USA pulls out of climate agreement

Selfish and ignorant.  Those were my first thoughts when I found out the USA has pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord.

The agreement was not perfect, but what on a such a massive scale could ever be deemed perfect?  It was inspiring to see the world come together with goals to help our planet.  195 countries, to be exact.

We all share this planet, after all.  We all breathe this air, and we all drink this water.  We all seek shelter from storms.

Supporters of the President will say the agreement was economically unfair to the USA and now the USA can be free to pursue it’s own goals.

But now, we join Syria and Nicaragua as the countries who are the outsiders on this issue.

We have willingly turned our back on diplomacy.

If worst comes to worst, we may have turned our back on the basic health and security of our children and grandchildren.

If worst comes to worst, this will be the defining moment when we have decided to condemn the entire world to higher temperatures, bigger droughts, rising seas, severe storms, migration, conflict, disease and starvation.

The USA is currently the #2 polluter in the world.  If our industries become unregulated, our levels of pollution likely rise in the name of short term profit while creating great long term harm.

Even if the US impact is small, it can push the most vulnerable countries underwater – such as the Maldives (population 325,000), Seychelles (87,000), Kiribati (102,000), and the Solomon Islands (585,000).

We must hope that despite not being part of the agreement, our industries will continue to invest in new technologies and try to find cleaner and safer ways to create energy.

We must speak out and support those who do what is good and right for the environment and criticize and hold accountable those that do not.

We must support science.

We must support one another.  This is our planet.  We share it with billions of humans, animals, and plants.

So here we are.  What we do matters.  How we vote matters.

Walk with grace, leave small footprints, but keep your eyes open and use your voice.

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(Photo taken at local March for Science)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Proposed budget would hurt wild horses

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(Photo: every week in the spring I do volunteer work with children and domesticated horses)

Wild horses are a symbol of the “Wild West”, often seen as emblematic of the American spirit.  Yet, they have been controversial for decades.  Ranchers have longed bemoaned the wild horses’ presence, and complain that protections for the animals have created problems of overpopulation.  The new budget proposal seems particularly cruel to the horses, however, as it would allow horses to be sold overseas for slaughter.  This would reverse protections both Democrat and Republican Presidents have championed for over forty years.

From CNBC:

President Donald Trump’s budget proposal calls for saving $10 million next year by selling wild horses captured throughout the West without the current requirement that buyers guarantee the animals won’t be resold for slaughter.

Wild horse advocates say the change would gut nearly a half-century of protection for wild horses — an icon of the American West — and could send thousands of free-roaming mustangs to foreign slaughterhouses for processing as food.

The problem with VOICE

If you watched (or read about) the State of the Union, you probably recall President Trump’s policy called VOICE, which was the administration’s plan to protect law abiding citizens by exposing crimes committed by immigrants (VOICE = victims of immigration crime engagement).

Unfortunately, like other sloppy rollouts of new policies this administration has completed, the database had a disastrous debut.  The database mistakenly included the names and detailed personal information of children and babies, and also included many adults who are not criminals.

From the LA Times:

The matches reveal the detention facility the immigrant is housed in, custody status, age, country of birth, date of birth, race, gender and aliases. There doesn’t appear to be any way to distinguish between someone who may have perpetrated a crime beyond being in the country illegally.

Attorneys representing immigrants expressed anger and worry over the release of names that were supposed to be protected.

Bryan Johnson, the Long Island, N.Y., lawyer who first noticed the error, called the release “reckless incompetence on the part of the Trump administration.”

“In their haste to pretend like they care about victims of immigrant crimes, the Trump administration released personally identifiable information regarding vulnerable children at risk of human trafficking and other crimes,” said Johnson, who defends children brought into the United States from abroad, many escaping violence.

Matthew Kolken, an immigration attorney in New York, said he was shocked that a quick search of the database brought up one of his clients — a 26-year-old asylum applicant from Lebanon who has been detained by immigration officials for two years.

The man had overstayed his visa and sought asylum because he is a pro-democracy leader in a youth movement back home and being persecuted by Hezbollah, Kolken said.

“If a terrorist organization is looking for him they may simply enter his name into a database and know exactly where he is,” Kolken said. “It puts his entire family back home in jeopardy.”

Supporters of VOICE will likely say the errors will be corrected, and that only a small percentage of immigrants were affected by the mistake.  But, remember: these are people’s lives and putting some of the most vulnerable in society at risk is no small error that can be easily corrected.

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Photo: refugee and immigrant support rally in my hometown

 

 

 

 

 

March for Science on Earth Day

IMG_5797An estimated 800 people showed up at 9:30am on a cold Saturday morning to March for Science in my city.

The March for Science coincided with Earth Day, and events took place worldwide.

Activists are hoping to shed light on the importance of science funding and support – after all, we need science to make medical breakthroughs and advances, to help us create better technology that will allow us to have cleaner energy, and to provide governments with evidence-based research so government policy can be more effective for all.  As Neil deGrasse Tyson says, our goal is to “Recognize what science is and allow it to be what it can and should be in the service of civilization.”

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My city has two major research universities.  Here’s a snippet of an article about the effect of proposed budget cuts on one, from USA Today:

President Donald Trump’s proposed budget, billed as a “Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” would leave big holes in research funding.

The budget has raised a host of concerns from University of Rochester officials, who noted that federal funds account for the lion’s share of UR’s research budget — 72 percent of $361.7 million last fiscal year, which ended on June 30.

“The proposed cuts would severely impact our research programs and university operations, curtail our ability to recruit and retain research talent and train the next generation of scientists, and significantly diminish the university’s contribution to regional growth,” said UR President Joel Seligman, in a recent message to UR faculty and staff.

Photos: taken by me

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I had a personal reason to attend The March for Science.  My dad was an engineer at Kodak, and his team was honored by the EPA in 2003.  He received the award for developing and commercializing the Particle Transfer Roller (PTR), which is today used by almost every film lab and film-to-video transfer facility, and it reduces the use of solvents in cleaning film.  He won the award for protecting the ozone layer.

He was always interested in environmental technology.  Here’s an article about another project he did from Film Journal in 2004:

Silver-applicated soundtracks require toxic redeveloper solutions that use 10 chemicals on the EPA watch list. As much water is used in the print-washing process as would serve the drinking water needs of a city of 100,000. Soundtrack application errors are a major cause of print rejection. Their silver content complicates the disposal of the more than 10 billion feet of used film stock annually. All in all, this old technology had become ever more costly, in environmental impact as well as in dollars and cents…Anticipating environmental legislation that might affect the film industry in the future, John Pytlak of Kodak approached Ioan Allen of Dolby Laboratories in the early 1990s. He thought there might be an electronic solution, and that Dolby’s soundtrack expertise could help find it. He was mostly right on both counts…The result was the formation in 1998 of the Dye Track Committee that today includes motion picture distributors, exhibitors, film stock manufacturers and film laboratories, all dedicated to replacing silver-applicated analog 35mm soundtracks with pure cyan-dye tracks. That year also saw the beginning of extensive testing, spearheaded by Dolby, Kodak, Fuji, Agfa, Technicolor and Deluxe.

Abortion

With the Republicans once again in power, it is no surprise “The Mexico City Policy” has been reinstated.  Global health is sadly politicized.  Republican presidents remove funding from world organizations that offer abortion services, and then Democrats reinstate funding.  World health organizations have become accustomed to this ping-pong policy.  Yet, as the BBC writes:

“The Trump order goes even further than previous Republican administrations, which only targeted reproductive health services, by extending the ban to cover all global health assistance provided by all departments or agencies.”

This will likely increase the spread of diseases such as malaria.  It will reduce family planning and sex education, increasing the risk of unwanted pregnancies and STDs (including HIV).

One aspect of the pro-life movement I have difficulty understanding is the concept that legally banning abortion somehow will reduce unwanted pregnancies.  Instead, many women will have unsafe abortions.

In Time Magazine this week there is an interview with Dr. Willie Parker, who is now an abortion provider in the South.  He grew up in Alabama with Christian values, firmly believing in the pro-life movement when he became a doctor.

What happened?

In the interview he explains.

I had to think more seriously…about the fact that I see women on a regular basis who have unplanned and unwanted pregnancies.  The compassion that welled up inside of me for each woman – each woman had a story…it came to a point where…what I believed and what I practiced began to come into conflict.

My epiphany came while listening to a sermon by Dr. Martin Luther King.  In that sermon he described what made the Good Samaritan good.  Someone had been robbed, left on the side of the road injured, and multiple people passed that person by.  They were all afraid of what might happen to them if they stopped to help…the Samaritan stopped and provided aid.  Dr. King said what made that person good was his ability to reverse the question of concern, to ask what will happen to this person if I don’t stop to help.

Conflict Minerals

From CBC News:

“Robin Wright stars in a documentary called When Elephants Fight, the name taken from the African proverb, ‘when elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.’ It means that in conflicts between the powerful, it is the weak who are hurt.”

CBC had a fascinating and troubling story about DRC’s conflict minerals.

In the USA, section 1052 of the Dodd-Frank Act seeks to prohibit companies from buying conflict minerals, such as tin, tantalum, and tungsten.  President Trump wishes to repeal this law, seeing it as being too much regulation on business.

Fortunately, companies such as Intel disapprove.  Intel, Apple, and other high tech companies rely on the “Three T” minerals for mobile and computer parts, but understand the moral need for conflict-free minerals.

Conflict minerals are minerals mined by child and slave labor.  The money goes to warlords who have little regard for human rights.

 

Video: YouTube, Stand With Congo

 

Refugees

You have likely heard the news regarding President Trump’s new executive order.  Since I have written about elephant refugees (Dec 23, 2016) on this blog, I thought I’d use a post today to discuss human refugees.

Why is President Trump doing this?

The executive order says:

“In order to protect Americans, the United States must ensure that those admitted to this country do not bear hostile attitudes toward it and its founding principles.”

What else does the executive order say?

Here are three key excerpts:

“I hereby proclaim that the immigrant and nonimmigrant entry into the United States of aliens from countries…would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, and I hereby suspend entry into the United States, as immigrants and nonimmigrants, of such persons for 90 days from the date of this order.”

“The Secretary of State shall suspend the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for 120 days.”

“I hereby proclaim that the entry of nationals of Syria as refugees is detrimental to the interests of the United States”

What have been the effects so far?

Some have already been stopped at airports, including green card holders.  Families are separated.  Dual citizens feel in limbo.  Lawsuits from groups such as the ACLU will be forthcoming.  Countries specially named in the ban by administration officials (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia) will likely respond with reciprocal policy changes.  For example, countries such as Iraq have many US contract workers who may be affected.

What are some long term effects?

Diplomatic relations or anti-terrorism co-efforts are likely to be highly strained.  US intelligence will have a more difficult time getting reliable information.  Other predominantly Muslim countries will be wary of US intentions.  Many citizens of predominantly Muslim countries will distrust US intentions, even more than they have previously.  Extremist groups may exploit the ban for their own gain, using it as propaganda for anti-Western intentions.

Muslim Americans will fear facing more discrimination.  Current green card holders, student visa holders, and work visa holders will fear their future plans are in jeopardy.

Most tragically and immediate, refugees’ lives have become even more difficult.  In 2016, over 12000 Syrian refugees came to the US fleeing the brutality of President Assad, ISIS, and rebel groups – fleeing air-dropped bombs, chemical weapons, suicide bombers, brutal killings, lack of medical treatment and starvation.  They have been in overcrowded camps – cold, hungry, and unwanted.

Why should we care?

The paragraphs above help explain why we should care.

The US vetting of refugees is already tightly controlled and complex, often taking two years.  Lately we have taken far fewer refugees from countries such as Syria compared to other Western countries.

As BBC noted, none of the 9/11 hijackers were from the seven countries named, nor have any terrorist attacks in the US post-9/11 been linked to extremists with origins in those countries.

The US has long been seen as a beacon of hope for refugees.  That light is now dimmed, and that should matter to us all.  Temporary actions can lead to long term consequences.