Refill stations for cleaning products in a Switzerland store reduces plastic waste

My youngest son made me aware of this neat initiative going on Switzerland with a supermarket called Migros. Migros’ aim is zero waste. In order to save plastic and rely on the reuse of materials, customers can refill their laundry, dishware and cleaning products themselves using the packaging more than a few times. The store noted “If you refill a bottle at least three times, the reusable bottle is already more environmentally friendly than the refill packaging. Migros hope to extend this service to other products and store.”

Per a press release, “Migros takes great pride in her investment in sustainability. The refill stations are just one example of many how we aim to reduce packaging and waste. At the moment, we are considering expanding the refill stations for cleaning products to more supermarkets throughout Switzerland. The first two refill stations were a huge success. Our clients appreciate this service very much. The numbers are a proof of this: our sales goals for six months were already reached after 2,5 weeks. Apart from the refill stations for cleaning products we are also offering refill stations for long lasting bioproducts such as rice, nuts or pasta. At the moment we are in the process of expanding these refill stations in Migros supermarkets across the country. 

Furthermore, in order to reduce packaging and waste we engage in several different project such as offering a reusable bag for fruits and vegetables, called «veggie bag». We offer reusable trays for restaurant and take away food. The mineral water of our own label « Aproz » comes in 100% recycled PET-bottles and in central Switzerland we have started a plastic waste collection system with our own plastic collection bag: You can buy such a bag in our supermarkets, collect your plastic at home and bring your plastic waste to a Migros supermarket near you. We transport the plastic to a recycling factory and with the produced regranulate, we aim to produce recycled packaging for our own label products.”

This is a terrific idea. I also like the idea of reusable restaurant take out trays. There is an initiative in Durham, North Carolina where twenty-five restaurants participate in a reusable tray program, where you exchange your cleaned tray for the new take-out order in an even more cleaned tray. If we can do things like this and reduce buying plastic water bottles, we can try to stymie this wastage in our landfills and oceans.

Offshore wind energy in North Carolina is taking shape

In an article by Adam Wagner of the Raleigh News and Observer called “Duke Energy among companies with winning bids for NC offshore wind energy,” North Carolina’s efforts to take advantage of its windy coast is taking shape. Per Wagner, “The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s 18 round auction netted $315 million for the wind energy areas, which are roughly 20 miles off the coast.”

The bids were won by two sets of companies, Duke Energy based in Charlotte and TotalEnergies Renewables USA. “‘Investments from two developers means an increased supply chain investment and recruitment, workforce development and thousands of good paying jobs and infrastructure development that will support other North Carolina industries,’ Katharine Kollins, president of the Southeastern Wind Coalition, said in a statement.”

The Duke Energy $155 million investment will help power 375,000 homes and help Duke meet its renewable energy goals. Most of its wind investments have previously been in Texas. TotalEnergies will produce electricity for roughly the same number of homes, as its investment was a little more than Duke’s. TotalEnergies has also won a bid for a lease just off the coast of New York and New Jersey.

The US has seen most of its wind energy on land in the plain states, with Texas leading the way and other states like Iowa, Minnesota, and Oklahoma following suit. The last statistic I checked said Iowa gets 43% of its electricity from wind. Texas is around 20%, but is a much larger state. I have referenced before deceased oil tycoon T. Boone Picken’s comment on “60 Minutes” about ten years ago when he said the future of energy in the US is in wind energy. Solar energy has taken off as well, but Pickens noted how windy the plain states and coast are.

Seeing this expansion off the coast of the US is exciting. Much of the offshore wind energy development has been in the North Sea off the shores of the Scandinavian countries and Great Britain. It is good to see this occurring in areas where it can help so many. NC has roughly 10 million people, so seeing investments that could power roughly 750,000 homes (doublnig the Duke share cited), reveals the size of the impact. Adding that NC is in the top five states in solar energy and our renewable energy future is even more promising.

Serious-minded people

Let me start out with the following firm belief of mine. I wish others who think winning at any cost gives politicians a free pass, would heed this belief of mine. I am not in favor of name calling, but I would say if people in or running for office want to be taken seriously, they need to be serious-minded with their comments. Saying obvious untrue things is not a step down that path. Full stop.

I am not naive enough to think politicians will stop lying altogether. To get elected, they will continue to overstate or even invent their role when good things happen and understate or blame the other side when bad things happen. And, if things aren’t too bad, many will even tell you it is bad to drum up fear. If things aren’t good enough, they will search for ways to make them even better sounding.

What bothers me greatly is when I see elected officials say or write things I know are not true, and even worse, many likely know it is not true as well. When I see such tales being told, it leaves me with two options to believe – either they really do not know they are saying untrue things or they are purposefully lying. Some politicians, like the former president, are so untruthful, they may not know where the truth stops and lying begins. As my colleague used to say in a voicemail greeting, “Always tell the truth, as you don’t have to remember as much.”

Unfortunately, we have allowed politics to become such a zero-sum game, meaning “I must win and you must lose,” we lose sight of the bigger picture. If nothing gets done or things get done to further the causes of a strident or well-heeled few and not a greater good, we all end up losing. When we make issues of import political, dividing people into two camps to play these inane zero-sum games, we all lose.

People may not be aware of this, but the PR folks who publicize these combative court cases for TV shows scour the cases around the country and find cases they can blow up into a big deal. Some of the cases present themselves as they bubble up, but some are found and honed for this purpose. Politics has become the same way. The PR people scour the country for news they can make into wedge issues. This is why many of us have never heard of an issue until it is presented to us with a bow that this is a huge problem.

So, once the wedge issue is created, the sides form and the lying begins in earnest. And, once the lying gets into the minds and keystrokes of others, it is extremely hard to erase that mindset. This is why we must be assertive in calling out untruths. In short, people who are in your tribe will believe BS if it makes the other side look bad.

This is misinformation and disinformation. This is right out of “1984” where the term “doublespeak” was created by George Orwell. But, let’s call it plainly what it is – lying.

When a US Senator says you can catch AIDs from the COVID vaccine, then when confronted says it may be true, that is lying.

When a former president says at least a dozen times that the tariffs imposed on China will be paid for by China (being refuted each time by economists that consumers pay the cost of tariffs), that is lying.

When a now US Congressman says he was not told by his wrestlers when he coached that the university doctor was fondling them as he did with over a thousand athletes (many after he was told), when six of his wrestlers said they did on the record, that is lying.

When a former president says you can keep your own doctor to sell the roll out of the new healthcare plan, that is lying.

When a former president says COVID is a hoax, or it will all go away soon when people start dying, while placing people in danger and ignoring what he is being told, that is lying.

When a US Congresswoman says a prominent Jewish family is using lasers from space to cause wildfires and profit from them, that is lying.

When a former president says he did not have sexual relations with his intern when he obviously did, that is lying.

When a former president hires over 1,000 attorneys before an election, naysays the process beforehand, and does his part to make it harder for people to vote by mail, then says the election was stolen from him an assertion he has failed miserably at proving, that is lying.

We need to hold our elected officials to account. We are owed the truth. And, when they don’t tell us the truth, we need to take action by voting for someone else. We need serious-minded people. The truth matters.

Wednesday wanderings in early May

What a great day for a walk about. So, as I walk today my mind will wander on various and sundry topics. In no particular order.

A draft Supreme Court ruling has been leaked which appears Roe v Wade may get overturned. The fact it was leaked may be due to the justices wanting to gauge reaction, which politicians do often. If the justices did this it would be highly disappointing as they need to be above politics. Or, it may be a leak by someone who is troubled by the ruling.

If this draft turns out to be the eventual ruling, some Republicans who voted for the recent judges are feeling betrayed – notably two females in Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski. Yet, my first reaction was the Republicans who went along with this to garner the vote of evangelicals are now like the dog who caught the bus. My guess is women may rise up and squash them. While I personally would not advocate an abortion, I also support the right for a woman to determine what happens to her body and the limitations that exist provide sufficient governance.

What also frustrates me is measures that reduce abortions are also frowned on by the evangelical crowd. Holistic sex education (which includes abstinence and self-esteem discussions) with birth control approaches and tools being taught and made available, are proven to reduce unwanted pregnancies, reduce poverty and save healthcare costs. What also frustrates me is some people who are so against abortions also are in not in favor of helping people in time of need, not in favor of better gun laws and not in favor of doing something about climate change, water shortages or environmental degradation.

I realize this draft is not official, but I am curious how the justices may react to a groundswell of women who do not like this.

Are US hospitals in trouble?

Many hospitals, especially more rural ones, have been in trouble for some time. More on the rural hospitals later.

“More than 33% of all hospitals are operating on negative margins, according to the American Hospital Association,” per Michael Popke of Benefits Pro in a piece called “America’s hospitals facing ‘massive growth in expenses’.” Here are two select paragraphs from the piece that tell the gist of the story.

“Hospital employment is down approximately 100,000 from pre-pandemic levels, while hospital labor expenses per patient through 2021 were more than 19% higher than pre-pandemic levels. A new report from the American Hospital Association highlights the financial and operational toll the pandemic and inflation has taken on hospitals — concluding that more than one-third are operating on negative margins.

‘Hospitals and health systems have been nimble in responding to surges in COVID-19 cases throughout the pandemic by expanding treatment capacity, hiring staff to meet demand, acquiring and maintaining adequate supplies and personal protective equipment to protect patients and staff, and ensuring that critical services and programs remain available to the patients and communities they serve,’ notes the nine-page report released this month. ‘However, these and other factors have led to billions of dollars in losses over the last two years for hospitals.’”

Per an article called “The South’s health care system is crumbling under Covid-19. Enter Tennessee” by Daniel Payne of Politico, the demise of heath care in more rural areas has been exacerbated by COVID-19.

“Rural hospital closures have been accelerating, with 181 since 2005 — and over half of those happening since 2015, according to data from the University of North Carolina. But that may be just the beginning. Over 450 rural hospitals are at risk of closure, according to an analysis by the Chartis Group, one of the nation’s largest independent health care advisory firms.”

The rural hospital concerns predate the advent of the Affordable Care Act. Too many hospitals had high percentages of indigent health care costs, meaning people without insurance. If they were not funded by a county, the hospital was at severe risk of closing. Since fourteen states have still not expanded Medicaid under the ACA, the opportunity for getting paid did not increase and many have closed. And, the patients, employees and communities suffer.

Yet, a major part of this cost dilemma existed before COVID-19. The US has the most expensive health care system in the world, but we rank around 38th in health care quality. That is a pretty poor rate of return on one’s spend. Hospitals spent too much on technologies that need to be used. There exists a correlation between the ownership of a technology and its higher frequency of use. Yet, with COVID-19 and its aftermath, fewer elective procedures and tests were done in hospitals.

These issues need to be evaluated outside of the political lens and with data. Yet, that is not bound to happen. It would at least be helpful to see more people covered with full Medicaid expansion, but that has been politicized for zero-sum game reasons, not to actually help people. It would be helpful to see Medicare expanded, at least down to age 62 from 65. As Medicare works reasonably well, I would like to see it go lower, but whatever we do, it should be evaluated on its results, not a politician’s beliefs.

If people think I am unfairly picking on politicians, it would not be a stretch to say most politicians do not know a whole lot about health care. We saw this with the atrocious “throw stuff against the wall” repeal and replace discussion in 2017 by the thirteen Republicans, which came within one vote from passing the Senate. That would have screwed about 20 million Americans. Senator John McCain gave it a thumbs down vote for its lack of veracity and its poor protocols on evaluation.

And, we saw it with the discussions and passing of the ACA, which Republicans refused to vote for which is strange since it has several Republican ideas in it from Romneycare in Massachusetts, when Mitt Romney was governor there. The ACA is not perfect, but at least we should fully implement it and shore up its deficiencies. It is only people’s lives.

Letter to hometown Florida newspaper

Having grown up in Florida, I still try to keep tabs of the news there. My hometown newspaper was kind enough to print my recent letter to the editor. I was unaware they did so until a friend reached out in agreement. That was nice to hear.

Here is the letter in its entirety:

“I am an xxxx High graduate, class of 1976, now living in North Carolina and a digital Times-Union subscriber. My home state of Florida deserves better leadership than it is getting. To this independent and former Republican, it is embarrassing to see a governor who is more concerned with appealing to the more strident base of voters than actually governing to solve problems.  

Too many issues seem contrived to garner votes and too many fights are picked that are unnecessary. Yet, this is not inconsistent with his behavior before his current position. 

Per my favorite conservative pundit Michael Gerson, my former party is in “decay,” untethered to the truth and needs leaders to help them get on a better path forward. I do not see the Florida governor as one of those people. We need our leaders to be among our better angels, not our worst demons.”

I am positive my letter will be dismissed by some as I no longer live there. And, I am sure my letter will be dismissed by others as I am no longer in the Republican party. Yet, I did not make up what Michael Gerson called my former party, nor will I apologize for saying the GOP needs to get on a better path forward. We need a viable conservative voice in our country, but we currently do not have one. That is unfortunate.

The majority of people want better gun governance (a redundant plea)

Another week, another mass shooting in America. Ho-hum. Another day, more suicides by impetuous acts and more homicides by uncivil arguers. Boring. And, of course, we have the inevitable accidental shooting by a curious child and discovered weapon. This does not seem to bother anyone, either.

The following is a repeat of post from three years ago. It is a variation of a post I have written countless times. Yet, we do not seem to care. I am glad the president is going after ghost guns, but that is only part of the problem. When the leading US gun death cause is suicide, by far, you would think legislators, especially Republican ones, will stop counting the NRA donations and do something about this obvious problem.

From an article called “Polls find Americans mostly are supportive of stricter laws on guns” by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughn of the Raleigh News and Observer, please note the following cited survey results. Note these results have been fact checked by the paper’s Fact Checking Project.

– Gallup’s poll from August, 2019 noted “61% would support a ban on semi-automatic guns known as assault rifles.”

– The Civitas Institute (a conservative policy group) poll from September, 2019 showed “58% of respondents saying gun laws were not strict enough.” Note of the Civitas poll respondents, “48% either owned a gun or had someone in their home who owned a gun.”

– A Quinnipac University poll from May, 2019 showed “61% of Americans support stricter gun laws. The same poll showed 94% of Americans support required background checks for gun buyers. And, 77% of those polled support ‘requiring individuals to obtain a license before being able to purchase a gun.’”

– In 2017, Politifact Wisconsin “found multiple previous polls citing support for background checks ranging from 84% to 94%.”

The numbers 58% and 61% are meaningful, but let’s focus on the 94% (or even 84% to 94%) of respondents who want required background checks and the 77% who want a license before hand.

These are consequential majorities. Earlier this week, the Houston Chief of Police challenged his two Texas Senators (Ted Cruz and John Cornyn) and Senate Leader Mitch McConnell to act after yet another police officer was killed.

The NRA has spoken. Now, we need to set their ardent, sales focused rhetoric aside and act sensibly. Just the two items highlighted above will help – background checks and pre-buy licensing. No loopholes. Cars require ownership and driving licenses to operate. Yet, they are not designed to kill.

I am long-ago tired of the standard “thoughts and prayers” line offered by legislators followed by “now is not the time to discuss changes.” Since people are dying everyday by suicide and other reasons, waiting for a time with no deaths will not happen. Further, the mass shootings of more than a few victims are happening with alarming frequency.

To be brutally frank, Democrats should push this issue to the nth degree. Maybe, the Senate and president will act. It matters not who pats themselves on the back – JUST DO SOMETHING! And, these legislators are in my “thoughts and prayers” to actually act like the parents and grandparents we hope they would be.

An American Hero to France – an encore tribute to Anne Morgan

I wrote this post only a year ago, but the surprising story of Anne Morgan deserves more publicity on this last day of Women’s History Month.

Last night, my wife and I watched a PBS documentary about the youngest daughter of J.P. Morgan, called “Anne Morgan’s War.” A link to the documentary is below. Quite simply, this already strong advocate for human rights, helped rebuild a northern France devastated by The Great War (World War I). Surprisingly, her efforts started even before the war was over as the Germans pulled back.

She was reported as the first philanthropist who married a financial acumen with her efforts to help. She allowed her good friend and colleague Anne Murray Dike be the Executive Director, while she took care of raising and managing the money. And, as women, both had uphill battles to help people.

For example, she recruited a brigade of 350 women, many nurses and doctors to help this war torn area, but female doctors could not practice as doctors in France at the time. Nonetheless, her team impressed everyone with their education, experience, acumen and ability to drive and fix vehicles. It should be noted, she wanted to give back to France who had helped America during its revolution.

Yet, her story is largely a secret in America, even though she is heralded in France. In fact, many of the speakers in the documentary are French historians. I must confess, I was totally unaware of her many contributions, which pre-date and follow her heroic actions in France.

From Wikipedia:

Anne Tracy Morgan (July 25, 1873 – January 29, 1952) was an Americanphilanthropist who provided relief efforts in aid to France during and after World War I and World War II.[2] Morgan was educated privately, traveled frequently and grew up amongst the wealth her father, banker J. P. Morgan, had amassed. She was awarded a medal from the National Institute of Social Science in 1915, the same year she published the story The American Girl. In 1932 she became the first American woman appointed a commander of the French Legion of Honor.

From 1917 to 1921, Morgan took residence near the French front, not far from both Soissons and the “Chemin des Dames” at Blérancourt, and ran a formidable help organisation, The American Friends of France (it employed several hundred people at a time, volunteers from abroad and locally recruited staff), financed partly out of her own deep pockets, partly with the help of an active network in the States.[13] The AFF (aka American Committee for Devastated France) was active in succoring noncombatants, organizing a health service that still exists in Soissons, a workshop to provide basic furniture to bombed-out families, a holiday camp for children, and a mobile library that was taken over by the library in Soissons, and so on. She returned in 1939 to help the Soissons evacuees.Anne Morgan and Anne Murray Dike, ca. 1915

Anne Murray Dike, a doctor, joined Anne Morgan in France. The estate of Blérancourt was transformed into a museum and inaugurated in 1930, one year after the death of Anne Murray Dike. The two were rewarded for their services, and they later developed a romantic relationship.[14] Dike is buried in the village cemetery at Blérancourt.[15]

The documentary is about 55 minutes in length, so it is worth the effort of your time.

SCETV Presents | Anne Morgan’s War | PBS

Different, not less (an important story to repeat)

As we near the end of Women’s History Month, I want to repeat a post from just last year about a woman named Dr. Temple Grandin. It bears repeating as genius can be found in all kinds of people, if we just give them a chance to shine.

I spoke recently of a movie that caught my eye the other day which is well worth the watch – “Temple Grandin” starring Claire Danes as the title character with Julia Ormand, David Strathairn and Catherine O’Hara in key roles. It is a true story of Grandin who overcame her autism to get a Ph.D and become one of the foremost designers of cattle management systems. It is well worth the watch, but please pull out the Kleenex, especially when she first speaks up for autistic kids with her mother beside her.

A key moment in the movie is when her mother, played by Ormond is trying to find a high school that will help her daughter navigate a world with autism. To her credit, her mother defied those who said she needed to institutionalize her daughter back in the 1960s. A science teacher at the prospective school, played by Strathairn, hurried out to convince Ormond to stay as she was leaving with her daughter. He said, Temple is “different, not less.” Grandin had a brilliant mind, but understood better through visualization. She could see things we could not.

“Different, not less.” The line is so powerful, Grandin uses it later as she speaks to searching-for-answers parents of autistic kids. It reminds me of a similar line in a movie about a fictitious band from the 1960s, “Eddie and the Cruisers.” Michael Pare plays Eddie, the lead singer and driving force behind the band. He looks like a “cruiser,” but is well-read and intelligent. He drafts into the band an English major played by Tom Berenger, whom they call “Wordman” because of his profound lyrics.

During the movie as they are playing a college campus, Eddie tells Wordman these people are not like them. They are different. Wordman innocently replies, “they are no better than we are.” Eddie corrected him saying “I said different, not better.” Given the reference, this comment is the same as the above title and equally powerful.

We are different. It would be rather boring if we all thought, learned and said the same things. While we may be different, we are no better or worse than the next person. Grandin designed a system that is now used in over 50% of the cattle business, but she was laughed at because she was a woman and autistic. Her simple questions were pertinent, yet ignored. Her autism allowed her to see what the cattle sees and she factored that in her designs.

As for Eddie, we should always be careful with our first impressions. People dress differently, look differently, and act differently. Yet, Eddie was a deep thinker and knew literature. We are all different, but we have the same rights, responsibilities and need to be heard. My rights are no more important than yours and vice versa.

Both of these movies are worth the watch. They each will help us appreciate what others go through. Different, not less. And, not better either.

A Proven Three for One Return – an example of reducing poverty, abortions and unwanted pregnancies (a reprise from an earlier post)

The following post was written about seven years ago. Given my past volunteer work for working homeless families, this Colorado study was compelling.

If there was a proven solution that would accomplish three major goals and save money, it would be worth considering, right? If data revealed that a state could save $80 million and dramatically reduce abortions, unwanted pregnancies and help people in poverty, it would be as close to a no-brainer as we could get. Then, why is Colorado’s legislature unwinding funding to an effort to provide birth control and family planning to people in need?

Worldwide and in the US, there is a high correlation between larger family size and poverty. Further, a Harvard study from 1982 – 2011 indicates that one of five reasons for poor socio-economic mobility is fewer traditional families (some Conservatives like to say this is the only reason, but that oversimplifies).

Yet, the use of an obvious toolset with a proven track record does not stand up to the scrutiny of this legislature. Of course, the reason is the fervent belief against birth control even though the significant majority of women ignore their religion on this subject. About 90% of American Catholic women use or have used birth control.

In my work with homeless families, one of the reasons for some young women who find themselves homeless is having children before they are ready or out of wedlock. Also about 30% of our clients are victims of domestic violence. Lacking the additional income of a second parent, not to mention the support of a good one, puts a family in a hole which is hard to climb out of.

Here is where religion is less inclined toward the practical and can be harmful. We need to have holistic open discussions about this topic with teens. It is more than OK to preach abstinence, but these teens are tempted far more than we were at that age, and we were tempted. So, we need to teach a girl’s self-esteem is not tied into relenting to sex, nor is a boy’s for that matter. We need to teach boys that no means no. But, we need to also teach family planning and provide tools of birth control.

We have columnists who tout fatherless families as the reason for poverty in the Black community, which it is one of several. It is a reason no matter the race or ethnic group. Yet they stop short of defining one of the cures, which is noted above and proven to be successful. It should be noted in the states with the lowest abortion rate, they each have more robust family planning effort than states with higher rates.

Let’s be smart and practical about these issues. The data is pretty clear. And, it should be noted using a condom actually reduces STDs and HIV transmission which would be fourth benefit.