Friday, January 14, 2011

Govt Gulf Oil Disaster Report - Read it!

The gulf oil spill report is worth a read for all coastal nations. Lessons learned should be implemented!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Garbage, Coastal Debris, Flotsam, and Jetsam Everywhere!

Heather Rogers is a writer, journalist, and filmmaker. Her documentary film "Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage" (2002) screened in festivals around the globe. Her articles have appeared in Utne Reader, Z Magazine, the Brooklyn Rail, Bad Subjects, Punk Planet, Third Text, and Art and Design. Her book "Gone Tomorrow" is getting excellent reviews. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Here is the scoop: "Over the past 30 years, worldwide garbage output has exploded, doubling in the U.S. alone. Gone Tomorrow explains that, despite popular wisdom, this torrent of rubbish is not primarily the responsibility of the consumer. In fact, shoppers often have little choice in the wastes they generate. Consider packaging: tossed cans, bottles, boxes and wrappers now take up more than a third of all U.S. landfill space. More prolific today than ever before, packaging is garbage waiting to happen."

A huge percent of the worlds refuse is dumped on coastal garbage facilities or hauled offshore and "disposed of" in the ocean. For those of us who study CZM this is a living nightmare. We have sen this stuff wash ashore and we know that it accumulates in "garbage patches" in the Pacific and Atlantic. In the Caribbean just go to the windward side aof any island (especially one's like Aruba or Bonaire which have large countries nearby. Here you will find the accumulated waste of an increasingly consumer frenzied humanity.

The book overview continues,
"Once buried or burned, trash is hardly benign. Landfills, even the most state-of-the-art, are environmental time bombs. They spew greenhouse gases, and leach hazardous chemicals and heavy metals into groundwater and soil. Waste incinerators are no less disastrous. They emit 70% of the world’s dioxin, and pollute the air with toxic particulate matter and a host of gases that cause acid rain."

What does garbage as well as other ocean and coastal debris such as abandoned ships, dumped containers, adrift or sunken fishing nets, and overboard sewage and other flotsam tell us? How can we use this threatening waste to better understand the behavior of oceans and currents? How can Debris help us in finding solutions to this offense? What public policy, regulation, education, enforcement, and punishment can be put in place to alleviate this threat to sea life as well as to humans?

Stay tuned! SEAS LLC is launching the Ocean Garbage and debris initiative this year - 2010.

Steffen Schmidt CEO, SEAS LLC
Paul Schmidt, Senior Researcher

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Mosque in New York? Near the 9-11 site?! Are you nuts?

To Build The Mosque or Not to Build the Mosque – That is the Political Question
Steffen Schmidt

“GOP Senator Suggests Mosque Will Be Election Issue,” reads a teaser in the Sunday New York Times on line.

By now you and the entire world has heard that a Muslim charity wants to build a mosque and a community center two blocks from the hole where the World Trade Center stood in New York.

You have also probably picked up on the fierce debate that has erupted on whether this is an acceptable plan, that New York Mayor Bloomberg has given strong support for the plan, and that Pres. Obama has been waffling, weaving, and weaseling on this issue (surprised?).

First the White House Press Secretary said that Mr. Obama would not comment because this was a local issue in New York. Then the President gave strong support for the specific plan to build this center in New York and in general for religious freedom in the United States at a Ramadan dinner he threw at the White House. Then, seeing the massive backlash and reading the national polls more carefully the President said he was in favor of religious freedom and that it was up to New York to decide on where and when mosques could be built.

This is a tricky issue.

Islam is not exactly a Lutheran congregation. Some might complain about traffic congestion if a church was being built in their neighborhood. I also understand that there could be fierce and bloody Lutheran in fighting between different synods and flavors of Lutheran religion. Here is a list of these flavors from my most trusted source Wikipedia. It’s almost like Baskin Robbins! The following is the education unit of this article:

• American Association of Lutheran Churches (TAALC)
• Association of Free Lutheran Congregations (AFLC)
• Augsburg Lutheran Churches (ALC)
• The Church of Sweden
• Church of the Lutheran Brethren of America (CLB)
• Church of the Lutheran Confession (CLC)
• Concordia Lutheran Conference
• Anglo-Lutheran Catholic Church (ECCL)
• Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD)
• Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)
• Evangelical Lutheran Church in Brazil (IECLB)
• Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC)
• Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland
• Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS)
• Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA)
• Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC)
• Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC)
• Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LC-MS)
• Lutheran Churches of the Reformation (LCR)
• Lutheran Church in Malaysia and Singapore
• Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (Germany)
• Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS)

In any case, Islam is different. Its practices are exotic to most Americans. It’s issues such as the role of women more edgy.

Then there is the matter of the Iran hostage taking of the US Embassy where 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days from November 4, 1979 to January 20, 1981 which was partly cost Jimmy Carter a second term (the news media counted off each day of the crisis every night on the evening news, thus emphasizing the helplessness of the carter administration).

Finally and mpst significantly there is the brutality of 9-11.

As they say, when was the last time a highjacking or act of terrorism was perpetrated by an elderly Norwegian from Wisconsin?

Like it or not the Muslim faith is viewed with apprehension by many Americans (and Dutch, Norwegians, Germans, French, Brits, Hindus in India, well you get the idea).

So, the issue of religious freedom aside, should Obama have been more circumspect on the issue of building an Islamic community center and Mosque, funded by unknown sources, with the involvement of an Imam who apparently is not entirely trusted by many who have studied this case?

In 2010, after 9-11, were the folks who have proposed building this center so close to the still scabby wound on America pretty clueless as to what the national reaction would be?

If Muslims wanted to, say, buy a piece of property in Iowa and build a summer camp for young Muslim boys/men, would Iowans react favorably or not? (This is a trick question: Such a project was proposed and the negative reaction was so great the idea was abandoned).

Is “A Mosque in New York” the name of an off Broadway play, a novel by Fareed Mohammed, or one more nail in the coffin of Obama’s public opinion approval ratings in the United States and an end to the Democratic majority in Congress (this is the correct answer).

Most Democrats running for election in 2010 have stayed at arms length, make that a mile, away from this issue because it’s just too hard to make a case that this is a matter of religious freedom, unfair as that reality may be.

Steffen Schmidt is University Professor of political science at Iowa State University, Blogs for the Des Moines Register and writes for

Americans Are Generous, Kind, and Caring


Americans Are Generous, Kind, and Caring
Steffen Schmidt

Several years ago a French journalist who is disabled and wheel chair bound was invited to meetings in New York, his first time in the United States.

After his visit he gave a moving testimony in which he said how amazed and grateful he was to find New York and the US so disability friendly. He said he could go almost anywhere in New York in his wheel chair without any assistance something he could never do in Paris much less the rest of France. He said he felt liberated, truly free for the first time.

We often forget that after the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) the United States, state governments, counties, city governments and private institutions and companies embarked on a massive and very expensive agenda to make their facilities accessible.

In higher education as well as K-12 we have also made very effort possible.

I was reminded of this because this semester I was informed that I have a student who is deaf. I thought you’d be interested to see the lengths to which we go to accommodate students with disabilities so I’m sharing the notice that went to all the instructors teaching this student.

Dear Professor/Instructor:

Our records indicate that you currently have a student with a significant hearing loss registered for the above Fall 2010 class. He/she has been instructed to deliver her/his SAAR form for you to review/sign indicating the accommodations needed. If a SAAR form is presented, please review the requested accommodations and work with the student to provide the accommodations indicated.
In an effort to try to help you prepare for meeting the needs of this student, we have listed some possible accommodations for a student with a significant hearing loss:

Copies of lecture notes:
• If listed on the SAAR form please make sure this student is provided with timely copies of lecture notes for this class as this will be essential so they can have a written record of the lecture content (ie. Notes). You can provide a copy of your own notes or you will need to assign a note taker to provide timely and accurate notes for this student—this can be another student in the class.

Captioning of films/ media shown in class
• It will be necessary to show captioned videos/ films so this student can participate-- it may take 3-4 weeks for captioning to be completed. Instructions to request ISU Library Media with captioning (DVD or Video) is available at Captioned Media Request instructions at:

Interpreter or Captionist
• A qualified sign language interpreter or captionist may be present in the classroom to provide those services for the student. Each will come prepared to communicate with the student in a manner that should not interfere with normal communication in the classroom.
• An interpreter will be positioned in an appropriate physical location that will allow the student to clearly visualize the signed material (ie. Your lecture). Please present your lecture in a manner that does not call attention to the student or his/her interpreter; however, you are encouraged to involve the student in classroom activities just as you do all students.
• A captionist may be seated in the classroom and utilize a laptop computer or other similar device to transcribe communication (ie. Your lecture) to the student. Please present your lecture in a manner that does not call attention to the student or his/her captionist; however, you are encouraged to involve the student in classroom activities as you do all with all students. In some cases, an off-site captionist is utilized—lecture/discussion is transmitted directly to your student from the remote location.

If you have other questions or need assistance please contact Student Disability Resources as soon as possible.


FYI - The charge for adding transcription to an existing video is pretty astounding at $3.70 per minute plus $110 for the first 30 minutes.

This is an amazing caring as well as legal compliance with disability laws. It is a tribute to the American commitment to being accessible and to spending substantial amounts of money to assist students with disabilities as you can see from all the services that will be provided. And this is just one of many, MANY students at Iowa State who require disability accommodations.

I have heard complaints especially from K-12 school board members that disability and special education services are costing schools a great deal of money.

As a nation we have made a commitment to our friends, neighbors, family, and customers with disabilities. Now we must make sure that we also continue making that commitment with our wallets. The Tea Party and others are clamoring for less government and less spending. Let’s remember where some of that spending goes.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Germany did it right.


Did The USA do it Wrong; The Germans Right?
Steffen Schmidt

“Germany has sparred with its European partners over how to respond to the financial crisis, argued with the United States over the benefits of stimulus versus austerity, and defiantly pursued its own vision of how to keep its economy strong” says the New York Times.

The result? Germany is recovering much more quickly than the US or its European Union neighbors. Its annual growth rate will be 9 percent the best since East and West Germany unified twenty years ago.

Germany did NOT use a debt-fueled consumer stimulus, which was being pushed and pursued by the United States. This proved to be politically tough but the results are spectacular.

Germany cut (not increased) unemployment benefits and made it easier to hire and fire employees. And, instead of allowing people to lose their jobs and then go on government unemployment welfare the government worked with companies to have workers hours and wages reduced but they stayed in their jobs. The government then subsidized the lost income of workers. “Kurzarbeit” or “short work” program to encourage companies to furlough workers or give them fewer hours instead of firing them, making up lost wages out of a fund filled in good times through payroll deductions and company contributions” as the New York Times - August 13, 2010 - put it.

This made it possible for companies to continue churning out Germany’s legendary high tech products that have worldwide markets. Germany did not fall for the fool idea promoted by US economists that the future was in “service” and “knowledge” industries. Instead they forged ahead with some of the most enviable engineering and science-based manufacturing. Germany is recovering at impressive rates because they still make complex things and sell them to other countries!

What a novel idea! In the US we export corn, wood, and other low value added products and we still believe that our friends the economists were right that services (banking, financial services, etc) are the future of the US.

My own reading (and I read a lot!) is that they are dead wrong and we were tricked by some unreliable economic models into surrendering our manufacturing base to other countries, including, as it turns out, Germany!

Now, using what may be outdated Keynesian economic models, we are printing money like crazy, letting companies lay off people and then putting them on extended welfare (yes Martha, unemployment benefits are pure welfare because the recipients are not required to do diddly while getting these checks).

Although a “socialist” country with extensive welfare, Germany under Angela Merkel turned out to be much more market oriented than the United States under Bush or Obama.

Weird isn’t it!?

Now, there is a gnawing worry that the US “stimulus” and “economic recovery” strategies were in fact not very smart economics (and I predict were not even good politics because they did not work and the US is threatened with a long stagnation and “malaise.”

So, you want to know, why is a political scientist writing about economics?

Because all of this has HUGE political consequences!

Obama and the Democrats are going to have some ‘splanin to do on why all the deluge of tax money, the unemployment welfare program, and the random stimulus programs (plus an exploding national deficit and a crushing national debt) have produced a mouse that squeaks and not an economic recovery.

The New York Times points out that “Germans steered clear of the debt-fueled consumption boom that many believe contributed to the financial crisis. During the recession, Chancellor Angela Merkel resisted the palliative of government spending that the United States and some European partners felt was crucial to restoring growth,” and she will come out politically stronger. Obama and the Democrats on the other hand may get crushed in November.

American politicians are not always right and resisting or opposing them can be a smart policy.

Steffen Schmidt is University Professor of political science at Iowa State University, Blogs for the Des Moines Register and writes for

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Race and Politics - Is the Media Now Yellow Again?

This was my column in

Race and Politics
Steffen Schmidt

Conservative blogger – does that mean he’s a Republican and possibly a Tea Part supporter? – Andrew Breitbart posted a heavily edited video of a black USDA employee Shirley Sherrod making a “racist comment.”

Without so much as a phone call asking for an explanation she was fired.

It turns out that Breitbart edited the full talk from which the snippet came totally distorting her comment.

In the speech she was sharing how 24 years ago she was initially reluctant to help a white farmer who needed assistance.

The news media especially “the Unfair and Unbalanced” Fox news ran the story as an example of black racism.

The NAACP even condemned her for saying that.

As it turns out she was using it as an example of how UNFAIR it is to use race when relating to people and how badly she felt even though in fact she helped the farmer Roger Spooner, save his Georgia farm (he has come public this week at age 86 in her defense).

Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack and Pres Obama apologized and told her she could come back to USDA. Nice gesture but it comes after an incredible knee jerk reaction.

This whole think was a blog lynching. It is just the tip of the iceberg for an increasingly brutal and irresponsible “new media” such as bloggers, YouTubers, ambush journalists working for political causes (such as the ACORN fake prostitute and pimp incident also perpetrated by conservative bloggers) and other new parallel sources of opinion and “news.”

That’s ok and exciting to have so much diversity in media. However the problem comes when so-called respectable outlets such as Fox become the legitimizers who give credibility to this crap.

Of course, as some analysts have commented, having a news empire owned and controlled by a foreign interest such as the Rupert Murdoch clan is at best troubling and at worst a national security threat. In most countries it would be viewed as the interference of a foreign power in the internal affairs of the nation.

In any case, the Sherrod incident is an alarming example of the power and irresponsibility of new media and of how desperate conservatives are to instigate tension and to use race as a match to light a political torch.
It may backfire and I for one hope that the news media including Fox will find a new sense of propriety and accuracy. If we only have Yellow journalism we are doomed.

Once upon a time US journalism was all-political. Most newspapers where totally biased to one or the other party, faction, or cause. Moguls who manipulated public opinion could even start wars – the Spanish American War to be precise. Yellow journalism = there was a little buck tooth Japanese or Asian character used in cartoons that were totally racist which is where the “yellow” comes from. Are we gonna start seeing Fox run cartoons with little black characters with pig tails eating chicken and watermelon sometime soon?

Maybe we are going back to that era which would be a shame.

I believe that the media (including the left media) should NOT be used as a mechanism for inflaming national divisions such as race. We know where that leads – to undermining national moral character, discrediting the US in the eyes of the world, violence, division, hatred.

If the right wing bloggers want to go there so be it but there should be a serious backlash from the majority of Americans. Maybe a media advertiser boycott?

Where will we get good and fair analysis if this happens?

I guess the fine writers for may become the last bastion of truth, justice, good reporting, fair analysis, and bipartisanship!