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Posts tagged ‘economy’

What “Minimum Wage”?

Dear Gabriel,

Anyone who has ever worked for minimum wage knows you can’t survive – let alone raise a family – on a minimum wage salary, even if you work full time.

The minimum wage is a misnomer – it doesn’t even cover the bare minimum costs needed to survive.

President Obama charged Congress with lifting American families out of poverty by raising the minimum wage, and California Rep. George Miller and Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin answered the call. They have introduced the “Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013,” which would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and link it to inflation going forward.

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Tell Congress to pass the Fair and Minimum Wage Act now.

This legislation should be a no brainer – families everywhere are struggling, and the federal minimum wage hasn’t been raised since 2009. While banks continue to destroy our economy without consequences, working families are drowning in debt.

Support working families. Tell Congress to raise the minimum wage.

Thank you for taking action,

Colleen H.
Care2 and ThePetitionSite Team

Here Comes the Sun

Be part of the solution.
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Creating a better world with the 2 most abundant resources on earth: solar power and people power.

Vote Solar works at the federal, state and local level to implement the policies and programs that build robust solar markets — and pave the way for a transition to a renewable energy economy.

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Vote Solar is a national nonprofit organization working to bring solar into the mainstream with grassroots action and technical expertise.

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America’s energy problems — from economic crisis to global climate change — will only be solved by a national transition to renewables. Clean, homegrown, reliable solar energy is ready to play a large part of the solution. It is the fastest growing energy source in the world, but we have still just scratched the surface of solar’s vast energy potential. In order to bring the technology to scale, we need to bring down costs. Vote Solar works to build the economies of scale necessary to bring solar into the mainstream.

The Vote Solar Initiative on Facebook
The Vote Solar Initiative Web Site

Renewables Rescuing Schools

From Nation of Change and Yes! Magazine
by Erin L. McCoy
News Report. 6 November 2012

Net Zero’s Net Worth: How Renewable Energy Is Rescuing Schools from Budget Cuts

As the new Richardsville Elementary School rose from its foundations on a rural road north of Bowling Green, Ky., fourth-grader Colton Hendrick was watching closely.

He would climb to the top of the playground equipment across the street and watch construction crews hauling in bamboo flooring and solar panels.

“He wants to be an architect some day,” recalled Manesha Ford, elementary curriculum coordinator and leader of the school’s energy team. “He would sit and draw, draw all the different aspects.”

But Richardsville Elementary would not only capture Hendrick’s imagination—it would come to inspire his classmates and school districts around the world. When Richardsville opened its doors in fall 2010, it was the first “net zero” school in the nation, meaning that the school produces more energy on-site than it uses in a year.

Solar tubes piping sunlight directly into classrooms eliminate much of the school’s demand for electric light, while a combination of geothermal and solar power cut down on the rest of the energy bill. Concrete floors treated with a soy-based stain don’t need buffing. The kitchen, which in most schools contributes to 20 percent of the energy bill, houses a combi-oven that cooks healthier meals and eliminates frying. This means an exhaust fan doesn’t pipe the school’s temperature-controlled air to the outdoors all day long. Meanwhile, “green screens” in the front hall track the school’s energy usage so kids can see the impact of turning off a light in real time.

These and other innovations make Richardsville better than net zero. It actually earns about $2,000 a month selling excess energy to the Tennessee Valley Authority.

But building a green school isn’t enough, according to architect Philip C. Gayhart, principal in the architecture firm Sherman Carter Barnhart, which built Richardsville and has helped the Warren County School District achieve Energy Star ratings for 17 of its 24 schools.

Three factors are essential to making a green school work: First, you need the participation of the community and the local power company; second, you can’t forget that a school is a dynamic learning environment; and third, you need to speak the language of money.

Green by necessity

Since the economic recession began in 2008, school districts have suffered. Local tax bases were shaken as property values plummeted, and states have cut back on funding to districts, which were pushed to cut funds wherever they were able. Addressing energy use made a lot of financial sense.

Few states have been harder hit than Arizona, where the 21.8 percent decrease in per-pupil spending was the highest in the nation.

Sue Pierce, director of facility planning and energy with the Washington Elementary School District in Phoenix, watched as teacher positions were cut, furlough days were scheduled, and $6 million in annual facilities funding disappeared.

“We saw that energy was really an area where we could perhaps save money by simply changing behavior,” Pierce said. “I approached the superintendent and asked permission to develop a program.”

The district’s new energy policy aimed to cut energy consumption district-wide by 10 percent in the first year and 40 percent over the next five years. As part of the program, Pierce began to distribute monthly reports on energy usage, which included every school in the district.

Some schools took to the program more quickly than others.

“Just by changing behaviors, they were showing 10 and 15 percent reduction the first or second month,” she said. The reports then fueled a competition between schools, and by the end of the first year, energy use had been cut 15 percent district-wide.

Since that time, the district has hosted a pilot program that, for the first time, demonstrated the feasibility of geothermal power in Arizona. Another pilot used smart water sensors to cut outdoor water use, and was so successful that the cost of the sensors was recouped in less than three months. The district even won funding to build two “green schoolhouses.”

Including grants the district has won, Pierce concludes the district has saved more than $15 million.

And while the district’s commitment to environmental consciousness has never been stronger, Pierce thinks that broaching the issue as a financial concern, rather than an environmental one, was the smartest approach.

The school district initially adopted the changes “as a way to save money, to save jobs for teachers,” she said. “What started out as a way to save money for the district—and it has—has evolved into a commitment to sustainability.”

A foundation without a footprint

While Washington Elementary School District and many others like it were just kicking off their energy programs in 2008, Richardsville Elementary and the rest of the Warren County School District were already five years ahead of the game.

The district had kicked off its district-wide energy campaign in 2003 under the direction of a forward-thinking superintendent, according to district Public Relations Coordinator Joanie Hendricks. The district was growing by about 400 students per year, and construction projects seemed to be always on the agenda.

So Warren County became one of the first districts in Kentucky to hire an energy manager and was able to save $560,499 in the first year by making small changes.

That first year of savings inspired the ambitious plans that came next, Hendrick said. “When you save half a million dollars in just changing your mindset, it just becomes a simple idea.”

Since 2003, the district has offset more than $7 million in energy costs. That equates to 45 teaching positions. It’s a number that really speaks to people.

“It makes you think twice when you’re going out the door to turn around and turn the light switch off,” Hendrick said, “when you know that could save somebody’s job.”

By the time Warren County decided to focus on greener schools, the architects at Sherman Carter Barnhart had been incorporating newer and greener materials in their plans for years.

“The perception is—and it’s not all wrong—is that it’s more costly, and we think if it’s done correctly it’s not really more costly,” Gayhart said. “I think the real ‘green’ is the dollars you can save the client in the life of the building. That’s the legacy you want.”

Learning gets greener

In 2005, Alvaton Elementary in Warren County opened using 36 kBtus of energy per square foot annually. That’s less than half the national average for schools, which is 73 kBtus. A few years later, Plano Elementary was using 28 kBtus, and today, Richardsville and two net zero-ready schools in the district use only 18 kBtus per square foot.

Net zero-ready schools have everything a net zero school has, minus the solar panels, which Richardsville was able to afford with the help of federal stimulus grants that have since run dry. Bardstown City Schools Finance Director Pat Hagan said although his district is implementing energy-saving measures, the up-front cost of solar doesn’t make financial sense right now.

Bardstown, situated in north central Kentucky, has two schools with geothermal systems.

“They’re a little more expensive to put in but you get your money back pretty quickly,” Hagan said.

Still, all options are on the table for a new school in the planning stages for Bardstown, which expects to see a bid from Sherman Carter Barnhart.

“When they built [Bardstown] High School in ’59 I don’t think anybody thought about energy at all,” Hagan said. “Nobody thought about it even from a cost or environmental view. Now, that’s the first two things you ask.”

For the next generation, this outlook may become a way of life. The schools described in this article have all integrated environmental and sustainability components into their curriculums, and students have adopted these issues passionately.

Read entire article at Nation of Change or Yes! Magazine.

Saving Their Homes

Dear MoveOn member,

President Obama could help twelve million homeowners struggling to pay their mortgage.

The president needs to hear directly from us.

Here’s the story: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac hold 60% of mortgages—but the agency that oversees them is run by Bush appointee Ed DeMarco who refuses to allow underwater homeowners to adjust their mortgages to reflect the true value of their home.

Homeowners are struggling to make ends meet. And helping them not only means saving their homes, it will also stabilize the market and help get the economy back on track for everyone.

President Obama has the power to replace DeMarco and make sure Fannie and Freddie provide relief to the millions of Americans struggling with mortgage debt.

That’s why on Thursday, March 15—the same day the Senate banking committee meets in D.C. to discuss the fate of homeowners—we’re organizing big rallies at Obama for America campaign offices around the country. We’ll tell the president: We’re sinking in underwater mortgages—throw the 99% a lifeline to keep us in our homes. In communities without OFA offices, we’ll rally in front of Wall Street bank branches and homes threatened by foreclosure to let the public and the media know that the 99% is standing up to save our homes.

Will you host a Save Our Homes rally on Thursday, March 15?

Yes, I can organize an event!

In late January, MoveOn members organized events at OFA offices calling on President Obama to order a real investigation into Wall Street banks. Just days later, the president did just that! We know that when Obama voters and volunteers get together, the president listens.

Now, we need him to step up to help struggling homeowners. We’ll support him in taking bold steps—from demanding that Fannie and Freddie readjust mortgages, to replacing anyone who continues holding back the housing recovery.

Can you host a rally in Santa Cruz to ask the president to save our homes?

Click here to host!

Hosting an event is powerful and easy. Once you sign up, you’ll get the petitions from MoveOn members and all the materials you’ll need for a successful event.

Thanks for all you do.

–Elena, Laura, Sarah, Amy, and the rest of the team

Own Your Own Bank

From Nation of Change by Ellen Brown
Web of Deb/ Op-Ed
17 December 2011

The Way to Occupy a Bank is to Own One

The campaign to “move your money” has gotten a groundswell of support. Having greater impact would be to “move our money” — move our local government revenues out of Wall Street banks into our own publicly-owned banks.

Occupy Wall Street has been both criticized and applauded for not endorsing any official platform. But there are unofficial platforms, including one titled the 99% Declaration which calls for a “National General Assembly” to convene on July 4, 2012 in Philadelphia. The 99% Declaration seeks everything from reining in the corporate state to ending the Fed to eliminating censorship of the Internet. But none of these demands seems to go to the heart of what prompted Occupiers to camp out on Wall Street in the first place – a corrupt banking system that serves the 1% at the expense of the 99%. To redress that, we need a banking system that serves the 99%.

Occupy San Francisco has now endorsed a plan aimed at doing just that. In a December 1 Wall Street Journal article titled “Occupy Shocker: A Realistic, Actionable Idea,” David Weidner writes:

Protesters in the Bay Area, especially Occupy San Francisco, have something their East Coast neighbors don’t: a realistic plan aimed at the heart of banks. The idea could be expanded nationwide to send a message to a compromised Washington and the financial industry.

It’s called a municipal bank. Simply put, it would transfer the City of San Francisco’s bank accounts—about $2 billion now spread between such banks as Bank of America Corp., UnionBanCal Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co.—into a public bank. That bank would use small local banks to lend to the community.

The public bank concept is not new. It has been proposed before in San Francisco and has a successful 90-year track record in North Dakota. Weidner notes that the state-owned Bank of North Dakota earned taxpayers more than $61 million last year and reported a profit of $57 million in 2008, when Bank of America had a $1.2 billion net loss. The San Francisco bank proposal is sponsored by city supervisor John Avalos, who has been thinking about a municipal bank for several years.

Weidner calls the proposal “the boldest institutional stroke yet against banks targeted by the Occupy movement.”

Responding to the Critics

He acknowledges that it will be an uphill climb. In a follow-up article on December 6th, Weidner wrote:

Of course, there are critics. . . . They argue that public banks would put public money at risk. Would you be surprised to know that most of the critics are bankers?

That’s why you don’t hear them talking about the $100 billion they lost for the California pension funds in 2008. They don’t talk about the foreclosures that have wrought havoc on communities and tax revenues. They don’t talk about liar loans and what kind of impact that’s had on the economy, employment and the real estate market — not to mention local and state budgets.

Risk to the taxpayers remains the chief objection of banker opponents. “There is no need for such lending,” they say. “We already provide loans to any creditworthy applicant who comes to us. Why put taxpayer money at risk, lending for every crackpot scheme that some politician wants to waste taxpayer money on?”

Tom Hagan, who pays taxes in Maine, has a response to that argument. In a December 3rd letter to the editor in the Press Herald (Portland), he maintained there is no need to invest public bank money in risky retail ventures. The money could be saved for infrastructure projects, at least while the public banking model is being proven. The salubrious result could be to cut local infrastructure costs in half. Making his case in conjunction with a Maine turnpike project, he wrote:

Why does Maine pay double for turnpike improvements?

Improvements are funded by bonds issued by the Maine Turnpike Authority, which collects the principal amounts, then pays the bonds back with interest.

Over time, interest payments add up to about the original principal, doubling the cost of turnpike improvements and the tolls that must be collected to pay for them. The interest money is shipped out of state to Wall Street banks.

Why not keep the interest money here in Maine, to the benefit of all Mainers? This could be done by creating a state-owned bank. State funds now deposited in low- or no-interest checking accounts would instead be deposited in the state bank.

Those funds would be used to buy up the authority bonds and municipal bonds issued by the Maine Bond Bank. All of them. Since all interest payments would flow into the state treasury, we would end up paying half what we now pay for our roads, bridges and schools.

North Dakota has profited from a state-owned bank for 90 years. Why not Maine?

The state bank could generate “bank credit” on its books, as all chartered banks are authorized to do. This credit could then be used to buy the bonds. The government’s deposits would not be “spent” but would remain in the government’s account, as safe as they are in Bank of America—arguably more so, since the solvency of the public bank would be guaranteed by the local government.

Critics worry about the profligate risk-taking of politicians, but the trusty civil servants at the Bank of North Dakota insist that they are not politicians; they are bankers. Unlike the Wall Street banks that had to be bailed out by the taxpayers, the Bank of North Dakota invests conservatively. It avoided the derivatives and toxic mortgage-backed securities that precipitated the credit crisis, and it helped the state avoid the crisis by partnering with local banks, helping them with capital and liquidity requirements. As a result, the state has had no bank failures in at least a decade.

With intelligent use of the ever-evolving Internet, truly effective public oversight can minimize any cronyism. California’s pension funds might have avoided losing $100 billion if, instead of gambling in the Wall Street casino, they had invested in infrastructure through the state’s own state bank.

Read column at Nation of Change.

Eco Tourism In Rwanda

When most people think of Rwanda, the first two images that come to mind are usually Hotel Rwanda and the gorillas. If you asked them where in the country the gorillas reside (on the northern border of The Congo and Uganda) or when the genocide occurred, the majority of respondents must admit ignorance. If you told them the gorillas have been flourishing, as well as the country, they may think you are pulling their leg. Sixteen years since the 1994 genocide and several decades after the murder of Dian Fossey is a tiny blip in historical time, but centuries in the changes that have occurred in Rwanda.

In a country known as the land of a thousand hills, Rwanda is becoming increasingly known for its environmental policies, gender equality, stable government and breathtaking beauty. Positive internal and international support for protecting and expanding the parks and educating the people living in the surrounding towns and villages, has been nurtured, supported and expanded. There are now over 700 mountain gorillas (minus the recent killings of several gorilla families in the Democratic Republic of Congo) living in an area that once saw them close to extinction. But how has this rapid change and growth been impacting those directly involved, both those in the tourist industry and those living in communities that surround the Volcanoes National Park, where the gorillas reside?

As we descended from the world-renown sanctuary (which includes the Dian Fossey Research Foundation) through the village of Sacola, a local farmer named Dagazay Ma replied to such questions by adamantly stating, “The tourists and park don’t help our family, but I think it is important to protect the gorillas and it gives hope for Rwanda.” Another man named Jimmy Ma leaned on his hoe at the corner of his field of vegetables and said, “The gorillas are very very important for our country because they help the country and local people. If you get the tourists, they buy from shops. Life has gotten better since more tourists arrived.” Jimmy has two sisters and one brother he helps support, as both his parents are no longer living. He is in his early twenties and says he goes to school during the week and works on the farm on weekends and evenings.

Our park guide Fidel, who has worked as a ranger at the park for 13 years, added, “A portion of your fee (500 U.S. per person) goes to fund community projects, schools and local arts and crafts. The stone wall around the park was made by local villagers who were paid for its construction.” The wall keeps buffalo from leaving the park and trampling the farmer’s fields, as well as providing a delineation point for the park boundaries. A portion of the fee also pays for the rangers, who are on 24 hour patrol throughout the park, as well as continuing research by the Dian Fossey Foundation and other conservation organizations (both national and international).

The majority of tourists arrive from America, England, France and neighboring African countries of Uganda, Congo, Burundi and Kenya. Kamanzi Alloys, who drove us from the Rwandan capital of Kigali to Ruhengari (the largest city in the north) said, “People in town like the money tourists bring into their shops. More and more people are learning English as a result. I learned English in school. Our country is safe and people are happier. Tourists go to the national park and Lake Kivu (on the western border of Rwanda) for all their natural beauty.”

Because of the current level of safety, government stability and support for the environment, numerous international businesses and non-governmental organizations are finding their way to Rwanda. It is centrally located, has one of the best communications systems in Africa, especially for wireless phone connections and has a political climate that has opened the door for investment and entrepreneurs. Some of the companies investing in Rwanda include Starbucks, Costco, Bechtel, Columbia Sportswear and Google. Rwanda is also one of the first countries to participate in the One Laptop Per Child Program that intends to provide a revolutionary new computer with internet access to every child in the country. Other nations and organizations have also committed funding for Rwanda’s energy needs, education and health care. All of the people involved with these agencies, companies and organizations bring goods, services and capital into the country. Combine that influx of capital with the money tourists spend on food, lodging, transportation, entertainment and merchandise and you can see why it would be difficult for most Rwandans to turn off the cash faucet and say “No”.

Even with this influx, not everyone is partaking of the bounty; not everything is “trickling down” or even started to flow. Less than five percent of the population has computers or internet access and the majority of this agriculturally driven economy are still poor farmers tilling every inch of land available. Rwanda is the most densely populated country per square mile in all of Africa. Thousands of orphans continue to live on the streets and the middle class are just beginning to see the benefits and climb out of poverty themselves.

Rwanda is not picture perfect, but for those directly and indirectly impacted by tourists visiting the Volcanoes National Park and the rare mountain gorillas within their midst, life is looking pretty good. Compared to the recent past, Rwanda is becoming a Shangri-la in the middle of Africa and all of those involved in the tourist industry are climbing aboard, holding on to and leading the tourist’s coattails, with hope for continued prosperity and a better tomorrow.

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