Month: March 2011

Climate Change … or Not?

  In recent articles, I’ve been arguing that America has a teenager’s worst attitude about climate change: We need to stop slouching to our rooms and slamming doors shut, and start engaging developing countries on the issues that matter to them, like adapting to climate change within those countries’ borders and mitigating it within our own. However, there is one complication that could be a barrier to our acceptance of climate change as a driver for development programs – sometimes it’s really, really hard to determine what is caused by climate change and what just could be climate change-related but isn’t. I saw this dilemma played out within development agencies across Ethiopia many times. Ethiopia, as previously discussed, believes wholeheartedly in the problem of climate change and in its role in creating the droughts, floods and livestock kills that plague the majority of its citizenry. However, one could argue, and many development workers there do, that some of the problems being addressed by climate change adaptation are actually the result of mismanagement of natural resources. Land degradation through overgrazing, deforestation, or a host of other human activities is prevalent here and causes problems for the livelihoods of the agriculturalists or pastoralists. It can be difficult to determine what is climate and what is not, something that causes consternation within the ranks of workers from countries more skeptical about climate change than...

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City Council Is Prescribing Medicine? Austin Experts Testify to the Dangers of the Forced Medication of Artificial Water Fluoridation

  Fluoride History: Sixty years ago the U.S. Center for Disease Control proposed that fluoride be added to drinking water to prevent cavities. In December 2009, the Austin Environmental Board recommended that city council evaluate the costs and benefits of water fluoridation. In July 2010, Austin Health and Human Services warned mothers not to give fluoridated water to infants if they were concerned about dental fluorosis. In November 2010, Fluoride Free Austin brought Dr. Paul Connett, the world’s leading expert on water fluoridation and author of the book “The Case Against Fluoride”, to Austin to speak with city council and Dr. Huang of HHS. No action was taken by either council or HHS. In January 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services confirmed what Fluoride Free Austin members had been saying for years, that there is too much fluoride in America’s drinking water and that fluorosilicic acid is causing dental fluorosis, a white or brown spotting of the teeth caused by ingesting fluoride. (Look closely at the teeth of five people you know and you will likely see at least one case of fluorosis). According to CDC statistics, 41 percent of children 12-15 years old in the United States suffer from fluorosis. In January2011, the EPA and HHS reduced its recommendation for the maximum levels of fluoride in drinking water from 1.2 parts per million...

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Student documentary filmmakers at LBJ focus on issues facing immigrant, Muslim community in Texas

  Graduate students at the LBJ school shot and edited their own mini-documentaries as part of class led by Dr. Paul Stekler, a UT professor and award-winning filmmaker. These 10-minute films focused on a variety of issues including American assumptions about Muslim women; the Dream Act and the individuals it would affect; and how one immigrant's entrepreneurial success has revolutionized small Indian village and an entire American industry. By artfully weaving personal experiences with larger political and social problems, these films are a refreshing set of reflections on the current realities of life in America. Undocumented This powerful film follows the Ramirez family, a typical Latino family living in Austin, Texas. Both parents are undocumented, yet they pay income and property taxes, and provide for their family. The home they own is located in a middle-class, south Austin neighborhood, only a short distance from the public schools their two daughters attend. Living in the US for over 15 years, Esther and David Ramirez are dedicated parents who wish only the best for their children and for their adopted country. However, they are forced to live in the shadows in a state where anti-immigrant legislation is always up for debate. Respect Your Guests This is the story of Houston hotelier Nitin Bhakta, an immigrant from a small Indian village, has helped foster a dramatic increase in Indian hotel ownership over the past...

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Leadership in America

  The January 8 shooting in Arizona was a tragedy. A democratic society cannot condone political violence, and all sides of the political spectrum quickly condemned the attack. Yet, instead of uniting people, this event had a polarizing effect on a nation struggling to reach a political consensus on a just about every issue. The left blamed this attack on right's fiery rhetoric, and the right deflected such attacks by making them seem like an assault on the First Amendment. On the other hand, the right distanced itself from some who have made the most vitriolic pronouncements and blamed the usual "liberal agenda" for a degrading society. A less personal, but also tragic event is now unfolding in Wisconsin. In a democracy a legitimately elected government has the (people's) authority to conduct government operations. This includes passing budgets and laws. The people of Wisconsin, elected 19 Republicans and 14 Democrats to their senate. The Republican majority is not due to a coup or an oppressive security force which dictated the election outcome. The Democrats lost because their story was not as convincing and their way of dealing with it: Walk away and stop a democratically and fairly elected government from functioning. We can blame the rhetoric of either side for causing this, but the bottom line is the same: Both sides are behaving like upset children at the playground....

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Attitudes at the Knife’s Edge

  For the last week and a half, I have been in Ethiopia, conducting research on climate change and adaptation. Rambling around Addis Ababa and the Central Rift Valley has been an exercise in patience and flexibility, but also enormously informative and enjoyable. Ethiopia is a country that has been particularly hard-hit by climate-related disasters, as the majority of its citizens are pastoralists or farmers. Pastoralists suffer losses of flocks or livestock from disease or lack of pasture, farmers lose crops to the lack of rains or the floods, less and less land is productive. Measles and other diseases threaten the population, internally displaced populations are on the rise, and refugees from Somalia, Sudan and Eritrea continue to enter and stress the resources of the country. Ethiopia's poverty and chronic underdevelopment has attracted an astonishing number of foreign aid donors and development partners. Everywhere you look in Addis Ababa are buildings with NGO names and the symbols of international aid agencies or bilateral aid missions. Half of the cars on the road have a U.N. insignia, the USAID logo, a European country's flag, or some combination of the words development, aid, assistance, international, and hope. The Ethiopian citizens with whom I have spoken are naturally prone to be far more aware of the structure of foreign aid institutions than most educated Americans appear to be. Two weeks ago, I...

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