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              The United States has taken a big step in U.S.-Muslim relations… we hope.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appointed the very first State Department envoy to Muslim communities—Farah Pandith. [1]   This follows President Obama’s promising speech in Cairo, Egypt which was lauded by Muslims, Europeans, and many Americans. People continue to have high hopes in this administration’s dedication to reach out to the naitonal and worldwide Muslim communities. 

For what it’s worth, the following is my wish list for Ms. Pandith; I hope she does not let this awesome opportunity slip away.  She could do an outstanding job by doing this and more: Read the rest of this entry »

In every generation there is a social movement that captivates the minds of the youth and challenges the establishment. A generation ago the battle was for social justice, today the youth fight for the global environment. On college campuses throughout the United States, from the gates of Cornell to the waves of San Francisco, universities have begun to create sustainability committees in an attempt to “Go Green.” These committees were formulated by the growing demand of their students to take a proactive role in greenerizing their institutions. Petitions were drafted and student organizations were created in an attempt to challenge their universities levels of sustainability. Many of them have succeeded. Starting two years ago, presidents from universities in all 50 states and Puerto Rico signed an agreement to redesign their infrastructures and become sustainable centers of learning.

The American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, (ACUPCC), provides a framework for participating institutions to neutralize their greenhouse gas emissions. While funding scientific research for sustainability, the universities will incorporate such developments into their curriculum, influencing the next generation of leaders in this country. Due to the strong demand by progressive minded students, presidents like Michael Hogan of the University of Connecticut, saw this as an opportunity for academia to lead the nation and serve as a model for modern America. As a part of the university’s commitment, Hogan instated a sustainability committee that is responsible to develop a sustainable divisional plan. Working with representatives from the administration, transportation, residential life, dinning services, community outreach, health services, and the student body, this committee brings together the entire university to solve a universal problem. This communal effort is being repeated throughout this country from the ivy universities to local community colleges.

As these committees make assessments of their universities, their discoveries and suggestions have begun to be implemented. 27 institutions have implanted some degree of green building requirements. The majority of them have adopted LEED certification standards. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, (LEED) certified buildings are scored on their sustainability, efficiency, materials used, and their environmental impact. The Los Angeles Community College District is implementing one of the largest public sustainable building efforts in the United States, allocating $2.2 billion for their LEEd certified projects. Serving 130,000 people, this program will serve as a model for cities all across the country. With 130 campuses already having sources of renewable energy, 70 more institutions including New York University and Santa Cruz are joining the list. In December of 2007, College of the Atlantic became the first US university to be carbon neutral. The signatory is on track with its 10 year commitment to renewable energy. These redesigned institutions will serve as an example of how we as individuals can have an influence in our communities.

The environmental consciousnesses of students on college campuses across the United States lead to the ACUPCC. With in two years there has been a dramatic investment by institutions. Committees have been formed, assessments made, funding allocated, and construction begun. With only 150 signatories, there is still much progress to be made. The grassroot youth is needed to begin about such changes. For more information on the ACUPCC or for information on how you school can sign the Commitment please visit their sites. After all, the torch has been pasted to a new generation of Americans.

Anyone with a business mindset can appreciate how a turbulous market can give rise to niche venture. Last June crude oil hit an all time high at $126.33 per barrel. For the same month in 2007, a barrel sold for $59.25. With the worst energy crisis in 30 years, Americans were forced to rethink their lifestyles, and with that a new niche was created. As American auto companies struggle to stay afloat, foreign automakers are importing their progressively efficient vehicles into the U.S. Starting as early as next year, three import vehicles will make their American debut.

The Piaggio Group, manufacture of the Italian Vespa, will release its plugin hybrid scooter next winter. With a fuel economy of 140 mpg, this scooter relies on its rechargeable battery and limited gas reserves to operate. The new import is expected to cost roughly the same as an all electric scooter, about $8,000 to $9,000. However, the older scooters can only drive about 50 miles until it has to recharge. These new Vespas will bring a touch of Roma into our towns and neighboorhoods months before an American company can compete.

If a two seated scooter is not big enough for your needs, then you might want to check out the new Honda Insight. Debuting on Earth Day, 2009, it is the most cost efficent hybrid on the market. At $20,000 the Honda Insight gets 60 mpg and is $2,000 less than the Toyota Prius, prompting Toyota to redesign its hybrid. Much more conventional looking than its predessor, the Insight appeals to the environmentally concious American family.

Unlike the Insight and the Vespa, the Norweigan manufactured Th!nk, will take more than a year to hit the highways of the U.S. Previously owned by the Ford Company, Th!nk is an all electric vehicle that follows a plan of sustainability by releasing zero emissions. Plans to release a fleet of vehicles will begin this year in The Netherlands. However, in the US they are waiting on funding from the Department of Energy, to begin plant construction. Talks are underway with eight states to determine where the estimated 16,000 cars will be manufactured each year by nearly 900 employees. If approved by the DOE, Th!nk will mass produced electric vehicles, making them more affordable and transforming the American auto industry.

During times of uncertainity, it has always been American innovation that has lead the world to prosperity and stability. However, as we increasing become gloablized, it is the innovation of other countries that has begun to transform America. Unless American auto companies can revolutionize their products, foreign automaker will maximize in our market.

Sitting in a Starbucks I sipped my venti Iced green tea as I watched patrons order their laundry list of beverages.  I wonder if our ancestors could ever imagine the luxury of having our level of consumption.  We live our lives, unknowingly unaware of how much we actually consume and how much we throw away.   An American produces 1,584 pounds of waste per year while the world average is 330 pounds per person per year.  As a country, we consume 1/5 of the world’s 500 billion plastic bags that are produced annually.  The United States consumes 350% more cubic feet of wood than the world’s average.  So what happens to the cups of coffee we throw away once their purpose has been served?

Items that are not recycled or taken to an incinerator, are taken to a landfill to decompose.  The time it takes for our waste to decompose depends on the material.  Items like paper and wood, roughly half the waste in landfills, decompose quickly if exposed to oxygen and bacteria; however in a landfill this process may take more than 5 years.  In contrast, aluminum can take up to 500 years to decompose.  But plastic, like the 1,000 bags used per year by American families, is not decomposable. The sun, by a means of photodegrades, breaks the plastic down into molecules.  But the molecules will never decompose.  The problem is so bad, 1,000 miles off the coast of San Francisco there is an area called Garbage Patch.  Filled with 7 million tons of waste and plastic, it is the largest landfill on Earth.  Stretching to the waters of Hawaii, it is double the size of Texas and 300 feet deep. The patch is stuck in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, a slow moving, spiral of currents, created by a high-pressure system of air.  Samples of the water showed 6 parts plastic, one part plankton- the lifeline of the ocean. Every plastic created, even the first ones from the 1930’s, still exist today. How do we as Americans limit our environmental impact and decrease our level of consumption? Read the rest of this entry »

Undeniably, we live in a time that will be dissected by future generations.  There was a food shortage that caused riots in the streets of poor nations, a global financial re-leverage, and an energy crisis that slowed a nation for the first time in decades; all of which threatens the growth of globalization, as countries seek interdependence.  The United States government has created a stimulus package to combat these troubled times.  One of the provisions is to make our country more energy independent using renewable resources, clean coal, and nuclear reactors.  Hailed as the energy of the future a half a century ago, does nuclear power have a place in the in modern times? 

 More than 30 years has passed since a reactor was commission to be built, and a decade since one began commercial operation.  According to a British government report, Nuclear power is said to be “the most climate-friendly industrial scale energy source, producing 2-6% CO2 per Killowatt-hour.”  In fact, the U.S. has 103 reactors that produce roughly 20% of our electricity.  Nuclear power produces 30% of the European Union’s electricity, while in France alone, it produces 80% of the supply.  Then what has caused countries like Germany, Austria, Italy, and Korea to decommission their reactors?  One of the reasons is financial cost. Read the rest of this entry »

Nearly eighty years ago the United States experienced a decade long drought that altered the course of American history. Now we live in a time with a drought severe enough to alter the history of the world. According to a Vanguard interview on Current TV, with the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, “there are fifty countries with nearly 2.7 billion people, who do not have access to water.”   In a world where our differences are shrinking, so is the most valuable resource for our survival, our fresh water supply.

According to the United States drought monitor, the state of California reported a record to near record dry spring in hundreds of locations throughout the state. The drought was so severe it prompted Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to declare a statewide drought. In a recent report from the US government Accountability Office, “At least 36 states will experience water shortages within the next five years.” The main areas to be effected will be the Southeast, Southwest, and the Pacific west. How bad is the drought at this moment? The Colorado River no longer ruins into the Gulf of Mexico. Lake Mead has experienced a 60 feet drop in the level of water within the past three years. The Everglades in South Florida is experiencing a shift in its ecosystem as the once freshwater swamp slowly evolves into a saltwater pit. Yet, the United States is not alone.

According to the same Vanguard interview, the northern Chinese province of Hebei, (pronounced Hébĕi)  is home to more than two million people and half of the country’s production of wheat. However, the river that feeds life into the area and eventually Beijing has fallen 97% from its original capacity. The country itself is under a desertification. Nearly 2,000 sq/km of arable land turns into desert each year. Today, nearly 25% of China is a desert and one that is continuously growing everyday.

So what brought us to the breaking point? Although some climatologist lean toward global warming, other scientist and those who survived the Dust Bowl of the thirties blame ourselves. With the rapid rise in human population, the demands on necessary resources also drastically increased. Our excessive consumption of water has dried-up rivers and lakes, and has drained our reservoirs, and aqueducts. We, as a specie can not survive without water. Even the plants in which we consume need this resource. In fact the cultivation of the land is also blamed on the current global drought.

Whether is it the over-farming in the plains of China or the man-made canals that redirect runoff water in the United States, humans have altered the natural flow of water.  Our methods in farming are far out dated in which they reflect a time when water was in abundance.  However, now that we are experiencing a servere drought, our methods must adapt for the sake of our survival.  Understanding the causation of a problem and the impact it has will lead to the development of a solution.

Areas that are overwhelming effected by the shortage of water have already begun to take action.  Suburban cities in the US  have implemented restricitions on the useage of water for lawns.  Permitting alternating days dependant upon the numerical address.  In Spain where the lack of water has set region against region, water is imported from France, city fountantins have been turned off, and a desalination plant near Barcelona is being constructed to extract water from the sea.  Younger cities in the United States such as Irvine, California and Cape Coral, Florida, have constructed a reusable water system.  The recycled water is comprised of a collection of used water from homes, businesses, as well as storm runoffs.  Once it has been filtered, the water is then redistributed to be used for irrigation purposes  for crops, golf courses, wetlands enhancement, and serves as a cooling system for industries. A recycled water system is a component of the citywide water system.  Therefore dual distribution provides fresh and recycled water.  In Saint Petersburg, Florida this system has reduced portable water usage by 50%.  Imagine a similar system in operation throughout every state in the Union and the millions of fresh water that would be saved each year.

We have all witness the value of commodities such as food and energy soar within the year causing civil unrest in developing countries from the islands of Latin America to the plains of Africa.  We have been fortunate to find alternatives for these commodities.  However, for water there is no subsitute.  Each of us has a responsibility, not to consume, but to conserve.   Turn off the water when you brush your teeth, fix leaking faucets, do not water turfs.  If we do not, water will be a commodity of the wealthy as the rest of humanity slowly dies of thirst.

Through the collaborative effort of Brigham Young University and Harvard School of Public Health, researchers found that cleaner air increases life expectancy. In what would seem like an obvious conclusion, they have determined that the particles in pollution such as ash, soot, diesel exhaust, and aerosol chemicals has an adverse side-affect on human health. In the study that compared data from 51 US cities over the course of 20 years, 15% of the increased life expectancy was attributed to the reduction in air pollution, totaling 5 months. With this academic data known what do we now do with this information? Is it an economic concern or societal?

The United States remains the world’s most leading contributor of CO2 emissions. On average a US household emits 59 tons of CO2 per year, while the worlds average is 8 tons per year. That is a staggering differential number. The United States spends 53 percent more on healthcare than any other country, spending $5,267 per capita. However, when spending on the environment, the United States spends $292 per capita. More of our national budget should be allocated toward improving our environment. “We find that we’re getting a substantial return on our investments in improving our air quality. Not only we are getting cleaner air that improves our environment, but it is improving our public health,” said C. Arden Pope III, lead author of the study.

Therefore, the funds that are spent improving our environment through the reduction of emissions, redesigning of our infrastructure, and the preservation of lands, will provide a reduction in pollution. The reduction in pollution will improve the health of the citizens. Healthier citizens need less medical care causing a surplus in the funds allocated to our healthcare system. The surplus funds can then be used to either fund the increase in environmental spending or used as an investment in our healthcare system, by improving the quality of it.

Pope, along with fellow researcher from Harvard, Douglas Dockery, published their research in the New England Journal of Medicine. In the last two decades we have seen many strides in environmental progression, yet we have also witness many setbacks. Many hope that the United States is set to reverse our shortcomings, and lead the environmental crusade as we did 30 years ago. If that is true, our national health will also greatly improve.

It is becoming clear that Iran will not escape the growing global economic crisis unscathed. The LA Times reported on Friday that the Iranian government is seriously considering a $300 million bail-out to help companies that are suffering from the recent drops in oil and commodity prices. The Times reports:

According to a report Tuesday in the daily Kargozaaran, the chief of the Tehran Stock Exchange is pressing the government to put up cash to stop the collapse of the stock market, which has dropped to a five-year low since oil prices began plummeting this fall.

Iran is also struggling with rampant inflation. According to a report by Iran’s Central Bank inflation has risen 25% in the last twelve months and the cost of food and drinks rose 35% in September alone. This rise in the cost of living, combined with wide-spread unemployment, is particularly tough on Iran’s young people. A government report recently found that “a young college graduate had to work and save 40 years in order to be able to afford to buy a first home.”

Economic anxiety among Iranian citizens could play a major role in the upcoming Presidential election. Current President Mahmood Ahmadinejahd has been criticized for his handling of the economy, particularly since up until recently he claimed that Iran would not be affected by the global economic downturn. According to Mohammad Atrianfar, a senior adviser to former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Ahmadinejahd has consistently lied about Iran’s problems with exports, inflation, and employment. Anger over economic mismanagement could definitely hurt Ahmadinejahd at the polls.

Meanwhile, American and European officials are hoping that Iran’s economic troubles will force the regime to take the threat of economic sanctions more seriously. The threat of sanctions, however, is severely undermined by Russia’s opposition to sanctions and its position as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. Without Russia’s support, it is almost certain that the Security Council will not be able to approve new sanctions against Iran. An op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times by Oded Eran, Giora Eiland, and Emily Landau offers an interesting solution: a three-way deal between the United States, Russia, and Iran. They propose that the United States should offer to drop its plans for a missile defense system in Eastern Europe and increased scrutiny for Eastern European NATO candidates, in exchange for Russia support of stricter sanctions and its promise to stop providing Iran with conventional weapons. This deal would give the United States increased leverage that it need to negotiate with Iran and convince the regime to suspend its nuclear enrichment program. Iran would therefore be able to save itself from painful sanctions and rejoin the international community in exchange for putting its nuclear dreams on hold.

This is an interesting proposal but it fails to take in to account how wildly popular Iran’s nuclear program is among Iranians, who believe that they have a right to nuclear energy. If Ahmadinejahd, or indeed any politician, were to agree to such a deal, this could severely hurt their chances in the June election. Rather than asking Iran to completely stop its nuclear program , international pressure would be more effective if it held Iran accountable to the standards of the International Atomic Energy Agency which has demanded more transparency to determine Iran’s nuclear motives.

As Iranian officials are wondering how to stabilize their faltering economy and American and European officials are wondering if the time is right for renewed economic pressure, one thing is clear: the ramifications of the economic downturn are being felt around the globe and Iran is no exception.

The present condition of the United States economy has led President-elect Obama  to focus much of his first term on reinvesting in the United States’ infrastructure.  With crumbling roadways, turbulent energy costs, rising unemployment, change in the global climate, and a system with gaping holes in it, the United States is posed for a make over.  The difficult task is in deciding where to begin.  In doing so, the United States should look to a small country in the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates, where the country’s capital is developing the worlds first zero carbon, zero waste city.

In what is known as the Masdar Initiative, it is a global, collaborative, development between the top of academia and the innovative corporations of this planet.  With a capacity of sum 50,000 residents, the car-less city will produce zero emissions as well as zero waste with itsMasdar Initative recycling of goods.  Powered by solar panels and wind turbines, the city will become a producer of technology rather than just a consumer.

As America is in dire need for the creation of jobs, there is an entire industry sitting idly as other countries take advantage of it.  Putting together their most educated minds in a capitalistic environment, there are countries that are transforming into self-sustaining, self-reliant states.  Producing their own energy, growing crops, development of efficient mass transit, while all the more creating a competitive future for their citizens.  It is time that we build the cities of tomorrow, today.

With revelations that Pakistani intelligence services planned the July 7th attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul, the continent is quickly approaching what may turn out to be a confrontation of massive proportion. While this may come to no surprise as the two nations frequent headlines over Kashmir and other incendiary issues including religion and territorial encroachment, India and Pakistan have long been at odds and may be facing another enormous hurdle to avoid hostilities. How the United States factors into this relationship may prove to be a critical factor in determining the course of action.

The U.S. has played both sides of this conflict for sometime now, correctly recognizing India as the more natural ally (English speaking, democratic, free market) but acknowledging that combating terrorism in the region would be incredibly difficult without the support of the Pakistani government.  No matter who occupies the President’s desk it has been critical to have the military and political support of Pakistan, given its proximity to Afghanistan and the Middle East as a whole. However as the last year of conflict has revealed, Pakistan’s support may be tongue in cheek. With the revelation of a conspiracy to attack the Indian embassy and the orchestration by Inter-Services Intelligence in Pakistan, it appears to be another step in the direction of open confrontation.

Sooner or later Washington will have had it’s fill and begin to (as it already has) construct a strategic plan for increased levels of engagement in the region. It has been left with little alternative given the attacks on the border to Afghanistan and the deaths of allied forces. Falling to both the department of defense and the intelligence community, it would go far beyond the border engagement that has already taken place, and delve more at the heat of the problem: the inner workings of the Pakistani government.

ISI has been working to undermine US interests abroad. Whether or not the plans against the Indian embassy (and others that may or may not be discovered) had support at the top from Director General Nadeem Taj and President Musharraf, it must be made clear to Pakistani forces they must not continue to engage the US and its allies in anything close to resembling a proxy war. Doing so casts the nation in the same light as Iran, which is not in its best interests if the nation wishes to progress. If it cannot control elements of its military and intelligence divisions, the consequences may be as severe as to warrant stronger military engagement inside the borders of Pakistan.

The US would reach out to India and encourage cooperative action against Pakistan, and given their history it may not take much to convince Prime Minster Singh that it is in the best interests of India to help stabilize the region. Given the revelations of the attack on the embassy, it would also allow for significant political willpower to successfully mobilize both the public and military for increased action. However, Prime Minister Singh is a deft politician and scholar who oversaw huge economic growth during his years in the government. He may wish to avoid any potential hostilities that could spiral out of control, although will most certainly face a call for action from the right given the Kabul bombings.

What form of action and the level of engagement remains to be seen, but at this point in time and given the cards on the table it’s hard not to seriously consider a stronger alliance with India working to target elements in Pakistan that have either gotten out of Musharraf’s grasp, or were never under his control in the first place. The best response may be coordinated efforts between the intelligence agencies of the US, India, and UK to identify those responsible and respond accordingly. These actions, in coordination with state diplomacy holding Musharraf accountable, may be enough to address the conflict while avoiding the beginning of a conventional war that surely would not end as one.

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