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The Week in Good News: SpaceX, ‘Black Panther’ and the SmartBroom

Don’t bother trying to do this yourself. You can’t. Read more »PhotoThe co-inventors of the SmartBroom, from left: Andrew Flemming, Will Hamilton and Geoff Fowler. Coming up with the design involved “a fair bit of work in bars,” Mr. Flemming said.Credit Ian Willms for The New York TimesMeet an Olympic engineering marvel: the SmartBroom.There are fierce debates about the best way to sweep the ice during the sport of curling. […]

Mexico Earthquake, Strongest in a Century, Kills Dozens

VideoGiant Earthquake Shakes MexicoThe country was struck by an 8.2-magnitude quake, the strongest in decades, killing at least 30 people and leveling areas in some southern states.By CAMILLA SCHICK on Publish Date September 8, 2017.Photo by Luis Alberto Cruz/Associated Press.Watch in Times Video »embed MEXICO CITY — The most powerful earthquake to hit Mexico in 100 years struck off the nation’s Pacific Coast late Thursday, rattling millions of residents in Mexico City with its violent tremors, killing at least 32 people and leveling some areas in the southern part of the country, closer to the quake’s epicenter.About 50 million people across Mexico felt the earthquake, which had a magnitude of 8.2, the government said. In the capital, the force of the temblor sent residents of the megacity fleeing into the streets at midnight, shaken by alarms blaring over loudspeakers and a full minute of tremors. Windows broke, walls collapsed, and the city seemed to convulse in terrifying waves; the quake even rocked the city’s Angel of Independence monument.While Mexico City seemed to have been spared extensive damage to infrastructure, according to the government’s preliminary assessment, the effects in the southern states of Chiapas and Oaxaca were probably more severe. The tally of damage — and death — probably will be difficult to assess initially, given that many areas are remote.Alejandro Murat, the governor of Oaxaca, told the Televisa network that at least 23 people had died in the state, and local officials said residents were buried under the rubble of buildings.Luis Manuel García Moreno, the secretary of civil defense for the state of Chiapas, said the toll there had risen to seven, and two children died in the state of Tabasco, one when a wall collapsed, the other after a respirator lost power in a hospital.The effects were also felt in Guatemala, where at least one person died and homes along the border with Mexico were leveled.Schools in at least 10 Mexican states and in Mexico City were closed on Friday as the president ordered an immediate assessment of the damage nationwide. In the hours after the quake, the National Seismological Service registered several aftershocks.PhotoDamage to a building in Oaxaca, Mexico, after the earthquake late Thursday.Credit Mario Arturo Martinez/European Pressphoto AgencyStill, the resounding feeling in the country was one, at least initially, of relief that the damage was not more widespread, given the nation’s vulnerability to earthquakes and the capital’s extreme density.“We are assessing the damage, which will probably take hours, if not days,” said President Enrique Peña Nieto, who addressed the nation just two hours after the quake. “But the population is safe over all. There should not be a major sense of panic.”Mexico is situated near several boundaries where portions of the earth’s crust collide. The quake on Thursday was more powerful than the one that killed nearly 10,000 people in 1985.While the quake on Thursday struck nearly 450 miles from the capital and off the coast of Chiapas State, the one in 1985 was much closer to the city — so the shaking, coupled with Mexico City being on an ancient lake bed, proved much more deadly.After the 1985 disaster, construction codes were reviewed and stiffened. Today, Mexico’s construction laws are considered as strict as those in the United States or Japan.After the quake hit, people in Mexico City streamed out of their homes in the dark, wearing nightclothes, standing amid apartment buildings, cafes and bars in upscale neighborhoods and dense warrens of the city’s working-class communities. […]

Trump’s New Ban Leaves Few Spots for Refugees, Even the Hunted

NYT

The rest is here: Trump’s New Ban Leaves Few Spots for Refugees, Even the Hunted

This company converts coffee cherry pulp into a nutritious (flourless) flour

The pulp of the coffee fruit, which is usually a waste product, becomes CoffeeFlour, a nutrient-dense gluten-free flour. […]

Mosquito traps made from old tires are 7 times more effective than standard traps

A new study found this cheap, easy system significantly reduced virus-carrying mosquitoes in Guatemala. […]

Agua Zarca: A Stain on the Dutch and Finnish Human Rights Record

Six indigenous people were killed in the Dutch-funded Santa Rita Dam in Guatemala (CODECO) “Respect for human rights,” the Finnish government says, is a guiding principle for its development policy and cooperation. The Dutch government has identified “supporting human rights defenders” as one of the three top priorities of its human rights policy. How is it that in spite of such commitments the two countries support projects with severe human rights abuses such as the Agua Zarca Dam through their development finance institutions, FMO and Finnfund? On March 2, Berta Cáceres, the indigenous leader of the Civic Council of Indigenous and Popular Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), was killed after she had received numerous threats for her resistance to the Agua Zarca Dam. Berta’s murder did not happen in a vacuum: The dam builder, Desarrollos Energéticos SA (DESA), has close contacts with the Honduran military, and orchestrated a campaign of intimidation against Berta and her comrades. Three other COPINH activists have been killed for their resistance against Agua Zarca. Under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, companies have an obligation to respect human rights, and to carry out human rights impact assessments and other due diligence measures before they invest in sensitive regions and sectors. Sinohydro, China’s biggest state-owned dam building company, undertook such due diligence in 2013 and pulled out of the Agua Zarca Dam in 2013 because of “uncontrollable” conflicts. These conflicts did not deter FMO and Finnfund from approving loans of $15 million and $5 million respectively for Agua Zarca in 2014. The two financial institutions have consistently defended the project in their public announcements. They appear to live in a parallel universe, and to primarily rely on DESA and the Honduran government, which are parties in the conflict over the project, for their information. When it comes to human rights abuses Agua Zarca is not an isolated case. Local activists have been killed in dam conflicts again and again. As Both Ends and SOMO, two Dutch advocacy organizations, have documented, FMO has supported several hydropower projects that have triggered serious conflicts and human rights violations. In Panama for example the indigenous Ngäbe-Bugle people are strongly resisting the Barro Blanco Dam. Two indigenous activists were killed in 2012, and an official investigation found that FMO and other financiers did not follow their own guidelines in financing the project. FMO is also supporting the controversial Santa Rita Dam in Guatemala, which is linked to the death of six indigenous people. Of course contradictions between human rights and foreign aid policies are widespread among governments. The United States, for example, strongly condemned Berta Cáceres’ murder as a “despicable crime,” but continues to train, equip and fund the Honduran military in spite of its human rights abuses. Yet when it comes to the Agua Zarca Dam, the spotlight is on the Dutch and Finnish governments. Under the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, governments have a particular responsibility to ensure that state-owned enterprises, including financiers such as FMO and Finnfund, respect human rights. If the managers of these banks don’t realize that Agua Zarca is the source of serious human rights abuses, the governments which control them must bring them into compliance with their human rights obligations. Sixty NGOs from around the world presented this demand to the Dutch Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Development on March 14. Last week, the Dutch government announced that it will send an ambassador to Honduras “to express concern over the killing of human rights activist Berta Cáceres” and presumably assess the state of the Agua Zarca Project. In response to International Rivers’ online action, FMO said that it would decide about continued involvement in the dam project on the basis of this visit. Finnfund says that speculation about an exit from Agua Zarca is “at the moment premature,” but the financier would probably follow if FMO pulled out of the project. As Agua Zarca, Barro Blanco and other projects demonstrate, we cannot count on the judgment of financiers when it comes to human rights. The governments of the Netherlands and Finland must take responsibility for the actions of their development financiers. The noble principles of their human rights policies are only credible if they also apply when their own interests are at stake. Continued involvement in the Agua Zarca Dam is a stain on the Dutch and Finnish human rights policies. You can still call on FMO, Finnfund and other actors to withdraw from the Agua Zarca Dam through this online action. — This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website. […]

How Coffee at the White House Perpetuates or Ends Poverty

Vice President Joe Biden will be travelling to Guatemala to attend the inauguration of President Jimmy Morales on January 14th and to meet Presidents Juan Orlando Hernández of Honduras and Salvador Sánchez Cerén of El Salvador to discuss the “Alliance for Prosperity” for the three nations. Before his trip to Guatemala, the vice president will have a coffee at the White House and many more ‘cups of Joe’ at his official residence at the US Naval Observatory. Each coffee bean used for these ‘cups of Joe’ has a story to tell and an origin in a beautiful mountain region. Most of the 26 million coffee farmers and their families live in poverty or in extreme poverty, while the global coffee industry generates every year tens of billions of dollars in added value, taxes and profits in the United States and other developed nations. Every coffee drunk at the White House contributes less than US$0.01 cent per cup to eradicate poverty in the communities that produce it, while there continues to be hunger in the coffee lands. (See the report of the SCAA, Specialty Coffee Association of America.) The insignificant shared value for farmers is a reality unless the coffee at the White House is from Hawaii. According to Matt Viser, White House correspondent for the Boston Globe, the Obama White House sometimes serves Hawaiian coffee. The present price of the Hawaiian coffee brand the White House prefers varies from US$35 to US$45 per pound. By comparison, the coffee farm workers in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, or in Obama’s Kenya, receive on average less than US$1.30 per pound for their coffee beans. Small farmers sell their coffee to middlemen or cooperatives who consolidate larger volumes for the coffee buyers and exporters. The profits in coffee are reserved mostly for the exporters, traders, roasters and for the coffee shop chains, restaurants and hotels. “Fair Trade” is not the solution The premium to end poverty in what Americans and Europeans dare to call “fair-trade”, “ethical” or “sustainable” coffee represents less than US$0.003 (1/3 of a cent) per cup. It is not enough to eradicate poverty but just enough to alleviate it and to perpetuate a gentler “poverty light” that becomes a poverty trap for farmers and their families, a “kind” but also unacceptable form of modern slavery. Since I can remember, the United States has claimed to be working to support trade and development in Central America through aid and trade initiatives. The region, like the states in southern Mexico, is once again in a profound economic and even humanitarian crisis, that is forcing hundreds of thousands to try migrating to the US due to coffee rust, drought, economic crisis and violence. Stopping migration is a priority for the US but the truth is most migrants would love to stay in their countries close to their families if only they could earn a decent living locally. Life in ‘El Norte’ is not the picture perfect dream for most. CICIG: A watershed moment The United States support for the CICIG (International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala) has created a unique watershed moment by bringing to justice a few of the “untouchables” who had kidnapped Guatemala for personal profit. But there are hundreds of others still at large, and nothing similar yet exists in other nations. Sadly, the most important measures for economic and social development are still pending, as evidenced by almost every cup of Guatemalan, Honduran or Salvadoran coffee sold by Starbucks, Keurig Green Mountain, McDonald’s, Tim Horton’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, Krispy Kreme, etc. This includes the coffee served at the White House, whose most prominent coffee drinkers, often heard advocating education for all girls and boys, may not fully appreciate that in too many of the coffee lands only one in twenty girls is able to graduate from high school due to the exploitative business model of the industry. How the White House could change the world with shared value Vice President Biden, Valerie Jarrett or the President should invite the leaders of the coffee industry (such as Howard Schultz, Chairman of Starbucks, Brian Kelley CEO of Keurig Green Mountain, Steve Easterbrook CEO of McDonalds, Nigel Travis CEO of Dunkin Doughnuts, and others in the business of hot beverages) for a coffee at the White House to evaluate and discuss the implementation of a transparent shared value system for eradicating poverty with 10CentsPerCup in the coffee lands, tea lands and cocoa lands in all continents with the participation of consumers, as proposed by CAFÉ FOR CHANGE. Almost all coffee consumed by the US government today perpetuates poverty, in spite of its official claims and policies to support the Sustainable Development Goals. The US, Canada and the EU should fast-track agricultural insurance Most of the poor in the world are farmers. Hundreds of millions work in plantations that are not insured and where workers do not have social security or pension benefits even if they produce the food and beverages consumed by the people of the United States, Canada, the European Union and other developed nations. The United States, Canada and the EU should work together with all other developed nations to ensure that comprehensive all risk insurance is provided to all plantations, farmers and their families to protect their own supply chain and “put wealth at the service of humanity,” as Pope Francis requested at the World Economic Forum in January 2014. Once again, this may require a coffee at the White House with the CEOs of the largest insurance companies and further discussions at the G7 and OECD to create a global task force to set up a transparent shared value system to protect all coffee plantations and their agricultural supply chain. This insurance mechanism would protect the United States from waves of migrants as a consequence of bad crops, drought, excessive rain, etc. It would also protect international and local banks from the risks of agriculture and even climate change. Remittances are more important than aid Remittances from migrant workers in the United States to their families in Central America and in other developing and less developed nations are far more important than ODA (Official Development Assistance). The Northern Triangle of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras received in 2015 close to US$14.5 billion dollars from its migrant workers, an amount that is nearly 20 times the not so significant US$750 million in US aid to the region approved by the US Congress for the “Alliance for Prosperity”, a plan that the Obama administration claims will transform these countries and stop migration. Besides the fact that most official aid is not effective due to the wrong priorities, waste, mismanagement and corruption, all at both ends, it is important to note that the people of the Northern Triangle lose between US$1.1 billion and US$1.2 billion per year in the transfer costs of the remittances from the United States to the beneficiaries in these three countries. This astronomical amount, considered for decades “a normal cost of transfer,” is the equivalent of the rich taxing the poor for working and supporting their families. Banks and others in the transfer business cheat migrant workers with high margins on the exchange rates from US dollars to local currency and also charge unacceptably high service and credit card fees. In the 21st century no one should pay more than 1% to transfer money to anyone anywhere in the world. The breakdown for remittances per country in 2015 is estimated at US$4.5 billion for El Salvador, US$6.3 billion for Guatemala and US$3.8 billion for Honduras. Once again, if the White House wanted to liberate one billion dollars per year in purchasing power for the poor in these three countries perhaps they could have a coffee with people like Tim Cook CEO of Apple, Sundar Pichai CEO of Google, Daniel Schulman CEO of PayPal and a few others like James S. Henry, senior fellow at Columbia and former Chief Economist of McKinsey, to create a task force to bring the remittances business into the 21st century in the Northern Triangle, as well as in the rest of the world, in order to help eradicate poverty and stop the abusive transfer and banking practices in the North and South. Dream of having a house and a job in their home country It is well known by senior US government, World Bank, IADB and CABEI officials that the three Northern Triangle countries in Central America have a housing deficit of more than two million homes. This is due in part to absurd, corrupt and inefficient housing, land and credit policies. If the locals have access to credit, which is not common, the poor and the middle-class pay between four and seven times the interest rates in the developed word. The Alliance for Prosperity and the policies of the governments of the Northern Triangle countries overlook this very important need, which is actually one of the greatest opportunities for creating hundreds of thousands of jobs for small and medium size local businesses related to construction. Any serious effort to develop and bring peace to the region must tackle the housing deficit and do this by creating opportunities for tens of thousands of small and medium size companies to participate in building their own countries. When Vice President Biden has coffee with the Presidents of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras he should put the dream of having a house and a job in their home country on the agenda. The question remains as to whether, in the future, the shared value in the coffee served at the White House will perpetuate or end poverty, not only in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras but also everywhere else where coffee is grown, including Kenya. Mr. President, Ms. Obama, Mr. Vice President and Secretary Kerry — I am certain that 10 cents per cup is fair, while less than one cent per cup of coffee is not only unfair, it is exploitative. I look forward to your 10 cents…per cup and to any comments or questions. [email protected] — This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website. […]