I thought you might want to see my recent op-ed for The Huffington Post which discusses what we can learn from Denmark’s progressive social system.

Thank you for your interest and support.

Senator Bernie Sanders

The Huffington Post

What Can We Learn From Denmark?
By Senator Bernie Sanders
May 26, 2013

Danish Ambassador Peter Taksoe-Jensen spent a weekend in Vermont this month traveling with me to town meetings in Burlington, Brattleboro and Montpelier. Large crowds came out to learn about a social system very different from our own which provides extraordinary security and opportunity for the people of Denmark.

Today in the United States there is a massive amount of economic anxiety. Unemployment is much too high, wages and income are too low, millions of Americans are struggling to find affordable health care and the gap between the very rich and everyone else is growing wider.

While young working families search desperately for affordable child care, older Americans worry about how they can retire with dignity. Many of our people are physically exhausted as they work the longest hours of any industrialized country and have far less paid vacation time than other major countries.

Denmark is a small, homogenous nation of about 5.5 million people. The United States is a melting pot of more than 315 million people. No question about it, Denmark and the United States are very different countries. Nonetheless, are there lessons that we can learn from Denmark?

In Denmark, social policy in areas like health care, child care, education and protecting the unemployed are part of a “solidarity system” that makes sure that almost no one falls into economic despair. Danes pay very high taxes, but in return enjoy a quality of life that many Americans would find hard to believe. As the ambassador mentioned, while it is difficult to become very rich in Denmark no one is allowed to be poor. The minimum wage in Denmark is about twice that of the United States and people who are totally out of the labor market or unable to care for themselves have a basic income guarantee of about $100 per day.

Health care in Denmark is universal, free of charge and high quality. Everybody is covered as a right of citizenship. The Danish health care system is popular, with patient satisfaction much higher than in our country. In Denmark, every citizen can choose a doctor in their area. Prescription drugs are inexpensive and free for those under 18 years of age. Interestingly, despite their universal coverage, the Danish health care system is far more cost-effective than ours. They spend about 11 percent of their GDP on health care. We spend almost 18 percent.

When it comes to raising families, Danes understand that the first few years of a person’s life are the most important in terms of intellectual and emotional development. In order to give strong support to expecting parents, mothers get four weeks of paid leave before giving birth. They get another 14 weeks afterward. Expecting fathers get two paid weeks off, and both parents have the right to 32 more weeks of leave during the first nine years of a child’s life. The state covers three-quarters of the cost of child care, more for lower-income workers.

At a time when college education in the United States is increasingly unaffordable and the average college graduate leaves school more than $25,000 in debt, virtually all higher education in Denmark is free. That includes not just college but graduate schools as well, including medical school.

In a volatile global economy, the Danish government recognizes that it must invest heavily in training programs so workers can learn new skills to meet changing workforce demands. It also understands that when people lose their jobs they must have adequate income while they search for new jobs. If a worker loses his or her job in Denmark, unemployment insurance covers up to 90 percent of earnings for as long as two years. Here benefits can be cut off after as few as 26 weeks.

In Denmark, adequate leisure and family time are considered an important part of having a good life. Every worker in Denmark is entitled to five weeks of paid vacation plus 11 paid holidays. The United States is the only major country that does not guarantee its workers paid vacation time. The result is that fewer than half of lower-paid hourly wage workers in our country receive any paid vacation days.

Recently the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that the Danish people rank among the happiest in the world among some 40 countries that were studied. America did not crack the top 10.

As Ambassador Taksoe-Jensen explained, the Danish social model did not develop overnight. It has evolved over many decades and, in general, has the political support of all parties across the political spectrum. One of the reasons for that may be that the Danes are, politically and economically, a very engaged and informed people. In their last election, which lasted all of three weeks and had no TV ads, 89 percent of Danes voted.

In Denmark, more than 75 percent of the people are members of trade unions. In America today, as a result of the political and economic power of corporate America and the billionaire class, we are seeing a sustained and brutal attack against the economic well-being of the American worker. As the middle class disappears, benefits and guarantees that workers have secured over the last century are now on the chopping block. Republicans, and too many Democrats, are supporting cuts in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, nutrition, education, and other basic needs — at the same time as the very rich become much richer. Workers’ rights, the ability to organize unions, and the very existence of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) are now under massive assault.

In the U.S. Senate today, my right-wing colleagues talk a lot about “freedom” and limiting the size of government. Here’s what they really mean.

They want ordinary Americans to have the freedom NOT to have health care in a country where 45,000 of our people die each year because they don’t get to a doctor when they should. They want young people in our country to have the freedom NOT to go to college, and join the 400,000 young Americans unable to afford a higher education and the millions struggling with huge college debts. They want children and seniors in our country to have the freedom NOT to have enough food to eat, and join the many millions who are already hungry. And on and on it goes!

In Denmark, there is a very different understanding of what “freedom” means. In that country, they have gone a long way to ending the enormous anxieties that comes with economic insecurity. Instead of promoting a system which allows a few to have enormous wealth, they have developed a system which guarantees a strong minimal standard of living to all — including the children, the elderly and the disabled.

The United States, in size, culture, and the diversity of our population, is a very different country from Denmark. Can we, however, learn some important lessons from them? You bet we can.


Prairie Dogs

Researcher decodes prairie dog language, discovers they’ve been talking about us (Video)

prairie dog photo

CC BY 2.0 chadh

You might not think it to look at them, but prairie dogs and humans actually share an important commonality — and it’s not just their complex social structures, or their habit of standing up on two feet (aww, like people). As it turns out, prairie dogs actually have one of the most sophisticated forms of vocal communication in the natural world, really not so unlike our own.

After more than 25 years of studying the calls of prairie dog in the field, one researcher managed to decode just what these animals are saying. And the results show that praire dogs aren’t only extremely effective communicators, they also pay close attention to detail.

According to Dr. Con Slobodchikoff, who turned his vocalization analysis on the Gunnison’s prairie dog of Arizona and New Mexico, the chirps these animals use as ‘alert calls’ are actually word-like packages of information to share with the rest of the colony. Amazingly, these unique sounds were found to both identify specific threats by species, such as hawks and coyotes, and to point out descriptive information about their appearance.

And, when they’re talking about humans, that might not always be flattering.

“For example, a human alarm call not only contains information about the intruder being a human, but also contains information about the size, shape (thin or fat), and color of clothes the human is wearing,” says Dr. Slobodchikoff.

“When we do an experiment where the same person walks out into a prairie dog colony wearing different colored t-shirts at different times, the prairie dogs will have alarm calls that contain the same description of the person’s size and shape, but will vary in their description of the color.”

Here’s a remarkable video detailing what the researcher discovered:

While there’s still much to learn about how other animals use organized vocalizations to communicate, Dr. Slobodchikoff has been a pioneer in the field — discovering complex language systems in a variety of other species as well. And with that, perhaps we humans will begin to change our perspective on our place in the world, knowing now that ours is not the only voice to be heard.

For more information on Dr. Slobodchikoff’s research into communication in the natural world, check out his book Chasing Doctor Dolittle: Learning the Language of Animals.

Tags: Animals | Biology | Evolution

Women and Water Rights – Ripple Effect

Ripple Effects: March 4, Thursday 6:00 pm, Presentation at Cowles Auditorium, Hubert Humphrey Auditorium. U of M, Minneapolis


Lucy R. Lippard is a writer and activist, author of 20 books on contemporary art and cultural criticism, most recently The Lure of the Local: Senses of Place in a Multicentered Society and On the Beaten Track: Tourism, Art, and Place (The New Press, 1997, 1999). Her most recent curatorial venture was Weather Report: Art and Climate Change (Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, 2007). She lectures internationally and has received seven honorary doctorates. She lives in rural Galisteo, New Mexico and for 13 years has edited the monthly community newsletter: El Puente de Galisteo. In June 2010 her book Down Country: The Tano of the Galisteo Basin 1250-1782 will be published by the Museum of New Mexico Press.

Dolphins save dog

ImageDolphins Help Save Dog from Drowning ~ On Marco Island, Florida a group of dolphins came to the aid of a lost Doberman that had fallen into a canal and couldn’t get out. The dolphins made so much noise, it attracted the attention of people living nearby, who then rescued the dog. The Doberman was believed to have spent 15 hours in the canal water before he was pulled out by fire personnel and reunited with his owner.
One of the people whose attention was captured by the noisy, demonstrative dolphins said, “They were really putting up a ruckus, almost beaching themselves on the sandbar over there. If it wasn’t for the dolphin, I would have never seen the dog.” (Source: ABC7news) He said also if the dolphins hadn’t persisted enough to get their attention, they dog would have died in the canal. The dog had fallen over the edge of a concrete wall down into the water far enough that it had no chance of getting back up by itself. The dog was exhausted from being in the cold water for hours, and most likely suffering from hypothermia.
Dolphins have been known to sometimes help stranded or injured people as well. In 2007, a pod of dolphins formed a ring around a surfer who was injured and bleeding after being bitten by a Great White shark. The surfer survived because they prevented further bites. No one knows exactly why dolphins have intervened in such emergency situations, and helped save the lives of other species. Suffice to say they are capable of empathy and heroic actions.



World Water Day: A forceful reminder that the U.S. is running out of fresh water

Posted by Steve Tracton on March 22, 2013 at 12:40 pm

Large bubble atop the central United States represents the volume of all of Earth's water, including oceans and groundwater. (USGS)

Large bubble atop the central United States represents the volume of all of Earth’s water, including oceans and groundwater. (USGS)

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the first World Water Day, a day established by the United Nations to focus attention on the importance of fresh water around the globe. Globally, fresh water is increasingly becoming an endangered resource. According to a U.S. State Department document released on World Water Day last year, the need for fresh water will exceed the supply by 40 percent by the year 2030.
The entire year (2013) has been designated the U.N. International Year of Water Cooperation. It reflects the “multi-dimensional mandate in the realm of natural and social sciences, culture, education and communication, and its significant and long-standing contribution to the management of the world’s freshwater resources.” Celebrations and events across the globe, aimed at raising awareness of fresh water issues and concerns, are concentrated (but not limited to) World Water Day. (A listing of events in the DC Metro region is provided at the end of this post.)
We’re probably all aware to some extent of water shortages and their implications that continually plague the predominately poor inhabitants of undeveloped countries. The sight of young children or forsaken mothers scrounging daily for limited sources of clean water for drinking and cooking appear often on TV documentaries and the like.
Beyond this, however, it’s probably safe to say that the vast majority of U.S. citizenry assumes that the U.S. and North America more generally have enough readily accessible sources of fresh water to meet our everyday individual and societal wants, needs and requirements. Unfortunately, as I personally was surprised to learn while researching this subject, that assumption is demonstrably invalid, especially when we assess the likely circumstances in the the coming decades.
The indisputable fact is that water scarcity is rapidly becoming a significant factor in the way of life in the U.S. Without sufficient foresight and resources for sustainable management of fresh water resources, the problem will become critical in just a decade or two. The range of effects may include (but are not limited to): long-term restrictions on home and community water usage; significant declines in agricultural output as well as meat and dairy produce that require huge amounts of water for irrigation and sustenance of livestock; shortages of just about every product made using water-dependent manufacturing processes (e.g. steel, plastics, pharmaceuticals); and disruptions or complete shutdown of several critical sources of hydroelectric power.
Perhaps the most significant two casualties of water shortages are those now considered essential for the U.S. to achieve energy independence, namely hydraulic fracturing (aka “fracking”) to extract natural gas entrapped within shale rocks and extraction of oil from tar sand deposits. Natural gas is intended as at least a partial substitute for coal used in power plants generating electricity. Oil from tar sands is for use in powering automobiles, etc. The rub is that both new sources of energy require drilling into the respective below ground sources (shale, tar sands) and injecting large amounts of water to extract the gas and oil. (Note: environmental concerns here are well justified, but beyond the scope of this post)
It should be clear that the consequences of diminishing water supplies from the individual and collective effects of just these few items can adversely affect the routine ways of life – and, importantly, can do so within the time frame of a single generation.
The fundamentals behind a coming water crisis are encompassed straightforwardly by recognizing that, while approximately 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by water, less than one percent is fresh and accessible for human use. The rest is either salt water of the Earth’s vast seas, fresh water frozen in the polar ice caps, or too inaccessible for practical usage.
Of the accessible fresh water, there is no escaping the fact that over the past several decades some of the largest lakes and rivers around the globe are being depleted at a “very frightening pace,” and many of the most important underground aquifers that we depend on to irrigate crops will soon be unable to keep up with increasing demands placed upon them (see: 30 Facts On The Coming Water Crisis That Will Change Everything).
According to Federation for American Immigration Reform, some areas of the United States are already experiencing acute water shortages, “a trend that will spread throughout the country in the coming years,” whether it be related to climate change and/or naturally occurring extended periods of drought coupled with the demands of increasing populations.
One of the most prominent examples is the U.S. Southwest where the region’s most important lake, Lake Mead, created subsequent to completion of Hoover Dam in 1937, now provides fresh water to 30 million people. The problem is that the drain of water from the lake already stretches the limits of allocations for accommodating previously unanticipated population growth, especially within the areas encompassing Las Vegas, Phoenix and Denver. The principal competition for Lake Mead water is irrigation necessary to sustain agriculture in Imperial Valley, California, which produces 80% of the nation’s winter vegetables. An actual or near crisis stage is not far off if predictions by some researchers are close to the mark in calling for water levels to fall by 2021 to a point where remaining water would become inaccessible.

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

Moreover, reaching this point would shut down the critical hydroelectric generators within Hoover Dam which is the primary source of electricity in the west, including Los Angeles. Compounding the problem is that sister dams to Hoover (Glen Canyon, Parker and Davis) have already outgrown their capacity to provide sufficient water for agricultural irrigation and spinning the turbines for generating electricity. Compounding the problem is the diminishing flow of water down the Colorado River. This reflects the consequences of persistent drought conditions and diversions of water for agriculture, industry and municipal uses along its path – even though quotas on diverted water are already considered insufficient for those uses. The net result is that restoration of water levels behind the dams is problematic at best.
(Source for some Lake Mead and Hoover Dam information: February 2013 print edition of the NY Natural History Museum magazine – not available online)
Another example of major concern and consequence is depletion of the largest and most important underground source of water in the U.S., the Ogallala Aquifer under the High Plains stretching from southern South Dakota through parts of Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and northern Texas. The aquifer has been the major source of water for municipal and industrial development for decades. Most significantly it has been critical for agriculture in the American heartland oft referred to as the bread basket not just of the U.S., but the world.
Unfortunately, the era of blindly assuming the largess of the aquifer reflects an unlimited source of water is destined to come to end. For decades the Ogallala has tapped at rates thousands of times greater than it is being restored.
The Ogallala Aquifer was formed about 10 million years ago when water flowed onto the plains from retreating glaciers and Rocky Mountain streams. For all intents and purposes, it is no longer being recharged. Once it’s gone, it’s gone, end of story. The current estimate is that, if irrigation demands continue to exploit the aquifer at rates comparable on average to those over the last 10 years, it will be essentially used up in only 25 years (more information). Reducing the drain by limiting extraction of water can only postpone the inevitable. Even if by happenstance there were flooding rains year after year, the collapse of the space occupied by the aquifer coupled with the impermeability of the ground above effectively precludes it becoming recharged.
In most of the eastern U.S., there are generally reliable sources of replenishable surface and underground sources of fresh water, subject only to periodic droughts alternating with periods of above-average precipitation. But independent of the distribution and amounts of accessible fresh water, it’s extremely important to distinguish between clean drinkable fresh water and that which is not. With some limits on the levels of pollution and nature of contaminants, the latter can be used for irrigation. But much stricter limits are required for safe drinking water.


One measure of the problems facing water supplies and resources in the U.S. is illustrated by the 2013 “Report Card for America’s Infrastructure.” The report is from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) with focus on the status of the physical and engineering condition of some individual components of the country’s infrastructure. Those relevant here are dams, and components of fresh and waste water facilities. The grades assigned are independent of water supplies per se, but the relevance to the subject of this post (at least in non-specific terms) is clear. In that context, the news is not good:
Dams: D
Waste Water: D
Drinking Water: D+
The grade of “D” signifies “high hazard.” The D+ for drinking signifies some minor improvements relative to the assertion, “At the dawn of the 21st century, much of our drinking water infrastructure is nearing the end of its useful life.”

According to a recent United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the California-based Pacific Institute joint report, worldwide 2 billion tons of human and animal waste and industrial pollutants are dumped untreated into streams, rivers and lakes of all sizes and shapes each day. While untreated waste water is virtually the norm in the developing world, the report makes it clear the U.S. is not immune from fresh water pollution.
Modern sewage treatment plants in this country generally rid pathogens from human waste. However, increases in animal wastes from concentrations of live stock at meat and dairy farms across the country are becoming increasingly more pervasive in surface waters. The same is true of water from ground sources as contamination leaches through the surface.
Additionally, increasing amounts of chemical substances (e.g., birth control pills, illegal drugs, insect repellent) are being found in drinking water even after passing through water treatment facilities. While there are likely implications to human health, thus far research has been too limited to convincingly demonstrate it. But there should be no excuse for complacency in advocating more comprehensive research (see: Cocaine, Spices, Hormones Found in Drinking Water).
Lastly, there remains the critical question of whether there is anything meaningful that can be done to at least reduce the rate at which fresh water is being depleted and contaminated. Increases in conservation programs are certainly a necessary and viable option. Thus far, however, the experience is that gains from conservation and more efficient water management programs have been overwhelmed by the increasing demands tied to population growth. That also applies to attempts to reduce water wasted by individual households, irrigation, manufacturing, etc.
One somewhat promising sign is the recently announced NOAA construction of the National Water Center (NWC) on the campus of the University of Alabama. According to Louis Uccellini, director of NOAA’s National Weather Service, the NWC will be the first federal national water resources facility and will become the starting point for new hydrology research and operations in the United States.
If all else fails, there is always resurrecting grandiose proposals for transferring large amounts of the abundant fresh water from Canada to the United States. On second thought, let’s not.
Local World Water Day events
World Water Day Clean Up on Roosevelt Island:March 23, 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
D.C. Water for People Committee and American University: March 23, 6:30 p.m. to
March 24, 9:30 p.m.: Panel of speakers discussing this year’s theme of International Water Cooperation, meet embassy representatives from WFP program countries, and learn about what WFP is doing to make a difference
Potomac Riverkeeper’s Riverwatcher Training – 2013 Kickoff!! May 11, 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Also of interest: EPA is designating March 18-24 as the fifth annual “fix a leak week” with focus on relatively simple fixes which can reduce the more than 10,000 gallons of water wasted each year by the average American household (nationwide this amounts to 1 trillion gallons, enough to fill 330,000 eight-lane Olympic size swimming pools).
Related Links
Running Toward Empty? (Climate Central)
Colorado River Reservoirs Running Dry (Daily Green)
Taming the Colorado River: Hoover Dam turns 75
Drought Lowers Lake Mead (NASA)
Grabbing Water From Future Generations (National Geographic)
World Water Day 2013: 200 water facts and trivia you may not know
EPA WaterSense for Kids


JourneySantaFe Collected Works

In the wake of the news that New Mexico’s drought is the worst in the nation, and Mora County’s decision to impose a moratorium on fracking, comes this Sunday’s meeting of Journey Santa Fe at 11 AM at Collected Works Bookstore and Café. This is the first of a series on water in New Mexico.Journey Santa Fe presents:
Overview of Water Law, Water Rights and Water Conflicts in New Mexico
with water law specialist Peter White.

Attorney Peter White will present an overview of water law, water rights, and water conflicts in New Mexico. He will follow up in two or three subsequent Journey Santa Fe gatherings to discuss in more detail New Mexico’s water problems, summing up of his work over the past 40 years.

Co-presenter attorney Denise D. Fort, Professor of Law at the University of New Mexico School of Law and Director of the School’s Utton Center, will discuss her booklet WATER MATTERS.
If you get that water is pivotal to our state’s existence, especially during this drought, you will want to attend. See you there.

Albuquerque Journal:

New Mexico’s drought worst in the country

By on Thu, May 2, 2013

POSTED: 7:54 am
LAST UPDATED: 12:07 pm

New Mexico this morning rose to the top of one of those lists of US states that you don’t want to be on. Drought conditions here are now the worst in the nation, according to this morning’s federal Drought Monitor:

The analysts who develop the weekly monitor significantly expanded their designation of “exceptional” drought, their worst category, to include much of the Rio Grande Valley, the state’s most populous region:…