The Underachievers - Felicity


Andrea Malaer 

Andrea Malaer 

Andrea Malaer 

Andrea Malaer 

Andrea Malaer 

Andrea Malaer 

Andrea Malaer 

Andrea Malaer 

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Struggling workers take wage protest to upscale doorstep of Walmart heiress Alice Walton

Montressia Williams’ Walmart co-workers think she is on vacation, but her trip to New York is anything but.

The trip, paid for by labour organisers, is a part of the national protests to demand better wages, schedules and treatment for low-wage workers at retailers like Walmart and McDonald’s. Thursday’s protests, which started with a march on McDonald’s and ended in front of Alice Walton’s New York condo, were organised by groups like Our Walmart, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, New York United and Retail Action Project.

While most of the signs asked for $15 hourly wages, there were other issues weighing on Williams’s mind – like healthcare and her spotty schedule.

“Because I am part-time right now, they are taking away my health benefits. I already don’t get dental and now I am not going to have health insurance,” she said, concerned about what this would mean come January and whether loss of insurance would translate into a penalty under the Affordable Care Act. “I don’t even know if I am eligible for Obamacare or anything.”

At 34, she has been with Walmart for 14 years now. Even though she earns $13.71 an hour, more than most Walmart workers, she still struggles to make ends meet.

Us Money protest higher minimum wageMontressia Williams isn’t worried about being penalised for participating in the protests. ‘It doesn’t even matter. If it’s my time to move on, it’s my time to move on,’ she said about the possibility of being fired. Photograph: Jana Kasperkevic/The Guardian

“They cut my hours really bad. I get a 50-cent raise every single year. I earn that when I come in with a good attitude,” she explained. Raising her hands to demonstrate a scale, she continued: “Every time Walmart gives me a 50-cent raise on this hand, on the other hand they take it away a different way. They are leaving me to have a paycheck that is $300 to $400 every two weeks.”

“At Walmart, it doesn’t take too long to advance beyond the minimum-wage level,” Kory Lundberg, a spokesman for Walmart, told the New York Times. Higher wages, however, mean little if one’s hours are reduced or if they come with reduced benefits.

The goal of the march was to bring attention to the “poverty wages that low-wage workers all around the country have to endure at the hands of corporations that make billions of dollars”, says Kercena Dozier, a 34-year-old community organiser for New York United.

As poor Americans continue to struggle during the sluggish recovery, protesters have taken to carrying out acts of civil disobedience like blocking streets and roads in order to get arrested. These acts, they hope, show that they are willing to do whatever it takes to move the issue forward.

“All of you must have your IDs on you,” an organiser told a group of protesters on Thursday as they prepared to walk off the sidewalk into the middle of a busy New York intersection. Just moments prior, those protesters emptied their pockets, leaving all of their valuables with yet another organiser. The acts of civil disobedience carried out by the protesters have been carefully planned and documented.

US Money walmart protest A protester holds a sign advocating for a $15-an-hour wage. Photograph: Jana Kasperkevic/The Guardian

As the protesters willing to risk arrest took up their positions at the intersection of East 60th Street and Park Avenue, others continued to chant and wave their signs from the sidewalks. Even as a New York policeman proceeded to put a zip tie around one protester’s hands and lead her to a van, she continued to lead everyone in a chant:

“Whose Walmart?” she yelled.

“Our Walmart!” the crowd yelled back.

‘They are butchering their father’s dreams’

On Wednesday, for the first time in her life, Courtney Moore got on an airplane. The short flight from Ohio to New York was smooth. “No turbulence,” she said, laughing.

For Moore, this trip came with a mission: to remind Alice Walton, the heir to the Walmart fortune, of her father’s vision for the company.

“In my Walmart, in our break room, we have a sign up from Sam Walton that says: ‘The front end cashiers are the first face that the customers see and the last face they see when they leave the store. We are a family.’ We are supposed to be treated like a family,” said Moore. “And I don’t think the Waltons are going to disagree with that, because I took that straight from their father’s mouth. They are butchering their father’s dreams.”

Prior to the protests, Walmart workers at 1,690 stores collected signatures from their co-workers in support of their cause. (Overall, Walmart has 4,322 stores in the US.) It was Moore’s task to deliver the petition to Walton.

“Of course, she didn’t come downstairs,” said the 22-year-old Ohioan. The petition was left with the doorman, who seemed sympathetic to the workers’ cause and promised to personally deliver the papers to Walton.

Retailers, including Walmart, have said that they cannot afford to raise wages as it would eat away at their profits. Just this week Walmart’s new CEO, Doug McMillon, expressed concerns over the company’s sales, saying, “There is no excuse for us not to be doing better.”

US Money Walmart protest signA discarded sign in front of the building where the protesters ended their march. Photograph: Jana Kasperkevic/The Guardian

Moore, who is pregnant and gets paid $8.35 an hour, hopes that Waltons get the message and raise the workers’ wages.

“I’ll be lucky if I get $230 in my check,” she said of the paycheck she gets every two weeks. “And my rent is $420. I am on government assistance. I am on food stamps and I have to get government housing. I should not need that if I am a Walmart employee. My baby should depend on me, and me alone, my baby should not have to depend on Obama and the government to give us what we need to survive.”

Moore’s co-worker, 20-year old LaRanda Jackson, who earns $8.75 an hour working sales floor at Walmart, was among those arrested for civil disobedience. Altogether 26 protesters were arrested – 14 workers and 12 organisers.

US Money Walmart protest signs Organisers try to gather the signs as the protest comes to a close. Photograph: Jana Kasperkevic/The Guardian

“To be honest, that woman does not look like she makes minimum wage,” one onlooker said as one of the organisers, wearing a blazer, was arrested and escorted into a waiting NYPD van.

As the protest came to an end, protesters lingered, laughing and sharing observations. New York police continued to look on as organisers spent 10 minutes unsuccessfully trying to get the crowds to disperse.

Blowing a whistle, one organiser raised his voice above the hum of the crowd, reciting a line from the song Closing Time, by Semisonic:

“You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.”

Most Jewish Israelis oppose Palestinian state, new poll shows

|Published October 19, 2014

No poll is perfect, but this one happens to be an accurate reflection of the Israeli government’s policies, much of its rhetoric, and the reality on the ground.

A large majority of Jewish Israeli citizens (74 percent) oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 borders, according to a new poll conducted by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a right-wing think tank. The organization also found that 76 percent oppose a Palestinian state if it means dividing Jerusalem.

The poll surveyed 505 Jewish Israelis, dividing them along their personal political orientation. Three hundred and four identified themselves as right wing, 125 as centrists and 68 as left wing. It is interesting to note that of those who consider themselves “centrists,” 63 percent oppose a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 border, compared with only 19 percent who identify as left.

When it comes to Jerusalem, a not surprising majority of both rightists and centrists oppose conceding East Jerusalem to a future Palestinian state. However, while 51.5 percent of leftists support it, nearly 40 percent of them oppose it. This means that even those who consider themselves left wing in Israel are on the fence about giving up East Jerusalem. From this we can conclude that most Jewish Israelis oppose a two-state solution, and even those on the left are not quite sure about it. It also illustrates that the notion of what is considered “left wing” in Israel has shifted to the right along with the rest of the public.

Palestinian activists lifting the Palestinian flag in the "Bab Al-Shams" village. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills)

Palestinian activists lifting the Palestinian flag in the “Bab Al-Shams” village. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills)

On the issue of the Jordan Valley, a large majority of Jewish Israelis, including those identified as left (42.6 percent), oppose withdrawal for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

The poll, published in Israel Hayom, is obviously meant to serve Netanyahu’s agenda. And while it is dangerous to rely on solely on a single poll to back up any claim, this specific poll – no matter how flawed or skewed – happens to be an accurate reflection of the Israeli government’s policies, much of its rhetoric, and the reality on the ground.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has said time and time again that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel and will never be divided. Members of the Likud party have openly come out against the establishment of a Palestinian state and leaders of both Yisrael Beiteinu and the Jewish Home party could not be more explicit in how much they oppose the notion of a Palestinian state.

Just the other day, Defense Minister Ya’alon said plainly that he is “not looking for a solution, I am looking for a way to manage the conflict and maintain relations in a way that works for our interests. We need to free ourselves of the notion that everything boils down to only one option called a [Palestinian] state.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is welcomed by Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon in Jerusalem on May 23, 2013. (State Dept Photo)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is welcomed by Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon in Jerusalem on May 23, 2013. (State Dept Photo)

So even though many polls over the years have shown and still show that a majority of Jewish Israelis support a two-state solution based more or less along the 1967 border with land swaps – such sentiment is reflected less and less in the way Israelis vote and talk. This new poll seems to provide a much more honest assessment of the reality on the ground and the reality in the halls of government.

If government policies, government rhetoric, the reality on the ground and polls like this one don’t convince the U.S. government and the rest of the world that Israelis have no interest in negotiating a peace deal that includes a viable Palestinian state, what will?

Israeli settlers set West Bank mosque aflame in ‘price tag’ arson attack

on October 16, 2014
Hebrew graffiti spray-painted on a wall at the entrance of a mosque that had been set alight in the West Bank village of Aqraba, near Nablus October 14, 2014. The graffiti reads, "Price tag. Tapuah is Kahane".   (Photo: REUTERS/Abed Omar Qusini)
‘AQRABA. West Bank (Reuters) 14 Oct — A mosque [Abu Baker al-Saddiq] was set alight in a suspected arson attack in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday and the name of an Israeli vigilante group called “price tag” was found scribbled on an outside wall, Palestinian officials and witnesses said. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin condemned the incident in ‘Aqraba, a village east of Nablus, and urged Israel’s police chief to head an investigation adding that the case “should be treated as terrorism”. The “price tag” group has carried out scores of attacks on Palestinian, Israeli Arab, and church property in the West Bank and inside Israel since 2008. The group says it aims to exact a price for any opposition to settlement building. Residents told Reuters they noticed smoke coming from the building before dawn and rushed to douse the flames, which damaged a carpet and blackened one of the walls. “If we hadn’t rushed to put out the fire the entire building could have gone up in flames,” said Maher Fares, a villager. Ghassan Daghlas, a Palestinian official from the Nablus area, said he suspected Jewish settlers in the area had carried out the attack. The settlement of Itamar is about 4 km (2 miles) north of ‘Aqraba. “They broke a window and threw a firebomb into the mosque which burned the carpet,” Daghlas said. Hebrew script reading “price tag” had been scrawled on the outside of the mosque, a Reuters cameraman said. Rivlin demanded a wider crackdown against the vandals. Many suspects arrested in the past have been minors who are released without   . “We cannot continue to regard incidents like these as marginal. Rather, we must uproot them,” a statement from his office said. “If we do not act decisively, we will all pay the ‘price tag’,” Rivlin also said.

Today’s Super-Fast LED Lights Might Mean Tomorrow’s Quantum Communication

October 19, 2014 // 08:00 AM EST

Humans have been using light to communicate for a while now, whether it’s reading CDs, sending laser-encoded data back from the International Space Station, or passing dots and dashes along semaphore proto-telegraph networks.

Naturally, we’re always wanting to improve the state of the art to make light-based communication faster and able to carry more data. And the latest advance comes courtesy of a team of engineers based at Duke University. The Duke researchers, led by electrical engineering and physics professor Maiken Mikkelsen, have managed to develop fluorescent molecules that are 1,000 times faster than traditional LEDs. This is something that could revolutionize the way we communicate.

LED lightbulbs have already changed the way we light our world. So much so that this year’s Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded to the three scientists who invented the blue LED lightbulb: Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano, and Shuji Nakamura. Red, green, and blue light together create the white light that illuminates our world, but isolating the blue spectrum was a major advancement. Blue uses far less energy than red or green light, leading to more energy-efficient and powerful light sources.

The relatively slow, non-directional emission rate of LED lights, however, has limited their use within high-speed communications.

The Duke team has successfully increased the photon emission rate of fluorescent molecules to a significant degree, taking the first step towards realizing the dream of having superfast LEDs for light-based communication systems.

Fluorescent molecules naturally give off light that they have absorbed in the form of electromagnetic radiation. And the molecules give off light in a fixed rate, at least until they’re placed near an intensified light source. Proximity to a light excites the molecules and causes them to emit photons at a faster rate, an effect called Purcell enhancement.

Mikkelsen’s team’s experiment involved harnessed this Purcell effect. They created a plasmonic patch antenna from two silver nanocubes, which basically created a space that trapped the fluorescent molecules and excited them such that they increase the intensity of their light emission. The engineers also tried trapping the fluorescent molecules in a gap between one silver nanocube and a thin gold film.

This second set-up also saw the fluorescent molecules excited enough to move at a faster speed and emit more intense light. When the team tuned the gap’s resonant frequency to match the frequency of the color of light that the molecules respond to, they saw an even greater increase in speed.

With everything perfectly calibrated to the fluorescent molecules’ frequency, the team saw a thousand-fold increase in fluorescent speed.

The Duke researchers think they can do better. This experiment used randomly-aligned molecules. With more orderly molecules passing between the nanocube and the gold foil, they expect to see even more of an increase in speed.

This might be well and good in a laboratory as a proof-of-concept, but there are some interesting and immediate real-world applications. Faster fluorescence goes beyond more intense LED lights. Precisely placed molecules could lead to fast sources of single photons that would facilitate quantum cryptography.

Encrypted data can be hacked, making it vulnerable and an imperfect way of communicating. But quantum cryptography is an ultra-high speed and, in theory, totally unhackable way to transmit information. These superfast fluorescent molecules might just be the first step towards a world where we don’t have to worry about who is handling our data where. We could, someday, live in a brighter and incredibly secure world.