Monday, April 27, 2015

Start-up Company Wants to Use Drones to Reclaim the World's Shrinking Forests

by Nomad

One company wants to apply cutting edge technology to tackle one of the world's greatest threats to life on this planet- Man's global destruction of forests. 

Drones have quickly developed a lousy reputation for being Remote controlled killing machines. Their use in the war on terror has admittedly become the bane of the leaders of ISIS and Taliban camps but, like "smart bombs", there have also been growing questions about whether justice is being sacrificed for expediency and about the collateral damage these devices inflict on civilians.

In fact the military use of drones overshadows their civilian applications. The term "drone" refers to any remote controlled aerial device and that covers a wide spectrum, from hunter-killer surveillance craft to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).
One start-up firm, UK-based Biocarbon Engineering, is looking at the unique problem-solving capabilities of drones to combat the destruction of global forests.

The Scope of the Problem
Franklin Roosevelt once said:
A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people.
That was back in the 1930s and the problem has not only continued but the global rate of deforestation continues to increase at a frightening speed.
The world-wide calamity of de-forestation cannot be left to future generations to resolve. Every year, it is estimated that over 25 billion trees are removed from forests while only 15 billion are planted.

According to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). more than 18 million acres (7.3 million hectares) of forest, an area about the size of the country of Panama, are lost each year and they say that about half of the world's tropical forests have already been cleared.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Return of Freedom Fries in Texas Means Increased Obesity for High School Students

by Nomad

Texas state officials continue to march backwards in the name of deregulation. Serving fat and sugar to Texas children is a salute of freedom.

According to a top official at the Texas Department of Agriculture, Commissioner Sid Miller, a decade-old statewide ban on deep fat fryers in public schools must be repealed. 
That ban prohibits deep fat fryers and soda machines on school campuses and places limits on the time and place that junk food can be sold there.

Miller says he thinks that repealing these parts of the Texas Public School Nutrition Policy will streamline things, pulling the state into line with less-strict national standards. Under his plans, the presently-mandated schools will be free to decide for themselves whether to abide by the policy. 

Miller claims that “it isn't about french fries, it's about freedom." 

And who on Earth could be against freedom?

For the Love of Freedom and Fat
The deep fat fryer and soda machine ban are the last of strict nutritional policies introduced by former Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs. In 2004, in addition to those bans, Combs introduced the more comprehensive Texas Public School Nutrition Policy, which banned foods with high levels of sugar and fats in public schools. The policy was repealed last year, when Todd Staples was commissioner, and Miller has consistently expressed his support for less regulation of food in schools.
Three Texas whoops for de-regulation!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Free Market Mayhem: Do You Really Want to Live in a World without Environmental Regulations?

by Nomad

For corporations, a world without rules, without any annoying government interference might be heaven on Earth. But for the rest of us, it could be pretty damned close to hell on Earth.
We already have plenty of evidence of what life could be like if de-regulators get their way.

We often hear a lot of chatter about the benefits of deregulation and how important it is to avoid government interference in the world of big business. 
True to their Ayn Rand roots, both Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, both candidates in 2016, have expressed the idea that "If only the government got its hands out of the private industries, then a purer form of capitalist harmony would emerge."

Free-market libertarians believe in a totally hands-off approach to government and this includes nearly all corporate oversight. Since governments (and the laws they create) are the only powers strong enough to regulate things, corporations would essentially become unrestricted and above the law. One way to that is by eliminating the agencies that are involved in policing.

In November of last year, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky stated that his top priority was not going after the major polluters -such as the mining industry- His utmost concern was trying to do what he could “to get the EPA reined in.” 

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is primarily tasked with effectively managing, overseeing, and enforcing environmental laws. It has the legal authority to go after and prosecute polluters who would choose the break the laws in the name of profits.
So, all in all, McConnell's soundbite might seem like an unusual position for a politician charged with protecting the public interest. However, an investigation explains his personal stake in shielding the coal industry. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Conscience and Scripture: How the Abolition of Slavery and the Fight for Marriage Equality are Inseparable 2/2

by Nomad

In the second part of this series, we take a look at how the Presbyterian Assembly's recent decision to recognize marriage equality is entirely in keeping with its history on other progressive issues.
And whether it was slavery, segregation or mixed marriage, the opposition was always ready to use Scripture to justify their prejudices.

In the earlier post on this subject, we looked at the recent break between National Black Church Initiative (NBCI) and the Presbyterian Church over the subject of same-sex marriage. The decision to allow ceremonies to be conducted- as per the conscience of each church- created a backlash, involving approximately 15.7 million African Americans belonging to 34,000 churches. 

Rev. Anthony Evans. President of NBCI claimed that the Presbyterian Assembly had strayed from the Word of God, that is, the Holy book which defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

The History of Going Beyond Scripture
The history of the denomination reveals a centuries old pattern of free thinking. Presbyterianism was especially influenced by the French theologian John Calvin,
Two quotes by Calvin seem especially relevant.
Is it faith to understand nothing, and merely submit your convictions implicitly to the Church?
Clearly he believed that faith was more than submission without understanding.  He argued against relying solely on Scripture to resolve spiritual issues- or still worse, relying on the interpretations of church leaders. Faith shouldn't be a hand-me-down.

Another influence on Presbyterian doctrine was  a Scottish reformer, John Knox. He too objected to the absolute submission to Scripture and he had his reasons. 
The testimony of scripture is so plain that to add anything were superfluous, were it not that the world is almost now come to that blindness, that whatsoever pleases not the princes and the multitude, the same is rejected as doctrine newly forged, and is condemned for heresy.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Rebellion, Retrospect,and Regret: The 50th Anniversary of a Vietnam Peace March

by Nomad

Fifty years ago on this date, April 17, 1965, Washington saw one of the first and largest peace marches in its history. It was to become the first of many anti-war marches and demonstrations across the country.
Here's the story behind that history.

The planning for the anti-war march had been in the works since December 1964. Demonstrations against racial injustice had been remarkably successful in waking up the country and its leaders. Activists for peace were determined to inert similar pressures on Washington.
Up to that time, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) was a little known student activist organization. However, as the America's involvement in the Vietnam War steadily grew, students and others in that age group suddenly faced the reality of the draft.
This was real and it was a matter of life and death.
As one source explains:
Even before they shipped out, those who were drafted had begun to see the horrors of the war, most notably on television. The growing presence of television in nearly every American household thus exacerbated divisions over the conflict and helped fuel the antiwar movement. What Americans watched on television each night shaped their perceptions of the Vietnam War, which came to be known as the “living room war.” For some young Americans, called on to fight but unable to vote until the age of 21, the situation was unacceptable.
The anti-war message was easy enough for a child to understand. America had no reason to be in Southeast Asia and the reason were equally simple: the war hurts the Vietnamese people, the war hurts the American people and the SDS was concerned for both Vietnamese and American people. Anybody who agreed with those three points was invited to join in on the march on Washington.
The book, The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage explains:
The official call, hoping to appeal to a broad opposition, maintained that the war was fundamentally a "civil war" as well as "losing," "self-defeating," "dangerous" "never declared by Congress" and "hideously immoral."
These objections, the establishment press immediately labeled "pro-Communist," unpatriotic and at the very best, misguided and naive.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Conscience and Scripture: How the Abolition of Slavery and the Fight for Marriage Equality are Inseparable 1/2

by Nomad

A schism within the Presbyterian Church on its views regarding same-sex marriage made a bit of news recently. 
We look at the historical reasons why any literal interpretation of Scripture for an African American Church presents some particular problems. 
It hasn't been the first time the Presbyterians have followed their conscience on matters of equality and social justice.

The NBCI Decision and the Fragile Unity

Recently. the National Black Church Initiative (NBCI) made an interesting and somewhat disappointing announcement. This faith-based coalition of some 34, 000 churches made up of about 15 denominations with 15.7 million African-Americans declare that it had broken its fellowship the American branch of the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA).

The NBCI decision came about as a result of a recent vote by the Presbyterian Church to approve same-sex marriage.

Last June, The Presbyterian General Assembly, the top legislative body of the PCUSA voted to revise the constitutional language defining marriage. This decision granted  pastors discretion in determining whether or not to conduct same-gender marriages in civil jurisdictions where such marriages are legal.

According to the text of the assembly ruling, the elders of the Church decided that it was up to the pastors were allowed the freedom of conscience and their own interpretation of Scripture. They were free "to participate in any such marriage they believe the Holy Spirit calls them to perform."

Sunday, April 12, 2015

April 12, 1945- The Day America's Father Died

by Nomad

Today marks the seventieth anniversary of the death one of America's greatest presidents. Franklin Delano Roosevelt's passing left the nation not only struck dumb with grief but also a world poised on a new and dangerous age.

Shock and Disbelief

On this day seventy years ago, one of America's most beloved president died suddenly at the "Little White House," his Warm Springs, Georgia retreat since the 1920s.

Shortly after lunch, the care-ridden president had sat in the living room of his cottage, signing letters and reviewing documents. He was sitting for his portrait, reportedly engaged in a lively conservation.
Then, without warning, he was seized by a sharp pain in his head and collapsed. He slumped backward in his chair in an apparent coma. His staff carried him to his bedroom. Doctors were summoned but there was very little that could be done.
In a few hours- at about 3:30 p.m- the 63-year-old president would be dead from a massive cerebral hemorrhage.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Con-Artist Conservatives and The Great Hoodwinking of America 3/3

by Nomad

The Part One and Part Two we looked at how many similarities there are between the fraud and swindles and the modern conservative movement. 

In this, the final installment in the series we wrap things up with two questions: Have middle-class Americans at long last realized that they are the victims of the Republican scam? Followed by the more important question: Is it too late to save American democracy?

Novelist Walter Kirn makes an interesting observations about the victims of swindles. It could explain why the Republican con game has continued for so long. Under normal circumstances, most victims catch on. So why do some people keep voting for the conservatives?

The reason, Kirn says, con artists get away with what they get away with is because their victims are "ashamed of their own blindness and their own gullibility, and they tend to just quietly go away." 

Outsiders might wonder why American voters who have realized that they have been played for the last 40 years are not un-stuffing the feathers from pillows and heating up the cauldrons of tar.
The reaction is, in fact, a bit more subtle. You can find the effect...if you know where to look.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Con-Artist Conservatives and The Great Hoodwinking of America 2/3

by Nomad

In Part One we looked at how, despite the evidence, Americans by and large still believe in socio-economic mobility. At the same time, even while conservatives are reducing opportunities for the middle class, they are still promoting the American Dream.

In Part Two we turn to the parallels between the worlds of conservative politics and the world of professional fraud.

When you look over the profile of your average con artist, you'd be forgiven for thinking he could do well in the field of politics. In a perfect world, swindlers and politicians would be absolute opposites.

Politicians, Con Artists and Personality Disorders
Generally speaking, like politicians, swindlers are experts at gaining the trust of their victims and can also be extremely intelligent and highly creative. Their sense of understanding of human nature exceeds the rest of the population. They can even be considered charming. Whereas these would be admirable characteristics typically, such qualities are dangerous.

Of all of these traits, one stand out as being a political advantage. Con artists "thrive on the knowledge that people tend to believe only what they want to believe." 
Anybody who has spent any time attempting to disprove all of the nonsensical disinformation discriminated by Fox News or the other propaganda machines of the Far Right knows how futile it can be.

Are there other similarities between swindlers and conservative politicians? 
Psychologists tells us that many con-artists suffer from a condition called Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Such people tend to be excessively preoccupied with personal adequacy, with power, and the prestige that go with power. The behavior is ruled by an exaggerated feelings of self-importance.
Being  exploitative by nature, they tend to see the world in terms of their own egoes and are mentally unable to see the destructive damage they are causing.  

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Call for Non-Violence: A Night and a Day with RFK

by Nomad

We look back at two particular days in April 1968 and two speeches by Senator Robert Kennedy following the traumatic murder of Martin Luther King in Memphis. The subject: whether senseless violence would triumph over peaceful change.

An Act of Blind Violence

Two days in early April forty-six years ago could perhaps be considered one of the darkest moments in the history of the United States. On April 4th, 39-year-old Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered in Memphis, shot down by a person or persons unknown. 
And for a moment, the Civil Rights Movement hung in the balance.

Would King's assassination in Memphis spell the end of the hopes of millions of black Americans? The question on many minds was whether they would now choose to forsake the non-violence King had advocated and match violence with violence and thereby destroy all of his efforts? 

On the evening of the assassination, President Johnson had issued a statement in which he asked every American to "reject the blind violence that has struck Dr. King, who lived by nonviolence."
We can achieve nothing by lawlessness and divisiveness among the American people. It is only by joining together and only by working together that we can continue to move toward equality and fulfillment for all of our people.
In an effort to head off expected rioting, the president contacted and advised a host of mayors and governors. He urged them not overreact and not to use any more force than necessary to keep the peace. Johnson was not impressed with the general atmosphere of fatalism.
"I'm not getting through. They're all holing up like generals in a dugout getting ready to watch a war."
Throughout the nation, there was a deep sense of foreboding. The nation held its breath.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Tomorrow's Headlines: Climate-Change Denying GOP House to Vote to Ban Law of Gravity

by Nomad

In honor of today's date, I present a sneak peek at tomorrow's headline. 

Later this month, the House of Representatives will be voting on controversial draft legislation which will deny the existence of gravity The Republican-led Congress expects little resistance to the proposed law in the upcoming vote.
The bill was sponsored by Rep. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), famous for his courageous stand on climate change.
In a press briefing on the Capitol steps, Inhofe said
"It's a win-win situation for the American tax-payers. For now on, we will not be held hostage by secular scientists. No offense, they were smart guys, but they are certainly not experts in Scripture. They shouldn't be able to go around trying to force their ideas on the rest of the nation. I still haven't seen any proof for the existence of gravity. After all, there's a reason why they call it a 'theory.' It makes about as much sense to me as the 'theory' of evolution."
According to the draft bill, from now on, all proposed federally-funded projects will be rejected automatically unless all participants sign an affidavit denying the existence of gravity "or any science supporting that theory."