some small business entrepreneurs feel unsupported. Much of the real change needed in energy policy and funding has taken a back seat in the political theatre as cheaper sources of fossil fuel are seen as necessary to jump-start the economy from the latest recession. However, alternatives like solar, wind and biofuels are getting a push-start from government expenditures through actions from the US tax payer bailouts, global energy initiatives and renewed interest from people around the world after record droughts, super-storms and other strange weather patterns begin to become a more common and obvious threat.

When asked about the pace at which industry is adopting alternative energy resources, edible algae entrepreneur and former senior scientist at NASA’s Omega Project, Dr. Aaron Wolf Baum points out that the scale of change is daunting, “We have a huge economy where many of the technologies will take 10 to 20 years to switch over. We have to start by building consciousness”. He points out that even with government subsidy, some of the first and second generation biofuels from crops have unintended consequences. Scientists agree that growing corn and other food crops for ethanol takes away from the food supply, requires valuable land and is fossil fuel intensive and government has set limitations on production. However, In an EMBO analysis of biofuels, GM’s director of environment and Energy Policy, Mary Beth Stanek, outlines the demand from the transportation industry for biofuel, “Actually, you can fuel up today,” she said. “The actual fuel itself is ethanol, whether it’s from first-generation corn or second-generation cellulosic, or even, in the future, algae or some of the other third generation fuels.” These fuels can be used in the existing motors of most of the vehicles and machines in use today.

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Image: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/ames/research/OMEGA/index.html

 

The Omega Project is working on growing algae at sea using wastewater tubes fed with the exhaust from power plants to potentially both clean the air and water, store large amounts of carbon, while producing a renewable liquid fuel source. Although large-scale efforts face technological and financial challenges, liquid biofuels will be essential for the future and algae is proving to be the best source for creating fuels that will work for ships, planes and heavy vehicles. Environmental scientists and the auto companies are in agreement that electric vehicles will solve most of the daily transportation needs if the electrical grid can support them. The grid can be powered from alternative energy like the sun, wind, and geo/solar thermal heat syncs that use saline water to store heat energy and run turbines. However, to build the consciousness and consensus around alternative energy you have to go to the people. To promote algae and it’s many uses, Dr. Baum is teaching workshops, consulting on projects and selling kits to grow Spirulina because it currently makes more sense to eat it than to make fuel for most people. In today’s market it is a natural starting point for entrepreneurs and he is involved with exiting startup companies like algaelab.org. Spirulina and other algae are to nutrition what solar power is to alternative energy; their potential is still being fully grasped.

Precious R& D funds for alternative energy fuels and various innovations can come from the government or from the private sector. The business model that Dr. Baum and others are promoting is to start with what is economically sustainable and then to feed the development of other products and technologies from profits. Alternative energy Researcher Ryan Grace hopes to see certain technologies become open source projects where thousands of people can collaborate and advance the research, development, testing and documentation of these technologies without the need for huge cash investments upfront, costly lawsuits and patent disputes. Grace points to his current work with the Drupal web development framework or the electronics prototyping platform Arduino; both are maintained and updated by thousands of participants yet still allow for profit-making businesses to thrive. Regarding government support for alternatives, in his experience, “politicians are owned by the businesses that funded their election so public money is invested in technologies that don’t disturb the status quo much like costly corn ethanol.” In order to get the special investment in radically advanced technologies such as GEET fuel processors, HHO water ignition and even Biofuel storage, he points out the need for campaign finance reform and a serious look at the bloated defense budget. There are other driving factors behind the lack in alternative energy investment beyond the direct subsidy of the oil and gas industry. With twenty percent of every tax dollar being spent on the US military, whose partial role is to secure fossil fuels overseas, taxpayers feed the largest polluter on the earth while renewable resources are being underdeveloped. The total science and research budget that includes alternative energy is at two percent of each tax dollar.

Humans will need biofuels to run the countless internal combustion engines we use now but an electric motor is generally four times as efficient. Algae creates the most promising biofuels but electricity can be generated in a myriad of ways. Storing and transporting the electrical energy is one current set of challenges. Many scientists are working on battery storage technologies like the hybrid electrode. Plug-in and electric-gas hybrid vehicles could take advantage of the grid and even recharge from the sun with mounted photovoltaic solar systems. Creating energy efficiency in the grid and our devices is the hope of projects that tax carbon emissions and reinvest the revenue.

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Hydrogen as a fuel is a challenging energy storage medium although it has got a lot of attention in recent years with California’s proposed hydrogen highway and prototype cars and busses hitting the market. Dr. Baum points out that hydrogen takes up a lot of volume and storing the hydrogen is difficult because it can go right through steel. There may be specific applications for hydrogen fuel but it’s many technical challenges might rule it’s use out for large-scale energy storage in the near future without significant breakthroughs.

Research into cold fusion has been the dream for many chemists and physicists as the problems of our current fission nuclear reactors are multifold. The storage of nuclear waste, dangers of running the facilities and the destructive mining for plutonium, uranium and all the substances in the various nuclear fuels are some examples of the danger of nukes as an alternative to fossil fuels. Nuclear fuels’ heavy demand on the environment, non-renewable nature and dangerous production cycle leaves this resource out as a solution for people concerned with the environmental dangers. In 2000, the mining of nuclear fuels was shown to increase greenhouse emissions on the whole so it is not a clean-air energy source as touted by its supporters. Yet, policy makers are pushing forward with a nuclear economy by opening new contracts to build more reactors. The current ongoing crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant in Japan, resulting from the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami, is causing many to rethink nuclear power. Many countries in Europe are phasing out nuclear altogether. If not for a change in wind direction, the entire city of Tokyo could have been evacuated after the Fukushima disaster. This may have solidified the world’s notion of eliminating nuclear power in exchange for alternative energy resources.

Wind energy to power the grid is an exciting field as the technology for the turbines improves and newly designed systems harness the power of the wind. In Shanghai they have implemented many new technologies like vertical axis turbines and they have begun to install the world’s largest offshore wind farm. Wind turbines that can be setup locally for small operations do not require long power lines, which is still a daunting challenge to bring the power to large urban areas. China is pushing for innovation and has signed onto certain global environmental protocols yet it is also developing and using fossil fuels at an alarming rate.

Natural Gas use is spreading globally as hydraulic fracturing technologies, or ‘fracking’, have made America into the world’s largest producer of fossil fuels once again. Some recent studies are showing that there are heavy environmental risks and damaging use of dwindling fresh water supplies that go along with this process. Arctic exploration is back on the table and the Canadian Tar Sands, if fully opened, would put billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere. The Keystone XL pipeline seems to be moving forward despite the current administration temporarily halting its expansion in 2012 due to large protests from numerous environmental movements. The oil and gas industry continues to rake in record-breaking profits from resources that some argue should not be exploited unfairly and carelessly.

fracking

The advantages in fossil fuel are mainly in the low-cost of its production. It’s clear their use and environmental damage are causing irreparable harm. However, it is also evident that if the government only funded renewable resources and stopped the tax subsidies to oil and coal, the dirtier resources may not be able to compete. In 2009, Photo Voltaic Solar (PV) matched coal at a dollar a watt and it’s hard to ignore the potential that rains down from the sun every day. Large-scale solar projects are going up all over the world and new ways to heat water from mirrors or storing heat in saline water, expand the possibilities for solar thermal energy production.

Real world examples of renewable energy in action are encouraging for the future. Tidal/wave power, solar thermal arrays, and well-managed hydroelectric power will feed the grid in a positive way. Their efficiency will rely on the government regulations surrounding them and the willingness of the public to support the properly evaluated implementation. However, Qin et al. (2012) point out that government and industry have been lacking a comprehensive set of analysis tools that account for cost benefit, cost effectiveness and cost utility all together. Their group set out to create a system to rank and determine the actual benefit or loss involved with implementing alternative energy projects so that all sides of the equation can be considered, not just monetary goals.

Paul Hawken, in his book, The Ecology of Commerce, points out that business is slowly realizing there is more to its role than making money. He states, “There is no polite way to say that business is destroying the world.” He points to the decimation of 97 percent of ancient forests in North America, the future loss of the Ogalla Aquifer at continued rates of use, and the loss of 25 billion tons of topsoil every year with our current farming practices. These statistics are just the beginning of a quickening trend. When you look at the rapid acidification of the oceans, the retreating of the glaciers, the shrinking of the ice caps, the growing amounts of greenhouse gasses and the rising environmental cost of fossil fuels, it becomes obvious that the world needs to change it’s energy and environmental policies fast. Hawken goes on to say, “The rate and extent of environmental degradation is far in excess of what is portrayed in the media.” In the 20 years since he wrote those words, our understanding of the worsening problems has grown. Even though many in the world are acting by signing on to treaties like the Kyoto Protocol, the US as the world’s biggest polluter has yet to enact major policy changes that are in agreement with the world’s view.

Some business leaders like T.Boone Pickens have made splashes in the media for promoting wind energy projects but he has since backed off of wind and is now more heavily invested than ever in natural gas since lands have been opened for hydraulic shale fracturing. Fracking uses a massive combination of water, chemicals and sand to break open the shale to release gas and oil. This has driven down the price of natural gas despite environmental concerns of the impacts on clean water and air quality. Natural gas does reduce greenhouse emissions compared with traditional fossil fuels and it reduces the dependence on foreign energy supplies so it is seen by many as a viable alternative to oil, coal and nuclear in the near future. Later this year, federal regulations on shale gas mining will be released. In recent statements, John Watson, CEO of Chevron said that the current US regulatory framework makes it “a good place to do business”. If it’s business as usual, those federal regulations may not come fast enough. Currently, in many states, businesses are not required to list where they are ‘fracking’, to pressure test the wells or to monitor where they are dumping the wastewater. California recently imposed new regulations that attempt to gain control of the powerful oil and gas industry by requiring a list what non-proprietary chemicals are used, but many environmentalists are calling the regulations ‘too little and too late’ after 50 years of largely unregulated oil and gas fracking. More regulations are expected at the State and Federal level.

Recent changes are bringing hope to changes in energy policy. The biggest boost ever to alternative energy development came when President Obama enacted his portion of the 2009 bailout with billions being invested in burgeoning technologies through direct support and tax breaks. In 2006 California passed AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act, and has recently held the first carbon credit auctions to make it the first state to require the purchase of carbon credits from greenhouse gas emitting businesses. The goal is to lower emissions, through efficiency projects and stricter regulation, back to 1990 levels by 2020. Hopefully, California will set an example to the rest of the world that you can sustain economic development and promote investment while regulating greenhouse emissions simultaneously. When these carbon credits are combined with a diversified alternative energy portfolio and the implementation of efficiency technologies at the personal and industrial levels are fulfilled, concerned citizens are making alternative energy a reality.

The question on everyone’s mind is will we make the right choices in time to restore the balance needed to sustain life on Earth? The showdown between the markets and nature is sure to become more unsettling in 2013. Unfortunately, everyday people are the ones to feel the worst effects from this struggle as the waters rise and business-as-usual looks to profits before people and the planet. Global austerity does not empower people to make the local changes needed and the giant multinationals must look to become part of the solution; to make the needed investment in alternative energy and efficiencies or the climate crisis will continue to worsen beyond what is already projected for the chaotic changes to come.

SIPRI, 11 APR 2011. Press Release. World military spending reached $1.6 trillion in 2010, biggest increase in South America, fall in Europe according to new SIPRI data. Retrieved from http://www.sipri.org/media/pressreleases/2011/milex

Qin, R. Grasman, S., Long, S., Lin, Y., Thomas, M. (Dec 2012) A Framework of Cost-Effectiveness Analysis for Alternative Energy Strategies. Engineering Management Journal. Vol 23, No 4. Retrieved from the Ashford Online Library.