Tag Archives: WorldNews

Working Together to Help Americans #GetCovered

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, the nation’s uninsured rate now stands at its lowest level ever. But still, in communities across the country, 10.5 million people who are eligible for Marketplace coverage remain uninsured. In addition to launching the Healthy Communities Challenge to engage key communities in reducing the uninsured during this third Open Enrollment period, the White House also issued a challenge:

Build outreach efforts that can reach these remaining uninsured Americans and help them gain coverage.

Health Uninsured rate

Today, the White House is highlighting the creative ways that two health care companies, ZocDoc and Oscar Health, stepped up to answer this call, and showing how they are part of a growing trend of companies using the Internet to address our nation’s problems together.

Starting today, ZocDoc, which helps people book appointments online with doctors across the country, will be using its Web and email products to reach out to hundreds of thousands of customers it believes may not have health insurance, for example, people who have booked doctors’ appointments on ZocDoc but signaled that they will pay with cash. ZocDoc will remind these customers to sign-up for coverage at Healthcare.gov before the December 15 deadline to enroll in or change plans for coverage starting on January 1, 2016. 

We know that many uninsured Americans question whether they can afford coverage, and may not realize that more than 7 in 10 HealthCare.gov customers can find insurance for $75 a month or less after tax credits. So for uninsured Americans who remain skeptical about the costs of getting insured, health insurance company Oscar Health has created a digital video public service announcement (PSA) that explains why health insurance is actually more affordable than people may think. Oscar will distribute this video in key markets online, too, including in California, New York, and Texas.

Both ZocDoc and Oscar Health are just two recent examples of how creative use of new technologies can help empower citizens with knowledge and opportunities to help address today’s public policy challenges together. In October, in response to a call issued by the President to help aid refugees, tens of thousands of Americans donated to refugee relief efforts — with opportunities to donate made ubiquitous thanks to independent product integrations from Kickstarter, Instacart, and others. And when the First Lady called for the private sector to help employ veterans and end veterans’ homelessness, companies across the economy responded with hiring commitments and other creative actions. This past Veterans Day, ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft enabled tens of thousands of Americans to donate free rides to homeless veterans to help them get to job interviews, employment events, and home from new jobs when public transportation is not an option.

Scores of companies and non-profits, from a wide range of sectors, are stepping up to help address today’s collective challenges and support expanded civic participation. The President and First Lady have rallied citizen engagement on many key collective challenges: protecting the climate, improving access to healthcare, giving our veterans the support they deserve, fighting childhood obesity, making sure every child finishes school ready for college and career, and so many more. The Internet’s ability to empower citizens to engage and take immediate action has helped expand opportunities for companies and non-profits to work with members, customers and the public to facilitate broader civic participation. At the White House, the Office of Digital Strategy is constantly looking for new and creative ways to expand opportunities for civic participation in solving todays’ problems together. If your organization is using the Internet to help citizens pitch in to solve our nation’s problems, or would like to and think you can help in some way, please get in touch.

President Barack Obama fist bumps a middle-school student participating in an "Hour of Code" event to honor Computer Science Education Week in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Dec. 8, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
President Barack Obama fist bumps a middle-school student participating in an “Hour of Code” event to honor Computer Science Education Week in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Dec. 8, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

And, don’t forget: the deadline for January 1 coverage is December 15, and open enrollment ends on January 31. If affordable health insurance is available, but you choose to not enroll in coverage for 2016, you may be required to pay a fee when you file your 2016 federal income taxes. So go to HealthCare.gov or call 1-800-318-2596 for more information or to sign up today.

Get Covered

#YouAintNoMuslimBruv: the voice of defiant unity | Remona Aly

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From Leytonstone to Paris, such hashtags trending on Twitter give comfort to peace-loving Muslims, creating a global alliance of coexistence and solidarity

After the knife attack on three people at Leytonstone underground station in east London on Saturday, a bystander shouted “You ain’t no Muslim, bruv” at the alleged perpetrator. As footage of the incident emerged, this phrase quickly became a hashtag symbol of defiant unity.

Among the 100,000 tweets and rising, you find sentiments that distance the attacker from religion. Most are full of pride for the diverse embrace of London: “Soo proud to be a Londoner. True Muslims don’t try and kill innocent bystanders. Peace to true Muslims”; and “I love that #YouAintNoMuslimBruv is trending. The best response possible. So proud to be a Londoner.”

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Vertical Farming – Agriculture of the Future

Nelson Pérez monitors the water temperature in the trays where lettuce grows in a controlled-environment farm in the town of Rio Hato, Panama. Vertical farms are beginning to catch on around the world, as a technique that boosts food security, in the face of the impacts of climate change. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Nelson Pérez monitors the water temperature in the trays where lettuce grows in a controlled-environment farm in the town of Rio Hato, Panama. Vertical farms are beginning to catch on around the world, as a technique that boosts food security, in the face of the impacts of climate change. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
RÍO HATO, Panama, Dec 5 2015 (IPS)

Infrared thermometer in hand, Nelson Pérez checks the water temperature in the trays where dozens of small lettuce plants are growing in a nutrient-rich liquid in this vertical farm in Panama.

The water, which contains calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and vitamins, must be kept at a steady 21 degrees Celsius, to obtain the best growth.

Pérez is the watchful carekeeper of the lettuce growing in trays in the controlled environment created by the Urban Farms company in the town of Río Hato, population 15,700, in the province of Coclé, some 125 km north of Panama City.

The vertical farm, the only one of its kind in Latin America, is an example of controlled-environment agriculture, a technology-based approach toward food production which often uses hydroponic methods. This kind of farming helps combat the effects of climate change on agriculture.

“Climate change has affected agricultural production,” said David Proenza, founder of Urban Farms. “So we saw a need to see what changes we could bring about, using technology.”

In 2010, Proenza heard about experiments with vertical farming in Asia and travelled to Japan, where he contacted researchers and members of the business community.

He brought the technique back to Panama, and he and his new partners decided to send an agronomist to be trained in Japan.

Until then, he was a conventional producer of watermelon and other crops.

“The farmer controls everything, from the seeds to the harvest,” he explained to IPS. “The idea is to produce and consume locally.”

Proenza set up a partnership with two other people, and receives guidance from an outside group. He employs two full-time and two temporary workers.

On his four-hectare property, Proenza dedicated a 12 by 17-square-metre space to setting up 60 hydroponic trays with a capacity for growing 30 to 36 plants each.

Hydroponics is a method of growing plants without soil, using mineral nutrient solutions in water.

After three days, the seeds are transplanted from the germination tray to the growing trays. Three weeks later the lettuce is picked, processed and packed for distribution to supermarkets.

The vertical farm produces some 2,000 heads of five different kinds of lettuce a month, without pesticides, preservatives or large extensions of land.

A computer programme controlled from a smartphone regulates the temperature of the room and the water, as well as the lighting and irrigation.

The low voltage grow lights, which stay on for 18 hours a day and cost 120 dollars each, produce red, yellow or blue light, each of which has a particular effect. The trays hold between 25 and 100 litres of water, depending on the size.

Controlled-environment agriculture encompasses vertical farms, urban gardens, and hydroponics.

Panama is highly vulnerable to climate change, exposed to intense storms, flooding, landslides and drought. The climate of this tropical Central American nation of four million people was previously divided into wet and dry seasons, but now the difference is less marked.

Río Hato is at one end of the Arco Seco or “dry arch”, an important area of food production for both export and domestic consumption.

Panama’s main crops are corn, rice, beans, melons, watermelons, oranges, bananas and coffee. Stockbreeding is also a key driver of the economy.

Agriculture accounts for around four percent of the country’s GDP.

Official statistics show that grain harvests have shrunk in 2014 and 2015, with the exception of corn, due to factors that experts blame on climate change.

The 2010 report “Panama: Effects of Climate Change on Agriculture”, produced by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and other international bodies, stated that climate change would cause this country agricultural losses amounting to between four and seven percent of GDP by 2050 and between eight and nine percent by 2100.

Gustavo Ramírez, a professor with the Cuautitlán Higher Studies Faculty at the Autonomous National University of Mexico, said vertical farming is viable in Latin America, but policies to stimulate it are lacking.

“With this system you can make better use of space,” he told IPS. “In urban areas, there are abandoned buildings that could be put to use, and there is much more space in rural areas.”

In Río Hato, Proenza, who has invested over 70,000 dollars in the farm, has tried growing strawberries, cucumbers, chili peppers, melons and watermelons, with positive results.

Vertical farming is in vogue in the United States, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. An Association for Vertical Farming has been created, and groups companies, universities and individuals. It has offices in Canada, China, India and several European countries.

This farming method offers an alternative in cities around the world, and in impoverished rural areas where people still go hungry.

In cities like Buenos Aires, Mexico City or Santiago, rooftop gardens where people grow their own fresh produce are now common.

To foment the sharing of knowledge, Proenza created the Foundation for the Development of Controlled Environment Agriculture, which organised the International Congress on Controlled Environment Agriculture here in May, which drew more than 350 researchers, academics and farmers from around the world. The next edition is slated for 2017.

“Farmers earn three times more than in the countryside,” said Proenza. “Vertical farms are 30 percent less expensive than traditional farming, and 15 percent cheaper than greenhouses. The risk is minimal,” added the entrepreneur, whose initiative won the second National Prize for Business Innovation, granted by the National Secretariat on Science and Technology, in 2014.

His plan is to expand the vertical farm by 400 square metres, adding varieties of parsley, basil, coriander, arugula and strawberries.

Ramírez recommended that governments refocus their agricultural policies and rethink priorities. “Governments must show an interest, and should focus policies on exploring this technique. We need better planning for production, distribution and logistics,” he said.

The local and regional markets that would be developed through vertical farming would have “an enormous impact,” he said, but “seed capital and technological packages would be needed, based on our own model.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes